The Bereavement Dinner
Updated: Jul 4
(by Diane Kendig)
Her repertoire included her Welsh-Scottish family’s baked goods, Dad’s Pennsylvania Dutch foods, and Great Depression favorites from my grandparents’ era, but she kept up with new trends and the equipment to produce them: bread hooks, electric skillets, and Crock-Pots. She always started with a recipe, but she usually didn’t finish with it, making things up as she went along. Asked for recipes, she loved to copy them out in her wispy left-handed handwriting on 3x5 cards. I have all of them.
When my mother was diagnosed with a serious lung disease none of us had heard of, I went home and tried to make her comfortable. I will always be glad that the last meal I cooked for her in 90-degree heat was simple and perfect: roast chicken, potato salad, green beans, and peach pie. She ate for the first time in days. But she was gone within a week. Although she was 87, the community was stunned at the suddenness, as was I. We were making funeral arrangements when a member of her church called to say they would be having the “bereavement dinner.” I didn’t know there was such a thing, but I came to learn that my mother had cooked for many of them. And so we gathered in the church basement after the funeral.
She would have loved it. The meal consisted of dishes she’d cooked and eaten for decades, at fundraisers and coffee hours. She kept the recipes in a box, even when they went out of style: ham loaves, her mother’s suet pudding, zucchini cookies, and a childhood neighbor’s “Hungarian Buttercups.”
She also would have loved the people who served it, the Sunday School class men and women, the missionary ladies, the women whose babies she’d watched in the nursery while they sang in choir or ushered or played bells. They grieved, too, but served.
My father, in early dementia, could not believe she was gone. He chowed down. We all did, eating the unfashionable gelatin salads, the scalloped potatoes, the squares of yellow cake thick with frosting.
I could just hear her. “Eat,” she would say to us, “you have to eat.”
Our Mother’s Hands
You’ll never see them in a photo.
When the flash flicks, she’s behind us,
her red, arthritic hands gnarl unseen.
She’s embarrassed by them,
used to them at work, turning
lettuce leaves to dry, or playing,
pushing the child in the swing.
Undeniably still useful, but painful.
Preposterous not to use them.
Wait, I forgot, there’s also speech:
they’re the map of her message.
She chatters, her face, squinching,
her flying hands, hands
no universities filled with degrees
though they filled her children’s
over and over.
But when we go home, hand
over the awards to her,
she doesn’t care,
would rather have them filled,
she says, with flowers,
with food, with grandchildren.
Gladys Young Kendig’s Zucchini Cookies 1/2 c. shortening 1 c. granulated sugar 1 c. brown sugar 2 eggs, lightly beaten 3 c. chopped or shredded zucchini 1 t. vanilla 2 1/2 c. flour 2 c. oats 1/2 t. salt 1/2 t. baking soda 1 t. baking powder 1 t. cinnamon 1 c. dried fruit, chopped 1 c. nuts, chopped
Cream together shortening, granulated sugar, and brown sugar. Add eggs, zucchini, and vanilla. Combine flour, oats, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add flour mixture to zucchini mixture. Stir in dried fruit and nuts. Preheat oven to 350 F. Drop by spoonfuls onto ungreased sheets and bake for 12 - 15 minutes.
Notes: We make them smallish and bake for the shorter time so they are soft. Makes about 5 dozen cookies. Mom’s recipe called for dates as the dried fruit, but she usually used white raisins. Chopped figs, cranberries, or blueberries would work well. I substitute softened butter for the shortening. Mashed banana can be substituted for some of the fat, although it changes the consistency.