Since my mom passed away, it has felt right to be quiet, stay out of social chatter, take some time to listen and reflect, but I want to start to build a bridge, now, between that place and the current of daily life. For some context, after my mom died on May 24th, all of my four other siblings and I made it to Billings, Montana within a few days. Our goal at that time was to help make the necessary decisions and to be around our dad during the first week of his loss. We didn’t want to do any kind of service, then. We have, for many years, met in Billings for a family reunion around the 4th of July and we agreed to come back then, taking a month to consider how we, and our children, would like to participate in a memorial of her.
There were nearly 50 of us when the clan descended. Guest rooms were made up, meal planning and preparation was shared out, a beautiful garden at my brother’s ranch was groomed, and tributes in all forms were pulled together. Layers and layers of prepared writing, music, photos, even seeds to scatter in her memory were brought. All I can say is that it was perfect. It was everything our mom loved and everything she would have wanted for and from us. We alternately sobbed and then held our bellies in laughter, sitting together in the evening ranch air, in wonder. In the end, we were so darn proud of ourselves. We haven’t always dealt with everything well, but this, we got exactly right.
When I got home to Lummi Island, I told friends that I felt like I was waking up from a sweet dream. Maybe that is an odd way to describe a passing, but I don’t think my mom would mind it. A friend said I feel this way because I’ve lived in Asia and I’ve already confronted and become comfortable with the uncertainty of afterlife. That could be part of it, too. I have thought back to the many, many hours Allan and I sat at the cremation piers on the Bagmati River in Kathmandu. Strangely, it was one of our favorite places to go. The family of the deceased would wrap the body and place it on a prepared wood stack. Then, the oldest son would light a candle in the father’s mouth, the youngest son would light one in the mother’s, and the fire would slowly take over. It was warm and peaceful and when all was ashes, after many hours, they were swept into the river and it was finished. Allan and I would always ask each other, “If that is all there is, are we OK with that?” and the answer was a confident, “Yes.”
My sister and sister-in-law made requests of some of us to take the lead in preparing our communal dinners the 3 nights we were together. They honored me by giving me the memorial dinner. I had come to Billings several days before and since my family stayed with Dad, I had some days, I will always treasure, of preparing for this meal in the solitude of her kitchen. Her particular way of arranging things and the collection of items in her kitchen was just as her kitchens always were. What I could prepare for a large dinner was dictated by the limitations of her cookware. Having lived on a farm in Colorado at 7,000 ft. altitude while we were growing up, her kitchen had two small pressure cookers and several other Dutch oven type pots with lids for cooking beans and stews. I rounded them all up, six in all, and for the dessert, that we would have after the dinner and our “service”, I decided to make steamed fruit dumplings that were a comfort treat for us as kids. Mom would make them from canned fruit, blueberries or most often blackberries, with a Bisquick dumpling topping, but I was able to source fresh berries and made the dough from scratch. Two of my nieces mentioned their memories of those dumplings in a compiled memory book, so I know I hit on the right choice.
Steamed Fruit Dumplings
Makes 8 servings
- 4 cups fresh berries, washed
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 1 tsp. lemon or lime juice, freshly squeezed
- 1/2 tsp. spice of choice (optional)
- 1 cup flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 2 tsp. sugar
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. butter
- 1/2 cup milk
Place berries, water, sugar, and lemon juice in a medium-sized pot with a heavy bottom and a lid. Bring to a boil. Dissolve cornstarch in 1 Tbsp. water and drizzle it into the fruit mixture. Reduce heat, stir and cook a few minutes longer to thicken. Add a little spice at this point if you like. I love ginger and anise with blueberries. Cinnamon, mace, or allspice are also great choices.
In a separate bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Cut in butter, using finger tips to work through the dry ingredients. Add the milk and stir to form a dough. Drop by tablespoons onto the bubbling fruit mixture. Reduce heat to a low simmer, cover, and let dumplings steam for approximately 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow dumplings to rest and filling to cool slightly before eating. Drizzle with unsweetened heavy cream to serve.