Mama’s Finger Prints

Holy Saturday – Easter Bread — April 2013
A Memoir
James Ciletti

Even though Mother passed two months ago, when tying my apron strings I heard, “Jimmy, you’ve been playing in the dirt, clip your fingernails and you can help me make Easter Bread.”
“OK, Mom.”
Soon, Mother’s tying an apron around me. Next I am at her side and she is showing me how to crack eggs inside the bowl so nothing drips down the outside of the bowl; sifting flour and measuring sugar. When she puts water in a small bowl she says, “Now dip your little finger in that and feel how warm it is.”
“It’s warm, not hot.”
“Warm, that’s what the yeasties like. Now sprinkle a little sugar in the water, they need something to eat.” Then she sprinkles the yeast onto the water and gently stirs it in. “Watch.”
I watch and soon the yeast water blooms and puffs up. “That’s what makes the dough rise.” We mix it all with orange juice, warm water, sugar, melted butter; she has me nibble on an anise seed.
“That tastes like licorice” I tell her.
“That’s what makes the Easter Bread taste so good.”
“Mom, who taught you how to make Easter Bread?”
“My mother, Grandma Pasqualina.”
“Like this?”
“Just like this.”
My favorite job is kneading the dough and looking out the window, because robins have arrived and yellow crocuses are blooming, and I remembered how Grandma Pasqualina let me stir the spaghetti pot for her. Now, mother’s hands are on mine as she teaches me how to press into the dough, “If it’s sticky, add flour, now roll it back and flop it over and knead it some more with the heel of your hand.”
The dough smells sweet. My little hands get lost into the big ball of dough. Again, she puts her hands on top of mine and helps me knead the dough.
She was better at rolling out the dough in ropes and braiding, them but she did let me pinch the ends together, then paint the braids with egg yolk, “They’ll smile and shine for you.”
When the anise and bread aroma filled the house and made the whole house smell good enough to eat .I was not allowed to walk heavy or open the oven door for 45 minutes.
And like magic, the door was opened and she pulled out the oven shelf and we ooohed and aaahed at six golden shining rounds smiling at us. She tapped the top of one and said, “The hollow sound lets you know they’re done.” She hugged me. “We did good, huh Jimmy.”
I hugged her back and she smelled like anise and warm bread and Grandma.
Today, Holy Saturday, two months after Mother passed, I clipped my finger nails and did a surgeon’s scrub to my hands. Kneading the dough, Mother’s hands were on mine. You can see her fingerprints on my Easter Bread.


About Ciletti

Jim Ciletti, an award winning poet, filmmaker, and author, is the 2010-2012, Poet Laureate of the Pikes Peak region, and for 41 years, poet-in-residence for the Orme School Fine Arts Festival. Jim gives many workshops on the writing and performance of poetry, and makes poetry house calls to create personal poetry events. Ciletti loves everything Italian, including cooking for family and friends, and loves to plant garlic, make homemade wine, and eating peaches and plums. "Everyday is Christmas, but you don't always get everything you ask for. Sometimes more. Poetry celebrates life."
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