I recall with tenderness the portion of my sister Ann Marie’s life when her best friend Connie was squeezing her massive soul out of this earthly existence. If you know my sister, and her great capacity to love, then you would understand the immense sorrow she felt. In spite of it, she was determined to walk hand in hand as her friend struggled toward the finish line.
Connie had a houseful of kids, 6 in all, five of them living. The sixth one died of a congenital liver disease at 7 months old. Connie had a gift for order and creating beauty. She set her table beautifully every night. Ann Marie asked her why and she said she wanted to make it beautiful for the ones she loved the most. When Connie made sandwiches for her kids’ lunches she always cut off the crust for those who didn't like it. She said, "How hard is it to cut off the crust and see them happy?"
Connie was 46 years old when she died.
When Connie was diagnosed with terminal cancer she went to work making blessing outfits for a boy and a girl, her future grandchildren, the ones she would never hold. She wrote her personal history, she cleaned out all her closets and drawers, she gave away all of her personal items to family or friends where apropos, so that her kids would not have to do that after she was gone. She wrote letters to each of her children to be read at future dates, and letters to her future grandchildren. She was kind, and generous, gifted, and happy.
My sister, Ann Marie has the same gifts. She still has a deeply devoted and loving relationship with Connie’s children, and is as generous with Connie’s grandchildren as Connie would have been. She is so generous with MY grandchildren that I feel like a slacker! It’s just the nature of my sister, so I’m not jealous or anything, because who would not want such a person to love their treasures? (I would have told my children to suck it up and eat the crust.)
Before she died, Connie taught Ann Marie how to make bread. Ann Marie is a master at all things culinary, especially baked goods. She has two of the most used ovens in California, and multiple pots and pans to facilitate feeding the masses. Her two sons were in their large high school band. Ann Marie used to cook meals for the whole band when they travelled for competitions and performances. We are talking hundreds of hungry teenagers, and chaperones. It was a sad day when those Mullen boys graduated from Granite Bay High, not as much for Ann Marie and Mike as for the band! Because she is Ann Marie, she continued to cook for their fund raisers and other events even though she had no kids attending there.
When Ann Marie’s eldest, Christopher, turned 16, he was ordained a Priest in our church. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, worthy young men are blessed with priesthood authority. Among other responsibilities, Priests are given the opportunity to kneel and bless the broken bread and water as part of our weekly Sacrament. Similar to the Holy Eucharist, this sacred ordinance is one of the most holy things we do all week. The priests break bread as the congregation sings a Sacramental hymn, then kneel to pronounce this blessing on the bread:
"O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen."
The bread is then offered to each member of the congregation, in private where they are sitting. The taking of the sacrament is a personal thing between the Lord and the taker. The young deacons and teachers assist in this ordinance, which is followed by a similar blessing on the water.
The foundation of this ordinance is the Last Supper, which occurred with Christ and his disciples on Maundy Thursday, the night before our Lord was crucified. Today, over two millennium later, we remember the sacredness of the occurrences of this day, both the happenings in that upper room where Christ washed feet, broke bread, and gave a new commandment; and later that night, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where the most gracious and holy event in the history of the world took place.
When Ann Marie’s son Christopher was one of the young men who broke and blessed the sacramental bread, she decided to make Connie’s fresh home made bread for the sacrament in her ward. As it baked in her home on Saturday night, a sweetness permeated that space. Her sons would come home from dates, or have friends over, and there was an olfactory reminder that they were holders of the Lord’s most sacred authority, and that they must struggle if necessary to keep themselves worthy of that priesthood.
Fresh bread baked in my sister’s ovens every weekend for many years. It is still made a couple times a month, even though her boys are men now, living far away with families and homes of their own. Now Ann Marie makes Connie’s bread twice a month for the temple ordinance workers that they supervise in the Sacramento temple. There they slice it and eat it in the break room, with good butter and fresh home-made raspberry jam. She says it is the sweetest thing ever to mold Connie’s dough, shaping it into loaves for the Lord.
Regardless of the crowd my sister bakes for: be it the high school band, or bishops and high councilors and their spouses when her husband was stake president, or a congregation of fellow worshipers, or workers in the temple, Ann Marie infuses her love into everything she makes. And always, she says, she thinks of Connie.
“I never make just one loaf of bread,” she says. “I make six. Sharing is the best part of baking.”
There is a scene I like to imagine in my mind. It’s an upper room in an inn, far away and long ago. There are righteous men gathered to learn and be taught, and partake of the feast of the Passover. And so, down in the kitchen, below that sacred space, there is a woman who looks an awful lot like my sister Ann Marie. The tiny hairs on her forehead are wet with labor, and her apron is covered with flour. She opens her window, and into the evening air, over there in the holy land, the aroma of Connie’s bread is wafting up to the hillsides. I imagine her footsteps on the stairs as she carries her offering upward. I imagine the hands of the Master, breaking bread, telling his disciples… take…eat…this do in remembrance of me.
CONNIE'S WHITE BREAD
4 cups flour
1 ½ Tbsp. instant yeast (rounded) SAF brand is the best
½ c. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1/3 c. powdered Milk
3 Tbsp. shortening
2 2/3 cup warm water
Mix above ingredients together, dry ingredients first followed by shortening and water in a mixer with a bread dough hook. Mix for 3-4 minutes to form a gluten.
Add 2-4 more cups flour, till mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Continue to mix on medium speed for 3-5 more minutes with cover on to “warm up” dough.
Grease pans with oil spray and use the same to cover your hands to make handling of the dough easier.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Form dough into 2 loaves. Cover and let rise til nearly double. (see Ann Marie’s tips below) Bake for 25-30 minutes depending on how hot your oven runs.
Remove from oven and remove from pans. Cool and enjoy.
Ann Marie’s tips for this recipe:
- Replace shortening with melted butter
- Use only SAF brand yeast (store in freezer, it will keep longer) and King Arthur flour
- “I mix this in my Bosch mixer and run it for several minutes. It only takes 10-15 minutes to rise. That’s one of the secrets, getting the dough warm in the mixer. I can do six loaves of bread in an hour and a half, start to finish.” Seriously!?