Monday, August 6, 2012

Cinnamon rolls, tears, and memories of an everyday hero

Kevin S. grins up from our fifth-grade class picture. His gap-toothed grin and the sparkle in his eyes show that the photo was taken before November.

One day in 1964, Mama said, “Get dressed and have a cinnamon roll.”

Wow! Eating Mama’s cinnamon rolls at 7:30 a.m. was like having a decadent dessert instead of a mundane meal. Mama and Daddy made sure we ate a good breakfast every day: hot cereal, eggs or Dad’s sourdough biscuits and pancakes. Sourdough lovers said they were fantastic. I ate them but didn’t love them because they tasted sour.

Mama was generous with BBC (butter, brown sugar and cinnamon) and let her rolls rise to a tender fluffiness. Truly a caramel roll, they didn’t require a superfluous powdered sugar glaze.

To my nine-year-old mind, it was heaven to wake up to those rolls and a glass of cold, creamy milk from Swiss Miss, the family cow.

Ecstasy turned to agony, though, when Mom said, “Take these rolls over to your friend Kevin’s house.”

My friend Kevin? I had no friends named Kevin. Kevin J. and Kevin S. were in my class, but neither was a friend. They were boys, and as such, were bitter enemies to me and the other four girls in Mrs. McNee’s class.

“Mama! Why are you giving cinnamon rolls to Kevin’s family?” Mama’s eyes were swollen. Her voice broke as she answered softly, “Kevin’s daddy died of a heart attack last night.”

I was bewildered. My Dad was several years older than Mr. S., and there he sat, savoring a roll, looking solemn, but healthy as a horse. Fathers of children were not supposed to drop dead. It wasn’t part of the job description.

She was hustling me into my coat and mittens. “Mama!” I wailed. “You can’t make me go to their house all by myself!”

“Don’t drop them! Be nice to his mother and tell her how very sorry we are, and then get yourself to school,” she said as she crammed a wool hat on my head.

I inhaled to whine, and Dad raised his eyebrows at me. My arms ached from the weight of the rolls, but they warmed me as I trudged through the snow.

I managed to knock on the door, and there was Kevin — the smartest, mouthiest kid in our class, oddly quiet — but for a moment, when he smelled the rolls, he grinned. His little sisters pushed back their tangled hair and grabbed hungrily for the warm treats. His mother was nowhere to be seen.

Years passed. Perhaps there were times when Kevin and other members of his family wanted to die. But they choose to live. Mrs. S. remarried. Kevin wrestled in the 145-pound class and was voted senior class president. He went on an LDS mission, became a lawyer, married, fathered children and lost his first wife to cancer. His thick brown hair slipped away and his balding visage graced the covers of telephone books, shining with his enthusiastic smile.

If I need a lawyer, I’ll call Kevin. He was the first person whose suffering broke my heart.

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