My mom used to make pancakes on Sunday mornings. Not long ago, I found her recipe in a drawer, typed on her old stationary, with Mrs. Woodard printed in fancy script at the top, next to the family’s address before I was born.

The recipe called for sourdough starter, which my mom had kept in the fridge for years. I think I remember her saying she used her Grandma Mitchell’s sourdough starter, because her Grandma was the most incredible cook she’d ever known. My mom’s eyes well with tears now whenever Grandma Mitchell’s name is mentioned… and if there’s one common thread to the blanket of our family story, woven by this motley crew of generations, it’s that Grandma Mitchell was the dearest, kindest, hardest-working person anyone had ever met. 

She was still alive when I was born, for awhile. I don’t remember her, but I’ve heard enough to gather that she probably wouldn’t have spent much time fighting over shadow politics on InstaTwittBook. She was too busy helping others, like making underwear for my aunt and mom from the burlap sacks that had once held potatoes destined for the giant kitchen kettles where she worked. She labored tirelessly as the head cook for the school district, but money was tight in Depression-Era California, and she had to make do.

My parents were in town last week, and I wanted to make those Sunday morning pancakes again. I hunted around online for a sourdough starter to use with my mom’s pancake recipe, commenting out loud about how I wish I still had Grandma Mitchell’s. I gave up my search when I realized that a sourdough starter would take a few days to get, well, sour, and fed my parents granola instead. Every link led to more ads than content, anyway.

My aunt drove over from Nevada to celebrate my mom’s birthday and drop off a few boxes of family relics. We spent an evening going through old photos and treasures like sewing scissors and rusted thimbles, last used by one Grandma Mitchell.

A small, nondescript box was nestled next to the sewing kit, but was only given a cursory glance before we started sorting through ancient mining claims, left behind by a great-uncle somewhere down the line.Humans like to explain everything, especially these days. We’re afraid of the mystery, of any process other than what we think we can control.But I can’t tell you why, a few hours after wishing out loud that I had something as a random as a sourdough starter recipe, I was sitting on my couch, with a small, nondescript box on my lap. Mildew rode the wafts of must, creeping over the faded yellow wooden sides, as I lifted the lid to find tattered pieces of paper with scribbled dates of 1929 and 1931.

And there, second to the last clipping from the bottom.Her recipe for sourdough starter.

I’m grateful to meet you again, Grandma Mitchell.Even through pancakes.

Well, especially.And welcome home.

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