“Boys!” Matt called up the stairs. “Pancakes are ready!”
Five young men came down the stairs in a cacophony of clattering feet and raucous voices. Talking, pushing, shoving, and jesting, they all managed to find their seats at the well-worn farmhouse table without incident. When they were settled, Matt, clad in an apron that had been his mother’s, carried over a platter piled high with steaming, golden-brown pancakes and set it in the middle of the table.
Leroy’s hand shot out to grab one of the cakes, but Vincent slapped it away. “Hands off, weirdo,” he scolded, earning him the sight of Leroy sticking out his tongue.
“Boys,” Matt warned, then turned to his eldest son. “Eric, would you please say Grace for us?”
“Sure, Dad.” The chair scraped against the floor as the tall, dark-haired eldest got to his feet. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” he said. All present made the sign of the Cross, though admittedly in varying degrees of reverence. “Bless us, O Lord, and these, Thy gifts, which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Amen.”
“Amen,” the group chorused. The sign of the Cross was completed by the others at speeds directly proportional to how eager they were to get to the fluffy hotcakes. As usual, blond, curly-headed Leroy was first, having slid through ‘Holy’ and dropped ‘Spirit’ all together as he plucked a cake from the pile and tossed it onto his plate.
“Ow,” he yelped, sticking his finger into his mouth. “That’s hot!”
“You always do that,” said towheaded Wally. “I may be the baby of this family but at least I know to use the tongs.” He picked up the tongs and handed them to Leroy. “Here, genius.” He turned to the redhead at the table. “Speaking of genius, John, would you please pass the butter?”
John, who had been cleaning his glasses on the hem of his NASA tee-shirt, put them back on his freckled nose and picked up the butter. “Coming down.” He sighed contentedly. “I love Saturdays.”
Eric handed Vincent the coffee carafe, who took it with something akin to reverence before pouring a cupful of the strong black elixir. “Hear, hear. Saturdays are for hanging out with my bros and eating pancakes. Dad and I started making them for Mom while she was pregnant with you, V,” he said, nudging the dark-haired young man to his left. “She had an awful case of morning sickness, and that was all she could eat for a while.”
“Huh?” Vincent blinked sleepily and raised his face from the fragrant, steaming cup, betraying to all present just how late he’d stayed up at his easel. “Really?” He frowned, his thick brows drawing together. “I thought Dad and I started the tradition of making Mom breakfast on Mother’s Day.” He gave his cup a sad smile. “Then when she passed on, we just kept making them every week to remember her--though we changed it to Saturdays so we could keep going to church on Sunday like she would have wanted.”
“That’s sweet, Vince, but I think you're both mistaken,” said John. “When I was in the third grade, I had an assignment where I had to show my class how to do something in a sequence of steps. I asked Dad to help me, and we chose how to make pancakes.” He shrugged. “It was fun so we just kept doing it.” His smile turned thoughtful. “As I recall, I got an A on that assignment.”
“Nah, you’re all wrong.” Leroy poured a generous dollop of syrup on his plate. “It was too expensive for us all to go out for breakfast, so Dad said we’d pretend our kitchen was a diner.” He grinned. “He made Wally and I paper hats and we used towels for aprons. You guys sat down and we took your orders.”
“I remember that,” said Wally, taking the syrup from Leroy. “That was fun! But I think we’d been doing the pancakes-on-Saturday thing for a while by then.” He turned to his father. “You told me once that you made pancakes because they were easy for me to eat. You’d cut them up into little pieces when I was learning to feed myself.”
Matt, who had been listening to his sons recount these precious memories with amusement, wiped his mouth with his napkin. “You’re all correct, but I’ll tell you the real story.” He took a mouthful of coffee and set his cup back on the table. “The first Saturday after your mother and I were married, we came home to our little apartment on the Air Force base where I was stationed.” He grinned, shaking his head. “Your mother, rest her soul, was determined to make me breakfast. She chose to make pancakes.”
Leroy’s grin echoed his father’s. “How were they, Dad?”
“They were terrible.” Everyone around the table joined him in gentle laughter. “By the time your mom had a little pile of scorched pancakes, the kitchen was a mess and the smoke alarm was going off. She was frustrated and upset, but I sat there and ate every last one because I loved her.”
“I always thought Mom was a great cook,” countered John. “She made the best spaghetti sauce from scratch, and her meatloaf was legendary.” He chuckled. “My friends always used to ask me when meatloaf night was at our house because theirs were gross.”
“That’s the thing,” Matt said with a smile. “Your mom had a sharp mind, and she was a fast learner. She had to be, especially when your Uncle Roger and I had an in-flight emergency en route to Mars, and she and her team in Houston had to come up with a quick solution.” He sighed. “She could do anything she set her mind to, but for some reason, pancakes eluded her.”
“I wonder why,” said Vincent, refilling his cup from the carafe. “Unlike her job, it wasn’t rocket science.”
Matt shrugged. “I don’t know, son. She tried many times, but eventually she gave up. One morning I thought I’d try my hand at it. I’d cooked for myself all through my bachelor days, so I gave it a shot.” His grin returned. “I’ll never forget the look on her face when I set a plate full of perfect pancakes in front of her. That’s why I make them, so I can remember that look--and her.” He glanced around the table at the sons she had given him. “She loved you all so much.”
All six men fell silent, lost in remembrance until Leroy pushed back his chair and held his orange juice glass aloft. “To Mom.”
Five chairs scraped back in quick succession, and various glasses and mugs came up to meet Leroy’s. “To Mom.”
And thus began a new tradition: A toast to Mom before the pancake breakfast could commence.