These pancakes have a story to be told. It’s a scary one, but it turns out alright. I made a second batch, not quite like the first, but close, so you could get a glimpse of their part in forming the rainbow after the storm.
But it was not a dark and stormy night. Instead, it was an unseasonably warm evening in early May, the night before graduation day at the University of Idaho. Since I live a block from campus, the neighborhood was humming with the anticipation of ceremony, celebration, and extra friends and relatives arriving for the occasion. I had just finished my supper. Tired and a bit sore after my labors in the yard and warmer temperatures, I was about to crash on the couch for a while with Romeo before tackling the dishes that had accrued throughout the day. A few minutes before this I had heard some loud female screams coming from across the road, but since they were not accompanied by any screeching tires and sounds of crushed metal, I thought it probably wasn’t a car accident, and was most probably someone who had had a bit too much early celebration and was now paying the price. I heard no one arguing with the voice, so was not worried about violence. But when I came into the living room I saw several boys standing on my lawn talking.
For a second I was cranky, wondering why they were congregating on my driveway, and if I should use the old teacher trick of physical proximity to push them back next door or wherever they came from. But when I got on the porch, I saw that at least two of the boys were my neighbors, one I know by name, and that they all looked at me with that look college kids get when they suddenly need a seasoned grown-up to provide an explanation.
“What happened?” I asked.
“An accident,” one of them said, a bit wide-eyed.
“That was the yelling?” I asked.
I looked toward the intersection at the corner, just a lot away, but saw no cars. Then my eyes made out a huddle of people on the ground.
“The girl in the wheelchair,” said Collin, who I knew a little and liked. I turned back and our eyes locked for a second.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ll get my shoes on,” I said.
Suddenly my feet had wings. I threw on my sandals and grabbed Romeo and his leash. We hurried to the intersection, where now I could see Ashley lying on the ground, surrounded by strangers. A police officer was talking to her gently, then got up to respond to his radio. I went right over to her head at the open space he left, and put my hand on her hair.
“Ashley, honey,” I said. “It’s Maria. I’m here.”
She said, “I’m so scared. I’m so glad you’re here. At least somebody I know. ”
I patted her head while she cried and shook. She was definitely in shock.The policeman was trying to get her to see the sense in going to the hospital. She was terribly frightened. She managed to blurt out to me,
“Go get my Mom. She’s at my house.”
“I’ll go right now,” I said. And off we went.
It’s been a long time since I ran down a street, but that’s pretty much what Romeo and I did. Some of you who follow my blog may remember being introduced to Ashley in my post Interdependence Days. Since I wrote that post, her brother has moved to Moscow to live with her. He is as slight of frame as she is large, but strong as iron in both body and spirit, with a heart of gold, just like hers. When I met him I said, “So you’re ‘the brother’,” which is how Ashely refers to him. We both smiled and I knew we would be friends, too, because of Ashley. So my periodical deliveries of healthy vegan goodies now include a bit more in case he wants to try something, too.
When I got to the apartment, he answered the door. I just blurted out, “Ashley’s been hit by a car.”
You’re joking,” he said.
“No,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
But he was already running past me and down the street. Close behind him came a young looking woman, as slight as he is, with long blonde hair, and for a moment, in the confusion, and because I’d hardly seen her as she darted past me, I thought she might be his girlfriend. I would later find out she is Ashley’s Mom.
When Romeo and I arrived back at the scene of the accident, Ashley’s brother and the blonde woman were kneeling with Ashley, along with the police officer and a couple of other women.
When Josh, her brother, got up, he reassured me that he thought Ashley was not too seriously hurt, just banged up and really really shocked and scared. The trick now would be talking her into agreeing to the ambulance ride to the hospital where they could be more sure she did not have a serious head or internal injury. With his usual deliberate sense of purpose he went to talk to the police officer and the woman who had hit Ashley. He wanted to be sure he met her. He was angry but he didn’t lose his cool. I admired his fierce love for his sister and his ability to keep himself calm enough to take care of business in the face of the accident and the attendant anxiety he and everyone else was feeling.
When another of the women got up, I mistook her for Ashley’s mother. I was as addled as everyone else in my own quieter way, and she was large and had red hair, like Ashley.
She said “Oh no, I stopped as a witness and to help. That is Ashley’s mother over there. Her name is Laura.”
And then it all came together for me. I realized that the slight youngishly dressed blonde woman kneeling over Ashley and speaking to her intently was indeed her mother. When she stood up for a moment to let the paramedics do a little gentle examining. I went over to her and said, “You must be Ashley’s Mom. I’m Maria, her neighbor.”
And she said, “Oh, you’re the one that brings the special food in the basket! Thank you so much. You really mean a lot to her.” And she threw her arms around me.
That she could be thanking me at a time like this was both comforting and humbling.
Meanwhile, the attending police officer, her friend Erica who had been pushing the wheelchair, her brother and others were gently trying to reassure Ashley that it would be safe for her to ride in the ambulance. She just wanted help getting up and going home so she could graduate in the morning. I was very impressed with the gentleness of the police officer, and the paramedic team. They asked permission to do each thing before they did it, went very slowly, and explained how they would place protective blocks around her head and lift her onto a board. Her mother would ride with her in the ambulance. When she needed reassurance from someone she knew, I’d take a turn and bend down and touch her hair and let her say whatever she wanted to say.
As great as the paramedic team was, Ashley was just as amazing. Like so many of us with special needs, she knew her body and what it was doing and how it was reacting. She’d explain that her legs were spasming because she was nervous and they would calm down if given a chance. I never saw anyone force her to take anything or do anything and for that I am grateful.
As they were loading her into the ambulance, Josh asked me if I would come to the hospital. He thought it would be calming for her to continue to have people around her she knew.
It was now dark, and I was pretty played out, but I said yes without a moment’s hesitation. The hospital is about a half-mile from my house and the site of the accident, walkable on any day. But it was the end of a long day that had already had two walks in it, so I decided to ask one of the girls who live next door to me give Romeo and me a lift over. That way we would only have to walk back, and that would be a good way to relax and unwind in the night as it cooled off.
Sometimes when you know people from the heart, you don’t know obvious things about them like apartment numbers and last names. It’s the smile and the connection that matters. So I knew when I got to the hospital that saying I was Ashley’s neighbor and her brother had asked me to come would be enough information for whoever was at the desk. I also knew that Josh and his mother had no idea I couldn’t drive, and that his wasn’t the time for them to find that out.
My neighbor wisely dropped Romeo and I off at the Emergency Room entrance. As the doors parted to let us in, I noticed right away that strange, harshly lit quiet, an odd sort of coziness that a hospital waiting room has at night. Although I’ve lived in Moscow for over 20 years, I’ve only been to the hospital a handful of times. One of those times was years ago when a friend’s second child was born by cesarian. Two of those times were in the last two weeks. Just a week ago a long time friend had to be overnight due to an infection and fever, and his wife had called to let me know. Romeo and I had walked down while she was at an appointment to bring my friend some flowers from the garden. It was May Day. And now I was here as group support for Ashley. I realized this was the first time I’d ever been to this hospital at night.
The woman at the desk said that the doctor and nurses were in with Ashley checking her out, and so were her mother and brother. That was enough people for now. We could take turns, two at a time, and she would let us know. So we went to sit down as far away and out of the direct line of the television as I could manage. I was glad for the chance to get off my feet and catch my breath. The young woman who had been pushing Ashley across the street, her friend Erica, was also waiting. She was still quite distraught, wringing her Kleenex and dabbing her eyes. I smiled at her and said hello. She moved closer and she started up a conversation, mostly I think, to keep her mind off how responsible she felt, although of course it was not her fault the car continued on when they had seen it stop.
When I told her I was Ashley’s neighbor she said, “Oh, you’re the one that brings the cool vegan food!! I eat that food with Ashley!! It’s fantastic!! Wow, those cookies (Holy Shadow Cookies) are incredible!! And those vegan meatballs!! (Susan’s Gluten Free Meatball Mix) Ashley told me to stop eating them because she didn’t want me to eat them all! And what was that stuff with the chickpeas? (Ratatouille Bake from the Fat Free Vegan site). That was awesome!! We both are kind of junk food junkies, but we really love everything you’ve brought. It’s so healthy and tastes great!”
Of course I was pleased as punch, but also relieved we had found something to talk about that brought a smile back to her face. I also found out we are both originally from northern California, and that she had made friends with Ashley when they both lived in the dorms.
A hospital receptionist came out and asked if I was Maria. She told us that a woman who had been at the laundromat had seen the accident and had collected some of Ashley’s laundry for her. Could the laundry be dropped off at my house perhaps? I said yes, that it would be easier to find than Ashley’s apartment, it was the blue house across the street from the laundromat. It could be left on the bench on my front porch.
After a while her mother came out. Except for her bumps and scrapes, and possibly a good case of whiplash, Ashley was going to be fine. We all talked about how much we love her, and how she tells it like it is, and knows what she needs and what she doesn’t need at any given moment and will say so. I told her mother I had a lot of respect for that.
Her Mom grew pensive for a moment, as is so often the case once the worst is over. “At first,” she said, speaking seriously of Ashley’s “difference” and her personal strength in the face of it, “I felt sorry for myself, and would think, why me? But then I realized this isn’t happening to me, it’s happening to her. And that made all the difference.”
Now Ashley and her brother weren’t the only ones in this family I had respect for. I could see how much love there was between daughter, mother and brother, along with straighforward acceptance of Ashley’s differences, which her mother said Ashley really noticed for the first time as she checked herself out in the mirror when she was 5.
At this point some other relatives in for the graduation arrived. I knew I was getting tired and would have to walk home, so I asked if I could go in and see Ashley for just a few moments. When I went in, she was talking with Josh and a clinician from the hospital about whether the wheelchair he brought in would work for her until they could get hers fixed. In addition to everything else, apparently Josh also knows how to weld. So he was going to have a go at fixing Ashley’s chair. Talk about a brother who’s a super hero.
Even flat on the gurney with a blue goose egg blossoming at the top of her forehead, Ashley’s sense of humor and matter of fact manner had returned. The calm sparkle was back in her eyes. She was happy to finally be going home. We smiled at each other, said I love you, and squeezed hands. “Romeo, too,” Ashley said, as he gently sniffed her hand in mine.
“Will I fit in it?” she quipped to the hospital orderly about the chair he had wheeled in. “I can’t see it from here because I can’t move my head!” We all assured her she would fit. And she giggled.
It was quiet and dark outside the bright lights of the emergency room entrance. As Romeo and I crossed the lawn and headed home, I noticed the night had cooled off. It felt good. When we got nearer to the heart of downtown, I realized that the night life was at a bright, almost fevered pitch. The sidewalk cafes and bars were full. Music and laughter spilled out of doors and onto the sidewalk. Even though I walk this route nearly every day, we’re rarely out this late at night, so it had a strange feel to it, as if I were on holiday, or in a dream and my feet weren’t quite touching the ground. I was so overloaded I determined to be extra careful to watch where I was going and entrain myself to Romeo so I didn’t trip over those feet I couldn’t quite feel.
When we got home, I knew getting in bed and letting the whole thing replay in my head was not going to relax me into the sleep I needed. I remembered that the witness I had mistaken for Ashley’s mother had also come into the Emergency waiting room with a graduation card she gave to Erica for Ashley. That had started me thinking about what I might do overnight to help her celebrate. Naturally my mind went to food. But it seemed too intrusive for them and tiring for me to try and dream up a main course when they don’t eat like I do and probably already had other plans.
But they would need breakfast. Suddenly two very funny thoughts overtook me. One was a long ago memory of a scene from the wacky show way back in the 70s called Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. Someone—Mary?—her husband?—or one of her relatives—had been arrested or held hostage?—and they were finally all leaving the police station. The antidote to the calamity was Mary directing everyone to the House of Pancakes (is there anything the internet can’t cough up?). Somehow a meal of pancakes would make everything alright. The other was more literary, but no less zany. Poet Robert Hass begins his poem “Songs to Survive the Summer” with an epigram from Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov that reads, “It’s funny, isn’t it, Karamazov. . .all this grief, and pancakes afterwards.”
Suddenly it seemed like the perfect thing to do; whip up a sweet stack that would relax me in the bargain. So, in the spirit of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, “Songs to Survive the Summer,” and The Brothers Karamazov, I made pancakes. My tweaked lower fat version of Post Punk Kitchen’s Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes. I used to make these for myself once a week, on Sunday mornings, but I hadn’t done it in a long time, so I had to scramble around to see if I had ingredients that would work. Partial bags of specialty flours in the freezer: check. No maple syrup, but yes, date syrup. Or so I thought. Then I realized, due to the perils of shopping without my glasses on, that I had bought Date Lady Caramel Sauce instead of Date Lady Date Syrup. And that the applesauce I had was frozen. Nevertheless, I came up with a pancake that worked. The few tablespoons of caramel syrup went well with the buckwheat, and I sent the rest of the bottle down with the pancakes to use as topping. For fruit I defrosted some wild huckleberries from last season, a festive north Idaho treat at any time of year. It would all pack up separately with ease, and be easily reheated and assembled in the morning.
So I turned the radio to late night jazz and I made pancakes. When I brought them down to her apartment near midnight, they had all just gotten back. Josh took the bag and peaked in. A smile broke out on his face. “Sweet,” he said. Ashley was resting and doing fine. And her mother said she was already on the late night local news. “She’s famous, “ I said, and we all agreed she was newsworthy any day. I wished them a very happy graduation day, and went home to sleep like a log.
The girls next door reported the next afternoon that Ashley was at the ceremony in her borrowed chair. She “walked,” as the saying goes, in her own unique way. She graduated. And best of all, she and Josh will still be my neighbors for at least another semester.
Ashley’s Gluten Free Buckwheat Pancakes with Caramel Syrup and Huckleberries
Makes 8 five inch pancakes
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/4 cup quinoa flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1 tablespoon ground flax seeds
2 tablespoons potato flour,cornstarch, arrowroot or tapioca flour
(I used one of potato starch and one of arrowroot because I was out of tapioca starch)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup, date syrup or caramel sauce
2 tablespoons of mashed banana or applesauce
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
a sprinkling of raw buckwheat groats on the top of the pancake once it hits the pan and before it gets flipped..
In a large mixing bowl, mix together all flours, flax seeds, tapioca, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Create a well in the center and add the remaining ingredients. Use a fork to mix well for about a minute. Let the batter rest, and preheat a large, non-stick or cast iron pan over medium-high heat.
When pan is hot, spoon batter onto pan. PPK says to use an ice cream scooper to pour batter and form pancakes. It works great. I do one at a time, but two will fit. The pancake should start to form little air bubbles, but not as much as “normal” pancakes do, so don’t worry. Cook for 2 1/2 to 3 minutes, then flip and cook for 2 minutes more. Keep warm on a plate until ready to serve.
Top with a small amount of date syrup or caramel sauce and fresh or frozen/thawed berries of your choice.