Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Giving them a Gnocchi memory

We were so excited to see the movie Unbroken several years back.  It is the true story of Louis Zamperini.  Louis was the Olympic runner who found himself as a prisoner of war after his B-24 bomber crashed into the Pacific.  He and two other men survived the crash and were stranded for 47 days on a raft floating in the Pacific.  They endured sufferings that only the strongest of minds could withstand.   Constant shark attacks, little to no food and water, torrential storms, and fending off several attacks by Japanese bombers while trying to stay alive, tested these courageous men daily and once rescued found themselves again in worse captivity as POWs.

Louis was a very difficult child for his Italian immigrant parents.  He was constantly in trouble with the law and at school.  One scene in the movie, Louis is sitting on the dark steps watching his mother make Gnocchi.  Gnocchi is a traditional Italian dish.   It is a dumpling made with flour, egg, cheese, potato, breadcrumbs, and cornmeal.  Each egg was cracked and kneaded into the flour with care. He watched each egg be cracked while methodically counting in his head the number of eggs in the recipe.   Louis had a particularly rough day as he had been found drinking and was beaten by his father that night.

 His mother didn't know Louis was observing.  She was just preparing food late that evening.  She didn't know she was imprinting on his mind and heart memories of home that would give him the will to live in a few short years.   She wasn't purposefully teaching any lesson or trying to show Louis anything.  She just was. She was just preparing dinner.

Fast forward many years later, Louis is floating in the middle of the Pacific for a month now and it was well-known that the mind went before the body in such desperate situations.  Louis knew that and encouraged the other two men to keep talking.  He said over and over that they had to keep talking.  There were two topics that the men talked over and over about.  Food and baseball.  Mainly food.  Louis would recall the scene of his mother making Gnocchi.  He would tell the men how she cracked each egg into the flour.  He took Mac's hand and pretended to knead the dough.  It kept them going and gave them hope.  That simple memory was enough to keep him alive and motivated to get home.  His mother's Gnocchi.

 Several scenes later into the movie and after having been a POW for over two year now, Louis is forced to go on the Japanese radio and lie that everything is okay and all the prisoners are being treated well. This is quite contrary to what is actually happening in the camp especially to Louis who was beaten everyday by the Japanese.  He was beaten so close to death numerous times.  He was addressing his family members individually and reminded his father to get some good rabbits for mom's Gnocchi sauce.

I think of this specific simple theme a lot in my motherhood.  Louis's memory of his mother making Gnocchi kept him going.  What would keep my children going if in a similar situation?  What will be their "Gnocchi" memory in our home.  For me, it is my mother making bread.  My mother made bread every Monday.  We consumed hundreds of loaves and rolls.  Bread still pulls us home. My brother and his family walk over every Saturday morning for homemade toast.  Bread is what my kids look forward to when going home to visit my mom.
Meal preparation can often seem to be a chore. With the lens of providing them memories of the actual making and preparing food and our presence in the kitchen moving about, cracking eggs, measuring flour, boiling water, mixing, baking, and all that food prep entails is actually plowing into their memories feelings of home, comfort, joy, excitement, routine, and availability.  To me, it is not a mundane task to cross of my list.  I recall often Louis and his memory of his mother and collect myself to give my children that same image.  I know in the years to come and life's trials begin to confront our children on an adult level, memories of home and kitchen will give them comfort and a sense of belonging.


  1. I love this! My children think of me as cooking all the time--like it's my hobby. IN reality I don't really enjoy cooking, but I do it a LOT, because it's my job and I do it cheerfully. What a memory.

    Have you read this book? I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but my husband said the movie was a pale shadow of the book. (Angelina Jolie apparently cut out some relevant things about Louis' faith, which annoyed my husband.) I want to read the book this year!! My children and I recently got to tour a B-24 bomber (and watch it take off to fly) and it was SO COOL, and also sobering, to imagine what it was like for the men who fought in those planes.

    1. Polly, the book is absolutely incredible! I was so excited to see the movie come out but heard the reviews similar to your husband's; Angelina totally glossed over the dramatic conversion Louis had after he came back to the States. The author does an incredible job portraying Louis' experience of Christ; it is well worth the read!

    2. I highly recommend this book. I read it while going through chemotherapy--I read LOTS of survivor stories during that time. I couldn't put it down. The movie was good, too, though not as good as the book.

  2. I'm always baking or cooking, and I imagine that will be how my kids remember me. They think I love it. I do love cooking and baking, but not enough to do it as often as I do just for its own sake! I do it for love of them-wanting to give them good food that will nourish them, within our budget. I make all our breads, and "dough" has been one of the first words each of my littles learn to say. Dough attracts little kids like a magnet, no matter how often it is made. It never fails to enthrall. My three littlest ones, 3-year-old twins and a 21 month old, love watching me make dough of any sort. They can never keep their hands out of it. They drive me nuts poking and pinching, but I try to keep cheerful because I know it's a time we can bond and something they'll remember. Last week I'd made my little pile of flour, formed a well in the middle, and cracked in some eggs to make some pasta for lunch. As I usually do, I was pouring in some white wine with the eggs. My little boy (3) said, "Oh mama, I usually don't like wine with my eggs." It was so precious, and I would have missed it if I'd sent his naughty little hands away.

  3. This is such a lovely reminder to cheerfully go about my daily work and to be available to them when I'm "busy" with these things. Thank you for always encouraging the rest of us in the motherhood trenches. And I'm loving reading your more frequent posts. Nothing is too mundane or short of a post to impart some wisdom and bring delight!

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  5. One of my favourite lines of the Brothers Karamazov

    "You must know that there is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good, sacred memory, preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end
    of his days, and if one has only one good memory left in one's heart, even that may sometime be the means of saving us."