Bread of Life

Man may not live by bread alone but it’s a good place to start.

Bread is as essential to us of European descent as rice is to Asia. We “break bread” together. We give thanks for our “daily bread.” When women, a century ago, marched for better working conditions and the right to vote, they sang “Give us bread and roses.”

I grew up with bread-making. Mom made bread, six loaves at a time, almost every week. We knew what was in store the day she saved the potato water. Tomorrow, there’d be bread fresh out of the oven when we got home from school! We could taste it, smell it, from that moment on.

Next morning by breakfast-time, Mom was already scooping flour out of the bin. She baked so much that we bought flour (and sugar) in 100 lb sacks. (As an aside, those flour sacks were recycled. Once the flour was dumped out, she unpicked the seams, washed and bleached them to remove the trade marks – either Five Roses or Robin Hood – and then handed them off to me to hem for dish towels. She told me when she grew up during the Dirty Thirties, her mother made those flour sacks into underclothes for the girls or shirts for the boys). She was kneading the dough by the time we left for school. The bread was into its second rise when we came home for dinner – we lived only a quarter-mile from school – and soon it would be in the pans.

The heavenly aroma of bread greeted us as we ran in the door after school. The loaves were out of the pan, cooling. Time for “coffee”, the mid-afternoon lunch that was both tradition and ritual in our family. Mom and Dad had coffee; my brother and I had milk. Mom cut the still-warm bread; it steamed as she let the first piece – the heel – fall away. Then, to prevent a battle royal from breaking out, she cut the heel off the other end of the loaf.

You see, my brother and I both preferred the heel (still do) because we could slather on no end of butter and jam without it falling apart. The heel made a most satisfying crunch when we bit into it. And it had more flavour, or so we claimed, than the inner slices.

By the end of “coffee,” we had demolished the better part of that first loaf.

Bread-making fell by the wayside for many families. It was easier to get your loaf ready-made from the grocery store or the bakery. Now, in the midst of this pandemic, people seem to have rediscovered bread-making. Yeast and flour are almost as rare as toilet paper.

My husband uses a bread machine but, for me, the grind and thump of the machine is no substitute for the physical, visceral experience of kneading bread. At its most elemental, it is a communion of person, flour, water and yeast.

Kneading is meditation – turn, fold, push, repeat again and again. I rock back and forth with each turn and push.

It is physical – I feel the dough give and resist, give and resist.

It is sensual – the smell of flour and yeast, the dough turning from sticky and obstreperous to smooth and satiny. Every now and then, the dough speaks, a slight squeak as an air bubble pops.

And it is memory reenacted, memories of my mother and her mother before her, standing at a counter, participating in a ritual generations-old.

Then magic happens. This seemingly inert mass of flour and water and yeast grows and expands before your very eyes. It seems so fragile – poke it and it collapses with a sigh. Yet it is resilient; it expands once again, this time taking the shape of whatever you want to create, be they loaves, buns, cinnamon rolls – the possibilities are endless.

Perhaps that’s the lesson to be learned from bread-making in the midst of this pandemic – that even though we may appear fragile, we are also resilient. Although we may collapse in the face of something overwhelming, we will rise again. That our strength, our resiliency, grows out of our malleability.

There’s more than food for the body in that humble loaf of bread.

#BreadMaking #Meditation #ChildhoodMemories #COVID19 #Resiliency #Hope #Courage #MargaretGHanna

Musings on a Chance Encounter

He swaggered across the parking lot, a swagger enhanced by a pronounced limp. He was dressed in black from head to toe: black leather stetson with a star badge on the crown, black trousers and shirt, a black leather belt fastened with a large shiny oval buckle, and a long black leather drover’s coat that flapped around his black cowboy boots. All he was missing was the six-shooter on his hip and a Winchester rifle. Instead, he carried, and used, a heavy wooden walking stick. I could almost hear the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”: toodle-loodle-loo, too-loo-loooooo.

He opened the store’s glass door and stopped, shocked to see me standing there. “Sorry, ma’am, I didn’t see you.” He bowed low and swept his arm out as an invitation for me to exit.

I smiled and shook my head. “That’s okay. I’m waiting for my ride.”

He smiled, whipped off his black sunglasses – one eye was covered with a patch – “Morning, ma’am,” and entered the store. Clerks greeted him by name; he was obviously a regular customer. They laughed and joked. He found what he was looking for, paid for it, then walked to the door.

* * *

Who was this Gentleman Gambler type? The limp, the patched eye suggested a veteran. Perhaps he had fought in Bosnia or Afghanistan, or one of the Gulf wars – he was too young to have fought in Viet Nam. But if he had, how could he be so cheery? War is a messy business. Your comrades die horrible deaths, or survive to live horrible lives, as do you, wounded in both body and soul. How had this man, if he had been a soldier, risen above despair and depression? He had obviously found something that made life worth living, and worth living well.

Or perhaps he had been a bull rider. That would explain the western garb, the big shiny belt buckle, the swagger, the limp. Bull riders are the king of the rodeo circuit. Anyone who would willingly sit on the back of a ton or more of an animal whose only intent is to throw you off its back and then gore you – well, that person is either supremely confident or insane. Probably insane. But also respected. Eventually, he decided he was too old for that contest of wills and for the bodily punishment that ensued. He retired happily – he had his earnings, his injuries and his belt buckle to prove his success in the arena. He had stories to tell over coffee or beer or whatever he and his friends gathered over. He had survived; no wonder he was happy.

* * *

I was still standing by the door, waiting for my ride to appear. As he left the till, I walked outside and held the door open for him. He tipped his hat. “Thank you, ma’am. Bless you and good morning.” I watched him swagger back across the parking lot. He was whistling.

And the tune he was whistling? The theme from “Rawhide.”

 

(Wars and bulls result in stories either funny or sad. Two such stories are in my book, “Our Bull’s Loose in Town!” Tales from the Homestead, available in both paperback and e-book. Like the story above, they are — as Hollywood claims — based on true events.)

 

#WesternCowboy #BullRider #Soldier #Contemplation #Attitude #Courage #Happiness #MargaretGHanna #OurBullsLooseInTown #BWLAuthor

Regrets

Every afternoon, as I walked to work, I saw the old woman sitting on the park bench, feeding pigeons. Then, one day, she wasn’t. I stopped, startled.

Questions: Where was she? Was she sick? Dead?

Who was she? Perhaps a renowned scientist, a poet, a successful businesswoman. Was she a beloved grandmother? Mother? Sister?

The question that truly burned: Why could I notice her in her absence when I couldn’t take the time to notice her when present? Why didn’t I smile, say hello?

Regret filled me. I should have stopped. What memories did I miss by ignoring her?

(my response to the 99-word challenge to write about a park bench)

#Regret #MissedOpportunity #Meditation #Fiction #99WordChallenge #MargaretGHanna #BWLAuthor

After the Storm

You were always fascinated with storms. Even as a toddler, you were never afraid of lightning and thunder. It wasn’t enough just to watch from the safety of the house. You wanted to feel the rumble in your very bones, to breath the rain into your soul. After the storm, you stood in awe at the sight of the rainbow. A gift from the storm, you called it.

Then came the day of the hail. You watched in horror as it pounded everything into the ground. You cried when you saw the leaves stripped off your favourite tree, the tree that had been your friend since, well, since forever.

The first time you were “lost” I searched for you everywhere and finally found you asleep in its shade, curled up against its trunk. You loved that tree. You climbed it, hugged it, counted birds’ nests, sighed as leaves fell in autumn, rejoiced as new leaves sprang forth in springtime.

After the hail storm – THAT hail storm – you panicked every time dark clouds loomed. You worried and fretted, cried and hid your face, prayed that this time your friend the tree would be spared. I had to remind you that the tree had survived that storm, that it regrew leaves, that it continued to flourish and grow and provide the shade and friendship that you so loved.

You’re a young woman now, weathering a storm of your own. As you look out at the tree, you know these storm clouds will pass; that, like your tree, you will survive and flourish, you will provide shade and comfort and friendship to those whom you love, to those you love you in return. You only have to wait.

The gift of the rainbow is coming.

(inspired by “After the Storm,” painting by Loreen Feser, Airdrie artist and participant in Voice and Vision 2019)

#Resilience #Hope #Faith #Courage #VoiceAndVision #MargaretGHanna #BWLAuthor

How I learned you can’t go home again

Part 2: The Farm

My brother and I drove to the farm last year. We knew the house was no longer there; a year or so after GD bought the farm, he sold the house which now sits on a wind-swept hill east of Swift Current.

We weren’t prepared for the other changes.

ChangesInFarmOf the original buildings, only the barn, the hen house and the garage still stood. Everything else – the old wooden granaries, the shop, the implement shed, the sidewalks that once bordered the house – were all gone. Grass had taken over what had been Mom’s prized flower garden. It had invaded what had been our vegetable garden. Even the old basement was gone. GD had filled it in and built a new home in the garden north of where our house had stood. All the trees, lilac bushes, and peonies that once grew there were gone.

My brother and I stood in the yard, disoriented, confused.

We found the concrete patio that marked the southwest corner of the house. We traced where the sidewalk along the south side of the house used to be. We stood where the east-facing kitchen window used to be, where if winter atmospheric conditions were just right, we could see Lafleche (13 miles distant) float above the little valley in which it sat.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe found the two trees where our swing used to hang, and the tree we used to climb. We wandered into the barn. Even though no cow had been in it for almost 50 years, the huge old-growth fir beams still retained vestigial smells of cow and horse and manure and straw. We found remnants of the old pump for watering the livestock, overgrown with grass.

Our home had all but disappeared.

 

The farm was more than where we lived. It was where we became who we are today.

Here, we learned the value of hard work, perseverance, determination, even stubbornness; the prairies are, after all, “Next Year” country. We learned to respect and care for the land from which we earned our living.

Here, we learned that failure is not the end; it is merely a lesson to be learned. There is life after failure.

Here, we learned to roll with the punches because there are always forces (weather) and circumstances (e.g., international markets) beyond our control.

Here, we learned that death is part of life. The animals we fed, watered and cared for eventually ended up on our dinner plate.

And here, from our parents, we learned the value of community and of working for justice. Our parents were involved in many organizations, both religious and secular, as members and as leaders, always striving to improve life for their children and for others.

We learned the sense of satisfaction that comes from having accomplished a day’s hard work, be it getting the harvest in the bin before the threatened snow arrived, or seeing 90 quarts of pickles sitting on the kitchen table.

We learned the value of education, that learning never stops. Our parents made great sacrifices so that we could get a good education. They, themselves, never stopped learning.

We also had unparalleled freedom. No helicopter parents hovered. We walked unaccompanied into Meyronne to play in the school yard, to visit Grandma or to play with friends. We ran about and played, occasionally in places deemed dangerous – we climbed trees and jumped off the roofs of granaries. We rode the calves (a forbidden pastime) when Dad was away. In exercising that freedom, we learned that actions have consequences, and we had better be prepared to live with those consequences. We also learned to assess risk vs. reward.

We learned to imagine. The inside of the threshing machine (another forbidden place) became a cave. Trees were the masts of sailing ships and we were pirates sailing the high seas in search of treasure.

We learned responsibility. Long before we were legally able to drive, Dad taught us to drive the truck and machinery, and we learned that power meant danger and must be treated with care and respect.

In time, the farm became my refuge from the stress of my work. There was something healing about weeding the garden, or sitting in the garden swing, or listening to birds greet the early summer dawn.

As my brother and I stood there in the yard last fall, it became obvious the home we had once known was gone forever. At the same time, I realized “Home” was no longer a physical place. “Home” was who I had become. It was embedded in my values, my priorities, my expectations, my worldview.

“Home” will always be with me.

 

#MeyronneHistory #HannaFamilyHistory #Memories #RuralHistory #Contemplations MargaretGHanna #VillageLife #Nostalgia #RememberingThePast #NonFiction

How I learned you can’t go home again

Part 1: The Village

“The past is a foreign country,” wrote L.P. Hartley. “They do things differently there.”

No. We do things differently here. The past is over and done, fixed, immutable. We cannot change what happened then.

Not so with our memories.

Psychologists, neurologists and other “ists” tell us that our memories are anything but immutable. We remember some aspects of things past, forget others, confuse events, think we were somewhere when we weren’t. Even the act of recalling a memory changes that memory, or so they tell us.

Memory is a muddle.

So, what was I remembering when I went back to my home village of Meyronne this summer? I walked up and down the streets for almost an hour, looking at vacant lots where once there had been homes, businesses and gathering places. The village was eerily quiet, quite unlike my memory. Continue reading “How I learned you can’t go home again”

In the beginning . . .

Cosmos2_1
Cindy Zampa: Cosmos 2 (used with permission)

In the beginning
chaos and confusion reigned

I did not speak.

The miasma of elements and energy swirled
drifted to and fro
pulsing
pulsing
pulsing.

I did not speak.

The unspoken word is formless, shapeless,
full of potential, opportunity, future, hope

The spoken word takes flesh and form,
is solid, fixed.
takes its own course with consequences
unimagined and unimaginable.

What is spoken cannot be unspoken
what is done cannot be undone

And thus I dared not speak.

But then you took my hand in yours.
I looked into your face,
saw Wisdom in your eyes,
heard you say, “You are not alone,”

And then We spoke.

(Inspired by Cindy Zampa’s Voice and Vision 2019 painting Cosmos 2. The poem combines elements of two Judeo-Christian creation stories: the first chapter of the Book of Genesis and the creation story as narrated by Wisdom (a woman) in Chapter 8 of the Book of Proverbs.)

You can see more of Cindy’s art here.

#VoiceAndVision2019 #Creation #Poetry #SpokenWord #CindyZampa #MargaretGHanna #Meditation

Blah! Blah! Blah!

They bury us ‘neath heaps of words
And promises galore,
With e-mails, tweets and Instagram
And knockings on our door,
With TV ads and streetside signs
Till we cry out, “No more!”

“Where’s the wisdom and the vision
That unifies this lot?
We see no indication that
You’ve given it much thought.
Without that, all your promises
Are so much tommy-rot.”

 

(We are in the midst of a federal election, with politicians from all parts of the spectrum vying to buy our votes with our money. Do I sound cynical?)

#FederalElection #Promises #Politicians #Poem #Humour #Poetry #MargaretGHanna

Consider the Trees . . .

LeafInHandI stand in a cathedral of aspens among grey-green trunks that glisten silvery in the sunlight. A hint of a passing breeze sends down a shower of golden confetti to cover the ground. I walk on a carpet of jewels – gold and garnet, emerald and citrine – that shimmers underfoot.

A single leaf nestles in my outstretched hand. Its red-gold beauty whispers, “Do not fade away. Go out in a blaze of glory.”

* * *

Never mind the lilies of the field. Consider the trees. They don’t fade away into a dirty brown or grey. No, come autumn, they paint the hillsides with amazing hues – yellow, gold, red, orange, even purple. The sight of them gives us thrills. We gasp in awe and amazement, exclaim, “Oh wow! Look at that!” We glory in their beauty. Perhaps they survive the summer just to be able to sport their autumn colours in their last days.

There’s no reason for us to wait for our final days before we show our colours. Why wait to be a grandmother to be a Raging Granny? Or an old woman who wears “purple/ With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me” (per Jenny Joseph)? Take your cue from e. e. cummings who maintained there are two kinds of people: those who are truly alive and those who are merely not-dead.

Neither is there any reason to fade away as we age.  Robert Browning reminds us that “The best is yet to be,/ The last of life, for which the first was made.” Every one of us must know some feisty, so-called “old” person who just will not slow down, who is still opinionated (and doesn’t hesitate to share those opinions), and who can run circles – mentally if not physically – around us so-called younger folk. Who still sports his/her colours with pride and passion.

It’s not easy to strut your colours. It takes courage, chutzpah, perhaps even a bit of egotism. What is really essential is faith in yourself — that who you are and what you do and say will bring colour into someone else’s life. When we show our colours, we give others hope and joy, and perhaps even the courage to show their own colours.

Down with drab. Let’s colour the world. Let’s be truly alive.

 

#Meditation #OldAge #Contemplation #Autumn #GoldenYears #LessonsFromTrees #MargaretGHanna

In Honour of International Refugee Day

The Refugee’s Rebuke

I will be stronger, so say you,
But you don’t live this nightmare through.

You live in peace and safety there
And know not war, and yet you dare

To say to me, I should not fear?
You’d not say that if you lived here.

I live with grief, I live with strife,
I’ve lived with war throughout my life.

I see the bodies in the street,
Heads and torsos, limbs and feet.

I see the shredded blood-soaked clothing,
I see the hate, I see the loathing.

I hear my children’s night time cries.
They dream that death lives in the skies.

Safety’s secure as shifting sands,
No choice but to escape these lands.

Our homes are bombed, our neighbours dead,
And we survivors live in dread.

We hear the bombs and bullets flying.
We hear the cries of people dying

All in the name of righteousness.
A lie! It’s human spitefulness

Born of envy, fueled by hate,
That drives us to this horrid state.

A bullet’s not the dove of peace.
A bomb will never bring surcease.

“God’s on our side,” our leaders cry.
With that, they try to justify

The bombs and mortars that rain down
On every neighbourhood and town.

Out of that death, what do they gain?
An inch of land? A glorious name?

While those of us who live in tents,
Our lives destroyed, our homeland rent,

We bear the brunt of heinous deeds
Regardless of our race and creed.

So you who sit in easy chairs
And crow about the alms you share,

I say to you, please, hear our voice.
Armageddon’s not our choice.

Like you, we long for days of peace.
Like you, we pray that war will cease.

And like your children – safe, secure –
We want that ours can go to school

And learn that kindness, gentleness
Will out-trump hate, intolerance,

And make this world a better place
For everyone of every race.

(Inspired, in part, by the aphorism, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”)

#InternationalRefugeeDay #Refugees #War #Genocide #Persecution #Poem #MargaretGHanna