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

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