The email arrived this morning. The subject line read, “Bread.” The message read:
“My 11-year-old granddaughter, Bella, makes bread and wonders if you will eat some if she makes it for you?
“We are not sick with COVID or anything like that. Bella’s mom died from breast cancer and Bella has started baking lately because her mother once enjoyed baking. She really wants you to try her bread.”
Well, let me start by saying that I am flattered, Bella. As it happens, I have a long history with bread. In fact, when I was a kid, I was built like a miniature loaf of bread.
Let me explain. When I was around your age I was a chubby redhead. My chubbiness was partly because, after my father passed, to cope with our new grief my mother started baking bread every day.
Looking back, I don’t really know why she was making bread so often. Perhaps because it was cheap. Or maybe because she had a lot of pent-up energy she needed to get out.
Then again, maybe she was baking bread because she was simply trying to fatten me up. Which is possible. My mother believed redheaded boys were much cuter when they were chunky.
And I know this because whenever she would pinch my soft white belly, she would say, “That’s Mama’s handsome, chubby wubby wittle wedhead.”
For years, I believed that being a chubby wubby wittle wedhead was a good thing.
So I ate a lot of sourdough, French, whole wheat, rye, cinnamon raisin, and white bread each morning. Almost daily my mother would leave these hot loaves sitting out, cooling, and everyone would pause to admire them like works of sculpture.
This was powerful bread. It could beckon you from across the house. And when you saw it sitting in the windowsill, steaming in the early sunlight, you would gravitate toward it like a mosquito to a porchlight.
Her bread was soft, hot, pliable, rich, thick, and when you placed a hunk into your mouth, bathed in butter, you almost swore you heard Arethra Franklin singing in the distance.
Thus, I grew up appreciating bread. In fact, I became a snob about bread. When people tried to feed me store bought bread, I turned up my nose. Because compared to homemade bread, store bread isn’t fit for scrubbing oil stains off driveways.
When I hit my teens, however, my bread consumption habits had gotten out of control. I needed an intervention. I was starting to realize how chubby I was, and my weight humiliated me. I began to hate my own reflection.
This was also an age when I was becoming interested in girls. So I was spending a lot of time on my hair, and often wearing enough cologne to induce asthma attacks among the elderly and infirm. But no amount of beautification changed my appearance. Whenever I passed a mirror all I saw was plump little Danny Partridge smiling back at me. I would pinch my belly and want to cry.
So one day, I made a big decision. I walked into Mama’s kitchen, sat at her table, and told her I was done eating bread.
“No bread?” she said. Then she checked my forehead for a temp. “Do I need to go get the special thermometer?”
“No. I’m not sick.”
“But no bread?”
“You look pale how about a sandwich?”
I could tell this information was not computing in my mother’s brain. Because no sooner had I finished speaking than she had cut a slice of pumpernickel about the size of a mass-market hardback. “Here, eat this, you’ll feel better.”
“No, thank you,” I said. “I’m done with bread. I’m tired of being chubby. I want to be skinny like magazine people.”
My mother’s face changed. She obviously realized there was no changing my mind.
So Mama quit making bread. Each morning I would pass by barren windowsills and a graveyard-like kitchen. I started eating a lot of celery with salt, which is the same appetizer they serve in hell.
Certainly, I lost some weight, but I lost something else, too. Joy. Without bread, life was pretty dull and gray.
But then everything changed one day when I was 15 years old. I’ll never forget it.
My mother found me crying in my bedroom, facedown on my bed. She asked what was wrong. I told her the news. Some girl had broken my heart.
And that was all it took. Within two minutes, all bets were off. Our kitchen was afire with smells and the suffocating heat of a GE range oven.
She used a sourdough starter from our neighbor, Miss Carol, and immediately the trademark scent wafted through the hallways like a melody.
Mama spent the afternoon dusting the countertops with ivory flour, kneading huge lumps of white with her fists, punching the dough hard enough to scare the dogs.
When she opened the windows, the whole neighborhood was filled with the aroma of handmade, barely legal bread.
The scent must have awoken the entire county. Because soon, local cats and nearby vagrants began gathering on our porch. Visitors from other towns suddenly appeared at our doorstep, alongside construction workers, mailmen, firemen, UPS drivers, Jehovah’s Witnesses, televangelists, various vacuum salesmen, and the entire cast of “Cheers.” They were all sniffing at our windows.
When the hot loaves came from the oven, Mama buttered a slice and placed it onto a plate. And many years later, even though I am much older now, I can still close my eyes, travel backward, and remember the overpowering feeling of my mother’s love.
May you always remember that same feeling too, Bella.
Bring on the bread, sister.
Darlene Breland - February 2, 2021 7:04 am
What a wonderful story about a mother’s love disguised as bread.
Robert Chiles - February 2, 2021 8:19 am
“The Bread of Life”
Leigh Amiot - February 2, 2021 8:49 am
Now if you can arrange for some homemade pimiento cheese to arrive when Bella’s bread does…
Debbie g - February 2, 2021 11:55 am
“Give us this day our daily bread “. Great love story thank you
Suzanne Moore - February 2, 2021 1:36 pm
I loved this, Sean! Although I don’t treat myself often, I have reverence for fine bread. I hope that you receive the young lady’s gift of bread, and that you are both blessed by the exchange.
Jan - February 2, 2021 2:36 pm
Bread is love and love is life! I had to give up baking bread when my three sons moved away from home because I would eat it all myself so I can identify with your story!
Tammy S. - February 2, 2021 3:14 pm
Teresa Tindle - February 2, 2021 3:29 pm
What a beautiful love story. My mom loved to bake bread and cinnamon rolls. But for many years she didn’t bake much bread. Then when she was in her 70’s, she started baking again. But only when she felt good. She would call me at work and tell me to come by when I got off work she had bread and cinnamon rolls for me. They were always so good. But the best part was having a cup of coffee, a warm cinnamon roll and spending that time with yay mom. Knowing she felt good that day. She truly was special. I miss her every day.
Nita - February 2, 2021 3:45 pm
Still one of my favorite things in life – besides hugs! Bread, any kind, fresh from the oven. My mom would cut of the end piece while still hot, slather it with butter and give me a taste of heaven! Oh the memories you bring to mind daily!! Thank you
elizabethroosje - February 2, 2021 4:17 pm
I love bread! I’ve been making an easy fruit and nut yeast bread that is so good toasted with a good jam! My favourite is having it with dried cherries, roughly chopped pecans and then with a good tart (with hints of sweetness) cherry jam! 🙂 I make the dough the night before and then bake it (makes 2 loaves) in the morning for breakfast and it’s enough for my Husband and I to enjoy all week! 🙂
KATY at noon - February 2, 2021 5:00 pm
🥰🥰🍞 homemade bread equals life ! 🍞 🥰🥰
Winifred Brown - February 2, 2021 5:42 pm
Such an amazing homily to bread! I’m sure you made a young girl very happy. P.S. – I love red hair – it’s my chosen color.
Marcia Heins - February 2, 2021 6:30 pm
Oh my goodness, this made me laugh out loud.
“I started eating a lot of celery with salt, which is the same appetizer they serve in hell.” is one of the funniest lines that I have ever heard. I dislike celery with a passion, so I totally understand.
I am sitting here right now in my breakfast nook with the scent of freshly toasted bread perfuming the air. There is no more wonderful and soul soothing aroma in life as far as I am concerned.
Thank you so much for sharing your musings on so many things, it has brought me much joy during these often challenging times.
Linda Moon - February 2, 2021 6:54 pm
There’s not much better than homemade bread. My mama didn’t make much of it, but she tried. Mamas do that, you know. They try. I think I hear the melody of a John Prine song that brings a smile to me about your mama’s barely legal bread, Sean. But most of my thoughts are with Bella who lost her mom to breast cancer. There are Heavenly Angels who love you, Bella. I’m a breast cancer survivor and an unofficial Earth Angel. May the Lord continue to give you Daily Bread, Bella, and may it always remind you of Mama.
MAM - February 2, 2021 9:32 pm
Sniffing the air for homemade bread. I’ll need to make a loaf later this week. It’s always best when it’s fresh, cut off the heel (my favorite part) and slather with butter while still warm. I cheat and use a bread machine, but it’s still delicious. I do, however, miss the kneading part. Very satisfactory! YUM to fresh baked bread! And Gee, I like celery with salt, hope that not an indication of where I’m headed next!
bread lover - February 2, 2021 9:53 pm
marvelous story filled with love and the smell of fresh baked bread.
Jeannie - February 3, 2021 2:31 am
I loved this story, but I was really impressed when I saw you on a TV commercial today!!!! You are definitely not chubby wubby now!!!!!! Is that one of your dogs with you in the commercial? I heard you call his name but I missed it!! Congratulations on your new media success!
oldlibrariansshelf - February 3, 2021 11:12 am
I think Sean’s dogs are hounds–if memory serves me correctly.
Charaleen Wright - February 3, 2021 6:57 am
Christina - February 3, 2021 8:35 pm
Mama’s bread heals all broken hearts
Judy - February 5, 2021 6:16 am
Just today, my all-grown-up daughter said when I told her I had just bought some yeast, “You used to bake bread ALL of the time.” I replied, ”Do you remember why I stopped baking bread ALL of the time?” “Because we were eating it ALL of the time!” Oh, if only we could make the hurts all go away with bread! Maybe I can go back to baking bread just some of the time! I loved this story, though it made me cry!
Julie - February 10, 2021 12:18 pm
All throughout the Bible, Bread is used to symbolize all that we eat…our nourishment for the body, mind, and spirit…that food which sustains us.
But Bread can also mean Love, as evidenced by the overpowering feeling of your Mother’s love when you recall the memory of her hot loaves coming out of the oven. And then a slice bathed in butter…I mean bathed in Love❣️