I reached for my flour sifter the other day to make Irish soda bread for my dear friend who had just reported that her husband would be discharged from the hospital to hospice. She had so much to do. And sadly, there wasn’t anything I could do to help her. What did a fellow Irish sister do for her friend? Pulled out the sifter, taking the first step to making my soda bread.
As I turned the handle to sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt through the fine holes in the sifter, I was flooded with memories of past baking sessions. Memories of friends and family who were happy, sad, celebrating, grieving, waiting, or honoring.
There are times in our lives when we know we’re creating a memory. Maybe it’s a big trip to Disney. It’s a religious celebration, a graduation, etc. But there are times when we are simply moving through life and wonderful memories are there for the making.
My daughter thinks of her birthday when she smells the fresh bread in the oven. She was 19 and in college the first time she sadly celebrated a birthday without her traditional loaf of bread. My son only likes the bread right out of the oven, so when he lived nearby, I would make the bread, and rush it to his apartment while it was still “warm from the oven”.
I recalled the time my neighbor went into the hospital for the birth of her 2nd child. It was the old days when you didn’t hear anything until the child had entered the world and the good news was announced by pay phone. During the impossibly long wait, I painstakingly polished my brass tea pot. When I still hadn’t gotten the call, I pulled out my sifter and began the therapeutic turning of the knob. The wait seemed forever; the smell of soda bread in the oven made it bearable.
If someone were sitting Shiva, I’d be there with soda bread. If a friend were sick, I’d immediately start my sifting. Any big life decision needs a cup of tea, or even a pot, and soda bread to ensure the best outcome. I did my best to provide the bread when an answer was needed.
When I moved into my house, my neighbor brought me a loaf. It was Mother’s Day! That was a bonus. She was from Ireland! Another bonus! It was the first time someone made it just for me. I felt so special. I’m sure she’s made hundreds of loaves. But this one she made for me.
I invited a new friend over for tea one morning and presented her with tea and a basket of scones. She still talks about it. She felt so special and “grown” up on that particular morning, even though she was well into her 30s.
I brought bread to a recent visit with my youngest brother, a vegan. I was warned that he might not indulge, but to me, it was a gesture of love. I know he loves the secret family recipe and would appreciate the gesture, even if he didn’t eat it. He texted that it was delicious. I assume he ate it without butter.
When my kids came home to find me sifting, they would immediately ask “who are you making it for?” If I were making bread, there was a reason outside of our house. Someone was sick, dying, celebrating,
leaving, coming home. It was my way of wrapping my arms around someone who needed a hug. I usually made an extra loaf to put on our table, but my reason for making it was to share.
When I delivered the loaf to my friend who was losing her husband, I wrote a note.
“A friend never misses the opportunity to offer support to another friend. And an Irish sister knows that another Irish sister needs soda bread with butter with her tea when facing a crisis. Wish there was more I could do.”
She had a piece of soda bread every day and felt my arms around her. It’s a small gesture to sift the ingredients into the bowl. No action is too small or enormous when you’re needed – in good times and bad.