The Smell of Fresh Bread

It’s Thursday, so I should be doing the Enviro-Mama thing, but frankly I’m just not in an Enviro-Mama sort of mood. Instead, I decided to do another writing exercise from Kate Hopper‘s, book Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers.

It was early in 1996, in the depths of an Ottawa winter. I was far from home, doing my first work term as an engineering student at Nortel. It was my first – and so far only – sustained encounter with what Canadians would call real winter. Having lived all my life in Canada’s Pacific Northwest I knew all about real rain, but little about what life is like when the whole world around you freezes for months on end. I learned many things, such as why people plug their cars in overnight in the freezing temperatures, what it feels like when your eyelids freeze together when you blink, and what poutine tastes like.

Parliament HillI was 19 years old, and home felt very far away. I was mostly alone in a strange city, and the coldness underscored the fact. It didn’t matter how many museums my friend and I visited on the weekends. It didn’t matter that for the first time in my life so far I had a TV entirely to myself. It didn’t matter that almost everywhere I looked there were people, whether at home or at work or on the bus. I was in unfamiliar territory, and the climate felt unhospitable and forbidding. I longed for warmth and comfort.

I settled into a routine, looking to the rhythm to see me through my four months away from home. Every morning I got up at the same time, and ate the same thing for breakfast. I made the walk to the bus stop, and smiled politely at the same people who stood there, stomping their feet and holding their mittened hands under their armpits to ward off the cold. I saw the same bus driver, and sat in more or less the same seat. At work I changed out of my winter boots and heavy outerwear into more comfortable clothes. And at lunch I headed down to the cafeteria, where I always ate the same thing: green salad from the salad bar, the soup of the day, and a piece of warm, fresh, thick-cut bread.

I used the little tongs to pick up the bread, and placed it on my plate. And then, every day, I bent down until my nose was almost touching it and I inhaled deeply, allowing the bread’s very essence to fill me. It smelled like warmth and familiarity. It smelled like comfort and childhood and lazy Sundays when my mother would decide to bake bread, just because. In that moment, the bread filled me, long before I even took a bite. It reminded me that I would be okay, and that there was goodness and warmth and beauty everywhere, even far from home. It wasn’t the city, or even the weather, that left me feeling bereft. It was leaving my boyfriend and my family and my closest friends for four months. The bread soothed my sadness.

I no longer eat bread. Gluten has fallen victim to my West Coast hipsterism. But when I make one of my kids a sandwich, or open a bag of fresh buns to put on the holiday table, I always pause to smell it, and feel the comfort. Without taking a bite, it still fills me, and soothes away the little hurts of my life. A staple food, and a staple smell, that’s so much more than just something to eat.

What smells bring you comfort?

*Image credit: Mariah Aversa on Flickr

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Comments

  1. A very lovely piece indeed, glad you wrote it.
    Renee’s last post … Home birth Part 2: Born in the CaulMy Profile

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