This I Believe

Sherry - Carlisle, Pennsylvania
Entered on June 10, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, legacy, work

We lost the dough hook out of our bread machine several months ago – not an unusual occurrence in our hectic household. The kids may have put it away in the wrong place when putting up the dishes, it may have accidentally gone to the compost pile, or the dog may have eaten it. Our bread machine was actually more of a “multi-tasking tool” than a true bread machine – I used it primarily on the dough setting so that bread dough could mix and rise while I did other things. We aren’t an Adkins Diet family – we love the smell and taste of fresh made bread and particularly of buttermilk rolls made using my maternal grandmother’s recipe and here I was, in need of rolls for some function or special meal and my mixing tool was suddenly defunct.

With more than a little grumbling and grousing, I pulled out my old recipe card for the rolls, not the recipe I had modified and written out specifically for use in the bread machine, but the old recipe that my mother had typed up on a piece of paper and glued to a notecard for me when I moved in to a new apartment before starting graduate school in 1989. I got out the ingredients and went to work, carefully warming the buttermilk with a little sugar in it in order to proof the yeast, cutting and crumbling the butter into the flour, salt and baking powder “biscuit style”, and finally working the warm, sweet smelling milk and yeast into the flour and kneading the dough into an elastic ball.

As I rolled and worked the dough, I thought about my grandmother doing the same many years ago in a kitchen filled with nine children and a wood cook stove. I also thought about my paternal grandmother. One of my favorite childhood memories was watching her make biscuits. She used an old tin can as both a measuring tool and a biscuit cutter and had no written recipe so the secret to her fluffy biscuits died with her. I thought about my mom’s hands typing up the recipe for me almost 20 years ago and I began to realize that making bread is a true celebration of the work that hands can do.

I believe strongly that the work that we do with our hands strengthens the spirit as well as the body. Our hands are one of the things that define us as humans and separate us from other mammals – they make us special and are in many ways miraculous creations. As I kneaded bread dough, I began to think of my father’s hands covered with grease, deftly taking apart engines on equipment large and small and magically making the broken whole again. My husband’s hands can take pieces of wood and turn them into lovely sculptures, pieces of furniture or even musical instruments. My children’s hands can take twigs, stones and mud and turn them into fantastical creations that spark their imaginations and mine.

Although it is hard in our hectic lives, I have become a firm believer in occasionally throwing away the bread machine and celebrating the rewarding work we can do for ourselves with our own hands.