Made by Hand

Mary Mrugalski - Evanston, Illinois
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, January 21, 2011
Mary Mrugalski

When Chicago journalist Mary Mrugalski was unmarried and pregnant, she baked bread. When her daughter fought a long illness, they worked the dough together. Mrugalski believes in the comfort and peace she gets from making bread with those she loves.

Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe in baking hearty, healthy, whole wheat bread, preferably with someone I love, for someone I love.

The first time I made whole wheat bread, I was twenty years old, pregnant, and unmarried. My boyfriend and I were experimenting back then, trying different things. Baking bread was part of the process. After growing up on bologna and white bread, we wanted more, more substance to our bread and our lives. We were changing the world and relationships. Who needed marriage? Make love, not war. When the father of my child said we were soul mates, I believed him. I even thought that I knew the exact moment we conceived.

Then I told him that I was gaining weight for a reason, and he panicked. He pleaded with me to “take care of our problem.” I was confused. I thought we were soul mates. I thought that this was meant to be. But it was a problem for him. He disappeared, and I made bread.

Making bread healed my pain. It felt healthy and honest and pure; whole wheat, not white. It had substance and character. The dough felt sticky at first, like “our problem.” But the more I worked with it, the better it felt. And the better I felt about what had become “my problem.”

Of course “my problem” was no problem at all. My child was a gift. His flyaway dandelion hair never quite knew which direction to grow in. He taught me to roller skate. I taught him to ride a bike. He taught me to play pinball.

And I taught him to make bread. I made the big loaf. He made the little one. “Hey, let’s swirl it with cinnamon and sugar, or cheese,” he’d say. And we did. That bread bound us together and filled the emptiness that snuck in when no one was looking.

Bread baking became a tradition with both my children. We would always bake bread when it rained outside or felt like a storm inside our family.

We’ve been busy lately helping my daughter heal from a long illness. Life has been about driving to doctors and classes and working and cleaning and laundry and errands and struggling and searching for balance. One day when I panicked about trying to get everything done in a weekend, the bread of my past returned.

Then I opened up the jar of whole wheat flour and once again began to heal. As I kneaded and pushed and shaped that dough, I began to unwind. I prayed silently to heal the person who would receive this bread. The sticky dough became tender inside my hands.

Time began to expand, and the day felt luxuriously long. No more panicking. The baking bread smelled like comfort and safety. I made the big loaf; my daughter made the small one.

I believe in the power of healing, hearty, whole wheat bread, made by hand with love.

Mary Mrugalski delivered news on Chicago radio for more than a decade under the name of Mary Anne Meyers. She now produces news stories from home, allowing her to bake even more bread for family and friends. Her two grown children occasionally take time from their busy lives to visit and knead a loaf or two.