|Salmon River, Oregon. Photo: C Imes|
Who are the shade-givers in my life -- the ordinary people whose faithfulness makes this world a place worth living? Good neighbors blend in with their surroundings, seeming ordinary enough. But if we pause to imagine life without their stability -- their day-in-and-day-out caring for their corner of the world -- we discover what a difference they make. Subtract one tree and you have a hole in the sky, fewer branches for nesting, the topsoil washes downstream. A bleak landscape gradually replaces the forest. The exposed branches of neighboring trees grow dry and brittle...
My mind drifts back to Hudson Street, the place I called home for the first 9 years of my life. I can still smell it -- the wholesome aroma of Suzie's bread wafting across the street. It's been almost 30 years, but I can still taste the soft buttered slice, fresh from her oven on baking day. Suzie's hands and face and apron smudged with white flour as she answered the door bell. Warm lumps rising in the oven. Then punching and pulling and rolling the dough until it was just right for braiding.
I can still hear her voice, strong and warm, with its European lilt. Swiss neighbors, like swiss chocolate and swiss bread, are hard to forget.
Is that why I've always felt a part of me come alive at the smell of fresh bread baking? It takes me back to those innocent days -- sandboxes and swings, gardens and neighbors who cared. There were others who didn't -- who were more likely to be drunk and yelling than pulling out their knee-high weeds, but Suzie and Marion made up for the whole lot. They were the stately oaks across my Hudson who kept the rich topsoil from washing away. It was their shade under which I flourished and grew. I know Suzie prayed for us then and still does.
I'm guessing Suzie canned lots of things and cooked up a storm. But all I remember is her braided bread, for me one of the most delicious smells of childhood. (I wonder -- is her kitchen valance still hanging? -- the one stuck to the wall with the chewing gum I chewed just for her?)
|A cherished visit with Suzie and Marion in 2005|
My world was a better place because of Suzie. She may be ordinary, but without her my life would have had an empty place. Suzie sheltered us on Hudson Street, providing a safe haven in a broken world. Her bread nourished the body and her company nourished the soul.
Never underestimate the power of an ordinary life well-lived.