Many of the memories I have fixed in my mind from my childhood come directly from our home. It was a place of activity and laughter, but it was also a place that was clean, quiet, neat and orderly. We never had what the world would call wealth, but our life was still abundant. Many in our community had a great deal more than us, but we still felt like the richest people in town. No doubt this was a result of the tireless efforts of my mother. Her touch was upon everything, and our home was a reflection of the beautiful things God had placed within her. She, in turn, poured out that rich treasure upon us in many different ways.
Our home became a sanctuary of security that was filled with the most delicious smells. My mother was continually trying out a new cookie recipe, pie filling, stew or delicate pastry. She took great delight in getting our opinion on each new creation, and we enjoyed tasting each and giving our expert advice. This was a normal part of life for me as I was growing up and I never considered that some day it might come to an end. For me, two things were absolutely certain, no matter what else happened in this uncertain world. I knew that my mom would wake long before the rest of the family and spend time in prayer for all of us. The other thing we knew, as sure as the sun came up each day, my mother would be in the kitchen making fresh Italian bread or soft roles for us to have with breakfast.
I can still remember waking up in bed and smelling the delicate, moist aroma of yeast and flour as it baked in the oven. I knew something wonderful was waiting in the kitchen, and my mouth would begin to salivate before my feet ever hit the floor. I am sure mom knew exactly what she was doing, since she never had to call anyone down for breakfast more than once. Before the first loaf of fresh bread was out of the oven, we were sitting at the table waiting to get a soft, steaming slice of that mouth watering delight. The smell of hot bread, and the anticipation of what it signaled, was the best alarm clock anyone could have. It never failed to do it’s job on even the sleepiest members of our family.
Another thing fixed in my mind is that we never knew what delectable things awaited us when we arrived home from school. Because of this, most of my friends got in line to go home with me when the school day was over. Many had parents who worked two jobs and our home became an island of consistency, and a haven of family life the way it should be. Little did we know that very quickly this would be eaten away by the fast food lifestyle of a rapidly changing world. Had we realized just how fast those days would be gone, I am sure we would have cherished them all the more.
When the school day was over we ran home from our three-room school house, by running up a winding dirt path, crossing our back lot and bounding through the back door of our house. Naturally this turned into a contest of speed and agility that was a daily ritual we knew so very well. We would line up at the end of the school yard and dash across the old bumpy macadam road. Once the race was on, we jockeyed for position on the narrow path. Soon one or more of us landed in the bushes with scratched arms and legs. Those who were behind tripped those ahead, and jump over them to take the lead. In a few minutes it was over and whoever reached my back step first was the winner. Even though there was no tangible prize, the knowledge of being first gave a sense of male prowess and personal worth that was unspoken but very real.
Upon entering my home, the words “Mom, I’m home!” would echo through the rooms. My mother’s reply was always the same, “O.K. dear…I just made cookies, you and your friends can have some, but don’t spoil your appetite! Dinner will be ready at 5:30, when your father gets home from camp.” Smiles of anticipation would sweep across every face. There on the counter was a plate of fresh-baked cookies, covered by a milky sheet of wax paper. We often stood at the door and sniff the air, trying to guess what was waiting for us on that plate.
Each cookie had a distinct smell of its own, and most of the time we were able to identify what chewy delight awaited us. The few days we missed it were the result of a secret “healthy” ingredient my mother was always slipping into the mix. Ground pumpkin seeds, ground flax seed, raisins, coconut, walnuts or ground sun flower seeds were among her favorites. As the years went by, her list of secret ingredients grew, along with her imagination. Almost to the day she died, at age 98, we never knew for sure what might be in moms “health bars”, “12 grain nut bread” or “sugarless date cookies”.
Love in our home was made real by wondrous smells. Every holiday, anniversary, birthday and change of season had its own mouth-watering aromas. Venison stew in a wine sauce, roasted partridge, baked turkey, roasted butternut squash and baked sweet potatoes ushered in the fall. Fresh hot soups and stews, pots of beans with maple cured ham hocks, honey smoked bacon and the rich taste of Biscuit Tortoni topped with ground walnuts told us winter was here. Roasted chicken, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding and baked apples with cinnamon called out at holiday time. Hot rice pudding with cream, or tapioca pudding, fresh baked trout, wild mushrooms and wild leeks announced spring. Apple Rhubarb and cherry pies, watermelon, hand made ice cream, sweet corn and the smell of camp fires told us summer was here.
In each of these smells, I still find the endless aroma of my mother’s deep, rich, boundless love. Her faithfulness at making a simple meal, a plate of cookies or a loaf of bread demonstrated in a tangible way God’s continuous love for us. It comforted us when we were sick and calmed us when we were scared. It patiently believed the best of us even when we were obviously going the wrong way. It quieted our minds and brought consistency to us in an ever-changing world. No matter what the circumstance, pain or problem, the phrase “have a cookie”, touched us again and again. It transformed our hearts, broke down barriers, showed no favoritism and ultimately changed us in ways I am now just beginning to understand.
When I am brokenhearted and crushed by grief, when I am feeling alone and betrayed, overwhelmed and misunderstood, do not be surprised if you find me baking a loaf of bread or standing in the door of a bakery. No doubt my eyes will be closed in respect for this private sanctuary as I am being drawn above this earthly realm. Even if a tear is finding its way down my cheek, you must understand what is happening. I am no longer as sad, or hurt, or broken as I was before I entered that place. I am smelling the odor of memories, and feeling my mothers love, that gave me this gift so many years ago. I am being touched and healed in the deepest part of my soul, and the pain of this world is being washed away by the rich, delicate smell of flour and yeast.
Just like the loaves of bread that are rise as they wait for the oven, I always rise in that warm, moist, sacred place. It is here that the aroma of love does its timeless work in me once again. I find healing for my soul, a refuge in the Lord and peace of mind. Here I feel the heart and prayers of my mother reaching across time, and they are still holding me up before God. There is no doubt that Jennie Emmons knew exactly what she was doing when she showed me Gods perfect love through a loaf of bread and a plate of cookies. Thank you mom! I am so grateful!
When the time comes for me to meet the Lord, I am sure that the rich, sweet odor of fresh baked bread is the very thing that will fill the portals of heaven. I think it will be the thing that ushers me into His glorious presence. In fact, I will not be surprised at all if His first words to me as I draw near His throne are “Welcome home Bill,… oh….and over there, Jennie is waiting with a fresh plate of cookies”.