What my parents taught me about the art of giving back at ChristmasWritten by Jan Olmstead
The old woman looked tired and worried when she opened her front door. My parents had told me she was caring for a seriously ill husband. When she saw what I had in my hands, she broke into a broad smile and asked, “Is this Baker Bread?”
I nodded. Then, remembering my dad’s instructions, I blurted out, "Merry Christmas!" and ran back to the car where he waited for me. This was the training field where I would find out what a gift really is and how it is given.
Baking up something special
When I was 12, my mother and father began experimenting with baking homemade wheat bread. They turned out to be a great bread-making team. Mom, always a perfectionist, selected and measured the ingredients with precision, then served as the official timekeeper during the baking. Dad, stronger and thus more suited to mixing and kneading the double batch of dough, did the hard manual work.
After much experimentation and refining of the recipe, the result was what became commonly known as Baker Brown Bread. It gained quite a reputation in our little community, containing a blend of ingredients that made it both substantial and tasty. It was special, but it wasn’t fancy. It was "everyday bread," the kind that made a great peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich.
My parents never baked their bread to sell, unless it was for a special project for their church. They baked it for our family, and they baked it to give away.
One of the most exciting times of the year for bread giving was the holiday season. Christmas Eve was our delivery day, and my dad played Santa. No sleigh, red suit or bag of toys – just our family car, his winter coat and the back seat carefully stacked with warm, fresh bread. The gift list varied from year to year but always included those who were alone, ill, shut-in or had recently suffered a loss.
Christmas Eve deliveries
My dad called upon me to play his elf. I received my instructions like a young recruit listening to orders from a commanding officer: "Just knock on the door, give them the bread, wish them a Merry Christmas, then get right back to the car."
As the oldest daughter in our family, I knew it was an honour to accompany my father. But I mostly thought of it as fun.
As we drove from house to house on the snow-covered back roads, Dad would hum Christmas carols, sometimes whistling if they were out of his range, while I hummed along or sang with his accompaniment. We were in a festive mood as I recounted to him the delighted smiles on people’s faces when I handed them the bread.
I liked my assignment as an elf. After we made our last delivery, we headed home to tell my mom about the trip. Her obvious pleasure at hearing about each person’s reaction was just one more perk of the job.
Two things impressed me about those Christmas Eve deliveries: One was the amount of effort my parents put into making the bread and deciding who would receive it; the other was the fact that Dad never allowed me to wait around for a thank you. At the time, I thought Dad was in a hurry to finish and get home; it was Christmas Eve, after all. But I eventually realized that Dad and Mom were simply not looking for praise.
Those Christmas Eve treks taught me some things about giving. My conclusions? A true gift always costs me something, whether effort, time or money. And real joy in giving comes when I give without any thought of the thanks I might receive.
The bread my parents made became a symbol of the kind of people they were – just average folks who loved to give. Thus began my training in everyday giving while serving as my dad’s Christmas Eve elf, delivering everyday bread.
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