A delightful aroma can wind its way through the air and tap our senses on levels we donít understand. Delicious bread baking has that mysterious magnetic pull. One whiff is able to trigger feelings that evoke hearth and home and love, all rolled together.
I was ten. My brother, David, was six. Like good little soldiers with orders to behave and stay on track, we shuffled forward with hundreds of others who moved, we thought, like sleepy snails. We waited in a very long line that snaked all the way around the gigantic plant that belonged to the Holsum Bread Company in Tampa, Florida.
Thousands of residents observed the annual tradition at Christmas--a chance to get a first-hand look at the baking process that produced what most of us eat daily. Each one eagerly received a tiny loaf wrapped in Holsumís unmistakable orange logo covering, and even better, scrumptious slices of fresh hot bread slathered in real butter.
There was something else at the end of those long lines: Santa Claus. He listened and laughed and handed out candy canes and little gifts.
We knew who it was, or at least I did. I had seen him getting ready. My brother said he knew too, but as we got closer to confronting the big guy in the red suit and white beard, there was some slight hesitation on my siblingís part. He was fairly positive it was our father; yet, Dad didnít look like he did at home. He sounded different too--kind of raspy. So much ho-ho-ho-ing had given him laryngitis.
I considered my decade-old self too in-the-know to waste time on fairy tales. Mostly, my goal for the night had been reached; one cute little loaf in orange paper, hot buttered bread stuffed in my mouth, and whatever treats were in the small gift bags.
Just this week I asked David what he remembered about that time. He admitted he had been slightly perplexed. Thatís why he grabbed his goodies and took off with me to a back room where we were supposed to wait.
When he saw Dad ridding himself of the costume and fluffy white beard, there seemed to be an instant happy recognition from that bewildered little boy as he ran to our father for a serious hug.
Sometimes when I pass a bakery, or even make my own bread, all it takes is one whiff from the contents rising in the hot oven to un-wrap memories and set me to thinking about right lines, and wrong lines, and lines that promise so much but only give us candy and not real sustenance for our souls.
We can trust a stranger in a red suit, an enduring figment of many imaginations, and tell him what we believe we need, but we would do better to talk to our Heavenly FATHER who waits for us with open arms. He offers the priceless, satisfying, Bread-of-LifeÖand other delightful and unexpected gifts.