Sunlight dances on the water on a lazy summer Sunday. Heat shimmers and sounds of laughter filter through the tress. There are splashes and giggles as a father and toddler paddle in the shallow part of the river where once wagons crossed the ford.
The bank slopes gently and the large flat stones in the river are slippery so the Dad holds tight to his little daughter’s hand. His trousers are rolled up and she has her blue and white dress tucked into her knickers. Both are barefoot. She chuckles and squeals at the feel of the cold water on her chubby little legs.
Her mother sits on a bench at the riverside watching her husband and daughter playing. A new child kicks at her stomach and she lays a tender hand protectively over her belly. She drinks in the scene and the noise of the traffic fades into the distance as she focuses on the rustling in the green trees, the lap lap of the water and the sound of a few birds chirping.
The woman looks up at the red tiles of the old mill .A plaque on the wall proudly proclaims that the mill was built in 1643. A measuring marker on the side wall indicates the height of the water in past floods. This mill used once to be the hub of the village. Horses and carts arrived laden with grain from the cornfields. Sacks would be taken to the surrounding markets and people would come to the mill with their pails for a few measures of flour and bring their tools to be sharpened by the grindstones.
Now the mill only opens occasional Sunday afternoons for demonstrations and today is one of those days. The woman hears the creak of the waterwheel turning and the gentle hum of the great millstones from within.
Later they all go inside.The little girl looks wide eyed as she carefully pours the grain into the hopper which delivers it into the centre of the two millstones while Dad takes great interest in the engineering diagrams displayed on the dusty walls. The child is as yet too young to understand the mechanism by which the water power turns the crankshaft and it seems like magic when the white powderery flour gathers in the wooden box under the stones.
She is allowed two cupfuls to pour into a bowl ready to make bread.
She giggles as she dips her small finger and tastes the sweetness of the sugar, then wrinkles her tiny nose with disgust at the bitter unfamiliar aroma of the yeast.
When she grows she will learn all about fermentation in chemistry lessons. How the yeast uses sugar as an energy source releasing carbon dioxide which makes the dough rise. Today she is happy to mix the water as though she was making a mud pie in the garden.
Once mixed and kneaded her dad places the dough on the warm window sill and takes the child to the ice cream stall. Whippy ice-cream with a chocolate flake and sweet strawberry syrup just like her daddy has.
The family sit back happily on the bench .The mother muses on how times change, for many children bread is found in sterile plastic wrappers on supermarket shelves and aromas of baking come in little plastic bottles. She is pleased that she is taking time to provide her child with different experiences of life and where things come from.
As the family relaxes the dough on the windowsill rises as it has done for generations. The bitter yeast taking the sugar as the cells divide and multiply. Growing like the baby growing in the secret place of the mother’s womb. The life cycles continue, seed time and harvest and the gentle turning of the seasons like the rolling of the water wheel.
Later that day the family sits down to tea, the father gives thanks to God for the wonders of creation and for the meal .He takes hold of the newly baked bread from the mill and breaks open the crust. It is full of lightness and bounce, still warm and soft from the oven.
“Yummy” says the little girl as she tastes a little “But where has all the sugar gone?”
The dad smiles and spreads a little honey on the child’s slice.
“There you are my sweetheart “he says.
How honey keeps its sweetness is a lesson for another day.
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