There's this new piece of old wood in my home. It's a simple piece of wood, really - a flat 1 inch thick board, with raised sides nailed in, though worn down from the years of use. This was my great grandmother's baking board. I never met her - she died the year before I was born. I've heard stories of her for my entire life, I have some of her sewing things, I share her genes. But each time I stand at this old and worn board, I'm so grateful to know her a little bit more.
She was a mother parenting alone most of the time, deep in rural Maine in the depression. So very poor - struggling to clothe her children, struggling to feed them, and moving often because they simply couldn't afford to live anywhere. A mother of six children. A strong, spirited and brave mother of six children. Her moments spent kneading bread on this board were probably like the days of her life - likely full of much anguish and worry. I'd like to think - and I believe from the stories of her - that there were also moments of tremendous joy, strong faith, great humor, and deep love for her children. I can imagine her at this board, kneading the daily bread, rolling it, shaping it and providing sustenance for her family - through tears, frustration, solitude, conversations, and laughter all alike. Motherhood. Life.
This board is quite sacred to me, as is the act of making bread upon it. Kneading the dough that will become my family's evening bread, I think about her. I think about her life and mine, and how different they are. How grateful I am for what I have and why it is that I have it. But I also think about how very much we share in common. The anguish, the tears, the joy and the laughter of motherhood and of life - I know these things, too. Making bread by hand - especially as a symbol for what I do as a mother - can sometimes feel like a chore that will never end, sometimes a respite full of healing, and sometimes, a gift I can't stop myself from giving to those I love. I imagine she felt the same way.