This may look like a loaf of bread, but it's not. It's a gift. A delicious, homemade, still-warm-from-the-oven gift. Someone couldn't wait to taste it and nipped an end piece the minute it touched a flat surface in the kitchen. Okay, it was me, but I live with another crust lover. If I don't nick one for myself my guy will eat both.
My next door neighbor first made and brought over this bread for us on the day we moved into this house, and has made a loaf as a Christmas gift every year since. It's a simple but lovely gesture, one I return usually by baking a pie or a strudel for her and her family, although this year I might do a basket of cookies (I can never decide on one thing and stick to it; I'm too restless a baker.)
Exchanging gifts of food is really old-fashioned. Today no one has time to bake; it's certainly easier to send a basket of stuff from a catalog or pick up something from the bakery in town. My neighbor and I are both insanely busy women, and rarely have time to do more than chat for a minute now and then, and usually about car pooling the kids. This year has been particularly hectic; I can count the number of times we've talked on one hand. I certainly never expect the gift of her bread, just as I know she never expects anything from me.
We're very different people,my neighbor and me -- different backgrounds, jobs, schedules, hobbies, friends and so forth. But we live side-by-side; our kids go to the same schools. We share tools and repair tips, rescue stray mail and packages, and keep an eye out for any wild critters that cross our properties (we even caught our neighbor's horse when he got loose one New Year's Day.) When one family goes out of town, the other watches their house, and when the rare emergency happens, we're there for each other with whatever is needed. I couldn't ask for better neighbors.
So when I look at this loaf of bread, I don't see something simple or humble. I see a gift I'm given every day, living in my neighborhood and knowing this family. I see friendship, and trust, and community. I see all the days I've been here, and look forward to the times to come.
Every time you stop in here and talk about books and writing and share some laughs with me, you do the same thing as my neighbor. You give me a little part of your day, your words, your thoughts. You talk about the books you love, the stories you wrestle and the hopes and dreams you hang onto. You are my colleagues and readers, my virtual neighbors, and I'm sure all very busy with lives of your own, and still you make time for me. I think that may be the greatest gift you can give anyone.
Tomorrow I think I'll make soup to go with the bread. Or maybe a stew. The other wonderful thing about this kind of gift are all the possibilities that go with it.