I was on the back deck and looked down and saw a woman who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. She said she was out for a walk. I invited her up and we sat and chatted for a few minutes. Her name is Diane.
She told me she grew up as one of 19 children in a small community in Cape Breton, NS. It is known across the world for its beauty and varied culture . There is also a long history of hard times for those who lived off the land and the sea, and who worked deep underground in the mines or in the steel mills.
One day when Diane was a girl her mother was sick, and her father asked her to make bread. She protested that she didn’t know how. He said, “go ask your mother.” It was a command, not a request. She’s been baking ever since. Breadmaking is both an art and a science that goes far back into the human past.
Diane became a regular visitor and one day she asked if I would like a loaf of her fresh-baked bread. She makes both white and brown. I said, “yes, please.” Since then, my wife Donna and I have consumed multiple loaves. It is delicious. Diane calls me “bud” and Donna “your darlin’.” The other day I bought some shredded cheese and gave it to her so she could make cheese bread, which she hasn’t made in a while.
For years she looked after kids in the neighbourhood, which included taking them for walks on the trails nearby and making them lunch. The kids loved her homemade breads and desserts and showed up early so they could get a better breakfast than they got at home.
Diane’s husband died a few years ago and one of her adult sons lives at home. A close friend across the street also died. Recently her dog and her son’s cat died within a couple of weeks of each other. Diane is philosophical. She has been around. She appreciates our neighbourhood and the fact that she can walk to the post office and back. She loves nature, you can tell. She has a wicked sense of humour that she mostly hides.
One day I was out walking a dog with my friend Angie. A week before I had given her a slice of Diane’s bread and she kept asking about it. On our walk we knocked on Diane’s door and she came out for a chat. Now I feel like I’m responsible for deliveries of bread for myself, Donna, and Angie too.
Mike and his family have lived next door for years, but I didn’t know him that well. Over the winter he started coming over for coffee and with the improved weather we have migrated to the back deck. He likes cats and is glad when one of our three comes over to say hello.
Mike is quiet and reserved but it turns out he too has a wicked sense of humour and will toss out an impression when you least expect it. He’s also musical. He once made a recording of pop songs and he’s planning to make another one.
Sometimes Mike asks me to find a recording of a song by one of his favourite artists like John Denver or Glen Campbell. I find it on my phone, and he sings along, practicing for when he makes his next recording. He has a good voice.
Hanging out has become a lost art. We are often in our cars, staring at a screen, or just keeping our distance because of COVID. Or because we have lost the art of reaching out. Talk to a stranger at a store, and they might look away or stare at you suspiciously.
In the old days, especially in small communities where people had to work together to get stuff done, human interaction was an art that most people had to learn. Life in villages and small towns had an inherently social aspect. You got to know your neighbours, including everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. You made friends and friendships have many social and health benefits.
There is a downside – if you don’t fit in. As with all animal species, ostracism is a high price to pay for not fitting in. People, including children, can be cruel. Bullying, they say, is on the rise.
Yet some things are great equalizers – stuff we all have in common like food and music. A few days ago, Diane called and said the cheese bread is ready. I walked up the hill. She met me at the bottom of her drive and passed me the bread. She teased me about something, but I can take it.
When I got home Donna was just finishing a slice of Diane’s white bread with molasses, a meal that reminds her of growing up when her parents ran a maple sugar camp and bread and molasses was a staple for lunch. I toasted a slice of the cheese bread and added butter. I broke off a chunk for Donna and we chewed silently. No words needed.
This morning Donna and I had Diane’s white bread for breakfast. Then we took the grandchildren for the morning. We started at a local mall. It was early so the place was very quiet. Oscar ran around and burned off some energy. I saw Diane and we had a chat. She reached out for Oscar and her eyes lit up. She really loves children. Neighbours talking to neighbours, expanding their circle. The way life should be.
David Holt is the Editor of Silver.
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