The little grains have a sweet smell to them. As soon as you tear open the foil and paper envelope the soft pungency breathes out to you, smelling of breads and beers and baking days.
When you drop them into a bowl of warm water, the beigey grains float in a skim on top, refusing to sink but not quite able to swim. Next thing you do is drop in a teaspoon of white sugar and watch as the fellows all swim toward it, drawn by the damp sweetness. Walk away for awhile. When you come back the three separate clans of Water, Sugar and Yeast will have become one family of sweet, wet, dun-coloured foam.
From here you can take any road you choose; a twist here, a stir there, a pinch of salt and a purposeful spill of bright oil like sunshine and you have rolls or loaves or flats of bread. The foaming yeast pulls soft puffs of air into the dough, expanding it outward and upward and creating little caverns for butter and jam.
I learned to bake from my mother and grandmother, both of whom were extraordinarily patient with the messes a little girl leavens in a kitchen. I learned the secrets of yeast and time and how a good dough takes at least one of those.
So last night when I was hit particularly hard with the sense of loss that has been following me for two decades I decided I wouldn’t cry but would instead make a dough. I watched with the same curious joy I always feel for the miracle of yeast and my arthritic hands were soothed by the kneading. The soft ball of raw bread swallowed the little hillocks of flour the way I’ve swallowed the small sadnesses. Here was the auction where the tractors were sold, with me walking along the tables rowed in the sunshine that had all the other small things upon which strangers would place paltry value. Give me three dollars and fifty-nine cents for that dish because I cannot attach coin to the memories of all the breakfasts served from it. There was the day walking through the empty farmhouse after what furniture was left moved into town. Here again is waking up in the small brick house in the small brick town next to my sister. That was the day we ate toast in the sunshine with my grandma and watched her get ready to bury her husband. Then was the move to the nursing home. The dawning realisation that she cannot make it from her wheelchair to a seat at the table.
Twenty-two years of dry tears got swallowed by the dough I made last night and in the warm moist dark the yeast took them all and they rose into something that was delicious and tasted like the happiness of hope.