I was shopping today at HEB. That is actually an understatement. I was shopping for two weeks worth of groceries for two households that happen to be living in the same house. My in-laws house. I love the two week shopping. I mean the actual shopping trip is a little over three hours and you need a good night’s rest the night before and definitely need to leave the kids at home. At least my kids- But I do enjoy the two weeks worth of meal planning and list making and shopping because I don’t have to do it every week anymore and it also saves time and money.
One of the things my mother-in-law wrote down on the menu was french bread. I walked over to the bakery section where the fresh bread island displayed the different varieties of baked heaven. The foiled packages contained the garlic bread, all neatly nestled on the bottom row on the one side. There were rolls, wheat and white. I walked to the other side. Bolillos and hot dog buns with sesame seeds. No french bread. Ciabatta. O the Ciabatta. Maybe that would suffice? I called her to make sure.
“No, I want french bread,” my mother-in-law said. She is not a woman who settles for second best. I knew this. “See if they have some up at the counter, ” she suggested. “Otherwise I’ll just pick some up at a later time.”
That sounded good to me so after I said goodbye, I asked the lady who was decorating some bright blue cupcakes if they had any french bread that hadn’t been brought out yet. They did! They were just coming out of the oven. Another lady was wheeling them out on a cart and handed one to my out-stretched hand from over the counter.
The paper package was warm, almost hot. The thick loaf was crusty and fresh and the smell beckoned me. I looked around me to make sure no shopper was watching. I closed my eyes, bringing the baked bread to my nose and inhaled deeply, drinking in the richness of the scent. How do you even describe what a wonderful loaf of fresh bread smells like? To someone with celiac disease it smells like heaven.
Yes. I have been gluten free for two and a half years now. Diagnosed with celiac disease right after Thadd’s birth. So no wheat, barley or rye. And that includes a host of things as wheat is in countless packaged food items. As overwhelming and life-changing as this has been for me, it has been relatively easy to adjust to the new diet as there are so many products that are gluten free as well as many resources out there to help the poor celiac. Many restaurants have made adaptations too. (It’s just expensive!) All this to say, I am not suffering under the burden of this new gluten free regime. I still enjoy eating. And eating well. But the one thing that gets me every time is the french bread. The substitutions are nothing like the real thing.
I stood there in that grocery store, people milling all about me, frozen. My hands still embracing the forbidden package and my nose still welcoming the tantalizing aroma. I was overcome with harsh reality at that moment. That bread could never be mine. Tears literally came to my eyes!
I remember having a conversation with my neighbor friend, Meg one day. We were sitting in her dining room and she had lavished upon me homemade relish from fresh cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. She had set out the most delicate china and had poured the tea into adorable tea cups. Big band music played on the radio. I was visiting her because she had recently undergone foot surgery (again) and had come to keep company, but instead she treated me like royalty.
You could see the worn years of hardship on her face. Her body was stiff with rheumatoid arthritis and battle wounds of countless surgeries. I never saw her without makeup on or with her short spiral hair out of place. She had once been an alcoholic, and though she had been clean for years, continued to go to AA once a week. She knew her weakness. But she knew the power of the cross. She was an inspiration to me.
We were having one of those conversations about heaven, the kind that transcends age barriers and life experience and it finally occurred to me that Meg and I had a lot in common.
“You know, Meg,” I had said suddenly, cradling the cup of tea with both of my hands. “I think we both have a lot more in common than we think we do.”
“What’s that sweetie?” she asked me. She winced a bit and closed her done up eyes. She shot them open and smiled reassuringly as I had stood up to help her in vain with whatever pain she had. “Sit back down, darling. I’m fine! This ole girl has been through tougher times than these!”
I remember sitting down and grinning at her. She could be persuasive, that was for sure. She had looked at me in anticipation. So I said, “I think both of us long for the Eucharist we will enjoy with our Lord more than most other people do.”
She frowned for a few seconds and then broke out into a wide smile and that rippling laugh of hers as she realized that in heaven my body would finally be healed and I could partake of the bread. And she would be free to enjoy the new wine. We laughed together and clapped our hands, the ex-alcoholic and the celiac joyfully longing for the consummation of all things.
I finally put the bread back into my shopping cart and continued my monumental ordeal. And all through the store I smelled the bread. I smiled to myself and whispered softly, “One day. One day!”