I never knew the story of me, not really anyway, until it was my turn to carry the book.  The book was where my mother kept her secrets, and as it turns out they were numerous.  That large leather bound tome was the only thing we owned that never felt the lean times.  It seemed to constantly expand like mother’s sourdough rolls. 

That was how we survived, mother and I.  She baked and, as soon as I could carry the tray, I sold, but we never lingered any one place for very long.  There was never an explanation just, “Adette, my sweet, tis time,” and we would be off to the next town before dawn.  The worst was when we lived “in the heather” as mother would say.  To me the Black Forest was a terrifying place of hard dirt beds, green leaky roofs, and fear which ran off my mother in rivulets when the next town wasn’t an option and we had to hide to survive.  I never knew why we ran, what made us run, or who might follow, but I went with mother and her book without question.

When I got old enough I started to see the pattern.  While we sold sweet bread, hearty loaves, or flaky pastry we were fine.  I could count on a straw mattress, dinner simmering on the hearth, and a place to call home.  We still stole away in the night with no explanation, but it would just be to the next town.  The second I smelled gingerbread though I knew it was just a matter of time till we were back in the woods hugging the shadows. 

The last time I begged mother not to make me sell the child shaped gingerbread, but she wouldn’t listen.  For two days I came home to the spicy sweetness, but the third day it was emptiness that greeted me.  The door hung crooked on its broken hinges, spices and dark syrups coated the floor, and the hearth lay dark and cold.  I waited…afraid to light a fire.  Night fell full and heavy, its inky darkness a weighty thing in my heart and on my mind, but still my mother had not returned.  So I did what my mother taught me…I ran.

I grabbed what I could carry the most precious ingredients, her well used pans, and as I turned to leave I saw it.  The book lay open and only the moonlight on its pages made it visible.  Part of me wanted to run from that book, which had made gypsies of us and ultimately cost me my mother.  However, the bigger part of me wanted answers so it went into my flour sack with all I had left of her.

I fled into the night and into the forest I dreaded so much.  I didn’t stop for days sure that whatever had chased my mother through our lives was now after me.  Until I stumbled into a small clearing.  There was no telling how long the place had been abandoned.  Its wattle and daub roof had washed away and the few support boards which had framed the cottage crumbled at the slightest touch.  Only the stone hearth remained intact.  Habit had me building a fire and unpacking as if this was like any other time mother and I camped out beneath the stars, but reality washed over me in icy chills when my hand grazed leather. 

I realized for the first time how heavy it was as I brushed a slight dusting of flour from its cover.  Flipping through the pages I smiled sadly remembering the small conversations we had over pumpernickel and cherry cakes till I found the recipe.  I read it twice before the words meant anything.  I unpacked each remaining stoppered glass bottle reading their labels with care. Black Pudding was written on a bottle with less than a fingers width of sticky syrup left within it.  My stomach rolled but was too empty to oblige.  I now knew why we left in the dead of night why we hid in the Black Forest’s shadow, but not why mother couldn’t just have used molasses.

I had no other choice before me, I couldn’t return to any town I knew and there was no map or path to lead me forward, so I stayed.  I stayed and the forest, I had feared so much, provided.  There was wild wheat and nuts to grind for flour, honey and berries for sugar, and gathered eggs.  I used what skill I had to protect myself from harsh winter winds, hard brötchen bricks, sugar paned windows, and a thatched pretzel roof, but nothing could protect me from the book.  Every day I read more of it trying to understand any piece of the puzzle.  My only answers came from the inside of the front and back covers.  After numerous blank pages I found a family tree which, if vaguely, told me where I came from.  It was however, the simple inscription inside the front cover that guided me. 

Waste naught want naught.

I am Adette, and I will never be caught wanting for I make use of all that the forest provides me.

image

Water color by Kay Nielsen all rights to owner

Advertisements