I had an Easy Bake Oven and loved it. I would bake my little cakes and get creative with flavors and decorations. I’d give them to family and friends and they would fuss over them and express delight. I craved those happy emotions. I became deeply depressed over the next few years, and it may be that praising my “baking” was the only thing family could think of to react positively to anything about me.
Two years after my dad’s death, my mom remarried. She had known my stepdad in her childhood, but we kids didn’t know him, trust him, or like him. He was an intruder and a poor substitute for the one person I had loved. My stepdad had four kids, my mom had three, and they had an eighth one together.
All of these people were smart, talented, confident, and happy. I felt like such a misfit. They were especially gifted musically. Voice, piano, violin, flute, guitar, banjo, and anything else that could create a tone was contributed by one or another. Me? I played the stereo pretty well. They all had other talents, too, and I didn’t think I had any. But I could cook. It wasn’t long before I was the only one awake one morning when my stepdad was getting ready for work, and I offered to cook him breakfast. It may have been our first private interaction, and it went surprisingly well. All of a sudden I realized that I had a contribution to make — I could feed people. In a family of ten, feeding people was a critical skill, and I grew to love it, to depend on it as a way to matter, to crave the identity it gave me.
As a young adult, I was part of a community-building organization that held a leadership development event. We were asked to introduce ourselves and answer, “If we are all on an isolated island, what would be your role in our survival?” Easy — I’d be the cook. Everybody clapped and cheered. Oh my! I had been feeding a lot of these folks now and then, but I had no idea I’d made such an impression.
I am and will always be a baker. I prepare other foods, of course, but those are to meet physical needs. I bake to meet emotional needs, both in myself and in those I feed. Especially in my work with underprivileged and hungry people, giving them nutritious food is critical, of course, but then also offering a birthday cake or home-made cookies or anything special just for fun, just because I care, just because pleasure is so scarce in their lives — this is my greatest joy. This is why I bake.