About two miles from where I grew up there was a Mrs. Baird’s bakery. The location of this behemoth factory was an urban anomaly because it bordered an upscale residential neighborhood across from Southern Methodist University. It was part of the landscape yet somehow it just didn’t seem to really fit in.
On November 2, 1953 in a full-page newspaper ad, Mrs. Baird’s invited the city to attend its grand opening. The announcement encouraged the public to bring the whole family and wear their walking shoes for the quarter-mile tour. And so on a balmy Friday evening in the spring of 1954, we took the tour to see this marvel of modern automation. There were no strict visitor regulations. No hair nets, gloves, or special clothing were required to take the tour, only the aforementioned walking shoes. I had no walking shoes, nor do I remember the tour as a quarter-mile. Likely my father carried me in his arms for most or part of the way. What I do remember, however, is the smell and taste of it all.
At the end of the production line, freshly baked loaves of white bread emerged from the oven. There was only white bread, or “light” bread as it’s called in Texas—no wheat, whole grain, or designer bread, just white bread—hot, sliced, and ready to be packaged. As we stood there in amazement, the tour guide deftly swept a freshly baked loaf from the conveyor belt. He held it aloft so that all might behold and admire this miracle of modern baking. There was unspoken triumph in the practiced drama of the moment.
And there was an unexpected reward for our attention and interest. He took the loaf of hot bread, separated it into thick slices, and slathered each with real butter before offering a whole piece to each person in the group. No sample sizes, no sharing of the bounty. I remember the sheer delight of having a whole piece of hot bread all to myself. The entire experience was one of wonder and pure joy for a five-year-old child.
The entire community knew exactly when bread was in the oven at the bakery. A yeasty aroma – the perfect balance of tang and sweet - perfumed the air with clockwork regularity every day of the week. In 1998, Mrs. Baird’s was sold. The decision was made to close the Dallas factory, which over time had become functionally obsolete. It was the end of an era. The community mourned the loss of the smell – the bread was still available most anywhere.
The property was bought by Southern Methodist University but rather than implode the low-rise factory, it was not so much torn down as deconstructed. With its robust steel and concrete construction, this was a labor-intensive process. Over several weeks, the building was carefully dismantled. Likely, there were serious environmental issues with an old factory. As the wrecking ball pounded the solid walls with unrelenting persistence, structural building materials were assembled into large piles. What seemed like only rubble was carefully sorted into twisted piles of salvageable and recyclable material. Other trash and refuse was unceremoniously hauled away by giant dump trucks, load by load, day after day. The lot is now level and new construction is under way.
This story of productivity, change, destruction, and rebuilding is a kind of metaphor for our lives as we grieve the death of one we love. As with the factory the doors open and life begins. We put on our walking shoes and take the tour. We cherish life’s moments when our daily bread is slathered with the fresh, buttery goodness of sustained love and joy. We’re productive, steady and useful until irrevocable change stops our progress and shuts down life as it has been. And for a while we experience destruction -“a time to search and a time to give up” (Ecclesiastes 3:6 NIV).
Slowly we understand the value of un-building in order to rebuild. We sort through the rubble, “a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them” (Ecclesiastes 3:5 NIV). We reorder that which is salvageable and at last we remove that which is no longer useful—“a time to keep and a time to throw away” (Ecclesiastes 3:6 NIV). The landscape of our life is changed, yet cleared. Our future waits on the horizon of a life rebuilt on hope.
We no longer bake fresh bread. We hunger rather for new purpose to fill the human space and place that is our being. And through the steadfast love and faithfulness of God we build anew in gratitude for the rest of the life we’ve been given to live. Thanks be to God for the goodness of life.
Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Psalm 100:4-5 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the energy of your creation. Amen.