The aroma of fresh-baked bread was at the top of his Christmas list.
In the early 1900s, my grandmother Marie Hasselbusch and her sister Lena traveled from Germany to the United States. They were two adventurous and brave teens leaving their family behind for a brighter future. Once in America, they started to build their lives in this country. My grandmother married William Witte, who also came here from Germany. They had four daughters and a son. My mother, Lillian, was the oldest child. My grandfather worked as a stair builder, and he constructed a home from scratch on Chicago’s west side. They lived in that house for the rest of their lives. Their five children went on to have their own families, blessing Grandma and Grandpa with 21 grandkids! I am the oldest, so I watched our huge family grow. My grandmother insisted on giving Christmas presents to every grandchild. On Christmas Eve you could hardly enter their bungalow because of all the packages. They were not expensive, but rather simple gifts from the heart, such as gloves and crayons. Even so, once they began having more and more grandchildren, gift-giving became a challenge for Grandma and Grandpa. One year when I was a teenager, I told my grandmother that I didn’t need a Christmas gift. But she insisted. So I told her, “Just give me a loaf of your bread.” When Grandma came over from Germany as a girl, she didn’t bring many possessions with her—but she remembered how her mother baked bread. For as long as I can remember, Grandma baked several loaves of bread almost every week. You could tell when she was making bread by the tempting aroma coming from the kitchen as you walked up to the house. She would set tins of dough in the bedrooms to rise. The aroma, and the sight of her making the bread, are things I will never forget. She baked with wheat and white flour, and it was delicious! Every year on Christmas Eve, Grandma and Grandpa sang an emotional “O Tannenbaum” in their native German, and then we opened our presents. My gift that year was indeed a loaf of my grandmother’s bread. It was such a cherished part of her history, and that made it so special to me.
Grandma’s bread was more precious than any toy or treat.