I haven’t baked bread since I came to New Mexico.
I used to bake bread nearly every day. But living in Hector’s overcrowded home discouraged my culinary aspirations. The oven was filled with cookware. The countertop was covered with skeletons in fancy dress. The top of the kitchen table had not made an appearance in memory. I cooked small meals and took them to my room where there was space for a dinner plate on my desk.
But now I am moving and, in preparation for the move, I decided it was time to bake. I told the English Department I would bring a loaf of bread to the potluck, but I had no bread pot, so yesterday I went looking for one.
I bake bread in a pot at a high temperature, so I needed a pot with a tight lid that was oven-safe and just the right size. I checked a couple of stores with no success. Then someone suggested I go to the Goodwill and so I did. It was a large, clean store with lots of kitchenware but, sadly, no bread pot. I had no idea where else to look, the day was getting late, and I had hungry scholars expecting bread the next day.
Then I saw the perfect bread pot— in the hands of another shopper.
The shopper had dark skin, red curly hair, and freckles. She was examining this perfect bread pot (clearly intended for me) as if she had not quite decided whether it was worth the $2.99 they were asking for it. I watched her slowly put it in her shopping cart. I was feeling desperate.
“Can I ask you a silly question?” I asked.
“No question is silly,” she replied.
“This one is,” I insisted. “I’m just wondering how attached you are to that pot in your shopping cart.”
She picked it up again and looked at it closely. “I’m not sure,” she said. “I’m moving to Taos and they don’t have a lot of stores so I was just stocking up on things for my new kitchen.”
“I’m looking for a bread pot and the one you have is perfect,” I told her. “I promised to bake bread tomorrow and I don’t have a pot. I would pay you a finder’s fee for the one in your hands.”
She considered this long enough for me to feel a little foolish.
“No,” she finally said, “I’ll tell you what. You take this pot and I don’t want any money. I am going to ask you to do a kindness to someone you meet.” Then she gave me the pot.
“Are you sure?” I asked, “I’d be happy to give you something.”
“No, that would just be greedy,” she said. “You pay it forward, that’s much better.”
I introduced myself and she said her name was Tamara. And, whereas normally debt hangs like a dead weight on my shoulders, this obligation felt quite different. I felt lighter after becoming beholden to Tamara.
I left the Goodwill with my new bread pot just as the sun was doing its nightly magic, turning the mountains a brilliant pink. The Goodwill store glowed in the setting sun as if it was, in fact, dispensing goodwill.
Walking across the parking lot in the pink evening light, I was filled with joy. I didn’t want to discharge my debt to Tamara. I wanted my debt compounded daily so I could issue repayment to every stranger in sight.
Till next time,