Friday, March 27, 2009

Right On The Tip O' My Heart

Was it memory or imagination... or age... that made me hanker after a loaf of that old Monastery bread? And if it was memory, what of it? The taste? The place and time I first tasted it? The cache of experiences collected and contained in my nineteen-year-old sensibilities? I don't know, but over the years I have been visited by sparkly flashes of memory that distill in the word part of my brain as "Monastery Bread."
I volunteered during the early shift as a "Pink Lady" at the county hospital in Roy, Utah, walking across the street from my backyard without first taking time for breakfast. After helping a few patients with their morning meals, I could take a break and head to the dining room for my own snack. I'd been smelling that hearty, yeasty, toasty aroma all morning and now I could go get my free slice, (volunteers get some perks!) slather it with peanut butter and strawberry jam and forget I was even on the earth!
I ended up taking a full-time paying position at the hospital as an over-worked, under-paid, trod-upon lowly nurse's aide and stayed for a full year, in part because of that bread. Not that I couldn't or didn't have resources to go buy my own loaf, but some things are just not the same taken out of their contextual homes. As a matter of fact, doing winter restoration work at Camp Utaba up in the Valley, I could slip over to the Abbey and buy some bread and honey, which memory also entertains me at this late date.

But no one toasted it like those little kitchen ladies at the hospital. My mother remembers when she was a patient herself St. Benedict's Hospital (Old St. Ben's) up there on the East Bench just below Mt. Ogden Park. She had an appendectomy and for five days survived on jello water and clear broth. Her first post-surgery bite of real food was toasted Monastery bread. She still claims that she must have "died and gone to heaven!"
Until very recently, I had given that memory a special place in the Cave of Never Coming Out Again and was hoping for an archival photograph of the monks making bread--just for fun, because googling is great fun for me. I happened upon a site which had a story about the Holy Tinity Abbey in Huntsville and this is what I read:

Although the monks no longer sell their fabulous Monastery Whole Wheat Bread the monk who was the baker has developed a recipe for homemakers who wish to bake their own wheat bread from the monastery recipe. Sweetened with Holy Trinity Abbey liquid honey, this wheat bread is delicious.

Could it be? Dare I scroll down and see if he posted the recipe?!
Here is the recipe...

(I won't re-post the recipe here, but it's still at that link above, if you want to try it--or ask me for it and I'll give it ye. Oh, and, well duh! They have the recipe right on their own website, but that would have been too logical and not convoluted enough for me to figure out early on:
I'm not silly enough to have expected it to be the same, even if I could make it just like the monk used to make it for me. (Yes, he made it especially for me until they took him out of the kitchen and sent him to work the farm.) I tried to prepare for the eventuality of at least a little disappointment. I tried to know what my brain knows. I made an adventure out of expecting, plotted the way I would photo-chronicle the process of following the recipe as closely as I could, imagined what I would say to people as I told this story.
But I still sort of hoped in a little hopeful heart, a little tiny bit, that it was possible to loosen that gleaming gem from the crusty, dusty rock of "real life."
So I drove up to Huntsville to get some honey and some pictures.

I walked into the gift store and asked casually of the man sitting behind the desk,
"Honey's the only thing you still make up here, eh?" (I know, I know--I'm a dreamer. Maybe if I asked it the right way, he would say, "Oh no. Didn't you know? We make bread, too!")
But he didn't. He said, "We make monks. That's harder than honey."

We talked, Fr. Patrick and I, about the bread and the honey and my daughter and a wonderful scripture that I could even quote without having to look it up! ("Inasmuchasyehavedoneituntotheleastofthesemybrethrenyehavedoneituntome.")
Twice, Fr. Paddy gave me a message to relay to my swell gehl of a daughter.
I should have stopped right there. What could be better than such friendly, casual banter with a stranger, meeting someone I wish I could really call a friend because he was so lovely and engaging, feeling so connected just by having yesterday's bread and honey in common? Or was there more to it? Did my search for a piece of the past lead me down a winding path of spiritual connectedness? Well, okay...I'll rein it in a bit.
But I really liked this brother.
And actually, the bread didn't turn out half-bad, either. Visit this site for more information about the Monastery, including the ascetics' prayer time in the chapel, retreat information--yes, you too can repose and reflect in the mostly unspoiled mountain location--history of the order and, well, you know, other things monastic.


  1. I want him to be my friend too. He looks so happy and a little wiry too. Oh, and I like the plates!

  2. Oh, wow!! I remember my mom and dad going for drives all the time up to the Monastery. Yup, always brought home honey. I am so going to that site to get the recipe. (I've been searching for the perfect bread recipe).

    Love the pictures, Penny! What a sweet man.