As soon as I walked into the house, I smelled the sweet, yeasty dough. I charged into the kitchen. “Can I help?” I asked.
Mom was standing at the kitchen table, and there was a huge brown blob of dough in front of her. Her hands and arms were covered with flour, and she was pushing her hands into the dough and rolling it over and pounding it with her fists. She looked up at me and smiled. “Whew!” she said. “I’m worn out, Aaron. Hurry and wash your hands, and you can help me.”
I hung my cap on the bathroom doorknob and hollered to Jarom, “Mom’s making bread.”
Jarom was in the basement, putting together a model race car, but as soon as he heard me yell, he came thundering up the stairs and headed straight for the bathroom. “I thought I smelled something besides glue,” he panted.
A few minutes later we were both in the kitchen, dusting our hands and arms with flour and getting about as much on our shirts and faces.
“All right, Mom, can we punch it now?” I asked. Mom nodded, and Jarom and I doubled up our fists, reared back, and began punching. We pretended we were fighting the Blob from outer space.
“I think you’ve kneaded it enough,” Mom finally said. “Now we need to divide it into eight parts and pat it into loaves. We’re going to add magic to them today.”
“What’s going to be magic about them?” Jarom asked.
“You’ll see.” Mom smiled.
“Does it have magic in it yet?” I asked.
“A little bit,” Mom replied.
Nobody added anything to the dough while we shaped it, or when Jarom and I helped Mom grease the bread pans and drop the little logs of dough into each pan, or when we set them on the kitchen table to raise. Afterward, Jarom and I washed our hands and ran outside to play catch, but every few minutes we crawled up the cherry tree and peeked in the kitchen window to check our loaves of bread. Slowly each loaf began to swell and bulge. Just when it looked like they would pop, Mom put them into the oven. We didn’t see her add anything to them then, either.
The next time Jarom and I came into the house, it was filled with the smell of Mom’s magic bread. It seemed like you could grab a gob of air, spread some butter on it, and eat it. Finally the little clock on the stove jangled, and Mom took the loaves of bread out of the oven and tipped them from their pans onto a clean white dish towel spread on the table.
“Is it magic bread now?” Jarom asked, reaching out to gingerly touch the hot golden loaves of bread.
“What else do you have to do to them?” I asked, scratching my head. “They look plenty good to me.”
“To make them really magic,” Mom whispered, like she was telling us an important secret, “we have to give them away.”
“Give them away!” Jarom and I gasped. “We don’t want to give them away. We want to eat them.”
“But they’re not magic if we eat them.”
“Then let’s not have magic bread. Let’s just have the regular kind,” Jarom said.
“Yeah,” I agreed. “We did all the work. We should get to eat the bread.”
Mom took a deep breath. “Don’t you want to give at least some of it away?”
“Maybe one loaf,” Jarom mumbled.
“All right. Take one loaf, and if you can see the magic work, maybe you’ll want to come back and give some more away.”
“How does the magic work?” I asked, getting just a little curious.
“The magic makes people happy. People who are angry or sad or ornery become happy and kind if you give them a loaf of magic bread.”
“Let’s take one to Sister Rogers,” Jarom said. “I like her.”
“But she’s always happy,” I pointed out. “We’d never know if the magic worked.” I grinned. “Now, if we gave a loaf to Brother VanGesen, we’d really find out if it was magic.”
“He’d have to eat the whole batch of bread,” Jarom said. “I wouldn’t waste any of it on him. He’s the meanest man I know. Every time our baseball goes into his yard, he yells at us and tells us he’s going to call the police.”
“Then he’s just the man who needs a loaf of this bread,” Mom said as she grabbed a loaf of warm bread, wrapped it in paper towels, and handed it to me.
“You mean I have to take it?” I cried.
Mom thought for a moment, then wrapped another loaf and handed it to Jarom. “You’re right. Each of you should take one.”
“But, Mom,” we protested.
“Run along,” she said, pretending to be stern. “Go see if the magic works.”
Jarom and I left the house, each carrying a loaf of bread. I dragged my feet, hoping that we’d never get to Brother VanGesen’s. But pretty soon we saw his house. He was on his hands and knees, pruning and digging around the rosebushes in his front yard.
When we got to Brother VanGesen’s front walk, I gulped, blinked twice, licked my lips, then started creeping up the walk. Maybe he wouldn’t see us, and we could just set the bread on one of his lawn chairs and run home.
But when we were a few feet from him, he turned around to get his pruning shears and saw us. “Well, what are you boys doing here?” he growled. “I hope you didn’t walk across my petunias.”
“No, sir, we didn’t,” I said. I could feel my heart hammering against my ribs. “We brought you some fresh bread,” I blurted, thrusting my loaf at him.
Suddenly the frown on Brother VanGesen’s lips disappeared. A smile chased it right off his face! He pulled his gloves off and reached for both loaves. “They’re still warm!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah,” I replied. “We just finished baking them.”
“You helped your mom make them?” he asked.
“And you wanted to give them to me?”
We nodded again. We could tell that he was surprised. And it was easy to see that he was happy. It looked like he might even do a little dance.
“It’s best if you eat it while it’s still warm,” Jarom explained. He looked at the ground. “That’s why we brought them now.”
“Well, thank you.” He beamed, then looked around, set the bread on the lawn chair, ran over to his porch, and came back with a baseball. “I found this in the bushes.” He smiled. “I don’t know whose it is, but I’ll bet that you boys do.” He handed the ball to me. “Say,” he added, “why don’t you pick a couple of roses for your mother.”
As soon as we had each picked a rose and were out of Brother VanGesen’s yard, I turned to Jarom and whispered, “That is magic bread. I’ve never seen anything like it. Did you see him smile? I didn’t even think he knew how. And he was nice too!”
“Do you suppose that magic bread will work on anybody?” Jarom asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but I sure want to find out! Let’s try some on Sister Willis. All she does is sit on her porch and growl at the dogs that cut across her lawn.”
“And what about that man who just moved into the Henderson place. I’d like to see him smile.”
Soon we were galloping up our front steps, yelling, “Mom, it works! It works! We want to give away more magic bread.”
Mom was sitting at the table, waiting for us. “Don’t you want the rest for yourselves?”
We shook our heads. “We need to help our neighborhood. There are too many grumpy people in it.”
Mom got a big paper sack and filled it with the rest of the loaves of magic bread wrapped in paper towels.
We gave a loaf to Sister Willis, and she was just as happy as Brother VanGesen had been. When we took a loaf to the man in the Henderson place, he smiled and gave us each a little box of raisins. We hurried all over the neighborhood, giving magic bread away. Jarom and I had never been so excited and happy in our whole lives! The magic had rubbed off on us too!
Soon there was only one loaf left. We’d already given loaves to all the real sourpusses, so we were thinking about eating it ourselves. But just before we reached home, Barney Stubbs came by, carrying a baseball bat over his shoulder.
“Oh, no!” Jarom whispered. “Should we run?”
Barney was always pushing around anyone littler than him, including Jarom and me. “Maybe we could give him the magic bread,” I muttered.
“Maybe we could give him a punch in the nose,” Jarom countered. “Together, we’d have a chance.”
“Hey, what are you guys doing?” Barney yelled at us when he was still a little way off. “And what’ve you got in the bag?”
“Something for you,” I called out, reaching into the bag and pulling out the last towel-wrapped loaf of bread.
Barney reached out and took it. “What is it?” he growled.
“Mom’s bread. We helped her make it, and we thought you’d like some.”
Barney took off the top towel, broke off a corner of the loaf, and put it into his mouth. He chewed it, broke off another piece, and stuffed it into his mouth. Slowly a smile tickled the corners of his mouth. “Hey, this is good!” he announced.
“It’s even better with butter and jam on it,” Jarom told him, still a bit anxious.
Barney nodded. “I’ll go home and get some right now.” With his bat over his shoulder and his bread under his arm, he hurried off down the street. Before he had gone far, he stopped and called back to us, “Hey, why don’t you guys meet me at the park after a while. I have a new bat we can try out.”
We nodded, and Barney headed on down the street.
When we returned home, Mom was smiling and waiting for us in the kitchen. “Did you save any bread for yourselves?” she asked.
“No,” I said. “It was too much fun watching the magic work.”
“Can you make another batch?” Jarom asked. “We’ll help again.”
“Sure,” I answered. “There are lots of people who can use some magic bread.” Then I asked, “Mom, what exactly was the magic that was added to the bread?”
Mom motioned for us to come closer, then whispered in our ears, “Love.”
“Love?” I almost shouted.
“When did we put love in?” Jarom demanded, rather confused.
“When we made it for someone else. And when you gave it away. That filled the bread with love.”