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The luxuries of Xanadu cannot compare

By JOHN GOULD / April 5, 1985



``TIME to bake bread,'' she announced purposefuly, ``and I'm all out of flour.'' This is the closest to a major catastrophe in our household since long-gone Uncle Aaron caught his famous beard in the flyers of Grandmother Deborah's flaxwheel. Gracious living, with us, calls for home-baked bread, and expense is no object.

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I repaired with checkbook and alacrity to the Shave'n-Sop Super Duper Market and returned with a 25-pound bag of Robin Hood flour, the all-purpose flour. Within due time the house smelled of baking bread, and he who lives in a happy house that smells of baking bread knows not cark nor care and would not swap for the golden bounty of the garden of the Hesperides, or the luxuries of magnificent Xanadu.

When the bread is properly crusted and she draws it forth from the oven to advertise itself on the counter, and she anoints it liberally by stroking a stick of butter back and forth, the resounding aroma has no equal and few rivals, and my heart leaps up. A childhood treat was to have a ``heel-tap'' from a loaf of hot, new bread and run with it to play. Sometimes I -- we -- had to wheedle, because Mom wasn't all that eager to slice new bread. It cut more easily when cooled. But when we prevailed, she would slather the heel-tap (and successive slices as required) with our home-made cow's-cream butter, sprinkle dark brown sugar, and smear with Barbados molasses from the earthenware jug. Nectar and ambrosia were for the poor people, like Zeus and Hera.

In a family of any responsible size, almost all of the first loaf would be sacrificed as aforesaid, which usually meant there could be two heel-taps. That called for hoseys. When the baking bread circulated its flavor around-about, we children at our pleasures would perk up and sniff. Satisfied we had read the message aright, we would start for the kitchen pell-mell, and the most alert would already have called, ``I hosey the heel-tap!'' Somebody, on the off hope the treat might include the other end of the loaf, would shout, ``I hosey heel-tap No. 2!''

Hoseys were usually respected, unless Mother would say, ``No, you've had three hoseys in a row -- let your sister have a chance!''

There was a story in our family about a boy down the street who was ``spoiled,'' and he had the bad habit of bargaining with his mother -- or perhaps she had the bad habit of bargaining with him. He had learned to hold out for his price. Probably grew up to be a labor union boss. Anyway, if she wanted him to run an errand, he'd do it for a cent, and she'd give him the cent. The boy became a horrible example to us, who were taught it was our duty and pleasure to jump when Mother called. But with young wisdom we realized the boy's mother was more to blame than he was.

One baking day his mother wanted him to run some errand or other, and he stood there thinking what tribute he could exact for being a helpful young man. While he was thinking, she took the advantage, and she said, ``I'll give you the hot heel-tap with brown sugar and molasses!''

Jimmie considered this. Presumably he considered this less than the favor was worth, but close enough. ``All right,'' he said, ``but mind you put a good bit about the crusts!''

When we would come a-running in on baking day for our new bread with sugar and molasses, we'd remind Mother in turn to put a good bit about the crusts, and that jollied up what was already sufficiently jolly. If Mother didn't have molasses on her fingers she might give one of us a cuff on the ear -- just for fun.

Now, when I brought back that 25-pound bag of Robin Hood flour, my heart running over from fond memories of heel-taps, she said, ``How-come you got the 25-pound bag?''

How-come, indeed. It seems the 25-pound bag was priced at $4.49, whereas right beside were 5-pound bags priced at 69 cents each. Poor old stupid John could have brought home five 5-pounders for $3.45. To my perfectly intelligent remark that she hadn't told me, I got the response that I should have known. Should I?

I did speak to the manager of the store next time I was in, and he explained that he merely managed the store, he didn't run it, and while I contemplated this oddity of conglomeration he added that he thought I should have known. -- 30 --