The story of Barry Baker

A little legend for Lent

Once upon a time, an indeterminate number of centuries ago, a little boy was found on the Barry Island beach. The child, not more than a year old, was wrapped in a blanket and laid in a basket to shield him from the stiff sea breeze, and he was sleeping peacefully when he was stumbled across – almost literally – by the village baker. Where he had come from was a mystery, to be sure, but a hastily-assembled town meeting decided that he must stay; he was their gift and their treasure. Because the baker had found him, he went to live at the bakery with the Master Baker and her wife. The villagers called him Barry, since he was theirs, and Baker seemed as good a surname as any.

Barry Baker grew up like any child, although on a summer’s day the clouds reflected in his eyes seemed to tell of faraway places and unseen dimensions. He was liked well enough, and was a great help in the bakery.

When Barry was about grown, a terrible drought fell across South Wales. The rivers stopped running, the crops failed, the lambs cried for milk, and their mothers lowed mournfully. There was a terrible hunger in the Vale. 

The time came in which there was no more flour at all with which to bake bread. The people dragged themselves through the days, forty or more, of emptiness. They were losing hope.

At the end of a particularly tortuous day, the baker and her wife kissed Barry good night and said goodbye; they no longer relied on the rising of another sun. 

But Barry did not go to bed. He went instead to the baking counter, and drew together a large clump of thin air. He began to knead, as though kneading a great lump of dough. He kneaded away at the nothingness, and he worked so hard and so long that droplets of sweat ran down his hair and fell into a puddle on the countertop. He kneaded away such that the nothingness at last seemed almost to begin to turn into somethingness.

The next morning, the baker thought she was hallucinating; a new phase of the unchosen fast. There was the delicious aroma of fresh bread coming from the bakery kitchen. She went to shake her wife awake, but she was already sitting on the edge of the bed, her mouth open and her eyes wild: “Is this heaven?” she asked.

They crawled down the stairs and found the fire ablaze and a perfect loaf, fresh from the oven, steaming quietly on the countertop. They threw open the doors and called hoarsely to their neighbours to come, come quickly!

They divided the bread between them, savouring every morsel, and they found beside it even a pool of water, fresh and clear, on the bakery counter. A shallow dip had appeared, as though worn away by a century of dripping water, and there was enough to dampen everyone’s lips and tongue as they enjoyed the bread between them.

Only one person was missing from the simplest and most sustaining of feasts. The baker and her wife would hear their neighbours often sorrow that Barry seemed to have left just as salvation was within their grasp. But in their hearts, they knew where he was. 

After the drought was over, and the times of plenty returned, long after the baker was old and gray, the village would gather annually at the bakery to share bread and toast with water sweet as wine the memory of Barry Baker.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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