sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
Samuel F. Smith 1808-1895
LIB’ERTY, n. [L. libertas, from liber, free.]
Civil liberty, is the liberty of men in a state of society, or natural liberty, so far only abridged and restrained, as is necessary and expedient for the safety and interest of the society, state or nation. A restraint of natural liberty, not necessary or expedient for the public, is tyranny or oppression.
Webster’s 1828 Dictionary
It had been little over a week since Milly had first read the article that she thought would change her life. She had been sitting in the pediatrician’s office, with little Sean sleeping soundly in his stroller next to her. She was grateful for this as the doctor was behind and the wait would be longer than usual.
Milly hadn’t been prepared for a wait. She hadn’t brought a book, so she grabbed a nearby magazine. The doctor was a Christian, and the reading material scattered throughout his office reflected this. The article, published in some obscure Christian family magazine of which she had never heard, was discussing the economic activity of the Proverbs 31 woman.
Milly had found herself stretched and challenged by what she had read. She had become so enraptured with the “Stay-at-Home-Mommy” movement that she had failed to realize what a hard-working woman the woman of Proverbs really was. Though Milly knew that there would be times in life when taking care of her children would be literally all she had time for, the present time was not like that. Sean was only four-months-old. Her first child, he slept most of the day and night, leaving Milly yearning for something more to do.
Milly’s husband, Derek, worked long, hard hours. They lived modestly, the three of them snugly tucked into a 550-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment. And yet they were still having trouble making ends meet. They were fine for regular expenses, but any emergency was always a crisis.
Milly had remained at home, raising Sean, out of conviction. Part of this conviction had been that Derek should provide for the family. And their conviction was so strict that it translated into Derek earning every cent. Imagine her surprise when she realized that this was not the nature of the virtuous woman of Proverbs.
It hadn’t taken Milly long to decide what she wanted to do, what she, perhaps, needed to do. She had momentarily despaired, thinking that she had no real talents or skills that could earn any money. But it was then that she realized this made the decision easy. She would do the one thing she knew how to do, the one thing she knew she did well.
Milly would make bread.
Milly had craved bread throughout her entire pregnancy, but she had read all about the dangers of eating too much starch, too much refined flour. So Milly had perfected a bread recipe that was not only tasty, but extremely nutritious. She had put all of her knowledge of sprouting grains and enhancing flavor together to create a loaf that was perfect, especially when topped with a simple tablespoon of salted butter.
Milly had made extra loaves on more than one occasion. Sometimes, Derek gave them as gifts to coworkers who were having a birthday. One person had even offered to buy a loaf from Milly! At the time, she had felt strange about selling her wares, and declined the offer.
Things were different, now. Derek had no raise in sight, and with the Democrat Congress predicted to pass the largest individual income tax increase in history, coupled with the expiration of all of the post-9/11 tax cuts and the alternative minimum tax, Milly was concerned about their future financial stability.
Yes, Milly would make bread. She had spent the past week preparing. She had watched sales and purchased fine ingredients from a co-op. Organic grains, evaporated cane juice, homemade walnut paste, homegrown shredded carrots and zucchini, all of the ingredients were gathered on her tiny, clean kitchen counter.
Sean had fallen asleep only minutes before. Milly knew she must hurry if she was to get all five loaves mixed and in the oven before he would rise again and demand she stop and nurse him. She found herself thanking God for the friends who had gifted her with a large, industrial-quality mixer as a wedding present. She would put it to its full use for the first time today.
The winter had come and gone. Little Sean was getting bigger every day. He was now nine-months old, and constantly begging for a bite of Mommy’s special loaves. Milly, however, denied him, knowing his immature digestion wasn’t suited to walnut paste and whole grains. He would have to content himself with milk and homemade arrowroot teething biscuits today.
As Sean squealed in his highchair, contentedly smashing his last biscuit to pieces, Milly looked at her accounting with a smile. Milly was now making up to 10 loaves each day (five during Sean’s morning nap and five during his afternoon). Derek was able to make deliveries to customers who lived nearby, while Milly took Sean for a daily walk in a heavily-laden stroller to deliver much of the rest. A few customers had become good friends and dropped by to pick their loaves up in person.
Yes, selling an average of 60 loaves each week was having a positive impact on their finances. Plus, Derek was proud to have a wife who was productive, spending her time at home cultivating gifts that benefited their tiny family.
Milly’s face fell. She was remembering the letter they had received in the mail the previous day. The local health department wanted to visit with Milly and discuss her private bread-baking enterprise. The letter sounded innocuous, but Milly couldn’t dismiss the haunting feeling in her stomach.
Milly picked up the phone and called the official listed on the letter. The conversation that followed was quite similar to the letter. The official wanted to meet with Milly to “make sure” that she hadn’t “broken any health laws.” The official assured her that this was all standard, and she had nothing to worry about. He even agreed to meet with her on a Saturday so that Derek could be present as well.
Saturday it was. The official would arrive promptly at 9:00AM.
Derek opened the door. “What did you say your name was?” Milly heard him ask.
“Inspector Ricketts,” came the reply.
Milly frowned. This was not the name of the official she had spoken to on the phone. She came around the corner. “Hello,” she said as she offered her hand. She forced a nervous smile.
Sean was sleeping, and Derek and Milly guided the inspector to an outside table for a chat. A friend of Derek’s had suggested they not allow the inspector into their home unless it seemed absolutely necessary.
“So, you own a bakery, do you?” asked the inspector, staring pointedly at Milly.
“Not really,” answered Milly lamely. “I simply bake bread for friends and family.”
“But they pay you,” said Inspector Ricketts. It was not a question, and he didn’t leave time for an answer. “May I see your Food Safety Certification?”
Milly gave Derek a sideways glance.
“I’m not sure we know what you mean, Inspector,” Derek answered for her.
“Your Food Saftey Certification,” repeated the Inspector, ignoring Derek and looking expectantly at Milly. “The proof that you passed an accredited food safety course. You have taken a food safety course, haven’t you?”
“Well, no,” answered Milly. “I wasn’t aware that I needed to take such a course.”
“All bakery owners must have passed such a course. You may not sell anymore loaves until you have passed the course. And made all of the necessary adjustments, of course.”
“Adjustments?” said Derek and Milly simultaneously.
And so the meeting went on.
They eventually allowed the inspector into their home, where he took issue with everything in their kitchen. Her oven was a problem, though she never understood why. The counters were unacceptable. Something about their proximity to the sink, which he didn’t seem to like, but didn’t have a law he could quote that made it illegal. He even found a flaw in her prized industrial mixer.
“What’s in these covered bowls over the oven?” demanded the Inspector. He was becoming increasingly antagonistic.
“Why, sir, they are where I soak the grain,” said Milly. She wanted to be gracious and Christlike throughout her interaction with the Inspector.
“Soak the grain?” the look on his face was blank, and angrily so.
“Well, yes,” Milly glanced at Derek, who encouraged her to explain. “It is an ancient tradition. If I soak the grains under these conditions, they will sprout, which makes them easier to digest while simultaneously increasing the nutrition content. It’s actually quite amazing, when you think about it.” Milly’s face always became animated when she shared some of the story behind her increasingly popular loaves. “Once they sprout, I toast them in the oven, then grind them into flour.”
“Buy sprouted flour,” the Inspector told her, almost commanding her.
“What?” asked Milly, horrified.
“There is no way your kitchen is qualified for such an endeavor. Buying sprouted flour should accomplish your ends without complicating all of this with the fact that your grains are being kept at the wrong temperature according to the law.”
“The government cares what temperature I keep my grains at?” Milly was astounded. The inspector started flipping through the binder he carried with him.
“Yes,” he answered. “I can find it for you. Keeping them above the oven like that, and covered only with a cloth, well…that’s just preposterous!”
“But, Sir,” replied Milly calmly, “Grains must be sprouted under certain conditions. They will not sprout any other way. They must be kept warm and moist, and be rinsed a number of times throughout the day, and then–“
“That is why I say you must buy sprouted flour!” He had cut her off.
“But flour doesn’t stay fresh for long,” replied Milly softly, talking almost to herself. She had seated herself on a nearby stool, and was staring at her hands, folded sadly in her lap. “The oils. They go rancid so quickly…” She trailed off.
Despair was setting in.
Inspector Ricketts was not deterred. “Nonsense! If the oils went rancid, I would know. It is my job to know these things. Buy sprouted flour. End of conversation. I will never approve your endeavor otherwise.”
“Approve her endeavor?” Derek asked, his voice increasing a bit in volume.
“Yes! Approve! That is why I have been sent here.” The inspector grabbed a piece of paper on which he had been scribbling and thrust it into Derek’s hand. “Have your wife take an approved food safety course. Then complete all the tasks on this list. Once that is finished, call me and I will re-inspect. If you have done a good job, I might just let you own a bakery.”
“But I just want to sell bread,” said Milly lamely. The inspector ignored her.
“And for now?” asked Derek.
“For now?” the inspector was almost laughing at them. “For now, you are lucky I let her cook for you.”
Derek and Milly had a quiet lunch that day. When it came time for Sean’s afternoon nap, Milly told Derek she would sleep also. Usually, she made a batch of bread, but today that wouldn’t be necessary.
Derek did not sleep. Instead, he took out a calculater and went over the inspector’s list. There were thousands of dollars of renovations Inspector Ricketts wanted done to the kitchen. Derek sighed when he was finished. He glanced over at Milly’s neat accounting totals.
It was finished.
The inspector’s list required expenditures that were more than five times the amount of Milly’s profit over the last five months. And even if they could afford them, which they couldn’t, they didn’t own the apartment they lived in. What would be the point?
When Milly awoke, Derek wordlessly pushed the papers in her direction. She wept, and Derek held her while clinching his jaw. What could a man do to protect his wife against a world like this?
This, my friends, was the end of Milly’s breadbaking enterprise.
From this time forward, she baked only for her own family and the occasional gift. Eventually, Milly aquired an “office” job that she could work part-time from home to subsidize Derek’s income, which was necessary to finish paying the fine that Milly had received for illegally operating a bakery that was considered a threat to public health.
When Milly contacted her customers the next day, they were devastated. After all, many of them had begun feeling healthier by eating Milly’s bread. Milly felt terrible telling them that they could no longer legally purchase her wares.
She was on the phone with a sweet older gentleman who didn’t want to accept his fate. Suddenly, he declared, “I want to give you something!”
“Excuse me?” asked Milly, not comprehending his purpose.
“What is something that you need? I need your bread. What do you need? I will trade you something that is equal in value,” he declared.
“Well,” said Milly uncertainly, “I suppose one loaf is worth about twenty rolls of toilet paper. Would you like to give me twenty rolls of toilet paper?”
“What brand?” he said laughingly.
“I thought you’d never ask!” said Milly joyfully.
Milly did enough research to discover that the barter system was not yet illegal. She began trading bread for all sorts of household necessities. Some former customers brought diapers or clothes for Sean. Others brought Milly’s favorite shampoo. And yet others brought her things they had made or grown themselves, including some lovely candles that kept the dining room cheerful all winter long. One customer even bought her grain each time she ran out.
“I’m sorry I don’t make money any longer,” said Milly one night after Sean was in bed.
“Don’t you ever apologize for that!” exclaimed Derek. “Milly, you have done even more than make money. You have literally demonetized our family economy! We seem to need less and less money every month. And look at what an interdependent community you have inadvertantly built for us!” He paused for a moment. “Why, Millicent, it seems that what the government meant for evil, God has used for good!”
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