Well, it’s not that I have traveled around the world extensively, but I have been blessed to be able to visit a number of cities and towns and areas all over the United States and a good bit of the world. Everywhere has their “best place” for things you might want to eat or buy. For instance, when Cheri and I honeymooned in Quebec way back nearly 40 years ago, we would stop by little bakery shops and buy what are undoubtedly about the best croissants you could ever have. In New Orleans, if you are going to order a po’boy sandwich anywhere, you want to make sure that they serve is on Leidenheimer bread. Unmatched anywhere in the world. And of course, beignets and chicory coffee at the Café Du Monde. I’ve had all sorts of pastries and rolls, and especially donuts, and while some of them only served to fill up a hungry stomach, some were unbelievably delicious. I’ve told before that before I got married, I worked part-time at Lone Star Donuts in Dallas, making apple fritters and what seemed to be thousands of donuts, three dozen at a time on a big wire rack that I would lower into a massive vat of oil, over and over again, and then glaze with a trough. When I was in college in Grand Forks, I worked at a hardware store on the south side of town, and even in the middle of winter, I would walk the 2 ½ miles each way to work, stopping at the Mr. Donut to have a hot cup of tea and an angel cream filled donut to make it the entire way. How did I not know that was a burden?
So, we have a great donut place here in Fargo. It’s called Sandy’s Donuts and in recent years they have expanded to a new store on the south side, which also meant they do a nice little delivery service, especially on Sunday mornings as the family slowly wakes up, and needs a donut to greet the new week. I have to say – they are really, really good. So, around noon on Saturday, if I can remember, I’ll go online and order a dozen donuts, which actually will carry us into the middle of the week, since eating any more than one donuts classifies you as either starving, or with a little oinky nose.
Yesterday I remembered to do just that, and as I picked out the dozen choices, including the filled ones for me, and the maple long john for Cheri, and Bavarian cream round ones for the boys, I came to the end of the selection, and tried to check out. It wouldn’t let me – I went back and counted all the selections, and with 12 in the “basket,” I tried again. No luck. Finally, I looked at the bottom of the screen, and a small announcement said, “you have selected 12. Make another selection to complete your order.”
It was then I remembered that when you buy 12 donuts, you actually get 13 -- the old “baker’s dozen,” as it were. So, I picked out a Norwegian sour cream, and finished the order, and looked forward to this morning, which indeed, at 6:45 this morning, came the lovely sound of 13 donuts being dropped on our front porch.
However, I became curious as to the old “baker’s dozen” tradition, and decided to do some research. With your indulgence, this is what I found…
In the 13th Century in England, during the reign of Henry II, it apparently became commonplace for bakers to cheat their customers by selling them loaves of bread that were “light.” Maybe extra yeast, or some way to create a loaf of bread that was a bit less than then “normal loaf.” Henry decreed a trade guide known as “The Worshipful Company of Bakers,” which first of all determined that bread was to be sold in line with the price of wheat. Loaves were sold by the pound, not by the piece. The penalty for selling “light loaves” was either a fine, or flogging, or in most dire circumstances for repeated offense, the baker would have a hand cut off. Not the best way to spend a Saturday.
That got the baking industry’s attention, to say the least. Since the bread was sold by weight and not numbers, when a dozen loaves were sold, the bakers would throw in an extra loaf, just to make sure it all had enough weight. Better to lose a loaf than a hand, the old saying goes… or should have gone. It was called at that time, the “vantage loaf,” in order to avoid a beating. It was even the case, if someone were to buy only one loaf, the baker would add in an extra slice, or tear off a piece and put it in the bag as well – just to make sure.
And here, only 800 years later, it is often the tradition of bakeries to continue with the “baker’s dozen,” which is more than a dozen, just to make sure. I can thank Henry II for the Norwegian Sour Cream, I guess.
This historical information, however, only set me to thinking a bit more. Why only bakeries? I’ve never heard of a “ribeye steak dozen,” or and “eggs dozen,” or for that matter, a new car’s dozen, or a fine jewelry’s dozen… seems a bit punitive to pick out only one industry and clamp down on their sales. Of course, even though we don’t have a “gallon of gas” dozen, you can see careful certification on every pump, that assures you that when you use their measurement to pump out a gallon of gas into your car’s tank, it’s a gallon, and not three quarts…
What I expect, although I haven’t read anywhere, is that if nothing else, people need bread. They probably grew their own vegetables, but maybe not baked bread. Cheating on the weight of bread affected the very poor the most, and maybe ol’ King Henry was aware of that… or maybe he got cheated once himself, and decided that con game was going to end. Whatever the reason, the impact of that one decision, that one decree has affected the world with the understanding that things need to be fair when we deal with one another, because frankly, it is easy to cheat and take more than our fair share.
So, beside my extra donut, I then wonder how we might go beyond the bare minimum in our dealings with others. In providing something to someone else, could it be that we would be able to do just a little more, because it’s the right thing to do. We had some friends once who, when they would take us out to dinner, and pay for the meal, would spend a huge amount of time, figuring out the tip to leave the server, so that they wouldn’t end up giving too much – as though that extra quarter, or even the extra dollar was the difference between life and death.
I even think sometimes how some folks will do lots of calculations, taking the actual net income after taxes, to decide what percentage they will give as an offering to God. Better not give too much? Because certainly God has not given an abundance to us first?
Maybe it’s time for each of us, no matter what we do, to engage in a baker’s dozen of living our lives, generously – not to avoid a beating, but because we can do that good thing, offer that bit extra – live with grateful hearts. It’s an idea at least 800 years in the making…
Word for the day: ostracize. Pronounced OS-tra-size. No, it has nothing to do with a large flightless bird. It’s another example of a word arising out of the tool or item used to do something. In this case, the Greek, ostrakon, meant the broken shard of a piece of pottery. Pottery was broken regularly in ancient Greece – that’s probably why they invented Tupperware. Anyway, the broken piece of pottery was used as part of the democratic process in Greece. When a member of the community was seemingly dangerous to the population for whatever reason, be it political upheaval, or physically threatening, the populace would take a vote, and they would write the name of the person who needed to be banished from the community, by scratching the name of a piece of broken pottery. I guess there were no notepads. When the votes were tallied of the ostrakon, the person could be banished from their home for 5-10 years. They were ostracized.
By the way, the word, “ostrakon” also meant something that looked like a shell, and an animal that lives in a shell? The oyster, of course.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.