Baking Bread and Belonging: Marguie Nordman’s Story

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Article by Lara-Sophie Boleslawsky
Photos Courtesy of Marguie Nordman

One thing I’ve learned growing up with bakers in the family is that baking bread is hard. Hard, but very rewarding. A simple action, kneading the dough, became a rite of passage and it taught me to appreciate the value of time. Often, the rewarding system of instant gratification in today’s consumer-driven market can cast a shadow over the importance of taking time to really knead that dough.

I remember the first time I met Marguie. It started with the raisin bread. Amazingly, delicious raisin bread that transported me back to a time when the aroma of freshly baked bread reminded me that it was time to go to school. My parents would wake up at four in the morning to begin their daily baking and by the time eight o clock rolled around, it would be time for me to go to school with a freshly baked Kaiser bun clamped between my puffy little hands. Childhood memories aside, Marguie Nordman’s freshly baked raisin bread was amazing. Chalk-full of raisins, it was perfect and I am not ashamed to say that I ate way more than I should have! 

Fast-forward two months and now, sitting across from Marguie during my interview, I am eager to learn the secret behind her husband’s raisin bread (unfortunately, it’s a closely guarded secret) and yet, coming away from my time with Marguie, her story is equally as awe-inspiring, if not more so. Starting with the bread, and moving outwards, I learn more about Marguie’s commitment to her community. 

“To me, community, it’s a feeling of belonging,” Marguie shares, “For me [community], it’s a feeling more than anything else. A feeling that you’re surrounded by people who know you and care about you.” When asked about what it was like to live in her neighbourhood, Marguie sagely observes, “While we don’t live in each other’s pockets, I don’t see my neighbours everyday, its more about saying ‘Hi, how are you’ and ‘What’s up with you guys?’ where we’re aware of each other’s lives. And if I need something, I know I can call on my neighbours.”

Neighbourhood events, like a block party stick out as exemplars of this thriving community. Marguie recalls that the event was great fun, and an opportunity for the neighbourhood to catch up and stay connected.

Not only does Marguie stay connected with her immediate neighbours, she also currently volunteers at Bayview Elementary School, working with young kindergarteners in a program called Community Mentors. “What it consists of so far is me going in and making bread with the kindergarten children,” Marguie tells me, adding, “It isn’t in full-flower yet.” Immediately thinking back to my own childhood, I was struck by my own tiny hands helping my parents measure out the dry ingredients, activating the yeast and standing eagerly by the oven, waiting for the bread to bake.

Marguie has taken the process to a whole new innovative level, however: “It’s great for children. With the kindergarteners, we were trying to figure out a way to know which bread was theirs and so, I set up a literacy-integrated lesson, where I would give them each about 100 grams of dough and they would shape their initials out of the dough. And so then we knew, that was their bread.” Her creativity and unique approach to volunteering caters to the children’s needs; teaching them critical skills such as literacy, in combination with artisanal crafts that are at risk of being lost knowledge. Marguie makes the distinction in that “There’s learned knowledge, but there’s also the knowledge of common sense. This knowledge we learn from our parents when we’re young and from our grandparents and elders.”  

The subject of knowledge seems to linger in the air. Having taught throughout most of her life, Marguie reflects, “I do know that I’m always learning something. I think if you’re open, and you keep learning, you will learn what you need to know.” It is a reassuring and refreshing sentiment, applicable to all ages. Indeed, Marguie has taught all ages and levels, “from Preschool all the way through to University.” Referring to this as “the whole spectrum”, Marguie reveals, “It was always my goal when teaching to not just be a disseminator of information for the children. I wanted them to actually learn the concepts and gain knowledge.”   

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Marguie began with teaching students in grades 8, 9, and 10, moving on to teach senior high students, and has even trained student teachers in French at Simon Fraser University, before completing the cycle and returning to the elementary school to teach Grade 4 French Immersion. With such a diverse background, I ask Marguie if her classroom experience was beneficial in starting up the Community Mentors program. Marguie’s humility shines through as she replies, “I know that the kids that I’m working with are not my kids, here in the classroom, so it’s about having the right amount of respect and involvement that’s not invasive,” adding, “What I’m trying to do is not get in the way of the curriculum, but trying to help with it.” Marguie is aware that many teachers are trying to get through their own curriculums, “pedal to the medal” and is very respectful of teachers that need their own time and space to accomplish their own classroom activities.

This realization brings up one of the biggest challenges faced by many community-driven initiatives. Time. Marguie tells me jovially, “Surprisingly enough, I am retired, but time is of the essence. There is never enough time. It’s not just my time, it’s also about other people’s time.” Immediately I’m drawn to a baking metaphor. If we knead the dough, cut it, lay it out on the tray; we can’t forget that it needs time to rise. In a sense, time is that extra ingredient that no one ever seems to have enough of.

And yet, Community Mentors is only one laudable example of Marguie’s commitment to her community. One of her most long-standing initiatives is a casual French Conversation group, consisting of like-minded individuals who “like to travel and want to keep their French up.” Marguie traces its origins back to the 70s when she was working at Simon Fraser University: “When I was teaching French there, we did a lot of music and games, a lot of fun stuff. So I said ‘We should get a group going. Have everyone come and speak French.’” Marguie admits she was surprised to have almost 18 people crowded in her then tiny apartment in Burnaby once a week. Examples of activities included making dinner in French and theme-based discussions. Now living near just off of West Broadway, Marguie still hosts monthly meetings at her home to go through vocabulary and practice speaking casually in French.

Designating community as a feeling radiates a warm glow that encompasses the infallible contentment of one’s sense of belonging. Marguie’s story highlights the necessity of experiential knowledge; of learning from our elders, skills such as baking, sewing, fishing, gardening. As time waxes and wanes, the gap between generations is bridged by our commitment to fostering relationships that can impart learned knowledge time and time again.

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