Bread and Butter

I remember walking, holding hands with Papau, my paternal grandfather. We came to a pole, split hands, and he yelled, “Bread and butter!” Then he took my hand again, a smile on his face. He did this with me through my entire life, as did my Grandmother. I never questioned it. We would hold hands, come across a pole, and “bread and butter” it.

I didn’t know what it meant; it meant everything.

— __ — __ —

“Dad, what did ‘bread and butter’ mean?”

We were down at Grandma’s house. My dad and brother worked hard, hauling things out of the garage and onto the trailer bed. I had just given up a search for the Halloween ghost that used to haunt her end table each October; it’s gone, a memory now.

He looked up at me. I watched the memory wash across his face, the ghost that flitted through his eyes different than the one I could not find.

“I don’t know.” We all went back to working, the realization that they were gone and couldn’t tell us weighing heavy on our souls.

__ — __ — __

Walking down the street last week, I held hands with LittleBrother. We came across a pole. I let go of his hand.

“Bread and butter!”

I grabbed his hand again, smiling down at him.

“What’s that mean?”


“I don’t know, buddy. Big Papau and Big Mamaw used to say it with me when I held hands with them. But I don’t know the story.”

“Oh. Okay,” he sighed, the disappointment evident in his tone.

— __ — __ —

Recently, I found a Bread + Butter Pinot Noir.

Bread + Butter Wine

Inspired by a glass of wine, I decided to Google “bread and butter.” I had assumed for three decades that the “bread and butter” thing was our thing, but someone convinced me that maybe it was a thing. I googled “bread and butter” and “pole,” and what do you know: It’s a thing!

Apparently it’s an old superstition. Basically, when two people come to an obstacle, they both have to say bread and butter to get rid of the bad luck of letting something come between the two people. If they don’t both say it, a bitter fight is expected to occur.

The concept comes from the idea that buttered bread cannot be “unbuttered.” Therefore, just because this obstacle separates the two of us, we cannot be separated for good.

I cried when I read that Wikipedia entry and missed my Grandparents so much my whole being ached.

I will continue to carry on this tradition with my children, but I will make sure they understand the meaning now. I will make sure they know that nothing can come between us; my bread cannot be unbuttered, that my love cannot be unloved.

Thanks, Grandma and Papau.



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5 Replies to “Bread and Butter”

  1. Oh my goodness this is just beautiful. I’d never heard this story before, either! I love learning about traditions and stories from my family members. It makes them seem a bit closer, if only in my memory. And what a wonderful tradition to continue with your children!

  2. My mom and I do this every time something comes between us while walking. I asked her a long time ago what it meant, but I didn’t realize other families did it too. Brings a tear to my eye and a smile to my heart to realize it’s a tradition with others.

  3. I too grew up with my mom saying this to me whenever we were walking along and came across an obstacle. I bet her mom taught it to her. I’m so glad you googled the meaning and chose to write about it. It brought back some good memories and reminded me of something I should do with my sons.

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