Sensory perception and human memory are a curious things. We may see something and a memory nudges us to take action. We may hear something and our mind connects a chain of seemingly unrelated ideas that drives toward an unexpected outcome. Or we may taste something and our thoughts coalesce around a particular image that never leaves us, but grows stronger with every bite.
Back in the 1970s, Dad ran his own commercial and residential heating, cooling and refrigeration business. He had few employees, so during summers, weekends and vacations I often rode along on service calls. It was the time I could spend with Dad or looking back, the time he could spend with me. Dad was always working, so when I could go out with him it was a treat. We’d sneak off to places Mom didn’t want to go — guys time out.
One of his clients was Baker Boy Bake Shop, which was located on 1st Avenue next to the shoe store and the old radio station. Baker Boy was a small-scale, but full service bakery that made everything from cakes and pastries to breads and rolls. The front of the store had a small counter and a few places to sit, the middle had the cake decorating area and large cake ovens, and the back had the huge bread ovens. Walking in there on a Saturday morning in the winter, smelling warm and fresh bread, and seeing Ione working on a cake always made me happy to be spending time with Dad.
Because Dad serviced the equipment there, I visited the back of the bakery on a regular basis. Off to one side was a spiral staircase that traversed the three floors of the building, basement to areas above. What I remember is that it was serious — a massive (I was small then) cast iron industrial spiral stair — and was the first spiral staircase I’d ever seen. When Dad did work there, we had to go up and down it and it terrified me. The multi-story spiral was bad enough, but it was poorly lit and covered in flour — that made it very slippery. I never fell, but I learned to hang on in unfamiliar surroundings. And I knew he always had an eye on me in case something went wrong.
Much of my memory of the bakery is from the vantage point of the back looking forward, from the ovens or the staircase looking toward the retail area up front. Dad, because we were often there for a service call, would park in the alley and we’d enter through the loading dock. With Mom, we’d enter stores through the front; with Dad, we arrived in the back.
One cold day we pulled into the alley and strolled in through the oven area. The windows toward 1st Avenue were frosted up and the place was busy. People were huddled in the cafe to have a cup of coffee, a morning pastry, and a quick conversation. I couldn’t see above the doughnut case, but Dad saw a paper sign taped to the back wall announcing a new breakfast option — a toasted ham ‘n egger. He ordered two…
… and as I sit here in my local Starbucks and enjoy a slow roasted ham and egg sandwich with my morning coffee, the taste reminds me of that cold morning and more importantly, the bakery and that special moment I spent with Dad.