Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Be Happy. Dive into the Deep.

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I’m not much of a swimmer. I can dog paddle for very short periods at a time. Otherwise I’m too pooped to pop. Treading water escapes me. There’s a rhythm to it that I just don’t get. Mostly I just make a big splash and call it a fun day at the pool.

I love to go to the beach. But again, I don’t swim. Instead I comb for natural treasures washed ashore by the wind and waves. Bleached and broken bits of shells half buried beneath my toes. Tiny rocks made smooth and shiny by the tumbling sea. I especially love gnarled and knobby pieces of driftwood, torn from the ancient limbs of coastal trees. My all-time favorite finds are the shards of apothecary blue or coke-bottle green glass, buffed and polished by sand and surf.

Whether I’m at the pool or the beach, the one thing I’ve never ever done is dive in. The mere thought fills my heart with terror. Dark, inky, suffocating irrational fear overtakes the part of my brain that knows better. Suffice to say, it’s not on my bucket list and never will be. And I’m okay with that.

For as much as the thought of diving into the watery depths gives me angst, there is one arena that I do dive in without trepidation. Professionally. Over the years I have become skilled at leaping, lunging and launching into the vast unknown. And for some strange reason it’s always been so. My first big leap was into Advertising as a Copywriter. I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing at first. I had read Ogilvy on Advertising, liked to write, had watched countless commercials, and actually read the ads in newspapers and magazines. But most importantly, I just knew that if I went for it – hook, line and sinker – it would be, not only a game-changer, a life-changer. So I dove right into the deep end. Head first into a world I knew very little about but wanted to be a part of. And I’ve been dive-bombing ever since. Sometimes I belly flop and founder. I’ve even sunk a few times. But it’s always been worth the plunge.

There are so many benefits to diving into the deep at work. Here are a few that I would like to share with you, in no particular order.

  1. You’ll grow and stretch in ways you never thought possible. Professionally and personally. The new and wonderful things you learn at work will spill over into all the other areas of your life. It’s a lens-changer.
  2. You’ll start to conquer fear. Maybe not entirely, but you’ll learn that you can feel the fear and still do “it” anyway. Shaky legs will get you there, wherever that is. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
  3. You’ll be one of those admirable people who always rise to the occasion, no matter how difficult or challenging. This is the stepping-stone to leadership.
  4. You’ll get to collaborate with really bright, inspiring and talented people. You’ll get to be part of something bigger than yourself. And when that happens, there’s only one word for it. Magic.
  5. You’ll discover that the more you do, the more you can do. You’re capabilities, strengths and wisdom in all areas will increase exponentially.
  6. You’ll get to wear many hats and try your hand at different things. Experiment and test new ideas. Be multi-faceted and express yourself in all your glorious colors.
  7. You’ll gain the trust and confidence of those around you. You’ll become their “go to” person. With that will come more opportunities and increased responsibility.
  8. You’ll go to places you never thought possible. Not just in the physical world. That’s just half the equation. You’ll discover places in your wandering mind that exceed your wildest imaginings.
  9. You’ll start to enjoy the exhilaration of stepping off the edge into whatever is out there. Without hesitation or second-guessing. You’ll become a champion at risk-taking. You’ll understand intimately the meaning of “nothing ventured, nothing gained.” No one will ever accuse you of not trying, of giving up before you start, of being a quitter. Because you will be an extreme diver.
  10. You’ll be happier.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 12 Ways to Bring Heart and Meaning to Your Work.

DSCN1378dI’m a lucky woman. I was born and raised in a small town in Northwestern Ontario at a time when career options were somewhat limited for women. Or more specifically, my vision for what I could be when I grew up was myopic. Salesgirl. Secretary. Teacher. Nurse. Wife. Mother. It was a time of women’s liberation and world transformation but we lagged behind in our town of early snows and sweltering summers. From that list, I chose Teacher, Secondary Level, with specialization in English and History. An honorable profession, but not for me, at least not back then.

Secretly, I had bigger dreams than the classroom could contain. Write novels. Tell stories. Spend my days in the presence of creative, imaginative and artistic folks. And oddly enough, to carry a satchel-style briefcase made of brown leather to work every day.

Through a series of fortunate events, that spanned the better part of a decade, I landed a job as a Junior Copywriter in a mid-sized boutique agency in Toronto. Thus began a career I never dreamed of but as it turns out was tailor-made for me.

Fast forward two decades to the West Coast to a small boutique agency nestled in the countryside where fields of green are dotted with sheep, horses, chickens and goats. It is here that I have found my place amongst some of the most talented and creative minds in Canada. It is here that I bring my heart for service, my teacher’s sensibility and a mother’s compassion and love.

I am a Production Manager.

I have had tons of on-the-job training and learning over the years. But so much of what I do professionally, and the way I work, my modus operandi, comes from my personal life and core values. There are so many, I could write a book, but here are a dozen things I’d like to share with you, in no particular order.

  1. Be kind and compassionate. Treat people the way you would like to be treated. The old adage is true. Imagine yourself in their shoes. Walk a mile in their moccasins or mukluks or Manolos. Seek understanding. Express genuine concern. Cultivate a magnanimous spirit.
  2. Treat everyone the same, from the courier to the CEO. Everyone is important and has value. Everyone has a meaningful role to play in your business. Be respectful and appreciative of what each person brings to the table, regardless of their title or station in life.
  3. See the good in everyone. It’s there. Truth is, you may have to dig deep to see it in some. While others it sits on the surface like a shiny penny. You have the power to bring out the best in everyone. But first you have to see it.
  4. Be generous with your praise. If someone says or does something you think is terrific or wonderful, remarkable or just plain nice, acknowledge it. Don’t be stingy in this area. Don’t withhold. Let your colleagues, associates and suppliers know how much you appreciate them and the work they do. Take pleasure in the accomplishments of others.
  5. Think of different ways to do things. Be innovative and creative in your approach to everything. This will add freshness to your daily routine. Be a Curious George. Say, “yes” to new opportunities and challenges, even if they scare you. Zig when everyone else is zagging.
  6. Have impeccable manners. There is no excuse for rudeness. Anywhere. Anytime. Treat everyone respectfully and politely. Please and thank you go a long way.
  7. Fear not and take risk. Fear kills creativity and it’s paralyzing. It’s that simple. Kick it to the curb every time it enters your heart, mind or spirit. Go out on a limb and extend yourself beyond your comfort zone. Don’t listen to the naysayers or the negative noise around you. Listen to the small quiet voice within that cheers you on and propels you to greater accomplishments. And if fear or insecurity does creep in, work with the confidence, faith and belief that others have in you. Remember why you were hired in the first place.
  8. Be of service and helpful. Look for all the ways you can make someone else’s job easier and more meaningful. Lighten their load. Lift their spirits. Be someone who can be counted on, trusted, relied upon, and the wind beneath the wings. The supporting actors always have the most interesting parts. Remember that.
  9. Be smart not a smart aleck. Be humble and gracious. Let your talent and brilliance speak for itself. It isn’t necessary to flaunt your credentials. There’s no need to show off or grandstand. Park your ego and let others shine. When you do, it’s remarkable how smart and wise your colleagues will find you.
  10. Extend grace in order to receive grace. We all make mistakes, for we are only human after all. First and foremost, be forgiving when someone makes a mistake, especially on your watch. Accept that things often go awry. Turn out wrong with disappointing results. Understand that unfortunate things happen, even with the best intentions, the best efforts, the best people on the project. Resist the urge to point fingers, assign blame or throw someone under the bus. Trust me, in situations like this, the people involved feel badly enough. Scolding an adult like you would a five-year old child is demoralizing and doesn’t accomplish anything. Nor does it move the conversation in the direction it needs to go.
  11. Recover quickly from mistakes. It’s not the end of the world. You’ll survive. This too shall pass. But first, own it and then move swiftly to repair things. And know this, in the end it’s not the mistake that anyone remembers but how it was dealt with. A bad resolution leaves a bitter taste that lingers in the air. Gather all your resources to help you to fix things. Remember, you are not alone. Most things that go wrong involve several people, all of whom could have prevented it from happening at some point along the process. So rally your troops. Fix it, extend your sincere apologies, learn from the experience, stop beating yourself up. And move on.
  12. Go for a walk at lunch. Take a break. Get out of the office or studio or plant or store, or wherever you spend your day. Leave. I go for a walk every day because that’s what I like to do. I love being outdoors, regardless of the weather or time of year. Walking changes my perspective and opens the window to more mindful ways of working. Helps me to see things differently, more clearly. Unclogs my brain, and possibly my arteries. It eases the stress, fosters problem solving, inspiration and new ideas. I often take an idea for a walk to see if it “has legs” or needs to be tossed. After twenty minutes on the road, I usually know. If walking isn’t your thing, then find something that is. But most importantly, remove yourself from the building. Make this a daily habit. It’s one of the healthiest and most productive things you can do in your day. It’s one of the keys to long-lasting and enduring success.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter. It Smells Just Like Yesterday.

tom+aimee+mel b+wCertain smells always bring me back.  Flood my brain with memories.  Ones I thought were long gone and forgotten.  I love it when this happens.  It’s enough to send me on a scent hunt.  Digging up recollections like hidden clues to buried treasures.

Then becomes now in a heartbeat.

I can’t walk into a kitchen where baking has taken place without thinking immediately of Ma’s cookie baking emporium at 204.  Oatmeal raisin.  Hermits.  Ginger Snaps.  Sweet and spicy.  Rich with love and motherly goodness.  One whiff of Italian food and it’s a Spaghetti Saturday Night.  The best comfort food smack dab in the middle of a brutal Northwestern Ontario winter.  Cold as the Arctic outside but warm and deliciously cozy inside. Turkey roasting in the oven conjures up decades of Christmases enjoyed with our family.  This mouthwatering array of aromas reminds me to count my blessings.

I can close my eyes and smell Ma’s Second Debut face cream. Breathe in her presence.  Inhale it’s gentle loveliness as my lips brush against her cheek.  Just like I did every morning before I headed off to school as a kid.  This fine scent not only evokes memories of the softness of her skin but the kindness of her heart.  In her later years she treated herself to a weekly hairdo.  She would return feeling pampered and pretty, filling the house with the beauty parlor scent of freshly coiffed hair.  Set for the week.  I’m reminded that although true beauty blossoms from within, it’s also nourished with a dab of cream and a nice do.

When I wash with Ivory soap I think of The Old Man.  A grimy bar sat in the soap dish next to the bathroom sink.  As soon as he got home from work he washed off the grunge that clung to his face and hands after a long day on the road delivering Holsum bread and Persian buns.  He’d emerge from the bathroom a new man.  An Ivory man.  Pure and simple.  Now when I stand in the shower preparing for my day, lathering on this creamy white soap, I am reminded that hard work of any sort is honorable.  No matter what you do.  Sell bread.  Or shoes.  Fly to the moon.  Or stand on your feet all day.  Work, especially in service of others, is good.

Old Spice makes me think of Sunday mornings and going to church.  Once a week The Old Man donned a suit and tie, and escorted Ma and me to Christ Lutheran Church on Walkover Street.  We drove there, despite the friendly invitation to hoof it.  All week he wore his stiff blue twill uniform that smelled of flour dust, sweat, and when I was really young, tobacco.  But on Sundays, he dressed for the occasion.  He was a stylish confident man with his two favorite girls in tow.  Old Spice has always been a feel good scent memory.  Yet also contradictory. Like The Old Man, in many ways.  A peculiar blend of spirituality and carnal pleasure.  Old time religion and hedonism.  Fear of the Lord and the folly of the man.  Imagine all that in just one sniff.

The mauve lilac bush at 204.

The mauve lilac bush at 204.

There’s nothing like the perfume from a mauve lilac.  One hint and I’m instantly transplanted to the front yard at 204.  There, a charming little tree bloomed every year in June.  It marked the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. It was a symbol of freedom and carefree days.  A simple bouquet adorned Ma’s kitchen table and filled the room with such exquisite inimitable beauty.  I’m reminded of the wonder and splendor just outside our door.  The natural abundance of the earth.  It’s symmetry and grace.  And for that I am grateful.

Then there’s the fragrance of first love.  I can’t walk in the early morning rains of April or May without thinking of him.  Not every time.  For the memory to come, the rain must possess a particular scent.  A bittersweetness.  Sadness in the joy.  Longing in the reverie.  Then I go back to this love that was beginning to unravel.  So new yet tired of itself.  Still, all these years later I think tenderly of him.  Of us then.  I know the smell of him.  It reminds me to be inspired by love.  To carry on.  Love again.  And again.  Enlarge my heart.  Grow it bigger. Until it beats no more.

And oh, the sweetest of all perfumes.  My newborn babies.  Tender. Innocent.  Still so close to heaven in their scent.  Still so filled with the essence of the divine.  Without earthly tarnish.  Nor painful sheaths sullying their pristine souls.  Just perfection.  I have been blessed to enjoy this redolence three times.  Three times I breathed in their beautiful newness.  Each time I was reborn.

I’ve read that the science behind this sentimental journey originates with the olfactory bulb in our limbic system, which is associated with memory.  Called the “emotional brain” it allows us to conjure up memories in an instant just by smelling something.

I am grateful for this bulb in my brain that allows me to go back.  Not just remember.  But to be there.  Time travel does exist.  And the beautiful thing is, we all possess this wondrous gift of uncommon sense.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Baker’s Dozen – 13 Virtues from my Parents.

Ma and The Old Man pose in front of his birthday cake.

Ma and The Old Man taught me much during our lifetime together.  Some things were practical and intentional.  Like cooking and cleaning up after myself.  Brushing my teeth before bed.  The simple day-to-day things parents teach their children to help them grow up big and strong.  Others things involved character building.  Like doing the right thing just because it was right not because I particularly felt like it.  Saying please and thank you.  Expressing gratitude not bad attitude.  Then there were the big things.  Ten commandment big.  Don’t cause harm to any living creature. Don’t lie.  Cheat.  Steal, and that includes someone else’s spouse.  Respect your elders, especially your parents.  Then there were the things they taught me without even knowing it.  The ‘by example’ things.  The stuff kids pick up on.  Learn through osmosis.  By watching.  Listening.  Witnessing.

While all this learning was going on — the day to day, the big and the by example — thirteen virtues stood out. A perfect Baker’s Dozen.  These are what I would like to share with you.

8 From Ma:

LOVE: One of the big ones. The biggest.  For Ma it came unconditionally.  You didn’t have to do anything special to earn her love.  If you were one of hers, you just had it. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do for one of her own.  Including lay down her life.  Thankfully she was never put into this position. What a blessing to be loved so dearly.  What more could a child need than to wake up every morning feeling cherished.  In the end, Ma was grateful that her life followed its natural course.  Although she hated to leave us all, she wouldn’t have had it any other way.  One day we will all follow her into the Light.  Her love was such a blessing to our entire family.  I still feel it now.  And I am grateful.

Ma and her grandson taking a moment to look at Polaroids.

WISDOM: Ma was a simple woman in many ways. Unpretentious. Unassuming.  She never graduated from high school and had very little formal education.  Although at age sixty she went back to night school and studied art.  We were all so proud of her accomplishment.  Her wonderful paintings are amongst my greatest treasures.  Education aside, Ma was a wise and enlightened woman.  She possessed profound insights. Introspective by nature, she was always interested in the “why” of life.  This led her to places of deep spiritual and philosophical understanding and acuity.  She was a good listener.  A skill lacking in the best of us.  I am eternally grateful for her counsel and sought it at every turn.  She was involved in every big decision I made.  It is my prayer that my children feel the same way about me. That when they turn to me for advice or simply a compassionate ear that I bring Ma’s kind of wisdom.

KINDNESS: Ma possessed this virtue in spades.  In abundance.  Good measure. Pressed down.  Shaken.  Running over.  Her heart was tender.  Not just for those she loved. But everyone she encountered on her journey through life.  Children, in particular touched her heart.  She never met a kid she didn’t like.  Her kindness was even extended to the naughty ones. Her heart was open and large towards the elderly, the downtrodden, the forgotten ones and those considered unlovable.  She was kind to animals.  They all knew a kindred spirit.  I am kind too.  Ma taught me well.

GENTLENESS: Ma touched everything with a gentle hand.  Her touch was soft.  Warm.  Benevolent.  She caused no harm.  Never spanked her children.  Nor scolded.  Shy by nature, her voice was quiet yet reassuring.  She was a Whisperer.  Even in the kitchen, nothing was forced.  Food was prepared in a sweet and easy style.  I will always miss her beautiful long-fingered veiny hands that caressed her world with loving kindness.

Ma and Daughter Number One smile for the camera.

PATIENCE: Ma was well practiced in this virtue.  Four children and an alcoholic husband could be taxing at times.  Being patient with children came easy for her.  She understood kids innately.  And consequently they were drawn to her like bees to honey.  She was like Jesus in that she wanted the little children to come to her.  Never too busy for a child.  No little one shooed away.  Her patience wasn’t only extended to the very young.  She successfully shepherded four teenagers into adulthood.  That took monumental skill and patience by the bucketful. Being patient with The Old Man was her biggest trial.  He was her Achilles heel.  I can only say she did her best to extend the same grace to him as she did the children in her life.  Nobody’s perfect.   Patience hasn’t always been one of my strengths.  Just ask my two older kids.  I’ll be working on this one for the rest of my life.  As I said, nobody’s perfect.

EMPATHY: Ma’s compassionate heart wept for the world.  She intuitively knew what people were feeling.  Felt their pain.  Embraced another’s sorrow.  She was the shoulder to cry on.  Her heart broke at the sight of any suffering.  Whether it was within our family circle. Or brought to her over the garden fence or through the television set.  Witnessing suffering on a colossal scale moved her to take action. She donated to many charitable causes and supported a third world child all the days of her life.  She inspired me to do the same.

COURAGE: Ma was timid, shy and meek by nature.  Yet she was also a warrior.  A little spitfire at times. Full of true grit. Especially when it came to protecting her kids.  She wouldn’t let anything or anyone cause us harm.  She was also courageous in the face of any adversity.   From the cradle to the grave.  Whatever the strife, she faced the challenge head-on with bravery and grace.  She also never complained about being sick.  She could be stoic to a fault at times.  We saw this intimately when she had her heart attack.  At first, she denied even having one.  She never ever gave up.  Ma taught me to fight the good fight right until the bitter end.  Like Dido said, there will be no white flags above our door.

THOUGHTFULNESS: Ma was considerate in her every thought, word and deed.  Not only in the small gestures.  Coming to the aid of the elderly.  Helping someone up who has fallen.  Figuratively and literally.  She was quick to send thank you notes, get well wishes and thinking of you cards.  My mailbox was always a wellspring for delightful little surprises.  She never forgot a birthday.  Cards were sent.  Cakes baked. Gifts given. She welcomed everyone into our home regardless of who they were.  There was always room at the table.  If she saw something in a store that she thought you’d like, she picked it up.  There were many just because gifts.  She had others on her mind. I miss dearly those cards and notes inscribed with her small meticulous handwriting. Trips to the mailbox aren’t as much fun anymore.

4 From The Old Man:

HUMOR: The Old Man loved a good laugh.  A silly joke.  A funny yarn with a good punch line.  He was always quick with one to tell.  A faithful reader of The Reader’s Digest, this was the source of much of his material. He also loved a good comedy on television.  Red Skelton could bring him to tears.  He laughed loud.  Heartily.  Easily.  Right from the belly.  I do the same.  I loved this about The Old Man.  It is also what I look for in friends and lovers.  I’m a sucker for a man who can make me laugh.  He will always tickle my fancy.  Laughter.  One of God’s greatest gifts to humans.  Thank you.

The Old Man and his grandson enjoyed a good game of crib.

GENEROSITY: The Old Man was one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back.  Unlike Ma, who was quick to give to charitable causes, he didn’t part so easily with his money. Not that he had much to part with.  He happily gave his pay cheque to Ma every two weeks. She was the manager of our family finances.  But he gave other things.  If he had something you needed or wanted he rarely said no.  As a teenager I appreciated this virtue the most.  Especially when it came to handing over the keys to his car.  That was a big deal back then.  The Old Man supported his family.  No matter what.  Roof over our heads.  Food on the table.  I always felt that as long as The Old Man was on this earth I would never be destitute.  I’d always have a place to go.  A safe haven where I would be taken care of.  I am so grateful to have had that.  E and I have created the same for our children.  We also go through a lot of shirts.

WORK ETHIC: The Old Man loved and hated his job. Regardless of how he felt on any given day, he got up at 5am and did it. He showed up. For some thirty odd years.  He never actually said, “Take this job and shove it,” but I suspect there were many days that he felt this way.  Possibly he had bigger dreams than he had ambition.  In his defense, he was from a generation of folks who raised families and did whatever it took to do so.  No complaints.  No whining.  No woulda-coulda-shoulda.  Just hard work.  If he had regret over his professional path, he kept it to himself.  I understand.  I’ve done the same.  I show up.

The Old Man and his grandchildren pose for the camera.

SERVICE: The Old Man did what he could to be of service to his country, his family, his community, his employer, his church.  He was in the army.  He volunteered in sport.  Umpiring Little League games was his delight.  He helped out at the church.  Did yard work and painted one of his elderly customer’s home on a regular basis.  Old Jenny was dear to him.  Although she paid him a small fee I suspect he would have done it for free.  He was honored with an award for Service to his Community.  He taught me what an honor it is to serve.  People need help everywhere.

1 from Both of Them:

PUNCTUALITY: Some people might not consider this a virtue.  But I do.  I don’t think either of my parents were ever late for anything.  They were either right on time or early.  Like many from their generation lateness was akin to rudeness.  It was also considered thoughtless and arrogant.  They respected the time of others and appreciated that no one likes to be kept waiting.  Nor should they.  Lateness required two things.  A good reason.  And an apology.  I love that they were both so courteous in this way.

We all wore paper crowns on New Years Eve.

My Own:

GRATITUDE: I will forever be grateful to both my parents for their Baker’s Dozen, these 13 Virtues.  My heart is filled with gratitude every day for the life that God has blessed me with.  Starting with the ultimate gift of my parents.  Ma and The Old Man.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Attic, Hunting for Treasure and the Letter from Jerry.

The box containing the letter from Jerry.

I love treasure hunts.  And finding things I thought were lost forever.  There’s nothing like cleaning out a closet and finding some long forgotten gem.  An old photograph.  A thinking-of-you card or note.  A love letter from someone you once thought you couldn’t live without.  A concert ticket.  Recital program.  A baby book with a lock of hair and a lost tooth.

Most homes have storage spaces where certain things are put away.  For another day.  Another year.  Another time.  Sometimes these things get lost in the deep dark recesses at the very back.   And before you know it, forgotten.  Like they never existed.  We had a little attic in our home that contained such consigned to oblivion artifacts.  It was there that my addiction to treasure hunting began.

Little back story.  We lived on a street lined with wartime houses. They were all pretty much identical except for the size.  Two, three and four bedroom wooden bungalows that looked like they were built more for hasty necessity than longevity.  The big bad wolf could blow one over with a huff and a puff.  Ours was a four bedroom model, with two of those bedrooms on the second floor where the ceilings were sloped and the walls hung low.  My two older brothers occupied one of these rooms.  The other was where Ma sewed and I played by her side.

In “the boys room” there was a little door about three feet tall.  It looked like something that belonged on a child’s play house.  It’s Lilliputian size made it all the more alluring.  Irresistible. Tempting.  And I was drawn to it like a bee to honey.  A moth to light.  In my young impressionable mind it was the door to a whole other world.  Not necessarily like the one in The Chronicles of Narnia.  But equally fascinating and compelling to a small girl with a big imagination.  Truth was, on the other side of the door was just our attic.  And not like the kind you see in the movies either.  It wasn’t some dusty expansive space on the top floor of an old mansion filled with cobwebs and spooky pirate chests that groaned when opened.  It didn’t contain the magical world of Narnia with all its Turkish delight, White Witch and the great lion king Aslan.  But it was filled with family treasures.  And its own flavor of magic.  At times it could be scary.  And sometimes with a little inspiration, it could be downright spine-tingling. But it was always fun to explore.

It was dark, dry and dusty smelling with extreme temperatures. In the summer it was like the fires of hell.  You’d break into a sweat after two minutes.  In winter, it was colder than the Arctic.  You could see your breath if you could see at all.  It was pitch dark so you had to leave the door open and carry a flashlight.  The floors were uneven and creaked with ever move you made.  Slivers in stocking feet were commonplace.  There was also the odd nail that popped up out of nowhere.  The outer wall was lined with pink fiberglass insulation. And slanted so that the entire space formed a perfect right-angle triangle.  It was cramped and claustrophobic, which made moving around a challenge.  Even for a small person.  You had to hunch over or crawl on all fours.  But to me, it was the perfect size and shape.

Part of the fun of going into the attic was the fear.  Nothing filled my heart with terror quite like the scary shadows cast by the flashlight.  Ricocheting sinisterly off the fiberglass walls in the ghostly enclave within the upstairs bedroom.  Littered with the artifacts of our family’s personal narrative.  Dusty cardboard boxes filled with worn out clothes.  Old baby doll carriages with broken wheels.  Tangled webs of Christmas lights.  Battered suitcases with broken locks.  The canvas tent and metal poles.  Old hard cover books.  Stacks of dog-eared Popular Mechanics and Readers Digest.  Family Circle magazines with all the recipes clipped out.  Shoe boxes filled with old negatives of photographs taken on the Six-20 Brownie Junior.  A bulky Scrapbook containing a lock from a first hair cut, and pages of birthday cards and other childhood memorabilia taped carefully into place.  Dance Costumes stored in a McNulty’s dress box.  Old dolls with missing eyelashes and hair cut short by an amateur hairdresser.  Dime store Dishes with chips and cracks.  Bundles of metal clothes hangers.  And sundry bits and bobbles that The Old Man and Ma kept for reasons known only to them.  Treasures each and every one.  Freshly discovered foray after foray into the enchanted land.

I experience this same awe and wonder every time I re-discover the letter from Jerry.

Over twenty years ago, when I was working in a Toronto advertising agency as a Copywriter, I was partnered with an Art Director named Jerry.  We got to know each other quite well over the course of the year that we worked together.  Professional lives quite often blur into the personal in these circumstances.  We seek the universal thread that binds.  Common ground.  Connectivity.  I think it makes us better workers.  And our work better.

It was during one of our many creative sessions that Jerry and I somehow got onto the topic of mail.  I had mentioned how much I loved opening the mailbox to discover a surprise card or a letter.  But this rarely happened, I explained.  All I ever got was bills and junk mail, I complained.  I longed for the good old pen pal days, I declared.  Sigh.

My self-esteem was at an all-time low when Jerry and I had this discussion.  My marriage had fallen apart.  I felt ugly.  And not only unloved but unloveable.  Jerry listened.  I had no idea how well until a few days later.

It was a night like a hundred other nights.  I came home from work exhausted.  Rushed to get dinner started before my kids tore one another apart.  Fury induced by hunger and low blood sugar.  All three of us.  Once dinner was underway I hung up my coat, kicked off my boots and went to the mailbox.  It contained the usual things.  Bills, bills and more bills.  Junk mail from companies wanting me to buy their goods or services.  Disappointing all of it.  But in amongst the undesirable mail was a white business sized envelope addressed to me in cyan colored ink.  The kind used in fountain pens.  Or fine writing instruments as they were commonly referred to back then.  We all owned at least one.  In fact, I was given one when I departed from this agency.  And still have it as a keepsake and a reminder of another time, another place.

Just the sight of that cyan blue fountain ink made my heart beat faster.  I didn’t recognize the handwriting.  But something told me it was going to be good. No matter what. In that instant before opening the envelope there was optimism.  And hope. Elation.  My hands were shaking as I carefully removed the folded lined sheet of paper.  It looked like a page removed from a student’s notebook.  Six by nine inches.  Blue horizontal lines with two red vertical ones forming the margins.

It began “Dearest Bonney.”  You could tell that the writer had corrected the spelling of my name because the dot over the misspelling was still there.  I hadn’t spelled my name with an ‘ie’ since grade eight.  But this only added to the sweetness of the salutation.  The letter went on to say, “This may only happen once so really enjoy it.  But it’s happening because you are truly the kind of person who deserves to come home and find a letter from someone….”  The rest is between me and Jerry.  It was (and still is) the best letter I have ever received in my entire life.  I hold it amongst my dearest possessions.

Jerry and I weren’t lovers.  There was no office romance.  No secret affair.  We were just “Buds.”  Colleagues. Friends. But he gave me a gift like no other.

That was well over twenty years ago.  I have not only moved across the country, but have lived in several different houses since I got here.  Yet the letter has moved everywhere with me.  I packed it away when we left for the Westcoast.

But there’s a peculiar thing about this letter.  It keeps being found.  Over and over and over.  It’s the Groundhog Day letter.  I pack it away.  Forget about it.  And then a few years later I discover it.  All new and fresh again.  Like that night twenty years ago.  Like the treasures in our attic.  Every time I pack it away it’s in a different container, in a different spot.  This isn’t intentional.  It’s usually as a result of some sort of house cleaning.  Or purging of the past.  And with that goes the consolidation of those things being chucked and those things being kept.  The letter from Jerry is always in the “keeper” pile.  I love the serendipitous nature of discovering the letter.  The random accidental earthing of this jewel every few years.

It happened again last Saturday.  I was on the hunt for more family photographs and bits and pieces of our history when I found it.  Tucked away in a box inside a basket at the top of one of the closets in my office.  It’s an awkward spot.  Things that are stored there, are left there.  Kind of like Las Vegas.  But last weekend I was on a mission.  And the great treasure hunter in me had re-surfaced.  I had to find something good.  And I did.

In the box along with Jerry’s letter there was an assortment of random things. One of the most peculiar items was a placemat I made in elementary school for Christmas.  It looked like it was made from a white sheet.  It was adorned with two red bells, several food stains and “Merry Christmas” in my handwriting.  There was also a letter from my parent’s lawyer regarding their estate, a slide rule from high school, a golf ball, a Sarah McLachlan Surfacing CD cover, a photocopy of an American Express card cut into four pieces, a 19-year old candy rose and a combination lock.

There were a lot of other things too.  But once again I separated the wheat from the chaff.   All the stuff I described, along with the letter from Jerry, has now been placed into another box and stored away.  For the next time.  When I need to be reminded that I am someone who deserves to come home from work and find a treasure in the mailbox.  Love in cyan blue fountain ink.

Footnote: I have no idea where Jerry is today.  I don’t even remember his last name.  But I will never forget him and his wonderful thoughtful gift.

The beginning of the letter from Jerry.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Last of His Kind.

Big Sis G with Tootsie on the left. Kids flocked to the Pied Piper of Bread.

I like to work.  I like what I do from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday.  And I also like what I do outside of that window of time.  There are many things about work that I like. But the thing I like to do the most is to serve. I don’t mean serve in the way that a waiter or a clerk or a bell hop would do. I’m talking about something much more generic.  Quite simply, I like to help people. To be of service to those around me. This covers a broad spectrum of possibilities because the brush is so wide, making the opportunities for work vast and limitless.  There’s no end to what you can do, where you can do it, and who you can do it for.  People need help everywhere. This is such an appealing notion. At the end of the day my job title or description is almost incidental.  Because when you drill right down to the heart of the matter, what I actually do is help other people do what they do.

According to Bob Dylan we’ve all Gotta Serve Somebody.  Whether it’s the devil or the Lord. Whether they call you Doctor or Chief.  Inevitably there’s someone you’re going to serve.  I not only accept this to be fact, but I embrace it.  Arms wide open.  It’s both humbling and gratifying.  For me though, it’s always been the little “s” service.  Not the big “S” classification.  I’m not a doctor or a chief, an ambassador nor a heavyweight champion.  I don’t eat caviar nor do I live in a mansion.  I also don’t go off to battle, the mission field, lead a congregation, a classroom or a country.  But every day I wake up and ask God, “How may I be of service today?  How may I help those that I work for and with?  How may I help those I love?  How may I help a stranger?”  That’s my doctrine.  My personal credo.  Mission statement.  Plain and simple.  Uncomplicated.  How I work.

Little back story.  My parents both worked hard.  Ma, like most women of her generation stayed home and raised her family.  Back then, women didn’t say things like “I work at home.  I’m a stay-at-home mom. I’m a Domestic Diva.”  They just did what they did.  And for the most part, they never doubted that it was the right thing to do.  At least not Ma.  She was the first person to serve me. Something that she did pretty much all of her life.  From my cradle to her grave.  The thing was, Ma served everyone, not just me.  Well into her seventies she seemed blessed with abundance of youthful energy.  She was industrious and her hands were always occupied.  Whether it was baking a pie, scrubbing a floor, nursing a wound, or wiping a snotty nose.  Her marvelous hands had work to do.  Purpose.  When a guest  walked through Ma’s door, she immediately stepped into action, ready and willing to serve.  With ease and grace, she made you feel not only welcome, but important.  She would serve you tea and cookies or cake or pie.  And she would listen.  Attentively.  Kindly.  Patiently.  Small “s”   service.  Big worth.

The Old Man worked for the same company for the better part of his entire career.  I use the term “career” loosely here.  The Old Man had a job.  His collar was blue.  And his neck was red.  His heart, both tender and angry.  The Old Man worked for the Shaw Bread Company.  To be precise, he was a Breadman.  For most of his working life he delivered bread door to door.  He had the same route, delivered to the same families, Monday to Friday. His route covered two distinct areas of our town.  One was where the relatively affluent people lived, and the other was the Finnish business community, that included the famous Hoito Restaurant.  Because the Old Man was a bonafide Finlander, one who was fluent in the language, and knew the difference between a sauna and a steam bath, it was natural for him to work this route.

The best time of year to be a Breadman was at Christmas.  This was when The Old Man reaped the benefits of his good customer service.  This was when he brought home the loot.  Sundry gifts and tips from his happy and satisfied customers.  Joy to the world. The week prior to Christmas, the Old Man came through the door each night bearing gifts.  The fruits of his labors.  Mostly cards with money.  Or cartons of Players cigarettes, his preferred brand until he kicked the 30-year habit.  Or chocolates, of assorted varieties.  Some gifts were homemade.  Like knitted scarves.  Or socks.  Sometimes he’d get a bottle of booze, which was frowned upon by Ma and her children.  The Old Man was an alcoholic and a gift like this could be the kiss of death for our Christmas.  Booze aside, one of my fondest memories, growing up is that of dumping out his sack full of goodies onto the living room rug and combing through it like a bloodhound on the scent of a murderer.  We opened all the cards first.  How much would the M or the P or the S family give?  Ten bucks from the Ms!  Yippee!   What a grand expression of appreciation for his incomparable bread delivery service.  His friendly disposition. His cornball jokes.  His fresh bread and sticky sweet Persians.

In the summer The Old Man had an extra route that serviced the surrounding lakes, where the lucky folks had summer camps. Sometimes he would take me with him on these deliveries.  I also have many fond memories of these afternoon trips.  The roads were hilly and curvy, poorly surfaced and narrow.  Yet The Old Man could drive these roads with his eyes closed.  I remember the thrill of flying down hills like we were on the roller coaster at the circus. Airborne half the time.  My stomach full of butterflies and tickles. “Do it again!  Do it again!” I cried as we as we approached the next hill.  And the next. And the next.  Yes the Old Man knew how to make a bread truck soar.

Before there were bread trucks with doors that swung open wide, that smelled of yeast, sugar and sweat, there were bread wagons.  Horse-drawn relics.  The Old Man drove one of these up until around 1960.  His horse’s name was Tootsie. Toots. She was brown and hard working. I don’t actually remember her as a real living creature.  I see photos of me next to the wagon but I don’t recall the time, the experience.  My Old Man was the last Breadman to use a horse-drawn wagon.  There was an article about him in the local paper years later that said he was the “last of his kind.”  They got that right.

There’s just something about a man who drives a wagon full of fresh baked bread and doughy treats, pulled by a horse named Tootsie, that draws people in.  He was like the Pied Piper.  Kids couldn’t get enough him and his wares.  And his appearance in the neighborhood was quite possibly the highlight of some exhausted housewife’s day.  Possibly they flirted.  At the very least they exchanged pleasantries. It was nice.

I must confess I had mixed feelings about The Old Man’s occupation.  On the one hand I was grateful that he worked every day and provided for his family. However meager it may have been at times.  But there were many occasions when I was ashamed or embarrassed.  Especially when someone asked me what my father did, and in particular if the person asking had a father who wore a silk suit to work, and not a blue twill uniform that smelled of bread dust and sweat.  Then, I didn’t want to admit that I was the Breadman’s daughter.  I wanted him to own the company, not deliver the bread door to door.  But in the safety of my own neighborhood, where everyone’s dad had a crappy job I didn’t care.  In fact, I loved that he had a job that attracted people like bees to honey.  But outside of Kenogami Avenue, things were different.  And the older I got, the more painfully aware I grew of the differences between the neighborhoods.  The white vs the blue.

Even now, years later and thousands of miles away, when someone with a white collar demeanor innocently asks me what it was that my father did for a living, a part of me hesitates.  Cringes.  Blushes with embarrassment. Be it ever so brief, it’s there.  The automatic response to a memory imbedded in my DNA.

What did my father do?  He served. The Shaw Bread Company. His loyal customers. A brown mare named Tootsie. He did it all with good humor.  Silly jokes.  Kindness and generosity.  And according to the article about him, he did it quite well.  The most important thing I learned about working, my father taught me on those sunny summer afternoons when we barreled down the hills on our way to the lake.  Or on cold winter nights when we tore open white envelopes addressed with cheerful Merry Christmas greetings and chocolate boxes wrapped in green tissue paper.  Not by his words.  But by his actions. Yes, this is what the last of his kind taught me.  To serve.

And I am The Breadman’s daughter.

The Old Man at work 2

The Old Ma on his bike