Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Search for Meaning.

E on his throne enjoying the Christmas festivities.

E on his throne enjoying the Christmas festivities.

I’m a seeker.  Especially at Christmas time.  I search for perfect gifts for everyone on my list. Ones filled with wow and wonder.  I comb second hand stores for delicate vintage glass ornaments like the ones we hung on our tree at 204.  I inherited all of Ma’s and have been growing her precious collection every year for the past decade.  It’s my magnificent holiday decorating obsession.

I scour cookbooks, online cooking blogs and recipe websites looking for something new and delicious to bake or cook over the holidays.  In the end, nothing compares with the treasure trove found in Ma’s sacred and magical Gurney Recipe Box.

I flip through fashion magazines for inspiration on what to wear for all those festive occasions.  This is a silly pastime because E and I don’t attend those kinds of affairs.  Yet I do it anyway.  It pleases me.

I’m also bedazzled by sparkly festive shop windows.  I hunt for the perfect holiday outfit.  I daydream about a beautiful more glamorous version of myself that will somehow magically appear like Cinderella at the ball. I wonder what it would be like to knock ‘em dead at our office party.  I fantasize about a transformation from drab nondescript woman in the corner cube to glamor girl in the shimmery dress with legs that never quit.  That never happens.  Even the younger me couldn’t have pulled that look off.  Truth is, that’s not me. Never was. Never will be.  But it is fun to play that movie in my head once a year.

Pursuit of the perfect gift, recipe, or dress aside, what I really seek at Christmas time is meaning. What’s it all about?  This search trumps everything.

With E’s cancer diagnosis hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles, the desire to find something deeper, more profound, more significant was intensified.  It served to remind us of the fragile nature of this life we live.  Teach us to grab onto every precious moment like it was your last.  Embrace the ones we love.

We were given a reprieve from the fear and anxiety that brought us to our knees the week E was in the hospital.  The Friday that he was released from the RJH was glorious.  A heaven-sent day.

The first thing E did when we got home was take the dogs for a walk in the crisp clean December air.  It was as though he was breathing for the first time.  He could walk unencumbered by the inescapable steel dance partner he had been hooked up to all week.  Free from all the medical machinery that monitored his every heartbeat and breath.  Free from the antiseptic smell that clung to every cell and fibre of his being.  Free to walk upright. Stride. Strut. Swagger. Flounce his new found freedom up the rocky hills that surround our home.

Simply be alive.

For as long as I have known E, he’s been a real crank about Christmas.   He would happily take a page from Rip Van Winkle’s book and sleep right through the entire month of December.  It was the same old thing every year.  Come the day before Christmas, the spirit would finally move him and off he’d go in search of my Christmas present.  Some years this was found at the local Shoppers Drug Mart down the road.  When M got old enough he solicited her help. This put a stop to the drugstore gifts.

“I’ll make sure he gets you something really good Ma,” she’d say.

And she does.

Of course, it’s not about the quality of the gift.  Or even that there are gifts at all. But in our family, we do enjoy this tradition. We like to acknowledge each other in this manner.  It’s sounds cliche but it isn’t so much the gift as the giving.  As a family we like this and we’re good at.  One look at our living room Christmas morning says it all.

This year, the curmudgeon grouchy bah humbug E left the building.  Like Elvis on August 16, 1977.  Replaced by the new and improved version.  Enthusiastic and joyful.  Happy to celebrate. Cheerful and charitable. Without complaint nor criticism. No protests. Gripes or grumbling.  Beefs or bellyaching.  And above all else, the new E, that emerged from the chrysalis on Friday, December 14, was grateful.

Deeply.  Profoundly.  Beyond words.

Recently, I read a quote by Cicero that really resonated with my spirit.  It expressed so beautifully the meaning I sought and found over the Christmas season.

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.”

E and I are consumed with gratitude these days.  There is so much to cherish and give thanks for.  Starting with our love for each other.  For our family, our beautiful children, our granddaughter, our extended family and friends, our good neighbors, our understanding colleagues, the compassionate caregivers and spiritual teachers. Everyone who has touched our tender hearts so sweetly.

Kindness and compassion.  Generosity and magnanimity.  Big-heartedness and goodness.  It’s everywhere.  Dressed in the same attire.  Cloaked in the fabric of love.

Jesus and John Lennon were right. Love is all you need.

I’m grateful for that.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: My Best Friend Forever.

B at Boulevard Lake posing in bellbottoms.

B at Boulevard Lake posing in bellbottoms.

I have a best friend.  Ma always told me that if I had one really good friend in life, then I was truly blessed.  She was right.  And I do.  I was reminded of this on Saturday when a little package arrived just for me.

Little back story.  We met when we were both sixteen.  My recollections of our first meeting are hazy, veiled in layers of years. I think we were introduced at a party.  Why not?  We were teenage girls.  That initial contact put us into each other’s orb for life.

We might have met sooner, had we grown up in the same neighborhood.  The world is small in a small town but even smaller when you’re a little kid.  Now when I look back, there were many opportunities for us to have met before that night. The Old Man delivered bread to their house. Our neighborhoods weren’t that far apart.  We were both Finlanders.  But back then, I never wandered too far away from 204.

We had been going to the same high school for two years before the party and yet we had never crossed paths.  We were in different academic programs and travelled in different circles.  I was a band nerd and had trouble making eye contact.  She was one of the admin girls and painfully shy.

But once we were introduced that all changed.  Wham!  She’s in my universe and we’re bumping into each other everywhere.  Hallways. Gymnasium.  Cafeteria.  Washrooms.  Schoolyard.

We had a lot in common.

Soon we were walking home from school together. Sometimes we would stop at the corner before heading on our separate ways. These conversations that so absorbed us; it was impossible to let go. Other times she would come to my house for tea and the fresh-baked cookies Ma always had waiting for us.  Our discussions were large and deep for two teenage girls.

B and pregnant Boo on the shores of Lake Superior.

B and pregnant Boo on the shores of Lake Superior.

We explored everything.  No topic was off limits. We wondered and pondered.  Probed and mused.  Drilled down deep to places most young girls that age would never have contemplated.  The subject matter wasn’t always full of profundity however, nor was it terribly serious.  We were sixteen after all.  We talked about boys a lot.  She had a steady boyfriend.  I did not.  At times I lived vicariously through her romance.  It was fun.  And safer.

We were tender and sensitive.  Lovely and sweet.  Gentle and kind.  Creative and imaginative.  We both liked to write and sew and do crafty things.  We combed through teenage magazines and picked out fashions we loved.  One of our favorite haunts was the fabric department at Eaton’s.  She was a brilliant sewer.  I was accomplished enough but nowhere near as gifted as her.  She could have been a fashion designer.  That’s how good she was.

We were poets and Philosopher Princesses.  Our hearts were broken often.  Not just from love gone wrong.  But from all the pain, suffering and heartache we saw in the world. Everything touched our young fragile spirits.   We were emotional risk takers, willing to go out on a limb.  Fall.  Break.  And when we did, we helped each heal.

We laughed our faces off.  And cried until we were exhausted.  We ranted.  And raved.  We sang along to our favorite records.  And danced like wild girls in my small upstairs bedroom.

She taught me yoga and the power of meditation. Macrame and how to make the perfect square knot.  The fine art of stringing colorful beads into gorgeous necklaces. She gave me a slip from her mom’s African violet and taught me how to grow my first plant.

We hung out at local dives and smoked cigarettes and drank coffee until we were shaking from nerves rattled by too much caffeine and nicotine.  We wrestled with our own mortality.  Danced with our inner demons.  Contemplated what it was like on the other side of this life.  We were complex young women.  We were simple teenage girls.

B with my son having a tea party.

B with my son having a tea party.

We shared dreams.  Held secrets.  An unbreakable bond.  Sisters of the soul.  Best friends.  We got each other.  Really dug one another.  Like we were cut from the same cloth.  We were sisters from different mothers.

We marvel that this friendship of ours has endured decades.  We’ve gone from Teen Girl Warriors to Wise Crone Goddesses.  We can be apart for years, barely keep in touch, and reconnect in a heart beat. We’ve been through first loves, marriages and separations.  We’ve had children and watched them grow into beautiful adults. We’ve lost loves and discovered new ones in unexpected places. We’ve said goodbye to parents and stood at gravesides. We’ve been through a lot together and apart.  Yet one truth remains.  I’ve always known that no matter what, she had my back.  And I had hers.

Last week, she posted a note on my Facebook timeline.

“Did I receive the pkg?”

“I got a notification but didn’t know who it was from.  I was going to pick it up on Saturday,” I posted in response.

I love surprises.  On Saturday afternoon while E and I were running errands we stopped into the local grocery store, where the post office is tucked away in one corner.  I picked up the parcel, which was light and rattle-free.  Its weight and silence only added to its delicious mystery.  E picked up a couple of pints of ice cream that were on sale and headed to the checkout.  While he was waiting in line, I went outside.

B's original design vintage sundress inspired chef's apron.

B’s original design vintage sundress inspired chef’s apron.

Suddenly I was sixteen again.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  Standing next to the row of grocery carts, I thought to myself, I’ll just take the tape off.  But once the tape was removed, I couldn’t stop. It was like Pandora’s Box.  Too tempting.  Before E was through the checkout I had one end of the brown wrapper removed and was opening the box.

And there it was.  Wrapped in green tissue, sealed with gold stickers, and inscribed with five precious words, “made with love for Bonney.”  An original design by B.  Vintage sundress inspired chef’s apron.  Meticulously crafted with attention to every detail.  Sweet whimsical buttons in yellow red and blue set on tiny pink flowers.  Wonder-filled.

There isn’t a word for the delight I felt at that moment.

Once home, and in the privacy of my sacred writing space, I held up this beloved gift to take in its full magnificence.  It was like I was holding B in my arms.  Love was radiating from every thread.

Tucked in the pocket of the apron was her “go to” dessert.  Plum Clafoutis.  I will make this my “go to” dessert too.

Her final instruction to me on the pink post-it note included in the package, read simply. “Enjoy!”

And I will.  Oh yes I will.

Footnote: Last summer when I was back East for my brother’s wedding anniversary B and I had a glorious visit.  It was brief, just one afternoon but long enough to reconnect.  She took me out to see her beautiful garden.  Everything she touches blooms and blossoms abundantly. One flower in particular captured my attention. The Brown Eyed Susan.  In the package, with the apron, was an envelope with one last note from B.  It was filled with Brown Eyed Susan seeds from her garden.  “Scatter them in spring and let nature take its course,” she wrote.

Yes, my dear friend. 

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Christmas Dance.

Hugs after the dance.

I have many fond memories of Christmas.  The wonder years at 204 waiting for Santa’s arrival. Shaking the merrily wrapped boxes adorned with bright ribbons and bows.  Guessing the contents. Hoping and praying Santa brought the number one thing on my list.  Moody teenage walks through the evening snow pondering the true meaning of the season. Looking up to heaven for clues.  Breathing in the cold air and welcoming the white flakes on my ruddy cheeks. Celebrating the magical First Christmas for each of my three children. Planning and preparing, making lists, shopping, decorating, wrapping, hiding gifts, baking, cooking, roasting, mulling, eating, singing, laughing, welcoming and praying.  Joyous greetings.  And wistful farewells.  I love it all.  And recall with bitter sweetness.

There’s this little snapshot in my mind of one particular Christmas that always makes me happy and takes me back.  Not to 204. But to a snug cozy living room tucked away in my heart.  One filled with warmth and a whole lot of love.

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas.  A song came on the radio, a festive tune in three-quarter time.  A waltz.  Inspired by the music, E spontaneously scooped up M, who was two or three at the time and began to dance with her.  I watched as they twirled around the living room, E crooning to his little daughter, who was decked out in her holiday finest, a deep purple velvet dress with a white peter pan collar.   An angel.  Heaven sent.  Divine in every way.  M giggled with sheer delight as they swayed around the coffee table and sashayed past the tree laden with festive baubles and twinkly lights.  Her diaphanous white-blonde hair fell around her delicate face, her skin so blue-white you could almost see through it.  E was badly in need of a shave but on this wintery afternoon I found his two-day-old stubble somehow less objectionable.  Oddly endearing.  Downright gorgeous.

The Divine Miss M in purple velvet.

Around and around they danced.  It was glorious.  Took my breath away.  My heart and soul and every cell within filled with gratitude.  I never felt more alive.  Nor at peace.   Humbled by the awesome grace these simplest of occasions bring.  Clear out of the blue.  Unexpected.  Gifts from God.

Could this be what it’s all about?

As I sat on the sofa and witnessed this intimate father-daughter connection I remember wishing I could stop time and stretch the moment out forever.  Every once and awhile life presents a situation that is so picture perfect that it puts everything into perspective.

There it was.  The fullness of life dancing around the living room to a White Christmas.  Just for me.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Anniversary.

The Bride and Groom in the back seat of the wedding car.

Thomas Wolfe once wrote that, “You can’t go home again.”  Part of me believes that is true.  Yet part of me thinks you can.  I just did.  It took ten years and a 50th wedding anniversary to make it happen.  But I did go home.  Not to 204.  Although I visited the place, stopped long enough to take one photograph.  Then left.

I hadn’t been back in ten years.  Two funerals and one wedding brought me there a decade ago.  I swore I’d never go back.  Without Ma and The Old Man and 204 there wasn’t much appeal.  Those ten years flew by so quickly.  Like a crimson maple leaf in the Northwestern Ontario autumn wind.  Here and then gone.

When E and I got married last year my brother and sister-in-law flew out for the occasion.  We were sitting around our kitchen table one evening eating pizza and killing ourselves laughing over the silly things that only siblings find amusing.  It was then that my brother extended the invitation to attend their 50th anniversary the following summer.  At the time I said, “Yeah, that would be nice.  We’ll do that.”  But secretly I thought, “Not on your life.”  It wasn’t because I didn’t want to celebrate this milestone with them because I most definitely did.  I just didn’t want to do it there.  Over the course of the year I considered the possibility of flying 3,000 miles to spend a week in the West End, not smack dab in the old neighborhood but pretty darn close.  As quickly as the thought entered my mind I dismissed it.  Shrugged it off like a nasty mosquito.  Of which they have many in that neck of the woods.  But as the date drew closer, somehow my heart changed. I thought of what this would mean to my brother and his family.  It wasn’t just an invitation to a party. It was an invitation to come home and spend time with someone who shared an unbreakable bond and love for Ma like I did.

The flight was booked.  I was going.

The engagement announcement photo.

Little back story.  There isn’t much of their wedding day that I remember.  It’s all very sketchy.  Impressionistic.  Fuzzy around the edges.  I was too young to have captured any of it permanently in the camera of my mind.  So I am reliant on the story the black and white photographs and a yellowed newspaper clipping convey.

At 11:30 in the morning on Saturday, August 18,1962 my big brother’s life was transformed.  It was at that hour that he became a husband to the most beautiful girl in the room.  Two small town kids who met and fell in love.  Soul mates. Best friends.  Keepers of true love.  There for each other through the hills and valleys of life.  A blessing to everyone who loves them.  They are the dear ones.

The beautiful Bride having her picture taken at 204.

The day began with sunshine, sweet anticipation, butterflies in the stomach, hair appointments, intimate moments with family at home.  Captured on film for eternity.  These personal snapshots were followed by formal professional photos at Pouncy’s Studio. The costs for this photographic session, $52.10.  And the album full of exquisite 8×10 black and white photos, $76.87.  Enjoying the experience of leafing through the perfectly preserved book of romantic sweet memories.  Priceless.  An homage to the enduring MasterCard commercials that I love.

Vows were exchanged at St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Church.

The Bride with Ma and The Old Man.

Commitments made.  Promises kept.  The first kiss as husband and wife.  Confetti rained from the sky in adoration. The gorgeous bride in her white organza gown and radiant smile.  Cascade of red roses.  Crystals and pearls.  The tall dark and handsome groom in black tux and eyes only for the girl he loved, the woman who would be his love forever and always.  His dream come true. Her love at first sight.

The day’s ceremonies were followed by rejoicing and merrymaking where everyone danced into the night.  Cake was cut, bouquet thrown and off they went for the time of their life.  And what a wonderful life it has been.  Fifty years later and still in love.  Still dedicated to each other and an inspiration to all who cherish them.  They have shown us what a good marriage looks like.

The Wedding Album.

The anniversary celebration was joyous.  Lovely.  Memorable.  Golden. My niece orchestrated every detail.  From the delicious food, that she so lovingly prepared for days on end, to the colorful balloons, streamers and photo display to honor her parents.  Everything was letter perfect.  I can’t think of a better way for a child to pay tribute to the ones who love her so dearly.  What a gift.  Again priceless.

One of the highlights of the party.  Watching my big brother waltz with his best man. What was supposed to have been a reenactment of the first dance with his bride turned into a comical, zany and poignant moment caught on video by yours truly. Another priceless moment.

As I look back on those ten days spent with my brother and his family I am grateful for the time we had together.  I am grateful I made the decision to be a part of their celebration, to be a part of the happy memories.  I am grateful that I have a big brother who was man enough to weep when I surprised him at his doorstep.  He had no idea I was coming.  It reminded me that I need to show up more often.  Especially in the lives of those I love.  Until that moment in his driveway, when we embraced and he cried tears of joy, I think I had forgotten just how much I loved him.  There we were.  Ma’s kids.  Her first and last born.  Together.

My big brother with my niece and his pride and joy.

So Thomas Wolfe, I agree that I can never go home again.  At least not to the home that was once such a big part of my life, that shaped and informed the person I am today.  I can’t walk through the front door of 204 and say, “Hi Ma.  Hey Dad.”  Breathe in the scent of Ma’s ginger cookies fresh out of the oven, Sunday’s roast dinner, coffee brewing on the stove.  Kiss them on the cheek before I walk out the door.  Look back and wave goodbye.

But I can go home to remember.  To celebrate.  To honor.  To love.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: 101 Lessons for a Good Life.

#73 – Every child born to our family is wanted and loved.

I like lists.  I find them quite useful.  They keep me organized.  Or at least they create the illusion of doing so.  A nifty thing about lists is how they come chock-a-block with little goals.  Each line item something to be accomplished.  Been there.  Done that.  Now move on.  And there’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of scratching something off the list.  Personally, I like to draw a thick heavy line right through the achievement.  Preferably in permanent ink.  Finito.

There are daily lists.  Like the “to do/call/email” list at work.  Some are weekly.  Grocery lists fall into this category.  Others are annual.  The family Christmas wish list reigns supreme.  Some are fun.  Like the list of things we need for our Annual Thanksgiving Bluegrass Party.  Then there are sundry others.  Everything from books to read, songs to download,  places to see, people to meet, things to keep and things to chuck.  All worthwhile and handy to have in your hip pocket.

One of the best lists I have ever compiled is the one that I am sharing with you today.  It’s a list of some of the things that Ma taught me during the course of our lifetime together. These are things she said, did, led by example, or simply implied.  There are 101 things on this list.  There could have been one thousand or one million.  Because she taught me so much and I am so very grateful.  But I’ve narrowed the list down to 101.  I like this number.  It reminds me of the first year course numbers when I was in University.  English 101.  Pyschology 101.  Anthropology 101 where I met my first true love.  It’s a solid number with the implication that there is more to come.  And who knows.  Maybe there is.

The list isn’t in any particular order.  It’s random.  Like life.  Some things are common sense.  Others uncommon. Extraordinary.  Some are peculiar.  And contradictory.  Some are funny.  Others very sad.  At times confusing.  Often profound in simplicity.  And full of classic cliches of the time.  But also bright.  And wise.  Witty.  Practical.  Pragmatic.  Confounding.  Infuriating.  Loving. Tender.  Touching.

Cherished gifts each and every one.  From Ma to me.  To you.  With love.

1.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.
2. You can’t make someone love you.
3. Always wear clean underwear.  Carry a pair in your purse just in case.
4. Tomorrow’s another day and this too shall pass.
5. The secret to baking a good cookie is to remove it from the oven just before it’s done and let it finish baking on the sheet.
6. Time heals all wounds.
7. You can’t take it with you when you go.
8. Bad breath is better than no breath at all.
9. Everybody needs love even those who are difficult like your father.
10. God is inside of me.
11. The secret to a good spaghetti sauce is to let it simmer all day.
12. Don’t complain.  No one’s listening anyway.
13. Nobody’s perfect. They just wish they were.
14. Life is far too short.
15.  Send your child to school in fresh clean clothes every day even if it means doing laundry every night.
16. Don’t go out in the sun without a big hat and long sleeves.
17. Walk whenever possible and always have a comfortable pair of shoes at the back door ready to go.
18. You don’t need make-up, except for lipstick.  It brightens your face and makes you look pretty.
19. Keep a nice home and welcome everyone into it.
20.  Always tell the truth.  No one trusts liars.
21. Pay attention to how the dog reacts to your boyfriends.  The dog is a good judge of character.
22. Splurge on a really nice dress for a special occasion.  Treat yourself and don’t feel guilty.  It’s important to feel good when you go out.

#23 – Don’t walk around the house with your shoes on. It’s rude.

23. Don’t walk around the house with your shoes on.  It’s rude.
24. Always wash your face and put on night cream before going to bed.  Repeat in the morning with day cream.  Moisturizing is the key to beautiful skin all your life.
25.  Pick up a “Ladies” magazine while you’re grocery shopping. It’s an inexpensive treat.
26. Not everyone belongs in a group.
27. Don’t throw Tupperware parties. No one will come.
28. Stay away from bad people.  Especially men who are bad for you.  You’ll get hurt every time.
29. Call if you need me.  Anytime.  Anywhere.  I’ll be right there.
30. Babies like to be picked up when they cry.
31. Nothing beats flannel pajamas and nighties.

#32 – Take pictures of the flowers you are sent.

32. Take pictures of the cakes you bake, the flowers you are sent, the gifts you are given, the Christmas tree every year even if it looks the same, it’s different.
33. Support a third world child regardless of your financial situation.
34.  Cry when you’re sad.  Yell when you’re mad.  Sit silently when you need to think.  Laugh at the funny things.
35. Get up early.  Put the kettle on first thing. Start your day with a cup of tea and piece of toast.
36. It’s okay to wear comfortable clothes around the house just as long as they’re freshly washed and ironed.  Being comfortable isn’t the same thing as being a slob.
37. You can never give a child enough love.  That’s not what spoils them.
38. Accept invitations to lunch or an afternoon shopping at the mall.
39. It’s okay to fall asleep on the couch while watching television.
40. Don’t worry about your age.  There’s nothing you can do about it.
41. Always send Thank You cards.

#42 – Remember everyone’s birthday with a homemade cake.

42.  Remember everyone’s birthday with a homemade cake and a nicely wrapped gift.  At the very least give a special card.
43. Take care of your teeth.  False teeth just aren’t the same as your own.
44. Invite people to stay for dinner.  There’s always plenty.
45. Make the bed as soon as you get up.
46. Have supper together every night and make Sunday dinner extra special.  Roast something.  Have the entire family over.
47. Give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t hold grudges.
48. You don’t need a reason to give a gift or to send someone a note to let them know you’re thinking of them.
49. Try not to hurt someone’s feelings but apologize right away when you do.
50. Mind your manners.  Always say please and thank you.
51. Wash your hands all day long but especially before touching food.
52.  Bounce a baby on your lap and sing “doodley doodley doodley doo.”
53. Pick up litter when you see it.  Stuff it in your pocket if there isn’t a garbage nearby and throw it out when you get home.
54. Never let your grey roots show.  It makes you look old.
55. Baths are better than showers.
56.  Always bring out the good china for company and on special occasions.
57. You’re never too old to start something new.
58.  Nothing tastes quite as good as a sandwich made with lettuce freshly picked from the garden.
59. It’s okay to buy certain things for your home “on time.”
60. Write letters.  Everyone loves getting them.
61. No one will love you like your mother.  Especially a man.
62. Some people can be mean.  That doesn’t make okay for you to be mean back.
63. Take all kinds of vitamins and supplements.  They’re good for you.
64. People with thin lips are nags.
65. Pay your bills every month no matter how broke you are.  Even if it’s just a little bit to everyone you owe.
66. It’s a sign of beauty if a girl looks like her father.
67.  Get the dishes done right after you eat.
68. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables and enjoy dessert.
69.  Learn to sew clothes, embroider tablecloths and knit scarves.  Teach these to your daughters.
70. Learn to cook and bake, especially if you have children.
71. Read everything you can about being healthy and subscribe to Prevention Magazine.

#56 – Always bring out the good china for company and on special occasions.

72. Try to see the good in everyone.
73. Every child born to our family is wanted and loved.
74. Exercise every day. Walk. Do yoga. Ride an exercise bike.
75. Go back to school at sixty.
76. Don’t waste your time gossiping.
77. A health food store is a good place to shop.
78. The secret to a perfect pie crust is a secret.  But here’s the recipe.
79. Be kind and decent to everyone no matter who they are.
80. Walk facing the traffic at all times.
81. Be nice.
82. Don’t go empty handed to someone’s house.
83. Pray for people whether they asked you to or not.  Especially your children.
84. Don’t go blabbing family business to the neighbors.
85. You can do anything you want to if you put your mind to it.
86. You’re just as good as anyone.
87. Always make lemon pie from scratch.  It’s worth it.
88.  Forgive and forget.  Sometimes it’s easier said than done though.
89. Celebrate the holidays with your family.  Have big wonderful meals and lots of gifts under the tree.
90. You don’t have to get married to be married.
91. Potatoes are versatile.
92. No matter how afraid you are, get on the plane.
93. Respect your elders and those in authority, especially teachers and police officers.  Their jobs are hard enough.
94.  Don’t be a show off, braggart or know-it-all.  No one likes people like that.
95. It’s important to have a room of your own to sew or paint or make things.
96. Always have Kleenex up your sleeve and a package of peppermint Chicklets in your purse.
97. Offer your seat on the bus to older people and pregnant women.
98. Italians are nice people.
99. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, especially to children.
100. You only get out of life what you put into it.
101. You’re never too old to play on a swing.

#101 – You’re never too old to play on a swing.

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