Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: For the Love of Mary Passingham.

Ma in shorts

Dear Love,

I wanted you to know that my great grandmother’s name was Mary Passingham and she was born on the Isle of Wight. And that some day I’m going to write a romance novel and use Mary Passingham as my pen name.

I wanted you to know that I have always had a passion for reading books and I think that was a gift from Mary Passingham.

I wanted you to know that when I was growing up and everyone else in my house was watching television, I read books. And that I dreamed about another life that had nothing to do with the one that I lived.

I wanted you to know that my mother was raised by Mary Passingham and that she died when my older brother was two months old.

And that my mother loved her dearly. I say my mother, “loved dearly” because Mary Passingham was the only person who ever called my mother “dear” while she was growing up.

And I wanted you to know that because Mary Passingham called my mother “dear”, my mother at age ten, would walk two miles to Eaton’s to buy Mary a spool of embroidery thread. Just to be her dear. And because Mary taught my mother how to embroider. And my mother taught me.

I wanted you to know that Mary Passingham had no money but she loved my mother dearly and that once she gave my mother a bottle of Evening in Paris perfume for Christmas. My mother cherished that bottle of perfume. It didn’t matter that it cost only seventeen cents because it was a gift from Mary. And she received no others that year.

I wanted you to know that I never understood why I loved books so much until my mother told me that Mary Passingham spent her days reading books, doing embroidery and growing vegetables in the summer. In the summer my mother and her sisters feasted on Mary’s garden.

And I wanted you to know that Mary taught my mother how to bake bread. And my mother taught me. And that my mother loved sandwiches made with Mary’s homemade bread and lettuce from her garden.

And that I love sandwiches made with my mother’s homemade bread and lettuce freshly picked from her garden.

I wanted you to know that I love to spend my days reading books, doing embroidery and growing vegetables in the summer.

I wanted you to know that Mary Passingham had a china cabinet made of carved oak filled with knick-knacks and trinkets and that my mother polished it for her every Saturday morning.

And that my mother has a china cabinet made of Canadian maple filled with knick-knacks and trinkets but I never spent my Saturdays polishing it. Although I loved that china cabinet.

I don’t have a china cabinet but I have a house filled with knick-knacks and ornaments. And I love them dearly.

I wanted you to know about all these wonderful gifts that Marry Passingham gave to my mother. And my mother gave to me. I never knew Mary Passingham. Only my mother did.

But I wanted you to know that I love my mother dearly just as she did Mary. And even though I never met Mary I loved her dearly too.

Love,

Boo

Footnote: I came across this sweet little piece today while looking for an old story I had written called The Sixteen Jacket. I hadn’t seen it in years and thought it was lost. Both this piece and The Sixteen Jacket were written decades ago when I was a young woman, and long before my mother died. I don’t even remember who “Dear Love” was. I’ve decided to share it unedited, and exactly as I had written it back then, to honor with loving kindness the young blossoming writer that was just beginning to emerge from a veil of shy awkwardness.

Cherished pillow cases embroidered by my mother.

Cherished pillow cases embroidered by my mother.

I spent months embroidering the front of this denim skirt.

I spent months embroidering the front of this denim skirt.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Maple Tree.

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I have a Maple Tree in my front yard.

I brought it with me from Ontario as a tiny sapling.

I removed it gingerly from its mother tree the morning I left to return to BC.

I wrapped it in a wet paper towel and a plastic baggy.

I placed it carefully into my purse where it journeyed across Canada with me.

I loved it so and made a promise to my parents to take good care of it.

I planted it temporarily in a small terracotta pot.

I replanted it and replanted it into ever-bigger pots that sat on my sunny patio.

I watched as it grew and grew until it was the same height as me.

I bought a little white house after my parents died just around the corner from the rental.

I lovingly removed the Maple Tree from its final pot made from a wooden barrel.

I planted it permanently in the front yard deeply anchored in the solid earth.

I called it Marion after my mother.

She is well over twenty feet tall now.

She is far bigger than my mother could have ever imagined.

She is a faithful reminder of my mother and the life we shared.

She provides a welcome canopy of shade.

She keeps my front room cool and comfortable in the summertime.

She is beautifully naked and oh so graceful in the winter.

She quietly stands guard and watches over this little white house.

She is eternally helpful and obliging that way.

She also makes me feel safe in the shelter of her branches.

She changes color with the seasons but not the way her mother tree did back in Ontario.

She wonders about some of those autumn colors of her lineage.

She ponders the reason they are missing from her leaves.

She thinks her mother tree looked divine in a particular shade of red.

She mourns the loss of the things she did not inherit.

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Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: Not the Marrying Kind.

1452388_10153580945835113_784035814_nI’m not the marrying kind. Even though I’ve done it two times. That’s the enigma.  It’s a mystery even to me. My personal paradox.  The thing is, it’s not even that I don’t believe in marriage per se.  I think it’s a fine enough thing to do, and anyone who chooses, should have that right.  No matter what.  I’m just not sure it’s something that really matters to me.  Despite having done it twice.  I’m ambivalent at best.  It’s a Sunday morning quandary.  I for one am positively stumped.

To say the two wedding ceremonies were as different as night and day, the East and the West, Chopin and The Clash, would be a monumental understatement.

The first time, I stood next to my betrothed in the muggy cramped claustrophobic office of a Justice of the Peace in the far reaches of northern BC.  There were warning signs right from the get-go that I chose not to heed.  Like my absurd fear of small spaces, yet there I was getting married in one.  Then there was the JP, who was missing one of his thumbs.  And the piece de resistance, he was wearing a burgundy leisure suit.  His name may have been Ron.  I don’t remember, which is probably a good thing.  Best that I don’t remember all the intimate details of that day.  Some situations and events are better left in a foggy haze.

By contrast, the second time with E was on top of large rocky hill with sweeping 360 degree views of the city and the ocean below.  The clouds, the sun and the large expansive sky, a natural backdrop.  Sheltered by ancient Garry Oaks, we were married by our beloved minister, surrounded by our beautiful family and friends. There was much music and laughter in the summer air.  It was lovely and romantic.  Well worth the twenty year wait.

But as wonderful as that was, it was nothing compared to T and D’s wedding last weekend.

Perhaps I was seeing through the eyes of a mother, who loves her son dearly.  Or maybe it had something to do with how much I adore his beautiful sweet “Lady”.  But the sight of these two dear ones exchanging vows stopped my heart.  Took my breath away. Brought tears of joy.

All this vow taking over the past two years got me thinking about Ma and The Old Man. They were together for over fifty years yet they never married.  They had their reasons.  We didn’t talk about it much.  For a long while, Ma carried a truckload of shame. Then there came a time where the legalities didn’t matter much anymore.  When she was finally free to marry The Old Man, she chose not to.  Perhaps the truth is, she wasn’t the marrying kind either.

No, they never said I do, in any formal way. Never took it to the alter.  Not before God. Nor anyone else. But they did take it to heart, made promises and vowed, in all the ways that count.

I do love you.  I do cherish you.  I do respect you.  I do honor you. I do want to be with you above all others.  I do want to spend all the days of my life with you. I do want to be there by your side through sickness, health, good times and bad.  I do want to hold you close to my heart and keep you forever in my soul.

They may not have been bound legally.  But they were willingly united for life by the things that matter most. Commitment. Loyalty. Honesty. Faithfulness. Dependability. Steadfastness. Devotion. Trustworthiness. Kindness. Gentleness. Compassion. Generosity. Tolerance. Acceptance. Forgiveness.

And above all else.  Love.

Diaries of The Breadman’s Daughter: The Orange Swivel Rocking Chair by the Window.

Pregnant with Daughter Number One. Great expectations in the tweed version.

I like to stare out the window.  It’s a relaxing and meditative diversion.  Some people experience this by looking heavenward to the stars.  Or by sitting in front of an aquarium filled with exotic tropical fish.  Others like to watch the tides roll in.  But I’m a window gazer.  A peaceful tranquility washes over me whenever I sit in front of a window.  And look out.

Little back story.  In our house at 204 there was always a chair in front of the living room window.  Or at least from the time the house was renovated and a large picture window replaced the small wartime paned version.  This window cried out for a comfy chair and a place to watch the world outside.  With this in mind, Ma arranged the furniture so that there was always such a chair. And within arms reach, the treasured pedestal table with its sundry potted plants over the years, and always a coaster conveniently placed to support a cup of tea or coffee, glass of milk or Pepsi.

Daughter Number One liked to window gaze too.

It wasn’t exactly a big world to gaze upon. Not like looking up at the infinite sky on a clear August night.  But it was my world for many years.  This was the cherished spot where I honed my observational deftness.  Even long after I had flown the nest I loved to return to the chair by the window.  To daydream.  To reflect.  Or rest.  Often to recover from the battlefield of life.

Over the years, several different chairs occupied the space next to the window.  They all had a few things in common.  First and foremost, the color orange was represented in them somewhere.  Solid, tweed, plaid or striped.  Ma used to say that she loved color and she wasn’t kidding.  And when it came to decorating our living room, orange was undeniably her color of choice.  Something I never fully appreciated until I looked at Ma’s albums filled with scads of photos of family and friends taken on the various chairs.  Not only orange chairs.  But Curtains.  Lampshades.  And wall to wall carpet.  It was a dizzying sea of riotous color.   Autumn lived perpetually in our living room.

On the outside Ma was a quiet, soft-spoken demure woman.  But if a person’s color preference reveals anything about their true character, than Ma’s interior spaces were filled with fire, passion and fervency.  She was a courageous artist fearlessly expressing herself in the boldest of possible ways.  Orange.

The First Born having a snack in the striped version.

This common thread of orange aside, these chairs all rocked and swiveled.  This made them very practical because you could position them in any direction depending on the need.  They provided a 360 degree panorama of our downstairs.  Swivel slight to the left for television viewing.  To the centre back and you could watch all the kitchen activities, in particular Ma cooking up something spectacular.  To the right and you could engage in lively conversation with whomever was on the couch.  And centre front, there was the view of our street.

These chairs were also enormously fun.  Swivel and rock in a full circle. One way and then the other.  They turned us all into whirling dervishes.  Spinning tops.  Every bit as good as the old leather and chrome stools at the food counter in the basement restaurant at Eaton’s.  Giggles and glee.  Tee-hee!  Plus, they were all so comfortable you never wanted to leave.  No matter what was going on in my life, whenever I sat in the orange chair  by the window everything was right with the world.

In truth, there wasn’t a whole lot to see out of that window.  Mostly just the houses across the street.  The mauve lilac that grew on the edge of our lawn next to the lumpy sidewalk and the Manitoba Maple on the boulevard.  I watched it grow from a tiny sapling to a magnificent old sentry watching over our little wartime house.  In summer it shaded our front yard.  In fall it graced us with glorious red, orange and yellow leaves that danced and quivered in the wind.  In winter it held strong and steady while the snow collected on its barren branches.  In spring came the buds of hope and great expectations.

One summer the city added cement curbs and paved the street.  We were delighted to say goodbye to the pot holes and annual tarring of our road.  I have to admit though that the smell of tar triggers happy memories of childhood summers.   It’s right up there with the scent of Coppertone, freshly mowed lawns, wild roses and hot rubber hoses.

The First Born sharing the plaid version with The Old Man.

One of my fondest memories is from the winter.  I was home visiting over the Christmas holidays with my two older kids in tow.  It was a large blue sky afternoon.  The kind that only Northwestern Ontario can produce.  Nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been.  On this particular afternoon Ma got a call from her sister Hazel to go over to the mall for the afternoon.  Ma rarely turned down an opportunity to go for an outing.  It didn’t really matter where.  I sat in the orange swivel rocking chair by the window and watched Ma as she stood in the driveway waiting for her sister to come pick her up.  The snow was crisp and clean. The snow banks were so high on either side of the window that they dwarfed Ma’s already small frame.  She was wearing her gray fake fur coat.  I don’t know what animal it was imitating.  Her purse was draped across her chest.  While she was waiting she traced the snow with the toe of her boot like a windshield wiper.  Back and forth.  Every now and then she would pause and look down the street for Auntie Hazel’s car.  Her cheeks were blushed red from the cold air and her dark eyes were so bright and alive.  I had to remind myself that she was in her seventies.  She looked like a young girl.  Full of life and eagerness.  I will always remember her that way.  And how the sight of her touched my heart with such tenderness.

Ma enjoying a moment of relaxation in the solid version.

In my room, the place where I write and dream, my computer sits in front of the window overlooking our beautifully imperfect garden, which is green and lush at the moment. Teeming with birds, squirrels and dragonflies, the occasional deer, raccoon, duck or heron.  When I window gaze here I also see another time and place.  I’m transported to an orange swivel rocking chair that sits by a picture window.  It hugs me.  It holds me when my heart is heavy.  It comforts me when I’m full of fear and lost all hope.  It rocks and swivels me to a place of peace.  I see the street where I grew up.  Played scrub ball.  Rode my bike. Scraped my knee.  Ran under the sprinkler.  Sat on the neighbors front step and shared a first kiss.  I see the place under the maple tree where I sat in the shade and drank Pepsi.  I see the tarry road and the dreams of other roads to travel.  I see The Old Man tending to his garden.  Raking leaves.  Shoveling snow.  Blowing his nose in a big white cotton hanky.  I see Ma waiting for Auntie Hazel.  I see God’s hand reaching out and touching all of it with wonder and grace.  I see love in the large blue sky.  I am cradled in my mother’s arms.

Diaries of the Breadman’s Daughter: Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Hitting one out of the park.

I can feel it.  Spring is definitely in the air.  But even better, summer is just around the corner.  And with that notion comes all the paraphernalia of summer.  Lighter brighter sweeter clothes made from cotton and other carefree fabrics. Red toenails and colorful rubber flip flops.  The summer toys are brought out of the  basement, back shed or garage.  Things with wheels and pedals.  Things designed for the water and hot sandy beaches.  Games that are synonymous with sunshiny days and long warm evenings are played.  Racquets, bats and balls of all description.  This is the season when my favorite sport is played.  Baseball.

Let’s make something perfectly clear right up front.  I am not the athletic type.  Sporty Spice I am not.  I don’t gravitate towards playing team sports of any sort.  I’m a loner when it comes to anything even remotely athletic.  Running.  Walking.  Yoga.  Skip to my Lou. That’s about as close as I get to being an athlete.  But there’s just something about baseball that I like.  And I think it has something to do with The Old Man.

Little back story.  I never thought of The Old Man as terribly athletic either.  Despite what the black and white photos of his younger self reveal.  I only recall a man with a round girth and skinny white bowed legs.  But he did love sports.  In particular, hockey and baseball.   Back in the day, when homes had one television set, Saturday nights were  Hockey Night in Canada, and nothing but.  You could always count on him to be sitting front row and centre, glued to the television set for the two solid hours the game was televised on the CBC.  A bag of Old Dutch potato chips, sour cream and onion dip, and a large bottle of Pepsi at his side.  It was loud.  Raucous. And grating on the nerves.  Ma would often busy herself in the kitchen.  Some Saturday nights I would take refuge in the bedroom I shared with my older sister, if she happened to be out for the evening.  Otherwise, I would sit in the living room in the cozy chair next to the fake fireplace and read.  It was like Ma and I were held captive for those two hours.  Prisoners of Hockey Night in Canada.  But in a strange way, I think I actually wanted to be close to The Old Man on Saturday Nights.  Figure out a way to share his passion and excitement for the game.  Or maybe I just wanted some chips and dip and a tall glass of Pepsi.

Four things came out of those Saturday night sessions with The Old Man.  A lifelong craving for junk food.  A preference for Pepsi over Coke.  An ability to block out ambient noise.  And a love for reading, especially fiction.

On Saturday nights, while lost in a book, I learned to filter all those shrill sounds, the extraneous racket and cacophony blaring from the television set.  I retreated to the world of make-believe and fiction.  I became a mental escape artist.  A cerebral Houdini.  This ability has served me well over the years.  It has been particularly helpful when working in open-concept environments where you can hear everything and everyone. Including the pin drop.  But when necessary, I can press the mute button.  And hear nothing except the sounds within. I’m grateful for this gift, compliments of The Old Man and Hockey Night in Canada.  To this day, I hear the Theme Song and my mind goes to another place.  I switch off.

Baseball on the other hand, is a different game all together.  There is just something about the understated elegance of this sport that appeals to me.  Whereas the hockey nights were filled with shouting, cursing and bellowing at the television set, watching baseball was much more civilized.  Baseball wasn’t intrusive and never monopolized an entire night.  There was no such thing as Saturday Night Baseball, at least not back then.  Plus, during baseball season I could go outside and play with the neighborhood kids while The Old Man watched the game.  I wasn’t trapped inside a small wartime house in the dead of winter with nowhere to run.

Another redeeming quality of baseball was that there were no theme songs that involved a full-on brass section.  No trumpets blaring.  Drums pounding.  Chests beaten. The only baseball song I knew was Take me Out To the Ballgame.  That charming little ditty was universally loved, and whistled, for its sheer unpretentious and innocent hokey corniness.  That’s what I loved about it.  Then and now.

Music and civility aside, there are a few other reasons I preferred baseball over hockey.  First of all, it was warm when you played.  You didn’t have to wear tons of clothing and balance yourself on lace-up boots with blades.  A spontaneous street game could start right in front of your house, at any time on any given day. It was uncomplicated with straightforward rules. All you needed was a ball and a bat.  If you had a glove.  That was a bonus but not necessary to play the game.  And everyone was welcome.  Including girls. Today girls play all kinds of  team sports. But that wasn’t the case back then.

Aside from the friendly neighborhood scrub ball, I played on our school’s all-girl softball team.  I didn’t have to try out to make the team.  We all got in.  It was part of the grade eight P.E. curriculum.  Most of us weren’t very good.  But we enjoyed ourselves just the same.  We played against the other grade eight teams in our town.  And lost most of our games.  But that wasn’t the point.  What mattered was, we got to play.  There were some girls on the team who actually knew what they were doing.  And I recall we had a pretty good pitcher.  They admired them from afar.

I performed badly under pressure.  If I even caught a sniff that the opposing pitcher could actually throw the ball I was a goner.   And if it turned out they could throw like a boy I was dead in the water.  Struck out.  One, two, three.  I was okay in the outfield though.  It was pretty quiet and safe.  Not a lot of action but it offered an interesting outlying perspective.  Mostly I chewed gum and spat.  It was fun being a Tomboy.  And at the end, win or lose, it was glorious to be out there with the other girls playing this beautiful inclusive game.

The Old Man receiving his Bicentennial Medal for community dedication and service.

The Old Man shared his love of the game with me.  And it didn’t even necessitate consuming junk food.  For years, he had been deeply involved with Little League in our town.  In fact, he was one of the guys who got it started.  In 1984, in celebration of the Ontario Bicentennial Year, the Minister of Northern Affairs Leo Bernier awarded my father, along with 42 other folks from our town, a medal for Exemplary Community Dedication and Service.  The medal was given to me after he died.  I never realized at the time, the significance of his contribution to the game in our little town.  I never thought of him as the kind of guy who had a positive and worthwhile impact on the lives of others.  At least not to this degree. He was The Old Man for God’s sake.  A medal?  But now as I look at it, hanging from the red, blue and yellow ribbon, I am proud.  Very proud Dad.

I have fond memories of going to the ball field with The Old Man.  He used to Umpire the games.  I’d sit in the weather-beaten wood bleachers and watch.  Girls had come just far enough to be able to play ball at school and on the street, but not in the Little League.  There weren’t many fans or spectators.  Back then parents didn’t go to watch their kids’ games.  The boys would walk or ride their bikes to the field and play.  And when the game was over they took their gloves and went home.  It was so poetically simple.

I watched as The Old Man leaned in behind the batter at home plate.  Proudly wearing his Ump’s mask and black vest.  To me, he looked just like the real thing.  A pro.  This was a whole other side to him that we rarely saw.  He was confident. Tough. Spirited. And oddly athletic.  This experience was nothing like the Saturday Night in Hockey nights.  It was the complete opposite.  I was fully engaged in the game.  Lost in the warm sunny evenings.  The smell of dusty canvas base bags and chalk powder.  Green grass and young boys covered in dirt stains and glowing sweat.  Snap.  Crackle.  Pop.  Wood on leather.  Cheers and shouts.  You’re safe.  You’re out.  Strike.  Ball.  Batter up.  Batter out.  Loss.  Or victory.  Always good sportsmanship.  Handshakes all around.  Better luck next time Buddy.

The last game I remember going to with The Old Man was during the summer between grade eight and high school.  Everything changed after that.  He continued to umpire games for years afterwards.  In fact, the same year that he received the Bicentennial Medal, my first marriage ended.  Badly.  I was a hot mess.  And that’s putting it politely.  We separated in April and by May I had packed up my two kids and travelled a thousand miles  to that little wartime house in the west end of town.  Ma and The Old Man welcomed us with open arms, unconditional love and above all no judgement.

It was the start of Little League Season when we arrived.  My son, who loves sports just like his grandfather, embraced the idea of playing.  The Old Man got him onto a team, and what could have been the worst of all possible summers, was made enjoyable by his participation in this sport.

All decked out in his green and white uniform and ready to play.

I don’t remember a whole lot about that summer.  Some memories are better left unearthed.  But I do recall going to watch one of my son’s games and thinking how marvelous he was.  How he looked like the real thing in his little green and white uniform.  A pro.  Just like his grandfather.  Then I remember how grateful I was to The Old Man for taking him under his wing.  And for putting some fun into a young boy’s  summer.  I was also grateful that The Old Man got to do something with my son that he was never able to do with me.  Umpire one of his games.

Footnote: My son told me today that he remembered two things about that baseball summer with his Grandpa.  He hit a home run out of the park.  And his grandpa called him safe at home when he was obviously out.  I love that The Old Man couldn’t be impartial when it came to his Grandson. I think he was that way when it came to me as well.

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