I think I’ve written before about my first ever job experience. I started working at a neighborhood bakery in my high school days and stayed there until I was twenty years old. I left the bakery for a full-time position with benefits at an insurance company that was not nearly as fun as my bakery job. But the insurance company paid more and I was in no position to choose fun over money at the time, seeing as I was trying to pay my college tuition and plan a wedding at the same time.
I have great memories of my days at the bakery though. I probably didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have at the time, but it was a good first job. I got to see first-hand how a family owned business was run. This one had been in the family for a few generations, and the owners at the time, my bosses were a married couple not too many years older than me. She was the daughter of the previous owners and he was her husband. It was a small operation in my day, a little store tucked in amongst a grocery store, a jeweler, a shoe store, some department stores, a pharmacy and a restaurant all located in an early version of the strip mall.
The bakery was a place where I learned to grow my self-confidence. I memorized the many and varied prices of different breads, pastries, cookies and donuts. I became a skilled and speedy box folder and learned to neatly arrange each customer’s selections so that they looked appealing in the bakery boxes. I grew comfortable asking customers how I might help them and learned to tactfully promote specific products to boost sales. When I’d mastered the customer service aspect, I learned how to frost donuts and cupcakes with flair, and how to write with frosting on cakes.
All of that job experience was great, and it taught me about responsibility and commitment. A major downside of bakery work was that we had to start early. The bakers started in the middle of the night to make sure all of the goods were fresh and ready for customers who would be waiting to shop at seven in the morning. We “counter girls” had to be in by six on the weekends to stock the display cases and be ready to wait on those first customers. During the holidays, we had to be in by five because the demand for both regular and specialty items would double! As you can imagine at that time in my life, going out and having fun until the wee hours of the morning took priority over being well-rested for my morning bakery shifts. Jolt Cola and No-Doz pills were frequently on hand for the counter crew!
And in spite of having to punch in early, on too little sleep, it was fun! There was always something new to learn and we took pride in the bakery’s history in our community. We got to know the regular customers, many of them in their elder years, having shopped at the bakery since its early days. We learned to move around each other gracefully during the demanding times such as Christmas Eve and the day before Easter when the store was crowded wall-to-wall with customers. There was a certain pride we took in being able to help each customer, trying to move them all through quickly, yet making sure they had a good experience in our store. We also took pride in the exhaustion we felt when one of those marathon weekend shifts finally ended. We were tired and our clothes were saturated with the aromas of the bakery, not-so-fondly referred to as “bakery grease.” If you work in a bakery long enough, that smell is no longer appealing. Yet those were signs of a successful day.
The weekday afternoon shifts tended to be slower. That’s when the bag boys from the neighboring grocery store would come in to buy a treat and we’d hang over the counter tops flirting back and forth with them. If the boys weren’t around, we might decorate the front window to match whatever season of the year it was. And I’m not saying for sure, but there might have been a contest once when we grabbed balls of bread dough from the industrial refrigerator and competed to see who could toss one the highest and get it to land on top of one of the hanging fluorescent light fixtures. Then there was the time the easy-listening radio station got switched to Top 40. Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run was blasted at a not-so-easy-listening volume, but the sing-along was hysterical! We forgot to put the station back where it belonged though. The next day, the boss asked who changed the station and why. I’m sure he totally bought our blank stares and I-dunnos.
As the counter crew tended to be high school kids, bakery life had its own life cycle. Even though many of us had become good friends during our time there, most of us moved on eventually to attend college or get a “real” job. But many of the crew from my days stayed in touch in one way or another. Faceb00k has made it even easier to reconnect and the last few years have seen a few attempts at a reunion. As is to be expected, we now live near and far and it’s been difficult to find a day and time when everyone can get together. After several failed attempts, I was recently contacted again by one of my bakery pals to see about coordinating a gathering. Once again, I issued the group invitation to meet and once again, many had conflicting job or social commitments. But those of us who were free decided to just go for it, even if it meant only a small representation of the group.
Becky and Julie were going to a “girls weekend.” Marilee never responded. Everyone seems to have lost touch with Denise and Teri. But Connie, Kendra (who I’ve been in touch with all along,) Dan (a former baker) and I were available and decided to meet last Saturday afternoon at a bar and restaurant near my house. Kendra ended up having to attend a memorial service first and let us know she’d join us later when she was free. And Connie texted fifteen minutes before our meeting time to say she couldn’t make it! Which was odd because I knew she had almost an hour’s drive to meet us, and so I was pretty sure she might have known sooner that she wasn’t coming. But who am I to judge, right?
So there was an odd fifteen minutes or so as I sat alone in the bar waiting for someone to show up. Thankfully Kacey called then and asked, “Are you busy? What are you doing?”
“Eh, just sitting all by myself at Sgt. Pepper’s.”
“That’s pretty sad,” she replied.
I explained that I was waiting for my old bakery friends to arrive and she kept me company until Dan showed up. Dan and I exchanged a hug and a bunch of those “haven’t seen you in forever, you look great” kind of pleasantries. So we had an hour or so to catch up on each other’s lives while we waited for Kendra. And being that we were in my neck of the woods, I encountered a few acquaintances of Mark’s and mine who would pass by, smile and say “hey” to me. Then each would glance at Dan, and a slightly confused look would cross their faces. Clearly they were thinking, “Well, that’s not Mark.” None of these were people I knew well enough to try to explain or introduce to Dan, so I just let it be and got a little chuckle out of it. Eventually Kendra showed up and put an end to any scandal that might have been brewing in their minds.
The hours flew by as the three of us caught up with each other. We talked about where we were living, our spouses, kids, the aging parent thing, where anyone has traveled and such. And we quickly found that we all had the crazy-dog-lover gene in common, and so many stories were told about the adventures of sharing bed space with dogs, or the cute antics of our “babies.” We laughed a lot and had the best time. Eventually Dan had to go. Kendra and I stayed and had dinner and then came back to my house for more gabbing.
One of these days we’ll get more of the gang together, but I’m not sad that only our small group connected this time. We talked for hours and it was just the three of us! Imagine how much time we’d need to catch up with everyone! We had such a great time that we made each other promise to do it again sooner, and to not give up on pulling off a bigger reunion. Something not-so last minute might be the ticket and we’ll keep trying.