Fifty-six years. That’s how long my mother worked in the same bake shop day in and day out. She’d always come home late at night too tired to do anything really, but she’d always make sure to tuck me in bed and make sure I did my homework.
It was never a boring day for her at work. There was always some crazy customer you would hear about or some kind of catastrophe that happened in the back of the shop. After years of growing up and listening to her stories every night, I grew tired of the stories and then annoyed. I used to sit and listen to her talk about her day but I didn’t really care anymore. Looking back, I wish I could change all that.
She used to tell me why she was kept working at that bake shop no matter how much her hands ached, how hot the ovens made the kitchen, or how the flour would never fully come out of her clothes no matter how much she washed them. Even more so, her hands almost looked bleached because of the white traces that stuck in all the intricate wrinkles that webbed around her fingers and palms.
At first, it started as a passion. Growing up, she always loved to bake. She used to bake cupcakes and cookies and brownies. All the tasty baked goods. Her friends would constantly ask her for more of them every day at lunch. She used to tell me that she was basically the queen of the lunch tables. She could easily trade for just about anything else in the cafeteria with a simple brownie here or a single cookie there.
She told me that in high school, she finally decided to use her talents to try and make something more of herself. My grandparents never quite had the money to send her to college even though both my grandma and grandpa worked long shifts. So, my mom started to sell her baked goods. It started out the same way as trading the goods at her lunch tables. Only this time, instead of trading for a bag of chips or some other junk food, she traded for a dollar each.
Whenever she would go on about how her baking career started, she would always pause after one point and remember the day when her principal found out about the kid selling baked goods. She told me that when her principal called her into his office, he scolded her for selling her brownies to other students. She couldn’t fathom why he was so upset about these baked goods until a realization dawned on her. The man thought she was selling “special” brownies. Laced with a little extra something something. It was at this point that she would always burst into a fit of giggles. Even to the days when her face sagged and her hands pulsed with arthritis, she was still so innocent. You could see it most in her eyes. No matter how aged the rest of her body looked, her eyes always stayed bright and blue.
After explaining that her brownies were simply just brownies maybe with a little too much sugar in them than normal, her principal finally decided to back down but still told her to just not sell anything on school grounds.
This all happened when she was 18 years old. She would tell me about how she really wasn’t that great at math and liked reading as a hobby but really did not enjoy listening to her english teachers dig into a book and find analogies and hidden meanings that, to my mother, were completely made up by the teacher and didn’t exist at all. The only thing she knew she was truly good at was baking her sweets.
With her parents still working late shifts to cover the bills and just enough money from the baked goods she had already sold, she found an old beat up van for sale in her town and decided to buy it. With the help of a few close friends, they gave the van a good tune up and her one friend even painted the side of the van: Susan’s Bake Shop.
This was her new store front. Of course, she couldn’t bake inside the van. But, that was taken care of at home. And as her business grew, she needed to expand her oven space and eventually used our grandparents’ ovens because they lived right next door. At the point that she had to ask the other neighbors for their oven too, she decided it was time to grow to the next level.
And, that led to the day when she finally bought the bake shop. To me, it was never just a building, it wasn’t even a business either. It was a home away from home. I’ve heard the phrase “home is where the heart is” tossed around a bunch of times in my life and if that’s true, that shop was definitely a second home.
The business never really took off to the point where she could expand to the next level and franchise the name or make a chain out of her baked goods. But, there was always a loyal following. Enough of a following that she fulfilled one her most passionate dreams in her life. The second reason she kept baking after all those years.
Even though she never finished high school, she always dreamed of going to college. And at this point in her life, she figured college for herself was pointless. So, when she had me, the tip jar at the front counter was no longer for tips. It was for “Anna’s college fund.” By the time I was finally old enough to graduate high school and go away to college, there was definitely enough money for a full ride.
To this day, I envy her tenacity in pursuing her passion and I’ll always love my mom: the baker.