By PAT WEBDALE, AUTHOR, FREDONIA, NY
I have always had a thing for ‘the bakery’. It was my first choice of pages in a coloring book when I was a kid. A chance to transform the black and white lines of a showcase filled with nondescript diagrams of cookies, cupcakes and pies. I could make them pink and white and chocolate. I could even add sprinkles and frostings with my crayons. In my family of origin ‘the bakery’ was synonymous with ‘job’ or ‘paycheck’.
My father worked for ‘the bakery’ for fifty years. When he was seventeen-years-old he was hired by the O’Rourke Baking Company of Buffalo NY. They made “Blue Seal Bread, the freshest thing in town” as their jingle went. His first task was to fold boxes for rolls. He stayed there overnight piling them high to the ceiling. In the morning the supervisor asked why he was still there and he told him that no one had come in to tell him when to go home. These were war and depression years and he was happy to have a job. Such was his work ethic for those fifty years. He moved on to foreman of the shipping department. My siblings and I visited the bakery quite often. I arranged tours for my classmates. The first stop was the mixer, a giant machine that whipped the ingredients into dough. Next was the rising room with controlled temperatures to gently coax the dough, in tubs that resembled bathtubs, to triple in size. This process was viewed through a window where the tubs bathed in a warm yellow light.
After rising, the dough was divided into loaves and baked. The next process was in my dad’s department, the slicing and wrapping of the loaves. His job was to keep the conveyors and wrapping machines running smoothly. One phrase I remember is that he had to ‘split the sour rye’. After the packaging was complete, the next jobs were loading and shipping. My dad’s uncles and his brother worked that end of it, delivering to mom and pop stores. On Halloween, I took tiny loaves of wrapped Blue Seal bread to my classmates for trick or treat. My dad worked for the bakery under the O’Rourke name for nineteen years. It was then acquired by the Interstate Baking Company out of Kansas City who was foraging new geographic territory. The Interstate Company put out a new label of Butternut Bread, wrapped in blue gingham. The new song went “bring home the Butternut Bread, Fred”. The company made tin cans of bread for distribution to the armed forces. They also created wiener wagons which were a one piece flat roll with a slot for the hot dog and condiments. Those went out of style quickly.
I can still see my dad wearing his work uniform of a white shirt and pants. I can smell the inside of the bakery. I remember the salt tablet machines and the water fountains and candy machines, all part of my dad’s daily grind. The bakery also served up frustrations; trucks that were delayed or broken down in bad WNY weather. Long hours when my dad didn’t get to come home because he was dealing with one crisis or another. He was an important employee. If someone in our family was out of work you could count on dad to get him into the bakery for at least a while. The company underwent many changes. It was based out of Kansas City and Chicago, locations where my father attended meetings. As it changed hands my dad was offered the chance to relocate and turned it down. After thirty seven years at the same location he had to move on or out. It was a distressing time for him. In 1968 Interstate bought the Millbrook bread division of the National Biscuit Company. My dad worked on their shipping dock in Depew NY until his retirement in 1981. NBC made Dolly Madison and Hostess products, catering to my sweet tooth. In my father’s lifetime the bakery business went from small independent local operations to consolidations.
Today, when I go into a grocery store and see the ‘bakery’ department it does not meet the expectations of my childhood. Gressman’s, the German bakery I visited as a kid with my hand out for a free cookie sample, baked my wedding cake fifty years ago. Three tiers with roses for twenty-five dollars. Costanzo’s bakery was famous for crispy hard rolls. You can still buy them. Vin-Chets tiny fruit pastries and delicious pies are now in Dash’s markets. Hugs was the bakery on the way to church when I was a kid. My brother remembers his classmates standing three rows deep on a Friday morning before school started, crossing their fingers that the crème puffs and éclairs would hold out until they got to the front row. Just the other day I stopped at the P & R bakery in the Town of Tonawanda. A very old lady was behind the counter as I selected cutout cookies for my grandkids. She was there thirty five years ago when I lived down the street and bought doughnuts for my own kids. Shelburne Farms in Vermont boasts a bakery. Small, with tantalizing aromas. You can watch the bread being made by the workers in white uniforms, then pick out your purchase off of the metal rack. I wanted to open my own bakery; a “Dessertery” with a drive-through window. You could pick up your burger at one place and then drive over to my place to pick up your dessert. I am too old now to do all of that work. I will just get out my coloring book.
Pat Webdale is a freelance writer who lives in Fredonia N.Y. where she raised six children. She is now known to nine grandchildren as MaPatty. Pat has retired after twenty years as a payroll clerk at Brooks Memorial. Pat won a Woman’s Day and American Library Association writing award in 2003. She has had numerous articles published and has appeared as a public speaker on a range of issues.
After her daughter Kendra was killed in 1999, Pat and her family were instrumental in passing an Assisted Outpatient Treatment law in New York State designed to bring treatment to those who suffer from a mental illness. She is a former board member of NAMI New York State. Email: email@example.com.