I had just put a new battery in my car (in the Sonoran Desert, batteries only last about two years) when it started not starting. What could it be? First, the “emissions” light came on, then, it wouldn’t start until about the third or fourth time I tried. Brand new battery! I’m not a mechanic, by any means, but, this could not be happening, I surmised, as I had a Brand New Battery! Unless…it was…the starter! This possibility had floated through my mind whist sitting in a parking lot after having met the incoming president of an organization I work for (I do fun things for them like make a website for them on WordPress! And before you say anything about that, the websites I make for groups are much better than my blog, here. I like a nice plain blog. But I can customize a WordPress theme with the best of them; unique header and all!) and turning the key in the starter.
NO sound came from the car; not a click—nothing. Turned the key the other way, and the radio worked fine. So it wasn’t the battery. As I looked across the street, whilst getting up the nerve to telephone the auto assistance club, I noticed an independent repair shop. About three doors down from that; a car rental agency. Oh, good. I’d be able to get home.
Um…by now, you might be wondering why I titled this post “The Bakery”. As I gazed at the auto repair shop, I realized I hardly ever go to small, independently owned shops of any kind anymore. There are not many where I live; I was sitting in a commercial area with a lot of different kinds of shops. Nearer home, in a newer area, there are mostly chain stores. I usually take my car to the local brake repair chain, as they do all sorts of other work as well.
If it came to it, I could walk across the street to the little auto shop. Of course, I knew nothing about them. They might be impeccable business people, or…not. I felt a tremendous wave of goodwill towards them, though. They were small. They were independent. They must be nice.
I grew up in a residential/small business area in San Francisco. In fact, my parents ran one of the small businesses, across the street and down the block from our house. On the corner, without having to cross any streets (which I wasn’t allowed to do until I was 7) sat “The Bakery”. It actually was called “Wharton Bros. Pastry Shop”, but everyone in the ‘hood referred to it simply as “The Bakery.” My family bought all their bread there. They did not buy supermarket bread like most of my friends’ families. When we had need of a cake (my mother always made her own pies) it cam from The Bakery. From the age of six, or so, I would volunteer to make the necessary purchases. I did this for the most selfless of reasons; my only motive being to help my family…well, OK, not quite.
Whenever I walked into The Bakery, Florence or Janet or Betty (they worked there for years!) would exclaim: “It’s little Muse!* How are you today, Muse?”
“Fine, thank you, Florence. May I have one loaf of white; one loaf of wheat, sliced, and four Bear Claws, please?” (I was a polite little kid.)
“Here you are Muse, and there’s your cookie!” —Aha, you see the deeper motives of my altruism. They always gave me a cookie, and they knew my favorite kinds. Super-Duper Supermarket, where I often shop these days, doesn’t give me a cookie. Their “Bakery” department’s offerings don’t taste as good as those from “The Bakery”. Even the natural foods store I shop at, while wonderful, is part of a chain. No one knows me. No one says: “Here comes little Muse!*” (Well, it would be weird if they did that, at this point.)
When I lived at the top of my state, in the mountains of northern Arizona, I did get to know the folks at the natural foods store. Joan would address me by name, and give me samples to try. It was a little like “The Bakery.”
When I was very young, before I knew how to talk, but did know how to walk, my favorite outfit, apparently, was a diaper and a pair of my father’s socks. I don’t know why I liked my father’s socks, and I can’t imagine how they stayed on my feet. Perhaps they made me feel closer to him. What my parents didn’t know, on this one particular day, is that, not only had I figured out how to get down the stairs to the front door all by myself, I could also OPEN the door, when it was left off the latch, as it often was in those days.
On this day, my mother must have been distracted by something, because there I was, out on the avenue in my father’s socks and not much else, headed for the only place I knew nearby: The Bakery. Even then, they knew who I was there. Even then, I knew this was the place for cookies! Fortunately I was quite single-minded, and had no destination in mind that involved crossing the street. My mother was startled to receive a phone call. Florence was on the line: “We have your little Muse here!” Mother, embarrassed, hadn’t had time yet to notice I was gone! I must have moved pretty quickly down the block.
It didn’t take long for mother to come fetch me. Long enough, though, that I had time for a cookie! Needless to say, our front door was not left off the latch anymore after this, and it would be several years before I learned how to unlock it myself.
I often think of the fate of a similar toddler to what I was, in my current neighborhood. No bakery; nowhere to go…cars! I never gave it a thought at the time, but I knew I was safe, and warm, and cared for with Florence and Janet and Betty. Years later, as I was getting ready to leave the neighborhood and home, the management tried putting in a little coffee bar and some tables and chairs. It became crowded; catered to a different clientele. Florence retired. Betty moved away. Janet didn’t seem quite so happy. Eddie Wharton, the owner, had died and left the business to his son. I think it did well for a few years. What was a neighborhood mainstay I’m sure gave way to larger markets with more efficient methods. I sit here, 1000 miles away, and realize I don’t know what occupies the property now. I don’t know who lives in my childhood home. I haven’t been back there since my mother passed on; she hadn’t lived there either for several years.
As I was writing this story, it occurred to me that I could use “Google Maps-street view” to peer at the corner of the street where I lived. So, just now, I saved the draft of this post, and opened a tab to peek. I didn’t remember the address of The Bakery, so I typed in my old home address. The house looked exactly as I remembered it. I scrolled down the block, and noticed a point on the map marked “Tony’s Automotive”. Interesting, as staring at a small automotive shop is what started all my small-business type reflecting. But I scrolled a little further, and realized Tony’s is around the corner, next to Torri’s Mexican Restaurant (still there!) On the site where the old Wharton Bros. (it was always spelled “Bros.”, not “Brothers”–saved signage, I guess) was…a sign that said…(in old-fashioned red lettering) “The ORIGINAL Wharton Bros. Pastry Shop”! It had re-emerged!
I couldn’t resist. I scrolled around the corner to where my parents’ business had been. It is now a…supermarket. The kind that has a “Bakery” department. I wonder if any little muses stroll into that market, or if they prefer the “original” shop across the street. Does someone give them cookies?
* You do know that’s not my actual name, right? Other names have been changed to protect the guilty. 🙂
Update: Tuesday, May 25, 2010: OK, this has me a little shaken. I wrote the above post over the weekend; planned to post it on Monday. On Sunday evening I received an email from a childhood friend that emails me perhaps twice a year. I’ve known her my entire life. Imagine my surprise when I saw the subject line: “Wharton’s Bakery”! (I’m not making this up; honest!) I’d hardly thought about the Bakery for years before writing the post; had not been to my old neighborhood for even more years. I remembered that Google Street View is months out of date, by design, in order to protect privacy. This is the email, in part:
Leslie and I were in the city a couple of weeks ago and walked down Border Street. Wharton”s Bakery changed hands about 18 months ago. It is now called Heavenly Cakes. They no longer blow their wonderful bread baking aroma all over Spring Avenue, but their desserts were scrumptious.