There is a fantastic bakery in town that’s just a five-minute walk from my house. As you approach it, and when you are anywhere in the vicinity of it, you are (delightedly) assaulted by the aroma of the wondrous baked goods within (in fact, this aroma persists somehow, almost teasingly, even on days when they are closed). This bakery has the audacity to close almost entirely for the month of January, leaving me heartbroken every time I think, Ooh, I should pick up a loaf of…oh. But it’s open now, in February, which is a total relief. Usually the reopening is, for me, an indication that the worst part of winter is over, except that this January was actually a breeze here in perplexingly warm upstate New York.
There was one particular winter, however, that the closing of this bakery in January was crucially significant and would have unknowingly lasting effects on my life.
In the fall of 2004, my ex-husband was working as a bread baker on a biodynamic farm not far from where we lived. He worked from 4am to noon, which was great in many ways, but it also meant that he had to wake up at 3:30am five days a week. As he would be the first to tell you, this is never something you get used to. No human being on earth likes to be awake at that hour. Luckily it was just a short drive to work (no coffee until he arrived!) but it was a dark and winding one, and when it snowed, often the only tracks in the road would be from the snow plow directly in front of him. During this same fall, our younger daughter turned a year old, and not long after that the owner of the bakery in question came to my ex-husband’s bakery, and after repeated conversations lured him to switch over to his. My ex-husband had no experience baking pastries, but that’s what he was expected to do, and he was told there would be a new kitchen that he would have all to himself to learn and perfect the art.
But first, my ex found himself working in the small kitchen of the bakery in question, which still looks very much the same as it did all those years ago. So small was this kitchen that sometimes because there was literally no room, what with all the bread baking going on in there, my ex would, as many people do, bring his work home, but in his case, this meant, for instance, stirring up huge pots of chocolate ganache on our regular kitchen stove. Which, as I repeatedly wandered through with a terrible cold, made me briefly wonder about health code violations. But it was the only way those cupcakes were getting made.
Then January arrived and the bakery closed and just like that, he was off for an entire month. This proved to be a greater joy than we could have even imagined. My younger daughter was, by this time, fifteen months old, but she was still waking up in the night, and it was such a relief to have my ex take over what had been, by necessity, my job. Now I was finally getting some sleep and he was no longer stressing out over his imperfect lemon cakes. It was a wonderful month. And then he grudgingly returned to work. But just two short weeks later (I believe it really was on Valentine’s Day) he was let go.
Apparently, my ex wasn’t quite getting the hang of making pastries (he had been assured his inexperience would be no problem) but also, and this was more important, some local pastry chef was suddenly out of a job and made himself available to the owner of the bakery, who, no fool, took him up on the offer. And that was that. But here’s where a crucial decision was made: because it had been so wonderful having him home and because there was my pretty good income and our income from the rental properties we owned, we decided that maybe he could stay home more. Maybe a part-time job, but certainly not full-time, and nothing like that bakery again. And so it came to pass.
And, slowly but surely, this would lead to the eventual financial breakdown of my marriage. There was so much more to it, of course, and things went just fine for a few years until they didn’t, but this was certainly something that set a whole bunch of other things in motion.
After he was let go, my ex refused to buy any bread and pastries from that bakery, and though it was understandable, it was still heartbreaking, as the bakery really made some of the best bread and pastries I had ever had. But that was many years ago, and, of course, our marriage is now over. So that just the other day, back from a long walk with my younger daughter, we stopped into the bakery to buy a loaf of jalapeno cheddar bread and a cheese danish, which we shared on the rest of the walk home. It was delicious.