It was cold last Thursday; the fingers poking out of my jacket sleeves were numb. The sun was shining aggressively over the top of the row of buildings in front of me, burning my eyes. I walked slowly, a slight limp favoring my right leg. The air felt crisp; the grass lining the sidewalk was strikingly green. There was a knot in the pit of my stomach, butterflies fluttering up into my throat. I reached the long colorful strip of buildings snaking along the curve of the street, their brick bases blending in with the monotone shade of fallen leaves strewn onto the ground nearby. I opened the creaking wooden door on the corner and was immediately hit with a burst of light warmth. There were a handful of people milling about the room, peering enthusiastically into the glass cases filled with breads and pastries. Coffee cups steamed. The cheerfully brunette woman behind the cash register laughed raucously and greeted a man in a bright red sweater, clinking change and rustling paper bags simultaneously. I stepped carefully past the counter, through the arched doorway, and into the back room. I glanced around, taking in the stacks of ovens, racks of colorful cookies, stacks of earthy brown bread and cascade of metal mixers. I was looking for my new boss, the Baker.
I felt new, strange and uncertain of myself. I couldn’t understand my overwhelming feelings of hesitation. But walking into that light and airy room I was entering a new job, a new set of responsibilities. It is a concrete jump to take my life back into my own hands – to recover, accept and move on from what has happened to me this fall.
I plastered a smile on my face when the Baker came stomping up the stairs, a well-worn Red Sox hat balanced on his head. His shoulders slightly hunched, thick gray hair on his even skull and a pristine apron tied snugly over his slight stomach paunch. His eyes, creased with smile lines, are traced with sadness. He grinned, radiating kindness. We shook hands and chatted jovially as I outfitted myself in a white starched apron. The sunlight streamed into the large kitchen, a luxurious room inhabited only by the Baker and I. A small black radio was perched on a dusty shelf, spouting classical music into the air. The knot in my stomach gradually dissolved. It dissolved into the crates of apples I peeled and chopped, rhythmic and comforting in their simplicity. I buried myself happily in mounds of pie dough, gobs of flour and the delicate assemblage of thanksgiving pies.
I arrived home later that first day with aching hands and sore legs after hours on my feet. It was a familiar feeling, reminiscent of my last restaurant experience as a dishwasher and prep chef in a bistro this summer. I again lost myself in the slightly mind-numbing tasks of repetitive cleaning and chopping. I found myself dusting off the smattering of stale Spanish I had learned to have halting conversations with N, the dishwasher. I, however, washed not even a single dish. I felt strange at first asking the Baker the bevy of technical food questions that came to mind, but soon relaxed under his obvious desire to help with detailed answers. And I smiled to myself as I worked, awash with the melodies of Bach and Mozart, the whir of the mixer and the clank of the ovens.
I certainly didn’t expect to find myself making a plethora of pies, a deluge of pumpkin breads and a flood of almond macaroons that cold November morning. I still have to shake myself every so often, realizing with a sudden jolt that I am OK, that the worst is over. I am constantly surprised these days to be back in the work force, to be in a place I respect and enjoy, to be regaining my life. It is a wonderful feeling, worth a thousand apple pies.