The Way The Cookie Crumbles
By Heater Case
I always tell myself that nobody will know when I hit the lottery. The only difference will be traveling first class and all my current expenses will be taken care of forever. I also have a list in my head of four or five handfuls of special friends, families, inspiring acquaintances, and several hospitals that work with children and animals. I will make sure they are all very well cared for. The more chances to be anonymous the better. Having your name on a building might be cool for five minutes, but then everybody will know where the moola is coming from.
A little over a month ago, somebody shared a Facebook post about a little bakery up in New Hampshire somewhere. The post mentioned that it was a longtime husband and wife operation and a local favorite. Without going into details, it also mentioned that the wife was now ill and that the husband had been keeping what they have afloat.
So, a nice little Sunday road trip was underway. No rush. Nice weather. We got there when we got there.
I was expecting a little old shop or maybe a 'shoppe' on a quaint little street in the quaint little part of town. I was surprised to see that it was in a small strip mall in the industrial park side of town.
Despite wearing a mask, I temporarily forgot the year we were living in and I was stopped short by the sign on one of two doors.
ENTRANCE ONLY-PLEASE ONLY TWO PEOPLE INSIDE AT A TIME
Yep. Nice day. Nice drive. But we had not left reality.
I poked my head inside and there was a guy already in there, so I took recon while Rosemary waited for the guy to come out of the far door.
I started looking around and, as Rosemary shortly joined me, we took stock of something unexpected. The half dozen large and fully stocked display cases depicted online as brimming with beautifully decorated cakes and mounds of heavenly pastries were now barely a fifth full. The racks lining the wall behind the counter had nothing at all.
An older man, the one we heard about I presumed, had concluded business with the previous customer. All the while he was talking on the phone cradled between his neck and shoulder. He wasn't in any rush to come over and wait on us, so we just looked into the glass cases and tried to select from the remnants at hand.
A couple of turnovers. A rectangular brick shaped sugar sprinkled bran muffin. A half dozen cookies and a few tarts. That was about all we could select from the mere handfuls of baked goods looking lost upon oceans of empty shelves.
It was when scanning up and down the cases that I noticed a frail elderly woman. She was bundled up and sitting at a small table and chair just beyond the far door. The few times we locked gazes I just gave a little nod and perhaps a little wave of my hand. Sometimes she returned the smile.
Rosemary and I walked over to the cashier section to hopefully signal to the old man, still talking on the phone, that we were ready to tell him what we wanted.
The old man finally acknowledged us and the dance that transpired was a four-way clipped and hurried conversation between Rosemary, myself, and the baker while the baker still never stopped talking to whoever was on the phone. Maybe you can call that a five-way conversation.
At one point a young lady had come from the back room with a tray of cookies that sorrowfully looked like a drop in the bucket in contrast to this ghost town under glass. I was starting to feel like we were more like a bother to this guy who had to divert a portion of his attention away from his phone call.
The old lady by the far door still just looked around with a smile on her face, sometimes direct at me, sometimes directed at nothing in particular.
And that's when it hit me. The posting about his bakery that was being shown around by how many unknown people. The old lady, of course, was his wife. If I was correct, her smile suddenly made sense.
A lifetime together and now the man was slowly losing her to dementia. He kept her in his sight to ensure her safety. The newfound internet fame must be almost more than he could handle, but he was doing what he could to stay on top of it. To keep the shop going. To provide for his wife who now was no longer hustling and bustling at his side, as she had probably done all those many years.
I imagine the phone never stopped ringing. Orders for cakes and pies to be picked up. Loaves of fresh bread and muffins galore. I don't know how he could keep up with the demand. Maybe staying busy kept him going.
Somehow he got our requests from the cases and into a box. When he rang up the total, it was far less than I expected it to be. I didn’t know what a couple of turnovers, a rectangular brick shaped sugar sprinkled bran muffin, a half dozen cookies, and a few tarts were going for these days. There were no prices in the showcases, but it all came to barely a third of what I had ready in my hand to fork over.
For a moment I wanted to tell him to keep the change but I immediately felt like that he either would be insulted or it would be one more step for him to process in this harried exchange. I just wanted to let him tend to his phone orders.
There were several commercial coffee carafes at the far end of the shop. They were all bone dry, probably since the one first time they were filled before the shop opened. That’s okay, we’d catch a drive-thru after we got back in the car.
We went for the far door, the designated exit. I gave the old lady a smile, a nod, and a tip of my hat. I don't know how much that registered with her but I wanted to be, for the record, a gentleman.
When we got outside we saw that a line had formed, a good eight or nine people. Good timing. I guess we just missed the 'GETTING OUT OF CHURCH AND PICKING UP SOMETHING FOR SUNDAY DINNER’ crowd.
Well, I hope they were picking up orders already made earlier that day, or else their Sunday dinner dessert would be slim pickings. I think they were actually miffed at us for taking as long as we did. Well, we would have been in and out of there in less than five minutes without the extending circumstances.
I just wanted to get out of there and process everything.
I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t want to give out the name and location of this bakery. I don’t think a hundred, maybe a thousand, well-meaning people popping in to buy stuff would actually help right now. I don’t want to add to this man’s already overloaded job.
I’m hoping somebody reading this knows the place I’m talking about. I’m hoping that somebody can contribute, other than charitable patronage, something up a few notches up on the giving scale. Maybe somebody can answer the phone for him. Maybe there’s a retired (or out of work!) baker that can pick up a lot of the slack.
Or maybe somebody up there has the kind of ‘out of the box thinking’ that can easily flip the switch on this situation and help him make it, for the time being, a place for only preordered pickups.
And, last but not least, there are those secret millionaires who are waiting for me to join the ranks. I’m sure millionaires, secret or other, can find these folks from what little description I’ve given.
Buying everything he’s ever going to make from now on cuts the rest of the world out of helping and, even worse, eating wonderful cookies and cakes. How about footing the bill for the aforementioned phone answerer and extra baking help, along with the overhead and home expenses. Give this man and his bride of many years time to breathe. Time to rest. Time to be alone together and together alone until he feels like coming back.