Bread In The Night

One of my regular stops here on the East Side is the Country Hearth bread store, where the nearby bakery sells second-day bread and goodies. Second-day? Well, sometimes third day, I suppose, but the bread is fresh enough. And it’s much cheaper than any of the grocery stores in town: I get my whole grain bread for $1.99, and the Texas Gal’s plain white bread runs – depending on sales – about $1.25. That saves us at least three bucks.

The bread store’s been there a long time, right next to the bakery building, which has also been there a long time, at the intersection of Wilson Avenue and East St. Germain. One of the most potent sensory memories I have comes from a moment just south of that intersection: It’s a Monday in autumn, probably around 1965, and the weekly meeting of Boy Scout Troop 112 has just ended at nearby Salem Lutheran.

I pilot my Schwinn bicycle east from the church and reach Wilson Avenue just a block from St. Germain, and the night air is filled with the tangy aroma of yeast and the hearty and somehow comforting smell of baking bread. I pause at the stop sign and draw in a breath, savoring the aroma of the night shift’s work.

As I think of that moment – most likely late September, for the leaves were turning, crackling softly on the trees in the breeze that brought me the bakery’s aromas – I also see the long-gone Dairy Bar just across Wilson Avenue from where I stood. That’s where we sometimes bought Cheerio ice cream bars – chocolate-covered vanilla ice cream on a stick – during the summer. During the school year, however, the Dairy Bar felt like foreign territory, for that’s where the kids from the nearby St. Augustine School – a parochial school – bought their candy.

(I suppose the kids from Lincoln School who lived nearby – north of the state highway that separated Lincoln from St. Augustine – went to the Dairy Bar. Most of Lincoln’s students lived south of Highway 23, and we did our candy shopping at three other locations: the Wilson Avenue Store just south of the highway; Tuey’s Grocery – once Wyvell’s and eventually Norb’s – on Fifth Avenue just half a block from our place on Kilian Boulevard; or the Hilltop Store, about eight blocks further south on Kilian.)

In memory, I turn from the Dairy Bar to the next block on the right, and I’m not certain if the current Church of St. Augustine is there or not. It was built sometime in mid- to late 1960s; until then, St. Augs’ parishioners – including Rick and Rob and their family – went to Mass in a basement church on the far right end of the block across Wilson Avenue from where I stood breathing in the night’s aroma.

And I look in memory to the left of the Dairy Bar, toward the bakery, which still stands today. It’s been expanded over the years and now fills the entire block, including the place where the Dairy Bar – and several homes behind it, I think – once stood. Large red letters on the western wall of the oldest portion of the bakery now proclaim “Country Hearth.” As I stood there in the autumn of what was likely 1965, however, that western wall was painted something like the picture below. (I can’t find the exact graphic, but this one’s pretty close.)

Sunbeam Bread

And if I did indeed glance at the bakery while savoring its aromas on that autumn evening, I likely thought about touring it a few years earlier as a Cub Scout, seeing the huge metal bowls with their robotic mixing arms, the immense ovens turning out ranks upon ranks of loaves, all of them winding their ways down the roller paths to be sliced and then wrapped in heat-sealed cellophane wrappers. (Plastic bags and twist-ties came along a few years later.)

And I also likely thought about the Saturday morning kids’ gathering a couple years earlier at the Paramount Theatre downtown. Several cartoons and a pitch for traffic safety (I think) were interspersed with on-stage appearances by Clarabelle the clown from the Howdy Doody show and Miss Sunbeam, her golden curls shining in the theater lights.

And all of that would have coursed through my mind in just a few moments, of course, with me straddling my Schwinn at the stop sign. After those moments, I would have turned right on Wilson Avenue toward Highway 23, leaving the fragrances of yeast and baking bread behind me and heading for Kilian Boulevard and home.

Here, unrelated except in title, is the slinky “Sometimes Bread” by Mongo Santamaria. It’s from his 1971 album Mongo’s Way.


2 Responses to “Bread In The Night”

  1. Dale Aman Says:

    Although I totally expected to hear something by the group Bread, this is very relaxing. I like you, still enjoy the instrumentals from the 60’s and 70’s. Thanks!

  2. jb Says:

    This is great, vivid stuff. Thank you sir.

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