From the Sky - Part V

Secondi Piatti

Pollo Rosa...

Tarentella Bakery, in its prime, did so much business on a Sunday morning that traffic backed up a block in each direction as people waited for parking spots to open up in the bakery's small lot, or along the curb nearby. A flood of cars jammed the streets whenever a Mass ended at one of Walnutwood's six churches. The biggest tangles in traffic came at ten and noon. Hearty souls who didn't mind the walk would park a few blocks away, or perhaps one street over on Washington, and trudge to the bakery.

They came, a long line of the bakery faithful, single-file shuffling on the faded, cracked sidewalk, making a pilgrimage for fresh-baked Sunday bread. Customers crammed shoulder-to-shoulder, five-deep in front of the counter. The aromas of warm bread, cake and pastry mingled together and surrounding them. Those with more sensitive noses could pick up hints of other fleeting scents in the air: the yeasty booze from dough rising; a delightful mélange of sesame seed and anise and cinnamon; sweet, warm icing layered thickly on trays of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls. Their eyes feasted on a long display case packed with cannolis, cream cakes, nut and poppy seed rolls, and perhaps a score or more of small, elaborate cakes. On the back wall were shelves of fresh bread: seeded and unseeded Italian bread, French bread, twist, rye, and pumpernickel. Other shelves had dozens of onion rolls, hard rolls, fresh hot dog buns all wrapped in paper bags. There might be pizza, too, fresh-baked and boxed, six cuts in each. All of these would sell. Little or nothing would be left over at day's end. Anything that did remain would be ground for bread crumbs and sold at the counter. Only the occasional box or two of leftover pizza would survive the Sunday rush to be sold on Monday.

Tarentella Bakery was open from 5AM to 6PM, so said the thick, black magic-marker letters on a faded piece of cardboard stuck to the door glass with yellowed cellophane tape. These hours were at best guidelines. The doors might open as early as four in the morning during holiday weeks, and closing time was always flexible. "We close when we're done," Grandfather Ernesto would say when asked. He was the sole judge of when that moment had arrived. "Close the lights, Sal," he'd shout from the office, and the day was over. It wasn't unusual to see the lights go off as late as nine in the evening.

The lights would go back on at two in the morning. There was no flexibility there. Uncle Gio or Grandfather would be in the office, reviewing the orders for that day and getting things organized. Soon the crew would arrive for that day's work. There were half-a-dozen of them, strong men who could lift great pieces of dough from the mixing trough and fling them gracefully up to the bench. They were not family, these men, but they were treated as such, which is another way of saying they were expected to work every bit as hard as a Tarentella. They started hours before sunup and worked until Grandfather and Gio decided there had been enough bakes that day. They toiled five days a week, not seven like a Tarentella, but their days were long: ten or twelve hours, and up to sixteen during holiday weeks. As they left for the day, each nodded silently to Grandfather and Gio, shook their hands, and dropped their aprons in a small pile before walking out the side door.

"Paulie! Paulie, the aprons!" Uncle Gio would shout, and my father dashed back to collect them. "Take them upstairs for your aunt! Rae! Rae! Wash the aprons!"

My aunt would leave the counter and follow my father upstairs. She laundered them and took any that needed mending to Zia, who had a natural flair for needlework. Zia would fix the occasional broken tie-string and mend any small rips with a few deftly-sewn stitches. Larger tears or holes were patched. Apron had to be unsalvageable for Grandfather or Gio to consent to replacements. Sal, always the practical one, tried time and again to convince them to hire a laundry service. Grandfather would cut her off by saying: "It's double money. We have a washing machine. Why pay someone else? We're Tarentella's. We can do better."

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