From the Sky - Part V

The wedding cakes were prepared in a separate section at the rear of the bakery. Only family worked on wedding cakes. Gio did the design and baking. The decorating fell to Grandfather and Zia, the artists in our family. The cakes were delivered early on the day of the wedding, which meant moving it through the bakery in the midst of all the other activity. It was a logistical enterprise that would have awed General Patton. A cake was moved carefully through the bakery by Uncle Gio and Grandfather, with as much help as was necessary. For small cakes, it was just the two of them. For the large or elaborate cakes, as many of the boys as were needed were recruited to help.

Out of the cake room they would came, zigging and zagging while Aunt Rae directed traffic and shouted instructions: "Cake! Cake! Clear a path! Move those racks! Sal, Paulie, to the front doors…keep the customers back! Keep moving, slowly …slowly …No, Carlo…don't open the proofer! It's buttercream, you'll melt the icing! Now turn, Grandfather, turn …watch the mixer! Now turn left …left …no, no, no!!! …your other left, Uncle Gio!"

Through the stacked pallets of flour and sugar they slowly marched, inching carefully past the huge dough mixer and the ovens, maneuvering past the proofer, twisting around the bun making machine, slipping past the bench, and finally to the front of the bakery. My father and Aunt Sal would swing out the front doors. A van was waiting, its rear doors open wide to receive the masterwork. In it would go, with a baker or two riding along to help deliver and prevent catastrophe. Grandfather and Uncle would have stern orders for the driver before he pulled away: Go slow. No bumps. Creep over railroad tracks. Easy and wide on the corners. Finally, after that litany, the van would leave and everyone would go back inside to work. Even as a cake left, Uncle and Grandfather were already at war over the next creation. While they fought over everything, their most intense duels were over the wedding cakes. The nearly-intolerable friction between them led to brilliant results, works of culinary art somehow greater than the sum of their individual genius. Each man was never satisfied with the other's work. They would "fight and fix," my aunts told me. There might be a half-dozen cycles of this before a cake was finally finished and ready for delivery.

The day the mystery woman walked into the bakery for the first time, a few weeks before the summer picnic, Grandfather and Uncle were in the office arguing over a wedding cake, a creation for the daughter of one of their bakers, a gift to the newlywed from my family.

"Don't overwhelm them, Gio," Grandfather said. "Annabelle is marrying a plumber's apprentice, not a surgeon. They are plain people. Very good people, yes, and very hard-working, but plain and unpolished."

"So what do you want, Ernesto? Pipe wrenches around the bottom tier? Maybe a toilet snake in the groom's hand? Or are you just being cheap? This is Alberto's daughter, Ernesto. Alberto!"

"Spend as much as you want! I don't care. I don't! Make it a beautiful cake. But simple, that's all Gio. Simple. Elegant. Besides, there's the other cake to think about. That one must be flawless, and very elaborate, and it's due the same day."

"Papa!"

The men looked to the doorway.

"What is it, Sal?" Grandfather asked.

"There's a woman at the counter."

Both men fixed her with incredulous stares, annoyed at the interruption.

"Well, she wants to talk to you. She's trying to find someone."

"What are we, Sal? Detectives?" Gio replied. "Sell her some rolls or send her to the police station."

"She insists, Papa," Sal shot back, ignoring Uncle. "She says the person she's looking for works here. She says she must speak with you. She won't tell me anything else."

"Carlo," sighed grandfather.

"Carlo," Gio said, rolling his eyes and throwing back his head.

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