When I was growing up, my Dad worked at the Karmelkorn Bakery, in Sault, Michigan. I loved it when I was able to visit him there. As soon as I walked in the back door my stomach would rumble. The wonderful smell of cookies, cakes, pastries, and bread baking were overwhelmingly intoxicating. I marveled at the big stand mixers with those huge bowls. My Dad, who was 6’2”, lifted those bowls of batter and dough, as if they weighed nothing. I would watch him rolling the dough into whatever was being made at the time. I marveled at his pastry making skill, with thinly rolled out dough sprinkled on top with butter, only to have that process done many times over. When it was all done the layers of pastry would be so flaky and fragile looking, that it would melt in your mouth, when taking a bite.
I remember walking past the big ovens where the bread was baking. It was warm back there and uncomfortably so. I’m sure it felt good in our U.P. winters, but I don’t know how my Dad stood it in the summertime. After visiting with my Dad, I would go up front and pick out a pastry, and it was hard to choose. My favorite was the creme horn that consisted of pastry shaped in the form of a horn and filled with white cream while the outside was sprinkled with powdered sugar, but I also loved the chocolate covered eclairs filled with custard that oozed out of the sides whenever I took a bite.
More often than not it was hard to decide what to get. The chocolate and powdered cake donuts looked yummy, but then so did the long johns. But one of my favorite things was the date-filled coffee cake. Sometimes on Saturday morning, when my Dad walked home from work, he would be carrying one of those coffee cakes he had made. It was a long and narrow cake, and my Dad would cut us each a slice. That, with the smell of coffee, was enough to put my senses into overload. I would sit at the kitchen table and listen to my mom and Dad talk about what was going on at the bakery and who stopped in that morning. In the winter time, I would wrap my hands around a mug of hot chocolate to keep them warm, just until it was time to take another bite of that delicious coffee cake.
I remember my sixth birthday, I had a birthday party at home with the kids in my class, from Garfield School. The games and prizes that my mom provided were definitely a hit, but when the sandwiches came out on different colored bread – that was pretty special to all of us kids. My Dad did that with food coloring and it was beautiful. The kids loved it because it looked like all the primary colors of a Crayola box, filled with crayons, just waiting to be touched.
Later, when my mom brought out the chocolate cake with white icing that my Dad had made, there was lots of excitement. One of the ladies at the bakery had decorated it with pink flowers. Pink was my favorite color at the time. I blew out the candles with my school friends looking on, wistfully waiting for a slice of cake.
The kids at school loved it when it was my mom’s turn to be a room mother and provide snacks for the class. She would arrange it with my Dad to get something from the bakery. I can still remember her walking in with a big white bakery box tied with string, filled with all kinds of donuts, cookies, or cupcakes, and all the excitement of the kids having a hard time making up their minds of what to choose because it all looked so good.
Around the time of my ninth or tenth birthday, my Dad asked me what kind of cake I wanted. I’m not sure when it exactly happened, but I had fallen in love with my Dad’s pecan pie. I told my Dad, I wanted a pecan pie instead of a birthday cake, and that’s what I got. I can still remember that first birthday pecan pie with candles in the center, as if it were yesterday.
Being a baker, at the Karmelkorn Bakery, was my Dad’s profession. He loved it and I loved visiting him there. I miss the Karmelkorn Bakery not being here anymore. I miss those heavenly smells of freshly made baked goods. And most of all, I miss my Dad who went to his heavenly home, thirteen years ago. But the thing I have come to realize is that his life lives on in my memories of that bakery. So now when I drive by the place on Ashmun, that used to be the bakery, I smile and think of all those happy times there. And once in a while, I like to think that if I would drive around back through the alley, that I could still walk in that back door, and the bakery, along with my Dad, would still be there.