Ah, memories. I spent a little time over on Sam Henry’s blog and she wrote something about her mail carrier which sparked a trip down my own memory lane.
When I was a boy, I grew up in a small town, far from major metropolitan centers and urban sprawl, and from what most would think of as rural areas too. It wasn’t the country, and it wasn’t really the suburbs – not as people know them closer to those metro areas, anyway. It was a bedroom community, and little homes dotted the town nestled beside its retail outlets and main drags of strip malls and gas stations.
Down on the waterfront, 4th Street ran east-west along a curving patch of land yawning down to the river. In those old brick-and-mortar buildings, businesses as old as the town and roads themselves huddled and did their private industry thing in the shadow of hulking factories for places like US Steel and Johns-Manville. Beyond the factories lay the black waters of the delta, where the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers spat into each other’s mouths and swapped fluids of brackish-brown seep down to the Bay.
Along that tiny, pot-holed drive of 4th Street squatted a three-story building with a sign over the main door that read Cardinale’s Bakery. And from this tiny, unassuming facade wafted the most wonderful smells of my childhood.
Bread. French bread, baked fresh. Sourdough – my favorite, and a flavor which is impossible to duplicate because the started molds only thrive in San Francisco’s climates and brick ovens and is shipped to Cardinale’s – still makes me stop in my tracks. They had it all – sour, sweet, hard, soft, dense, light, baguettes and sandwich and dinner rolls. Mouth-watering, warm, steamy and fresh each and every day.
And each and every day, some of that bread would be loaded into a metal rack on large baking sheets along with the fresh pastries, danishes, doughnuts, and coffee cakes. The driver would wind slowly up and down the suburban streets, with the bakery logo emblazoned on the side of the van, and homemakers and children not yet in school would come out to meet him. Bread could be bought and I always had my soft, warm powdered sugar doughnut as a treat.
He was the Bread Man, and just like the milk man, he came on a regular basis and we purchased his wares. And there is no comparison to store-bought bread, neither chain-restaurant doughnuts, nor coffee-house or grocery store pastries and baked goods. Cardinale’s has no equal anywhere, in my experience, and of the many wonderful foods I grew up with – and there are so many! – it is perhaps Cardinale’s fresh, warm, steamy, crusty French bread I miss the most.
What childhood memories do you pine for in your quiet times? How many are tied to food? Or is that just the machination of a fat man?
Sound off, y’all. I want to hear from you.