Back in my high school days, I was often found hanging with friends and an amazing couple we knew as Mom and Poppa C. This couple loved us, unconditionally; welcomed us into their home as often as we could get there and planned sleep-overs where we would gather, goof off, cook, eat or start food fights together and clean up any mess we made together. We were each odd misfits somehow but loved all the same. They modeled a rowdy version of loving us so we clung to them as rocks in our sometimes stormy lives.
On several occasions. Mom & Poppa C. arranged for different churches to turn over a couple of large rooms and their kitchen to our group. The theme of our meetings was (other than endless sarcasm) mostly to learn cooking as an excuse to simply hang out .
Along with enjoying my friends – what I really took to was Poppa C. teaching me how to make bread.
There was something memorizing, about pulling the ingredients together, kneading and baking and filling the air in the room with the intoxicating odor of yeast gas. Our meals together almost always features fresh bread and much of that I’d made myself.
Our group changed over time. We originals grew older and move on as new kids arrived, but Mr. & Mrs. C. remained a constant source of love and acceptance. Lifelong friendships formed as younger – sometimes shy or troubled kids grew into less shy, more confident healthy young adults who were more ready to start and raise our own families.
Many of us owe much of our adult success to Mom and Poppa C. and the rest of this story is just one example of how their rowdy love for us became their legacy.
I decided, after a couple of years of work without a 4-year college degree, that I wanted one. To do this I quit my job, picked up and moved myself from California to Washington State and moved into the dorms at Northwest University.
I had saved enough money to get started, but not nearly enough to finish my degree, so I needed to work. Near campus was a shopping area and a small stand-alone restaurant. I had stopped by there for lunch one day and was amazed at their food so I wondered; ah – yes! There was a sign — NOW HIRING.
l inquired about the job and discovered that the owner needed a bread baker and I was hired before I left the store. I impressed him with my passion for making bread and as I made my way back to campus, whispered a prayer of thanks for Mr. & Mrs. C. Without all those days “loafing” around with them, I doubt I could have pulled off that interview with such ease.
I was employed to make their signature cracked wheat bread. Easily half of their menu items somehow included this bread.
Each batch of bread produced 20 loaves and I had a system of measuring out all the needed ingredients in advance and then feeding them the giant kneading machine and watching its progress. Somehow, I just fell in love with my daily task involving bread bowls large enough to bathe a small child.
I also made some new friends and one younger guy in particular became close. Josh was still in high school had this burning crush on Tina who also worked there. From my perspective they would be the cutest couple you could imagine — if they could both just get past angsting over whether the other liked them or not.
Ugh – teenagers. . . I’m so glad that I was never that young. . .
So Josh often whined to me about how crazy he was for Tina, and to a lesser degree she would do the same about him.
About three months later, he and I had been over and over his plight so many times that I felt bad for allowing him to suffer for so long. An idea occurred to me that would have made Mom and Poppa C. proud. It was time for a bit of audacious intervention and this is how it played out.
As I began to combine the bread ingredients, I said to him, “You know, Tina is cute and I too find her attractive. I don’t think you like her enough to do anything about it so I’m thinking of making a play for her.”
His eyes froze. I’d been a sympathetic sounding board, but in just a few words, I’d transformed myself into a rival. You could see the color draining from his face.
“Wait – what?” he finally answered not yet sure he understood . As the shock passed, I could see him thinking through how I must be joking. I ignored his distress and turned on the kneading machine. I had his attention but he was not yet where I wanted him. I needed to crank this brain-vise a bit more.
“And, I was thinking I stand a very good chance of getting her. You’ve said you have never really had a girl-friend. I’ve had several and know how to attract and treat a woman. I’m four years older, have had a regular career job in computers. I own my own car and am moderately attractive. I think Tina would enjoy spending some time with a guy who knew a few things about life after high school.
“The more I think about it, the more I’m sure I could get her.”
By this time, a color was coming back into his face, but oddly, it was a dark shade of red, and by now I was having fun, so I likely went too far by continuing.
“I think she’d like a college guy and I’ve dated several girls who were as good of a catch as Tina. With them I learned how to talk to a girl to get her attention and then to treat them right. I’m sure that I could ask Tina to have lunch with me and by the time we finished I’d have her hand in mine and we’d be on our way.”
That was likely over the top because suddenly he looked no longer angry but now realized that he stood no chance against this threat and had lost Tina already to competition he never saw coming.
I continued working with the bread dough in the machine because a good baker makes sure that everything gets kneaded-in correctly. I also think my casual demeanor was making him crazier. I had always been honestly sympathetic but now, I was, thinking out loud about stealing away the girl of his dreams.
I turned off the kneading machine to push some globs of damp flour back into the reach of the kneading hook and asked him, “Do you know if she likes beards?”
And that was about the time he stormed off to the bathroom from where I half expected a scream, but he didn’t. Perhaps he was searching for a weapon — hmm?
But when he exited, he took a path back to his work station that did not have him walking by me. The look on his face betrayed some heavy thinking going on.
I kept my own expression unconcerned, but I wondered if before this was over was I actually going to have to ask Tina out. That would really be over the top and I couldn’t got there.
The kneading machine finished and I had a huge bowl of amazing bread dough that now needed to sit for a while so I attended to other duties to let both the bread dough and Josh’s temper rise.
About the time the bread dough was ready to separate into 20 kneaded loves, Tina arrived for her shift so I conspicuously walked over to say “Hi” and ask her, “Have you ever thought of learning how to bake the bread? I’m not going to be around forever and I thought you might be interested in taking over for me. I’d be glad to teach you.” Tina, really was a nice gal and even though she wasn’t interested in baking bread, she was polite about waving me off – all smiles – and in full view of poor Josh who was riveted to our chat from the other side of the shop.
On my way back to my work station I walked over and innocently asked, “Josh; are you angry at me?” He was not given to anger so he was doing an amazing job of not belting me right there, but was struggling to assemble the words he wanted to say so I invited him back to my station to talk. This gave him time to put his thoughts together and decide how much of my beard he wanted to pull out.
Rather than let him blow up, I took the first turn at talking, “Josh, I can see you’re angry and that’s a good thing.”
You should have seen his face. He was not expecting that. “Look, I apologize for stirring you up like that. It was pretty arrogant of me to claim I could take Tina away from you so easily, but Josh, you needed something to get you in gear. How worried were you that you might lose Tina?”
He was trying to catch up with where the conversation had just veered off to. “I was – I was angry that you would even think of doing such a thing to me. And how exactly is my being angry a ‘good thing’?”
“Because you know as well as I do that you are stuck. So, I wanted to make a point and get you thinking about how miserable you would be if someone came along and snatched Tina’s attention.”
“YES, I would be miserable. That’s my po . . . “
“And that’s good because now you realize that YOU need to make sure it doesn’t happen. You know what you would feel like if some guy did steal her away.
“By the way, I doubt that I could steal her away.” And just like that, there was his confused face again and inside I was beginning to feel guilty about enjoying this so much.
“What? Why?” Because I was only yanking you around Josh and can clearly see that I’d stand no chance with her because she is head over heals interested in you. It’s very cute, but it’s also getting old, and you’re leaving her exposed to all the other guys out there who might be interested and more confident than you. Josh, you’ve kept her waiting long enough. Ask her out today.”
With that I reached up and pulled down the huge bowl of bread dough to begin forming the loaves, only to note that something was wrong. It wasn’t rising and it did not smell right.
Suddenly, I was the one in a panic. There was no time to start over as the bread was needed soon. As I tried to figure out what I did wrong, I noticed a small container on a work shelf that was out of place – Oh noooo. It was the full measure of yeast needed for 20 loaves that I’d forgotten to add — uugh!
Josh realized quickly what was happening and smiled at my distress before walking off to leave me to my problem. In fact, he walked right over to Tina and YES, asked her out.
Figuring I had nothing left to, lose, I abandoned normal procedures and activated the whole batch of yeast with some warm water and everything went back into the kneading machine. Well – it worked and after the flour dust settled and our customers were happily eating their way through all that bread, the store owner and I had a good laugh over it.
When I crawled into bed that night, I was tired but pleased that I was still employed and my kneading of a good friend seemed to have worked. Josh and Tina had a date pending
This is what friends do for friends.