I go over to my grandmother’s house now and her legs are wrapped in gauze. She puts her arms around me to greet me and she still says, “Oh, Robert, it’s so good to see you.” Her words are still warm and passionate, but her arms sag after the embrace. When we sit down, she rests her elbows on the table, and I can see the outline of her bone, wrapped by a thin veil of wrinkled skin. She takes a few breaths before continuing. She still talks about British murder mysteries, articles in the Christian Science Monitor, that interesting piece she heard on NPR. She sees me look at the corner of a large bandage taped to her leg. “The doctor cut out the worst of it out last Monday,” she says.
I remember far away, on vacation in Maine, a river half a mile wide. “We’ll swim across,” I said then, and she responded, “I don’t know if I can do it, Robert.” “Of course you can. ‘You can do whatever you put your mind to,’ is what you’ve always said to me.” The current ran strong that day, but I was thirteen then, and a thing like that current is stronger when you are a kid. I didn’t think I could do much in life, but I knew then that we could swim it together. I swam out first, plunging my head down into the water. I fought the current the whole way, stopping at the other side to look back. She was swimming, her arms rising up and down as a steady white froth of water pulsed from behind her kicking feet. We stopped for a breath at that other side, holding onto the river’s grassy edge so the current wouldn’t take us, breathing and looking back at the shore where we’d been and where we’d be going.
I sat down to talk with my mom about her job.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation.
Rob: I’m here today at 2 Fine Caterers with Jamie Spadafore. She is one of the owners of the family run business, and she’s been baking for over 20 years. She’s also my mother. Jamie, thanks for joining me today.
Jamie: Good to be here. Glad you came to visit me.
Rob: We just had you make a wonderful cake for us. How did you get started baking?
Jamie: My parents opened the Back Porch Restaurant in 1975, so it was quite a while ago. I used to bake the cheesecakes at home; I was only in 7th grade. When I was old enough, I started baking in the restaurant. Then we opened the 2nd restaurant. We actually had a little bakery in there. The bakery got to be quite busy so we extended and bought this building, which we now bake out of and cater out of. So we have both [services] in [this building]. We’ve been up here for about 8 years.
Rob: You run the bakery end of the operation.
Rob: How many employees to do have?
Jamie: There are 6 of us up here. We’re a really small operation. But we like it that way so we can do everything fresh to order.
Rob: You supply cakes and different desserts to both the Speers Street Grill and the Back Porch. You also do cakes to order.
Jamie: We also have another restaurant in Uniontown that we provide desserts to.
Rob: What else do you make?
Jamie: We make cheesecakes, pies, biscotti, and brownie trays, cookies. Lots of different things.
Rob: People always tell me that they love your toasted almond tortes; it’s my favorite, too. What do you think you’re known for?
Jamie: We do mostly what we call our celebration cakes. Those are cakes that people choose their cake, their filling, and their icing. We do a lot of writing on the cakes for birthdays or whatever celebration they’re having. We sell more of those than anything up here. For the restaurants, we sell the almond tortes and different pies and cheesecakes.
Rob: Biscotti are a different type of dessert.
Jamie: We have about 6 different kinds of biscotti. I just keep making up other flavors here and there.
Rob: How do you make them?
Jamie: It’s kind of like a regular kind of cookie, but these are twice baked. So you make like a log and slice them down, bake them, turn them over, and re-bake them until they’re nice and crispy and crunchy.
Rob: What’s your favorite part of your job?
Jamie: We have a lot of people that are regulars. We have people that are coming and getting a cake every week. I kind of like that part because you get to know the people that come in here, and that makes it fun.
Rob: What does your typical day consist of?
Jamie: We do a lot, so that depends on the day. Since we do a lot of custom cakes, on Friday, I do a lot of prepping for Saturday’s cakes. We also do hand drawn pictures on cakes. Those have to be prepped up ahead of time before I put them on the cakes.
Rob: You also write on the cakes. Is that a hard skill to learn?
Jamie: It’s true. I do it now and I don’t think anything of it. But it is a little tricky to learn. It took me a little bit. When I first did it, I would print, and it was sideways and crooked. But I was only in 8th grade. It is tricky to catch on.
Rob: Thank you so much for letting me come here and crash the business for a little bit.
Jamie: It was fun.
Inge willingly let me film this. Here is the result.
I needed some caffeine, but I wanted to do it the hardest way possible. Here are the results.
Overall, the project was much more work than anticipated. Filtering took forever, and I clearly lacked the proper tools. I probably should’ve used coarsely ground beans. The flavor was weak, and I wonder if it might take more coffee grinds using this method.
It was nice to have some cold coffee ready to go, but for next time, I’ll stick with the drip and just cool it ahead of time.
He pressed a knob, and the motor clicked and whirred. At the flip of a switch, lights about the miniature village started to glow. “It’s kept me busy in retirement,” he said. He pushed a lever, and the model train began to pull its trolleys around the circular track. It glided past the toy village and up a hill. It disappeared into the paint-spackled tunnel, its headlight guiding the train to the other end.
The boy ran wide-eyed circles around the track, following the clicking train. He trailed it as it rounded the plastic farm and started the loop again. He reached out to join the machine in its joyous cycle, but the model was derailed. “For God’s sake,” the grandfather said as the motor whirred motionless on its side. The boy cried and ran up the stairs, leaving his grandfather to fix his model.
Putting the things I’ve learned to the test.