Day 209: Mr. Bill

1 Nov

It seems like it was a million years ago when my Uncle Tommy introduced me to Mr. Bill Lambert.  He was a baker and he owned a shop called “Raymond’s Bakery” in Stapleton, Staten Island.  My Uncle knew that I loved to bake and he was willing to help me out by suggesting to his friend that I might be a good apprentice.  Up until the time I set foot into Bill’s bakery the only baking I had done was in my Mom’s kitchen – and soon I was to find out how small scale that was compared to the production that went on inside that shop.

Soon I learned that real bakers begin their day long before the rest of wake up… and sometimes before others of us go to sleep.  It was a crazy schedule but it was kind of exciting to see the inner workings of a bakery. .. and to smell those smells wafting from the oven in the early hours was too much!  Before I knew it I had gained five pounds just from “tasting” things – the old fashioned donuts, the breads and rolls hot from the oven,  the cookies….  Yum.

Even though all the tasty treats were a delicious part of that experience, I would have to say that the best part was working with Bill and the other bakers – including Bill Jr., an older German man named Karl, and a man  (I think his name was Jimmy) who was really a policeman but who would stop by in the mornings to help out and talk with ‘the guys’.

I remember one day when I was learning to form rolls for the first time.  Bill set two small balls of dough in front of me and told me to roll them both at the same time.  That sounded like rocket science!  But I tried it and when I was done I looked at the bottoms of the dough balls and they looked wrinkly and I thought, “Is this how they’re supposed to look?”  Well, Jimmy took one look at my rolls and made some kind of remark about how I had made a big mistake.  And for a moment I thought – uh oh – here is when Bill tosses me out… and then Jimmy picked up a few rolls on the baking pan to show me that they all looked like that!  Of course I felt like punching him…. but it also felt good to be kidded and one of the guys.

Bill had such an interesting way about him which I think had something to do with the times in which he was raised.  He was a very quiet man and said more with his facial expressions than he ever said with his words.  That was hard for me – a natural born chatty-cathy.  But he didn’t chide me… he just let me figure out a way to find my place in the shop.  I was definitely the chirpy one – especially after a cup or two of coffe – but he didn’t seem to mind.

The only thing I remember Bill complaining about was when I washed out his coffee cup – the one that was really white but looked brown from all the coffee stains on the inside.  One day I just decided to clean it out with baking soda to surprise him… which I guess I did.  Bill teased that I had washed away all the “coffee flavor” – just the same, I never washed his cup again.

When I left the shop to go to the Culinary Institute of America, Bill and his wife gave me a copy of my favorite book at that time (the Sherlock Holmes Complete Collection) and when I was married a few years later, Bill made (and did not charge me for) my wedding cake.  And the very last time I visited him he searched for something to give me despite my protests.  He didn’t realize that he’d given me so much by just letting me spend time with him in that bakeshop all those years ago.

This afternoon, I brought a Dutch Apple pie to Bill’s son in honor of his Dad and brother, and all the love that they showed me without ever mentioning the word at all.

2 Responses to “Day 209: Mr. Bill”

  1. Ginnie Deason November 2, 2011 at 12:02 PM #

    What a wonderful tribute to Mr. Bill!


  2. Zaimanhi November 2, 2011 at 1:19 PM #

    I love this post! It’s amazing how much a person can do for us just by giving us a chance! I’m so glad you were given the opportunity and I’m sure he enjoyed watching you learn!

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