By Macile Dietrick
The bell above the door of the shop announced their arrival; she adroitly maneuvered with the handlebars his wheels, which were contending with the threshold, and steered him into the bakery.
She returned my polite greeting with a weary smile. His eyes flickered around the room from his sunken face. They peered into the glass case, and I observed the ensuing communication—a wordless language of looks and points and nods.
Turning to me, she asked for the chocolate-coconut bonbon. I carefully extracted the dessert from its refrigerated case, exacted her change, and watched her patient hands break apart the chocolate and feed her paralyzed husband.
The bell pealed as they left.
“They’re regulars,” my mom remarked, coming out of the kitchen of our family’s shop carrying a tray of macaroons.
And as vanilla perfume lingers in the air, so the impression of the paraplegic man and the woman devoted to caring for him lingered in my thoughts. That she would trek every week to our bakery just to spend a few dollars on his favorite treat struck me as sad and sweet.
In that brief encounter, I understood the everyday trials of their lives. I understood the reprieve they tasted in that red-wrapped confection.
I understood their story.
Maybe it’s because selling sweets and making coffee seem trivial, or maybe it’s because a bakery by nature indulges one’s base and simple desires, but there is a childlike openness in the people who I interact with at the shop.
Ironically, their anonymity is precisely what makes them unguarded: in just a few unmasked moments, strangers unconsciously reveal their characters, their lives, their stories to the insignificant, but acute, salesgirl.
I have heard tales of heroism from a local policewoman stocking up on cookies before her nightshift, and miracles of medicine from a mother celebrating with a cake the return home of an injured son.
I have chatted with a saxophone player about a mutual interest in jazz, as well as a mutual appreciation for fine chocolate.
I have even seen a nervous young man get on one knee and propose with a red velvet cupcake, and a smitten young lady say yes.
Since my family’s shop opened and I began working behind the counter, I have tasted the surprising authenticity and diversity of my community. My group of peers, of familiar backgrounds and personalities, is only a small portion of Petaluma—and Petaluma an even smaller slice of the world.
Just by sitting behind a counter and exchanging a few words, my life intersects with the lives of people who I otherwise never would have never met. From this unique circumstance, I have realized my fascination with human nature: that which connects us as people, and that which distinguishes us as individuals.
And when I think about my future, nothing excites me more than the prospect of exploring the world’s cultures, ideas, and stories.