The sweetest surprise in The Baker’s Daughter by Sarah McCoy had nothing to do with the way that Sarah paints a vivid picture with her words, or the the creativity and research required to come up with blending two stories, years apart, and establishing parallels so uniquely it made me weep. It wasn’t even the wonderful recipes for German bakery specialties at the end of the book, and trust me, those were a very delightful surprise.
The sweetest surprise was how her words forced me to reflect on my own relationships with people I come into contact with on a regular basis. Do I really know who these people are, their tragedies and triumphs, and their hopes and dreams? And how well do I really know those people who are closest to me? Am I always talking, or am I listening?
When I was young and visiting my grandparents, the best part of our days was when we ran errands. When you live on a farm in the country, errands are grouped together and can take hours before you’re finished and ready to return home. On a typical errand day, we would take the topless World War II Army Jeep and the dog and set out on our adventure for the day. Our stops would include the local winery, the egg ranch, the mushroom farm, Rube’s Country Market, the post office, the Calavo fruit packing warehouse and maybe a twirl through Spook’s Canyon to drive through the Harmony Grove Spiritualist Camp.
We never just stopped, bought what we needed and then headed to the next place on our list. Each stop was a visit with a good friends. At the winery, my grandfather would talk to the Ferrara’s about their children, the in-laws, and the wonderful aroma of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove in the kitchen behind the tasting room. He chatted with the man at the egg ranch and discussed where his kids were going to school, his mother-in-law’s gout, and where the family was going on vacation.
My grandfather’s kindness and curiosity extended to people with whom he came into contact only fleetingly. When he was at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego for heart bypass surgery, my grandfather, a retired colonel, should have had a private room on an upper floor in which to recuperate. Because those rooms were blocked for Neil Armstrong and his Apollo buddies, astronauts who had recently splashed down in the Pacific, he was housed with the rank and file in a large ward. My grandfather befriended the young soldier in the bed next to his; he was wounded in Vietnam and sent home for surgery and recovery. By the time my grandfather was released, they were on a first name basis and the young man was given honorary grandson status.
It never occurred to my grandfather not to know as much as he could about each person he encountered, and he proudly considered each of them his friend. I’m willing to bet you money that most of them were on my grandparents’ Christmas card list and had even been out to the house for dinner.
While I’ve always tried to practice this in my own life, sometimes our busy lives have us rushing around without enough time to look beyond the surface at the people and situations we encounter. Reading The Baker’s Daughter reminded me of the importance of getting to know the people I interact with, not just on a superficial level, but on a deeper level, because I care. Whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook, or with people in my community, my life is richer for knowing them.
I’m off to find my own baker’s daughter.