BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
“And what does your father do?”
“He’s a bread truck driver.”
“Where does he work?”
“Deppe-Vienna Baking Company.” [It used to be known as the Vienna Model Baking Company, then Deppe-Vienna Baking Company, 1015 Willow Street, Chicago.]
“Got any ‘bread’?” [dough? money? the eating kind?]
Our family never lacked for bread: white, rye, French–and even had enough “sweet rolls” and dinner rolls.
My dad worked “forever” for a bakery that primarily serviced restaurants, steak houses, hotels, diners, and food canteens. He’d bid for routes, sometimes traveling within downtown Chicago, the Near North Side, or to oil refineries or cement plants past the South Side.
When I was in grammar school, I used to help him plan his routes and orders, even making out charge slips. When I was older (14-16, or so), I used to go to work with him, during summers or on non-school days.
I would ride with him in our ’52 Chevy, at one or two in the morning, to the bakery and garage, from the South Side to North Avenue and Clybourn. Since I was not allowed into the loading area, or near the trucks loading inside (labor laws), I would have my pillow and sleep in the back of the Chevy.
Sometime around 4 or 5 a.m., I would hear the knocking on the car window. Next to the car, with its engine running, was the shadow of the dark-green truck, with my dad telling me to get going. I’d grab my jacket and climb inside while he’d get settled behind the steering wheel.
“Get ‘em up!” he’d shout. “Let’s go!”
I’d quickly move into the truck, jumping up the step, away from the open sliding door, and find a spot on the floor behind him (couldn’t be seen), smelling the fumes of gasoline and oil. But as noticeable as the fumes were, the deliciousness of smells from chocolate-covered donuts or cherry Danish would push away the noxiousnesses. Oh, the smell of freshly baked “goods” (“Bakery goods”). [Memories of this special spot returned dramatically to me while I positioned myself on the floor of a B-17, behind the pilots, a ride I took in 2001; I was then in position for takeoff.]
And “take off” we did, my dad and I, pulling away from the neighborhood of the trucks beginning their routes.
The interior of the truck had an aisle wide enough for an adult person to walk to the rear-entry door, which on some trucks slid up into the roof, while on others opened outward. Facing the aisle on either side were shelves and racks, holding trays of baked breads, fried donuts (French, my favorite), cakes, cake donuts, and other goodies like éclairs and special- order dinner rolls.
A pile of white unfolded delivery boxes near the front of the truck needed to be assembled. So here I became the under-age bakery-truck-driver helper. (My dad called me his needed “help,” often disappointed when I could not go with him.)
Traveling to each stop, whether in South Chicago or Gary, Indiana, I would assemble a box (or boxes) and “put up” the orders. I followed the route book of cards held together with two large rings. A dozen this, two dozen that; ten loaves of rye; a dozen extra-large white (sliced square bread, pound and a half loaves or two-pound loaves), wrapped in waxy white paper.
The usual first stop was at 6 a.m. Sometimes my dad had a set of keys to enter a diner or neighborhood restaurant. I’d hop off the truck, knowing the correct key, and open the door. He’d be behind me, with boxes in arms, or loaves in hand.
Put the order on the counter–or change an order. Lock the door. Lights out? “Get ‘em up! Let’s go!” And off we’d go. Next stop. The routine. I’d turn over a route card–or may even have had the next order “prepped.”
And so it went…
I entered high school. My dad continued for many more years, mostly without me as I took other jobs–though I might rarely be his help as much as I could.
Vienna-Model became Deppe-Vienna; Deppe-Vienna became part of “Burney Brothers Better Bread.”
My dad retired.
But…those memories. These little stories and anecdotes that occurred within those times. Anecdotes containing wisps of smiles or frowns, accidents and missteps that led to my growing or growing years:
Images of smiling chefs readying piles of shrimp for 5-star restaurant diners. My starting the engine of the truck trying to “help,” not knowing the purpose of a clutch… Driving skills learned from my dad: Quickly preparing a dozen mixed donuts for policemen at 5 a.m. (Was that a red light?) Hearing once–and only once in my entire life–my dad shout “F**K!” (not “fork”). Seeing my dad work hard, really hard, in awful Chicago weather. My learning maps and directions, my way around Chicago; my planning truck delivery routes, and eating delicious meals free from favorited favored customers (my first T-bone steak!).
OK: it wasn’t always sweets and good times, especially being a back-seat sleeper, early riser. Nevertheless, what fun (mostly) I had.
And the memories: Ah, the memoriesofatime.
Each of us has had some kind of special relationship with maple-frosting long johns, or custard-filled bismarcks, or finger-lickin’ sugared donuts–a relationship that began in childhood. I, on the other hand, had a special relationship with my dad while in his bread truck, driving around the streets of Chicago, probably eating a favorite French donut. What good luck!
I hear him often in my mind’s ears: “Get ‘em up! Let’s go!” “Sweets” to my ear.
NOTE: About the title: Grammarly, it’s ok in Chicago. We knew that “going to get some bakery” meant dozens of donuts or apple slices or various “sweet rolls” (almond, cheese, cherry, lemon, pecan, etc.) We weren’t on a mission to “buy some bakery company”
So, “Wanna’ come with? To get some bakery?”
© James F. O’Neil 2015