In Stockton, California there is a little hole in the wall, most places in Stockton are actually hole in the walls, called Genova Bakery. There is very little parking on the street and the building is old and run down, built in 1918, however, it’s always busy.
As a kid, every time we walked into the bakery we were transported back in time. The floor boards were old, creaking, and the many miles people have walked over them showed. The air smelled of Italian sausages, olive oil, and freshly baked bread.
During the summer the smells were even stronger as the heat slowly released the aromas that have soaked into the wood and walls over the years.
Not having a lot of money, we didn’t go to the bakery often but when we did it was a special treat. Mostly it was on a Saturday morning and someone was visiting from somewhere else.
A couple of links of hard salame were brought, along with a small brick of sharp cheddar cheese. Both were cut into small pieces and served on the white butcher paper it came wrapped in, in the middle of the table. The white tight wrapper that needed to be peeled off kept us from devouring it all quickly.
The crunching sound of the paper bag the bread came in was a welcomed sound. It meant soon we would be holding that hot soft white fluffy French bread in our hands. No plates were needed as the bag was ripped open and laid flat.
A few loafs had to be spread between at least a dozen people so we never got a big piece but if we were good we would get the softest part, the middle, which to me was always the best part.
When I went home to Stockton for a visit as an adult, I don’t know if absence made the heart grow fonder or if it was strong memories from my childhood but all I did was talk about getting a loaf of bread and a link of salame for myself. Of course I bought extra for the rest of the family because I didn’t want to get a whoopin, one of those that was claimed I never got as a child.
I visited Stockton twice more since that first trip in 2001. The first stop I made as I arrived and the last stop I made as I left the city was to Genova bakery. I had to buy a loaf of French bread and a link of salame, cut up into slices, so I could eat it while driving.
As I write this I am not an adult man sitting at my computer, clicking away at the keys, but an eight year old boy, sitting at the kitchen table, my back against the wall as the window A/C unit worked hard to keep us cool on a hot Saturday morning.
My mom pouring the orange juice in glasses for my siblings, my cousins, and myself. My aunts Irma and Debbie slicing the salame and cheese as my grandma yells at my uncle Jess to stop tickling the kids because if we pee the carpet she’s going to be very mad.
My cousins Chris and Ron try reaching over and around my aunts to steal a slice or two, only to have the knife blade pointed at them with a firm STOP IT filling the air.
Not a single sound of silence could be found in that house but in my mind all I can see is my grandmother grabbing the bread with her soft firm hands and pulling it apart into smaller pieces, the smells of the hot bread filling my memories forever.