Wednesday, December 3, 2014
I thought of my Dad the other day. This in itself is not so unusual; as I think of my Dad often. What set this particular series of thoughts in motion was unique, however.
The other day my Lovely Bride and I made a journey from Lake County to the local cell phone center located in Woodmere. As this entailed crossing the Lake/Cuyahoga County line, we made certain all our papers were in order and up to date. While not quite as involved as making the trek to the western bank of the Cuyahoga River, it was still quite a cultural undertaking. Fortunately, having grown up in the Hillcrest area (how many of you remember your phone number beginning “H-I-2-****”?), I could still pass as an Eastsider.\
After spending some time resolving the i-phone issue, we wandered about the other stores. Then, as we were exiting the parking lot, there it was; gleaming like a diamond on a black velvet drape; that distinctive script logo-type: Davis Bakery/ Delicatessen.
For those readers who have lived in the Eastern suburbs of Cleveland within the past 70 or so years, you may recall Davis Bakery. For those who have grown up elsewhere; I can only extend my condolences for not having known this true gem.
Frantically, I pointed to the beckoning lights as LB patiently awaited the traffic signal to change. In my excitement all I could emit was a primate like “Oooo! Oooo!” similar to a spider monkey spying a ripe banana.
LB nodded, and pulled across the boulevard into a space directly in front of the door. Barely able to contain myself, I yanked on the car door handle, only to realize it was yet locked. Nanoseconds before I began a simian type tantrum, she unlocked the door. I scampered into the welcoming arms of fresh baked Jewish rye bread, rich deli aromas, and heaps of baked goods.
I must have looked like a madman when I acknowledged the middle-aged lady’s greeting with a desperate “Do you still have rye bread?!” She chuckled and asked how many loaves I wanted. I expressed my desire for one loaf, and headed toward the dairy case, to grab a dozen jumbo eggs which were on sale.
Clutching the eggs, I turned toward the register. And then I saw them; Ladylocks.
Instantly, I stopped, transfixed by the golden brown, and delicately tapered shell filled with a rich butter-cream. Instantly, memories of Dad came to mind.
I don’t know if this pastry is widely known beyond the Lower Great Lakes and some East Coast regions. They consist of a very delicate, flaky pastry, approximately 5 inches long, tapering from the large open end, to a smaller bottom. The void is filled with a rich buttery cream, usually vanilla flavored although chocolate and other flavors are seen. Finally, the whole concoction is dusted liberally with powdered sugar.
Basically, it is a diabetic-cardiac patient’s worst nightmare.
Dad practiced self-control fairly well (see Dad’s Hammer November, 2013 for more about his legendary self control), except when it came to Ladylocks. Put a Ladylock before him, and he would be tempted to dicker with the Devil.
There are men who cannot pass a sporting goods store, men who cannot pass a hardware store and men who cannot pass a drinking establishment. Dad couldn’t pass Davis Bakery without picking up a box of Ladylocks.
I don’t know how or when his addiction to this confection began.
Was he tempted into a dark alley by a seedy character in a ratty trench coat beckoning “Pssst, hey kid. Wanna see a really nice little pastry?”
Was it peer pressure from school pals “Hey, Hoppy! Go ahead, take a bite! All the kids are eating Ladylocks!”
Could it have been during a time of dark despair, deep in the Great Depression that he stumbled into a dimly lit storefront, leaned upon the counter, and demanded “Give me some of the good stuff.” ? With a glint in her eye, the lady behind the counter reached for the most potent thing available; “Here, Bub. This will help you feel better.”, while pushing the seductive form toward him.
Or, was it innocently enough, while at a wedding reception a careless adult left their dessert unattended, and he took a small nibble? BAM! The floodgates were flung open; the sugar rush began, never to be slackened.
Whatever the circumstances, he became a lifelong Ladylock junkie.
I remember many times when he would burst in the door from work, a white cardboard box tied with white string in his hand. We knew by the tell-tale grease spots on the bottom what was within; Ladylocks.
Mom would sigh in resignation, knowing her lovingly prepared dinner would be ruined by a husband and houseful of kids bouncing off the walls from the sugar highs. But, what could she do? She had unknowingly married a Ladylocks Junkie.
Between bites of pastry and slurps of coffee, Dad would often reminisce of bakery trips long past. He told of setting foot on American soil again upon his return from the War in Europe. Most sailors and GIs went off in pursuit of a good stiff drink, or a steak dinner, or female companionship. Not Dad. He set his sights upon the nearest bakery and Ladylocks. He bought half a dozen, found a bench to sit upon, and devoured the entire box.
Throughout my growing up years, Ladylocks have been there; like a well worn, favorite coat. In good times, in bad times; Ladylocks have materialized from a white box tied with white string. Some families have macaroni and cheese as a comfort food, others homemade chicken and dumplings. Dad found his solace in Davis’ baked delights.
My Lovely Bride was introduced to Ladylocks early in our dating relationship. If I am not mistaken, the circumstances were eerily similar to most appearances; Dad coming through the door, a silly grin on his face, grease spotted white box in his hand.
We knew that it had been either a particularly good day, or a particularly bad day at work. Or, it was just a run-of-the-mill day and he could no longer resist the Siren Song wafting across S.O.M. Center Road as he drove past the bakery. Although the Interstate had been long completed and taking the secondary state route was not necessary, his Pontiac would find its way to a spot outside Davis’.
LB and I married; college took us far from Northeast Ohio, to a land devoid of Ladylocks. We soon discovered other delectable treats, such as sugar-crème pie and fresh picked musk melons.
But, when we would return, Dad would typically have Ladylocks waiting for us. To him, there was no higher, finer offering than fresh made Ladylocks.
Sadly, it was then I discovered my taste had changed. What was once light, fluffy and delightful had now become heavy, sodden, and just okay. I had never noticed the residual sensation of grease upon my tongue and roof of the mouth before. I had paid no attention to the unbelievable sweetness before. Now, it caused my teeth to ache and throat to constrict.
I didn’t tell Dad, I knew it would break his heart. It may very well have resulted in disinheritance and banishment from the family. So, I kept silent. For the sake of unity and harmony, I endured Ladylocks when we visited with Dad.
I cannot recall the last time I had a Ladylock.
It has been decades.
Which now found me standing before the display case; vacillating between “to buy or not to buy”? That was the question. Several times I caught myself about to signal the lady patiently waiting at the register. Several times I thought how much Dad would enjoy that one with all the frosting in it. To buy….or not to buy, I wrestled within myself. Above the counter was the old familiar string dispenser, a length just beckoning to be wrapped about a box and tied securely. Boxes were lined upon the back counter. It would be easy… oh so easy.
I turned, took two steps… and turned back to the display.
I stared at the pastries, my heart awash with memories. After what seemed a semi-eternity, I whispered, “No, they are all yours, Dad. You enjoy them.” Turning my back upon the tempters, I walked quickly to the register.
“Do you want some pastry?” the middle-aged lady politely asked.
“No thank you, Ma’am. I was just enjoying looking.”
Gathering my bread and eggs, I glanced at the gleaming bakery case, the treasure safe within, as I exited the store. With a smile, I began to hum Bob Hope’s theme song; Thanks for the Memories.