THE BREAD TRUCK
My dad was a bread man. My earliest memories were of him coming home on a break from his route, and parking the big yellow Freihoffer’s truck in front of our house. A teenage neighbor girl and her friend would sneak on his truck and steal cakes.
Dad would get up at 3a.m. and work until 3p.m., 12 hours a day, with Sundays and Wednesdays off.
For some reason, he would never use a fan in summer, or the heater in winter. The truck was either an icebox or an oven, depending on the season.
Two other quirks I remember about my Dad -- He never used aspirin in his life. Never. He would just endure the headache if he got one. He claimed he rarely did. He didn’t believe in using pills for stuff like that. I’ll pop two Tylenol’s for the headache I might have tomorrow. His other quirk was that he would always put salt on his corn flakes. Salt. Not sugar.
As I went through elementary school in the Sixties, one of the biggest things was to go to work with Dad. On Saturday mornings at about 11 o’clock I would run down to the corner and look up the road to see if the big yellow bread truck was parked at Miller’s store. Usually, the first three trips yielded nothing. But then, there it would be, visible from even the five blocks’ distance. My heart would leap and I would run down the street to greet my Dad in the store. Then I would go out and get in the big old truck.
I would sit on the metal engine box in the middle, looking out of the windshields, and hold on to the rubber knob sticking out beneath them. Dad would finish in the store and take his seat. The truck’s engine would grumble like a waking dinosaur, then Dad would maneuver the behemoth down the small street toward home. The big double windshields would look like the portholes of a spaceship, and I would bounce along gleefully over every pothole and bump, pretending I was piloting the mammoth craft through a meteor storm. There were no shocks on the truck, and every bump was felt, and the clatter of the dozens of bread racks was deafening. Each crash was an imaginary meteorite smashing into the windshields…..
Finally, the truck would “land” in front of our house on Billings Avenue, where I would hop out. After a quick break where Dad would grab a boiled ham sandwich and one of his ever-present cans of Coke, he (and sometimes my younger brother Kirk) and I would climb back aboard and finish the last three hours or so of his route.
In and out of stores…big stores, little stores, Mom and Pop stores and major supermarkets. Burger joints, and even the Atco Speedway, where we would help ourselves to the soda fountain and take giant yellow bags of popcorn home with us. We would take two or three bags of this booty, like pirates raiding a supply ship (Of course, the place was closed and deserted).
Atco was where my brother Kirk nearly fell out of the truck when he was bounced from where he was sitting and nearly rolled into the street. He wasn’t injured, just shook up. Dad was more shook up. He wasn’t supposed to have kids as passengers on this truck. We used to hide after he pulled into the big garage in Barrington, and wait for him to finish his paperwork. Once, an old man who worked there spotted us, and started squawking about kids being on the premises. My dad actually tried to convince the man he was seeing things. I think the guy believed him. Anyway, he shut up....
The culmination of the day was our final stop for lunch at Charlie Brown’s. This was a burger joint where the owners’ name was the same as the beloved comic strip hero. There were Peanuts character figures all over the place. We would sit at the counter on stools and have burgers, fries, and a large Coke or Root beer. The Root beer came in frosted mugs.
One of my quirks (one in a million) was that I would order a hamburger with no roll. I would eat the patty right from the plate with a knife and fork. My dad joked every week that here he was, a bread man, and his own son refused to eat bread. Everyone laughed all around. No one realized there might have been deeper psychological implications.
I don’t think there were. I just didn’t particularly like hamburger buns….
Once, my brother Kirk fell asleep at the counter, and pulled the giant glass of Coke right down on himself. He awakened with a start, soaking wet.
There were also visits to Ponzio’s diner for breakfast, on Saturday’s when we would go to work with Dad at 3 a.m., and be dropped off at home before lunch. Watching some of the strange early morning diner denizens was a favorite sport. There was the guy at the counter who sat almost trance-like, staring at a piece of lemon meringue pie in the case in front of him, eyes bugging out, as if he would smash the glass and devour it. Another character sat alone, unkempt and unshaven, staring straight ahead, saying nothing. Rod Stewart’s hit song MAGGIE MAE was playing on the jukebox. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the rumpled figure yelled out at the top of his voice “Maggie wake up!!!” startling surrounding patrons.
Ah, those are great memories, going to work with my dad on his bread truck as a boy…The fun, the fantasy….
Flash forward to the summer of 1982. I once again found myself working with Dad on the bread truck. But now I was 23, and recently fired from my job as a clown with the Ringling Bros. Circus. I was not in a good mood in those days, and Dad wasn’t always, either. He graciously allowed me to work with him that summer, paying me what little he could afford. Now he worked for Deluxe Italian Bakery.
He would awaken me at 3a.m. and we would each have our first cigarette of the day. Then we would drive to the bakery in Runnemede and load the truck. Then the route would begin. Still a nearly twelve hour day, in the brutal heat of summer, still no fan in the truck. I sat on the metal steps near the open door, rather than on the big engine box in the middle of the truck.
We would both sit in silence all day, not speaking to one another, chain-smoking cigarettes and lost in our own thoughts. I would be thinking about how I was going to get back into clowning, what circus I could join up with (The Clyde Beatty-Cole Bros. Circus would offer me a contract two seasons in a row, but both times I would turn them down). Dad’s private thoughts remained his own.
We once picked up an old Asian woman from the side of the road who was dressed in a bathrobe. We asked her where she wanted to go, and she seemed confused. During her brief ride with us, she looked at me and winked.
We couldn’t make sense of her ramblings, so Dad took her to the police station. It turns out, she was an escapee from the local hospitals’ psychiatric ward….
The only other hitchhiker we picked up was the time we passed a woman with long, beautiful blonde hair. I insisted Dad stop and pick her up. He pulled over, and on board climbed the homeliest man I ever saw. But, from the back, his “beautiful”, long blonde hair could sure fool you. I wonder how many rides he got that way?
These two episodes ended our hitchhiking adventures.
One time I lost my wallet in the bakery garage and we spent an hour looking for it. We argued bitterly, like two men, no longer Father and son. We were pretty sick of each other….
My career on Dad’s bread truck came to an end when one day a woman employee in one of the stores inadvertently insulted him when they were joking around. She had to have been in her early forties. Dad was in his sixties. She jokingly referred to him as an old man. She said she was looking to date someone twenty years younger (referring to me), not twenty years older. Dad said nothing.
The next morning, I awoke at about 5a.m. to discover he hadn’t gotten me up to go to work with him. Neither of us ever mentioned it, and I never worked with him again. The bread truck was no longer my imaginary spaceship, and my Dad was no longer my hero.
I had grown up.
Copyright © 2004 by Kevin Kopko
This page was last edited on 03/3/2007