Thursday, October 25, 2012

Three Flights Over a Bakery

Me and Grandma on Sander Street , circa 1948, when
Easter Hats  were worn to Church on Easter Sunday, and I finally got
to wear "nylons."

 Grandma and Uncle Junior moved from 2223 Clifton Avenue, the house next door to the Prosit, before the 1949 city directory was published.

 Frank Junior was born in 1931, on my birthday September 22nd to be exact.  A fact he never let me forget.  So he was approximately 18 years old then.  I was seven.  Perfect age for teasing.

One of my vivid memories is breakfast at Grandma’s, watching Uncle Junior eat his Wheaties cereal in a very large bowl, like a vegetable bowl for mashed potatoes or something.  He could eat one whole box of Weaties every morning if Grandma let him. 

A fairly recent photo of Grandma's Apartment building.  The bakery
was where the white door under the yellow awning is now.
Another memory of Grandma’s apartment on McMillan Street, Apartment #3, is the German bakery downstairs.  I don’t remember the bakery’s name.  I wish I did.  The bakery was similar to all of the other  bakeries in the city, mostly German, some Greek and Jewish. 

The bakeries are different now.  That era is gone.  For instance, the one-of-a-kind cheesecake.  Cheesecakes now don’t consist of a sweet yeast cake foundation; it’s graham cracker crumbs instead.   

Granndma's bakery went out of business early on, but Virginia Bakery on Ludlow Avenue continued business well after I moved to Tennessee, and every trip home I went there to buy a cheesecake.  I begged for their recipe, promised I wouldn’t share it, but the sweet, older lady I dealt with said, “Now, Honey, you know I can’t give you that.”  Yes, I understood. 

Well, now – Huge FYI – the family of the Virginia Bakery owners have published a book, and it has the most popular recipes along with the history.  And the cheese cake is included in the recipes! 

Visiting my grandmother usually included a delicacy from the downstairs bakery.  She’d wait until I got there and then send me down to purchase the goodie myself.  She often instructed me on what specifically she wanted.  Almost always the Cherry Royal Cake.

Actually getting upstairs to Grandma’s apartment was a process to begin with.  Entering the tiny hallway with the mailboxes on the left with their corresponding buttons, you pushed the button to ring the the person you were calling on.  You then waited for that person to push the button on their end which sounded a loud buzz and unlocked momentarily the door in front of you. 

This made my grandmother very nervous.  For some reason, it scared her that you might try to turn the doorknob before she pushed the buzzer, and she would say every single time, no matter how many years you’d been visiting her, “Now, don’t try to open the door until you hear the buzzer.” 

Then you had only the length of time the buzzer sounded to open the door.  This worried her too, that you might forget to open the door while the buzzing was in process.  If this happened, then you had to go through the whole process again, starting with, “Now, don’t try to open the door until you hear the buzzer.”

Once inside the heavy, leaded glass door, you faced three flights of wooden stairs.  The second landing was outside Grandma’s brother Clarence’s apartment door.  Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie seemed to always know when I was visiting, or they simply opened their door every time they heard footsteps on the staircase. 

I always stopped to visit with them and watch Aunt Marie’s parakeet stand on her outstretched tongue.  Which I thought was totally gross, but I marveled at the feat because it made her so happy.

I loved Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie a lot, in spite of the bird in the mouth.  Their granddaughter, Sharon, was about my age, and sometimes she came to visit when I did, and we’d play games together in Grandma’s attic room where the wringer washer, stationary tubs, and clothesline were.  Grandma kept a box of dress-up clothes out there for us among other fun things to play with.

After leaving Uncle Clarence and Aunt Marie, as you started up the last flight of stairs, you’d see Grandma’s house slippers waiting on the top step.  The farther up you got, she’d stoop down so you’d finally see her face.  And she always had this big smile greeting you.

I walked to Grandma’s apartment anytime I wanted to on Sander Street, but I always called ahead on the phone, because Grandma did not like to be surprised.  Her buzzer intercom system kept her feeling safe, and I guess her brother living a flight down checking out everyone visiting gave her added security.  I used to wonder if she was afraid my Grandfather Frank would try to come back.

And I’ve wondered often what my life would have been like if I hadn’t lived within walking distance to my grandmother, if she hadn’t welcomed me visiting her as often as I did.  If she hadn't enjoyed having me around as much as she did. If she'd had better things to do than taking me shopping and riding buses all over Cincinnati and watching her favorite television shows at night.

I have to say I would have been a pretty lonely child who would not have had the guidance Grandma gave me.  I wouldn’t be writing family stories, because she was the inspiration for that.  


  1. Great post and I remember the Virginia Bakery very well. I'm going to check out the cookbook.

  2. Thanks, Lillian. I've made a few things from the cookbook but I'm still working on getting the cheesecake like it used to be. One of the problems is that I have to bake gluten free because of my son with celiac disease. Makes a huge difference of course, as I'm sure you know. I checked out your site.

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