For those of you who haven’t noticed, there’s a new Pettiford in town.
If you are one of the many “Hep Bread” lovers, don’t get too excited. He’s not a clone of baker extraordinaire Wallace Pettiford. Actually, he’s a rooster. He lives at the Blue Rooster Bakehouse on South Main Street here in Oberlin, not far from where my dear friend Mr. Pettiford made his magic.
The Blue Rooster Bakehouse, owned and operated by Wendy Boes and family, opened its doors last November and long-time Oberlinian Wallace Johnson of the antiques store across the street made his way over to welcome the newcomers. Right there in the window sat a beautiful stuffed rooster the owner’s mother had found at an antiques show.
Johnson was the first to recall tales of Pettiford’s bakery, though many other customers followed suit, including myself. He was also the first to suggest that the rooster could sit there in the window paying homage to Wallace Pettiford by becoming his namesake.
I worked at Sperry Gorske for 10 years and my first duty of the day was to get donuts for my uncles, aunt, Lois and myself. I’d trek over to Pettifords where the two of us would talk over the problems of the world which we usually came close to solving. I’d leave with the goods and often one or the other of us would realize that because of our scintillating conversation I’d forgotten to pay. The phone would ring: “Forget something?” I’d hear. Then I’d dash back across the street amidst mutual laughter to pay up. Or I’d be in the middle of filing, look across the street, see someone walking into the bakery, and remember on my own and off I’d go.
My mother loved Hep Bread and sometimes would send me over to bring a loaf home. Often, if there was another out-of-town customer in the shop, I’d just eye up the bread. With a barely imperceptible shake of his head or an intense eye gesture, he’d let me know if he had baked it that day or not. Day-old bread was not suitable to go home to the Gorske household.
He was a classmate of my mother’s, but over the years Mr. Pettiford and I became close friends. I’d tease him about the choice of lavender on the walls. We’d shake our heads about the animosity between his son and one of my good friends. Sometimes he’d hide behind the door when he saw me coming, only to leap out and scare me. He came to my both of my weddings and I still cherish the tea pot and cups he gave me. He didn’t charge us for the first wedding cake. When the first marriage ended in disaster I was living in Philadelphia. Word of the divorce filtered around Oberlin and lo and behold, what came in the mail? It was a box of two dozen brownies (my favorite Pettiford treat) from my dear friend. There was no note. There were just brownies, but that was enough. (When the second wedding rolled around he did tell me that there was only one freebie cake!)
I’ll never forget the day I was heading in to visit and there was a “closed” sign on the door. Mrs. Pettiford was there and let me in, telling me that Mr. Pettiford was very ill. I visited him several times as he fought against the disease that finally took his life. At his funeral service his son, Skip, came up to me and said, “I wondered if you would be here.” How could I have been anyplace else?
So the Blue Rooster Bakehouse is now a presence in town. I love that Wendy told me they wanted to find their own niche. Because everyone in Lorain County loves Gibson’s donuts, she doesn’t make donuts. They have made themselves as different from other businesses in town in order to honor the many attributes Oberlin already has. “We’ve made a conscious effort to not step on other businesses,” she told me.
For the Boes family, it’s a dream come true. They had talked of opening such a business for years, but it wasn’t until they came to Oberlin for dinner one night and looked around our town that they came to believe that they could live the dream. Their regular “at home” blue rooster plates provided the name, fencing from their property lines the walls making a unique decors, there’s a cozy sitting room in the back where people may enjoy their sweet treats and Mr. Johnson provided the inspiration for “Pettiford” in the window.
That rooster and I may not be able to solve the world’s problems like my old friend and I once did, but at least I can walk by or stop in and smile at that daggone rooster and remember the special man who baked those special brownies and that delicious Hep Bread!
Pat Gorske Price graduated from Oberlin High School and taught English and drama there for 12 years. In retirement she continues to enjoy writing and theater. Comments can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org.