I never forgot Charlie Bain. However, I did lose track of him for years. I found him on the obituary pages of my home county newspaper, dead at age 95. He had been born in Miami, Oklahoma, grew up at Pineville, Missouri in the Ozarks, worked a lifetime in Chanute, Kansas, and died in Rogers, Arkansas just a ways down the road from me now. If I had only known…
Charlie was one of my very first bosses. I was in junior college and a new friend I met there was working at Bain’s Bakery. She needed more hours and went to work for the hospital, but she wanted to help Charlie find her replacement. I was an unlikely candidate with no experience, but he took me on. Jeanne showed me the ropes and continued to visit us at the bakery whenever she could. Charlie trusted me right off, and left the bakery in my hands as soon as he could get out in the early afternoon. He was tired.
I went in at noon when the really hard work was over. Charlie had been baking bread since 3:00 am. He made the dough, raised it, and patted it into loaves, buns, and sweet rolls. He baked it and cleaned up the elephant-sized copper mixing bowls. When I came in, I sliced the freshly cooled buns and bagged them for next morning delivery. I washed cookie sheets, attended the front sales, took orders, and locked up the store at 5:00, leaving things ready for Charlie’s work to begin again in a few hours.
Charlie had gray curly hair and an eye than slightly strayed to the corner, but he was fit for his age in his white baker’s pants. A white tee rolled up to the shoulder put muscles on display that he had developed lifting first the industrial-sized bags of flour and then the heavy pans into and out of the blistering ovens. He was quiet and hardworking, steady to a fault on getting his doughy job just right. Sometimes when we worked together on a big job bagging or cutting rolls, we would engage in conversations, and I could get a good story out of Charlie. I think he had an ornery side, but his manners kept him from being crude or disrespectful in any way in my presence.
The only thing Charlie every disapproved of was my desire to become an English teacher. He begged me to do something else. My friend was going into physical education meaning sports, exercise and physical fitness, something he could understand.He knew I wasn't the sporty kind so maybe I could be a secretary. He told me many times that English teachers were the meanest bunch of women he ever saw. They wore their hair in little tight buns tucked at the back of their necks, their glasses on a rope, and never ever showed a smile. Oh, how he hated to think of this happening to me, but I promised I would not be that kind of English teacher. (There are people walking the earth right now though that would say I failed at THAT promise.)
Charlie didn't like to read, didn't see the need of it. He thought it was a good waste of time. He believed in fishing, working with his hands, growing strawberries, and being outside in some way. Since he was confined inside the bakery for so many years dutifully earning a living or sleeping to get ready to go back to the bakery, he had few precious hours outside; they were treasured. Free hours were too valuable to be spent with a book in hand.
However, Charlie had ONE book he praised. He had to read it while in school and had a copy he read over and over again. He loved Shepherd of the Hills, a book with a setting close to where he spent his childhood years in the Ozarks. He could not believe I had never read it. I tried, but I could not understand the dialect of those hill folks! I was to read the book much later as an adult…an interesting story that made me wonder what part, which character, so intrigued Charlie for his entire lifetime.
I was only to work at the bakery for a few months before transferring to PSU. Shortly after my friend and I left town, Bain’s Bakery was closed as Charlie retired to do woodworking and have some life outside in the daylight hours. My months there were fairly quiet, but they were a learning time, seeing life under the sweet tutelage of a gentle man. Those simple days are so long ago, but the memories are rich and satisfying as warm bread.
I hope Charlie found a copy of Shepherd of the Hills in Heaven’s library when he got there.