The Baker Chapter Sixteen: Ernie’s Only Daughter Suffered the Worst

January 23, 2020
Ernie stands to the right in this photograph, with the cap on his head. His younger brother is to the left and his mother in the middle, along with an unidentified woman.

PREVIOUSLY: Ernie has been married twice He has two children and four grandchildren. His business is booming. So is he happy? No, of course not.

So what was it like to be Sharon, Ernie’s only daughter, the child left alone with him in his kitchen fortress, to deal with his mercurial moods?

The baker’s friends and family all know of their troubled relationship. And they all insisted that Sharon would never discuss it. 

Not with anyone.

Now an adult, Sharon has told no one the extent of her father’s psychological power over her — not her mother, or even her husband, her own two children, not even her closest friends. 

In an interview, often crying, she decided the pain was too difficult to bear.

She described for the first time how, despite repeated efforts to salvage the relationship, she never came to fathom the moods of her biological father.

Looking back, she now realizes that her relationship with her father was more than just troubled. 

What she remembers most about her girlhood is crying — tears that flowed after her father directed his tirades at her, called her “dumb” and stupid” for the slightest misstep. 

She never shouted back, she says, never met his anger head on. 

But she could not stop the tears.

“In our house, there was a lot of yelling between my parents,” she said of Ernie and her mother, Shoshana. 

During one spat, her father flipped over the family-room coffee table. She remembers watching the incident and then running to her room to cry. 

None of her friends’ fathers ever acted like that, so why did hers?

And yet Ernie was a different man among their neighbors. 

Often, he’d return from work with ice cream for all the kids on their cul-de-sac. 

“He could be very generous,” Sharon recalled. “People loved to talk to him; he was a very interesting man.”

When Sharon was in grammar school, to celebrate her birthday, her father even paid for several of her friends to spend the weekend at his Lake Tahoe condominium.

“He could do nice things,” she said, “but it always seemed to come at a price.”

The bad times far, far outweighed what little good there was. 

“I don’t have one positive memory,” she recalled. “That’s not saying there weren’t any, but they’re not what I remember, because the rest was so horrible.” 

Once, Sharon recalled, Ernie bought her a Siberian Husky as a pet. Her father, of course, named him — Vladimir of Lucenec — but Sharon called him Vlado for short. 

Once, Ernie got mad at the dog — Sharon can’t recall why. 

And then he did something she will never forget, or forgive.

“He started hitting my dog with a shovel,” she said, her voice breaking. “I’m a huge animal lover and I couldn’t do anything. I never spoke up to him, Never. The dog was yelping and I couldn’t say anything, because I was terrified of him.”

From an early age, Sharon worked at her father’s Oakland bakery, always without pay. She remembers being given an incredible weight of responsibility for a child.

“I was so young that friends would ask ‘Can you come out and play?’ and I’d have to tell them, ‘No, I have to go to work.’”

At first, she was given such menial tasks as loading trays to be put in the oven.

“God forbid, if the cookies or pastries on the trays weren’t lined up just right, I’d get yelled at.”

Once, when she was about nine, Sharon was loading cookies onto a tray when her father stopped her. They were too close together, he shouted. How could she be so dumb? Didn’t she know they would all lump together?

Then he flipped the tray, spilling its contents all over the floor.

Ernie told his weeping daughter to pick up the entire mess and start again. But as she dutifully followed his command, he continued to yell that she wasting his time.

Eventually, her father put Sharon at the cash register. Whenever she got nervous and failed to give the right change, he’d scream, using those words she cannot forget.

Dumb and stupid.

Sharon was still in elementary school.

She quickly learned to make correct change so the yelling would stop.

Once, when she made change for a customer, Sharon accidentally gave her a dime too much. Looking over her shoulders as he always did, Ernie launched into another tirade. But the customer tried to soothe the young girl, returning the dime and assuring her that it was OK.

“It was not OK,” Ernie said. The girl needed to learn how to give correct change or she would end up giving away the entire bakery.

The woman just stood there with a look of shock. Then she turned and left.

But Sharon couldn’t leave.

Each day after school, the car would be waiting: Ernie sent an employee named Clyde to pick her up and whisk her straight to work.

At one point, Ernie kept an apartment behind the Oakland bakery. 

“I had to go there for the Jewish holidays. He’d have hundreds of orders. He’d wake me at 2 a.m. and we’d go to the bakery for 15-hour shifts, with him yelling at me the entire time.”

Bakery turnover was stratospheric. 

Once, Sharon recalled, Ernie carped so incessantly at one employee that the woman left on her lunch break and never came back.

“But I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t leave. I was his daughter, so I was stuck.”

Still, Sharon never questioned her father. 

She was too afraid of him.

“I hated working there; I hated it,” she recalled. “I have my diaries from that time. They’re filled with me asking the question: Why is he always so mean?”

Here’s one diary entry Sharon wrote at age 13.

“Dear Diary: I don’t want to work for my Dad on Thursday and Friday, but I suppose I have to. I don’t understand why I don’t like to work with him. I guess it’s because he yells. He always makes me feel guilty when I tell him I don’t want to work. But it’s my life; I should be able to do what I want.”

On another day: “Dear Diary: Today was fun. I didn’t get yelled at at all.”

And another: “My Dad can always make me feel guilty. No matter what the situation, he can always make me feel bad. I have the worst life on earth.”

And another: “My Dad yells so much. I hate it!”

And another: “Today was a strange day. I called my Dad today. We are not on speaking terms or any other terms for that matter.”

Ernie and Shoshana divorced when Sharon was just 11. 

“I recall sitting in the car when my mother told me,” Sharon said. “I remember crying. It might have been over the divorce but maybe I felt like a weight had been lifted.” 

The marriage between Ernie and Shoshana may have been over, but Sharon was still his daughter. There would be no divorce for her.

NEXT WEEK: Even as Sharon gets older and has her own family, her father’s cruelty looms.

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