The Baker Chapter Seventeen: A Daughter Suffers. Part Two.

January 30, 2020
Ernie Fuld

PREVIOUSLY: Ernie’s only daughter suffered at the hands of a demanding father.

By now, Ernie has divorced from his second wife Shoshona. But for the couple’s daughter, there would be no reprieve.

Ernie opened a second bakery shop in Lake Tahoe. Sharon’s mother gave into his insistence that Sharon spend summers there; which meant working in the bakery.

Sharon had no choice in the matter.

She recalls the long days and inexhaustible list of chores — cleaning the oven, mopping floors — always afraid she’d displease her father and the yelling would start.

Early on, Ernie hired a girl to work alongside Sharon in the Lake Tahoe bakery. 

“I liked her,” Sharon recalled. “She took the heat off me.” 

She lasted one week, two at the most.

One night, Ernie began screaming at the girl. She began to cry and called her mother in San Francisco to come pick her up, even though it was nearly 3 a.m.

Sharon, however, had no one to call. 

She was stuck.

Then Ernie started leaving his daughter alone for days at a time.

Each Sunday night, he’d head off to run the Oakland shop and not return until late Friday — leaving a 13-year-old girl entirely alone to run a business without adult supervision of any kind. 

Looking back, Sharon sees it as nothing less than child abuse.

“I was left to run the bakery all by myself — in what universe is that OK?,” she said. “But back then, that’s all I knew.”

She was at the bakery 60 hours each week and could only close for a half-hour to eat. 

Sometimes at night, she would hear sounds, like someone breaking glass outside, and she’d dive down inside the covers, paralyzed with fear.

Years later, as an adult, she read about the Golden State Killer and his murderous escapades in the Sacramento area in 1977. And she remembers that’s when she was in that bakery, in the Lake Tahoe woods, alone.

Her father must have known, she says now. It was in all the papers and on the television. It was a huge thing. Yet he left her alone with a serial killer on the loose. Thank God she never knew.

“I was too young to even have a driver’s license. I remember having to take a cab just to do my laundry,” Sharon said. “I hated to be alone.”

She still does. 

Whenever her husband goes on an out-of-town trip, she sleeps with the lights and television on. “It bothers me now that I’m a parent with kids, how he could have been OK with leaving me totally alone at such a young age,” she said. 

And here’s the exasperating part: Sharon also recalls Ernie bragging to customers about how his young daughter was mature enough to run the business by herself. 

He told others, but he never said it to her.

Other customers would ask Ernie who minded the Tahoe bakery when he was down in Oakland.

“Oh my gosh! she’s so young,” they’d say when told it was 13-year-old Sharon.

Ernie would only shrug.

“So what?”

Once, she recalled, Ernie bought her a better used car to replace her old one.

She loved that newer car, but she knows now that her father was doing a good deed with only himself in mind — so she would have transportation to the bakery.

“Everything was about the bakery,” she said.

Life was a tightrope walk.

“Once, we were driving to Tahoe together and my father was in a good mood,” she said. “So I told him a joke. And he just started yelling. He was screaming about the grammar I used.”

In high school, after years of abuse. Sharon finally took another job at a dry cleaners. She wanted to get paid, and the new job was closer to home.

Her father was still angry. Didn’t she realize that he was doing all of this for her? How could she turn her back on him?

He wouldn’t speak to her for a more than a year. 

When she later began to talk about college, he shrugged.

Did it mean less time in the bakery?

Ernie never offered to pay for college, not even for his daughter’s medical insurance.

Once, Sharon was injured in a car crash while a passenger in a friend’s vehicle. Ambulance drivers asked about her insurance. 

She didn’t have any. So they took her to a county hospital.

Not long afterwards, Sharon recalled, her father telephoned her at school. She remembers taking the call standing inside her apartment.

“He said, ‘I don’t think I can afford to pay for anything that has to do with you anymore,’” “The only thing he paid for was my car insurance. And now I didn’t have that. I was a college student with a part-time job.”

When Shoshana remarried, Sharon’s stepfather Shalom paid for her entire class tuition and college expenses, even though he had three other children from a previous marriage. He always insisted Sharon get a college education.

“He is a wonderful man,” she said, “and I’m fortunate he came into my life.”

He was the exact opposite of her real father — kind, patient and caring.

All the while, Ernie complained that his daughter never called, even just to check in. 

“So, out of guilt, I tried,” she said. “I remember pacing the backyard of my mother’s house. My stomach would be in knots, thinking ‘I have to call him today.’ It’s hard to talk to someone who treated you like that for so many years.” 

No matter how many times Sharon told herself that she was not going to let her father get to her, most conversations ended with Ernie yelling — and Sharon in tears.

“In his eyes, because I didn’t work for him, we couldn’t be father and daughter. We never spoke about college — it was always about the bakery.”

Still, Shoshana urged Sharon to go see Ernie. 

So she drove up to Lake Tahoe to surprise her father. She brought a change of clothes and planned to stay the weekend. 

Ernie seemed surprised to see her, even pleased that she had come.

But within an hour, he got mad at something she said. He began yelling, ordered her to leave, right then and there.

So Sharon got right back in her car and drove the four hours back home. 

She remembers crying the entire way back.

When Sharon got married, she faced a difficult decision.

Whether to invite her father. 

She felt guilty: How do you not invite your own father to your wedding?

But Ernie’s rage was so unpredictable, he simply couldn’t be trusted.

“I agonized for months. I never knew when he was going to erupt,” she said, breaking into tears. “And I didn’t want to be like this, crying. You dream about your wedding day. I was only planning to do it once. And I didn’t want it to be ruined.”

Her mother and stepfather Shalom walked her down the aisle. 

Still, Morde called her before the wedding. 

“He asked me, ‘What’s the big deal? What did he do that’s so bad? And I thought, ‘Really? If you have to ask, you just don’t get it.’”

Years later, even after she herself became a parent, Sharon still had not spoken to her father. But when someone suggested a meeting at a friend’s house, she accepted. 

The reunion went well enough. Ernie arrived with his latest new wife. 

At the end, he even gave Sharon two cakes he’d baked for the occasion. She recalls thanking him at the door and driving home relieved that no eruption had taken place. 

She gave the cakes to her mother, who sent Ernie a note of thanks.

A week later — Sharon doesn’t recall who called whom — father and daughter were speaking on the phone. Eventually, he started talking about the cakes. 

Quickly, he was yelling, asking why she hadn’t sent a thank-you note like her mother.

“I hadn’t sent one — I’d thanked him in person,” Sharon recalled. “But he laid into me, about how terrible I was. And suddenly I was that 10-year-old girl again, not challenging him, thinking ‘It’s better to stay quiet and let him finish.’”

Finally, Sharon thought: “I can’t live like this.”

That was more than two decades ago.

As Sharon’s children got older, she told them about Ernie. 

They were doing school papers on the Holocaust and she wanted to share with them their unique personal history; that their grandfather had survived the Nazi scourge. 

She called her mother for the details.

She never said anything negative about Ernie to her own children.

“I just told them he was a difficult person,” Sharon recalled, “And that we didn’t have a relationship. They always had my stepfather.”

She said it was up to them if they wanted to meet Ernie.

Meanwhile, she still struggles with her memories.

“No one understands,” she said. “I was there in that bakery for years and years, listening to him screaming. I couldn’t leave. When I saw my father’s old friends, they’d ask ‘Have you talked to your Dad? He’s tough, that’s just he way he is. Well, you know what, it’s not OK he was like that.” 

Sharon doubts she’ll ever understand the roots of her father’s behavior — how a man could be so magnanimous with strangers and yet hurt those closest to him?

“I can’t pretend to imagine what he went through during the Holocaust,” she said. “And I’m sure it must have shaped him in some way.”

As an adult, Sharon’s employers have always complimented her on her unfailing work ethic. She knows she got that from Ernie, and her years at the bakery.

In a strange way, she says, Ernie also made her a better parent. 

Still, she refuses to repeat the sins of the father.

“Children want to feel love from their parents,” she said. “They want to know they can count on their parents and feel safe. They want affection. I didn’t get any of that.”

For years, she continued to make an effort with Ernie, if from afar.

She sent him cards on Father’s Day and on his birthday, as a way to maintain some semblance of a relationship without speaking to him.

He never responded. When Ernie suffered a stroke a few years ago, she sent him a card, telling him that she was thinking about him.

But she didn’t call. 

She didn’t visit.

And she thinks back: Every time her father hurt her, belittled her, deprived her of a normal childhood, he would say: “I am doing this all for you.”

The sacrifices and long hours. 

For her, not himself.

Her father was a cruel and selfish man who lived only for this bakery and his pastries.

Not for any anything or anybody else.

She paused, still crying.

“I was the kid. He was the adult. He said he felt like I didn’t love him. Well, guess what, I didn’t feel any love from him either.”

She still asks the same question she asked in her diary all those years ago.

“Why couldn’t I just be his daughter? And not his employee?”

Why did her father have to be so damaged?

NEXT WEEK: Ernie will hear none of it.

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