Years ago, when my kids were small, and we were in Los Angeles for Thanksgiving— at the home of my mother — my then six-year old daughter Reese asked me one morning: Was this house where you were born? Is this where you’re from?
No, honey, I said. This is Mimi’s house. I wasn’t born here exactly.
Well, where then, Mama?
I could have said I was born at Cedars Sinai Hospital, the old Cedars in Hollywood, before they tore it down and built the fancy new one, where the celebrities now line up for their births and lipos.
I also could have said I was from Edris Drive in West Los Angeles — a cute little apartment my young parents brought me home to in 1970, me riding in a car bed, them still in love.
I could have said that I didn’t really have a home, a family home. When I was growing up, my home was wherever my mother was, and my grandmother. Now my home is where you and your brother and your Dad are.
Instead, I took her to Beverlywood Bakery.
Bubbie bought so many chocolate chip rolls, she would freeze them by the dozen. If you dared go looking for ice cubes in the middle of the night, you risked injury by frozen pastry.
Beverlywood Bakery is where my grandmother — my Bubbie — and I got off the public bus after shopping at the May Company department store every Saturday of my childhood. I always got a free rainbow sprinkled cookie if I was quiet while Bubbie selected her goods: challah (medium-sliced), marble loaf, rye bread (thin-sliced) and always, chocolate chip rolls. If you haven’t had a chocolate chip roll — especially the kind made at a Jewish bakery — stop reading this and go get one immediately. You will discover a delight of buttery, chocolate-studded pastry so delicious that, when you take a bite, all you will be able to think about is the next one. Growing up, Bubbie bought so many chocolate chip rolls, she would freeze them by the dozen. If you dared to go looking for ice cubes in the middle of the night, you risked death by frozen pastry.
Beverlywood’s pink bakery boxes decorated Bubbie’s kitchen counters and there was no ailment — physical or emotional — that their contents could not soothe.
“Some mandelbroid?” Bubbie would ask the moment I walked in the house from the elementary school and later, from college or a work day. “A chocolate chip roll?” she would offer, like it was an aspirin, an ice pack.
We would sit together at the breakfast table, our yellow vinyl chairs pulled closely and over slices of challah toast or rugalech and we would talk. She would drink her tea or decaf and I would drink juice out of a jewel tone plastic cup.
Bubbie had been gone at least five years by the day Reese and I first walked into Beverlywood Bakery together. That smell hit us at once: that scent of everything good and wonderful in the world. It still made my head all tingly. Reese, already cookie in hand and mouth, was delighted and skipped back and forth between the glass cases picking out more treats while I tried to explain what this place meant to me, how it was special.
Reese looked back at me blankly, with a big chocolatey smile.
This is where I’m from, I said to her then, motioning to the loaves of challah and later to my grandmother’s house when we drove past, now that it belonged to someone else. Later that day, over corned beef at Factor’s Deli and in the arms of my mother and my aunts and my cousins and uncles, I said to her, Reese, this is where I’m from.
During the summer of 2020, my husband and I brought Reese, 16 and our son Finn, 13, to visit my family in Los Angeles (socially-distanced style). Of course, we had to stop by Beverlywood Bakery. We followed pandemic protocol: one by one, we took turns entering the store and breathing in the yeasty, intoxicating scents through our masks, like oxygen.
I’d never felt more at home.
Geralyn Broder Murray is a Northern California-based writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today and Shondaland. www.GeralynBMurray.com @GeralynBMurray