By: Ava Breemes
Batter Up, our family owned bakery for three generations, has been my home away from home ever since I can remember. My great great grandfather opened this bakery after a major injury from his baseball career. After multiple surgeries, he had to retire from baseball early and embrace his passion for baking. The name Batter Up was inspired by his love for baseball and cake batter, which was a pretty clever name that my great great grandmother created for the bakery. Now that I’ve turned 16, I’m finally old enough to work in the bakery with my dad and two older brothers. My mom sells tickets at Wrigley Field, which is only 10 minutes away from our bakery in the heart of Chicago. She hangs up posters and flyers for our bakery all around the stadium to help our small business. It’s a popular spot for baseball fans, tourists, and city locals to get treats from freshly baked bread to three tier cakes.
Saturday. My first day on the job had finally arrived and I thought it would be like second nature since I had been watching my family bake since I was young. I helped open the shop at 7:00 AM and was instructed to work on frosting a cupcake order that would be picked up later in the day. I struggled to whip up the frosting correctly and each cupcake I decorated looked pitiful. The swirls were lopsided and the colors didn’t blend correctly. I slammed down the piping bag and went to wash my hands that were covered in red food coloring stains. “What do we say when we’re feeling this way?” my dad teased, patting me on the back as he walked by. “Hey batter batter, your life doesn’t matter” I mumbled, rolling my eyes at the phrase. It was passed down throughout my family as a way of saying no matter how bad your day was going, it shouldn’t matter in the bakery. We were supposed to focus on working hard and putting love and effort into each baked good we made, but it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. One of my brothers walked in through the back door and laughed at the sight of my cupcakes. “Jeremy, what is that?” he taunted. “How about you go frost them instead” I shouted as I walked out into the small lobby. There were no customers there yet, so I sat down at one of the tables and rested my head in my hands. This was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to work here. Of course this was a special place to my family and I, but maybe baking wasn’t for me.
I spent the rest of my shift at the register, taking care of the many customers that came in. A few of our regulars arrived and were surprised to see me behind the counter instead of sitting in the dining room with my homework or playing games with my baby sister. Oh, how I miss being 15. No responsibilities, no early weekend wake up calls, and especially no cupcake frosting mishaps. I rolled my eyes as my brother brought up the perfectly frosted cupcakes I had failed at earlier and handed them to the customer. Sure, practice makes perfect, but I wasn’t even motivated to try. My older brothers had always outshined me in every way and this was just another opportunity for them to excel at something that I couldn’t do. But hey batter batter, my life doesn’t matter…right?
Throughout the next few days, our bakery had over 100 customers place orders. It was near Easter, so many people wanted cakes, cupcakes, and our other delicious pastries. My mom had to come in and help me take orders on Wednesday because the line was out the door! There were a few times where my dad would call me back into the kitchen because we needed all hands on deck. I worked on putting muffins into the oven and washing dishes, which were two tasks I actually could do. My dad seemed more stressed than usual and my brothers were running around at his command. We ended up staying until midnight, trying to prepare the pickup orders for the next day. “I’m so exhausted, I can barely walk!” my brother exclaimed as we locked up the front doors. “Hey batter batter, your life doesn’t matter” my dad chuckled and we all groaned.
Saturday. It had been a week since my first day and I still struggled with almost everything I tried. Yesterday I attempted to knead dough for a loaf of blueberry bread, but it ended up too sticky and clumpy. I struggled to get out of bed for my 6:30 AM wake up call and quickly put on clothes and grabbed my apron. As I ran down the stairs, I noticed no one was awake. How could this be? Usually everyone was ready to walk out the door, but the house was quiet and dark. I ran to my parents room to see them lying in bed, my mom still fast asleep. “We have covid” my dad said quietly, trying not to wake my sleeping mother. That must mean I get a day off! I felt relief rush through my body, followed by panic as I realized my parents were sick. “Your brothers have it too. We will be fine, but go take the day off and get a covid test. Your grandparents are going to deep clean the bakery today” my dad said hoarsely. I nodded and walked out of the room, gently shutting the door behind me. It was covid test time.
Later that afternoon, I got an email with my test results. “Negative” I said to my family who was crowded around the living room, masks on and socially distanced from my grandparents and I. “Great, we open back up tomorrow” my dad exclaimed. “What?! You can’t work if you have covid!” I panicked. “Right, but you can,” my brother said with a smirk on his face. ME? Running the bakery ALONE? That was a big challenge, even for my older brothers who had a few years of experience. “Your grandfather and I will come help, but we can’t come in until the afternoon” my grandmother reassured, as she had once worked at the bakery too. At least I would have a bit of help, but working alone from opening to noon seemed like a challenge. Throughout the rest of the day, I couldn’t stop thinking about the bakery. My usual 11:00 PM bedtime turned into 4:30 AM due to my stress and anxiety. How was I going to run the register, rebake the items that my dad made while he had covid, and bake new treats all by myself for five hours? My two hours of sleep felt like two minutes as I woke up and had to prepare myself for my worst nightmare.
7:00 AM. I unlocked the bakery doors and to my relief, no one was waiting outside. I hurried back into the kitchen and opened up the walk-in freezer to grab the beautiful, golden brown cake sitting on the shelf. As I was about to throw it away, I hesitated. Would I rather serve a cake made by someone with covid or serve a cake made by me? They were both equally bad, but I knew I had to remake the cake. I dumped it into the trash and took a deep breath. Time to start baking. I pulled out the recipe book from the cabinet and found the recipe for our famous vanilla sweet cake. Gathering all the ingredients and putting them into the bowl, I made a complete mess. I had put in the eggs too early and accidentally measured the baking soda wrong. Anger grew from the pit of my stomach and my face became red and flushed. “Hey batter batter, my life doesn’t matter!” I yelled as I slammed the cake pan into the oven. Suddenly, I heard the small bell at the front of the store ring. A customer! I ran to the front of the store, fixing my apron and taking deep breaths. It was a girl from my school, a very pretty one. “Hey Jeremy!” she said happily. “Hey Serena!” I exclaimed, my face becoming red once again as I blushed. She asked for a dozen doughnuts from the glass display and I placed them carefully in the box. After she paid, we talked for a while, laughing at ridiculous gossip from school and complaining about how the Cubs lost against one of their rival teams. Almost 30 minutes had passed and Serena got a phone call. “My mom needs me home, but maybe I’ll come back and see you” she smiled and headed towards the door. She wanted to come back and see me? Maybe working at the bakery wasn’t so bad.
I walked back into the kitchen to see the oven overflowing with cake batter. A scream left my mouth as I hurried over to turn off the oven. Before I could reach the knob, the batter towered over me and flooded in my direction. It had tripled in size and seemed to breathe and pulse in small rhythms. The heat filled the room and my body started to shake with fear and panic. What was going on? There was no way I made this much batter! What should I do? I ran towards the phone but it was covered in wet, sticky batter. There were puddles at my feet and it seemed to engulf the whole room. It had filled the entire left half of the kitchen and was making its way toward me. The counters began to break and the ingredients started falling off the shelves, leaving egg shells and sprinkles all over the place. As the batter roared towards me, the lights began to flicker and the fire alarm pierced my ears. Cake batter dripped and oozed from the ceiling, causing some of the ceiling tiles to fall with it. This is how I would die, in my family owned bakery in the heart of Chicago. There were no thoughts in my head except the horror of being suffocated by the cake batter monster I had somehow created. It had almost reached the small corner where I was standing and I started to yell “Hey batter batter, my life doesn’t matter! Hey batter batter, my life doesn’t matter! Hey batter batter, my life doesn’t matter!” I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared for my death. To my surprise, it seemed to yell back at me. “Jeremy! Jeremy! Jeremy!” My eyes opened to the sight of beautiful Serena. Her hand was on my shoulder and she smiled at me. I gasped and looked back into the kitchen, which was perfectly clean, besides the mess I had made on the counter. “You must not have gotten much sleep last night,” she laughed. Had I fallen asleep mid conversation? I quickly wiped the drool from my face and fixed my hair. “Yeah, I’m sorry about that, I was up until dawn stressing about running the bakery today” I mumbled, embarrassed as to what had happened. “Are you hiring? I love to bake and this seems like the perfect place to work, especially since you’re here” she smiled. “You’re hired!” I quickly responded, my face turning red again. “Perfect! Text me whenever you want me to come in. See you later Jeremy!” as she walked out the door. “Hey batter batter, my life does matter!” I shouted with excitement as I headed back into the kitchen.
The rest of the day went by smoothly. My cake came out of the oven lopsided and a little overcooked, but it was better than a bubbling mess of batter. The cake batter monster was a nightmare and while I was embarrassed I fell asleep in front of Serena, I was relieved the terrifying event wasn’t real. I started to enjoy working at the bakery more and went step by step when making new recipes. I still wasn’t the best at decorating, but thankfully Serena was able to teach me proper frosting tips. It took my family about four days to recover from covid and I was so thankful for their speedy recovery. On Friday, my dad decided to give me the day off after all of my hard work. For once I was a little disappointed to not go to work, but I decided to take Serena out to dinner and the Cubs game. It was a nice night away from the stress of the bakery and I had a wonderful time. Later that night, I got home and sat down at the dining room table with my family. “How was work?” I asked my dad. “It was pretty quiet tonight, but I was pleased to see how clean you kept the bakery. Plus, the cupcakes in the freezer looked phenomenal!” he exclaimed happily. “I do have one question though,” he looked at me curiously, “Why was there cake batter dripping from the ceiling?”.