At the beginning of February, the bakery where I work part-time was damaged by a big fire that started in the restaurant right next door. The fire started about 3:45 AM on a Sunday morning in the basement of a Japanese restaurant housed in an old (by American standards) building in town. It took 4 hours for the fire departments (note the use of plural here--several in the area were called out) to put it out. There were two bakery employees--the night bakers--in the building at the time. Fortunately, they smelled smoke and got out in time. So did all the residents and pets who lived in the apartments above the restaurant and elsewhere in the building. But those residents all lost their homes in the fire; the restaurant and a neighboring realtor's office and the town's chamber of commerce were severely damaged and are set for demolition; and the bakery has been temporarily displaced since the morning of the fire. Here's a video with footage of the fire:
While a firewall and the work of the firefighters kept the fire from spreading into the bakery, the bakery got some water and smoke damage and has yet to have its power restored. Until the store can be reopened, the bakery is fortunate in that it has a wholesale facility in a neighboring village where it can bake (but not sell) most of the same products it made at its store location. For 2 weeks after the fire, the bakery sold out of a small room in the village hall (where it kind of looked like we bakery employees were just having a community bake sale). Since then, we've been working out of a temporary location a couple blocks from the original location.
This fire came at an especially bad time for the bakery, as it happened just a few weeks before its biggest time of year, Paczki Fest. Paczki, for those of you who sadly don't know, are Polish jam or cream-filled pastries that are traditionally made and eaten in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and the long Lenten fast. They're a big deal around here in Chicago, where the Polish population is second in the world only to Warsaw. The bakery I work at is owned by a Polish-American family who have been in the business for decades. During Paczki Fest, the bakery gets more customers than during major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving and sells nearly 50 varieties of paczki. Needless to say, this fire was one of the worst things that could happen to Chicagoland's north-side Polish and otherwise paczki-loving community. Paczki Fest prevailed, however, and went ahead as always. Never underestimate the power of the paczki.
I wish that was where the bad news of February ended. But near the end of the month one of my mother's closest friends lost a long and very courageous battle with cancer. Though her friend's death wasn't sudden or a surprise, my mother was upset and already misses her friend greatly. She was a unique and strong person and a friend to my mother for over 60 years.
Two days after this came the shocking news that an old friend in Ireland died when he fell into the sea off one of the Aran Islands. He was only in his early 50s. He was a popular man and an unforgettable character, and he was friends with many of the visitors who've come to the islands over the years. He had a mighty laugh. I saw him last time I was in Ireland, last fall. It is hard to imagine the island without him.
It's the 7th of March now. February is over. The cold weather is still here, still being stubborn, and there's still at least 2 feet of snow on the ground around here. But the beginning of this month brought a little good news--for me at least. An essay of mine will be published in an upcoming Irish-themed issue of the wonderful online journal Literary Orphans next month. And some pictures of mine will be featured on a blog project that started up this year that explores the "new Americana," called Rockwell's Camera Phone. I'm thrilled of course. Acceptance always makes me feel like maybe I'm finally doing something right. As with the poems I mentioned in the previous post, I'll post more info and links when the publishing/posting dates arrive for all these pieces.
Hope a better, warmer wind comes along for this 2014 soon.