Bob Schlagel whistled to himself as he walked from his classic Corvette to the jewelers on main street. He’d had his eye on an engagement ring for Lillian for 2 weeks. He sometimes forgot that he had been seeing Lillian officially since mid-October, they had known each other for so many years it just seemed natural. His mother also insisted that Bob accept the ring given to her by his grandmother. A very delicate opal ring surrounded by small pearls.
I had not expected this beautiful gift but I knew my mother wanted Lillian to have something special. I asked old Mr. Garrety to add these stones to a setting of the ring I’d already chosen. A gold ring with a round cut ruby stone surrounded by the small pearls from my grandmother’s ring. The band on the engagement ring was wide as was the wedding band I chose. I had asked Mr. Garrety to set the opal from my grandmother’s ring into the plain, gold wedding band. As Mr. Garrety stepped out from the back room with the small velvet covered box I could feel my heart racing. I was so anxious to see the final creation. As the box was opened the whole set sparkled. It was utterly perfect. Mr. Garrety smiled as he said; “It’s beautiful Bob. I’m very happy for you both. You picked out the perfect set, Lillian doesn’t wear rings while baking at the shop but I think you’ve chosen a wedding band she’ll wear happily. By the way I put in one of my patented silicone ring protectors that will keep the ring from falling off.” I gave a slight grin and replied, “She hasn’t said yes yet Mr. G.! Tomorrow is the night” Bob thought to himself, “Speaking of tomorrow, I better get moving, we’ve got a lot of work to do!” Bob shook Mr. Garrety’s hand, put the ring in his satchel and headed off towards Bob’s Best Bakery to start the day’s work.
As soon as I entered the kitchen my mother raced from the shop to the bakery. “Hi sweetheart! Did you get it?” asked Mrs. Katrina Schlagel with excitement. “Yes! It’s perfect! You were right about adding the opal to the wedding band. As per usual” I said, cajoling mom just a little. Dad massaged my shoulder a little grinning at me. As I opened the box, everyone in the bakery crowded around for a look. There was an audible gasp as the rings inside were revealed; the rings had a vintage look but at the same time the width of the bands gave a hint of the modern styles. I announced to our 4 loyal bakers; “You are ALL sworn to secrecy! Not a word of this to anyone. I want Lillian to be completely surprised.” Of course they all knew how long I had feelings for Lillian. They wouldn’t ruin this moment for the world! Sam Masters spoke for all of them, “We all want you to know we’re hoping everything goes off tomorrow without a hitch… and she says ‘yes’!” Everyone laughed. “Thank you Sam, thank you all. I said with a smile. “Now if we’re going to get everything ready for tomorrow’s dinner we’ve got to get to work!” announced Mrs. Schlagel.
I pivoted in my mind from my engagement to the business. The dinner tomorrow was going to be one of the more important events in town. I wanted to be absolutely sure that all the preparations were perfect.
At Ginny’s Cookie Jar gluten free bakery, Lillian Hyde was nervously watching over a batch of sweet rolls. It was her first time baking her own version of Aunt Ginny’s perfect pecan sweet rolls. The original was a family secret, Making these gluten free was going to be a bit tricky. “Bethann, how are the dinner rolls coming?” Lillian queried. “Very well Lilli!" Came the reply from a voice from the shop. “They are cool now, so I’ll box them up” “Excellent! Thank you so much!” Lillian said as she crossed the kitchen to check the list on the wall. This wasn’t a huge order but it was important and she wanted everything to be perfect.
The occasion of the year was being given by First Lutheran Church of Bushwick. The congregation decided that Progressive Christmas Eve Dinner held in some of the most beautiful Victorian style homes in the town of Bushwick would be a wonderful way to thank the Pastors and 18 members of the church leadership for their service in the previous year. They had planned the meal down to the last detail. The best caterer in Applefield would be serving the main dishes for each course, except for dessert. That’s where Lillian and Bob’s bakeries would serve up their best delights. Bethann and Rachel were asked to serve the gluten free dishes to those who required a separate meal for health reasons. They even bought matching Austen-esque dresses.
Lillian was going over everything in her mind when Nathan and Mary Kubelsky, the caterers from Applefield, came in with the finished menu cards for the place settings. “Beautiful!” Lillian said to Nathan “Our only concern is cooking in at least 4 different kitchens!” said Nathan. “I understand, believe me! Aunt Pauline and I were concerned about baking or warming food through in some of those ancient kitchens. Gluten free can be a bit fickle.” Lillian replied with stress in her voice. Aunt Pauline chimed in “What do you MEAN ANCIENT!? I remember when some of those kitchens were brand new!” Everyone burst out laughing. “Nathan, Mary, I hope you’ll excuse me. I have to prep the van for tomorrow. I’ve got to make sure all the boxes and shelves are mounted properly.” Grabbing her backpack, coat and of course the lead for Ginger Pie.
“Ladies, I’m going to take Ginger with me to check on the van. If you’ll shut everything down we’ll call it a night!” Lillian announced on her way out the door. She asked Bob to help her move the shelves in the van.
My mind was a million miles away. “I passed dad on my way through the kitchen. I’m going to help Lil with her van. Those shelving units are a bear to move around.” I said. I pulled my collar up against the cold as I crossed the street to the parking lot. I heard a familiar bark. It was Lillian and Ginger Pie. Butterflies in my stomach struck with unusual severity. After all these years she still conjures up butterflies! “What timing!” thought Bob.
“Bob!” Lillian yelled to me. I was happy to see her. I took Lillian by the hand. “Let’s get this van taken care of so you can get home! It’s COLD.” I said to Lillian. Her brown eyes danced in the light of the street lamp. Dad stepped out from the shop and waved to Lillian. “Mr. Schlagel, Lovely to see you!” “You too Lillian! My best to everyone at the shop!” Dad’s voice boomed. Lil and I waved in acknowledgement. Thankfully it didn’t take long to make sure everything was secure inside the van.
I didn’t realize how exhausted I would be when I finally left the shop. I grabbed a sandwich to eat then listened to the messages on my answering service. “Bob, it’s Lilli, just wanted I’m home safe and sound. Thanks for your help! Heading for a bath and bed. See you tomorrow!” I headed for bed myself.
Lillian heard her alarm at 5:30 am and woke with an unusually excited feeling! It was the big day! She raced through her usual morning routine. Today she wore a green shirt and bright red work pants. It’s Christmas Eve. Grabbing her gear and Ginger Pie she headed to town to start the day with a gift exchange at the shop.
“Ladies!” Lillian said with a smile “Merry Christmas!” In unison Bethann, Rachel and Aunt Pauline returned her greeting. She was disappointed her parents wouldn't be here for the festivities but their plane was grounded yesterday due to the horrid weather. Breakfast sandwiches, coffee, and Christmas presents. Her heart felt such immense happiness, however work beckoned in the bakery and it was time to get a move on.
The day passed quickly. In a flash it was time for all of us to head to the first stop in the Christmas Eve Dinner. Lillian checked one last time around the kitchen. She thanked CeCe, a long time friend, for watching over Ginger Pie and being willing to stand by in her kitchen should anything be needed.
Bob’s van was already parked up when they arrived. “Of course they were already busy in the kitchen.” She thought to herself smiling. Nathan Kubelsky, head chef and organizer of the kitchen staff, darted out from the back door to greet everyone. “Hello ladies!” “Hi Nathan!” everyone replied as we unpacked boxes of puff pastries and other simple appetizers for our first stop. Nathan took Lillian and Pauline aside. “I want you to know that the church chose Tony Bartolomo as the driver for the evening. It’s probably not what you wanted to hear. I know he said some horrible things about your shop in the past.” He informed them. Tony Bartolomo had been the food reviewer for the local paper. He was so cutting in his remarks that no one would have anything to do with him. He now owns a car hire company and fancies himself a comedian, and foodie. Aunt Pauline and Lillian smiled at one another. “Don’t worry Nathan,” said Aunt Pauline “We’ve got a secret weapon” We both smiled and made our way to the kitchen.
Lillian and her crew stepped into the immaculate kitchen of a grand Victorian style home. To accommodate those with gluten sensitivity, Nathan had divided the work surfaces up so that the gluten free and those foods containing gluten were separate. “Brilliant job Nathan!” Lillian said. Nathan bowed in response. Bob Schlagel Sr. and Bob Schlagel Jr. were working over a hot stove. Bob Jr. turned around with a smile that melted Lillian on the spot. “Hello sweetheart!” he said warmly. “Hello” Lillian replied almost breathlessly. “Those dimples!” Lillian thought, “How did I not notice them before?” Nathan shot Aunt Pauline a look. She winked in return.
The whole kitchen was bustling. Until all the appetizers were out on the tables. Bethann and Rachel were serving tea and coffee. There was a lull in the activity… Bob was ready with the ring in his pants pocket. Bob took Lillian into the beautifully appointed parlor and was just about to get down on one knee when Tony Bartolomo walked in, his hat blinking with Christmas colored lights. He stood there telling one horrible Christmas joke after another. Clearly unable to take a hint, Tony stood there until it was time to move to the next house for the soup and salad course.
The next house was actually the town Historical Society building. They’d done an amazing job decorating for Christmas. Our only responsibility here was bread or rolls. Aunt Pauline’s special gluten free bread and rolls received rave reviews. The specialty of the Bob’s Best Bakery was the crusty bread and hearty rolls. Everything was unpacked then Nathan showed us how he wanted to serve in turns so that food would be warm on delivery to the tables. The whole thing was orchestrated perfectly. So much so that we were able to sit down to rest a bit.
I took Lillian’s hand while we sat in the back room resting. Pauline was talking to Mary Kubelsky, Tony was asked to keep the fireplaces so that the dining room stayed warm. My parents made themselves scarce. Lillian began to look a little pale. It was stuffy in the room so I took it upon myself to walk her into the genealogy room. “Lil are you okay?” I asked. “I’m fine, just a little bit of a fast heart rate. Would you get me some water?” she replied. I got up and moved quickly to get her a bottle of water from the kitchen. I reached down to check to make sure the rings were still in my pocket. I was just about to start my proposal when we heard an almighty POP come from the kitchen. And… the lights went out. No one mentioned to Nathan that one couldn’t use the microwave and the other electric appliances at the same time. The overhead light in the dining room went out. Mercifully there was a full array of battery powered candles. There was a slight smell of smoke but no visible fire. No proposal during the soup and salad course.
Nathan moved everyone on to the house where the main course would be served. The most historic and beautiful Victorian home in Bushwick. Now used by the Elks Lodge, the building contained a professional kitchen, beautiful dining room, with a huge Christmas tree on the front porch decorated in Red, White, and Blue lights. With a seemingly bottomless pit of tasteless costumes, Tony Bartolomo showed up in a Santa-esque Uncle Sam costume. Nathan had the very great good sense to have Mr. Schlagel Sr. remind Tony that the church had hired him as a driver because this was a classy affair.
Nathan had prepared a feast that was fully worthy of the Victorian Christmas. Remarkable dishes and meats. Once the two bakeries put out the necessary breads, rolls, fruit breads, and cornbreads, it was again time to retreat to allow Nathan and Mary get on with serving their sumptuous meal.
Bob and Lillian looked for some space where it was quiet because Lillian was still feeling slightly off. Lillian's experience getting overly warm had drained her. Bob took her to the small luncheon side of the dining area where it was much cooler. Lillian could tell there was something he wanted to say. “Bob, you’ve been acting like a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs all evening.” She said teasingly. “What’s up?” Bob was about to answer when Nathan called out “Bob, if Lillian is up to it. I'd like to acknowledge all of the bakers and staff who worked on this meal.” “Yes, I’m alright Nathan” answered Lillian. She took Bob by the arm. “You will tell me right?” She asked “Of course! I am looking forward to a proper chat when this is done” replied Bob.
For the bakeries the last stop was showtime. Nathan and Mary set up two tables lined with desserts in a buffet style. For those who did not care for anything sweet, bread and cheese were served. The Kubelsky’s thought of everything!
The bakeries got busy. Nathan organized and Mary took care of plate presentation. Dessert was served at the Engineer’s home, the original home of the Chief Engineer of the canal that once ran the width of the state. It was stately! It was a wonderful setting for dessert. A small local ensemble played Christmas music while people sat at small round tables to eat. The bakeries were moving as though someone had choreographed their entrances and exits. The Kubelskys had outdone themselves this time. Bethann and Rachel were representing Ginny's Cookie Jar beautifully. Bob’s Best Bakery had made some amazing traditional desserts. The highlight, of course, was the Christmas pudding.
Lillian walked to the big picture window at the back of the room to look out at the night sky. Bob joined her. “This is an amazing view.” Lillian said. Bob looked at her and said, “Yes, it is.” Lillian turned a very lovely shade of pink. “Blushing again?” teased Bob. By now the ring in Bob’s pocket felt like it was burning a hole into his leg. Bob had all the words he wanted to say memorized by now and was ready to ask Lillian for her hand in marriage when his phone rang. Lillian drifted off to check on Bethann and Rachel. “So much for that romantic opportunity.” thought Bob.
As the cleanup began, Mr. Schlagel walked up to his son and said something quietly in his ear. Bob smiled and laughed. “My mom and your Aunt Pauline insist that I drive you home.” Bob said to Lillian “Aunt Pauline says you look like a white cat in a snowstorm.” “How flattering.” said Lillian laughing, “but I won’t say no either.” They grabbed their coats and headed for Bob’s yellow Corvette. “Remember we have to get Ginger Pie.” said Lillian. “No, Aunt Pauline asked CeCe to take her home for you.” replied Bob. Lillian rolled her eyes and laughed.
Bob drove into Lillian’s driveway. CeCe came out and waved to them as she walked to her car. Lillian could hear Ginger Pie barking excitedly in the house. Bob said, Let me walk you in.” “Okay, I’ll get us some tea.” said Lillian. She plugged in her electric teapot. When she turned around Bob was down on one knee with Ginger Pie sitting right next to him. “Lillian Hyde, I have loved you since the moment I clapped eyes on your freckled face and ponytails in the 8th grade. Will you do me the honor of being my wife?” Bob said, choking back a few tears. Lillian stood there staring at the man, the box, the ring, and the dog for what seemed like an eternity. She felt that breathless feeling again as she said “Bob, of course, I will.” in that same breathless tone she had used earlier. “I was all ready to propose 4 separate times tonight” said Bob “However, I think this was the perfect setting” as he slipped the ruby ring onto Lillian’s finger and she hugged him tight.