A recent visit to Linda’s Town and Country Bakery in the village of Birnamwood rekindled fond memories of my family’s bakery.
In the early 1980s, while I was in elementary school, my parents, Steve and Mary Wideman, proudly owned Wideman’s Family Bakery on Irving Street in Oshkosh.
My dad worked at a bakery while attending Neenah High School, and he worked at a couple of other bakery jobs before he and my mom took over an Oshkosh bakery in which the previous owners were retiring.
My parents worked hard to provide the community with a tasty assortment of bakery items ranging from doughnuts, cookies and bars to bread, buns and rolls.
They artfully decorated gingerbread houses during the holiday season.
As St. Patrick’s Day approached, the display shelves featured an array of green-colored food.
The popularity of the Pac-Man video game at the time resulted in yellow Pac-Man doughnuts, complete with an open mouth, getting gobbled up by hungry customers.
And when Easter rolled around, my dad baked delicious and attractive cakes resembling Easter eggs. Oshkosh’s daily newspaper once featured a photo of him decorating the Easter cakes while wearing a tall, white baker’s hat.
My dad, who passed away in October from cancer, began whipping together ingredients at the bakery every weekday at 1 a.m. and was joined by my mom after my brothers and I were safely at school. Dad clocked at least 70 hours per week while mom put in at least 50 hours.
Occasionally, my younger brothers and I chipped in as well — or got in the way, depending on how you look at it.
I don’t remember a whole lot, because I was about 8 or 9 years old at the time. But I recall learning to make Danish and later demonstrating the process at school. I also remember white buckets filled with red jelly, destined for the inside of doughnuts.
And I can’t help but recall burning my wrist on a hot bread pan after it was removed from the industrial-size oven. The mark, which I proudly showed off for years afterward, eventually disappeared about a decade ago.
On Friday nights, my brothers and I went to the bakery at midnight with our parents and slept on cushiony flour sacks as they feverishly worked to satisfy the surge of Saturday customers. My grandparents sometimes helped out, too.
Typically, the bakery was open from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. Our family still has the sign that was displayed in front of the shop.
Next door to the bakery in the shared building was an antique store; it featured a cool World War II gas mask I wore several times. During Halloween, my brothers and I threw sheets over ourselves and pretended to be ghosts running up and down the sidewalk, eager to scare up some additional business for the bakery (in reality, we probably ended up scaring away customers at the antique store).
My dad also created beautiful wedding cakes, standing several tiers tall with working water fountains, gleaming white columns and staircases cascading to smaller tiers on the sides. He was a skilled decorator, especially when it came to creating intricate roses with frosting.
I fondly recall helping him deliver sections of wedding cakes for assembly at area banquet halls.
My job, as the oldest son — albeit still in elementary school — was to help steady the individual cakes and make sure they didn’t get damaged as Dad navigated potholes and other obstacles. I also held the door open for dad as he carried in the tiers.
My parents deserve a ton of credit for the long hours they put in each week to take care of their family.
Dad is no longer with us, but he’ll never be forgotten. And I’m fortunate my mom is still here to share memories of the bakery and so much more.