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Brody: The Jean and Gene Bakery

The 4 a.m. drive is peaceful, dark, accompanied by sleepy seagulls quite used to the man’s daily trip to Jean and Gene’s Bakery.

We lived on the island of Key Biscayne. Our store was also on the island.

The Gene part of our business was my husband.

It was a perfect place for our bakery because the people living on the beach were laid back, mostly commuting to the bustling city on the other side of the causeway into Miami.

We were the only source of commercially-baked goods. This required the day at the bakery began at 4 a.m.

Arriving in the dark, we flipped on the store lights.

I often thought how comforting to see lights appear like a beacon saying, “all is well.”

We walked straight through to the back door and fed and said good morning to the dozen or so feral cats we cared for.

By this time, the other bakers and icers and mixers and loaf-shapers arrived.

By 6 a.m., the air was filled with the intoxicating aroma of rising loafs of bread and warm bran muffins ready to sample and sell.

Meanwhile, at 6 a.m. I wake up, always anxious to make our bed, feed our Perry Fat Cat, hop on my bike and head for our bakery. I would join my husband in greeting customers and begin my end of the work by making our famed diet toast.

There was a side story associated with owning this store, and her name was Helen.

She was our sole homeless person. Her home was her shopping cart given to her by Kroger.

She soundly ran anyone even thinking of moving into her territory right off the island.

She slept with her head resting on the handle bar of her cart and always felt safe with the islanders.

But one night, all of that changed. Some punk crossed over the bridge and attacked Helen, beating her and stealing what she possessed.

For years, Gene and I fed her a fresh muffin and coffee every morning. We also let her use our bathroom even though we were criticized for it.

What to do of the safety problem for Helen? We decided we would begin immediately leaving our store lights on all night and sitting Helen right in front of the store.

Once recovered, she slept safely there in front of Jean and Gene’s Bakery lit brightly with a camera up above.

It cost us money, but we were helping our friend Helen.

We often had customers who were famous. Many had a second home there where they came to escape the cold. Tennis pros, movie stars, writers and musicians came to our bakery. Why? It was mainly our diet toast at the time.

And when they left to go north, I created a mail order business to go with it.

While they were enjoying their warmth, I also created my own business called Jean and Gene’s Fresh Fruit Frozen Yogurt. I made every part from scratch even the yogurt culture.

At the personal request from one of the Hemingways we opened another store in Miami for just this one product.

I talked to one of the workers this morning after all these years later. It was her job to roll out the croissant dough. That dough was a tough blob and she just didn’t have the upper body strength to do it.

She told me Gene told her if she didn’t do it one way then do it another and stood her up on a stool by the rolling table and  come down on the dough thereby having more arm and chest strength.

She laughed as she recalled this, “Gene was a hard boss but then that was why your baked goods were perfect.”

You know, something small and commercial can turn into much more if you know your life purpose.

Both of us had strong beliefs that humans are supposed to be here for each other, to make life easier and happier for the next guy.

We had years of working together in our Jean and Gene bakery. We worked hard and long, but we so enjoyed those years. But when my health broke and after many surgeries we retired and moved to Flanagan Station Road in Winchester.

Gene has passed, and I have moved to Colorado to be near family. I am left with memories of life filled with joy and love and work and light.

The view from the mountain is wondrous.

Jean Brody is a passionate animal lover and mother. She previously lived in Winchester, but now resides in Littleton, Colorado. Her column has appeared in The Sun for more than 25 years.