There is something to be said about the baker’s touch. The ability of the bread maker to be a scientist, carefully balancing the essential elements of life and in the name of others. Never for himself. Always for others.
That was my grandfather. It didn’t hit me until his passing on Saturday that he was a man of complexity and nuance, although he didn’t come off that way. Quiet and conservative, Tata Hector let out very few words. He was a watcher and a thinker.
In the 1960s, Tata Hector operated a bakery, a panaderia, in Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. If you are Mexican, or Mexican-American, you know we love our bread. We especially love Mexican sweet bread, pan dulce. There are the conchas, the cuernos, and the maranitos. You can’t go wrong with a maranito and tall glass of milk.
Tata Hector knew that a way to a person’s heart is through the stomach but getting there can be a tricky thing. The panadero must walk a thin line between too much and too little, too hard and too delicate. The panadero figures out what it takes to get things just right.
Think about it. The panadero is a scientist. He mixes earth, wind and fire. He turns up the heat, but just to the right amount. He uses his hands to create shapes that appeal to the eye. He sweetens his product, and sometimes he leaves it unsweetened.
The panadero sees and hears his customers. He notices their reactions. He takes the temperatures of smiles. He figures out what he should make the next day and what he shouldn’t make. The panadero figures things out because that’s what he has to do to survive.
Today, in the city of Agua Prieta, located on the Arizona border, there are dozens of panaderias. They all have one thing in common, the panadero in the background waiting to make someone happy.
I know Tata Hector brought happiness to many. Not in the way that you see in movies or TV shows but in a way that made you think and appreciate. I only knew him as an old man and not as a young father, but I can imagine, based on his children, and his children’s children, that he was the kind of father we all wanted.
I never had the opportunity to see him tell his kids stories before they went to bed, but I know that he made sure they had a home and a bed to lie in every night. I didn’t see him pick up his daughter, my mother, after she had fallen off a bike, but I know he wanted her to get up and get stronger every day.
Now that Tata Hector has passed on, I can only imagine the kinds of ways that he lived his life as a young man, a father and a business owner. I suppose he did these things in the ways that a panadero does, with thoughtfulness, considering what’s important and what’s not, and creating ways to fill the hearts and the minds with love and happiness for everyone around him.
And to that, I have to hold him in high esteem, because to me Tata Hector was like the perfect morning cup of cafecito and pan dulce. He was soft and comforting. He was familiar and warm. He was necessary.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on February 24, 2017.