One of the many joys of working at an independent school is the fact that we start late and end early. The school days are chock full, satisfying, and sometimes stressful. Then, summer stretches out in long months with far-flung travel destinations or weekends to Montreal and Burlington, Vermont; teaching and taking art workshops, seeing blockbuster movies, attending festivals, and hosting plenty of parties on the patio with friends and family.
Rarely had I worked a “real” summer job since I became the school counselor at North Country School. Later, when I decided to step away from that role in January 2020, little did I know a virus would wend its way into everyone’s spring and, well…you know how it decimated every other season after that. A new role for me at NCS wasn’t necessarily secure. Thankfully, I was offered a position teaching ELA and Social Studies with a small group of 5th and 6th graders. Knowing a giant staycation lay before me, I could organize my days around diving into contemporary children’s lit and lesson planning, but I wanted something more.
Letting go of my life as a mental health professional while the world devolved around me felt liberating. Removing myself from the education system, stepping off the well-worn path I’d trod at NCS, I could be the newbie instead of the veteran for once. I decided to push myself into retail to provide an added layer of structure and stability during that uncertain summer.
I joined the staff at Cedar Run Bakery & Market in Keene. It’s a small shop packed with everything from fresh baked goods, noodle bowls, local dairy, meats, and veggies to handcrafted gifts and so much more. Their take-and-bake meals are the go-to comfort food for neighbors helping neighbors through everything from grief and loss to celebratory milestones. I’d often stopped there on my way up the hill to NCS; however, summer 2020 was a reinvention of sorts. No customers were allowed in the store. Everything was handled over the phone or via the front porch. I likened the work to a theater production: the deli folks were the stage crew, supplying the goods in the background so we front-of-the-house performers could deliver to those waiting outside for their sandwiches, whoopie pies, cupcakes, and coffee. Much like a real theater production, there were plenty of missed cues, forgotten lines, and costume malfunctions.
I was part waitress and part personal shopper. Every morning involved schlepping various displays onto the porch, including the fake cheese from Asgaard Farm, the overflowing basket of hand sanitizer that didn’t make you gag, and the binder of photos that showcased what was in the store’s beverage cooler. We had sandwich boards lovingly illustrated and lettered by a local art teacher (another waitress/personal shopper) to share the daily specials with the masses. And every night involved putting the porch back together again.
I loved the work and the community. I loved being new and learning about my co-workers’ and customers’ lives. While working there, I discovered an aromatherapy product that absolutely saved my school year—another reinvention for me, another beginning. I’d naively thought September 2020 would be a magical end to the pandemic. Laughable now, I know.
In order to make it through the weird and wild world of teaching while masked, I bought a tin of Peaceful AF at Cedar Run, slathering it on the inside of my face covering every morning after packing up my breakfast and completing my health form. I’d inhale the calm scent throughout the day. I went through two tins this year and then moved on to Sweet Orange for an uplifting shift.
I soared through the school year and Cedar Run did, too. I will join them again this summer. The doors are open.