“But baking was always a love of mine.”
She first went public in the sixth grade at Field Elementary School in Clairemont when she showed up one day with oatmeal-raisin bars baked with chocolate. They were a hit with her classmates, and though she did not know it, her future had just unfolded before her.
“My parents were strict,” she recalled, “and I was very shy and self-conscious. Baking was my way, I guess…” she said, trailing off. One of the bakers had run out to tell Rebecca that her scones were ready. She excused herself.
My table was set on a raised platform at the front of the building. From this vantage point I could see youngsters jumping out of Volvos and suvs and hurrying inside with instructions from their mothers, who waited behind the wheel. A couple of runners, damp with sweat, had ended their run here. The outside tables were a free zone for smokers, who were reading the newspaper and having their first cup of coffee and cigarette. Customers leashing their dogs to the trees found bowls of water for the dogs to drink; and inside, Rebecca had baked dog biscuits that she gave away. Most of these dogs were big — models built along the lines of a golden retriever — but while Albert Boost’s eight-year-old shih tzu, Panda, was tiny by comparison, what she lacked in size she more than made up for in attitude. Dogs approaching for an introductory sniff were sent reeling backward. The chip on Panda’s shoulder may have had to do with the ribbons in her hair.
“She got them yesterday,” explained Boost. “Whenever she visits Susie’s Pet Clipet on Park Boulevard, she gets ribbons.”
Information of this sort, remarkable mostly for its being shared, feels right at Rebecca’s. Boost, a widower who lives in nearby Burlingame with his daughter, likes to include a coffee stop at Rebecca’s as part of his morning constitutional. Here conversation is easy and I learned that the widower, now in his 80s, worked after World War II as a geological engineer for the California Water Project, which brought water down from the northern portion of the state.
“And with more water there came more people. So after that I worked for Caltrans and that meant more people could get here easier.” He laughed and gathered up Panda. “You can blame me for California being so crowded.”
Rebecca returned and explained that she bakes raspberry and apricot muffins and chocolate chip, molasses, and ginger cookies, but scones remain most popular. “I can’t bake enough of them.”
As we sat in the morning sun and talked, Rebecca mentioned that a year ago she almost died.
“I had been hemorrhaging for months,” she said. When she finally underwent the hysterectomy and the surgeons removed her uterus, they washed it and showed it to her. “It weighed 13H pounds and was red and shiny like a balloon and looked to be full of golf balls. Those were the fibroid tumors.” She blushed and said it was a strange thing to be talking about. And it did seem strange on this beautiful morning.
While her doctor did not want to put odds on her surviving, miracles have come in multiples for Rebecca. She told me how, after her partner left, a customer overheard her speaking of money worries and loaned her the money to pay her bills. “Whoever heard of that?” she asked. But perhaps the story of how she got her home is the most amazing. She did not have the $10,000 required for a down payment, but again, a customer got wind of her trouble and offered to loan her the money. He was ill with aids, she said, and so they agreed that if he died, she would repay the loan to his caretaker. The man did indeed die and she repaid the loan. “But isn’t that unbelievable, I mean, people just appeared to make things happen…”
Rebecca’s is located on the edge of South Park and has both a large gay community as well as a growing number of men and women in recovery from drug and alcohol abuse. Rebecca likes to give jobs to people down on their luck.
“This is a place for everyone, that’s what’s so wonderful about it,” she said, and then offered a comparison with what she knows well, her scones. “At first I promised myself that I’d just bake the traditional scones, but people ask, and so I tried new things. Rebecca’s is like that, trying new things.”
Her English mother taught her how to bake scones. I asked what her most popular offering is. “Walnut scones,” she said. Is there, I asked, any secret to baking scones? “You have to learn not to touch them too much,” she said. “You have to learn to just let them alone.”
“The ghost appeared one evening.”
It was Sunday and the remark came as the sun was sinking into the Pacific, somewhere behind Coronado, the sky over our heads a lemon shade deepening into gold. I was in the backyard of Canyon House, a bed-and-breakfast and the oldest building on Olive Street. Painted in woodsy greens, the handsome two-story structure sits high on its foundation, on a slight crest, so that it helps to define the horizon line.
“Ruth, my daughter, saw the ghost,” said Carole Brown who, with her husband, owns Canyon House. Paul Brown grew up in North Park and graduated from Saint Augustine High School on nearby Nutmeg Street. They married, each for the second time, in 1986, and bought Canyon House two years later.
Paul Brown, at 54, has something of the poet that clings to him. For the last 26 years he has worked as an electronic digital control mechanic at the Naval Aviation Depot in North Island. Carole Brown, three years older than her husband (“And am I embarrassed about my age? No! I’ve earned every one of my years!”), has green eyes, flaxen hair, and a creamy complexion. She runs Canyon House because it gives her a chance to meet people, she says. Husband and wife have an easygoing attitude about their bed-and-breakfast endeavor. It is for them a fun hobby. But Carole Brown is one of those people who go about their hobbies in a big way. Take the garden where we were standing.