Learning My Place – by Laura Duguid

What is human evolution? What we see and hear most commonly refers to physical anthropology; the way in which humans have evolved over millions of years to be what we are today. Fascinating stuff sure, but the evolution of the human spirit, now that’s something we feel. It happens around us every day. We may evolve over several decades, years or months. 

Twelve years ago I was sitting in a collection agency working full-time collecting government debts. I was happy for sure. Strange, I know, but I had a full-time job and as a single parent, that’s what was important to me. I had gone from working 2 or 3 jobs at a time, all part-time, to make ends meet, so 1 full-time job was an upgrade.

In the ring of a phone my life would change, evolve. I would answer the phone and meet my husband. Nope, I wasn’t collecting from him; we had a mutual friend at the agency. Over the course of several years, he would convince me to do things that were way outside my comfort level. “Fortune favours the bold,” he’d say. Sound familiar? 

I would take a job at another agency, I would move from collector to administration to supervisor to collection manager, all the while forging forward knowing that, as a mother who was successful, I was teaching my daughters to be women. Strong, independent, intelligent women… yeah right! What was actually happening in my delusional state of success was absence. Not intentional absence, but the kind that songs are made of. Cats in the Cradle comes to mind. I worked far too many hours, and gave too much of myself emotionally to a product that wasn’t mine. Later, when the economy would move my position too many hours away, I would find myself out of a job.

I grew up in a house with a strong intelligent mother. I was fortunate to have both parents until my late teens. My mother took us to women’s rights marches regularly and we discussed world politics and human rights issues. So I knew that I didn’t belong in a kitchen, cooking and baking. Women could do those things but we could do so much more. We could be Executive Director’s, we could fix cars, we could paint our houses, we could do everything a man could do and more. My mother worked full-time for the city, but our house was spotless and she was home at night and on weekends.  Don’t get me wrong, my mom can bake. But if she was busy, then to the grocery store she went and our birthday cake was made the same way as all of my friends; out of a box of powdered mix plus a can of frosting. There were memories of baking cakes: kids helping in the kitchen to bake the boxed cake, getting to lick the frosting spoon, the smell of chocolate cake in an oven. To a kid, it’s the same no matter where it comes from. 

But, as an adult, I have celiac disease. I’m allergic to gluten, and dairy, and a number of other ingredients. So are both of my daughters, so the cake memories are slightly different.

Something as simple as my daughter’s birthday cake would again cause an evolution in my spirit. When word got out that I could bake a cake that tasted like a regular cake but was gluten, dairy and soy free, things got crazy. Linda Tutt at The Brantford Station Gallery became my biggest Advocate after she tasted the cake for herself. I started getting calls several times a week looking for something gluten free that didn’t taste gritty, chewy, crumbly or like cardboard; any of the typical gluten free descriptive words. Cakes, cupcakes, pizza, buns and breads, you name it, I got calls for it. I had no idea there were so many people in this community that had celiac disease or were gluten intolerant. So here I was at 30 faced with a dilemma. The very thing that I had spent my life running away from, the idea that somehow I belonged in a kitchen baking, had become my greatest joy. 

We embarked on a journey to build a business. We walked a piece of carrot cake into Al Dente on King George Road. Ray and Lorrie took a chance on us, opening up their kitchen to offer space and adding legitimacy to our business. Two years later, we’ve been regularly on the menu and our new home is ironically the old Al Dente downtown. It has taken us a year to change what those under 30 will remember as the Ford Plant into a pink and brown bakery and café. Some will say it seems like the bakery will never open, but evolution takes time. We financed the renovations with our savings and with the earnings of my husband’s business, all the while doing most of the work ourselves. We rolled up our sleeves and called my incredible father-in-law and got it done. We’ve painted, drywalled, done plumbing and electrical work, all with the help of some very talented friends and family. We’ve traded goods and services, and we have equipment more than a year old that, in some cases, has never been plugged in.  

The lesson I was afraid that my daughters would miss, being a woman and accomplishing your goals and dreams, wasn’t lost on them at all. In fact, it was inspired by them. I still work long hours, but now I take the kids with me. I am still pouring my heart and soul into something, but I’m doing it in a kitchen, where I now belong. And, most importantly, I’m doing it my way. 

Baking isn’t for everyone, but it IS for me. I am still strong, intelligent and successful, but I also make one hell of a cupcake. I believe wholeheartedly that you are only defined by what you feel you cannot achieve. I have taken my biggest hurdle and made it my most successful endeavour. We don’t expect evolution to happen overnight and it doesn’t. It took me 30 years to change my mind, 10 years to finally marry my best friend and a year for us to build a bakery together as a family.

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