When you ask God for a sign…
He may indeed answer. I’d like to tell you that this was one of those examples that the clouds parted, the sun shined down and the angels started singing. It wasn’t. It wasn’t like that at all.
I feel like I need to step back and make a confession. For the last year and a half, I have spent some of my time in a fantasy place. When I get stressed out or emotionally bogged down by something over the last eighteen months, I close my eyes and go to a magical place of escape. I go to Buttercup’s.
Buttercup’s Old Fashioned Bakery. A place of sweets, but not too sugary. There’s lemon blueberry cake, vinegar cake, war cake, tomato soup cake, lemon zest cake and even the occasional slice of hummingbird cake. It smells like the delicious combination of butterscotch scones and the Bird Watcher’s coffee from Eastern Shore Coastal Roasting Company. While using a mason jar to cut out tea cakes, I’m singing some song from the fifties – perhaps Pasty Clines’ Walking After Midnight. I’m rocking a dress that was probably donned by a housewife of the time. In this make-believe world sometimes I’m alone, but occasionally my mom is there frosting red velvet cupcakes and my sister Madison is decorating sugar cookies to look like birds. Here recently I also hear Madison say, “Do you need a vacuum for that cheese?” The three of us snicker and The Beatles’ Love Me Do comes on the radio. One of my coworkers walks in the door and says she is so glad she found a shop that serves cake with no frosting.
If Buttercup’s was real, it would be here. In this little building that I have known my whole life. It sits on the outskirts of Cape Charles’ town limits. Before this building was the imaginary land of Buttercup’s Old Fashioned Bakery, it started out as a Pure Oil Gas Station. As automobiles began taking over as the most popular form of transportation, gas stations started popping up all over the United States. By the late 1920’s, oil companies began to realize the importance of branding and therefor developed architectural plans that would allow drivers to recognize their particular product. Pure Oil began building their gas stations to resemble English cottages.
I’m not sure when its doors were closed as a gas station (presumably when Cape Charles began to decline from the bustling busy town it had been) but over the years it has had times of vacancy and times of business. The last thing I remember it being was a gift shop and that may have been when I was a teenager but I’m not for certain. Let’s just say it’s been a quiet dark time for this lovely little building.
Oh, but in my head how that building has been a happening little place. I only let a few people in on my secret little hideaway from real stress. The beau, one coworker, my sister Madison and of course my mother. One day, as her car passed by the lonely retired shop she told my stepfather, “That’s where Buttercup’s is going to be.”
“There? It’s too small.” Obviously, my stepfather was dreaming bigger about our delightful desserts.
The secret of Buttercup’s almost escaped one day at work during a charity Santa Paws photo session. I had set up the backdrop and had Santa (one of our doctors) come pose for some test shots. I turned to hook my camera up to my laptop. The building was the background photo for my desktop and I had thought nothing of proudly displaying it.
Santa spoke up and said, “I’ve seen that building before.”
“This one?” I pointed at Buttercup’s. “It’s just outside of Cape Charles. It used to be a gas station and even a bar once. Rumor is they didn’t card.”
“It looks very colonial. I could almost imagine pies in the window.”
I stopped what I was doing and stared at the photo. I’m so glad Santa couldn’t see my face because I had been imagining pies and cakes in those windows for fourteen months at that point. I sighed and went about the business of being ready for Santa’s next two hours of holiday well wishes.
Last Sunday morning when the beau uttered the words that may have changed my life forever I was still drowsy enough I hoped I was still asleep and it was a terrible nightmare. He held up his phone to display a picture posted on Facebook that I will never forget.
“I don’t know. It doesn’t say.”
I held his phone in my hands for a long time watching my life slip away. “I guess that’s a sign. I kept asking God for a sign. I think God just said stop being a silly dreamer.”
That afternoon in the pouring rain (how appropriate – if someone drove by blaring Love Hurts it would have been absolutely perfect) I went to see what was once Buttercup’s. I couldn’t take my eyes off the debris that at once was a structure who had lived through horrible hurricanes and nor’easters. All it took was someone driving a Honda to miss the stop sign across the street and my dreams were shattered. I pulled away before things got ugly. I didn’t want the police to be called out to come collect me from sobbing in what was either a puddle of rain or my tears.
Almost a week later, I visited the building again but this time with mom and Madison.
“Oh dear.” One of us said.
At first, we just took it all in. I had never actually seen the inside of the building so the collapsed window offered a look in on something that I could only dream about. “Ed was right. It is tiny. I guess it was good to see this. It wouldn’t have worked anyway.”
“It’s tiny, but it would have worked.” My mother peered in and pointed towards two small rooms. “Are those bathrooms? What I would do is knock down that wall and only have one bathroom … like a family bathroom. You could have your counter right here.”
I was smiling at this though I’m not sure if it was because my mother was talking about knocking down walls while we were leaning over an exterior wall that had been creamed a week earlier or if because I could still see a bakery counter displaying all of those yummy creations we had discussed.
We slid along the side of the building to look in the larger section of the old gas station which turned out not to be all that much larger.
“You’d probably have to use this whole area as your kitchen. You might have room for a little bit of seating.”
“Madison! It could be open concept like a Japanese sushi bar.” I said this while nudging my sister with my elbow. She was also grinning, but as with me it was hard to speculate why. It was either the crazy notion of still thinking this could be a functioning business or the idea of sushi.
“You could dust your face with flour every morning.” Mom’s determined gaze dropped and she announced, “I’m pretty sure there was a floor in here back when it was the Sportsman’s Inn. When I moved here this was a bar. They didn’t card and they would serve anyone. That’s all I’m saying about that.”
We circled the building several times discovering details we’d never noticed before. After fifteen minutes of fascinating finds we stood back and took in the magnificent beauty of the little tiny brick structure. People rubbernecked the whole time we were there and continued to do so as we enjoyed those last few minutes of fantasy living.
“I’m sure this will end up in that gossip column in the Cape Charles Wave.”
I giggled, “Three redheads of various shades were seen sizing up the old Sportsman’s Inn.”
“It has good bones, Mel. This could really work.”
“I feel like if it was going to work now, it truly would take a lottery winning.”
“Well, I plan to buy a lottery ticket on the way home. I have a Buttercup’s to buy.”
As much as I have loved veterinary medicine over the last seventeen years, I know if mom won the lottery and bought me that little place I wouldn’t turn her down. Ever since Presleigh died, my job hasn’t been the same to me. It hasn’t been the only contributing factor, but it probably is the biggest one. Now I find myself dreaming of dreams unobtainable and little shops who are likely past the point of return. Making Buttercup’s a reality would cost a fortune so for now I’ll continue to dream. Dreaming is free and that is something I can definitely afford.
The not-so-imaginary staff of the imaginary Buttercup’s Old Fashioned Bakery … also known in other various dream worlds as Marsha Mello’s or Mello Out.