On this first Sunday in June, when the world is full of unbearable pain and sorrow, I find myself emotionally unsuited to deal with it. Instead I choose to warm up a memory to serve you.

Read on, or go about your living day and enjoy it.

1952. Two fresh-faced airmen, Freddie Blackman and I had been in Japan only two weeks and were sitting in a soba cafe in a shady side street cafe.

“It’s good,” he said with a slurp of the soup, “but I would trade it for a hot bagel.”

J.P. Devine has had a long romance with bagels. Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

“What’s a bagel?” I asked.

“You’re kidding me.” He smiled, “You don’t know what it is … a bagel?”


It was on that rainy day in Kogani, Japan, that I had my first bowl of soba, and got a free lecture on bagels from my first Jewish friend.

Freddie explained.

“It’s like a Jewish doughnut, only better.”

“Like with a hole in the middle? ”I asked.

He moaned and smiled. “Yeah, with a hole in the middle.”

Freddie and I had met on latrine duty, scrubbing toilets in the burning Texas heat. He became my part-time “Rebbe.” I learned about Yom Kippur, challa bread, matzos, bar mitzvahs and bagels, the doughnut with the hole in the middle.


All of this was new to me. Growing up I had lived in a world full of Catholics, peopled by cops, bartenders, nuns, priests and small time Italian gangsters. Not a bagel in sight.

The world grew up. I went with it and everything changed.

I was in New York working as an assistant stage manager with the New York City Center Ballet, where the “swans” of “Swan Lake” filled my nightly dance card.

There was the lovely Joya Feldman, from Avenue M in Brooklyn, the funny “Mitzi” Berman from New Jersey, and the shy Sharon from 554 Fifth Ave., all who took me to orthodox weddings and bar mitzvahs, taught me curse words in Yiddish, and fed me bagels and wine at 2 in the morning.

My young dancers took me to family affairs where bagels of all kinds were featured, with cream cheese and lox, and once, at a wedding at the Plaza, with caviar. I kid you not. Carbo freaks, they watched while I noshed.

When my career skidded off the road to Hollywood, I worked with Bob Newhart, Johnny Carson and Jerry Lewis, whose entire writing staffs were Brooklyn and Bronx people who brought bowls of bagels and fruit to the Monday table readings.


Newhart’s on-screen “wife,” the late, wonderful Suzy Pleshette, and I would share a warm bagel in a corner between tapings.

And as a freelancer in the newsroom at the Los Angeles Times, bagels and coffee were delivered from Canter’s on Fairfax Avenue every morning. True story.

Bagels in Maine? Sure, but in Waterville? Bagels at Shaw’s and Hannaford? You’re kidding.

Starbucks at least has a variety, but who’s doing the boiling?

Here in Maine, my romance with bagels slipped away, faded and folded into memory.

Then, last week, I met Waterville’s Tiffany Lopes, the gentle, funny local purveyor of bagels, from her Sunrise Bagel deli tucked away on Water Street, with a menu full of delights, and a side garden of tables and chairs under the trees.

Oh yes, and bagels.

You all know what a bagel is, right? That Jewish doughnut with the hole in it. Good, mazel tov.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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