personal essay

I Miss the Donut Shop

published Jun 20, 2021
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But the donuts never stopped. Takeout. Curbside. Drive-thru.

The current go-to comes from Stonington, behind Sea Swirl, where when I was a kid on summer nights Pa took us for clam bellies and fried haddock. Ketchup. Vinegar on the side.

The day we buried him on the bank of the Mystic River, after the bugler played taps and the vets gave their blank-shot salute, I ordered half a dozen — cinnamon and sugar — and waited at the picnic tables. Sea Swirl was boarded up for winter. A man in a mask brought the box to my trunk. I thanked him and took a drive: Left out of the lot, right to the river road by the Seaport and the cider mill. Up the hill and past my pal Pat’s parent’s house, the high school, the ballfields where I never hit home runs, where Dad coached first, where Pa always cheered in his folding chair.

There’s an all-timer in Kittery, Maine. A piped cruller. Eggy and light. Dipped in sticky glaze. I can take down six in a sitting. We got them last summer — and will this year too, order online, select your time, and your donuts appear on a folding table outside, eat in some barren parking lot — but I miss the line, the extra hot latte, the smell of citrus and fennel seed, the sound of spattering breakfast meat.

We — Dad and me — took Pa there once. When he saw the line and commotion inside, he decided he’d wait in the car. Coffee with milk and a sugar, he said. And bring back something sweet.

As soon as he smelled them he said he’d have one now, that he didn’t want to wait. We ate crullers pulled off on a side street.

The last Father’s Day I spent with Pa was two years back. I have it on video. My wife was 12 weeks pregnant. We wrote our news in a card. On hard days I replay the footage. Pa reads the note aloud. He always read cards aloud. Then he stops. He looks up knowingly, smile wide as watermelon. Whoa, hey, he calls out into the day.

The morning after our son was born, he rang and left a message. Hi to you and your lady, he said. And that little baby, he looks pretty good to me.

A warm morning last winter, we took a dozen to his grave. The clouds were low and gray. To the north was the bridge and the soft thrum of the highway. I wore my son on my front and told him about his great grandparents, how they lived by this river for 35 years and were together twice that.

It’s true: a donut made things better.

But I miss two donuts most.

When I was a boy, Pa piled my bicycle and a basketball into the pickup and drove us to the town park. This was in Noank, not far from the mouth of the river. Pa played college hoops at UConn and still loved to shoot. But first we walked to Carson’s, where we sat at the counter and I wondered about a jelly or honey-dipped, where Pa took his old fashioned and coffee to go. He removed the top from the cup on the bench and dunked his donut in while I tore laps on my bike around the tennis courts. Once he finished, he showed me how, when he was young, they hit foul shots by squatting down and lobbing the basketball underhand. Then he dropped three in a row the modern way.

The other comes from a long-closed shop on Colonel Ledyard Highway. Now it’s a packie. This is beside the hardware store and nursery. On half days or early dismissals when Pa got me from school, we headed to the center and stopped before the roads were coated with snow.

We found a seat with an abandoned paper. He passed me the funnies, which I pretended to read but never got.

So how ‘bout them lady Huskies, Pa would say.

An old timer said he turned it off at the half.

But they pass it so smooth and fast, Pa said.

I wondered why he didn’t mention his basketball past. The counter gal refilled his cup.

UConn beat Baylor last night. On his early morning walk today, Dad bumped into one of Pa’s pals from the neighborhood. He would’ve loved that game, the old friend said.

As he tells me this, it occurs to me it’s not the donut shop I miss. It’s the trips to the dump. The woodpiles and coffees on the breezeway. More, it’s how he visited her every day, spread a napkin in her lap — she’s gone now too, buried beside him by the river — and broke the donut in two, so they could share a meal, or at least a treat, something sticky and sweet, the way they did before.