Every family has rituals.
Not the religious kind. The kind that stick in your memory, conjured up usually by a smell, a fragment of conversation, a scene in an otherwise inane TV show that suddenly sends you someplace sublime in your memory.
A meaningful ritual for me is getting donuts on Sunday morning. These days the trip is well before I go to church at 5 p.m.. When I was a kid, it was after 10 a.m. Mass, with my dad teasing us five donut-craving siblings that he was just going to pass by the Duncan Donut shop this Sunday because we were too crazy and grab-assing.
“Andy, please, we just got out of Mass,” my Mom would say like clockwork, but her feigned smile betrayed her complicity in the ruse.
“Pleeeeease, we neeeeeed donuts,” my brothers and sisters and I would scream in ear-splitting unison.
“See … that’s why they don’t need any damn donuts,” my dad would say to mom, not really all that annoyed. And sometimes he did pass right by the Duncan Donuts on the main drag in Plattsburgh, N.Y. That’s a pretty town on Lake Champlain in upstate New York between the Adirondacks and Canada, where my family moved right before I went to college 38 years ago.
But if he didn’t pull the Ford LTD into the parking lot there, he drove on until he reached a little general store at the entrance to our neighborhood on a jut of land encompassed by the lake called Cumberland Head.
The store had the two things my dad and his kids were after on Sunday mornings — great homemade pastry and the Sunday papers. Mostly we were after the sports pages of the New York Daily News and the Post, but we also got the Times, which had a lousy sports section but a great arts section that my mother and I liked to read.
Chocolate frosted, plain glazed, jelly-filled and cream-spiked donuts — we loved them all! But my dad introduced me to bagels and crullers and bearclaws and danishes. There must be some place around here to get those delicacies, but I haven’t found it yet.
I have found Shipley’s Donuts on South Lamar, which has some of the most delicious little deep-fried sugar-sweet useless calorie containers I’ve ever inhaled anywhere. I ate most of a box this Sunday.
Wasn’t supposed to. I’m pretending like I’m on a low-carb diet with my kids and some of my friends. Rituals are more important than diets, or pot bellies.
Most Sundays I tell my grandkids Pop Pop will bring them donuts on Sunday morning before they go to PSR — that’s Catholic Sunday School.
I try to keep that promise, unless I’m out of town or I overdid it on peel-and-eat shrimp and Fat Tires Saturday night.
Get the irony? Donuts look like miniature frosted tires. Nobody said I’ll ever win Grandpa of the Year.
But sometimes in a little hat tip to my dad who still lives on the Jersey shore where you can get really good bagels, I play a little game with my precious rugrats. I tell them Pop Pop has an appointment for work and can’t make to to the donut place this Sunday. They make a face like their new puppy just got run over, but I know they’re not buying my act.
On Sunday morning I pull into their driveway, beep the horn and wait for them to scramble out of my son’s lovely ranch like it was on fire. “What kind did ya get us,” Andrew, Ava and Ella scream, reaching me at the door of the Ranger before I can even hop out. Actually, Ella who recently turned 2, just waddles, beams and grunts with her arms outstretched in delirious anticipation. But I guarantee you she’s ready to tear into those jelly donuts.
I know, like I said, I eat most of those damn donuts because they’re insanely good and my grandkids get full real fast. Pop Pop never gets full. After they’ve had their limit and left a trail of half-consumed jelly leaking pieces of mangled dough all over, they jump and squeal and wrestle and run. They drive mom and dad a little crazy. They never stop grab-assing.
But the donuts are worth the trouble — and so are my grandkids. Oh sure, Shipley’s are very tasty, heavenly when they’re still warm. But that’s not why. Rituals require care and nurturing. We all feel the truth of that in our hearts. We’d be lost without them. Not the donuts — the memories.
I know I would be.
Photos and story by Andy Knef. Knef is editor of HottyToddy.com and believes he could beat the guy on cable TV in a donut-eating contest, as long as they’re from Shipley’s. You can contact Andy about this story at Andy.Knef@Hottytoddy.com
When Donuts Are More Than Donuts — They're Life Itself
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