Do you have memories from growing up that almost feel like they happened yesterday? Memories so emotionally-charged (either positive or negative) that they can sit untouched in your brain for years but, at recall, instantly provide full, vivid, scintillating detail?
There is one such memory from my childhood that may be special above the rest. It is one of those magical memories that can bring a smile to my face at any moment. It’s one that encapsulates childhood joy and wonder, risk and reward, matching motive with opportunity and is singular in being able to cement a feeling of a time and place in my life. With apologies to my parents, this was not a special tradition or family vacation or even a learning moment. It happened at church, in fact, but was neither confirmation nor baptism.
It was none other than Donut Sunday.
In the later years of grade school, once a month and maybe more often for special occasions a Sunday would be deemed “Donut Sunday”. I don’t know if the organizers called it this but that was its name to us. At the far end of the downstairs of our Baptist church in front of the kitchen, folding tables would be lined up end to end to end and covered with white donut boxes. Their lids were pre-opened revealing their glazed, sprinkled, cream-filled contents…
Now these were not gourmet donuts. Nothing along the lines of Blue Star or Krispy Kreme. No pink box. No bacon maple, no blue cheese cabernet. None of them had the words, ganache or brioche or mascarpone. These were not “doughnuts”, but donuts.
We’re talking run-of-the-mill, Middle-America, policeman, served with cheap coffee DONUTS. This did not matter in the slightest to me. And it certainly doesn’t tarnish the memory’s mystique. These were God’s gift to my taste buds. Upstairs I fed my soul and downstairs I delighted my stomach.
My older brother and I took Donut Sunday very seriously. And by took I mean “took advantage of”. This was no casual opportunity. It required a plan of attack. He was the captain and mastermind of our plan, I am sure, but I was a dedicated first mate and second to none in enthusiasm for it. In our lives growing up as brothers we may never have collaborated in such close fashion and with such perfect teamwork. I imagine the aspects of the plan grew organically through trial and error but by its final (dare I say, genius?) iteration it went something like this:
Upon discovering it was a Donut Sunday the onset of giddiness turned to nervousness and (like any great championship athlete) these energies were redirected into focused attempts of a flawless execution…
Phase 1: Quick and Dirty Firsts
When the church service would end my brother and I would race downstairs and beeline for the donut tables. Donuts one and two down the hatch as quickly as possible before anyone could notice. By this time many adults including my parents had made their way to the hall and so it was on to Phase 2.
Phase 2: Our Public Allotment
We could now take our time and carefully choose our favorite two donuts to enjoy in full view. Occasionally a third Phase 2 donut could be consumed should my parents have lingered too long after service and/or my general sense was that the eyes of the small-talking adults around me or the white-haired ladies in the kitchen had not fully or consciously cataloged my donut consumption.
Phase 3: Taking it Underground
Phase 3 was where the plan got real. We were in a large open rec hall/gymnasium-type space. In the layout of this room there was alcove off to the left. It was a sort of vestibule/mud room, maybe 10’x10’ with some coat hooks on the wall. It had a door to the kitchen, a door to the parking lot and an opening to the main room. This was our secret home base and it worked perfectly to our advantage. From this locale we could, within just a few steps, grab a donut and quickly be out of sight to enjoy another delicious pastry. Two, three or more donuts were had in this way, our 5th, 6th and 7th of the morning. We could take our time between donuts and wander the room and see if anyone was noticing us. We moved past the crowd of adult legs like snakes through grass.
Phase 4: The Beg
By now folks were finishing their conversations and beginning to head home and the thinning crowd meant time to ask my parents if we could please have another donut (or two). Things were wrapping up and there were still some donuts left on the tables, we informed them. The yeses were increasingly hesitant but generally did come. And usually the begging only had to kick in with Phase 4’s second donut.
My dad was in the Air Force and we moved throughout my early childhood. If I wanted friends in a new place I had to (get on my bike and) go out and make them. I learned to be independent, fend for myself, take charge of my own destiny in a way. I don’t know if this part of my personality came into play in my attitude toward taking full advantage Donut Sunday but it came in handy.
The reason this memory is so vivid and fond for me may have been something about my inner childhood rascal getting to come out. See, I was normally a really good kid. It was the feeling of getting away with a deed quite close to the line of wrongdoing. It was something that I probably wasn’t supposed to be doing and thus I was “getting away with something” and yet was not so bad as to actually upset anyone or get me into real trouble should I be caught.
It was getting to hone and execute a plan: applying ingenuity and innovation, savvy and cunning. Playing spy and thief. Getting to feel both giddy and honery. It was a feeling a bit like Bus driver Chris Farley in the scene from the movie Billy Madison where he laughs all the way through eating a white bread PB&J from 30 stolen bag lunches.
Honestly… I don’t know how I never threw up. I don’t know how I ate lunch or dinner that day. I don’t know how my button-up shirt still fit.
I believe enough years have past that I can fully admit the extent of my donut skulduggery. Maybe this post should be titled, Donut Sunday: maple-glazed confessions of church kid. Again, very sincere apologies to my parents and a heartfelt Thank You to whatever faithful churchgoers regularly provided that endless supply of Sunday Donuts. God bless you.