If you live in a big city, you get your doughnuts at Dunkin Donuts (up north) or Krispy Kreme (down south). The Dunkin Donuts are cakier and heavier. The Krispy Kremes are airier, more like a quickly fried piece of air. For those of us who love doughnuts, each has its glories.
If you live in Rhode Island, particularly the West Bay, though, you don’t eat chain-store doughnuts. You eat Allie’s Donuts.
Allie’s sits on the road that used to be the main thoroughfare between Providence and the southern part of the state, and its bridge to Newport. In recent years, an elevated highway has taken the traffic above the route, so it requires a certain effort and foreknowledge to take the local road to enjoy an Allie’s donut.
Allie’s has donuts of many flavors, and good non-froufrou coffee, but to me there is one reason, and one reason only, to go to Allies’s.
A moment of silence, please, while we sigh in the memory.
My love and I were going to South County to pick up his sons. He was divorced. His sons were five and nine, and the adjustment had been difficult for them. I was mad about him, and wanted things to go well with the boys. Driving south from Providence to retrieve the boys from their mother’s house, where I had recently moved to be near him, we stopped to pick up a box of doughnuts. The place was unprepossessing, no more than a winterized shack really, but there were many cars and trucks parked in the lot. In true anti-establishment Rhode Island form, there were no lines painted in the parking lot, so the patterns of the cars and trucks were random, and finding an identifiable spot was a challenge. He ran in while I waited in the car. Did I tell you it was winter, and it was cold? He came back about fifteen minutes later (there had been a long line) with a box of doughnuts and cups of coffee. He said, “Have one.”
“Before we get the boys?”
“Once we pick the boys up, the doughnuts will be gone in five seconds. Eat yours now.”
And so I did. It was maple-frosted. It was still warm, the frosting was still somewhat gooey, and it was pure delight. It was the Platonic ideal of maple-frosted doughnuts. It wasn’t too airy or too caky. It was light, but full of flavor. It filled my mouth with its richness (but not too rich), its warmth (but not too warm), its mapleness (real, not chemically modified corn syrup). It was the doughnut equivalent of good sex.
Perhaps some Valium was part of that doughnut’s secret, because I suddenly wasn’t quite so worried about the boys and whether they would like me.
Of course, they did like me. I had brought them Allie’s Donuts.
We had been married for several years. We had made three babies, two more boys and a girl. We were raising the aforementioned two boys, whose mother was a troubled soul unable to care for them. Things were sometimes good, sometimes tense. I was working several hours away and commuting home on weekends – this is a long and complicated story, and I will spare you its awkward details. It was not a good situation, except financially. Every Friday afternoon, I drove several hours home. I did the laundry, cooked several meals to be frozen for use later in the week, cleaned the house, did the thousand things one’s children need when you’re in a commuter marriage, tried to give my angry husband the attention and love he wanted, and usually didn’t breathe for the whole time I was there. There was no time, and no air. Every Sunday night, after supper, I would leave and drive the several hours back to my job in another state.
I craved Allie’s Donuts on those trips back and forth. I needed some sweetness without expectations. Of course, the timing was all wrong. Allie’s was out of the way, and wasn’t even open when I was driving. Weekends were too full with work and Little League and soccer games to make the trip for doughnuts.
There was a hole in my heart, and it wasn’t just missing Allie’s Donuts, although they made a damned good symbol.
We were divorcing. I couldn’t find work in our area, so I had to take a job in Washington. I couldn’t take the kids out of state, so they had to stay with him until things were settled. On Valentine’s morning, I drove away from the home I had lived in, brought my babies home to, cooked in, wallpapered, loved and loved in.
My daughter, then six, said “I’m not ready for this.”
She wasn’t alone. I wasn’t ready either.
I headed south to the new job.
I didn’t go directly; I took a detour. I had to get some doughnuts. I had to stop at Allie’s.
I got a dozen maple-frosted dougnuts. One cup of black coffee.
I ate the dozen doughnuts like Sherman marching through Georgia, relentlessly, one after the other.
When I was done, I pulled over to the side of the road and was sick.
The sweetness seemed disconnected, empty, meaningless. I couldn’t taste the maple flavor. Something was wrong with me, more than the broken heart, more than the longing to have the children with me. I had lost the woman who had first tasted those doughnuts so many years before.
It is a warm day on the crest of summer, and I am driving north to retrieve my children from their father’s house. Several years have past. He is remarried, I am about to be remarried, and some, but not all, of the pain of the past few years has settled down to a dull memory of an ache. My husband-to-be is with me in the car.
“We have to make a detour,” I say.
“Aren’t we going to be late?” he answers.
“This will only take a minute. It will make the kids happy.”
And so, we turn off the highway, go the new back way to Allie’s – I only get lost once – and get a dozen doughnuts. Half maple-frosted, half with colored sprinkles. Time for new traditions, new tastes. Two large cups of black coffee, which lead me to ask the question: why isn’t coffee a sacramental element, or is it?
We get to the house, my old house, one I had decorated with love and care and imagination. It looks tired, and unkempt. Several unfinished repair projects are in evidence, most notably the beautiful front porch, which looks like it is about to separate from the body proper of the house and collapse. We knock; the dog, white in his muzzle now, barks wildly. The children come running to the door and open it, smothering us in hugs and kisses.
Then they stop.
Like pointers, they raise their noses in the air…
“Allie’s!” they cry.
Any pain, any stress, any wondering whether the summer would go well, ends with that cry.
Another bridge crossed, with Allie’s Donuts.