In the first year of the pandemic, a friend of mine set out on the ultimate donut challenge, sampling every donut from every shop in St. Louis over the course of several months. When COVID cases finally started coming down and his family started traveling again, he went out for donuts in other cities, reviewing them on Facebook with his kids. He was taking on the monster problem of COVID in the smallest of ways… with just a little sweetness. And it worked.
My friend’s story was reminiscent of one from my own childhood. Every Saturday morning for eight years, my dad got up early and took me out for donuts on the way to orchestra practice. We went to Dippy Donuts in the mall at seven in the morning, before the other stores were open or the lights were on.
We ordered the same thing every week: one dozen assorted day-old donuts. We consumed them on site – two and a half for each of us – while standing at Dippy’s high-top tables. Then Dad took the rest back home to my mom and sister and brother while I was at orchestra. Looking back, it makes us seem so poor – to be walking through the darkness for a meager meal, to be taking the crumbs home for the rest of the family to divide amongst themselves. You can almost hear the violins playing, can’t you?
But this memory is anything but poor. This was my one hour a week spent as an only child, the one hour I didn’t have to share with anyone else. In some ways, that 2.5-donut allotment and Dad’s endless stream of silly jokes gave me the confidence to sally forth, to believe in myself.
I’m sure I needed that at the time, and my parents knew it. I was the middle child, after all, the one who didn’t get quite as much undivided attention as my siblings did. And I was scrawny and near-sighted and – oh yes – I played the violin, which, back in the day, was about the most uncool thing a person could do. In other words, I was in my awkward years, like everyone else my age. So Dad took on all my monster problems with just a little bit of sweetness. And it worked.
It was never about the donuts exactly. But somewhere along the line, donuts became a symbol in our family of something greater. To this day, when one of us has a job interview or a major hurdle to overcome, we buy them donuts as a small reminder that we believe in them. And this gesture always takes me back to Dippy Donuts, where this verse hung behind the counter:
As you ramble on in life, children
Whatever be your goal
Keep your eye upon the donut
And not upon the hole
I googled it and discovered it is known as The Optimist’s Creed. And it works. When sadness and doubt descend on me, I follow the crumbs back to my Saturday mornings with Dad, and there I find the strength to keep on going. Funny how much the little things mean.
I chose The Donut Stop as the June feature for my 2022 calendar after sampling donuts from several area shops. The gourmet in me was really smitten with Vincent Van Doughnut, the one-time party girl loved Strange Donuts, the sometimes history buff knew that World’s Fair Donuts had to be in the running. But, when The Donut Stop garnered top honors by Food & Wine Magazine, I had to give it a try. The cinnamon glob looks just like it sounds, but it tastes much much better. And it makes St. Louis such a sweet place to live. The Donut Stop image is available as a limited edition archival print or litho print at ayearinthecity.com.