I got up at the usual time, before the alarm which I didn’t set, because routine, because … Saturday.
Kicked on the light, read in bed for a bit. Around seven stumbled out to the living room, mumbled a good morning to Karry.
She: Goin’ to Joe’s?
Night before, eyes end-of-long-week-heavy, I queried the Universe in general, Karry in particular — Saturday morning donuts?
Both said yes.
Karry’s living room reminder did the work of my future coffee, shaking me awake like my recurring dream where I’m wandering the halls of an unfamiliar school late for a final I didn’t study for. I threw shoes on my bare feet, ball cap atop my disheveled mop, grabbed my keys, and hit the pedal and (bonus) all the green lights in a beeline up North Main Street that was also still very much waking up on Saturday morning.
Seven o’clock is a brazen act of tempting fate if one holds out any hope of Joe’s Donuts, especially on a Saturday.
I braced myself for empty trays and zero sympathy.
“Get yer ass here early!” — is all you will get from Joe, and all you deserve. If you ask me, it’s also what should be scrawled (in maple icing) on the sign on the side of the building beneath “Best Donuts in Town.”
Pulled into a spot across the street as a couple walked in ahead of me. I took comfort in not being the morning’s only straggler as I ducked inside.
Entering, you immediately walk into the store’s heart, glass cases to your left and right, counter in front of you.
Unchanged by time in all the decades it’s been the first light in the wee hours on Main Street five days a week.
And it’s perfect … the scent bewitching the way good bakeries always do and always have … doing you a church’s work — the great and priceless service of relieving you, if only for a few sacred moments, of whatever of the week’s and world’s burdens you’ve been carrying.
The angelic jingle of the bells on the door were still echoing when I peeked over the shoulders of the couple in front of me. The trays were depleted … but not exhausted.
Though I noticed only two maple frosted remaining. Not great odds, there.
The lady spoke for the couple, “We’ll take a dozen, and some extra to eat on the way home.”
“Three cherry filled,” she began.
I’m not a ‘filled’ person, but her quantity made me nervous.
My fears must’ve been hanging heavy in the air, because she then did the sweetest thing, turning around to me, reassuring, “Don’t worry, I promise to leave you some.”
That might be the kindest thing anyone’s said to me this week, I confessed.
The Person Behind the Counter chimed in.
“I have to tell you a story, happened the other day. A mother comes in with her young daughter. Another woman was in front of her. The woman in front says, ‘Give me the whole tray of chocolate donuts.’
“The Mom asks her, ‘Ooh … could you leave us just one … for my daughter?’
“The woman doesn’t turn or anything. Pretends she didn’t hear her. I couldn’t believe it.”
Are you serious? The woman in front of me asked.
“Joe went to the back and iced a chocolate one. Came back and gave it to the girl.”
The P.B.T.C. added, “You know Joe is not always the nicest person around people (his gruff demeanor is the stuff of legend). When he did that, I about cried.”
The customer in front of me continued to pick out her dozen, taking her time, as such decisions deserve.
She chose one of the maple, leaving one for me.
The Person Behind the Counter affirmed her choice. “We can’t make the maple in the summer,” she said. “When it gets hot, the maple just runs right off.”
No air conditioning at Joe’s.
“So …” the P.B.T.C. added, with exactly the proper amount of gravitas. “The time is now.”
“Yes … the time is now,” I found myself repeating aloud — in the moment, it seemed the only proper response — unable to suppress a smile that proceeded to conquer my entire face.
As the lady in front of me moved to the register to settle up, she asked the Person Behind the Counter if Joe was, in fact, gonna retire this year. The P.B.T.C. said she didn’t know for certain, but, in her mind, she couldn’t imagine him doing anything else. Said he doesn’t even own a cell phone. Or a TV for that matter. “He’s afraid if he got a TV he wouldn’t want to work as much,” she said. Prefers books, which is how he spends a lot of his time after he finishes his morning shifts.
The P.B.T.C. asked if they wanted her to bag their boxes.
At this the husband broke in. “No thank you. Some of these aren’t making it home.”
Before leaving the lady wished us all a good Saturday, a redundant act.
I was still involuntarily smiling as I stepped to the glass case, reduced – no returned – to a child on the cusp of their most important decisions of the day. Remember that feeling?
Working left to right: iced cinnamon roll (for Peter), glazed twist, cinnamon twist, regular glazed (up for grabs), the last of the maple iced (for me) … and a raspberry filled (for Karry) to round out my six.
As she was boxing I confessed how I almost blew my chance that morning, sure I was gonna be too late.
Next time just call ahead, she said, the kind counterpoint to Joe’s gruff exterior … just as Joe’s kindness counterpointed the woman with the donut-sized hole in her heart. “We’d be happy to set some aside for you.”
I was reminded it’s a conscious choice to try and keep the universe in any kind of balance.
Texted Karry on my way home, “Make us some coffee?”
It was steaming from my favorite brown mug when I sat down across from her at the dining room table.
I plated Joe’s last Saturday maple and took my sweet time with it, savoring as one does with precious things that you know may not always be there and won’t last as long as you want them to.
Asked Karry if she knew you could call ahead. She didn’t either.
Candidly, while nice to know and nicer still for the P.B.T.C. to let me know, I’ll never avail myself of that service.
“Get Yer Ass Here Early!” is just so much better. A reminder that there are consequences to our inactions.
I could easily tap a couple buttons and summon donuts to my doorstep without leaving the dining room table.
But sometimes (too often?) we forget that it’s actually the inconvenience of things, the rituals that require our modest investments and sacrifices, that make the difference. That matter.
Had not Karry reminded me of my Friday night epiphany, I would’ve missed out on so much more than the last iced maple. Working left to right:
— the unexpected feeling of exhilaration hitting every single green light hurtling up an empty Main Street before it wakes up
— the week’s deepest breath drawing in the majesty of a bakery in full flour on a Saturday morning
— the kind soul who went out of her way to save me one
— the poetry and honor inherent in a simple job reverently done so damn well, day after day after year after year, because … routine
— the P.B.T.C. who got choked up telling us in her every word and deed that her boss with the gruff exterior is so very, very, very much more
— the sacredness of scarce things that you know may not always be there and won’t last as long as you want them to
When she decreed “The time is now,” I know she was only talking about the maple iced.
But, in retrospect, maybe she was talking only about Everything.
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