A Drive for Donuts
Dad drove around West County and the city of Erie all day long, giving estimates to customers who wanted their trees removed or shaped and checking on the crews at various tree job sites to ensure everything was going smoothly. But he also had a drive for donuts. His policy was once you liked something, stick with it. And like frosting to the donut, he stuck with H & K over the years.
Now, ten years after his death, I was searching out stories for my dad’s book: Don Bovaird; The Tree Man–titled after his moniker.
Researching a book can be sweet ~ especially if there are donuts involved! This week’s search took me to Dad’s favorite donut shop. Being vision-impaired, I needed to get my brother on board since I couldn’t drive myself. My brother, a donut-lover like Dad, needed little convincing. The promise of a cinnamon pinwheel did the trick.
“Be sure to arrive early. That’s when the old-timers arrive,” the clerk told us on the previous day. On Saturday, we left the house at six-thirty, just as the sun came up. Mike was driving toward his prize and I was headed toward my own ~ Crystal Parmenter’s memories of my dad. Crystal was the owner’s daughter.
I hadn’t thought about H & K for years. On the way, I learned my dad’s favorite shop still pulled in a thriving business. On the ride in, my brother said they sold so many donuts that sometimes that they had to close up shop early because they ran out.
I expected a slow morning with lots of time for questions. What was I thinking? Even though it was early, it was anything but slow. The tan shingled, old-fashioned donut shop with its neon lights in the window and warm ambiance was hopping with customers and activity.
The clerk from the day before said, “Crystal’s in the back. She knows you’re coming. What’ll ya’ have?”
Most people who came in seemed to be repeat customers and knew what they wanted at a quick glance.
“I’ll have a cinnamon pinwheel and ….” I studied the tempting donuts through the glass panel. The smell of confection–frosting, custard, and jellies–wafted over the counter. “a chocolate-covered eclair and two cups of coffee,” I added, though I rarely drink the stuff. My brother liked a good cup of joe to wash down his breakfast.
Waiting for Crystal to appear, I sat down on a stool at a side counter. Like most shops, a glass case displayed the donuts front center. What made the place feel homey was the seating on either side. The interior was set up in a U-shaped design like one of the old dinors and had a speckled tile floor. Two wide steel racks held freshly-baked donuts with silver trays in place to restock the quickly depleting stock under glass.
When Crystal came out she said, “Wrong time of day.” She smiled. “But I’ll see what I can remember for ya’.” She immediately walked to a stack of flat boxes, filled them with donuts and bagged three of them.
I had hoped to have her full attention. I guessed that wasn’t going to happen on a morning as busy as this one. Well, I would take what i could get. I waited patiently while several customers came through the door and kept both Crystal and the other clerk busy.
“I was the first one to give the dog a donut.”
Now we were talking.
“I guess Missy came first. Such a sweet black Lab. She ate right it out of my hand.”
“Aww. You remembered her name.”
Crystal rang up a customer. “Who could forget the dog who rode with Don all day long in the back of his truck. Everyone knew that dog. Her tail was always wagging.”
“Yeah. She was a great companion to him.”
“She was around for more than a decade. Can you imagine how many donuts she ate?” Crystal laughed. “That deer did her in though.”
I was curious. “What do you know about that deer?”
“Everyone knew. Poor Missy ate that rotting deer she found at the land. She got so sick your dad had to rush her to the vet. Saved her life that day. But she didn’t live too long after that.” She sighed. “He didn’t say too much. He kept it to himself. That’s just the way he was.”
I felt a lump forming in my throat. I’d heard about Missy dying in a letter Mom wrote me.
“Before long, Elmo came along and took up Missy’s spot in the back of the truck. We laughed when he changed the lettering from ‘Missy’s Motor Home’ to ‘Elmo’s Place’ on the placard.” She grinned. “Elmo was a lot bigger than Missy. Like a bear. He gobbled up his donut. I threw it to him ‘cuz he slobbered.” She made a face.
“Yeah, he was exuberant.”
“When did dad come in?”
She boxed up another half dozen donuts. “Around ten or eleven each day, he came in and got a box or two of donuts and some coffee to go.”
“Yes! I remember those donuts during our breaks. Donut time was break time. Sometimes the guys would share their crazy exploits on the job. Dad had a sense of humor about it–to a point. He’d say, ‘Don’t be taking any chances on this lake bank. We got jobs lined up through next month.’ Then he’d tell them to finish up and head on over to the next job.”
“Your dad’s favorite donuts were glazed twists. But he took whatever we had on hand.”
“You remember his favorite donut?”
“Don liked his donuts. A close second were the jelly-filled ones. He was a man of routine. That’s why I remember.”
Pleased she remembered so many details, I ordered my brother and I another round of donuts.
Nobody said anything for awhile.
Crystal came to me during a short lull in business.
“He was a good worker–meticulous with his jobs. The customers who came in said he made sure the job site looked nice afterward. They used to joke no one even knew he’d been there.”
Yes, I should know. I was on the clean up crew. We were called ‘stick-pickers’ because after we raked up the debris, we went around picking up sticks.
“Any old timers who might remember our dad?” Mike asked.
Crystal scanned the customers seated at the opposite bar. “Anyone here who knew Don Bovaird?”
A man seated on a stool at the end of the bar said, “I knew ‘im. My dad, Pat here, knew ‘im more.”
I imagined the conversations they had, calling over to each other back in the day. But having a hearing problem as well as a problem seeing, I jumped off my stool, picked up my white cane and made my way over to him.
“What do you remember about my dad?”
The man folded up his newspaper. “I wasn’t close friends with him or nothin’.”
“He had that dog in the back of the truck. Darn good companion if ya’ ask me.”
Pat, the dad, said, ‘Salt of the earth kind of guy.’
I went from salty to sweet as I bit into my peanut-covered donut.
We ordered a white frosted doughnut with raspberry jelly filling for Mom and two pinwheels to go for friends.
Pat called out, “Your dad always had a story about his antiques he drove around. The engine blowin,’ a new panel to add. Don liked those old vehicles more ‘n’ anyone I know….”
He sure did. When Pat got up to leave, I did, too.
“Leave a tip,” my brother instructed. “Did you see how many boxes of donuts they sold? Like forty dozen in forty minutes. That’s a box a minute. No one even waited very long. I don’t know how they kept up.”
I guessed it must have been like that when my dad came into the shop, too. He never rushed but he got things done. A pang hit me as I imagined him going about his everyday activities, always fitting H & K into his routine. He must have liked those people he knew from the shop as much as the donuts.
I guess it was pretty mutual.
Yep, his passing must have left a hole in this donut shop.
What local establishment has your loyal following? What keeps you going back?
You have just read, “Sweet Research at H & K Donuts,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright March 27, 2017. Take a moment to leave your comment! I answer every one of them.