Of Mice and Doughnut Holes
my favorite local landmarks are falling by the roadside
The weekend was not going well. The friends we had invited to stay overnight at our house had already been met with a string of disappointments. They had brought their own booze, but we had no Coke. After they ran to the nearest Kwik Trip and back, we realized we had no ice. We ordered pizza from our favorite local place, and it sucked. Maybe it was an off night for the pizza chef, maybe he had just broken up with his girlfriend and couldn’t focus, but whatever the cause, the effect was soggy-ass pizza that you couldn’t even cut. However, my wife Shannon had a great Sunday breakfast planned. Surely, it would go flawlessly. Surely, we couldn’t let down our guests yet again.
Well, in addition to the egg ’n’ sausage ’n’ cheese masterpiece Shannon had concocted, we decided it’d be cool to have some doughnuts. A few weeks prior to this, I had taken our kid to a bakery in town – the same bakery my dad had always frequented back when I was a wee, chubby, doughnut-scarfing youngster. It was pretty cool to go in there and relive that sugary experience. Anyway, on my revisit, I had gotten these amazing doughnut holes that were the size of a regular doughnut. I thought I’d run down there and get some for our guests.
I talked up these doughnut holes. A lot. We told the whole “when Mike was a chubby youngster” story. We described the taste and the feel of them. We talked in hushed tones about the way sunlight would glance off the sugar crystals stuck to their surface, creating the feel of standing in a grand cathedral at midday, the strained glass windows alive with light. They couldn’t wait. But it was not meant to be.
I walked into the bakery, and everything looked normal enough. But wait. No doughnut holes. This couldn’t be. How could I come back home to breakfast with no puffy, tasty goodness? I asked about the doughnut holes, and after a few minutes of slightly confused discussion, I figured out that the bakery was under new ownership, and they no longer served doughnuts because, “Everyone’s got doughnuts.”
I felt like a ton of unbleached pastry flour had fallen right onto my head. I stared at this perfectly fine baker in disbelief. The curse of bad luck we had placed upon our weekend guests was powerful enough to magick an entire pastry shop into permanently canceling the doughnut holes I had promised. My god. What had we done? I drove home and broke the news. The rest is dismal history.
Drama aside, businesses around here come and go – even 40-year-old bakeries – so it wasn’t a huge surprise, really. I guess it stands out to me because I had a little history with that particular place. It reminded me of tagging along with my dad to a local shop. I don’t have too many memories like that.
Like anyone who grew up here, there are lots of places – and even things – in the Chippewa Valley that I use as anchoring points to my life. I’m just now realizing that most of these places are gone. Cassidy’s grocery store on the west side of Eau Claire – the supermarket I grew up with, the only place I ever shoplifted, and the first place I ever saw VHS tapes to rent – gone. London Square Mall – the mall where I went to see Santa Claus, the arcade in which I wasted hours on Street Fighter – gone. The giant fiberglass mouse with a wedge of cheese next to the Dairy Queen out on 53 – the place my family stopped for ice cream on Friday nights as we left town for the weekend – gone. They went ahead and tore that giant fiberglass mouse down. I miss it.
Am I being overly nostalgic? You bet your humongous fiberglass cheese wedge I am. But at least I don’t miss these places in a “I want them back” kind of way, not really. They’ve just got me thinking about the current generation’s local landmarks. What places and things do they have that’ll live in their memories? I hope they’re good ones. But I suppose that all depends on the experience one has with those businesses, areas, and monolithic rodents. Even so, it’s hard to deny that, to some degree, the quality of a place shapes your memory, no matter what that memory is about.
At the risk of sounding wistful and melancholy for years long gone, I want those fiberglass mice to stay put. We need our fiberglass mice, Chippewa Valley. Trust me on this. Without good landmarks, whether they be a quirky roadside cheese-lover or just great place for doughnuts, we might get lost looking for our past. Or some crap like that. At least we have the big doughnut man on Water Street.