It is 1965. We go to church whenever the doors open. Sunday morning. Sunday evening. Wednesday night prayer meeting. Sunday lunch is pot roast so tender it falls apart under my fork. It is always my favorite meal. We ride borrowed bikes to the creek and float boats, wade up to our knees and look for crawdads. We chase fireflies after dark and capture them in glass quart jars.
Wednesday night we always take the same way home from church, down College Street on Route 66, past Dairy Queen. It is 1965, well before DQ Brazier was introduced in our town. All this DQ sells is ice cream and Mister Misty. We don’t stop every week. It is a special treat and it is still a mystery to me what makes one week a drive by and another week a stop for a Dilly Bar, ice cream sandwich or chocolate dipped cone.
But some nights. Ah, that special, magical night when we stop next door at the donut factory. My father and one or two of the older boys go inside. The front retail room is no larger than 12x12 feet, with a rounded glass front display case containing donuts. The fresh baked smell of sweetness is mesmerizing. Dad orders a dozen glazed.
I stay outside. There may have been others beside me. Steve or Paul, my closest brothers in age, perhaps Momma is nearby but I don’t notice. I am alone in my wonder at this amazing factory as if Willy Wonka himself is giving me a tour. I press my nose against the glass and blinder my eyes with my hands from the glare of the streetlight.
Looking back through the large, high-ceilinged room, I spy an odd machine in the middle of the concrete floor. It has strange dough hooks and a large stainless steel bowl big enough to bathe in. It looks very much like a giant KitchenAid mixer. Sometimes I see a baker in white pants, shirt, black belt and paper hat add ingredients and start those strange hooks moving. Sometimes the batch is ready and he lifts the hooks out of the vat and moves the dough to a stainless steel funnel-like dispenser that squeezes perfect dough circles onto trays in orderly rows of 4 or 5. They rise, and when ready, the trays are transferred to a conveyor belt and the magic begins.
The conveyor moves slowly along the west wall and the dough circles slide down a short ramp into their first bath of hot oil. The forward motion keeps them moving slowly like swimmers in an Iron Man, liquid bubbling all around. After about three feet or 10 seconds, slender rotating prongs lift the donuts, gently flipping them 180 degrees onto their backside into the next bath of oil, revealing a perfectly tanned belly.
They bump and bob slightly and keep on moving. After another 10 second float trip, more rotating prongs lift the uniformly browned batch up and over onto a mesh conveyor belt which turns continuously like tracks on a tank. The entire belt makes a 90 degree turn to the east right in front of the window and my salivating mouth, as it heads for the jackpot: a waterfall of glaze.
I stand directly in line with the glaze dispenser, dream of lying my body down on the conveyor belt, face up, mouth open, going under that curtain of sticky sweetness head first to drink my fill. I shake my head and watch spellbound as each donut emerges, perfectly coated, glistening with glaze.
The conveyor curves sharply south now, away from my front window vantage point to begin a climb up, up, up a long ramp. As the warm, plump donuts rise slowly to the heavens, a large-blade fan spins quickly overhead, drying the glaze to a crackled translucent layer. It's like they are finishing a ride at Disneyland. Perhaps they are smiling. I know I am. Sometimes, if we are very fortunate with our timing, the clerk will go into the factory and fill the Dad’s order directly off the rising ramp with the warm, fresh donuts.
Today the Springfield Donut Factory is long gone from College Street. Only my memories and DQ managed to survive. The building is still there but the plate glass windows are bricked up and Farr’s Westside Automotive has moved in. Still, at the first bite of a glazed donut, I am eight years old on a Wednesday night after prayer meeting, face pressed against the glass, eyes glazed with delight, giving warm, mouth-watering, sticky-sweet thanks.