Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Different Take on Seeking Hole-ness




I've marveled before about how amazing it is that there is a Buddhist Temple in Birmingham, Alabama—with a Lama from Tibet, no less—the only Tibetan in the entire state. But now I've made another discovery that is almost as holy and auspicious: Birmingham has the only Shipley Do-Nuts in all of Alabama.
   For those of you who've never heard of Shipley Do-Nuts, and/or think that I've just created an egregious typo, let me assure you that Shipley is a very worthy adversary to Krispy Kreme, and that is the way the word doughnut is spelled by many purveyors of the sugar-coated confection. On our recent trip to the rarified Alabama Shipley's, Jack astutely commented that do-nut was a misspelling, and he was right—by God, he has learned to spell, after all!—and wrong, because that short-hand has made it into popular culture. 
   If you’re keeping score, Shipley Do-Nuts was founded in 1936 in Houston, one year before Krispy Kreme got it's start in Winston-Salem. Over the decades, Krispy Kreme has out-stripped Shipley almost 3-to-1 in store expansion, with more than 630 locations around the globe. But the humble Shipley do-nut will always remain my favorite because that's the breakfast pastry my father brought home on very special Sunday mornings. Until recently, I thought the Shipley Do-Nuts on Cantrell Road in Little Rock was the only one in the world, so you can imagine my delight when I discovered a shop tucked away in an unassuming locale on Lorna Road, behind the coat factory outlet and near a Mexican sandwich shop. 
   There’s no fancy neon, or window through which you can watch the do-nuts on parade make their way through the glaze waterfall. Shipley’s do-nuts may be warm when you get them, but they do not pride themselves on serving ‘em hot. And yet another distinction of this pastry, is that they are shaped more like a hexagon than a circle. Jack and I conducted a taste test of Shipley v. Krispy Kreme and found the Shipley do-nut somewhat less sweet, and more chewy. First won over by the showmanship and the free paper hats, over the past few months of alternating between the slick Krispy Kreme shop and somewhat shabby Shipley bakery, I’ve managed to sway Jack to my way of thinking: Shipley is the superior confection. It was a coup as great as persuading my blue and orange-clad son to root for Alabama. (And those who do not live in the state or follow college football, you know the seriousness of this type of conversion.)
   It may sound odd to wax on about a breakfast treat, but rediscovering this delight, and sharing it with my son, was not dissimilar in importance to discovering the Buddhist temple here. Both provide comfort and sustenance in their way, and both provide pure joy—well, as long as the do-nuts are eaten in moderation. Finding a Shipley Do-Nuts in Birmingham allowed me to revisit a piece of my childhood. And as you may know—or not—I had a happy childhood. It wasn't perfect, but I was loved and well-cared for, and provided with a very good foundation that has served me well. 
   It seems so many people have had less that idyllic upbringings. Flannery O'Connor famously said Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. The wrongs visited upon children wreck havock upon their lives and send ripples out on all those lives around them as those children grow into adults, struggling to repair the damage done. Of all the evils in this world, the harming of a child must be the most sinister and unforgivable. So I do not take for granted the love and protection that was given me in my early days. There were times when I resented my parents for many trivial slights and inadequacies, but truly I was given a blessed existence. Okay, you get the point. 
   So finding the Shipley's Do-Nut franchise here in Birmingham was a bit of touching home, touching ground, rediscovering something familiar and comforting. The recipes are the same. The taste, sweet and chewy. Flakes of glaze fall to the floor as you take a bite. And one bite reminds me just how lucky I am, too, to share this tradition with my dear son, who now has a lovely memory of the smell of fresh baked donuts and a ritual of Saturday morning taste tests between Shipley and Krispy Kreme.
   Thinking again on O'Connor's quotation, perhaps it does apply to me, but in an upside down way, for my pleasant survival of childhood gave me the tools to appreciate the small things life, and surely that is a gift that will last the rest of my days. I hope so, at least.

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