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Life as it Should Be

            It was a typical Friday.  Micah, age 7, visited Husband and me and because he’d finished his home-school work, we could play.  After Micah won three games of UNO, I asked, “How about a Ralph’s donut?”

            My Grand immediately dropped the UNO cards that he was carefully putting into their cardboard box and asked, “Right now?”  He put on his shoes and was out the back door before I grabbed my purse and headed to the garage. 

            “Can we eat inside there?” My Grand’s eyes opened wide with hope.  I explained that depended on how many people were in the bakery.  “So we might have to stay in the van?”  I nodded.  His shoulders slumped.

            Micah’s wish came true.  Only a few customers were in the donut shop that is often a gathering place for friends to ‘settle the world’s affairs.’   

            Micah ordered a plain twist and chocolate milk. We sat on stools across the room from the only other seated customer, a gray-headed, weathered-face man who wore a flannel shirt.  I watched customers come and go and admired the employee behind the counter whose manners and service were impeccable and friendly. 

            He greeted each person who walked in the bakery while he packed donuts into boxes and bags to serve others.  “Be with you in just a minute,” he nodded to a young man wearing a baseball cap, t-shirt, and jeans. 

            “I’m not in a hurry.  I’m doing chores and errands for my mom today,” the young man said as he sat on a stool facing the gray-headed customer, and they nodded greetings to each other.

            “You do that, young man.  Help your momma all you can,” said the older man.

            “She had long list when I got home last night.  I’m on a leave from Fort Bragg.”

            For the next few minutes while customers came and went, these two men shared where they’d been stationed and their jobs in different branches of the military.  I couldn’t hear every word, but enough to know their experiences, separated by decades, brought them together.

            Micah’s and my next stop was Heart of the City Playground. Every time I’m there, I think of the cold rain, the mud, the chilling temperature in October 2015 when volunteers built this playground, and every time, I’m glad to see people there.  While I pushed my Grand in the nest swing, his favorite, three young women (I assumed mothers) stood beside toddlers sitting on the see-saw.  The mothers laughed and talked.  A baby slept nearby in a stroller.

            A little boy squealed when his dad caught him at the bottom of the slide.  From atop the rope climbing structure a little girl called, “Look at me!” to a woman who sat on a bench and cradled an infant. 

            Life as it should be.  Strangers come together through common experiences.  Kind words. Friends talk while children play.  Toddlers safe because Moms and Dads are nearby.

            And a donut and chocolate milk.  All here in my Grand’s hometown.         


Walk to Ralph’s

Screen Shot 2016-03-31 at 8.35.25 AMIt’s about a mile from Tennessee Tech to Ralph’s Do-nut Shop. Close enough to tempt students – especially those of us who lived in the dorms. It seemed that donut cravings hit strongest late at night.

When I was a Tech coed, my friends and I sat memorizing history dates, late-night-before-the-test cramming, and the more numbers that swirled through my brain, the more I craved sugar. Sugar mixed with flour and eggs and milk and butter, and then fried in hot oil. Finished off with a sugar glaze. One mention of donuts and we all closed our thick textbooks, tossed our notes aside, and united in a plan: To Ralph’s!

We threw on our long Villager raincoats, or off-brand copycats, over whatever we wore. Pajamas or t-shirts and shorts, or sweat pants – no need to really get dressed. And we put a few coins in our pockets and headed out the dorm’s front doors to the railroad tracks. Yes, to the railroad tracks that led almost straight to Ralph’s.

Someone might have carried a flashlight, but most often not. The moon, stars, and streetlights provided enough brightness to illuminate the metal rails. We walked on the wooden crossties, careful to avoid tripping on uneven beams or slipping on the muddy ground between. It was a short walk, less than fifteen minutes, and then one block south at the train depot, right down Cedar Street.

We could pool our money for a dozen plain glazed donuts for 60 cents or splurge on individual choices. For less than a quarter, I chose a chocolate covered, creamed-filled donut. My friends and I took over one u-shaped countertop. Drinking chocolate milk and our favorite late night treats, we completely ignored the fact that at 8:00 the next morning we’d face a history exam.

The walk back along the railroad tracks took longer than going. That’s when we’d talk and giggle and share secrets that can be told in the dark when you can’t see anyone’s expression. We’d stop to marvel at the stars, locate the Big Dipper and try to identify at least one other constellation. We’d look for the North Star and wish for falling stars and meteors.

Recently, I told my 7 year-old Grand about walking the railroad tracks to Ralph’s. “Why didn’t you drive?” she asked. No one, except June, had a car and it was fun to walk. “That wasn’t safe!” I never saw or heard a train when we walked and we could jump off if a train came our way. And we traveled in groups – never alone. Things were different 50 years ago. “Did your mother know you were walking on railroad tracks?” No. “Was it really late?” Yes.

“Did the donuts taste the same?” Yes. When my college girlfriends spent the night with me recently, the donut cravings hit about 10 p.m. Thankfully, not many people were in Ralph’s and heard six women giggling and arguing about which donuts were the best. Coconut cake. Apple fritters. Chocolate covered creamed filled. Twists. We each chose our favorite, a carton of milk, and sat at the same u-shaped counter.

We agreed on a few things. The donuts tasted just as good as we remembered. We were glad we didn’t have to walk home on the railroad tracks and we didn’t have to study for tests. And those late night adventures to Ralph’s helped cement our friendship.