Chapter One: Donuts Are My Life
Chapter One Donuts Are My Life
My grandmother started Donut Dreams, a little counter in my family’s restaurant that sells her now-famous homemade donuts, when my dad was about my age. The name was inspired by my grandmother’s dream to save enough money from the business to send him to any college he wanted, even if it was far away from our small town.
It worked. Well, it kind of worked. I mean, my grandmother’s donuts are pretty legendary. Her counter is so successful that instead of only selling donuts in the morning, the shop is now open all day. Her donuts have even won all sorts of awards, and there are rumors that there’s a cooking show on TV that might come film a segment about how she started Donut Dreams from virtually nothing.
My grandmother, whom I call Nans—short for Nana—raised enough money to send my dad to college out of state all the way in Chicago. But then he came back. I’ve heard Nans was happy about that, but I’m not because it means I’m stuck here in this small town.
So now it’s my turn to come up with my own “donut dreams,” because I am dreaming about going to college in a big, glamorous city somewhere far, far away. Dad jokes that if I do go to Chicago, I have to come back like he did.
No way, I thought to myself. Nobody ever moves here, and nobody ever seems to move away, either. It’s just the same old, same old, every year: the Fall Fling, the Halloween Hoot Fair, Thanksgiving, Snowflake Festival, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and the Sweetheart Ball… I mean, we know what’s coming.
Everyone makes a big deal about the first day of school, but it’s not like you’re with new kids or anything. There’s one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school.
Our grandparents used to go to a regional school, which meant they were with kids from other towns in high school. But the school was about forty-five minutes away, and getting there and back was a big pain, so they eventually decided to keep everyone at the high school here. It’s a big old building where my dad went to school, and his brother and my aunt, and just about everyone else’s parents.
Some kids do go away for college. My BFF Casey’s sister, Gabby, is one of them. She keeps telling Casey that she should go to the same college so they can live together while Gabby goes to medical school, which is her dream. It’s a cool idea, but what’s the point of moving away from everything if you just end up moving in with your sister?
Maybe it’s that I don’t have a sister, I have a brother, and living with him is messy. I mean that literally.Skylar is ten. He spits globs of toothpaste in the sink, his clothes are all over his room, and he drinks milk directly from the carton, which makes Nans shriek.
My grandparents basically live with us now, which is a whole long story. Well, the short story is that my mother died two years ago. After Mom died, everyone was a mess, so Nans and Grandpa ended up helping out a lot. Their house is only a short drive down the street from us, so it makes sense they’re around all the time.
Even their dog comes over now, which is good because I love him, but weird because Mom would never let us get a pet. I still feel like she’s going to come walking in the door one day and be really mad that there’s a dog running around with muddy paws.
My mother was an artist. She was an art teacher in the middle school where I’m starting this year, which will be kind of weird.
There’s a big mural that all her students painted on one wall of the school after she died. The last time I was in the school was when they had a ceremony and put a plaque next to it with her name on it. Now I’ll see it every day.
It’s not like I don’t think about her every day anyway. Her studio is still set up downstairs. It’s a small room off the kitchen with great light. For a while none of us went in there, or we’d just kind of tiptoe in and see if we could still smell her.
Lately we use it more. I like to go in and sit in her favorite chair and read. It’s a cozy chair with lots of pillows you can kind of sink into, and I like to think it’s her giving me a hug. Dad uses her big worktable to do paperwork. The only people who don’t go in are Nans and Grandpa. Dad grumbles that it’s the one room in the house that Nans hasn’t invaded.
Sometimes I catch Nans in the doorway, though, just looking at Mom’s paintings on the walls. Mom liked to paint pictures of us and flowers. One wall is covered in black-and-white sketches of us and the other is this really cool, colorful collection of painted flowers with some close up, some far away, and some in vases. I could stare at them for hours.
I remember there used to be fresh flowers all over the house. Mom even had little vases with flowers in the bathrooms, which was a little crazy, especially since Skylar always knocked them over and there would be puddles of water everywhere.
Sometimes when I had a bad day she’d make a special little arrangement for me and put it next to my bed. When she was sick, I used to go out to her garden and cut them and make little bouquets for her. I’d put them on her night table, just like she did for me. Nans always makes sure there are flowers on the kitchen table, but it’s not really the same.
Grandpa and Nans own a restaurant called the Park View Table. Locals call it the Park for short. They don’t get any points for originality, because the restaurant is literally across from a park, so it has a park view. But it seems to be the place in town where everyone ends up.
On the weekends everyone stops by in the mornings, either to pick up donuts and coffee or for these giant pancakes that everyone loves. Lunch is busy during the week, with everyone on their lunch breaks and some older people who meet there regularly, and dinnertime is the slowest. I know all this because I basically grew up there.
Nans comes up with the menus and the specials, and she’s always trying out new recipes with the chef. Or on us. Luckily, Nans is a great cook, but some of her “creative” dishes are a little too kooky to eat.
Nans still makes a lot of the donuts, but Dad does too, especially the creative ones. Donut Dreams used to have just the usual sugar or jelly-filled or chocolate, which were all delicious, but Dad started making PB&J donuts and banana crème donuts.
At first people laughed, but then they started to try them. Word of mouth made the donuts popular, and for a little while, people were confused because they didn’t realize Donut Dreams was a counter inside the Park. They instead kept looking for a donut shop.
My uncle Charlie gives my dad a hard time sometimes, teasing him that he’s the “big-city boy with the fancy ideas.” Uncle Charlie loves my dad, and my dad loves him, but I sometimes wonder if Uncle Charlie and Aunt Melissa are a little mad that Dad got to go away to school and they went to the state school nearby.
My dad runs Donut Dreams. Uncle Charlie does all the ordering for food and napkins and everything you need in a restaurant, and Aunt Melissa is the accountant who manages all the financial stuff, like the payroll and paying all the bills. So between my dad, his brother, and his sister, and the cousins working at the restaurant, it’s a lot of family, all the time.
My brother, Skylar, and I are the youngest of seven cousins. I like having cousins, but some of them think they can tell me what to do, and that’s five extra people bossing me around.
“There’s room for everyone in the Park!” Grandpa likes to say when he sees us all running around, but honestly, sometimes the Park feels pretty crowded.
That’s the thing: in a small town, I always feel like there are too many people. Maybe it’s just that there are too many people I know, or who know me.
Right after Mom died I couldn’t go anywhere without someone coming up to me and putting an arm around me or patting me on the head. People were nice, don’t get me wrong, but everyone knows everything in a small town. Sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe.
Mom grew up outside of Chicago, and that’s where my other grandmother, her mother, still lives. I call her Mimi. We go there every Thanksgiving, which I love. I remember asking her once when we were at the supermarket why there were so many people she didn’t know. She laughed and explained that she lived in a big town, where most people don’t know each other.
It fascinated me that she could walk into the supermarket and no one there would know where she had just been, or that she bought a store-bought cake and was going to tell everyone she baked it. No one was peering into her cart and asking what she was making for lunch, or how the tomatoes tasted last week. Nans always wonders if Mimi is lonely, since she lives by herself, but it sounds nice to me.
Everyone in our family pitches in, but I officially start working at Donut Dreams next week for a full shift every day, which is kind of nice. I’ll work for Dad. He bought me a T-shirt that says THE DREAM TEAM that I can wear when I’m behind the counter.
We have a couple of really small tables near the counter that are separate from the restaurant, so people can sit down and eat their donuts or have coffee. I’ll have to clean those and make sure that the floor around them is swept too.
Uncle Charlie computerized the ordering systems last year, so all I’ll have to do is just swipe what someone orders and it’ll total it for me, keep track of the inventory, and even tell me how much change to give, which is good because Grandpa is a real stickler about that.
“A hundred pennies add up to a dollar!” he always yells when he finds random pennies on the floor or left on a table.
Dad will help me set up what we’re calling my “Dream Account,” which is a bank account where I’ll deposit my paycheck. I figure if I can save really well for six years, I can have a good portion to put toward my dream college.
So we’re going to the bank. And of course my friend Lucy’s mom works there. Because you can’t go anywhere in this town without knowing someone.
“Well, hi, honey,” she said. “Are you getting your own savings account? I’ll bet you’re saving all that summer money for new clothes!”
“Nope,” said Dad. “This is college money.”
“Oh, I see,” she said, smiling. “In that case, let’s make this official.” She started typing information into the computer. “Okay. I have your address because I know it….” She tapped the keyboard some more.
See what I mean? Everyone knows who I am and where I live. I wonder if people at the bank know how much money we have too.
After a few minutes, it was all set up. Afterward Dad showed me how to make a deposit and gave me my own bank card too.
I was so excited, not only because I had my own bank account, which felt very grown-up, but because the Dream Account was now crossed off my list, which meant I was that much closer to making my dream come true. I was almost hopping up and down in my seat in the car.
“You really want to get out of here, don’t you?” asked Dad, and when he said it, it wasn’t in his usual joking way. He sounded a little worried, and I immediately felt bad. It wasn’t as if I just wanted to get away from Dad.
“You know,” he said thoughtfully, “I get it.”
“You do?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I was the same way. I was itchy. I wanted to go see the big wide world.”
We both stared ahead of us.
“I don’t want to go to get away from you and Skylar,” I said.
“But think of Wetsy Betsy.”
Dad looked confused. “Who is Wetsy Betsy?”
“Wetsy Betsy is Elizabeth Ellis. In kindergarten she had an accident and wet her pants. And even now, like, seven years later, kids still call her Wetsy Betsy. It’s like once you’re known as something here, you can’t shake it. You can’t…” I trailed off.
“You can’t reinvent yourself, you mean?” asked Dad.
“Exactly!” I said. “You are who you are and you can’t ever change.” I could tell Dad’s mind was spinning.
“So who are you?” he asked after a few more minutes.
“What?” I asked.
“Who are you?” Dad asked. “If Elizabeth Ellis is Wetsy Betsy, then who are you?”
I took a deep breath. “I’m the girl whose mother died. I sometimes hear kids whisper about it when I walk by.”
I saw Dad grimace. I looked out the window so I wouldn’t have to watch him. We stayed quiet the rest of the way home.
We pulled up into our driveway and Dad turned off the car, but he didn’t get out.
“I understand, honey. I really do. I understand dreaming. I understand getting away, starting fresh, starting over. But wherever you go, you take yourself with you, just remember that. You can start a new chapter and change things around, but sometimes you can’t just rewrite the entire book,” he said.
I thought about that. I didn’t quite believe what he was saying, though. In school they were always nagging us about rewriting things.
“But you escaped,” I said. “And then you just came back!”
“Well, you escape prison. I didn’t see this place as a prison,” Dad said. “But Nans as a warden, that’s…” He started laughing. “Seriously, though, I left because I wanted an adventure. I wanted to meet new people and see if I could make it in a place where everyone didn’t care about me and where I was truly on my own. I never had any plans to come back, but that’s how it worked out.”
“So why did you move back here?” I asked.
“Because of Mom,” said Dad. “She loved this place. I brought her here to meet everyone and she didn’t want to leave.”
“But Mimi didn’t want her to move here,” I said, trying to piece together what happened.
I had always thought it was Dad who wanted to move back home. Mom and Dad met in college. She lived at school like Dad did, but Mimi was close by, so she could drive over for dinner. Mom and Dad hung out at Mimi’s house a lot while they were in college.
“Noooo,” Dad said slowly. “Mimi wasn’t too thrilled about Mom’s plan. She didn’t really understand why Mom would want to move out here, so far from her family, and especially where there weren’t a lot of opportunities for artists.”
“So she changed her mind?” I asked.
I never remembered Mimi saying anything bad about where we lived, but Dad would always tease her, saying, “So it worked out okay, didn’t it, Marla?”
She came to visit twice a year and always seemed to have a good time. “It’s a beautiful place to live,” she would say, smiling.
“Well,” said Dad. “It took Mimi a while to change her mind. But she saw how happy Mom was and how much everyone here loved Mom, so she was happy that Mom was happy. That’s the thing about parents. They really just want their kids to be happy, even if they don’t understand why they do things. If you decide to move away from here, I’ll miss you every day, but if that’s what you want to do and that’s what makes you happy, then I will be there with the moving truck.”
“So if I tell you I want to move to Chicago for college, you’ll be okay with that?” I asked.
“If you promise to come home and visit me a lot,” said Dad, grinning.
“Deal!” I said.
“I love you,” said Dad.
“I love you back,” I said.
“Okay, kiddo, let’s go in for dinner. Nans goes mad when we’re late.”
“Dad, isn’t it correct to say that Nans gets angry? Because, like, animals go mad but people get angry.”
“In that definition, Lindsay, I think that is an entirely correct way to categorize your grandmother when you are late for dinner. She gets mad!”
I giggled and opened the car door.
“Ready, set, run to the warden!” said Dad, and we raced up to the house, bursting with laughter.