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The Donut Princess
by Shyla Seller

When I was a girl-child my father used to bring home bags of sprinkles, icing sugar and donut mix for me to practice domesticity with in my Easy Bake Oven. At parties heíd bring home huge machines and lard and would make fresh donuts for our guests, which always convinced other children that I had the best family ever. Imagine, donuts every day if you wanted them. My brother and I could go to one of the donut shops, and if we didnít want donuts we could have a sandwich or fries with vinegar, because the Hol'N One donut shops were also cafťs and you didnít even have to eat donuts if you didnít want to. But if you did, they were cake style, deep-fried, with holes in the middle. (Donut holes were made separately, for people who didnít want to commit to a whole donut, and were served in little egg cartons.)

A machine plopped dough around a row of metal circles, submerged them into hot oil, flipped them over, and then flipped them out of the oil onto a tray that the donut maker would move to the toppings table to finish. We made three kinds: cinnamon sugar (55 cents), plain (55 cents), and fancy (60 cents). The fancy donuts had thick icing in maple, chocolate, vanilla, orange and strawberry flavours, or mixes of any of those. When I made donuts for my first paid employment, I would try to mix the colours up, or make stripes. I also put toppings on the icing: sprinkles in different colours, or nuts: peanuts, almonds and coconut.

My grandfatherís favourite kind of donut was cinnamon sugar. My mom didnít really eat donuts, but would sometimes give in and have a plain one. She worried about eating too many fried foods. My grandmother loved the look of the window full of freshly-made donuts at the front of the donut shop, but I sometimes wondered if the Crayola-style colours looked too unnatural and inedible. Rainbow sprinkles, with bright blues and greens, were the biggest sellers for kids, but older people preferred maple with almonds, vanilla with coconut, or chocolate with peanuts. Safe combinations. Still the worst work injury Iíve ever experienced was at the donut shop, burned by hot oil when a flip of a row of donuts went wrong.

I wasnít a great donut-maker, and moved on to other jobs, but I never really rid myself of the title of donut heiress. As I got older, donut shops in the HolíníOne franchise closed one by one: soon not the ferries, the prisons, or even bus depots made their own donuts anymore. The only remaining locations were in a couple of Lower Mainland malls, but even those eventually had to go, as high mall rents favoured chainstores selling clothes made by children in far-away sweatshops, not oddly-coloured donuts made by local teenagers. My family sold the donut plant, where we made the mix and fixed machines, and eventually even sold the donut van: a long white cargo Ford that I first learned to parallel park in.

Once I heard my grandmother talking about the fall of the donut empire, and she linked it to people discovering cholesterol; eating bagels and muffins instead. Bagels and muffins will never be donuts, we think with slight longing, convinced of this theory even if it doesnít explain Tim Hortonís. Neither my dad nor my uncle, who gave most of their adult working lives to donuts, have been able to find work since the company went bankrupt. They were too mature and set in their ways to learn any other business, and their extensive experience in donuts was no longer a valuable skill in the employment marketplace of the Ď90s. They survive thanks to some lucky investments made by my grandparents when donuts were at their height of popularity, and spend their days following the stock market.

This past June, my grandfather passed away, and the family put a dozen donuts on the altar for his funeral, held in the same church where my parents, now divorced, got married. The donuts were in a clear plastic container, bought by my uncle at Safeway. They sat beside flowers, an accordion, and an old sign depicting the Hol'n'One logo: a patch of green, a golf hole, and a brown and yellow flag saying "Hol'n'One Donuts." After the funeral, the minister helped us pack the car with pieces from my
grandfather's "highlights of his life" table. He offered us a donut, but no one accepted. I considered it for a minute, then realised I would never taste a real Hol'n'One Donut again, ever, and started to cry.


Shyla Seller lives just above a busy street. Beside one too.

 





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