August 20th is a special day in the Ology household. It’s a food holiday tradition of sorts – on par with other such food holidays like Cinco de Mayo or St. Patrick’s Day. Ms. Jeannie’s holiday is called The Day of Doughnuts – in honor of her grandfather Herbert, who was born on August 20th, 1908.
You may remember Herbert, or Herbie, as Ms. Jeannie sometimes liked to call him, from a previous post about the long line of Chicago firemen in Ms. Jeannie’s family. Here’s a picture of him to refresh your memory…
Of German – American descent, Herbert loved lots of foods, particularly ones that were part of his heritage: beer, sauerkraut, bratwurst. But if Ms. Jeannie had to pick one food that was most synonymous with him – it would be the doughnut. Grandpa Herb adored them. So much so, in fact, he’d enjoy one almost every morning with his coffee and his crossword puzzle. He liked them in all their vast variety from the simple round old-fashioned rings to their fancier counterparts – the crullers and the danishes.
Technically, fried dough has been around for centuries in many different cultures, but the round “traditional doughnut shape” and size is wholly American. The writer, Washington Irving, was the first person to refer to the word “doughnut” in his writing’s in the early 1800’s, where he noted ‘flour dough balls mixed with sugar and fried in hog lard.’ Sound tasty?! !
According to Ms. Jeannie’s grandfather, a cup of strong, black coffee and a doughnut was the perfect way to begin the day. While he ate his breakfast, he’d work a crossword puzzle from the daily newspaper. When half of the squares were filled in, he’d set the puzzle aside and go about his daily activities. In the late afternoon, he would carry a fresh cup of coffee out to the sun porch, along with a cigar, and while he smoked, he would complete the rest of the puzzle.
Ms. Jeannie once asked him why he never worked the whole puzzle all at once and he said it was because it gave him something to look forward to every afternoon. That was Grandpa Herbert in a nutshell. Delighting in the simplest of activities in the simplest of ways.
If Ms. Jeannie was lucky on those porch days, and the crossword was an easy one, Grandpa Herbert would sit back with his coffee and his cigar, in the shade of the giant hibiscus bush, and tell her stories about life in the firehouse.
Her favorite stories were always the ones where he rescued pets and babies. He had this one story in-particular about a residential building fire and a woman hysterical, down on the street, because her baby was in the apartment. Up went Herbert into the flames, listening for a crying voice. He broke down the apartment door to discover a giant dog in the room. The fire was too hot and the flames too high to go back down the stairs, so he wrangled the dog up in his arms and out they went through a window and down the ladder. The “baby” made it to safety! Ms. Jeannie cheered every time!
Perhaps, because Grandpa Herbert had seen so many life and death situations ignite and extinguish for so many years, he felt humbled and satisfied just to be alive. He had a beautiful wife, a smart and driven son, grandchildren who always couldn’t wait to see him, a tidy little house in Florida, a car, friends, impeccable health clear into his 80’s (even with the doughnut diet!), a great sense of humor and a smile that always quick to appear. “What do I have to complain about?” he’d often say.
So on the annual Day of Doughnuts, black coffee and breakfast treats are always served. It’s a simple no-fuss homage to a simple no-fuss man who made it a point to always look for and appreciate the small little joys in life. May we all be equally as aware! Happy Day of Doughnuts dear readers!