Big golden hoops, light and airy: sugar frosted, honey glazed, chocolate covered or dripping with butterscotch.
For war babies and boomers who were children in Lethbridge, southern Alberta, in the late fifties, the mention of spudnuts makes the mouth water and the eye grow dreamy.
Every other city on the continent may have its doughnuts; Tim Horton's may have its followers; but those of us who passed our youth in that quiet prairie town by the border scoff at the notion that these modern, franchise-driven confections can measure up.
For real, sweet, indulgent childhood delight, bring back the spudnut!
The Spudnut Shop stood on the corner of 5th Avenue and 11th Street South, near Lethbridge's downtown district. It was the real old-time soda shop: an immense u-shaped counter flanked with shiny upholstered stools where we perched while confronting the many choices: milkshakes and sodas, ice cream of every flavor in cones and dishes and sundaes; multi-flavored fountain drinks we ordered as a Swampwater or a Graveyard. However, there were two things that set it apart.
First, its signature treat was apparently unique to Lethbridge. The spudnut that rose so high and light in the hot oil got it special quality and flavor from potato flour, hence the name. As a child, I had no idea it was an American franchise found in many cities south of the border.
As an adult, I never encountered a Canadian who had heard of it, except other former Lethbridgites, whose eyes lit up on mention of the word, "spudnut."
Second, it was across the street from the outdoor pool where we spent many summer afternoons, emerging wrinkled and starving after hours of energetic play in the cool water. On those days the scented air in the Spudnut Shop was sharply tantalizing, as we pooled our pennies-which bought something in 1958-in hopes of sharing even one spudnut to sustain us on the long trip home.
Many years after, during a visit to my sister, who still lived in Lethbridge, she piled me and her two small daughters into the family van.
"Where are we going?" I asked, having long forgotten this once-cherished place.
"On a pilgrimage," she answered, turning down that familiar street and pulling up beside the old building. One whiff of the warm smell of grease and frying dough, and I was ten years old again, clutching my wet swimsuit and towel and taking longing gulps of the honey-scented air.
Now adults, we had no shortage of money, and we lavishly indulged the old hungry desires and showed my small nieces how well they, too, could love the Spudnut Shop.
They say all good things must end, and so it may be with our childhood's best loved places. One summer I met my younger brother in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, and he shared the heartbreaking news: The Spudnut Shop had closed a few years before.
"That's it!" I declared in mock disgust but real chagrin. "I am never going to Lethbridge again! What's the point?"
But of course I did go; I was on my way to visit my home town that same summer, and I looked up a high school friend who'd been my chum since grade three. We walked together, talking of old times.
On a bench overlooking tranquil Henderson Lake, I mentioned my disappointment over the closing of our old hangout. Her voice took on a note of awe.
"It's amazing, "she said, "It's been three years and there is still a closed sign on the door. It's like a shrine."
So, it seems the Spudnut Shop will not open again. But I want to go back, just one more time. I want to go swimming in that old outdoor pool until I am hollow with hunger.
I want to cross the street with my soggy suit and towel in my arms and stand outside the Spudnut Shop, pretending I am ten years old again, and picking through my coins for enough money for just one more spudnut.
Note: There are 3 Spudnut Shops in the Cleveland area - in Berea, Mentor and Rocky River. Learn more here.
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