The Patron Saint of Doughnuts
Mr. and Mrs. Doyon were our neighbors when I was a kid. We lived out in the country and they were our only neighbors within a mile or so. They were a French Canadian couple who had moved into the house next door and raised their family there long before we moved into ours and long before I was born. Mr. Doyon worked as a maintenance man or a janitor or something along those lines someplace in Bangor… I think. All I really know was that he left for work around three in the afternoon and was gone until long past my bedtime every night. Being that I was about five when this story takes place, I suppose “long past my bedtime” might not have been all that late, but I think he came home around midnight most nights.
More importantly, Mrs. Doyon was home alone most evenings, so I used to wander over and visit her for an hour or two in the late afternoons on a fairly regular basis. She spoke French as much as she spoke English, and I speak no French, but it didn’t really curb our conversations all that much. Most of the time she spoke heavily accented English to me, not that the five year old me focused on the conversations all that much. Whichever language she spoke was not really all that important. I was five, what can I say. I recall her friends and relatives calling on the phone a lot. I’d sit in Mr. Doyon’s chair that was directly across the room from her rocking chair. Then the phone would ring and she’d go over by the dining room table and pick up the phone that hung on the wall. I’d listen to one side of a French conversation as if it were completely normal back in 1964 to sit in someone’s home in Winterport, Maine and listen to someone speak in a foreign language while I watched her or looked at the ceiling.
Her rocking chair sat next to their wood stove that she cooked on each and every day. I don’t know if it was a Glenwood, or perhaps some other brand. I just recall that it sat there in their dining room and her chair sat next to it.
They had a barn attached to the house and over the years Mr. Doyon had cut, split and stacked enough firewood into the barn to seemingly last forever. Mrs. Doyon did all their cooking on the woodstove and slowly burned the mountainous stack, but most important to me, she made homemade bread and doughnuts in its oven. I can say with strong confidence that sixty years after sitting in Mr. Doyon’s chair and eating hot bread and doughnuts that came straight from the wood stove to my mouth, well, I have never tasted better.
Some people say that what you do is not necessarily who you are, while others sound like they know what they’re talking about when they say the sum total of what you do is exactly who they are. Both points seem arguably true. To be honest, it’s likely that they are both true sometimes and not true other times. They are like all other internet wisdom posts that are always right to half the people who read them. Or perhaps they are true depending on the perspective of the person doing the observing, more than the person being judged. It’s been my experience that perspective plays a huge part in life.
For instance, the Mrs. Doyon that I knew when I was five likely had an entire lifetime of traits and events and characteristics that created the sum total of who she was. With that said, to the five year old boy who lived next door and visited quite often, there was a pretty narrow lane that defined who she was. In my mind she was the grandmotherly French woman who lived next door that fed me warm bread and hot doughnuts when I visited. What more was there to know? What else could possibly matter? What she did precisely defined who she was to me. As far as I was concerned, she was the Patron Saint of Homemade Bread and Doughnuts… and she talked to a lot of people on the phone in French. I also remember going over after dinner and watching game shows on TV, but I can’t for the life of me recall which show it was that she watched every night.
Life is funny. If the old woman next door had not allowed me to come and hang out and sit in her husband’s chair and listen to her go about her life in two different languages, almost as if I was not even there, and if she hadn’t fed me hot bread and warm doughnuts, who knows what my memories of her would be all these years later. Maybe I’d say something like, “Remember that old French woman that lived next to us when we were kids? She wasn’t very friendly.” But she performed tiny, almost miniscule, acts of kindness decades ago and to this day I have fond and loving memories of the Patron Saint of Homemade Bread and Doughnuts. It turns out that, as far as I am concerned, what she did is who she was. She was the nice, baking, elderly French woman that let me hang out in her house and eat her food. Sixty years later I can still hear her talking on the phone and I can still smell the bread cooking and I can still taste her doughnuts.
Life was pretty damn good when I hung out with Mrs. Doyon. I think it should go without saying that the Universal Language of homemade bread and doughnuts is a timeless language understood and embraced by nearly every child in the world. Sometimes life is much simpler than we make it.