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first person

Illustration by Mary Kirkpatrick

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My husband and I live in a conservation area. At least we like to call it that. Our board and batten house is surrounded by forest and although that might sound blissful (and it certainly is most of the time) it can also be lonely. Trees are my friends, but conversations with them are difficult as they don’t talk. Sometimes the hubbub of town (even an empty town) can give us a dose of the community we are missing.

During this pandemic isolation time, we crave something, anything to change the monotony of our day. We also crave sweets. The nearest town to us is Bobcaygeon, two hours northeast of Toronto, and we have grown fond of walking Scout, our rowdy Airedale, along the waterfront in the summertime and down the empty main drag during the winter. Scout is a handful and he needs a good long walk that can’t always be achieved in the topsy-turvy snowy landscape of our forest without us going flying and risking breaking a limb.

We have started a ritual that involves a biweekly drive to Bobcaygeon to get a few groceries and to walk our boy Scout and hopefully tire him out. We always conclude our outing at the local Tim Hortons and bring along a special cup to share our large coffee (two milks, one cream). We learned this trick long ago at the tea shops in New Zealand and save close to $400 a year and a lot of paper cups doing it. The women who work at this particular drive-through are incredibly friendly and call us “dear” and “honey.” Their sweet voices echoing through the drive-through speaker are like honey to our soul. We feel like we’ve been to a small party after chatting with them and they give us the strength to get through another few days of isolation.

With our coffee, I usually order a raisin tea biscuit toasted with butter and my husband usually orders an old-fashioned plain, which he calls a dunker. Recently, however, we made a radical change to our drive-through order.

The wind was whipping snow pellets all around us in the parking lot and we felt the mystical energy of the season and he said to me, “I think I want to order an apple fritter.”

“Wow,” I said, “if you get one, I want one, too! Two apple fritters!”

I smiled.

We have a long history with apple fritters. Thirty years ago we were living in Toronto and being both “creatives,” which in those days was called “radicals” (as there were fewer of us), we knew we needed to find a place outside Toronto to live cheaply so that we could have a life in art. But we had no idea where to go. We sublet our apartment, bought a truck and some camping gear (in those early days when MEC was a fresh thing) and travelled all around Ontario for a few months until we found our spot.

Luckily Tim Hortons had just invented the apple fritter and they made them fresh in those days with real batter, fried in oil and dipped in icing almost right before your eyes. Our Ontario trip really became a Tim Hortons’ apple fritter tour and the hands-down best fritters came from the Cassells Street location in lovely North Bay. In fact, the fritters were so good there that we felt a vibe. We had a vision in that Tim Hortons of us living in North Bay and it becoming our new home. And that vision became a kind of dream. And that dream came true. For a while.

White Water Gallery (the artist-run centre in town) just happened to be needing a new director and we had our résumés with us. We used our camping spot as an address and applied for the job and, lo and behold, we got the job. We ran White Water Gallery for a year before we realized that the vision we had had in that Tim Hortons might have been a sugar rush. I was pregnant with our baby boy and we missed Toronto and Jet Fuel Coffee on Parliament Street. So we packed up our stuff and moved back “home” for a few years till we felt the calling to move again.

The Bancroft, Ont., Tim Hortons became our next hang-out spot after travelling to India and Nepal with our young son and finally leaving Toronto. We nestled into our century-old tin house in Coe Hill and made biweekly trips to Bancroft for apple fritters with our young family (which now included a little girl). The Tim Hortons on Hastings Street looks out over the Eagle’s Nest cliff and makes you feel like you are living in a small town in British Colombia instead of rural Ontario. And in winter you could watch ice climbers climb the Eagle’s Nest while sitting comfortably eating apple fritters inside. We became friends with the lovely staff, who even gave special Christmas presents to our children. I daydreamed about being a cake decorator for Timmies (back then, the chain sold cakes that were displayed in turning glass cases).

One sad day we heard a rumour. We heard that Tim Hortons was going to no longer fry their own doughnuts and get them frozen from a warehouse in Toronto and heat them up and decorate them in their locations. We were horrified. It’s not the same! And we considered carrying plaques outside the Tim Hortons to boycott the store. But we are gentle people. And so, just took a break from Timmies. For a while.

Eventually, the day came that we had to try these new doughnuts. They looked and tasted like cardboard. We complained. They tested out some new ones. And some newer ones after that. Eventually, they got something that resembles a vintage apple fritter and eventually, we forgot what the vintage apple fritter actually tasted like. And, eventually, we grew fond of the new apple fritters even though they came frozen from a warehouse miles away. We never forgot that.

But when my husband eagerly asked the kind lady at the Bobcaygeon Tim Hortons drive-through for “two apple fritters,” she told us that, sadly, they were out of apple fritters. The line was very long. It was a weekend. There were tourists. We smiled and went back to a “raisin tea biscuit toasted with butter” and an “old-fashioned plain,” which really means a dunker.

And we were still happy.

Michele Karch-Ackerman lives in Buckhorn, Ont.