hunker down [phrasal verb]: to make yourself comfortable in a place or situation, or to prepare to stay in a place or position for a long time, usually in order to achieve something or for protection. ~Cambridge English Dictionary
Until recently, I’d thought I was acquainted with the concept of hunkering down.
As a kid in rural Iowa, I’d be snowed in with my family for days at a time each winter, isolated from grocery stores and movie theaters as well as friends and relatives. If the telephone and power lines went down, we were also without headline news and Saturday morning cartoons. It wasn’t forever. But it felt like it in those days before cell phones, social media, and Zoom.
By the third or so day of each blizzard, without fail, my mom would stand and quietly stare out the window above the kitchen sink as the snow drifted higher and the ice-coated branches scraped against the house. Eventually she’d turn around and, in that fake happy voice reserved for birthdays and when me or my older brother were sick, she’d announce we were making glazed doughnuts.
My mom has never cared much for cooking. At all. It’s always seemed like something she resented having to do several times each day. Another chore to be completed. Except when we were making doughnuts.
She’d slip an Elvis LP out of its cover and onto the player and pull out her spiral-bound church league cookbook. While I fidgeted in anticipation, she’d attempt to tie a pillowcase—always a little too tightly, thank you very much—around me as a makeshift apron and pull a chair alongside the counter for me to stand on. Then she and my brother and I would commence hours of measuring, mixing, stirring, proofing, rolling, cutting, frying, glazing, and, a seeming eternity later when they’d cooled, lingering over those fried lovelies with pleasure (and letting out yelps each time I yanked back my fingers when I got impatient).
In between the many stages of doughnut creating, and especially while we waited for the dough to sloooooooowly proof, there was dancing. Joking. Laughing. Silliness of all sorts.
Curiously, I don’t recall the actual doughnuts. I’d like to gush that they were ethereally airy, subtly sweet, shatteringly crisp on the outside and still ever so slightly doughy on the inside with juuuuuust the perfect proportion of runny glaze. But I was a kid. They were fried dough and I was allowed to indulge in them for supper while standing at the counter rather than sitting at the table pushing casserole around my plate.
I recall the moments leading up to the doughnuts, though.
I’ve thought of those hunkering down days countless times during the last many years. Especially in recent weeks. And each time, my appreciation turns less to the doughnuts—and the consequent sugar rush—as the day’s saving grace. And it turns more to my mom’s savvy in coaxing our awareness away from all the worries and what ifs by taking us back to what was actually right there in front of us. Cooking has a way of doing that. It didn’t change what was happening around us. But it did alter how we showed up to it. And that’s where we found our comfort.