Warren woke with the chickens. It had been his habit since childhood when he actually was awakened by the sound of the neighbor’s rooster crowing. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed he almost reached out to see if Betty was up, and then the persistent grief of her loss settled over him as it had done now for the past year.
Warren Krueger and Betty Peterson had been an item since he came back from the navy at 22. He had been a Machinist’s Mate and part of the Auxiliary Group which was responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of basically every system outside the engine room of his ship. In the process Warren had learned a lot about refrigeration systems.
They had met at a bowling alley. Warren had gone with some friends from high school and Betty was at the shoe rental counter. He was taken by her bubbly and a little sassy personality and they began dating. About a year later he found a job with a Nor-Lake plant working in their commercial freezer plant. The couple immediately began talking of marriage. It should have been easy – they were both Lutheran – but he had grown up in the Wisconsin Synod, a conservative denomination of German derivation, and Betty had grown up in the American Lutheran Church, a more liberal group of predominately Norwegian heritage.
Warren’s church interpreted the bible differently than Betty’s and regarded the Papacy as the anti-Christ. The real problem had to do with acceptance into any kind of fellowship of nonmembers with Wisconsin Synod members. But they were determined to find a way.
They got married in the American Lutheran Church which later merged with the Lutheran Church in America, a Swedish heritage church to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Warren’s parents mourned this decision to their death because they were convinced that Warren was doomed to perdition as a result. They also mourned the fact that he worked in that “ice box plant” instead of joining his father and grandfather in their generations old German bakery.
Nevertheless, the Kruegers visited on holidays and watched their grandchildren grow up.
Betty was active on church committees and Warren joked that he was the church’s Volunteer Fixit Man. He had a love of machines and could work on about anything mechanical.
From the beginning Warren loved cars and car racing. At first he built drag racers, but then began restoring old cars. When NASCAR became popular he followed the NASCAR races on television.
He was proud to be employed by Nor-Lake which was a family business with a dedication to quality.
As he began thinking of retirement he and Betty talked about her view of their retirement years. She saw them playing out in Wisconsin near the grand kids. He saw them happening in some sunnier place near a NASCAR track.
They were at an impasse until two things happened; the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, and the acquisition a few years later of Nor-Lake by another food-service company, Standex. The terrorist attacks brought home to them how short and uncertain life was, and the fact that Nor-lake’s new parent company was publicly owned made Warren worry about a lapse in standards of quality.
A decision about what to do next came when Warren was offered the option to move and work in a plant that made restaurant fryers or retire. They bought a motorhome and Warren took three months of accrued vacation in advance of retirement.
Warren and Betty took a road trip, a really long road trip, from Madison, Wisconsin to Daytona Beach, Florida with a view toward fulfilling Warren’s dream. They left Madison about the time the snow was melting and arrived in Daytona in July. Florida was hot, sticky, flat and not very Lutheran, and they both discovered that they weren’t really attracted to the ocean.
Betty’s comment was, “It’s just a lot of sloshing water with squawking birds.” So, they started back, disappointed and a little bit desperate. Taking the back roads they came up U.S. 321 beginning in Savannah, Georgia up through South Carolina.
When they crossed the state line into North Carolina it was a Saturday and Betty started looking for a Lutheran Church. She was surprised to find a lot. It seems that German Lutherans had settled in the Piedmont. The following morning they made their way to Redeemer Lutheran and attended service. It was small; not the center of life as it had been in Wisconsin, but she felt a connection.
They decided to look around Gaston County, for property. They reasoned that the area was only 20 miles from Charlotte – there was a major NASCAR track just east of the city - and due to the closing of all of the textile mills in the area they found that they could find a small place that they could afford.
Eight months later, after selling the house in Madison and saying goodbye to family and friends, they moved.
There had been four good years and then they found that Betty had stage IV cancer. The next few months were a downhill spiral of doctor visits, chemotherapy, and hospice care and pain management.
The kids were surprised when they found that Warren didn’t plan to bury Betty near them. He just couldn’t be that far away from his only love, and this had been the place they had been happiest.
Warren had been having indigestion for a couple of days. He had been told to lose weight, but it was hard. A stocky man, always, he was distinctly overweight now, and he loved sweets, especially pastries. After moving to Gastonia he had discovered Krispy Kreme: doughnut heaven.
Usually, an antacid relieved his reflux, but yesterday it hadn’t seemed to do that. He thought, “I’ll go to Krispy Kreme, get a couple of doughnuts and some milk. The milk should give me relief.”
The Krispy Kreme store made doughnuts on the premises, and you could watch them being made; even pick them off the conveyer as the came by. He had never gotten there when they were being made, but today when he drove up the Hot Light was on signaling that the Original Glazed Doughnuts were available.
You could smell the delicious aroma of fresh glazed delicacies when he walked in. Turning at the register he saw the doughnuts coming. An army of light brown miracles was turning the corner and advancing directly toward him down the conveyer belt. They drew closer and then turned past him to a point where they disappeared again.
Warren’s indigestion seemed worse, but he was mesmerized. The army of doughnuts was like the human race. Moving through life; you were born, moved down the conveyer belt of life, and then disappeared into the grave. The individual glazes might be different, but inside was the same delicious goody; each perfect in its own way. And then the indigestion turned to crushing chest pain.
Warren was thinking that soon he would be joining Betty at the end of the conveyer belt of life and he was filled with unutterable joy and peace as the doughnuts grew dim, the walls disappeared and then closed in completely as he fell to the floor.
His last thought was “Going to heaven at the Krispy Kreme checkout. I wonder if they have fresh doughnuts in heaven."