I have an affinity for stale cookies.
Weird, yes. But I came by it honestly.
Sometime in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s, my mother started to take classes in ceramics painting. One of her earlier projects was a cookie jar, which she eventually gave to her mother. Stout and round, blue daisy-like flowers dappled the white jar. She later painted the same type of flowers on my black workman’s lunch box and my orange Clean Machine bicycle with its purple banana seat. She turned out to be quite talented at painting but those flowers were her signature gig in the ’70’s.
The jar sat on my grandmother’s counter in the house my grandfather built in her tiny hometown in western Montana. No matter the time of day we arrived – frequently pushing 10 PM, leaving for their house after Dad got home from work – we kids headed for that crock just as soon as we hugged our hellos.
My extended family sat around the kitchen table, eating cookies and talking until late in the night. The kids eventually ambled off to bed as the grownups chatted. Grandma’s kitchen always smelled like she recently cooked up a bunch of bacon. Her dark black iron skillet waited on the stove for just such a task in the morning.
My grandmother often cooked from scratch. Being a young family during the depression, Grandpa kept a huge garden until his knees gave out in his eighties. Grandma canned what they didn’t immediately use. She was the ultimate pioneer woman. Literally and figuratively.
But her cookies were often store bought. True, one of my favorite cookie recipes is for her ginger cookies. Little bites of molasses-y sugar crack. I only make them when I’m going to give a bunch away because I’ll eat little else until they’re gone. She baked a lot of pies when we were around but not a lot of cookies. She filled the fat pot with frosted molasses cookies and the chocolate-on-one-side-and-vanilla-on-the-other treats. Chocolate chip cookies and those various delights made by the “elves.”
Diving into the jar would often produce a soft cookie – one that had sat just long enough to absorb a little moisture from the air. It became my favorite kind of cookie…the ones that had gone soft. But as soon as the jar was empty, she produced another package and tumbled them in.
I didn’t know it then but that jar became my emblem for her as a grandparent: sweet and ever present. Loving and loved.
Years later, when I lived in Kansas, I drove up to Montana to spend some one-on-one time with my aging gramma. She then lived in assisted living, having culled her worldly possessions to just those which fit into her small apartment. Thankfully, the jar was one of them.
“Would you be a dear and wash the cookie jar?” she asked me one day.
“Of course I will, ” I replied, immediately readying the tiny sink with warm, soapy water.
But the task filled me with sadness and terror. Sadness because it was the first adult thing I did for her. Me taking care of her – even that little bit. (Well, I tried to cook a meal for her a few years before, before I had the slightest clue about cooking, but it proved a disaster. We won’t speak of it again.) Terror because I am not known to be terribly coordinated and the fear of breaking the thing bore into my soul. A brand new infant would not be handled with more care than was the jar at the time.
When she passed, family members went to her house to claim her household items. Arriving late, it surprised me that no one had wanted the cookie jar. So I took it home, carefully swaddled in clothing and bubble wrap to keep it safe for the trip back to Washington state, where I now lived.
For more than ten years it sat on my counter, filled with various treats. Yes, even those of the homemade ilk. We retired it last year when cracks were discovered in both the body and the lid. More than fifty years of use had taken a toll. It now lives on a shelf in one of my favorite rooms. It sits in front of a hand painted sign that simply says LOVE.
Steve and I recently unearthed an old cookie jar as we cleaned out the garage. One we received as a wedding present almost twenty three years ago. A farmer on a tractor, it sings Old MacDonald if you lift the lid at a certain angle, even after all of this time. Busted!
Wandering into the kitchen today, I absently lifted the lid and pulled out a cookie from the farmer’s cache. A vanilla “tea” cookie, softened by time and made in some mass bakery. A perfect tribute to my beloved grandparent. Sweet and loved – just like her.
Long known as a rather fervent cookie monster, I realized as I wrote this that it’s quite likely my obsession started with the flowered jar on Grandma’s counter.
Miss you, Grandma.