If a family could have a love language, no doubt, ours would be cookies.
From a young age, I remember my mom making her famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. In my mind, they were out-of-this-world spectacular. They were big, chunky and hearty cookies. She would make the cookies for special occasions or upon request. They were easily my favorite food.
One summer, I remember my mom making the cookies. She would make huge batches of the dough and freeze half. The only trouble was as much as I loved the cookies, the dough was my kryptonite. I couldn’t get enough. My mom knew of my whole-hearted, unabashed love for the dough. One particular summer afternoon, she hid her surplus dough in the back of the freezer in an empty Country Crock container. I was on to her, though. I nibbled away at the dough over the course of a few days, careful to replace every item hiding the dough in the back corner of the freezer. The day I finished the container — I believe with a little help from my Dad and Brother — I left a note in place of cookie dough in the Country Crock container. “Whoops! Sorry, Mom!” That next Saturday morning my mom went for the dough. I was upstairs and heard the unmistakable EMILY BROWN! in a way only she could. I knew exactly what she had stumbled upon. I laughed so hard. So did she.
My mom was so good at relationships and remembering to care for people even during the busiest, most hectic seasons. In recent years, as many of my cousins began going off to college, she would send them all a pre-stamped postcard at the beginning of the semester. On the card there were check boxes of all the cookie varieties in her repertoire. They could check off their cookie preference, send the post-card back with their order and expect cookies in the next two weeks.
I could go on and on about our love of cookies. Like, when I was in college, the office I worked in at the Student Union was right next to a deli that made the best cookies on campus. From time to time, I’d meander next door and without fail order two cookies. I’d mumble something about splitting cookies with, you know, ALL THE FRIENDS I had but actually, I hardly shared. Everyone in the office knew my not-so-secret love and my inability to order just one cookie. When a few friends from that office came down for my mom’s funeral, what might you guess they packed for me: SO MANY cookies from my favorite place. We’re famous for our cookie love.
You get the picture. We’re cookie enthusiasts.
Back to my mom’s chocolate chip oatmeal cookies (or Breakfast Bars, as she called them when when she ate a few for breakfast). My mom hardly looked at a recipe as she made them. This is all well and good until now when she can no longer keep an eye on me as I prepare the cookies without her supervision. The most important thing she told me was to never, never, never under any circumstances exclude the shortening in the recipe.
WELL, last week I wanted to make my mom’s cookies for a dinner party and had all the ingredients except the dang shortening. I really didn’t want to run to the store so used coconut oil instead. The verdict: The cookies weren’t horrible but they were lacking. I tried to eye-ball the recipe a little and learned I am not advanced enough for that. I learned that just because I flippantly toss in baking soda or handfuls of oats in the name of Mary-Browning it, it does note guarantee success.
I reflected on my so-so cookies with a friend. We agreed: “Cookies without shortening sounds like life without Mary.” We’re lacking the richness, the glue that holds us together so effortlessly and the guaranteed flavor she added. We’re living that coconut oil life.
At my mom’s funeral, a few friends asked how they could help us. A friend suggested we ask friends to recreate make my mom’s famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies for the visitation. We loved the idea and distributed her famous cookie recipe to a handful of folks. As we arrived to the visitation, we saw plates of small cookies all over. “Mom’s were much bigger, much chunkier,” my brother whispered to me. We tried a few different variations of the cookies throughout the afternoon. None were quite right but none tasted bad. They were actually really good cookies but just not the same as my mom’s. I had such an appreciation of people trying for us and being so willing to jump right in. That day the cookies were much more than sustenance for our bodies. They were reminders of the sustenance of care.
Life feels like it’s lacking shortening. We will never fully overcome that. BUT I’m convinced that the same way friends jumped in and recreated my mom’s cookies is the same way we trudge through adversity. We know the task is insurmountable but we attempt any way together. The act of trying together is much less distressing than the possibility of not attempting at all or feeling like we must go it alone.
Grab a cookie — maybe even one or two for breakfast — and let’s carry on.