The Best Kept Secret

I loved my Aunt Meggie’s oatmeal raisin cookies.  They were firm without being hard, chewy without being soft, just enough raisins to make each one a treat… and, this was the important part, there were always plenty of them on the cookie plate.

If she came to our house she always brought cookies, and whenever we visited Meggie in Woodbury I knew that there would be a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies on the kitchen counter… and I would have to pretend  that the “greeting conversation” in the center hall was important — when all I really wanted to do was run into the kitchen to make sure that there was a plate of cookies, a large plate of cookies… a large plate heaped with cookies… cookies expressly there for my enjoyment.

That confirmed, I could get on with talk of this or that.

Meggie was my Mom’s older Sister.  Even for a little kid like me, it was easy to see that they loved one another.  Still… they each retained pride in the things they did well.  My Mother made sweaters for every one in the family.  Meggie made oatmeal raisin cookies.  And for Meggie to make a sweater, or for Mom to bake cookies would have disrupted the equilibrium in the Universe.  Anyway, this what was traditionally accepted in our family.

As much as I loved Meggie’s oatmeal cookies, there was a part of her that would scare me.  And I kept this a secret.  Meggie taught 8th Grade Science in Bridgeport.  And as a kid I thought teachers were the arch enemy.  I didn’t hate them on a human level; but I deeply resented their chosen profession.  And oatmeal cookies or not, particularly when I reached the 8th Grade, Meggie was clearly in the “enemy camp”.  I would get a monster case of the “heebie jeebies” if I detected in casual conversation, even the slightest reference to learning or academics.

My best friend Gary had an Uncle who was a dentist.  He told me that whenever Uncle Artie came over to his house, he would hide under the bed.

Yeah, I could understand that.  Uncle Artie probably didn’t know how to bake oatmeal cookies.  And if Meggie didn’t make the best oatmeal raisin cookies in the world, I would have hid under the bed, too… particularly when I was in the 8th Grade.

Now you would think that over the years, Sisters, loving one another, like my Mom and Meggie, would share in things.  Mom would help Meggie with sweater making, and Meggie would share a recipe with Mom.  Nothing wrong with sharing is there?

Or so I thought. 

But then there was the day when I was home for a weekend from Union College and I mentioned to Mom that I was going to head up to Woodbury to visit Meggie… that I wanted to lay in a supply of oatmeal raisin cookies to take back up to school.

“Meggie and Saul went into the City for the weekend.”  I was told.

“Crap!”  I knew immediately that my reaction had stung Mom.

“Jimmy, I’ll make you cookies if you’d like…”

“No, Mom… It’s OK… really.  No one can make cookies better than Aunt Meggie… I’ll pick some up next time I’m down.”  (And besides… every one knew that Meggie shared that recipe with no one!)

It was the wrong thing to say.  I know that now.  I should have accepted Mom’s offer… add this to the many regrets that I have accumulated over the course of my life. 

God Bless Mom for being resilient and understanding.  She kissed my forehead, “Yes, Meggie makes the best oatmeal raisin cookies.”

I think now, that there is a certain cruelty in living.  That in the natural order of things we expect that those who are older, will “go” before us, and when this doesn’t happen it makes the pain of their passing that much more painful.  Such was the case with my Mother’s passing.  “I guess God needed a sweater maker.”  I am sure that is what we said to ourselves in the family.  I am sure that was what was in my Aunt Meggie’s mind on losing a younger Sister.  It’s a thought that sounds silly; but it is meant to soothe the sense of loss.

After years of teaching in Bridgeport, Meggie retired to the small home that she and Saul owned in Chatham.  They loved going to Cape Cod… and Chatham was away from the traffic of Mid-Cape… a sanctuary where they could get away from the hectic day-to-day.  Although by now Saul had also passed to his greater reward.

There came a day not too long ago, when I had to get away from the “day-to-day”, and I put my Keeshond in the car to go for a visit.  On the drive I told Barney that he was going to place that had a great view of the Atlantic, and that if he didn’t lift his leg on Meggie’s blue club chair, I would give him an oatmeal raisin cookie.  You can think I’m crazy; but dogs understand this better than children.

Yes, Meggie had oatmeal raisin cookies for me.  That and a big, big hug and a kiss.  It was a hug and kiss that I knew was a product of her love for her Sister… my Mother.  And it was easy to accept… somehow it felt like I was being hugged by my Mother.

Barney scattered about.  Sniffing and smelling… excited for the new yard to explore.  He lifted his leg on the sundial as Meggie and I moved to the deck that overlooked the water.  This time I didn’t have to go racing into the kitchen to see if there was a plate of cookies for me… Meggie had placed a generous plate on the table.

“Oatmeal raisin, I hope?”

“Would there be any other?”

There was also iced-tea in a beautiful crystal pitcher… and Meggie poured each of us a glass while I pinched into the stack of cookies.  I closed my eyes to appreciate the flavor and texture of the cookie… to intensify the experience. 

But before I got a word out of thanks and appreciation, Meggie offered, “Jimmy, I have to share a secret with you..”

Uh-oh… what could it be?  Saul was a felon?  Uncle Jenks was a hit man for the mob? My Father and Mother didn’t marry? 

“I know that you love my oatmeal raisin cookies.  But what you don’t know… I got the recipe from your Mother.  You see, even as little kids I knew that your Mother had a knack for things… she could always do things better than I could… she was a better student, she dressed better, she could sew, she could knit, she told better stories, all the boys loved her, she could cook & bake… you name it.  One day she told me, ‘Meggie: I’m going to teach you how to bake oatmeal raisin cookies.’  And she did.  One weekend we baked enough oatmeal raisin cookies for the 1st Army.  And we wouldn’t have stopped unless your Mother knew that I could do it.”

Meggie looked to the sky.  She hooted and smiled as Barney shnuffled in the underbrush looking for squirrels and other quarry.  She looked to the sky again, perhaps sensing the presence of her younger Sister. “You know, once I mastered baking oatmeal raisin cookies, your Mother would never make them again.  Never, ever.  I miss her greatly.”

I munched on a cookie, as great as ever and looked to the water… somehow imagining that there existed a land far beyond the horizon where every one who we ever knew existed to their own mind’s eye… and the place would be called heaven.

“Meggie, this cookie is heaven on earth…”

“Jimmy, there is an even deeper secret that I have to share with you…”

Now, I worried… it is my nature.

“I dreaded teaching school.  Monsters!  That’s who occupied the desks.  I longed for vacations!  The kids were miserable, their parents worse and the Administration was worse still.  And each year it got worse!  When I started to near retirement I couldn’t stand going back in September… my Augusts were a wreck just thinking about going back to school.  I wanted to hide under the bed.  And when school started, I would count the days ’til the next vacation.  I hated school.”

This was too much for me to take in one sitting.  If Barney wasn’t going to pee on the blue club chair, then I would have to.  I thought about telling Meggie that her being a teacher had terrified me… how much I hated school.  I looked to the sky and then to the horizon… you know, I think that some things are just better kept as a secret.

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