Let’s just say that my Aunt Meggie has the knack. She not only makes the best oatmeal raisin cookies in Connecticut; but she understood their purpose. It is that understanding that truly set her apart from the other oatmeal raisin makers.
It is not in my memory to remember what it felt like to hold a cookie in my small hand. But there is something irrepressible in seeing a 3 year old holding a cookie. A cookie is the perfect sized food for a child… the shape slides in beautifully to all four fingers and the thumb… so to the child, the cookie is big. But “big” in a good way… just the right sized big, while a cupcake might be too big. I would watch my children’s eyes light up when they held a cookie… and sometimes a cookie in each hand! And seeing their joy, I am sure the first time I had an oatmeal raisin in my hand, I felt like king of the world, too.
Much has been made about the salutary benefits of chicken soup… how it is the ultimate cure all. Well and good. But Meggie understood that there is more to living than chicken soup. There were times that an oatmeal raisin cookie is called for.
I can think of a dozen reasons that would make a small child cry. Most involve a physical hurt of some type… something that might have spilled a little blood… a nasty scrape from stumbling on the driveway? Sometimes a cry might be a product of a fear, worry or another type of non-physical hurt. But to little folks a cry is a cry.
I can remember the time we went to visit Meggie in Woodbury, I must have been six or seven… I was playing outside and the neighbor’s Elkhound got loose and came over and bit me (this is the type of memory that I will carry to my grave)… I went running into the house scared and crying… got a hug from my Mom, a nuzzle to the neck and a kiss, a ruffle of my hair and an “it’s OK”. It did staunch the flow of tears. Aunt Meggie brought me an oatmeal raisin cookie. See what I mean? She had the knack.
Sure… chicken soup is good for battling yellow fever and beriberi. But Meggie knew that an oatmeal cookie could heal beyond the wound to a wounded spirit.
There is more. Whenever Meggie baked oatmeal raisin cookies she always made an extra two or three that were really big. These cookies were kept hidden… away from the cookie jar, or the “hospitality plate.” This was Meggie’s special emergency stash. Cookies that were for times when a regular cookie just wouldn’t do the job.
Meggie treated each occurrence independently. She would gauge the crisis and the nature of the cry and dispense the necessary “Rx”… usually a regular cookie was fine… but sometimes she would say, “I think you need a big cookie”, and she would go off to retrieve the necessary antidote from a place unseen.
To a little kid, if a regular cookie looked as big as a pie, then a big cookie looked like a large pizza pie. And that’s big. Meggie? Like I said, she had the knack, she knew when a big cookie was necessary.
That she knew what to do when I was three, or when my kids were three… is one thing… that she knew what to do when I was fifty-five was another… And so the day came when I went to visit her in Chatham… where she went to retire… a day when I felt the world closing in on me, shell shocked from business, a marriage burst at the seams, and not getting any younger… feeling a failure at everything I had ever done… I took my Keeshond along for the ride, and went to re-charge my batteries, as was my custom, on a deck overlooking the Atlantic.
My Mother told me one day that water restored me. She came to this conclusion watching me on the beach in Woodmont… I would just stare to the horizon, thinking of I know not what… and she said to me, “you love the water, it makes you feel better just to look at it, doesn’t it?” It’s true, water does help me.
I love the sun particularly at its beginning and at its end… and I can think of no better place to watch its transition than over a body of water. Meggie had chilled a bottle of Grand Cru Chablis for us… we watched Barney scatter about the yard… smelling here and there and lifting his leg where appropriate. We watched the sun slowly move to meet the horizon. We chatted amiably about a variety of topics and issues and after our second glass of Chablis, Meggie asked, “Jimmy, something is troubling you? I mean I know about the basic stuff. But is there more?”
Did I tell you that my Aunt Meggie had a knack?
“No one has it easy”, I start, “but someone who I have known for several years has developed a serious illness. And it hurts me. In so many ways she helped me deal with my ‘ups and downs’ and I feel powerless to help… to return to her so much that she has given me.”
I was thankful that I had the Atlantic to distract me…
“I think you need a big cookie.” And Meggie departed for a place unseen. I alternated my view between the Atlantic and Barney investigating the yard. When Meggie returned she placed before me a plate bearing a single cookie… a big cookie.
“You always know when a big cookie is needed… you knew it when I was five, you know it when I am fifty-five.”
“There is no secret to the big cookie,” she told me, “it’s simply giving a little extra to make someone else feel better.” She sipped her Chablis, “I know you love my oatmeal raisin cookies Jimmy. But a big cookie doesn’t have to be a big cookie. It could be a card, a phone call… something to let the other person know that you care… that you are thinking about them. You don’t have to bake oatmeal raisin cookies.”
We finished the Chablis. Had a light supper… and then it was time to pack Barney in the car and head back to Connecticut.
I don’t have my Aunt Meggie’s gift, her knack. But tomorrow… I’m going to make a phone call.