Morsels of Truth Found in a Cookie
When I announced to Mom I was moving to Germany her response was immediate, precise and sincere, “I’ll store your KitchenAid mixer in the attic until you get back.” Heart be still. I love being part of a family who bakes.
Not sure Mom knew, but my first memory of a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough being made was in her sister’s kitchen. I remember eagerly peering into a ceramic moss green bowl as Aunt Darlene poured ingredients and explained their purpose. She’d occasionally pause to adjust her black rimmed glasses from slipping down her nose. She spoke to me as though I was an adult, even though I was barely in double digits. Her intelligence usually intimidated me, but in the kitchen something magical happened. My insecurities were replaced with a much healthier ingredient, curiosity.
My gratitude for my aunt is immeasurable and extends beyond the kitchen; she introduced me to the snaggle-tooth art historian nun, Sister Wendy, and musicians Suzanne Vega and Tori Amos. And she insisted on a daily basis my fumbling fingers learn The Candy Man and Yesterday on her living room piano.
Looking back, it’s humbling realizing she allowed an unappreciative kid to hang out after school for countless hours so my single mom could work while attending nursing school. My aunt understood all too well. She was a single working mother of three, also a nurse. I didn’t understand it then, but Aunt Darlene wanted more, for all of us.
Unlike her cookies, our relationship wasn’t always sweet like sugar. I resented her only the way a teenager could the day she came to our house and sat me down for a “talk.” I was 16 with an ego to match the height of my sprayed hair; it was the 80’s. I can still feel the discomfort of those tight ripped jeans as I sat across from her at our dining room table. She looked past my charcoal rimmed eyes framed by blue mascara and said matter-of-fact, “You’ve got to stop dressing and acting wild or you’ll wind up pregnant and married before you’re 18.” I was furious.
My boyfriend asked me to marry him when I was 18, I was sure to wait until I was 19. Aunt Darlene was at the wedding, she baked her famous cookies. The marriage was short, and fortunately didn’t produce offspring (Ha, she didn’t get that right!). Aunt Darlene never said, “I told you so”…although we both knew she didn’t have to.
Decades later we were all surprised when my aunt was robbed by the worst kind of bandit, it came without warning and stole everything she had. ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This ruthless culprit stole her ability (and pleasure) to bake, speak and hold a cup of coffee.
It’s been years since my aunt passed away. If I ever need her, I head to the kitchen. For me, the result of baking chocolate chip cookies is consumption. I’m hungry, not just for filling my stomach, but for feeding my memory. I’m hungry for my aunt’s wisdom. I’m hungry for her patience. I’m hungry for her honesty. I’m hungry for her love. Most of all, I’m hungry to be closer to the memory of a woman who had faith in me. When I bake I’m reminded of something she knew existed, but I’ve struggled to accept – my potential; a sensation more intoxicating than the combined scent of vanilla, butter and sugar, something I didn’t know existed until I peered over Aunt Darlene’s kitchen counter.
“It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one.”
(The “secret” recipe used was Nestle Toll House, printed on the back of every bag.)