I wandered into a local shop that sells new and vintage items. It’s one of those places with jars of buttons, tins of chalk paint, beaded clothing, jewellery, handbags and antiques, artfully arranged in such a way, you find yourself moving along as if someone slathered honey on the bottom of your shoes. You move through the aisles in a dreamy, sweet, slow shuffle until a sticky memory stops you in your tracks altogether.
Or at least, that is what happened to me. I reached the end of an aisle, looked up and my heart stopped. There, in mint condition, sat the cookie jar from my childhood.
Well, not the exact jar itself, but one just like it.
I was so still, so transfixed, for so long, that I caught the attention of a salesperson who came over to ask if I needed help. I almost started to point at the jar and tell her we had one just like it, but I knew if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop and it would fast become a case of over sharing awkwardness, so I just shook my head and smiled, not trusting myself to speak.
I didn’t tell her how I had grown up on a farm some fifty miles southwest of her shop where an exact replica of the jar once sat on the counter in a sun-filled country kitchen.
I didn’t explain how difficult it was to lift the glass lid to sneak out a cookie without being heard.
I didn’t tell her that my Mom used to make peanut butter cookies which she then crisscrossed with a fork so it left a kind of grid pattern on the face. A pattern that today’s kids would call a hashtag, I suppose. She also made unbaked coconut cookies and my father’s favourite, boiled raisin.
I remember taking cookies out of the jar and placing them into a Tupperware container to go with the lunch our mother was packing for our father. During seeding and harvest there was no time for Dad to stop and drive in from the fields for lunch, so lunch went to Dad. By the time I was ten, like my sisters before me, I was allowed to drive Dad’s lunch out to the field in our truck, my feet barely reaching the peddles.
At Christmas, Mom filled the cookie jar with shortbread and divinity fudge, along with sugar cookies that my sisters and I iced with green and red icing and too many sprinkles.
Both my parents passed away in this last year.
It has always struck me as sad and not a little unfair, that the objects people touch can survive for so long, while the lives of the people themselves are so fleeting and fragile.
Looking at the jar, I doubted my mother would have chosen it for herself. The gold leaf and boldly painted fruit wasn’t her taste at all. She likely received hers as a wedding gift back in the fifties and probably wasn’t sorry when she was finally able to afford a more muted replacement.
A part of me shared my mother’s taste-or distaste in this case. Add to that the fact I rarely bake cookies and hate clutter on my kitchen counter and it should have been easy to walk away.
But of course, it was much more than a possibly tacky cookie jar. It was the jar that had sat as a cheerful background prop to my entire childhood. I knew if I was honest with myself, I would understand that I didn’t want the jar back, I wanted my childhood back.
I wanted our parents back.
And so, knowing the futility of it all, I resisted the urge to reach up, grab the jar off the shelf and hug it to my chest all the way up to the cash register. Instead I took out my phone and snapped a picture, telling myself that was just as good.
Except maybe it isn’t.
Yesterday was Saturday.
Today is Sunday, the shop is closed, but here I am, unable to get the cookie jar out of my head. Still wanting something tangible to remind me of a life that was.
I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but I strongly suspect it will be this…
Christmas is coming, after all, and someone needs to make cookies. And then that someone is going to need a place to put them. And if I rarely make cookies in the months that follow, well, I can still let the afternoon sun glint off the gold leaf and cheerfully painted blobs for the rest of the life I am given.
The jar may not always hold cookies, but it will always hold memories and maybe that’s worth making room on the counter for.