August 04, 2009

Tasty memories

My grandmother used to get up every morning at about 5:30 and go make a big pot of strong coffee. The kitchen light would glow against the darkness of the rest of the house while she sat at the table, cup in hand. She would smoke one or two cigarettes as she made her way through a few cups of black coffee, all in the still quiet of the pre-dawn morning.

Then came what I've always suspected is the real reason for her early rising-- chocolate marshmallow pinwheel cookies. She'd set one out on a plate, pulled from the strategically hidden package high in the cupboard. Between puffs and sips, she'd eat the cookie up in tiny, delightful bites.

In all other ways, my grandmother was a fairly austere woman. She was slight ("5 foot one and THREE QUARTERS" she always insisted), she did not enjoy shopping or flippant, casual conversation and used a firm hand, especially on our behinds, to keep my brother and me in line. She very rarely went out by herself, preferring to stay home and care for her dogs and garden. Tempered by an overall sense of subdued awe, she inspired our love and, ever so slightly, fear.

With two grown sons living in her home, and two grandchildren on top of that, this morning routine always seemed to me to be a near-sacred reclamation of her own personal space. So for the handful of times I would peek into the hallway and see her there in the kitchen, even at six years old, I understood never to bring it up.

Of course, being a highly intelligent woman with a grandmother's skill for sensing small lurking children, she knew I was there each time. One morning, while I sat peering around the corner into the kitchen, she turned, looked directly at me and said, "Come here, girl."

Oh, the terror.

Heart pounding, I tip-toed down the hallway until the kitchen light fell on my face. She just... stared at me.

Then, without a word or change of expression, she stood up and pulled out another chair.

"Sit down."

You better believe my butt hit the seat almost before my feet took a step. Then a miracle happened. Grandma walked to the cupboard, reached up high and pulled out the package of cookies. She put one on a plate and set it in front of me, then poured me a small glass of milk.

There we sat, bathed in light, eating cookies while the rest of the house, the rest of the world, slept. We didn't talk but when I looked up at her with a crumble of chocolate stuck to my chin, she smiled and patted my hand.

I have many fond memories of that time in my life but that quiet, secret morning is still one of my very favorites. It goes without saying, so are those cookies.

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