Cookies for Arden flashed on my calendar that Friday. It was time again for the weekly rite.
Arden is my mother’s home. Her care home. Mom has lived there for five years, just the past week. She lives amongst sixty-some residents who experience some form of dementia or memory altering condition. Mom has outlasted at least a third of the residents who succumbed to death, departed through lack of funds and or the need for a environment more suited to a particular condition. However, it is unlikely Mom will beat out Miss M., currently careening into her hundreds.
Five years was an eternity to evaluate the relationship I had to my mother’s disease. But the span offered me the gift of not only loving and caring for Mom, but of embracing other residents and caregivers.
It was on a different Friday, a year or so ago, the notion of “Cookies for Arden” was mixed, rolled, baked, frosted, and served.
I was departing the city for the weekend. The cookies were essentially a bribe to the caregivers to watch over Mom for the weekend (as if they didn’t already do that with such care).
Regina, an older caregiver, was delighted when I produced the sweet bounty of colorful tea cookies boxed up from Busken. Jillian, Mom’s most consistent caregiver, groaned. She had been trying to lose weight, despite chasing after the ever-active residents and her obligation to feed, clothe, and bath 15 women and men.
When I held out the box, Mom’s hand aimed for one on top. She grabbed several cookies, denting the swirled frosting on each.
Another resident, B., who was charming and cunning all in one instant, beckoned me towards her. “Hey, I’ll pay you if you bring me in a full box for myself.”
“And they better be Busken. Those Servatti cookies are Italian and they’re not made with the same butter as Busken.
B. had insulted a whole forest of my family trees and was clearly wrong in her presumption that Servatti cookies were made by Italians. The bakery was named after a cafe where the cookies were sold in Munster, Germany, in a location near the Church of St. Servatii, an Italian saint. And, the cookies were made by Germans. But B. also made a point. I, too, relished in the Busken cookies over Servatii’s.
Astounded by such reception, I erratically continued the tradition of bringing in the cookies. Always on a Friday, but not every week.
When I finally typed the entry Cookies for Arden in my calendar, I found that I routinely fulfilled my duties.
The same duty my mother once fulfilled on a September day, in 1994, for my marriage to Devin. My mother baked four of my favorite varieties of her Italian cookies. Pizzelles, rolled Italian cookies, nutroll, nut horns. She obsessively placed them in old May Company shirt boxes layered with waxed paper, and transported the goods from northern Ohio to Cincinnati in the back of Dad’s suburban. My entire family relayed the cargo across Fountain Square through Oktoberfest to our wedding reception at the Banker’s Club, ten stories above.
No image better signified Mom’s dedication to cookies as consecration than that of white department store boxes filled with cookies, bouncing along the heads of siblings towards the delicacies’ eventual consumption that night.
No matter where I am in the world – at home with the dog, in Washington Park, in Oregon or northern Ohio, if its Friday, Cookies for Arden pops up on my phone screen. And I smile.
On the most recent Friday, the cue flickered on my screen while I was in the midst of a neighborhood walk through West Price Hill.
“Yes, yes,” I spoke out loud to the phone. “I got it.”
Hours after my shower, I stopped at Busken Bakery, only to find the bakery cases emptied. I was stupefied. “Where are all the tea cookies, where are the sprinkled ones?”
The clerk offered me a morsel of relief. “Oh don’t worry. They’re in the back. We got wiped out today. It was back to school week.”
In a matter of minutes, the clerk loaded up a box with piles of red, blue, white and sprinkled mounds of butter. (I do wonder who decides on the color scheme each week).
When I arrived at Arden, the receptionist spotted the gold container with a plastic window into the world of delight. “It must be Friday.”
I lifted up the box with a broad grin on my face. “You bet.”
As I entered the kitchen of Mom’s hallway, many of the women were still seated around their breakfast table, including Mom.
“Hello, girls.” I announced. “I’ve got cookies.
Miss J., the other Miss J., lit up at the word, “cookie.”
I sauntered over to Miss R., relegated to a corner table filled with wooden abacus like toys, and she took a pink one. “Thank you,” she mumbled and her visage returned to a blank stare.
Miss M., known for crying without tears ( which may be a condition known as pseudobulbar), accepted a green one from me. However, not even cookies could stop someone from overcoming that condition.
Again, Miss B. proposed payment for the entire collection. I politely declined, though she was good for her word and the money.
Mom finally acknowledged my presence – and that of the cookies. She waved her hands in the air. “Hey, hey.”
I inched towards Mom and presented to her the box resplendent with rainbows. Mom fingered three of them, placed the first one wholly in her mouth, and clasped the other two, again crushing the swirl of icing between her fingers.
I stashed the remainder on top of the microwave, where all the staffers would know where to look for the prize. The hiding place was like the cookie drawer in our home on Lincoln Street. But Mom never stored her good cookies there, only the packaged ones. The good cookies were kept locked away in old Charles’ Chips cans, like the sacramental offering they were.
At the last minute, I swiped a cookie for myself, to join in the ceremony of cookies. It was the closest I came to receiving a blessing that morning.