Another funeral today. Some shared memories to treasure, lost moments to regret and the difference hope and assurance can make even in the toughest times. Several young people encouraged us all to in some way seize the day – follow the leading – don’t just think about what you can do but to do it. And so I share a story of a dear lady who taught me to treasure faith and to savor life.
In our neighborhood she was known as “The Cookie Lady.” Perhaps you knew her as your Sunday School or VBS teacher, as “Grandma V” or as Magdalene Veenstra
Mom!” my exasperated 8-year-old pouted. “All the other kids go see the Cookie Lady every day. Can’t I go, PLEASE?”
The same request punctuated every afternoon since we’d moved to this new area of town. A lady who gave away cookies to small children made me wonder if we had made the right move.
Sighing reluctantly, I looked at the five eager faces outside our screen door and made up my mind, bowing playfully; “Ok, Princess. I am your royal subject. Lead me to the “Cookie Lady.”
Giggling in delight, the children led me past homes similar in size and social status as ours. I hesitated as they rounded the bend neighbors had pointed out – in awe of the half dozen imposing brick or column-fronted homes, and the social and financial power they represented. It was almost as if the bend contained an imaginary boundary.
“Come-on,” the children urged, running to a beautiful red brick-and-wood two-story. Beating me to the door, I was amazed the children saw no difference in our “station” as they rang the door and beautiful multi-toned chimes harmonized a welcome.
A tall, elegant lady answered the door. The description “Loving.” came unbidden and remained as I watched her interaction with the children. She handed each an obviously homemade sugar cookie centered with a pecan half. Business done, the 6 little ones lined up on her porch and munched happily, while Magdalene Veenstra introduced herself as “Grandma V”, smilingly guessed I was Cheri’s mom, and handed me a cookie. Imaginary social barriers were dismissed by her charming story of how she once offered ‘store-bought’ cookies – instantly rejected by children announcing they would return when she felt better and made the good cookies again. I left bemused and carrying in my heart a warm invitation to join her for a cup of tea the following Monday afternoon. Little did I know how the Cookie Lady would change my life.
A junior-high “home-ec” class was my only preparation of protocol, and I wore a skirt to honor her generation and her genteel nature. Grateful for the sense of smell when she opened the door, my aproned hostess did not need to tell me she had been baking. I followed her to the kitchen with an anticipation that never dimmed over the following 15 years of our Monday-night “tea.”
Instantly comfortable, I was eager to hear the history and receive the teachings of this treasure of longevity. She directed me to a seat at the yellow-topped table of another era and I watched “the ritual” as I came to think of her tea preparations, while drooling (inwardly only I hoped) over the freshly-baked delicacies for two placed in the precise center of our delicate pink English china plates.
A pleased surprise filled me as she bowed her head in prayer. Realizing this longed for grandmother figure also shared my faith instantly drew our hearts closer.
From that Monday on, recipes filled our conversations –not only recipes for her famous cookies, almond-filled tarts known to other generations as bridesmaid-tarts, and numerous other edible treats, but recipes for living, for walking-the-faith, for loving our families, and eventually even for dying.
Each cup of tea opened a chapter of a living history book with tales of war, the depression, numerous presidents, life on several continents, and invention of radio, airplanes, automobiles, and television; but history came only after our time of prayer for family – including present and future generations. What a painless way to learn!
Her acceptance taught me to accept others; her child-like faith (“I asked God to keep me safe while I slept – should I now insult him and stay awake worrying?”), taught me to keep things simple and a favorite adage of hers –“use it or lose it” gave me inspiration to utilize my talents and energy. It was this very adage that provided a final lesson.
Her eyes had dimmed and she asked me to read to her. Her hearing was also limited so I was sitting on a cushioned footstool at her feet. She had ceased most cooking and had shocked the motor vehicle department by voluntarily giving up her license with a simple “It’s time.” I was distressed by her inactivity and began encouraging her with some gentle chiding to follow her “use it or lose it” saying, when she caught me by surprise. Leading forward until we were practically nose-to-nose instantly stopped my thoughtless chatter. I gave her full attention as The Cookie Lady looked me straight in the eye, paused for effect and challenged, “You ever been 93?”
We laughed the rest of the night over her remark and my shocked reaction. As usual, though, I was on the way home when I realized the lesson amid the humor. I cannot lead where I have not gone. Similarly to Ecclesiastes’ “a time for everything”, I’d discovered there’s a time to walk before, (the next generation) and a time to walk behind, (the last generation) but the time is always right to walk beside – especially over a cup of tea.
Cookie Lady Pecan Sugar-Cookies
Cream together: 1 pound margarine, 2-1/4 cups sugar, 1 Tbsp. vanilla
Sift together: 3-1/2 cups flour, 1 tbsp. soda
Pecans for topping
Combine both mixtures and roll into balls about unshelled walnut size. Flatten with glass bottom dipped in sugar. Press ½ pecan into center of each cookie before baking.
Bake at 350 for 10 minutes
Makes several dozen, depending on size