This past week my husband Bob and our oldest son Alex drove to Vermont to look at colleges and universities. Their short trip sent me into a small tailspin and left me, like I’m sure many of you, wondering how our baby had become college bound overnight?
I have always looked forward to this time of year, the change in the weather as we transition from Summer to Fall, the time of year when you can still sleep with the windows open, the cooler air lulling you into a perfectly cozy night’s sleep. Even back-to-school shopping for the boys was something I enjoyed. But over the years, crayons and glue sticks had given way to composition notebooks and scientific calculators which has ultimately given way to college brochures and financial aid forms. Damn, I’m old.
Anticipating Alex and Bob’s return from Vermont, I instinctively found myself mixing and baking a double batch of chocolate chip cookies. While homemade cookies are not uncommon in our house, weekend trips to look at colleges are; I am unsure what prompted me to bake cookies at that moment but it simply seemed like the right thing to do. As I began to cream the butter and sugar, following the recipe that I had come to know by rote, my mind drifted. Cookies, chocolate chip cookies to be exact, have been a universal constant in my life. My earliest memories as a kid all contain those warm, fresh out of the oven treats that just beg for a tall glass of cold milk. They were and still are my mother’s preferred method of currency. It’s your birthday? --I made you some cookies. Not feeling well? --Here, have some chocolate chip cookies. That nurse at the doctor’s office is awfully nice --I made her some cookies. First days of school; Football team’s victory; Weddings, baby and bridal showers -- I swear to God, I have even witnessed my mom bringing a small delicately wrapped tray to a funeral home --sorry for your loss --have a cookie. With such a ubiquitous presence in my life, I suppose it wasn’t so strange to find myself making a few batches to kick off Alex’s senior year of high school and his entre’ into the world of college visits and campus tours.
But just as I was sliding the last sheet pan into the oven another memory came rushing back -- it was to my own time as a college student. I was three-plus hours away from home out in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. I had been adamant about asserting my independence and chose a school that was perhaps the farthest away from home without leaving Massachusetts (and forgoing considerably less expensive in-state tuition). And even though I loved being away at school, living in a dorm, coming and going as I pleased, there were, at times, moments of being homesick, of feeling alone and missing my family. And almost like clockwork, in the most uncanny of ways, during the times that I was feeling down or lonely, a care package would arrive. In the beginning, I was embarrassed by the elaborate and multicolor designs and graphics that my dad would draw on the outside of the parcel. However, hearing my dorm mates “oooooh” and “ahhhh”, I began to appreciate my father’s creativity and effort. Opening the box, I would burrow my way through layer upon layer of popcorn -- my parents favorite way to avoid packing peanuts -- only to reach a smaller, similarly dad-decorated package. The small grease stains on the sides of the box, along with the amazing aroma of semisweet chocolate were a dead giveaway. If you’ve been following along then you already know that inside that box were those wonderfully round delectable treats, my mom’s chocolate chip cookies.
It seems silly to say it out loud but those cookies were magical. Unwrapping those brightly colored boxes of cookies did something - they brought me home. The taste, the smell and the effort put into sending them swirled up around me like a hug. They made me feel close to my family when I was nearly 200 miles away. They helped me feel less alone. It wasn’t about the actual cookie, it rarely was - although they are really really good. It was about what they represented, of how they reminded me that I was missed, thought of, and loved. They were a touchstone to my family and a reminder that no amount of distance could keep us from being close. Those wonderful cookie care packages continued to arrive throughout my time at college and always when I needed them most.
Perhaps I baked those cookies for Alex, maybe I baked them for me. Maybe the simple act of tossing little chocolate morsels into a bowl with the rest of the ingredients was my way of holding on to a boy who was becoming a man. I was baking a message of love and a reminder of home. Alex still has a year of highschool before he sets off for college but I know it be here in what feels like moments. Who knows how far his college choices will take him but you can bet that wherever it it is, there will be brightly decorated boxes of homemade chocolate chip cookies ready to go.
I hope this story inspires you, perhaps even motivates you to go bake a batch of your own favorite cookies and send them to a loved one. Whether it's your own college student, an elderly relative
or just a friend whom you miss, I encourage you to send some cookies in a fun, brightly colored package.
I realize that some of you may not be bakers or creatively inclined to decorate a package, so allow Table Manners to help. We are offering a cookie subscription that allows you to create a special and delicious memory for someone without the need to bake or decorate. Click Here for more information.