There were these cookies…”

Chapter Three…The Mission Begins

Mom had baked her “Nut Balls” yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon we had helped her roll these delicate little mouth-watering beauties ever-so-carefully in powdered sugar.

She had explained to us that the cookies needed to stay on the counter overnight…as she said… “to set”.

“But tomorrow I’ll be hiding them in a really good place!” she said.

She was laughing as she told us this and we laughed too.  We also knew that tomorrow we would be getting up real, real early.

Next morning…thinking that we were still innocently asleep in our beds…and not secretly watching her every move from a “not-quite-closed” door that led from the kitchen to the living room…mom carefully began putting the cookies in two red cookie tins.

The tins were identically decorated with green Christmas trees and white snowflakes.  I think they were about 50 years old, but they were only used at Christmas so they looked brand-new.

Then she got out a step-stool from the little closet in the kitchen, climbed up on it and put both the tins on the very top shelf of the kitchen cupboard.

She had chosen the cupboard that went all the way to the top of our kitchen’s 12-foot high ceiling.

Then she grabbed a wooden mixing spoon and pushed them both towards the back of the cupboard so they could not be seen when the cupboard door was open.

Mom worked quickly and quietly so as to not wake her two sleeping children…heh…heh.

“Gee’s Nut Balls” were famous…and were greatly anticipated by friends and family every Christmas.  This year she had made a  double recipe because she was sending some cookies home with everyone.

When she was done arranging the cookie tins, mom got down from the step-stool and started to walk to the closet to put the stool away.

She paused as if hearing something…but…as she turned…Durwood and I quickly and quietly tip-toed back to our bedrooms..

Mission…almost…accomplished!

There were these cookies…”

Chapter Four…Details…Details…

A few minutes later…Durwood and I pretended to stagger sleepily into the kitchen…plopping down at the kitchen table…as we did every morning…to wait for breakfast.

We both faked yawns, stretched and tried to look like we had just crawled out of bed…and that we were ready to eat our standard breakfast of bacon, eggs, toast, glass of whole milk, orange juice, coffee, and a couple of Lucky Strike cigarettes…

(I’m just kidding about the coffee and the cigarettes…that was our Mom’s breakfast…this is the Fifties…remember?)

“What are you kids doing up so early?” Mom asked with a big smile on her face…she smiled a lot.  

“Are you getting excited for Santa Claus?  Only four more days!!”

She gave 12-year-old Durwood a “silencing look”…and then smiled encouragingly at me.  She wasn’t quite sure if I still really believed in Old St. Nick…but hey…I wasn’t quite sure either.

Mom had been leaning against the counter by the sink.  She had a cigarette in one hand and a recipe card in the other.

She put the card aside and put out her cigarette in the red and green ash tray I had made for her in kindergarten class last week.

It was supposed to be her Christmas present from me but I couldn’t wait until Christmas Eve to give it to her.  It was so pretty I wanted her to have it right away.  She used it all the time!

“How about I make pancakes instead of eggs this morning?” she asked.  She knew full well what our answer would  be…

“YAY!!!”  We both cheered so loud…our dog Duke, who was sleeping under the kitchen table…woke up and barked once.  Then he went back to sleep.  Good old guard dog, Duke.

No one made pancakes like our mom…I think it was the bacon grease she put in the batter…but what did I know…I was only five years old.

“Actually,” she said as she got down her big “pancake” bowl from the cupboard over the sink, “It’s a good think you did get up early this morning or breakfast would have been  just plain old corn flakes.”

“I’m making Rosettes this morning and you both know the rules when I make those…right?  Hot grease is very dangerous…so no bothering mommy…”

She hesitated and looked over her shoulder at us sitting at the kitchen table and gave us her “very serious look”…which she only used when she was “very serious”.

No coming into the kitchen, no talking to me and no asking me for ANYTHING AT ALL until I give you the All Clear.  Got it?”   She waved the recipe card back and forth for emphasis.   

We both appropriately “seriously” nodded our heads…but then  I turned and gave Durwood a dirty look.

Sure…it had only been “a small fire”...but let’s face it…he’s the one who had started it.

(You didn’t think I would forget to tell you about “the fire”…did you?)

Stay tuned…

There were these cookies…”

Chapter Six…Back to the Mission

After all the Rosettes had been made…we were given the “All Clear” and allowed back into the kitchen.

It was time for our morning snack and today it was 2 Rosettes each…but only after we had sugared the others.

Durwood and I sat down at the kitchen table…and began the delicate task of “Rosette sugaring:  Gently placing the Rosette upside down on a plate filled with sugar and then twisting…twisting…twisting…”.

Mom sat down with us.  “I’m beat.” She said as she lit another Lucky Strike.

She pulled my “Christmas Ash Tray” nearer to her and then gave me a big smile.  (I was so proud…it was so pretty…)

“When I’m done cleaning up, I’m going to take a nap.  After you guys are done with the Rosettes you can go outside and play if you want…it’s starting to snow.  When I get up, we’ll have lunch.”

Durwood kicked me under the table and gave me a sly grin and a head nod…did he think I had forgotten that “mom taking a nap” was the key to a successful mission?  Did he think I was an idiot?

“I still have a few Christmas cards to do…” Durwood said casually.  “Lottie said she would help me.”

“Right, Lottie?” he said…glancing over at me and wiggling his sugar coated finger tips…the only things that actually worked on his cast-enclosed arms.

“Nope!  I’m going outside.”  I said ignoring him.

“I can’t wait to make a snowman!!”  I really had no plans to go outside…I just wanted to see Durwood squirm a little…he shouldn’t have kicked me!

“But, Lottie…” Durwood wheedled.  “Remember you promised you’d help me…?”

I finally looked over at him and he was moving his eyebrows up and down…apparently this was his way of sending me a “secret” message.  Also apparently…he thought our mother was completely blind…since she was looking right at the both of us.

I gave Durwood a blank look as if I had no idea what he was talking about…but then after a few seconds I relented and said…

“Oh, yeah…that’s right.  I forgot.  Maybe the snowman can wait.”

Mom shook her head at our little drama and got up and walked over to the sink.

“Christmas secrets are so much fun, aren’t they?”

I didn’t look at Durwood.  I just kept dipping Rosettes in the sugar and twisting.

I knew he was wondering if I could really pull this off.  Well, don’t worry, Durwood…I could.

There were these cookies…”

Chapter 7…The Final One…

We both dawdled at the kitchen table…slowly eating our Rosettes…and “fake making Christmas cards” until mom had washed up all the dishes.

“Thank you, little elves. What would I do without you?”  She kissed us both on the top of our heads and headed to the master bedroom which was just off the kitchen by the back porch.

We waited about a half hour.  Durwood tip-toed over to the closed bedroom door…and put his ear next to it.

He turned, grinned and gave me a barely visible thumbs-up.  “She’s snoring!” he mouthed silently.

Just like the plan we had discussed, Durwood quietly went to the closet and got the step-stool and placed it by the kitchen cupboard that contained the two cookie tins filled with “Gee’s Nut Balls”.

I walked over to him…ready for my part…the crucial part…the important part…

“I’m going to go over and stand by mom’s door,” Durwood whispered.  If I hear anything I will say “red crayon, red crayon”.  Got it?” 

“Got it!!  Red crayon…gee, I love being a secret agent.” I excitedly whispered back.

“Shhhhhhhhh,”  Durwood said and put his grimy little finger tips over my mouth.

I disgustedly brushed them away…yuck!!  But I said nothing…I was a good agent..

I waited until Durwood got over to the bedroom door and then I climbed up the step stool.

I grabbed the cupboard door and made the final step up to the countertop.  It was kind of slippery.

I had put on my brand-new, patent leather Mary Jane shoes because they made me a little taller.

But the bottoms weren’t as grippy as my old sneakers.

“Wow…this is pretty high,” I whispered to myself…not really scared but also…kind of…

I opened the other cupboard door and hung on to it as I reached up to the top shelf where the cookie tins were tucked away.

I couldn’t quite get at them.  I stood on my tip toes and stretched as far as I could…and was reaching in…

Finally!!  I felt the cold metal of one cookie cannister.  Yes!

I hooked my finger under the lid of one of the tins and started to slide it towards me…when suddenly…a horrific combination of events occurred at precisely the same time…

For decades to come…these events would be referred to by “close” friends and family…as “A cluster fuck of immense proportion…but really…nothing out of the ordinary for that crazy Johnson Family”.

Others…referred to it in a more graceful and refined way as “a confluence of unfortunate circumstances”…

Call it whatever you like…it began when…

…Durwood suddenly raced by me at warp speed…whispering and somehow quietly yelling at the same time…and bringing his hand across his throat in a slicing motion…

“ABORT!!  ABORT!!  Red Crayon…Red Crayon!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Horrified that I would be caught stealing these precious cookies yet…knowing also that I was now the solitary player in this drama of deception and thievery and its success depended solely on me…if only I could get a better grip on that cannister…

I knew I only had seconds…

I stretched even more…trying to slide the cookie tin closer toward me…

And then…

At last I had the cookie tin in one hand and was hanging onto the cupboard door for dear life with the other…when,,,

Mom walked out of the bedroom…eyes half closed and groggy from dreams that (later we were told) had involved Santa Claus, her husband Clive and a money-making scheme…”gone wrong”.

Apparently…our dear father had lost all of our Christmas presents and our beloved dog, Duke!

She wiped the sleep from her eyes, yawned and walked over to the kitchen table to grab her cigarettes and then…she looked up…

“LOTTIE!!!!”

It was ALL her fault.  She should not have SCREAMED so loudly.   I mostly had everything under control…mostly.

Had she just calmly asked me what I was doing…I would have simply told her the truth…

“I was just stealing some of your wonderful cookies, mother dear”…and that would have been that…

She would have sent me and Durwood to our rooms and told us that Christmas was cancelled this year and that she was giving ALL of our presents to the kids next door…and that Santa Claus was…

BUT NO…SHE HAD TO SCREAM!!!!

And her SCREAM startled the living daylights  out of me…plus I think the earth shifted or something…

One of my little patent leather Mary Jane shoes slipped off the countertop and I started to fall…

So…I dropped the cookie tin and grabbed the cupboard door with both hands and as the door started to break free of its hinges…it swung wide and propelled me across the kitchen and into the arms of my shocked yet still half-asleep mother…while at the same time…

…3 dozen “Gee’s Nut Balls” flew thru the air like giant snowflakes during a Minnesota December blizard as the cookie connister hit the edge of the counter and the lid flew off…

…and because “Gee’s Nut Balls” are the most tender and delicate cookies you could ever imagine…they crumbled into miniscule little pieces of flour, powdered sugar, butter and finely chopped nuts when they hit the hard linoleum floor.

It was true that I was safe in my mother’s arms…yet I had failed miserably in my breakout role as a Secret Agent.

I had NOT secured even one prized cookie…and I knew the much deserved “wrath of my mother” was soon to come…but…but…

Before she could speak…I uttered the only phrase that I hoped would bring me some mercy and possible forgiveness…

“Merry Christmas, Mommy!!”

The End