Today I wiped the last fragments of dried blue icing out of the cookie jar. The egg shaped sugar cookies I made a couple weeks ago for Easter are history.
Easter egg sugar cookies have been a tradition at Googie's house for a long time. There is no prettier centerpiece for a spring table than a basket filled with these cookies (recipe compliments of Betty Crocker) iced in a rainbow of pastel colors and adorned with sprinkles. My cookies are traditionally frosted pink, green, yellow, and blue--and if I have the time and energy, you might also find some in orange and lavender.
I like to bake and frost the cookies one day, let the icing dry overnight, and package them in pretty cellophane bags as an Easter treat for my mom, kids, and grandkids. If we happen to be going somewhere for a social gathering, I like to stack some on a platter for a hostess gift or for a beautiful and tasty dessert.
I remember one particular Easter lunch we shared some twenty years ago at the home of my mother- and father-in-law. At that time, our son and daughter, Teebo and Cookie, were a tween and a teen.
Sadly, Grandpa W was in the later stages of Alzheimer's and no longer able to converse with us. Instead, he had to rely on gestures and a variety of incoherent vocalizations in order to communicate. Often, he would do neither and sit quietly and somewhat sullenly among us as we continued our family traditions as best we could.
That had pretty much been the case on this particular day. Cookie and Teebo had enjoyed a relatively quiet lunch. Although I don't actually remember, I imagine that Grandma F had fried a skillet full of crappie (If you are not from the Midwest, you need to know that crappie, pronounced KROP-ee, is a delicious, mild-flavored fish abundant in our freshwater lakes.).
Anyway, I had taken along a basket of Easter egg cookies, which Grandma F had set in the middle of the table. When dessert time came around, it was time to pass the basket and dig into those cookies. What happened then was something I will never forget.
Grandma handed Grandpa a pink cookie. Grandpa refused with a scowl and a violent shake of the head. He pointed to the basket and gestured spasmodically with a perfectly straight forefinger. This happened repeatedly as she offered him the other colors. Nothing seemed to please him; that is, until she handed him one of the blue ones. With a blue cookie in hand, he returned to a calm state and proceeded to devour it with great relish.
Strangely, Grandpa wanted another blue cookie, and another. Further, if one of the rest of us chose a blue one, he quickly made it known that he did not approve. So we would put it back.
That year, Grandpa W got all the blue cookies. This year, I could not wipe the pieces of blue icing out of the cookie jar without thinking about him. Remembering the year of Grandpa and the Blue Cookies always makes me smile, and Pa-pa and I still miss him every day.
Alzheimer's is one of the cruelest and most debilitating diseases in our present-day repertoire of end-of-life maladies. It takes vibrant, loving people and builds a wall between them and the ones they love. It erases the personality and replaces it with paranoia. It tortures the caregivers, often spouses who are themselves in their later years with their own health issues.
If my grandchildren read this post years from now, I want them to know that their Great-Grandpa W would have loved every one of them. He would have lifted them up and said, as he did so many times to my own children and their cousins, "Pam-paw loves you a whole great big lot." I can say unequivocally that he was the kindest, gentlest man I have ever had the pleasure to know. I count myself lucky beyond measure to have called him my father-in-law for seventeen years.
Kids, your great-grandpa was many things. He was a dairy farmer, a deer hunter, a fisherman, a postal worker, a Baptist deacon, and a decorated World War II veteran. Eventually, one of you may inherit his Purple Heart. All of you have inherited his heart of gold. I hope you use it, as he did, to buoy the people around him with a love for God, country, and family; a selfless spirit; and an unrelenting respect for traditional values.
In years to come, it will be up to you to carry on our Easter sugar cookie tradition. If you do that, make sure to think of this story and this great man. And when you frost your cookies, just for old time's sake, be sure to make a few of them blue.