“Nope, not this one.” Chocolate chips and crumbs cascaded onto the floral tea-plate as I bit into the still-warm cookie and quickly discarded it.
“What's wrong with it this time?”
“It's too sweet. Too many chocolate chips or something. Try it again with less chocolate or less sugar.”
“I've made six batches, don't you think this is enough?”
“Please Ma, I just want to taste them again. The way Nanna used to make them.” I gave her my best pleading look, imitating sobbing eyes and sticking my lower lip out.
Ma sighed again.
“This is the last time. I do have other things to do you know. Dinner to make, the house to clean...”
“Thank you Mammy!” I shot her my cheesiest grin as she reached once more for the mixing bowl and the scale.
Rosie was cutting play-dough shapes on the kitchen floor. A green heart and an orange star. I felt a momentary wave of guilt as she squashed a lump of red into the new oak floorboard. It's fine, I thought to myself, they love Rosie, they won't mind.
I envisioned an imaginary future with a twenty-five year old Rosie asking a fifty-year-old me to re-create these very cookies Ma was making now. Would I do that for her? Would I make six batches of perfectly adequate cookies and allow them to be rejected because they weren't exactly right? Probably not. I didn't even really know how to make cookies. I didn't really know how to make anything. The majority of our meals came from packets and take-outs. I hadn't inherited the cooking gene like Ma and Nanna.
“I want to help Nanny!” Rosie looked up and grinned, waving her heart shaped cutter at Ma as if it was the missing element she had been looking for. Ma carefully lifted her onto the worktop, gently removing pieces of play-dough from her pink dress and blonde curls as she placed her on the surface.
“Now this is a very important job,” she said to the three-year-old. “Your Mummy wants us to make some very special cookies and we have to get the recipe exactly right. Can you help me?”
Rosie waved her cutter enthusiastically and giggled.
I began to pick some of the trodden red play-dough out of the floorboard.
“Just leave that, Sophie, I'll clean it up later.”
Guilt again. Would I willingly clean up after Rosie and her children when she was a grown woman? I doubted it. I barely managed to clean up after her now.
Half a bag of flour spilt over Ma, Rosie and the mixing bowl. They both laughed and Ma gently brushed the flour off of Rosie's dress.
How is she so patient? I couldn't help but feel a little resentful. Ma did everything so gracefully, so perfectly. I could never live up to that. I just about held it together enough to get Rosie through the day.
Am I even a good Mother? Another pang of guilt. I should be baking with Rosie, not feeding her packet food. When Ma figures out this recipe, I'll learn how to make it.
Rosie emptied the chocolate chips into the mixing bowl. A lump of disappointment formed in my stomach. That was more chocolate than in the last batch. I held back the tears that were beginning to surface. These cookies weren't going to be the same as Nanna's. I resisted from speaking, it would be too much to ask Ma to make any more. Perhaps we could try again tomorrow.
“And onion,” Rosie giggled.
“Onion?!” Ma exclaimed, “I don't think that will taste good at all. Tell me something else you'd like to put in.”
Rosie pointed at the box of raisins on the shelf.
“Oh good choice, Rosie!” Ma sprinkled them into the mix and the tears stung my eyes. This wasn't going to be Nanna's recipe. Still, at least Rosie was happy and entertained. More than she usually is with me. Another wave of guilt and resentment.
The door creaked open and Papa hobbled in, resting his walking stick next to the worktop. His eyes lit up at the giant pile of rejected cookies on the table.
“Oh my! You girls have been busy!”
“Help yourself,” said Ma. “We've been trying to recreate the ones your Mother used to make. Sophie's desperate to taste them again. Only, we haven't got the recipe just right yet.”
“Tastes right to me.” Papa smiled, small crumbs falling from his mouth as he spoke. “What's wrong with them Soph?”
“They're just not the same. There was something different about Nanna's, I can't place it. These are fine but they don't have that something special.”
“Well I think they are wonderful.” He moved to kiss Ma on the cheek and peered into the mixing bowl, into which Rosie was now dropping coloured sprinkles, one by one.
“And these are a bit different.” He laughed at the mixture, which appeared to be more chocolate chips, raisins and sprinkles than dough. “Not quite Nanna's recipe, more of a Rosie special.”
I almost felt like he sensed my disappointment. He bit into another cookie from the pile and grinned, nodding at me in approval.
“Great work, girls.” Taking his stick he slowly made his way up the stairs.
* * * * *
I tucked Flopsy the Rabbit next to a sleeping Rosie, and quietly sat down on the Cinderella duvet. The sweet smell of baking sugar wafted through the door. Definitely not the same smell as Nanna's cookies. Finally having a moment to myself, I began to cry. I knew that it wasn't really important, but it was still important to me.
I hastily dried my eyes as Papa limped in and sat on the bed beside me. Looking up at his concerned face, I couldn't conceal my disappointment.
“I wanted Nanna's cookies.”
“And what's so important about Nanna's cookies?”
“I just wanted to taste them. I remember them so well, the sweetness of the chocolate, the crunch of the almonds, the way they crumbled in your mouth. I just wanted that again. I know it sounds silly, but I just want to know that taste one more time. To remember those days when everything was perfect.”
Papa laughed softly.
“There was one time,” I continued, “I remember it so well. I was perhaps five or six, and Nanna let me help her bake them. I was allowed to eat some of the chocolate chips out of the packet, it was so exciting back then. And when they were in the oven, Grampy came home and gave her a big bunch of red roses. They were beautiful. It was the first time I'd seen roses and they seemed so special and fancy. It was summertime and we sat in the garden in the evening, eating the cookies. They were so delicious; and I remember thinking, even though I was really too young to properly understand, that this was how grown up life should be. Baking wonderful cookies, and a husband who brings home roses.”
I paused, fat tears rolling down each cheek.
“It always felt like the perfect family with Nanna and Grampy,” I sniffed. “And now that Trevor's gone...”
I choked at the mention of Trevor. Papa waited patiently as I sobbed.
“I just want things to be perfect for Rosie,” I eventually stammered. “I wanted a family like Nanna and Grampy; and like you and Ma. Without Trevor I'm a failure. I hardly cook, the house is never properly clean. I watch Ma with Rosie and all I feel is guilt. That I'm a terrible, impatient Mother; and that she will grow up resenting the house and won't have any of those happy memories like I do.”
There was just a hint of amusement within Papa's concerned eyes.
“Oh sweetheart,” he said, “You probably don't remember any of it, but my parents were far from the perfect marriage. They fought like cats and dogs, and your Grampy left your Nanna more than once. In fact, for many years your Nanna raised me alone and Grampy lived with another woman...Wendy from down the road.” He laughed as he spoke. “The roses were probably an apology for some sort of wrong-doing. His way of getting back in her good books.”
My eyes widened as something relaxed inside of me.
“I had no idea,” I said, “I know it sounds stupid but I always feel like I'm the only one, at least in this family, to be raising a child alone. Like I've failed because Trevor left. As if I'm breaking a line of happy marriages after Nanna and Grampy and you and Ma...”
Papa shook his head. “Grampy came back when I was about twelve. They were on and off after that. He would go away for a few weeks but always returned. They loved each other deep down but they were never without some kind of drama. They would have put on a happy face when you were around, but it was a long way from the perfect marriage.”
I quickly pushed away a fantasy of Trevor returning and a messy rekindling of our love; a momentary thought that perhaps someone looking in from the outside might assume our fractured relationship to be something perfect, and that maybe that would be enough. I didn't dare to entertain the thought for more than a second. Rosie deserved better, I knew that much.
“You turned out okay though.” I smiled at Papa.
“Well I learnt that there's no such thing as perfect,” he said softly, “And to put in the time and effort with your Mother to make something happy and meaningful, not just to expect it. We've had our ups and downs too you know."
He paused for a moment, then leaned in to whisper.
“This house was always a mess when you were a child. But eventually I stopped complaining.”
“I don't remember," I laughed, shaking my head.
"She didn't cook quite as well as she does now," he went on, "Although there wasn't so much packaged food aroud in those days, we certainly ate a lot of pasta; and that was with me helping out too. So maybe be a little less hard on yourself. We always talk about how well you're doing alone."
Feeling a lot more relieved, I turned to embrace him.
“Now tell me,” he said, his face becoming more serious, “Do you really remember those cookies tasting so special?”
“They were heavenly,” I said wistfully. “I only hope we can recreate them, for Rosie to be able to try them too.”
“I never really liked liked them,” he confessed. “At least, they were nothing special. All I remember when I think of her baking is how much she was always nagging at me. To work harder, get a better job, get a smarter haircut...” He rolled his eyes. “When I try to remember the taste, all I hear is the sound of her fussing. I much prefer those ones your Mother just made, they come without any of that baggage. Pure and sweet, from the heart.”
I understood what he was saying. For me, the memory of that taste was intertwined with a feeling of family. With the happy memories of being with my Grandparents. With the love we shared together.
“Maybe I liked them so much because she made them," I said slowly, “Because we all ate them together. Maybe I'm tasting the memory more than the cookie.”
A clanging of pans from downstairs signalled that Ma had almost finished making dinner. Papa slowly began to rise. I looked over at sleeping Rosie and, for the first time since Trevor left, felt that maybe everything really was going to be okay for her.
* * * * *
Several hours later, Rosie's excited squeals echoed from the kitchen.
“Almost ready!” called Ma. Papa flicked through the TV channels searching for something he considered watchable. We had been told to wait for the 'special desert.'
Rosie toddled in, carefully carrying a small plate which she proudly presented to me. Upon it sat a multi-coloured heart shaped cookie covered with an overflowing volcano of blue and pink icing.
“For you Mummy, and the red one for Grandad.” Ma handed Papa a similar cookie, this one decorated with red icing and topped with a green grape.
I had to laugh. The colouring from the sprinkles had bled out into the dough, creating a rainbow effect. Chocolate chips and raisins overspilled from every angle. The icing was an uncoordinated mess and yet, contained within the shape of a heart, it did look incredibly special.
Ma lifted a happy Rosie onto the sofa beside me. She was still clutching the heart-shaped cutter, joyfully chewing at the sides.
I picked up the cookie and took a bite, expecting a sickly overload of sugar; but was surprised at the unexpected familiarity of the sweet taste that emerged.
“This is it!” I exclaimed, looking between Ma and Papa with my eyes wide. “I don't understand; this is what I remember about Nanna's cookies!” I glanced back at the rainbow colours, the mess of icing; “But it's so different, this wasn't the recipe at all...”
I noticed Ma and Papa exchanging knowing looks and subtle smiles.
“How did you do it?” I asked Rosie, still stunned.
She grinned up at me, and continued to contentedly chew on the cutter.