March 20, 2021

Boy Cookies and Girl Cookies

About a month ago, when I was going through the heritage recipes in my cookbook trying to find one to make for that week, I came across a recipe from my Aunt Mary Jo (my mom's sister). I didn't post it that day, but ever since, I was been waiting for a good time to do it. 

A few years ago, Aunt Jo was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. You may already know that Alzheimer's is my biggest fear. I watched my grandma (my mom's mom) go through it until she passed away in 1999. It's a horrible disease--and it's a disease that is as hard on loved ones as it is on the person who has it. It's heartbreaking to watch how confused and frustrated someone with Alzheimer's gets. I remember my grandma would always ask when "D" was going to be home (referring to my grandpa)--and he had died when my mom was only 16.

This is a photo of my Aunt Jo and me, taken shortly after I was born...


When I heard that my Aunt Jo was showing signs of Alzheimer's, I was devastated. When I was growing up, she was one of my favorite people--I loved spending time with her. It was especially fun to spend time with her, my Aunt Mickey, and my mom. The three of them were so funny and they got "the giggles" frequently--where something small would make them crack up and then they couldn't mention it again or they would laugh until they cried.

My Aunt Jo had a cabin up north and we would go up there to visit for a few days (I don't remember how often we'd do this--I was very young). We would go to the beach and we had a blast climbing up and then running down "Angel Slide"--a steep sand dune that is shaped like an angel.

Aunt Jo reading to me on the beach. Yes, my mom toted that very portable
crib to the beach! Luckily, the "play pens" have come a long way since the 80's.

I came across this photo of my Aunt Mickey, my mom, my little brother, and me running down Angel Slide. Then in the next photo, you can see my mom face-planted into the sand. (My Aunt Mickey--in red--had apparently already fallen.) I was dying when I saw this picture! I'm sure this was one of those moments that gave them the giggles when thinking about it.



We all know how much I love squirrels... well, it was actually my Aunt Jo who sparked my interest in squirrels. The squirrels up north were people-friendly and you could feed them out of your hand. I always thought that was so cool! She'd named one of the squirrels Stubby because he was missing half of his tail. I had completely forgotten about that until last week when Nancy (my cousin, Aunt Jo's daughter) sent me a picture of a letter I'd written my Aunt Jo. She found it when she was going through her mom's things. Apparently, she'd saved it all these years--I wrote it when I was just 10 years old!

As embarrassing as it is, I'm going to share it here. Of all the things I could have written to her about, I chose this horrible story--haha! (I'll type it out below the picture so you can read it more easily)


"Hi Aunt Jo!
Guess what?! We have a Stubby now too! I have a ball that I can put the gerbils in. I was taking the black gerbil out of it and into the cage when the kitten jumped in the cage. He grabbed the brown one's tail and lifted it into his mouth. I pulled the gerbil out but his tail came off. So we changed his name to Stubby.

My mom got a job at Mazda. She helps to build cars.

Jeanie is really excited about her shower and wedding. Are you coming? She really wants you to. 

I can't really think of anything else to say.

Miss you,

Katie

P.S. Our gerbils had another litter (6) of babies. (They were fine)"

Isn't that hilarious? Apparently, I didn't know the date or bother to check when I was writing the letter, because I left it partially blank.

I remember one time when Aunt Jo took me to a little shop that sold ceramic figurines and you could buy them and then paint them yourself. I picked out this bear and painted it back at the cabin. I think I was probably about 10 in this picture, so I must have written that letter shortly after this visit up north.


As I got into my teens, I saw Aunt Jo less frequently--typically just once a year at our family Christmas party. My grandma would host a Christmas party with all the kids, grandkids, and great grandkids--I always looked forward to it because I'd get to see my aunts, uncles, and (so many) cousins. (My mom was one of six kids, and she and her siblings each had 3+ kids.)

Jerry loved seeing my Aunt Jo because he said that she (as well my Aunt Mickey) would give the BEST hugs--"real" hugs, where you are genuinely squeezing someone, and not just the token "hello, good to see you" hugs. (Jerry is a hugger, and loves genuine hugs)

Aunt Jo demonstrating how to wear your mask! ;)

After my grandma died, I saw my extended family less and less frequently. When I saw my Aunt Jo a few years ago, I was stunned--she looked so small and frail since the last time I'd seen her. I was afraid I would break her if I hugged her too hard. And even though I expected it, it was sad that I had to explain who I was (while trying not to make her feel bad for not remembering me).

A few weeks ago, my mom told me that Aunt Jo wasn't doing well. Her health seemed to decline very quickly, and then her family made the decision to put her into hospice care. I went with my mom and dad to the group home where Aunt Jo was a patient--it was very nice and not at all a "hospital-like" setting--and I knew it would be the last time I saw her.

I was terrified of what to expect. Like I said, Alzheimer's is my biggest fear, and it's very unpredictable. Aunt Jo was lying in bed, awake but with her eyes closed. I could tell she could hear us talking to her, because she would try to reply, or the corner of her mouth would go up just a little like she was trying to smile, and she squeezed my hand when I held hers.

The following Saturday morning, I decided I was going to make my Aunt Jo's cookies for my heritage recipe that day. I texted my Aunt Mickey and my mom to ask what they could tell me about the cookies. My mom replied that my Aunt Jo had just died a couple of hours ago. 

Although I hadn't known, my timing about the cookies was terrible. I decided to wait and post it another time. Even though my aunt's death was expected, the finality of it was just... sad. I was very glad that I'd gone to see her one last time, but I wished I had made more of an effort to see her over the years. I was busy with kids, she was busy with grandkids... and time flies.

Last week, I asked my cousin Nancy (Mary Jo's daughter) if she knew the story behind the cookies in the heritage cookbook.

It turns out that she didn't know about the recipe in the cookbook (for oatmeal cookies), but Aunt Jo was famous for her chocolate chip cookies. She used the classic Nestlé Toll House recipe (does anyone else read that in Phoebe's voice/accent from Friends?) but according to Nancy, she'd perfected it and people lived for her cookies!

Aunt Jo used to say that she made both "boy cookies" and "girl cookies"--with nuts and without nuts ;) Hahaha!

My Uncle Tom (her husband) was a football referee--from a Back Judge official to the Division 1 Mid-American Conference, officiating games in Michigan, Illinois, and West Virginia (if I sound like I know what I'm talking about, it's only because I asked Nancy--I know nothing about football!).

Aunt Jo would bake chocolate chip cookies and send them to the games with Uncle Tom in a coffee can that she'd decorated with black and white stripes to look like a referee uniform. She did this every Friday during football season for years, and the guys would eat them up at the post-game meetings.

Aunt Jo was always so fun. Again, I wish I had made it a point to keep in close contact with her through the years. She was so funny when I was a kid, but I imagine that I would have loved her humor as an adult even more. My cousins (her kids) are very funny and enjoyable to be around, if that is any reflection!

I did not bake the cookies for this "recipe" post--it would have been a disservice to Aunt Jo if only for the simple fact that I am (ironically) terrible at baking cookies--but I wanted to share a little about my special aunt. In Nancy's words, "I think it was the love she put into the cookies that made them so good."

9 comments:

  1. Katie, I'm so sorry for your family's loss. You've presented a beautiful tribute to your Aunt Jo. I'm very grateful, as I feel like I now know her a little bit and I know I would have really liked her -- especially given her views on "Boy Cookies" and "Girl Cookies." Sending much love to your family. 💗
    -Martine

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  2. Thank you for sharing this story. Our family was closely affected by Alzheimer’s too. This is a great reminder for us to to reflect and share with our loved ones and friends.

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  3. Thank you for sharing! I think we all deal with those twinges of regret after a family member moves on. I felt the same with my grandpa. We lived in different states, so that made it hard to connect still. But I'll never forget the smell of his after shave on cereal box flaps (he would have cereal right after he applied his after shave), or his fun rhymes and songs from the past. I feel like anyone born before 1950 should be required to write a life story so it can live on in the current world. Those are the best history lessons. :)

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  4. I'm so sorry to hear about your aunt. She sounds like a fabulous woman. Thanks for sharing your memories of her. The boy/girl cookies is hysterical.

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  5. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'm glad you have some great memories of her and the rest of your family. My mother has dementia and it is an awful disease.

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  6. This is a beautiful tribute to your aunt! I loved reading her story. And I am very sorry to hear of her passing. The boy/girl cookies are such a funny idea!

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  7. What great memories you have of her. I just cracked up when you got to why she called them boy and girl cookies! I'm sorry for your family's loss.

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  8. Hi Katie,
    Sorry for your loss and you have created a beautiful tribute to your Aunt here. I just lost my Mom 1.5 years ago from Alzheimer's too. I took care of her along with my sister and brother. It broke our hearts to watch her decline but I am grateful for the many memories we had during her life and even with this hideous disease. I became so much more intimate with her in a loving daughter/mother way. She was always my best friend but the disease and caring for her made me a better daughter. Everyday I miss her and I cry often over such a great loss but my hope is in seeing her again as I believe completely it is "See you later" rather than goodbye forever....

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  9. Beautiful post, thank you for sharing. Two of my grandmothers had Alzheimer's, and getting it is my biggest fear as well.

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