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  1. James Seamarsh

    “When they’re gone, they’re gone!”

    Caught with my hand in the cookie jar, the familiar refrain to my mother’s German upbringing brought a smile to my face. Ever since I can remember, when Mom knew I was coming home, she made chocolate chip cookies. Something about those cookies made me crazy. I was an addict!

    It was the first thing I would do when I came home, after giving Mom a hug. I’d go to the kitchen and quietly lift the shiny stainless steel lid of the third largest canister…

    The largest of the four containers held flour, which one hoped was fresher than the aged dirty-white powder trapped inside the clear plastic lid handle. The second held sugar. Sugar seemed to hold up better, at least the sugar in the handle still looked like sugar. The fourth lid held a sample of black tea, certainly from an era of early far-eastern exploration.

    The cookie jar, that magical third canister, had an empty lid handle. No doubt my mother kept it empty to hide the secret of its contents, a secret passed on to my generation with a whisper and words of encouragement. I don’t remember the first time I opened it, but I know I had to reach up, stand on tip-toes, barely able to reach the top of the lid. From that angle it was impossible to get a cookie without signaling my intention with a loud clang. It rang with a clarity that filled the house, and summoned my mother from any corner of the house into the kitchen.

    “When they’re gone, they’re gone,” she would trumpet, announcing her arrival.

    She never told me I couldn’t have a cookie, unless it was right before dinner. My most likely strike would be after climbing the hill home, from the bus stop after school. If she was in the kitchen, Mom would take out two cookies and fill a glass with milk, placing them on the edge of the pass-through where I was sure to find them. If she wasn’t there, it was three cookies, without milk.

    By the time I was 11 I had grown tall enough to master the removal of the lid without a sound. The trick was lifting the lid slowly, with a finger of my other hand pressing against the rising lid, acting as a damper for any possible “in-exitus” sound. Taking the lid off and removing three cookies was the easy part.

    And here I will not bore you with the testing I had done to determine that three cookies was just the right number to take, partly because my mother didn’t notice missing only three cookies, and partly because three was the maximum number of cookies I could stuff into my mouth all at once, in the event of an emergency.

    The real artistry was in putting the lid back on without that little “click” of stainless steel on stainless steel. Even after mastering the “re-lidding” operation, if I didn’t pay attention, was too eager to get those cookies into my mouth, the “click” was unmistakeable, triggering the alarm:

    “When they’re gone, they’re gone.”

    My mother continued to make cookies for me even after I was married and had children, much to consternation of my father. It was not my childish behavior that annoyed him. Rather, he was upset because my mother would not make cookies in my absence, leaving my father with long periods of chocolate chip cookie withdrawal, only partially satisfied with the invention of cookie dough ice cream.

    Unfortunately, before my children were old enough for me to pass on the tradition, my parents moved to a retirement community, to an apartment without a kitchen. And though I am almost 60 years old, and all the kids have left home, I still take pride at being able to sneak into the kitchen, and without a sound, lift the lid off the cookie jar, grab three cookies, and put the lid back down. My wife smiles when she sees me with a mouth full of cookies. She doesn’t say a word, doesn’t have to, because in my head echoes what my mother always said: “When they’re gone, they’re gone.”

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