Cookies Like Memory

He cut the grass, and then it rained. And then the sun came out and the blazing heat resumed. It smelled just like my grandmother’s house during our vacations in the 1950’s and 1960’s. My grandmother lived in Miami Beach.  I have lived in Florida for almost 15 years, but it has never smelled like Florida to me until that very moment.

Every summer we would go to sleep-away summer camp in Vermont, as the children of a working divorced mom. After that we always went to our Grandma Jennie’s house in Miami Beach for a week or two.

My grandmother made these amazing cookies, crunchy and not too sweet, that she kept in a hall pantry closet and doled out two at a time to my brother and me. For special occasions she made what our family calls the “cherry cookies”, very labor intensive and very yummy. I make both sometimes, generally as a gift for someone in the family as much as a gift for myself. She always made them in the shape of our initials, T for me and P for my brother. I continue that tradition, it makes them taste more like memory. I have never quite duplicated how they tasted when she made them. Like New York bagels, I think it is the water. Maybe just the taste of her fingers on the dough.

On those gloriously free summer days in the Florida heat we would go out in the afternoon sun showers and dance on the lawn in our white cotton 1950’s underwear. We would walk every day and in the little neighborhood park we would stand at the flagpole where she taught us to pledge allegiance with our grubby  hands over our hearts. We would stop at the crest of a walking bridge over a canal and look for dolphins and rainbows. We would go down to the sea and she would hold us on her lap in the ocean, bouncing with the waves, and she would sing to us “By the Sea”. That melody still comes to me occasionally unbidden.

My grandmother was an amazing woman. She lived to be over 100 years old, retaining her faculties and her home well into her nineties. When her neighborhood became predominantly Cuban, she went to the local senior center and learned Spanish so she could talk to them. When she did not feel safe to drive, she walked about four miles to groceries and back. She was extraordinarily self-sufficient, her husband having died one summer in his sleep when we were little and we were there. I went to Miami Beach once in my free wheeling hippie days with a ridiculously tall boyfriend with ridiculously long hair. It was Christmas time, although I don’t recall that she celebrated Hanukkah or Christmas, and we just turned up at her door. We were welcome, of course, because with Jennie you never ever judged a book by it’s cover.

I have long though of her as the single most influential woman that has been in my life. Not to negate my mother’s influence, of course. And I deeply regret that in my unconscious twenties and thirties and my insanely busy forties I did not find the time or energy to be more in touch with her. Life lessons, learned too late and generally unheeded by the young coming behind me.

It is useless to regret but some regrets are unavoidable, they teach us not to make the same mistakes again. But the lessons, they are to be cherished and taken to heart. This amazing woman had standards of behavior that were clear and important, but she also accepted everyone for exactly who they were regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, appearance or anything else that might make them different.

In that moment when my lawn smelled like Florida at my Grandma’s house so long ago, I hoped that I had become half the woman she was. It is good that the bar is set high.

Things Grandma Joan Wants You To Know #2 ~ Don’t Stop Creating

Darling Jacob, I expect your ma has already pointed out to you that there are many ways in which to be creative (see the “express yourself” post) and that you have learned that for yourself. But do you know that being creative is possibly the closest way in your life that you will come to the divine?

You already know the satisfactions that occur when you finish a drawing; I am sure you are at least a little pleased now and again by something you have written. Making it new. Whether it’s a card or a baby, momentous or merely satisfying, useful or decorative. You have a grandpa, Alfred, who used to create delightful, funny monologues using words. Who knows what sorts of tools you may use, who knows what sorts of satisfactions you may find in your life ahead, but I am sure that if you continue to make things, your life will be blessed. What I wish for you is that you feel this and that you don’t stop. That you don’t settle into an ordinary, everyday, pedestrian existence, the same existence of most of the people in the world.

You’re already shown your talent and your pleasure in your talent. Please keep it up, no matter what else you do and use it if you can in your life’s work or as your life’s work.

Your grandmother has spent her life making things, art, sculpture, books, her house (especially her house). She lives this advice and she has lived a most interesting life; so don’t stop creating.

Things Grandma Joan Wants You To Know #1 ~ Learn About Sex

I know you would rather eat worms than have sex advice from your Grandmother, but its what she wanted you to know. And you never know…. you might learn something! So here goes:

Dear Jake, by this time you’re over eighteen and I’m sure know a great deal about sex from family, friends, and the great American entertainment business.  That is to say, I’m sure the mechanics are perfectly clear and may have been put into practice.  I’m sure you have also been advised about taking precautions not only for birth control, since having a baby at this stage in your life could ruin your future, but also making sure you know the medical history of anybody you take up with BEFORE you have sex.  STDs are hard to get rid of and easy to catch. 

When one is swept away by a moment of passion, it’s hard to exercise restraint and judgment, but there again remember that what you decide while under the stress of hormones could affect what is going to happen to you in the long run when there will be a lot of other things that are equally or perhaps even more important, believe it or not.

You’re probably tired of hearing all this.  But what you may not have heard is that the best sex is an art, for it involves learning about the other through the body, yours and theirs, and how you approach that can and will influence your relations with that same other person when you’re not having sex. 

Good sex is something that has to be learned and you’d be surprised, with all the talk of sex that goes on, how few men (and how few women) are willing and able to learn it as a skill.  It seems like a relatively simple business but it’s not.  People have simple physical sex just because it’s available or they just like somebody or are married to them.  And you can do that too, but my guess is that about 98% of American men don’t know how to make a woman or man feel fulfilled and I don’t want you to be a part of that 98%.   I want you to have a full and exciting sex life, because sex can be a wonderful event and an amazing phenomenon when both partners take the trouble to learn  how to please each other with tact and persistence while taking advantage of sensual impulses.  Ideally sex is not an act of power and dominance but an art practiced with a lot of affection and knowledge.

In other words, don’t be prudish or embarrassed but excited about learning and always think about the other person. And it’s okay to laugh a lot, because sex can be funny and dreamy as well as serious. And
always remember that it’s a waltz and not a fox trot.