Pinwheels in the Garden of Paradise
When I lived at home, I took my mother’s cooking for granted. That is not to say I didn’t appreciate it; I knew she was an excellent cook. Her ingredients were uncomplicated, but fresh, flavorful and nutritious. During the winter we ate the vegetables she had canned herself that summer. Colorful Mason jars filled her pantry shelves: corn, peas, beans, beets, tomatoes (whole, thick sauce, both plain and ready for pasta), and countless varieties of pickles, relishes, and fruit jams.
However, what Mom excelled at, was baking. Her pies were legendary. Her chocolate pie was so luscious, my son asked the tooth fairy to bring him one when he lost his first tooth.
And cookies. The ceramic cookie jar on our kitchen counter was always full of fresh baked cookies. During the year it was mostly filled with chocolate chip, peanut butter, or date bars. But, come December, Mom’s kitchen was transcended into a cookie factory rivaling Better Homes and Garden’s test kitchen. Big blocks of milk chocolate, and sacks of dates, raisins, coconut, peanuts, pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts filled the counter.
Each day after school I was greeted by rows of warm, aromatic, cookies cooling on racks. When they were ready to be packed in tins, she put a few aside for me and my grandpa to have for a snack that evening, accompanied by a glass of cold, fresh, whole milk that had been delivered early in the morning by Hilltop Dairy.
My favorites by far, were the pinwheels. The combination of plump dates, walnuts, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon bubbling on the stove filled the house with a heavenly aroma befitting the Arabic legend; God first made man from the earth, and second, the date palm for the Garden of Paradise.
After I left home, Mom always included a dozen or so pinwheels in my Christmas box. For twenty years, I looked forward to receiving the precious cookies that were, in my mind, the ultimate gift of my mother’s love.
And then, one Christmas when I was living in California, Mom’s package arrived, but there were no pinwheels in it. I called her. “Hi Mom. The presents arrived today. Thank you. But, Mom, I think you forgot to include the pinwheels.” She was silent for a second. “For God’s Sake, Cheryl. I think by now, you can bake your own damn pinwheels.” I wanted to cry. I was only forty. “But that’s not the point,” I whined.
The following week, one afternoon when I got home from work, there was a UPS tag hanging on the door. I called the tracking number. My cookies were in town! The next day I left a note asking them to be delivered to my neighbor, who said she would be home all day-except for the hour she went to the store- the hour the UPS showed up. I don’t remember the sad details, but when the third attempt to deliver my cookies failed, they were returned to my mother in Pennsylvania.
Sometime in early January, my mother called. “Guess what I’m eating?” “My cookies,” I answered humbly. “Yes, they are stale and hard as rocks. I have to dip them in my coffee so I can chew them, but I am eating every last crumb because they took hours to make, and cost eight dollars to mail.”
The following Christmas, when I had no expectations of receiving any cookies, tucked into the presents was a dozen, succulent pinwheels. I cried.
Until she died at age eight-five, Mom baked me pinwheels every Christmas. After her death, I made them a few times, but they never tasted as good as hers. My daughter, Anna, now makes them. To me, they are still the ultimate gift of love. I savor them, imagining my mom enjoying her new life among the date palms in the Garden of Paradise.