Finding meaning in my mother’s final Thanksgiving dish

Sometimes a cookie is more than a cookie
By Amy D. LernerPublished on 11/14/2018 at 10:30 AM EDT

My mom made cookies for Thanksgiving two years ago instead of pie. It was a super soft and light pumpkin cookie with a pumpkin glaze, the perfect small treat to savor after the big meal.

I think about those cookies every now and then. I thought about them at a meeting at a local mosque, a gathering of the Hebrew school parents, teachers, and children, and the children, teachers, and parents who belong to the mosque, a chance for a small group of Jews and Muslims to meet and learn from each other. A woman about my age told a story about how her mother went on pilgrimage to Mecca and brought back zam zam, water from the well. It’s water from the well that G-d pointed Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, toward when she thought she would die of thirst in the desert after Abraham banished the two of them from his tribe at his wife Sarah’s request.

The well that Hagar drank from has water to this day. You’re supposed to drink the water when you go there on pilgrimage—the water is still bountiful and it’s a gift from God we should use—but two years later this woman is still carrying around the water her mother brought her and she hasn’t been able to bring herself to drink it.

I gulped as I remembered the pumpkin cookies, a few of which sit in a bag in my freezer. They are over two-year-old cookies by now. My mom made them for that first Thanksgiving feast at my house. It was my first time picking out a stuffing recipe, first time figuring out how to chop and prepare sides ahead of time and cook everything so that it all got done at the same time.

My mom called a few days before the holiday and asked what she could bring. I suggested dessert, we chatted for a few minutes, and then she said she’d make the glazed pumpkin cookies.

I still have the leftover cookies in my freezer, and my mom died that winter.

Pumpkin cookie recipe from Amy Lerner's mother — Thanksgiving dish
The writer’s mother’s handwritten recipe card for the special pumpkin cookies

What is it that makes us hold on to memories? The weeklong shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual, has long passed, as have the 11 months of saying kaddish, the prayer mourners recite, and yet I cling to those cookies. Some water is more than water.

I think about my mom making the cookies that fall, standing in her kitchen, rooting around in her unorganized drawers to find the measuring spoons and cups. Plopping off-sized spoonfuls onto a well-used cookie tray. I think about her flipping the hot cookies off the tray ten minutes later and waiting for them to cool.

I know about the more-than-water from the well. I understand wanting to hold a memory so close that you’ll save anything that’s left from it, and the fear of using up what little is left because maybe the water isn’t so bountiful after all, and I thank my new friend for showing me I’m not off-balance for keeping cookies in my freezer.

It’s not odd to try to save a bottle of water or an old cookie; it’s what we do, those of us who treasure anything good we get out of life. Saving any drop we can of the good is a way of appreciating it.

This Thanksgiving, remember to gather these moments and keep them in a safe place. Whether it’s something as small as a bottle of water or a cookie, savor it and save what you can so you can remember what it means to you. Remember to remember.

Do you keep cookies in your freezer? Do you have a bottle of water that’s more than water?

Grok Nation Comment Policy

We welcome thoughtful, grokky comments—keep your negativity and spam to yourself. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.