Christmas Cookie Exchange

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic

A new member of a neighborhood becomes obsessed with making the perfect cookies for a holiday exchange. She then finds out her impressions of the simple tradition are very wrong. It is much more important than she imagined.

December 11, 2018 - Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, USA

The moving company had stacked boxes in the middle of each room in the new house.  Many of the labels on the sides clearly did not match the room they were in.

“Look at this one.  It says ‘kitchen’.  Could this room look like a kitchen to anyone?” Sandy Rees-Harrison asked her husband, Jeremiah Harrison.

Jeremiah had chosen the moving company and had done his best to defend them.  But he was clearly standing in a bedroom, not a kitchen.  “I guess the guys here in South Carolina didn’t pay much attention,” said Jeremiah.

“Now that I see the place with our stuff in it, I think I want to paint the walls,” continued Sandy thoughtfully.  “Before we unpack.”

“The bedroom walls?”

“All the walls.”

“You said you were swamped with work stuff already.  Now you’re adding painting to your list?”

“You know I get the most done when I have too much to do,” replied Sandy.

The move from California had been her idea.  She was offered a job managing a large country club and it seemed like the perfect next step for her career.  She and Jeremiah chose their new house so that Sandy was only five minutes from her new job.

While Sandy was still talking about paint colors and wondering where to get supplies, the doorbell rang.  Sandy looked through the front door’s peephole, expecting to maybe see a delivery driver.  Instead, a middle-aged woman holding a small dog stood on the porch.

Sandy opened the door with Jeremiah standing right behind her.  The woman on the porch wore some kind of tracksuit or leisurewear.  A white SUV was parked on the street behind her, with the motor running and the driver’s door open.  A couple of kids were in the backseat.

“Well hello!  I’m Diane, come to welcome you to the neighborhood,” the woman said loudly.  “Folks saw the moving truck and word travels fast in Shady Springs.”

Shady Springs was the name of the housing development Sandy had chosen because of its location.  The houses had been built in the 1980’s, and while they looked a little dated, the owners seemed to take their front lawns and home maintenance seriously.

“We’re glad to be here.  We weren’t expecting visitors so soon,” said Sandy hesitantly.

“We think of ourselves as a big happy family,” continued Diane.  “And you’ve arrived at the perfect time of year.  You can be in our Christmas cookie exchange.  I’m in charge this year and you’re going to absolutely love it.  All I need from you is two dozen of your best Christmas cookies.  Everybody participates and it’s fabulous.  You’ll see.”

Sandy looked at Diane’s bright teeth and little dog and mostly felt annoyed.  Why could these people not give her a little time to move in before they demanded she be a part of their cutesy, time-wasting cookie whatever?  And how presumptuous did you have to be to think that everyone would enjoy it?

“We’ve really got a lot to do.  I don’t think we’ll have time to be a part of it,” said Sandy elusively.

“Oh, it won’t take much time at all,” replied Diane with a dismissive wave of her hand.

“Well, how do you know we even celebrate Christmas?  What if we’re Jewish?”

“Honey, I don’t care if you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim or in some kind of Martian voodoo cult.  We just need your cookies.  You can call them holiday cookies or December cookies or whatever else you want.”

“How come you’re talking to me and not my husband?  Why are you assuming I’d be baking them and not him?”

Sandy looked back at Jeremiah, who was still standing behind her.  He raised up his hands like he did not want to get in the middle of the conversation.

Diane acted unfazed as she backed away from the door.  “I don’t want to get into a whole feminist thing with y’all.  I don’t care which one of you makes the cookies.  I gotta run, but I’ll plan on seeing you and those cookies on Christmas Eve.”  Before getting into her SUV, Diane called out, “You won’t be disappointed.”

Sandy snapped the door shut.  “Can you believe her nerve?” she hissed to Jeremiah.  “We’ve never even met her and she stops by to demand we make a bunch of cookies.”

“Remember, we’re in the South now.  People are going to be way less standoffish than in California.  You better get used to it.”

“I’m not standoffish.  I just think there’s a better way to go about asking.  Maybe sending a survey to find out if we’re interested.”

“It may be better, in the long run, to go along with it.  You don’t want to start off in a new place by making enemies.”

Sandy shot Jeremiah a look that said he should keep his advice to himself.  She was determined to ignore the order for cookies.  She was not worried about friends and enemies.  She could make as many friends as she wanted and she would do it her way, not with cookies.  Cookies had never been her thing.  In her mind, she could already picture the results of a cookie exchange.  After handing off her two dozen cookies, she would get two dozen back, made by a variety of neighbors.  It did not sound very interesting or something she would appreciate.  It mostly sounded like a way for experienced bakers to show off.

Sandy did her bet to put the front door conversation with Diane out of her mind.  The painting project was the perfect distraction.  She dragged Jeremiah to the nearest paint supply store and came home with cans full of colors she liked and panels showing colors she was still contemplating.  Instead of unpacking moving boxes, she and Jeremiah put painter’s tape on walls and covered floors in drip cloths.

By the time Sandy had finished her first two full days at work and had painted two bedrooms, she was well on her way to forgetting the cookie exchange.  But then she and Jeremiah got another neighborly visit, this one from the older couple who lived right next door.  When Sandy heard the doorbell and went to greet them, she found the woman holding a plate of cookies.

“We’re the Gilmores.  We share a fence with you and thought we would say hello and bring a little housewarming gift,” said the gray-haired woman, while holding out the cookie plate.

“Thank you.  That’s very sweet,” said Sandy, accepting the plate and staring down at the oatmeal raisin cookies.  “You know, I’ve only talked to one other person from the neighborhood, but that also had to do with cookies.  Is everybody around here cookie crazy?”

Mr. Gilmore nodded and Mrs. Gilmore laughed.  “I’ll bet you’ve been talking to Diane about the cookie exchange.”

“Yeah.  She was over here the minute we walked in the door.”

“She’s in charge because we need someone with lots of energy,” said Mrs. Gilmore with another laugh.  “I hope you’re planning on making some cookies.”

“To tell you the truth, it’s not really my thing.  I don’t get why you think it’s such a big deal.”

Mrs. Gilmore’s eyes twinkled mischievously.  “You’ll see.  I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but I promise you won’t be disappointed.”

The visit by the Gilmores proved to be much harder to forget than the intrusion by Diane.  The idea took hold in Sandy’s head that maybe the cookie exchange was something special.  Suddenly, she was afraid of missing out.  And she did not want to be the object of all the neighborhood gossip.  Only a few days earlier, she had declared she did not care what the people around her thought, but now she did not want to disappoint the Gilmores and all the other sweet faces she would eventually meet.

Sandy’s natural competitiveness also had something to do with her change of heart.  If making cookies was truly the way to impress her neighbors in Shady Springs, she might as well be better at it than anyone else.  That evening, Jeremiah found her watching YouTube videos on how to make the world’s most delicious sugar cookies.

“I thought we were painting bathrooms tonight,” said Jeremiah.  “You said you would have everything ready.”

“I know, I know.  When you think of Christmas cookies, don’t you naturally think of sugar cookies?”

“Yeah sure.  I guess.  But I thought you weren’t interested in the Christmas cookie thing.”

“So I changed my mind.”

“What about the painting and the boxes?  And aren’t you supposed to be reading personnel files and balance sheets for the golf course?”

“Yes.  You don’t have to remind me.  But right now it would be nice if you could be supportive when it came to these sugar cookies.”

Jeremiah rolled his eyes and sighed, but not loud enough for Sandy to hear.  “What can I do?  You want me to go buy some sugar?”

“As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what you can do.  Sugar, eggs, flour.  Let’s make a list.”

Jeremiah’s list was long enough to provide enough supplies for several rounds of cookie prototypes.  After he returned from the supermarket, Sandy sent him back out in search of Christmas-themed cookie cutters.  The real experimentation took place the next night.  Sandy and Jeremiah stayed up mixing different dough recipes and then rolling out sheets of dough to varying thicknesses.  They used their new cutters to create cookie shapes and pushed tray after tray into their oven.

“Still too hard,” concluded Sandy, biting into a sample from the batch that came out of the oven at 12:05 am.

“Then a little thicker and a lower temperature,” said Jeremiah.  “How was the amount of spray on the pan?”

“Just about right.  Let’s pick it up from here tomorrow,” said Sandy.

After two more nights of dough and baking prototyping, Sandy declared they had found the perfect recipe.  Firm but chewy.  Buttery sweet, but not too sweet.

“Cool.  So we’re done?” asked Jeremiah.

“With the base.  Now we’ve gotta do the frosting,” replied Sandy, as if Jeremiah had never seen a cookie before.

“But that shouldn’t be hard.  All we have to do is spread it on top.”

“Spread it?  No, we’ve got to paint it.  Like art.  Art takes practice.”

Jeremiah returned to the store for more sugar, food coloring, and frosting kits.  He returned to find Sandy fast-forwarding through baking shows and figuring out how to put frosting into plastic bags and squeeze it out through metal tips and onto blank cookies.

“Uh oh.  This is going to take a while to figure out,” said Jeremiah, after watching Sandy squeeze a crooked line of pink frosting over a candy-cane shaped cookie.

Mastering icing did take a while, but Sandy was not content with something that tasted good but look amateurish.  She and Jeremiah filled up multiple trash bags with mistakes before deciding on their final design – cookies in the shape of bells with a layer of red frosting accented with green and silver.

Diane put a flyer in every mailbox reminding the neighborhood of her address and that cookies had to be dropped off by noon on Christmas Eve.  Christmas Eve happened to be on a Monday and Sandy and Jeremiah budgeted the whole weekend for first buying each other simple gifts and then producing the most perfect 24 Christmas cookies the world had ever seen.

The build began by baking 100 bell-shaped cookies.  Sandy picked out the best 50 for frosting application.  She let Jeremiah apply the first red layer and then she handled the more complicated green and silver patterns.  She chose the best 24 and laid them side-by-side on a counter.

“You can’t tell them apart,” Sandy said proudly.

“They really are perfect,” added Jeremiah.

“It’s like we’re looking at paintings or sculptures,” said Sandy.

She gingerly placed the cookies on four different plates for transportation to Diane’s house.  The plates were disposable, but as elegant as a disposable plate could possibly get.  She and Jeremiah arrived for the cookie drop-off at the same time as a crowd of other neighbors.  Diane’s front door was open.  The interior of the house swirled with chaos.  A teenage girl appeared to be in charge and she told everyone to leave their cookies on the kitchen table.

“Should we ask for a receipt or something?” Sandy asked Jeremiah, as she lovingly let go of her cookies and looked jealously at the other plates and containers.

“A receipt?  No, I think we just have to trust the process,” said Jeremiah with a chuckle.

As the couple walked out the door, the teenage girl called out that they would get their exchange cookies later that day.  Sandy returned home and looked at her unpainted walls and unpacked boxes and she felt unsatisfied.  As she moved unpacked boxes into the kitchen, she even felt deceived.  She quickly came out of her cookie trance and she violently regretted wasting so much time.

Sandy kept expecting a delivery of return cookies, but the knock on her door did not come until well after dark.  When she looked outside, no one was there.  A paper plate sat on the porch holding a single, misshaped cookie.  A label on the plate showed the address for a YouTube video.

“Jeremiah!  Come look at this!” yelled Sandy.  “We spent a hundred hours making perfect cookies and all we got back was this!”

Sandy grabbed the plate and dropped it scornfully on her kitchen counter.  “Is this some kind of sick joke?  Well I tell you, I’m not going to stand for it.  I’m going to shut this thing down if it’s the last thing I do!  I hate these people and I’m going to make every one of them come help paint our house.”

As Sandy grabbed her phone to make a furious call, Jeremiah muttered, “Maybe we should look at the video.”

“Look at it if you want.”

Jeremiah typed the video’s address into his phone and let it play.  It showed their neighbors arriving at an assisted living center, carrying armfuls of cookies.  As cookies were left at bedsides, most of the residents burst into grateful tears.  Some said they had not had any visitors to their rooms since they arrived.  The older residents who had been around a while and knew the cookies were coming, did their best to work in the center’s kitchen to make cookies to return in the exchange.  Their hands shook as they covered their cookies with crude lines of frosting.

Sandy recognized the lone cookie on her plate.  It had come from a woman who looked exactly like her own grandmother.  By the time the video was over, she was in tears herself.  Dumbstruck, she dropped into one of the few chairs not covered in protective shipping plastic and stared down at her hands.

Sandy did make a call to Diane that night, but it was one she never expected.  Between sniffs and wipes of her eyes, she practically insisted she be put in charge of next year’s cookie exchange.

 

For more stories like this one, including audio versions, please visit https://500ironicstories.com


Submitted: December 11, 2021

© Copyright 2022 Aaron Hawkins. All rights reserved.

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