Saturday, May 3, 2008

Toll House Grief

George Williams' mother was, without a doubt, the best baker in town. It was quite possible that her chocolate chip cookies were the best of the county. She also had an uncanny sense of knowing exactly when we would be walking through the door starving. She miraculously always managed to be taking a fresh batch of cookies out of the oven exactly as we trooped in, all muddy and out of breath.

In those days we were a tight band of friends. Life wasn't complicated by girls or Fox News kidnapping fears. We roamed the neighborhood in search of adventure and stumbled home in time for dinner. My parents were divorced and my mother worked. This made me a latch-key kid, an oddity in these parts. I didn't mind, it was the reason George's mom had unofficially adopted me. I ate countless dinner at the Williams home; I even had my own place at the table. She always told me that she cooked a little extra hoping that I would join them for dinner. She liked to make sure that my belly was always full. She cooked my favorite dishes and always saved an extra cookie for me. I was a tough kid, accustomed to being on my own, but I basked in her attentions. It wasn't as though I was neglected by mother, but I loved pretending to be a part of the perfect Williams family. I had never been fussed over like that and I relished every minute of it.

Then Albert moved to the house next to the Williams'. He was shy and skinny. He wore glasses held together by masking tape. He lived alone with his dad, a widower. His mother had died the previous year. They had moved to our town to escape the memories of their newly empty house. We thought that he was nice enough, but not the kind of kid who would really get dirty. We weren't exactly hostile to him but we weren't overly welcoming either. George's mom would not stand for that kind of behavior from us. She foisted Albert on us time and time again, nagging us until we rang his doorbell and invited him along on our escapades. It didn't take long for him to become part of our gang. Once we got past his shyness, he was a pretty funny guy.

I was happy to have him around; I didn't realize how much of a threat he was. Then, one tuesday afternoon, after playing wiffle ball in the Williams backyard, we ran into the house, starving, as usual. George's mom had one of her batches of warm chocolate chip cookies ready for us. They were warm and gooey with a caramelized edge. The platter went around the group and we each grabbed a cookie. One by one, we all grabbed a second cookie, leaving only one cookie on the platter. I reached for it, with a goofy grin on my face, claiming my usual special cookie. I felt Mrs. Williams' hand on mine. I looked up into her face confused. Instead of her usual mothering look, her face was disappointed. She scolded me gently, "Now Bobby, don't grab. I made an extra cookie for Albert. You don't mind, do you?" I nodded gracefully and passed the tray to Albert who accepted it like an eager little puppy.

At that moment, I realized that my golden days at the Williams' were over. I gave up without a fight. I was only the victim of divorce; I couldn't compete with an orphan. Thirty years later, the smell of warm chocolate chip cookies still makes me sad.

This post was inspired by the Fiction Friday prompt: Describe a time your character gave up and how it affected him the rest of his life.

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