The youngest was in love with my Irish Setter, who shared my low tolerance for the attentions of avid, but overly enthusiastic, youngsters. To escape, she crawled behind the couch. So did my youngest sister's youngest. Unlike my "child", he was unable to crawl out the other side successfully. The couch was old, but solid. By the time I had him extricated, he was in tears.
"I know what would make him stop crying, Auntie," proclaimed a sincere four-year-old pixie.
When I gave her my attention, she continued, "Cookies and milk."
Doubtfully, I confided, "We have the milk, but no treats before supper.
The oldest, who had scooted a chair over beside the counter, announced matter-of-factly, "The cookie jar is empty."
The blue eyed four year old tugged on my sweat shirt. "We could bake cookies."
Doubt covered my face.
"I'm my mother's little helper," she cajoled guilelessly. "We do it all the time."
"Uh... No, Chris! You'll fall!" Grabbing the boy by the back of the t-shirt as he dangled face down into the space behind the couch, I noted that my dog was again cowering behind the couch. The youngest was crawling toward her. Another cheery young face blocked the far end, her usual avenue of escape, so she lay on her side, industriously clawing her way underneath, sideways.
Foreboding flushed my face. Anyone bouncing on the couch now would crush her for sure, I thought grimly.
"Cookies," pronounced the pixie. "If you and I bake cookies, everyone will settle down and watch cartoons," proclaimed the future politician.
The oldest held up the Disney Bambi VHS tape they'd all uniformly rejected not five minutes earlier as too boring, watching my eyes to see if the deal was on, or off, as I stood a suddenly cooperative Chris upright on the floor, and CariAnn backed out from behind the couch under her own steam.
"Okay," I relented, "as long as you're SURE your mother lets you do this."
A chorus of assents echoed down the basement stairs as they trouped to the TV and popped the tape into the VCR.
I’m known in the family for making a pretty mean chocolate chip cookie. Of course, we all use the TollHouse recipe on the back of the bittersweet chocolate chips, but once, as children, I accidentally got distracted as I was pouring vanilla into the shortening and eggs. How much did I use? Tip the open bottle over the bowl about as long as it takes you to turn your head, then turn it back. I can attest, everyone will notice the difference. For years, I wouldn’t tell the “secret”. Who wants to admit that their vaunted “expertise” is nothing more than an accident?
Toni and I proceeded into the kitchen, where she scooted the chair over to a bare spot on the counter and began to climb up.
“First you gots to get out the right stuff,” the blond haired tot announced gravely, surveying the strange kitchen of the third sister of the triumvirate of which I am the eldest, her mother being the middle one.
Opening cabinet door after door, drawer after drawer produced a bowl, measuring cups and spoons, mixing spoons, spatulas, canisters of flour, and granulated sugar, baking soda, a bottle of vanilla, a container of Morton’s table salt, the all important Toll House chocolate chips, but no brown sugar.
Chris, the eldest child of the house, was summoned and pointed to a small orange tupperware container sitting, oddly enough, right next to the yellow granulated sugar container we’d found with no trouble.
Much egg cracking, butter blending, flour fluffing, and ingredient mixing ensued until at long last, a batch perfect chocolate chip circles decorated the tabletop. Immediately, responding to no signal I could discern, five nearly drooling children eyed them with longing.
“Next batch. Who wants to help load?” Toni skipped over, soon happily spooning dough onto the cookie sheet, while the rest bolted down the basement stairs again. As soon as the oven door closed, she joined them as I put the flour canister away.
Not a tyke in sight, but the last cookie on the very edge of the table, the one closest to the living room and the basement stairs, had disappeared. I peeked into the living room, expecting to catch a glimpse of someone with a smeared face or covered in cookie crumbs, but the room was empty. Opening the basement door, I saw five bodies avidly staring at the TV. I may not know much about kids, but four would not be quiescent while a fifth devoured one of the coveted cookies!
Returning to the scene of the crime, I filled the sink with warm, soapy water, plunged in the empty mixing spoon and measuring cups, then glanced over my shoulder.
"No snacks before a meal," I hopefully announced to the empty air as I moved cooled cookies onto the table, beginning with the easiest spot to reach - the again empty edge of the table. My dog was comfortably snoozing underneath the table, woven between the two back chair’s back legs, no child tormenter in sight.
The buzzer rang, promptly producing Toni. Back on her chair, she scooped more dough onto the cookie sheet, precisely spacing them across the front. I rotated the sheet so that she could reach, then we carefully placed it just so in the oven as I steadied her with one arm.
As I was replacing the rest of the dry items in their empty spaces in the cupboard, I noticed that the edge cookie had again disappeared. In a bit more angry voice, I griped, “Who won’t be hungry at supper tonight?” vowing to keep a closer eye on the table, since I’d now failed twice to catch the guilty culprit.
When the bowl was finally empty, both it and the spatula found their way into the cooling water. By the time we’d finished the baking, the entire tabletop was nearly completely covered with delicious looking cookies, not a burned one in the bunch. The only negatives other than the flour-coated four year old and pile of dirty dishes and pans in the sink? Nearly double the normal amount of time I’d have used to do the deed alone - and a total of five cookies had disappeared.
Before I could nail the thief, I had to catch them in the act. Sitting carefully in the living room with a clear view of the kitchen table, I was astonished to see my Irish setter, who had been "sleeping" against the back wall, protected by multiple crosshatched chair legs, emerge. Posing regally at the corner of the table, she reached her elegantly long neck to the max, carefully slurping up the end cookie.