County Fair Cookies
A cooling breeze kissed the screen door, as Rose and Mary painted the kitchen floor. It creaked a gentle yawn and closed, announcing a house alive and well. Birds of red and yellow sang in treetops, as those still sleeping stirred.
Rose and Mary spoke in whispers, their brushes clapping the floorboards. The sun had just extended its arms to the farmhouse, beckoning everyone out and onward to the Allegheny County Fair. The night before had found us all restless and excited for classic cars and wild cat shows and rumors of a 46-pound squash.
Rose had already whipped up a batch of cookie dough for our hour-long car ride that afternoon. She would place them in the oven just before noon, so they’d be fresh and perfectly cooled by takeoff.
Cousin Don was the first one up that day. He rubbed sleep from his eyes as he approached the kitchen’s threshold.
“Not another step,” Mary warned him, her brush dripping paint. The floor glistened a slippery silver.
“Oh good, we have someone to collect the eggs,” Rose offered. She would make a big breakfast of eggs and bacon once the floor was finished and send the family out on the porch to eat.
Don yawned, but off he went.
“Don’t forget the broom!” Mary hollered after him.
He was only half awake when he entered the barn and of course, forgot to grab the broom, which was perched by the great hinged doors. Grabbing this broom was imperative. Anyone stepping too close to the precious hens would be met by roosters out for blood. Each rooster had his own harem, which he protected like a sultan overseeing a great dynasty. Don was now a young invader storming into battle unarmed.
The worst of the empire was a rooster called Big Red. As legend goes, Big Red had his eye on Cousin Don from the moment light cracked through the gaping doors that morning. If this kid thought he was collecting eggs, he had another thing coming to him. Big Red allowed Don to take several confident steps inside, assuring the broom was well out of reach. He clocked his movements second by second. Don was within six feet, then three, then two, when—
Big Red attacked! His claws dug into Don’s scalp and his wings, now outstretched, flapped like fans to a flame. Don flailed and screamed, running from the barn with Big Red still in full attack. In his panic, Don managed to grab the broom as he ran and thrust a few whacks toward his head. But Big Red was steadfast.
Rose and Mary watched the scene from the kitchen, where they had now unwittingly painted themselves into a corner. They exchanged a glance. If they moved to save Don, the floor would be ruined. Transfixed in their dilemma, they heard—
Don delivered a massive blow with the broom. Big Red dropped from his nest atop Don’s head and stumbled like a drunkard on the grass.
Rose and Mary sighed with relief but then realized they were still stuck in a corner of the kitchen.
“Help!” they hollered, as Don lay outside on the grass beside Big Red, both exhausted.
Penny and Jerry headed their calls and appeared with a ladder outside the kitchen window. It stretched to their corner of the kitchen and they crawled like rodents through a pipeline to freedom.
“What happened to Don?” Penny laughed and all the women could muster was,
Penny & Jerry ~ The Rescuers
That afternoon, the call was made. Big Red was set for the chopping block. Everyone gathered around home plate on the baseball diamond where the ceremony would take place. Penny was poised with the axe while Don fidgeted, still shaken.
The game plan was the same as every week—axe the head, then flop the chicken to the ground before tossing a bushel basket over it to keep it from jumping about. As fate would have it, Big Red knocked the basket off in one flap of his feathers and made a bee-line for Cousin Don. Blood flew everywhere like a morbid fireworks display, and once again, Don was off and running.
The battle was short lived this time, as a headless Big Red dropped dead after ten or fifteen feet.
That night at dinnertime, Big Red was cooked and served. Cousin Don wouldn’t eat for fear he might choke on a bone; he knew Big Red’s revenge was alive and well, even if the poor rooster was dead.
We cleared our plates while Rose spooned cookie dough onto baking sheets and tried to swipe a taste when she wasn’t looking. The kitchen floor was mostly dry but for that small patch in the corner that, in all the day’s commotion, had only been painted an hour ago.
“Weren’t we supposed to go to the County Fair today?” Rose asked as Penny swiped a bit of dough with his finger.
“Oh yeah,” he remembered, “Maybe tomorrow.”
The timer dinged and we gathered around the oven to breathe in the smell of fresh cookies. We’d each get at least two, and I worked my way closer to the baking sheets to eye my favorites.
“Oh dear,” Rose sighed. “How did this happen?”
Perhaps she had been distracted by the patch of wet paint in the corner of the kitchen that Lisa’s chair was moving dangerously close to, or the cookie dough scalpers she had to continuously bat away, or maybe it was just the kind of day it had turned out to be…
But the cookies were the size of our faces! The spoonfuls of dough had been placed too close together on the sheet and melted into one another.
“We should take these to the County Fair tomorrow,” Rose laughed, “Blue ribbon for the biggest cookies.”
In the living room, we all sat closer than usual, picking from a few giant cookies on one shared plate. The middle was gooey and warm and I rested my arm on Penny’s knee to keep close to second and third helpings. In minutes, the cookies were gone, which was fine because we wouldn’t get to the County Fair tomorrow or the next day…or ever. The idea that once so excited us had slipped from our thoughts with ease. The farm was always more exciting than any wild cat show or 46-pound squash anyhow.
It’s a Friday night and I’m exhausted from a long week. The kids are playing video games or on some phone app I can’t begin to understand...and I sit with the TV and a glass of red, unwinding. Peace and quiet but for the ads on the television that are always so much louder than the show itself. I reach for the remote, when a voice booms,
“Saturday and Sunday, enjoy classic cars and the best food you’ll eat all summer...only at the County Fair!”
I have no interest in going to the County Fair, but I’m suddenly craving a fresh batch of cookies. So I make my way to the kitchen and gather the ingredients. The flour puffs into the air when I open the bag and I mix it with the butter, vanilla, sugar, and egg. I’m just adding the chocolate chips when my oldest walks through the front door. The door opens smoothly, barely making a sound, but I know it’s him by the rhythm of his sneakers on the carpet.
“I’m making cookies!” I offer, and he saunters in as only a teenage boy does, to swipe some of the dough with his finger. I bat his hand away with a laugh, but truly, I don’t mind.
“Help me get these in the oven,” I say, and he grabs the baking sheets. One by one, I place the dough on the sheet. But then a memory washes over. I place them closer and closer together, so close they’re touching.
“Mom, that’s not how you bake cookies,” he argues, and I let him walk off to his room without an explanation. I smile because I know the smell of fresh cookies will soon bring all my kids downstairs, and we’ll sit in front of the TV with one giant plate between us. We’ll sit closer on the sofa than usual, as we reach over one another to grab a piece.
“You know, we call these County Fair Cookies,” I’ll say, but it’ll fall on deaf ears. Their eyes will be fixed on the TV screen…but their arms will rest over my knees.