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From the Editor's Desk

Dennis Ernst reminisces about a childhood cookie tin

by Dennis Ernst • August 07, 2020

Editor's Desk


As I mentioned last month, I'm spending some extra time off-duty to enjoy the summer. That means I'm digging into the archives of my column and dust another one of my favorites that you probably will enjoy. I'll be back in the present next month. This month's classic editorial goes back to February, 2004 and explains why I didn't send out any Christmas cards two months prior. Enjoy.

Take care, my friend,

Dennis J. Ernst, editor

Originally posted December, 2002


I trust you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. Catherine, my wife, and I drove to Michigan to spend it with my side of the family. Dinner was at my sister's house, right across the street from where I grew up in Richmond, just north of Detroit. She acquired it from my grandparents before they passed away. Although my sister and her husband have substantially remodeled and expanded the house, I continue to see it as it was when I was a boy.

It was a two-story house with creaky floors, a coal room and lots of hiding places. Living across the street from Grandma and Grandpa was a great convenience. Grandma would always welcome me with the same greeting when I walked in: "There he is: barefoot boy with cheek of tan." It was a line from a poem she had committed to memory. If I caught her in a particularly good mood, I'd get the whole verse. Regardless, my response was always the same: "Got any cookies, Grandma?" I was never one to conceal my priorities.

Gramma & Grampa

And of course the answer was always the one I was looking for. She'd open the cupboard, stand on her tip-toes and pull down from the top shelf a round red tin about 10 inches in diameter and four inches deep. Keeping it out of my reach was her way to make sure I went through the proper channels in acquiring what she full-well knew to be the point of my visits.

red cookie tin
My red cookie tin

I knew early on that mothers and grandmothers have two completely different philosophies about raising kids. My Mom raised me on such things as asparagus, tuna-noodle casserole, brussel sprouts and creamed tuna on toast; sensible but unfortunate. Unfortunate because I came to hate them all. But Grandma raised me on molasses cookies. They were dark brown, sprinkled with sugar and synonymous with the round red tin. Grandma must have been a sucker for my bare feet and tanned cheek because she never refused to get the tin down for me and I never found it empty.

I could always tell if a fresh batch had been made because with every new lot of molasses cookies, Grandma baked an especially large one just for me. It always lay on top of the others, almost as big around as the tin itself and completely covering the rest. Into it she embedded a smiling face of raisins. If my brothers or sisters happened to beat me to the tin after it had been freshly filled, they were never allowed to have the smiling cookie. Grandma reserved that one for me and me alone. It was the one rule that she strictly enforced.

If my luck was especially kind, I would happen to walk in during the makings of a fresh batch. She'd let me help her add the eggs, molasses, sugar and other ingredients and then hand-mix it into a thick ball. Then she'd roll it out and let me cut them into circles with a round aluminum cutter. During the process, I was entitled to snitch a couple bites of raw dough, but not many. I could tell when I would exceed my limit because Grandma had a very distinctive way of voicing her displeasure. It didn't matter what you did that moved her to scold you, her unique choice of words and tone of voice stopped you cold. If you got caught walking in with muddy boots, fighting with your sister, running in the house, or stealing one too many snippets of molasses-cookie dough, you'd get the same message: a deeply guttoral, rapid-fire "Here! Here! Here! Here! Here!" Always in fives, and always effective. It even worked on Grandpa.

Grandma is long gone now; so is the cupboard at my sister's house where the round red tin used to be. I have the tin, now. My Mom passed it down to me when Grandma passed away. It's a treasure and an icon for me, one that channels me back to Grandma and her kitchen cupboard from time to time. It's forever empty now, resting reverently on my bookcase with a few other relics of my youth. But when I walk into my sister's house, I still visualize it on the top shelf of a cupboard that no longer exists anywhere but in my imagination. In my mind it's still there and still full. Waiting for a barefoot boy with cheek of tan to traipse in and stake his claim.

Take care, my friend,


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cookie tin dennis ernst grandparents

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