64: The Cookie Gauntlet

64: The Cookie Gauntlet

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Kind (of) America

The Cookie Gauntlet

There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.

~Mark Twain

Spring blossoms burst from the earth, wafting sweet fragrances on breezes that warm both body and soul. But wait. What other scent of the season do I detect? Ah, yes — cookies.

Whether March comes in like a lion or a lamb, another rhythm of nature is as predictable as the spring equinox. Little girls, their pigtails bouncing with excitement and eyes lit with hope, will sweetly inquire, “Ma’am, would you like to buy some cookies?”

Nay! No! Nein! Nunca! My fifty-something figure reveals my abject failures from years past. No more may I indulge my taste buds with concentrated sweets. My will struggles to subdue the desires of the flesh. Unwanted saliva surges against the dam of my lips, preventing the correct words from escaping. One swallow, two — then my traitorous tongue says, “Yes, honey, I’ll take two boxes of Peanut Butter Patties and two Thin Mints.”

Last March, my husband Dale and I approached a big-box store. I spied the foes encamped outside the exit, their eager faces shining with hope. But this year I engaged the battle with a new tactic. I left my purse in the car so I would have no cash on hand. I entrusted the credit cards to Dale, recruited as a foot soldier to fortify my will. I gave him strict orders to ensure success. This year, I would be victorious as I ran the cookie gauntlet.

“No cookies, Dale. If I try to pause for a sniff, grab my hand and keep me moving.”

“Yes, dear.”

“In fact, don’t even let me peek in that direction. Eye contact is deadly.”

“Yes, honey.”

“I’m counting on you!”

“I won’t fail, my dear. No cookies.”

We shopped for healthy foods — lean meats, fresh vegetables, and sugar-free condiments. I relished my success in resisting food samples, refusing each one with steely resolve. I worried slightly when my foot soldier downed a pizza bite, but congratulated myself on personal triumph despite severe temptation. Each small conquest built confidence to face the ultimate battle upon exiting the store.

In the checkout lane, I set my jaw and firmed my lips into a straight line. I turned on my internal radio and started humming “Eye of the Tiger.” I envisioned my strides, confident and swift, eyes forward, gaze unswerving.

We wheeled toward the exit. The clerk eyed the items we had purchased and compared them to the receipt. She stroked it with a yellow marker and said, “Enjoy the beautiful day.”

The doors were propped open, and girlish chatter echoed in the breezeway. A small stab of guilt pricked my conscience as I thought of the worthy causes supported by cookie sales. I remembered the times my own child raised funds for school and church projects and how disappointed she was when no one would buy chocolates, magazine subscriptions, or gift wrap.

“Dale, I need you to be strong.” I placed both hands on the cart handle to prevent them from reaching toward the tower of temptation outside. I picked up the pace, ready to sprint if necessary.

“I’m ready, honey. No cookies.” Dale’s smirk did not inspire confidence. He was too relaxed, apparently underestimating our dangerous enemy.

I blazed a trail into the sunlight and feigned a search of the parking lot for our car. With my peripheral vision, I perceived a sprite approaching from the right, and I groaned. Brown, curly pigtails. Death knells began to sound when a surreptitious glance revealed she carried my favorites — Peanut Butter Patties, along with a box of Thin Mints.

Before I melted, my hero’s voice intervened. “No, thank you, sweetie. No cookies for us today.”

My heart swelled with pride.

“But, sir . . .” the child whined. My hands began to tremble, my grip loosening.

“Not today. Good luck with your sales.” Dale took control of the cart with one hand and grabbed my hand with the other. He kept moving. I trailed behind.

The urchin followed us and chucked both cartons into our buggy.

The nerve! The cheek! If that little temptress thought we would stop to pay just because the cookies landed in our cart, she was sorely mistaken!

Dale stopped rolling. Tactical error! Unbidden, my eyes swept down to see tears brimming below insanely long brown lashes. A drop would escape any moment to trail down a pinkened cheek.

My hands took on a life of their own. They began swatting my pockets, searching for cash. Remembering I had emptied them, I started searching Dale’s pockets, impervious to stares from passersby.

Dale gripped my questing fingers and returned them to the cart. Gazing with deliberate kindness at the child, he said, “Honey, we can’t buy cookies today.”

Three little words changed everything. The perpetrator’s tremulous voice cried, “But they’re free!”

Free? No-cost cookies? The child instantly morphed from a money-grubbing rascal to a rosy-cheeked cherub. But wait. There had to be a caveat.

“Now, honey, I know you can’t give away cookies. Isn’t the purpose of the sale to raise money?” Dale’s voice of reason tamped down the hope that rose in my breast.

“Yes, sir,” the child replied. Her eyes brightened. “A woman came out right before you and bought two boxes of cookies. But she said she couldn’t eat them because she was on a diet. She wanted me to give them away.”

God bless her, a kindred soul, a cookie fairy spreading love and kindness to perfect strangers! I became teary myself at the thought of enjoying Peanut Butter Patties with no guilt while also sparing a fellow dieter extra pounds. From a certain point of view, I would perform my own good deed. One could not spurn such generosity, could one? And break a little girl’s heart?

A smile affixed itself to my face, and I tried to rescind my “no cookies” command with a hopeful glance toward Dale. He returned my grin and raised his eyebrows. Thin Mints were his favorites.

“Thank you, young lady,” Dale said, “and I wish I could also thank the lady who bought them.”

The girl glowed with success. “She was really nice, wasn’t she?”

I basked in the joy of the moment — at least until her next revelation.

“She told me to give them to the next old couple who came out of the store.”

~Rhonda Dragomir

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