This is my first Thanksgiving as a mother-in-law. It is my first Thanksgiving as a grandmother, too. New titles and new responsibilities. New responsibility #1: seashell sugar cookies. My husband and I spent most of the 1990s hauling our children from Jacksonville to Memphis, Tennessee, every Thanksgiving to celebrate the holiday with his parents and his two brothers’ families. When the kids weren’t playing football with their cousins in the front yard or roughhousing in the study, you could always find one of them in the walk-in pantry, peeling back the lid of a deep plastic container filled with cookies. Bernice, my mother-in-law, spent the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving baking. She’d bake ten kinds of cookies and six pies, sometimes more: chess pies, pecan pies, pumpkin pies, and cookies that always looked and tasted like they were from the local bakery—just a little too perfectly shaped, too expertly decorated, too delicious! But they weren’t; everything came from the oven in that spotless Schneider kitchen.
Well, my kitchen’s not spotless, but I’m running the show now. Yesterday I sorted through Bernice’s old cookie molds. I pulled out the small shell design she used for the sugar cookies. An hour later the countertops were covered in flour and I was pressing lumps of dough into seashells the old fashioned way. The green handle is slightly worn and the shell’s depression has lost some of its definition, but the recipe is the same. They still taste perfect—even frozen. But more importantly, these cookies connect my family to decades of memories, and hopefully, as our family continues to grow, will connect them to decades more. The memories are different for each of us, of course, kneaded and shaped by any number of things, but every one of them tastes like sugar.