Mrs. Jacobson’s Rye Cookies

by Lynne Bennion

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    “Mom, I don’t think I want to go to school today.”

    “Of course you don’t. You never do.”

    “Maybe I’m sick today. You know something? I think I have a headache. I really do. I think I’ll stay home today.”

    “Laurie, I am counting to three. One …”

    “Mom, you only count to three for little kids. I’m in high school.”

    “Well, sometimes I forget. Come on, get out of bed.”

    I crawled out of bed. There’s something futile about trying to get out of going to school when you’re too tired to make up a good excuse. At least Mom hadn’t noticed my messy room.

    When I entered the kitchen for breakfast, my brother Jon was putting six or seven peanut butter sandwiches on his plate.

    “Look, Laurie!” he said. “Guess how many I’ve got?”

    “Oh, about 952,” I said. I got out the cold cereal and started to read the newspaper.

    “Can I read the comics?” Jon asked.

    “I guess so.”

    “Jon!” Mom said it so loud that Jon dropped his peanut butter and jelly sandwich on Bugs Bunny. “Jon! What are you doing with all that junk on your plate?”

    Jon grinned sheepishly. “I guess I’m eating,” he said, as he tried to get his sandwich off the paper.

    “Don’t take so many at once. I just came up to remind you that your room needs cleaning.”

    I was reading something about how the governor wanted some bill passed or something. I knew I would probably get yelled at about my room too.

    “And yours, young lady …”

    I looked up and said, “I know. I’ll clean it up when I get home from school.”

    I finished my breakfast and went downstairs. Then it hit me like the shock of running through the sprinklers: the algebra test! No wonder I didn’t want to go to school.

    It was the start of a glorious day.

    My first period class was gym. I put on my green bag that is generally termed a gym suit and started out the door to run around the track. You see, our teacher finds it necessary that all young teenage girls become physically fit, and running is supposed to be very good at aiding in the achievement of this goal. I do not find running around the track in my gym suit a time when I feel particularly ravishing. So of course when I emerged from the school door, Dave and his friends were walking across the street. Of all days they picked this one to be late for school! There I was, standing in my lovely apparel.

    I couldn’t turn around and go back in the door because everybody was pushing to get out and it was too crowded. I couldn’t jump under a rock because there wasn’t a rock in sight for 50 yards. I would have cried, but that would have made my mascara run. There I was with no alternative but to run with the crowd to the track and pretend I couldn’t hear Dave laughing.

    The algebra test was terrible. It had lots of questions like, “If Harold can get to school in 7/8 of an hour riding his bike and in 1 3/5 hours walking, and the sum of the minutes it takes for him to walk to school and ride his bike home 17 times is the same as the number of yards from Harold’s house to the school, please set up an equation that will give you 1/3 of the distance of the round trip.” I’m not sure if that was it exactly, but we had a problem something like that. I missed about half the problems.

    Then in history Mr. Crispin called on me to give three ways that the Industrial Revolution affected the West. I started to talk, but I really didn’t know what to say, and after making a fool of myself for two minutes, I was invited to sit down.

    To finish it off, my English teacher, Mr. Drake, thought we were all spoiling for some intriguing activity for the night and assigned us five pages of grammar in our workbooks. That, added to history and biology, gave me so much homework that I was afraid I would have to take two trips to the bus just to load up my scholastic supplies for the evening.

    When I finally got home, I opened the door and threw my books on the floor.

    “Laurie, would you mind running over to Mrs. Jacobson’s house to get a pan that she borrowed from me?”

    What a greeting!

    “Why don’t you make Jon go?” I asked. “I’m tired.”

    “Jon is playing with Brian.”

    “Why can’t Mrs. Jacobson bring it over herself? She’s the one who borrowed it.”

    “Mrs. Jacobson is getting old, and she can’t walk very far at a time.”

    “You know,” I said, “that would make a good algebra problem! If it takes Mrs. Jacobson three hours to bring a pan to Laurie’s house, and two hours for her to return to her house empty-handed—”

    “Laurie! Go on over to Mrs. Jacobson’s house right now.”

    I decided it was useless to fight the taskmaster, so I turned around and walked to Mrs. Jacobson’s house.

    I rang the doorbell, and she invited me in. She told me to sit down, so I picked a green sofa and collapsed into it. Mrs. Jacobson brought out a tray of cookies.

    “I just made them,” she said. “Have one!”

    “Thanks,” I said, and bit in, tasting rye. I hate rye! When Mrs. Jacobson went in to get the pan, I stuffed the cookie under the cushion.

    I don’t know for sure why I did it. I think it was mostly that I don’t get along with rye, but it was partly that I had to wear a green gym suit when people could see me, that Mr. Crispin called on me in the middle of class, that I had tons of homework, that a teacher would actually give a test on how much 1/3 of the round trip was, and finally that Mom would make me come to some old lady’s house just for a pan on a day like this. I was tired of the conspiracy against me.

    When Mrs. Jacobson came back with the pan, she asked me if I’d like another cookie. I told her no, thanks, I was on a diet. Then she said she had some skim milk in her fridge, and would I like some? I told her that I wouldn’t really care for any and that I had to get back to do my homework.

    When I got home, I started to feel guilty about what I’d done. It really wasn’t fair to take out my frustrations on some nice old lady’s rye cookie and couch. What if Mrs. Jacobson found the cookie?

    I felt guilty about it all the next day. By the time I got home, I had a stomach ache, and all my internal organs were yelling at me for worrying. However, I can’t just say, “I guess I will quit worrying now.” When I’m worried, I have to do something to make the problem go away. I knew what I needed to do. I had to get that cookie out from under that green sofa before Mrs. Jacobson found it. I started forming all sorts of plans to get the cookie back.

    I could sneak in during the middle of the night and steal the cookie. But if I did that, I might wake her up, and she would get scared thinking I was a burglar coming to steal her skim milk or something. I could get my best friend Julie to ring the doorbell and pretend to take a survey while I ran in the back door and retrieved the cookie. I could tell Mrs. Jacobson that I needed service hours and that I would clean her house for her. At last I decided on an easier plan.

    I rang the doorbell, and Mrs. Jacobson answered it. She opened the door and just stared at me for a minute. Then she suddenly hugged me. I hate to be hugged.

    “Oh it’s you, angel dear!” Oh heavens, I thought. Don’t tell me I’m dead already.

    “I’ve come to visit.”

    “Oh bless your heart! Come in, dear.” I hate being called dear.

    “Sit down,” she said, pointing to the familiar green couch. I decided to really ham it up.

    “Oh my,” I said, trying not to laugh, “I’m so tired. Could I have a glass of water?”

    “Why of course you may,” she smiled, and she turned to do my bidding. As soon as she was in the kitchen where she couldn’t see me, I began my task frantically.

    I took out the plastic bag I had stuffed in my pocket and lifted up the cushion, revealing about four major pieces of a rye cookie.

    I was sweeping the smaller crumbs into my bag when I heard her coming back. I pushed the bag into my pocket and tried to fix the cushion. I turned around quickly to see her looking at me with a nervous smile.

    “I see you’ve noticed how dirty my couch is. I must have the cleaning lady vacuum it.”

    “Oh, I wasn’t looking at the dirt …” Suddenly I realized that that hadn’t sounded too good. “What I mean is, I, uh, was looking at how well it is made. It’s certainly very nice.”

    “Thank you. Here’s your water, dear.” (I wished she wouldn’t call me that.)

    I stayed for about ten minutes, and we talked about her cat and how the dear thing should have kittens any time now and how warm the weather was. I must say I was relieved when I was safe at home with the cookie crumbs in my garbage can.

    It was some weeks later when I decided to visit Mrs. Jacobson again. I’d been thinking about how awful I was to put the cookie under the couch and what a hypocrite I had been to get it back. She was really quite a nice old lady. I decided to go visit her just one more time.

    Once I got there, I didn’t know what to say. What did I have in common with a 70-year-old lady? I didn’t want to spend half an hour talking about cats again.

    I tried to think of a question to ask her. It occurred to me that maybe she wasn’t sure what to say to a 16-year-old girl. I asked her how she’d met her husband. She said she had a job in a department store where her husband used to buy things.

    Then she asked me about school, and I told her about our gym suits and how embarrassing it was to go outside wearing one. She smiled, and we really had a good time. We didn’t talk about the weather but about things we were both interested in. We talked about the mountains and how pretty they are. I told her about how I planned to go to college and major in psychology. When I went home, I was glad that I had gone.

    I rarely had a chance to talk to someone who listened so well and seemed to be interested in me. It seemed my friends liked to talk only about clothes. My mom listened to me, but she was always reminding me to clean my room and sit up straight—and have I brushed my teeth?

    It was two years ago that I first visited Mrs. Jacobson. Since then I have gone many times to visit her. She often tells me stories about when she was young. She dropped out of school after eighth grade to help her mother with her younger brothers and sisters. She had a job once, living on a farm. She helped the lady with cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children all day long, all week, for a dollar a week.

    We had Mrs. Jacobson over for Christmas dinner last year. I now have someone to visit with when I feel depressed, like the other day when I went out with Dave and I spilled spaghetti all over and felt like climbing under the table. I told Mrs. Jacobson about that, and she told me about how once when she was dating her husband, he came to visit her one evening. She thought he was coming a half hour later than he did. He came to the door while she was in her room. Mrs. Jacobson’s sister invited him in to sit down and started to go up the stairs to announce that he was there. Mrs. Jacobson came out of her bedroom door, intending to go downstairs and borrow a necklace. She started singing a song and was halfway down the stairs when she saw the young man grinning up at her. I guess everybody does things like that sometimes.

    I think Mrs. Jacobson is glad when I visit her. She lives all by herself, and I don’t think she has much to do besides watch soap operas. Her eyes are getting bad, and she can’t read very well anymore.

    Yesterday I went to visit Mrs. Jacobson. I walked in and sat down on the green sofa. She asked me to wait just a minute, and she went into the kitchen. She returned with a tray of cookies. I bit in and tasted rye. I smiled and ate the whole thing.

    Illustrated by Phyllis Luch