Saturday Morning Short Story: Black Forest Cookies

May 19, 2012
We used to live in the Black Forest of Colorado, and the names and details were NOT changed. Until today, I had pronouced the name of the elementary school Wol-ford. Now, in light of the fact that it’s in the ‘Black Forest’ I think it should probably be pronouced, “Wolf-herd”. I don’t mean to frighten you little Academy School District kidlings, I’m just sayin’. . .

Black Forest Cookies

Hans believed in magic. The evidence was too overwhelming for his sensible lobe to overcome. In fact, his powers of reasoning brought him to the conclusion that the world was filled with hundreds of varieties of magic. Pollywogs turned into frogs, caterpillars turned into moths and butterflies, and seeds as small as a fly turned into apple trees.

Nobody in Hans’ family ever thought to correct his ridiculous belief in magic, since his parents and grandparents on back through the generations had come to the same conclusion. They rather encouraged it. A few frowning teachers said to each other that the Andersons had carried it a bit far when they discovered that the boy’s middle name was ‘Christian’, but what business was it of theirs? The fact that the Andersons lived in the “Black Forest” just outside of Colorado Springs, Colorado had nothing to do with magic. Hans Christian’s Anderson of fairytale fame didn’t live in the German Black Forest. That was the Brothers Grimm.

But Mr. and Mrs. Anderson plied their son and his twin sister, Gretel  with fairytales from the time they were no bigger than their thumbs. They held nothing back. Hans had nightmares for a week when they read him the grim “Fitcher’s Bird” at bedtime.  Greta was vastly afraid to wear red to her grandmother’s house after a thorough perusal of ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’  But they mostly got beyond the side effects of the more ghastly tales as they graduated from their woodland school of “Wolford Elementary “ and moved  on to the aptly-named terrors of ‘ Challenger’ Middle School.

The Anderson children each joined a scout troop and so it happened that the Boy Scouts began their popcorn sale at the same time as the Girl Scouts began selling chocolate covered mint cookies. (Do they have any other types? Perhaps they do.) It made sense for the twelve-year-olds to go out together and though the houses in the Black Forest are very far from each other, they set out on foot.

 They had walked only a few hundred feet when they saw their next-door neighbor cutting wood.  They offered their wares, and though the man was diabetic, he understood his neighborly obligation and bought a package of popcorn and a package of mint cookies.

The next neighbor was also outside, repairing a bat house in advance of the miller moth season. He also succumbed to the social pressure and bought one of each.

But the social pressure to buy from door-to-door-selling neighbor kids diminishes as distance from their residence increases. With the houses each on at least five acres, they found social pressure did not avail by the third house from their’s. “NO! I don’t want any of your overpriced stuff! I’ll go to Walmart if I want a treat,” the man snapped.

 But Hans had great belief in his salesmanship after two consecutive successes. ” Wouldn’t you like to help out the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts? We’d sure appreciate it.”

“I don’t think so,” the bearish man growled. “What have the Scouts ever done for me?”  Now this was an unanswerable question.  The children had sledded past when they saw him shoveling snow. They were glad to be on fast-moving bicycles when they saw him hauling slash.  The man continued. “How about you kids help me weed my garden for an hour and then I’ll buy some cookies and popcorn?”

Neither Hans nor Gretel was a mathematician, but they did know their share of the profit from the cookies and popcorn and they each happened to know the current minimum wage. They turned away, murmuring of the man’s ‘rudeness’, which is what being honest out loud is often called.

The next three driveways were marked with ‘no soliciting’ signs, and they were beginning to weary of their long walk in the woods when they came upon a driveway with a mailbox designed to look like birdhouse. The house was hidden in the trees, but they reasoned together that such a friendly little mailbox hinted a generous, cookie-and-popcorn-liking resident.

An ancient log cabin huddled in advanced ruin just behind the first curve. “It’s probably one of the original cabins from the days when they lumbered for the Santa Fe railroad,” Hans said. Gretel could see the black widow spider webs even from that distance and didn’t much care what its condition implied.

The A-frame house at the end of the quarter-mile-long drive was painted white with red trim. Some unemployed carpenter had decorated it with elaborate filigree and elaborate woodcuttings builders call ‘gingerbread.’ Alpine strawberries laden with tiny fruit adorned both sides of the walk. Gretel pointed to one, almost as big as the end of her thumb, that lay like a jewel against the green leaves. Hans picked it and popped it furtively into his mouth.

Hans nodded toward an ancient Cadillac parked behind the house. “I bet you an old woman lives here,” the boy said.  He rang the silver bell that hung beside the door.

 An ancient female, bent almost double and rheumy eyed, pushed open the screen door and squinted at them.

Gretel pitched her cookies. The old woman cupped her ear. “I can’t hear you, dear, in all this wind. Come in please.” They knew better than to go inside a stranger’s house. But they were too well-mannered to refuse.

The house smelled of mothballs, mildew and wood smoke. A fire burned low in a corner wood stove.  “Cookies did you say?  Yes I have some for you. It’s been a long time since children came asking for cookies. But I always keep some, just in case.”

“No, Ma’am,” Gretel said. “I’m a Girl Scout and my brother is a Boy Scout and we’re selling cookies and popcorn. Or rather we’ll taking orders to be delivered later.”

The woman bobbed her head and smiled as Gretel spoke. She hadn’t bothered to put in her dentures that day.  ‘I think I have peanut butter cookies. Do you like peanut butter?”

Hans raised his voice very much louder than was polite. “We’re not here to eat your cookies! We’re SELLING COOKIES and POPCORN!”

“If you want popcorn, you’re going to have to build up that fire good and hot. Boy, will you put in another good log into the stove? It’s  chilly in here anyway.”

Hans had noticed the woodpile as they came in. He sidled toward it, keeping watch on the old woman at the screen door. Sparks burst from the dying log when he added the fresh one.

 “Thank you, boy.  Now you’ll have to keep watch until it’s hot enough.   I’ll see about your sister’s cookies. You should try a few yourself. You could use a little fattening.”

She shuffled to her dank little kitchen at the back of her gingerbread cabin.

When she returned with four-year-old chocolate covered mint cookies on an ancient china plate, the door stood slightly ajar but the room was empty. She shuffled all around the room, feeling with her arthritis-knotted hands in case her eyes deceived her. When she certain that there was no other human life in her parlor, she sat beside the stove and folded her hands in her lap.

“Well, I suppose they forgot something and will come right back. I don’t think this fire is quite hot enough for that boy yet, anyway. What a treat to have unexpected visitors! ” And she waited and rocked in her creaking old chair until the daylight had fled.      

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