Pinwheels and Promises


Pinwheels make me happy. For as long as I can remember there have been pinwheels in my life. You might be questioning my sanity about now, but stay with me. This one means a lot to me.  It’s all about the cookie.

My dad passed away two days after my third birthday. My mom, a teacher, had to work. So I was sent to my grandparents. At first it was an adventure. I played for hours in the basement. I danced with the dressmaker’s dummy, I pretended to read the thick, well thumbed novels on the shelf, I colored, I played house in the full kitchen (sans appliances) that was down there. In the den, the upside down bamboo bar stool was a rocket taking me to outer space, or a boat sailing in a storm. My grandfathers leather recliner a safe place to rest.

And then there was my grandmother. She baked. Prolifically. Breads, cookies, cakes, hard as rock Mandelbrot with glaceed fruit, soft oatmeal raisin cookies, and just for me – the pinwheel cookie. We rolled the dough out together in the morning, then they went into the fridge to firm up. After lunch we rolled again layering one over the other, and rolling it into a log. Back into the fridge and then just when I couldn’t wait any longer, we took out those logs. We had an assembly line. She sliced the logs into perfect circles, and I placed the cookie on the baking tray. Into the oven and then I had to disappear and keep busy. After dinner, there was the magnificent and still slightly warm cookie. The leftovers were for snacks.

These pinwheel cookies saved me. They were always there for me. When I was lonely, they were on a small plate with a cool glass of milk nearby. When I came back from a walk with my grandfather he sneaked one to me from the container, carefully hidden atop the refrigerator. When I got older and went to school, the early afternoon bus dropped me off at my grandparents house, the red garage door so cheerful after a long day in the grey classroom. As soon as the door opened, my grandmother said ” there’s a small snack for you inside,” and there was always a pinwheel with some fruit and milk or tea.

I got older. As I grew to each milestone, there were always pinwheel cookies. For every birthday a tray of pinwheels. When I was upset, pinwheels. And they followed me. Rolled chocolate and vanilla sugar cookie, indelible in my memories, my salvation in difficult situations. (Also probably why I will never truly be thin) I was ten when my mother decided sleep away camp was a great idea. I was homesick and lonely. And then I got a box. Wrapped in an inside out brown paper bag from Waldbaum’s was a blue metal tin of Dansk butter cookies. Or so I thought. I pried it open, so happy to have been the recipient of a package over a letter, and found a note in my grandmother’s small script. ” Remember that I always love you. Don’t eat these all at once. See you on Visiting Day.” I moved the waxed paper and found – that’s right – my pinwheels! Suddenly I wasn’t so lonely and bereft. The summer passed pretty quickly, with an extra box of cookies on visiting day.

My grandmother accompanied me to an interview at the School of Visual Arts. When we came out of the interview, we stopped for a coffee nearby. My resourceful grandmother took a small packet from her purse and pulled out 4 pinwheels. “I just thought you might need these,” she said and we shared the cookies in a comfortable silence.

The years passed and I moved into my college dorm. It was horrible. Frat boys had lived there the past semester and there was a huge hole in the living room wall. There was a dead snake in that hole. The couch was all shredded, carpet stained and there was no toilet seat or faucets in the bathroom. My resourceful roommate took us to Housing. We received two nights in a different dorm and returned to a freshly painted apartment with all new furniture. As soon as we started settling in, there was a knock at the door. The postman doesn’t always ring. There was a box. As I opened the wrapping I saw the note. “To share with your new roommate – an icebreaker. Don’t forget the milk and that I love you.” A blue Dansk tin filled with pinwheels awaited consumption.

And so it went. Wherever I traveled, those pinwheel cookies followed. I moved to England for a spell, and there were pinwheels. I went to graduate school, and there were care packages of pinwheels. When I graduated with my Master’s degree, my grandfather brought me a plastic pinwheel, since he couldn’t give me edibles in the auditorium. However, there were cookies in their hotel room waiting to celebrate.

Time marched on and I got married. We moved from New York to Florida. We arrived on a blustery and rainy day, having driven nearly two days straight in my car. It seemed we were arriving to our new life in the midst of a tropical storm. Exhausted, my husband and I fell asleep, missing the storm and all its drama. I awoke to a beautiful day, palm trees outside and the mail. A familiar brown paper package was by the front door. I remember squealing in delight, and sharing those pinwheels with my husband. We hadn’t been to the grocery store yet.

My grandmother kept me in pinwheel cookies until she could no longer bake or cook. It saddened me, not because I would miss the cookie, but because it marked a passage of time. My grandfather passed away and my grandmother moved back from Florida to New York so my family could help take care of her. She was a survivor. She lived through a brain tumor the size of grapefruit wrapped around her brain stem. They told us she would be a vegetable. I told her I needed pinwheels. And so she recovered. She was a miracle. For her 90th birthday I flew to New York. We celebrated her life. As the eldest of seven grandchildren I got to speak first. I watched my strong, lovely grandmother weep as I spoke to everyone about pinwheels.

The pinwheel cookie was more than a cookie. It represented the blending of two very distinct tastes. I was certainly very different than my grandmother. It’s crisp firm texture represented the strength and support I found with my grandparents almost every day of my life. The pinwheel represented the circle of life – it’s not always perfectly round and sometimes the two dough’s smooshed together, but all in all it still tastes good. And you can never bite off more than you can chew. You’d hurt yourself. The pinwheel cookie represents love. Those pinwheels were a promise to me, that no matter how tough life got, how hard it seemed or how great everything could be, that I would never be alone. My grandmother was one tough cookie.

My grandmother passed away peacefully just over a year ago. I know she is watching over me, and that all the angels are enjoying those pinwheels. I am grateful to her for showing me the value of a promise, of strength and of love.

The following recipe is not exact, but pretty close.
May you always have pinwheels and promises in your life.