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The one about the cookies l Chuck's World


Last updated 1/2/2019 at Noon

My wife and I drove to Portland last week for a quick trip, which is to say she drove. She’s become one of those people who have to be the driver or else they spend the entire trip slamming their feet on imaginary brakes.

I’ve become one of those people who don’t care who drives, so we’re good.

I spent a fair amount of the trip, then, on my phone, exchanging messages with my cousin back east. I didn’t know that he was my cousin at the time, although that sounds like a much more interesting story than it was.

This young man and I share the same last name, which is how he found me and why he sent me a message. It’s one of the rarest surnames in the world; it’s estimated that there are approximately 170 of us with this odd name, virtually all in the United States.

This means that when he first contacted me, asking if I thought we were related, I told him I was almost positive we were. I’m always almost positive when this happens, as it occasionally does. Nearly 10 percent of all the people with the surname “Sigars” on this planet are in my immediate family. It’s not hard to dig up a common ancestor.

And we did, my cousin and I. Neither of us is particularly interested in genealogy, but we managed to drum up a few names, and I got some help from other family members. It turned out that my third great-grandfather, born 212 years ago in New Jersey, was his fourth great-grandfather, which makes us fourth cousins, once removed.

It’s almost like we’re related.

That is, we’re not really related in any meaningful way. I had 32 third great-grandparents, so I imagine I’ve got a bunch of fourth cousins. This wasn’t about genetics, or even family. It was just about the name.

This is why I’m not particularly interested in genealogy, although I understand the attraction some people have for solving puzzles. The numbers make it meaningless to me, though.

Whatever qualities informed and defined the characters of my ancestors, they’re ineffable, mysteries with a million different sources, nothing that one imagines is carried along in DNA.

I can’t help but be interested, though, especially in that ineffable stuff. That’s the stuff people remember, not the color of your eyes or the thickness of your earlobes. We remember if they smoked a pipe, if they had a dry wit, if they cracked their knuckles and loved animals and made biscuits that no one could resist.

This has been on my mind since I became an ancestor, five years ago. As soon as I held my grandson in my arms, I understood that he would most likely be the last human being who remembered me. My children are my children; my grandson, though, is my descendant.

And he’s going to remember my cookies.

I make these cookies. It’s no big deal. Everybody has something. I started baking them a few years ago on a whim, and they turned out OK. People seem to like them, and every Christmas I make a hundred or so.

My daughter likes these cookies a lot, and a few weeks ago she suggested that I mail her some. She suggests this all the time, but she tossed in a bonus – it turns out that my grandson, who is diabetic, had reached an age when he was certainly able to eat one of his grandpa’s cookies as long as I could at least estimate the number of carbohydrates.

I was alive and overweight in the first part of this century. Of course I know how to estimate carbohydrates.

So he had one, and informed his mother that his grandpa was to make the cookies to be left out on Christmas Eve for Santa. For a grandparent, of course, there is no greater calling.

A few weeks ago, then, during a visit to Texas, this little guy and I made cookies. I was tempted to envision a modern Norman Rockwell tableau, the grandfather carefully creaming butter and sugar, the little boy standing on a footstool, peering into the mixing bowl.

Honestly, though, it didn’t feel like a big moment, just another little one. He mostly watched me measure out ingredients, and he didn’t care for the noise of the stand mixer.

It was a nice moment, don’t get me wrong.

But we had a lot of time to spend together, and we did all sorts of things. Baking cookies wasn’t the highlight. I actually forgot about them.

And then my daughter sent me the photo, and now I know you’re trying to slam your foot on an imaginary brake and it won’t work. Just let it happen. This was always going to end up being sentimental.

It was just a picture of a note, a lined sheet of paper with childish handwriting, obviously assisted by an adult but recognizable as his. “Dear Santa,” it said. “Please enjoy these cookies. I made them with my Grandpa, special for you.”

He doesn’t share my dumb last name. There’s surely some family resemblance, but I mostly see his father’s features. This is the genealogy of the human heart, tracing moments and not branches.

This is what’s important; I understand that now.

As I understand that my 2019 New Year’s resolution includes creaming butter and sugar, and trips to the post office, and why.


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