That it was glass was the only thing keeping me from thin.
It wasn’t a brightly hued ceramic statue where the head was also the lid. Also, it wasn’t cutesy, like say in the likeness of Garfield or a chicken. Glass with a chrome lid and a round black handle, it was a plain cookie jar. Ascetic. If it were a font it would be Helvetica.
You can tell I’ve spent time thinking about this object.
The jar occupied time and space in a way nothing else could. Radioing its contents to me like I was Superman with see-thru vision, the cookie jar pulsed with life. Growing up it served its time in two kitchens. First there was the condo on Etiwanda Street, with the giant butcher-block table in the center of the room. After a move seven miles to the east in the San Fernando Valley, it took up position in a corner to the left of the stove.
The first and last thing I saw upon entering or exiting the kitchen was the jar. Was it full? Half-full? Almost empty and empty were equally bad news because they meant I couldn’t take anything without being tracked. Next I took in what types of cookies were inside. Mother rarely baked and when she did it was banana chocolate chip bread. Occasionally she made chocolate chip cookies, referring to the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag. Didn’t everyone’s mom do this?
But most often it was filled from a store-bought package. The P word: processed. A word that only now I consider dirty. The Keebler logo and its associated elves glimmer around in front of my eyes, private dancers enabling my curves.
The Keebler brand I hold so nostalgically dear began in 1853, in Philadelphia, as a one-shop bakery named for its founder, Godfrey Keebler. The elves, created as “spokes characters” by the Leo Burnett advertising agency, hit the shelves as cookies in 1969. I was born in 1971. According to the internet, Keebler, owned by Kellogg, is the number two cookie and cracker brand in the United States.
Those elves taste terrible now, but back then they were my drug of choice, along with their playmates: Fudge Stripes, Sandies, Chips Deluxe, Peanut-Butter Filled, and their most popular, the infamous E.L. Fudge, named after the man who started the bakery, or at least his nickname, Ernie. I gently splayed the elf-shaped cookies apart so I could lick the fudge center, prolonging the dessert like only a dieting martyr could. I can go on, but I won’t.
In the afternoon, when I got home from school, I lightly stepped through the kitchen, my feet leading me straight to the jar. Because the body was glass and the lid was metal, it had the potential to clang, a call to arms that could be heard for miles.
With my right hand on the handle, I would balance one or two fingers outside of the lid, onto the glass portion of the jar, for stability. Lifting the lid up I reached in and swiped three cookies, placing them on a white napkin waiting to the side. Then, like I was playing a game of Operation, I lowered the lid. The goal was to drop it down without touching any of the glass sides. If I did this it would be silent. Mess up and people would know I was home. Know I was eating cookies. Know I was cheating on my diet.
I was the cookie thief.
The diets I attempted ranged from name brands—Jenny Craig, NutriSystems, Weight Watchers—to watching what I ate. I was successful to varying degrees, always for a short amount of time.
I packed my own lunches for school. Once I was in junior high I did this less and less, subsisting on bad cheese pizza and cold apples from a vending machine in the cafeteria. I can barely recall what I put in that brown paper bag. In high school we had cars, which meant we could go to Taco Bell or Carl’s Jr. every day. Of course they were all close enough for us to walk, but we never knew what we wanted to eat until we were behind the wheel.
Cookies still beckon me with an unquestioned allure. Although store bought, they are never packaged. Now they’re artisanal three dollar versions I can find in my favorite coffee shops: the vegan peanut butter cookie sprinkled with shards of salt, a giant flourless chocolate cookie so gooey you’ll cry, and a dense ginger cookie dusted with sugar and spice. I can go on, but I won’t.
There hasn’t been a day, a week, a month, a year, where I haven’t been dieting. Like breathing and sleeping, it is a constant presence in my life. But so is my gym routine, which means those cookies will always be in my life, just not that jar. My brother has it now. He has two kids. Filled with chocolate candies, cinnamon hearts, and homemade sugar cookies, it showcases the after school snacks of a busy family. I visit the jar when I can, cataloging its holdings like only a sugar librarian can. But rarely do I lift that lid.
Larissa Zimberoff is a freelance writer based in NYC. She mostly writes about food and is no longer afraid of cookie jars. You can find more of her work here: Ibikeforfood.blogspot.com and follow her on Twitter/Instagram: @ibikeforfood.