The Monroe Oatmeal Cookie Blues

By: Leon Smith - Contributing columnist

During geography period, our teacher asked us where we had travelled. Someone said “Charlotte,” where you could ride the escalator at Sears and Roebuck ‘til you wore yourself out, then walk to Tanner’s to get some fresh-squeezed orange juice and peanuts.

Someone probably said “Myrtle Beach,” where you could walk on big beaches that had sand instead of cracked up seashells, and where you could buy homemade ice cream at Painters.

We liked “Morrow Mountain,” too—the pool, more than the mountain, which beat Lanes Creek or a farm pond for summertime splashing.

“I been farther than all y’all,” Fully said.

“What you talking about Fully?” we asked.

“I been to Canada,” he said.

“You have?” our sixth-grade teacher broke in.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said. “I been to Canada.”

“When did you go, Fully?” she asked.

“Last Saturday evening,” Fully answered.

“Really?” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” Fully replied. “Came back home the same day. Canada’s down below Kershaw,” he added, “They have a lot of horses there.”

“I see,” Mrs. Sixth-Grade answered, saying “Camden” under her breath.

After that, one kid said he liked to go to “Monroe.”

I could not second that emotion, having been dragged there every couple of weeks for as long as I could remember — all four of us going with Mama to the doctor, piling into the ‘40 Ford, then heading west out of Polkton on two-lane Highway 74. We hadn’t even passed Mr. Bryant’s Chicken Hatchery this side of Peachland before we started asking, “Are we there yet?”

Kids were not seat-belt restrained then, so I may have fought boredom by trying to put my leg through one of the straps on the ugly post, which adults used to pulled themselves out of the back seat. Ollie couldn’t reach the strap on her side.

I don’t remember ever playing “I Spy,” and we didn’t have radio in the car because Daddy said it would run our battery down.

By the time we finally got to the doctor’s office, both my sister and I had to go to the bathroom, so Mama went with Ollie, then Daddy went with me. After that, all I could find to do was to count the upholstery tacks on Mama’s chair until Ollie and I climbed on our parents’ laps to begin a championship squirm. As we commenced contorting, a lady blew out her nose real loud, and said “Well, I never.”

“If you blow like that again, you won’t say that,” I thought.

“Daddy, would you please take your children out of here?” Mama whispered, initiating the following re-constructed events.

Daddy took us out to window shop, but looking at statues in street clothes was even worse than walking the streets of Monroe. We could have strode into Lee’s Shoes and wiggled our toe bones under the fluoroscope if we had been buying shoes, but Daddy didn’t have the money yet and, anyway, we couldn’t get new shoes ‘til right before school started. So we just walked.

“Daddy, I’m bored,” I said.

“Me too,” said Ollie.

“Let’s march, then,” he said, and headed down Main Street.

“We don’t like marching without pot lids,” I said. Daddy had disbanded our “International Pot Lids Band,” after he discovered all the yellow porcelain missing from our cymbals, which happened to be four badly marred tops from his chamber pots.

“I got a bwister,” my sister announced. Daddy looked at her heel but found no blister. After he put her sock back on, he looked up and began to sniff the air.

“You smell that?” he asked.

“What, Daddy?”

“That smell.”

“No.”

“I think I smell a cookie.”

“A cookie?”

“Let’s follow that smell,” he said, leading us to a store with “Bakery” painted on the window.

We followed Daddy into a room filled with the biggest cookies I’d ever seen in my life.

Daddy sniffed again, “Oatmeal raisin cookies.”

“Are they good, Daddy?

“The best cookie you ever put in your mouth.” He pointed to a cardboard sign which read “4 oatmeal raisin cookies: 25 cents.” “Let’s see if we can get us some.”

He reached into his pocket and fished around. Finally he pulled out something.

“Is this enough money?” he asked me.

“That’s just a nickel,” I replied.

When he fished out a dime, I nodded “No,” so he fished out a piece of lint, and, finally, another dime.

“Five, ten, fifteen, twenty, twenty five,” I counted the coins in his hand.

“Enough?” Daddy asked.

“Enough,” I smiled.

“Four oatmeal raisin cookies, please,” Daddy called to the baker, then handed him the nickel and two dimes. The baker put the money in the cash register, then pulled off a piece of tissue, took out four cookies and placed them in a brown paper bag, which he handed to Daddy.

“That’s one for Ollie, one for me, one for you daddy,” I said, as we looked in the sack. “What are you going to do with that other cookie?”

Daddy took the tissue paper out of the sack, laid it on the counter, placed the extra cookie on it, and with his pocket knife, cut it into three equal pie-shaped pieces. Then he put the pieces back in the sack and led us outside.

There, Daddy gave each of us a large cookie, took one for himself, and led us on a walk. As we got going faster, I guarantee he started making up a song like this:

“Cookie Marching is making me glad.

I’m forgetting we ever had

Them lowdown, downtown, walking through Monroe Blues …”

He left the tune hanging, so we picked it up, stepping higher and singing louder than we ever had — even with pot lids. What a time we had, munching down the street.

Today, more than 65 years later, those big, soft, oatmeal raisin cookies remain my favorite, perhaps because they remind me of the Daddy who loved us, and who cared enough about us to take away all our “lowdown, downtown walking through Monroe Blues.”

Leon Smith, a resident of Wingate who grew up in Polkton, believes the truth in stories and that his native Anson County is very near the center of the universe.

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Leon Smith

Contributing columnist