My job in the production of Christmas jam-dot shortbread cookies was to dip them hot-from-the-oven with their thumb-print craters filled with jam the temperature of molten lava, into a deep bowl of icing sugar. It felt like silk between my fingers, slippery and soothing. After dipping three cookies, my fingers were coated in 1/8 inch of compacted icing sugar. I licked it off while waiting for the next batch to cool enough to dip them in their first layer of sugar. They had to be completely cool before dipping again, covering the cookies thoroughly. While I waited I ate one. I wasn’t scolded.

By the time I was done, my tongue was growing a sugar canker and my fingers were puckered from sucking the sugar off.  Each cookie looked like a bloodshot eyeball.

My dad called them “kookies” in his sweet Scottish brogue. Try saying “cookie” like you’re Sean Connery after you’ve sipped five martinis. Say it like you’re learning this new word that North Americans use for “biscuits”. It comes out slow, like two separate words – “koo key”. I remember he didn’t like them much after his abused liver began rebelling. I didn’t know he had cirrhosis but I was awfully happy to get more koo keys.

Our house was kooky at Christmas. It was the rye whisky. The best thing about my dad’s preferred poison was the velvet bags holding each bottle. I wanted to keep them as sleeping bags for my huge collection of Barbie dolls, which, at its peak, was nearly forty wasp-waisted, swan necked, buxom beauties – excluding Skipper and Ken, of course.

Wise or worried, or a bit of both, my mother forbade me from keeping what I thought would be elegant sleeping bags for my treasures. Forty Barbies, each regally swaddled in faux-velvet, purple sacks emblazoned with “Seagram’s Crown Royal” might have been too many potent reminders of a problem in our house.

It was a constant terrible temptation because I found the bags all over the house – in the closet where I thought my Christmas presents were hidden; in my dad’s dress shoes; and under the hazelnut tree in the back yard. Our house extruded pretty booze bottles. I loved the faceted ones that looked like fancy Waterford crystal cut with diamond shapes. The bottles reminded me of my mother’s perfume which she arranged on a 12” mirror on her dresser, alluring liquid gleaming, promising more than a scented bosom. When I was 11, I pulled a couple of the Rye bottles from the garbage can, asking if I could clean them and use them as vases. “No” was the answer. 

It occurs to me now why we never had fruit-cake at Christmas time. The brandy would have soaked more than the fruit. No loss, really. Who wants a candied cherry door-stop anyway?  But somehow, the koo key tradition continues.

It’s kooky that I still love jam-dot shortbread cookies and kookier still that my kids love them, too. They don’t see bloodshot eyeballs and whisky bottles refracting light from their hiding places. They see cookies that are made only at Christmas time – koo keys that they make us all happy.

25 thoughts on “Kooky

  1. Cynthia Jobin December 13, 2015 / 8:10 pm

    In my family it was both grandpas who had the problem…one from the wrong side of the tracks was a drunk, and the other, from the elite- with-delusions- of-grandeur, was simply suffering from an illness. So many memories, and details— like the faux velvet sacks—- bring this alive for me. I was told that I always said “kee-koo”, as a child, instead of kooky….that I don’t remember, but I well remember those shortbread cookies with the jam thumbprints..I hope you’re sill making them. This is a lovely piece, beautifully told. I hope it brought you peace and pleasure to write it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 14, 2015 / 12:33 pm

      Of course you said “kee koo”, Cynthia. You were an early creative person! I made 4 dozen of the cookies yesterday and I bet they’ll all be gone by tomorrow.

      As I write these memories down there is a kind of release. I wrote it three different ways before getting to this version. As often happens, as soon as I posted it, I thought of a different approach. One could revise forever, eh?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner December 13, 2015 / 11:37 pm

    Dimple was the bottle of choice in our house, but only until my parents divorced when I was four. Lucky me in the long run. And as Cynthia already said, this is indeed a lovely piece. Be well!


    • Susanne December 14, 2015 / 12:26 pm

      Growing up with an alcoholic parent has lasting effects and I have no doubt you were better off for not having that influence past 4 years old. As the years pass, I’m making peace with Christmas and I had a great time making these cookies yesterday. They now come packaged with 22 years of nice memories from making them with my kids. So all is well.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Lisa @ cheergerm December 14, 2015 / 2:07 am

    You have described beautifully and poignantly how the things that seem beautiful or interesting as children, were often another thing entirely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 14, 2015 / 12:22 pm

      I’m so glad I rescued these cookies which are a Christmas tradition despite their history. In fact, I think these cookies have acquired an additional coating of goodness with every passing year as I come to understand the past. Merry Christmas to you, Lisa.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. exiledprospero December 14, 2015 / 10:00 am

    Isn’t it ironic that coppery poison comes in such prettily festooned vessels of cherub-chiseled crystal? And those velvet-like sacks, a pleasure to the touch as well as to the tired eye! I suppose it’s best to bedeck our vices with attractive raiment. Can we be blamed for falling prey to such fancy costumery? The packaging doesn’t cut it as an excuse to indulge, but it does try to lend a certain regality to this most perennial of habits. As for myself, I’ll stick with ‘kookies.’

    Happy holidays, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 14, 2015 / 12:19 pm

      So true, Prospero. Temptation is always beautifully packaged and disguised as something desirable. And if you’re going to give in, for goodness sake, make it worthwhile! I’d send you a care package of the cookies but my children have already eaten them!

      Liked by 1 person

      • exiledprospero December 14, 2015 / 12:54 pm

        You can send a fifth of Smirnoff then. Just kidding!


      • Susanne December 14, 2015 / 1:52 pm

        I suspect Grey Goose would be more appropriate!

        Liked by 1 person

      • exiledprospero December 14, 2015 / 5:37 pm

        Grey Goose La Vanille

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Bruce Goodman December 14, 2015 / 12:49 pm

    This piece takes the biscuit, Sue… er… takes the cake… er takes the kooky. A wonderful capture. I’m down to make Christmas biscuits today! (the second batch) but they’re never jam-filled tarts but always shortbread topped with red and green glacé cherries! Best eaten between the oven and the cookie jar! Happy Holidays… Oh bugger the PC!! – Merry Christmas!!!


    • Susanne December 28, 2015 / 9:47 am

      Merry Christams and damn WordPress. Don’t know why yours and Hilary’s comment JUST showed up today!! Grrr. Glace cherries should be washed down with sherry or even tequila. I’m not fond of them at all. One of my girls absolutely hates jam – it makes her gag – so she scoops out the glob before eating! Mmmm. Hot buttery shortbread is THE best, I agree.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. hilarycustancegreen December 14, 2015 / 5:35 pm

    Thank you for telling us this story. I’m glad it had a happy ending, though I am well aware that the effects of living with an alcohol addict are life long. We are having a strange Christmas with for various practical reasons, no traditional cooking at all. At the moment I’m not sure if this is a relief or not.


    • Susanne December 28, 2015 / 9:45 am

      I’m so sorry about not replying, Hilary. The comment just showed up! Sometimes changing the routine is a good thing because it makes us reflect about what we do and why we do it. Tradition is all well and good but it should make you happy and not insist you do it just because you always have. I hope your practical Christmas was good or at least good enough.


  7. Ellen Morris Prewitt December 14, 2015 / 9:42 pm

    I love whatever is made with thumbprints, including the cookies, which I may never hear again without translating it into your dad’s brogue. Out of such difficulty, you’ve extracted the sweetness and given that to us, a true Christmas story.


    • Susanne December 15, 2015 / 8:17 am

      One of the things I adore about blogging stories is how the perspective of readers can help alter the way I perceive the past- and the stories of the past. I hadn’t thought of this as a “Christmas story” but of course it is since I make these cookies only at this time of year. Thanks for that, Ellen.


  8. wolfberryknits December 15, 2015 / 1:49 am

    I really, really love your writing Susanne. My mum tells similar harrowing stories of her childhood, part of the reason we grew up without alcohol in the house. I loved imagining Sean Connery saying cookie 🙂 Here we always said ‘biscuits’, but cookie is one Americanism I have since adopted happily, it just sounds so much cuter. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 15, 2015 / 8:13 am

      I love imagining a young Sean Connery doing just about anything! Thanks very much for your comment, Ace Knitter!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Cathy Murphy December 16, 2015 / 10:09 am

    You did better than rescue the “kookies”, you have made them into a wonderful tradition for your family – no easy feat!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susanne December 28, 2015 / 10:58 am

      I am now on a sugar fast, Cathy, having eaten too many cookies, chocolate, cheese. Why do so many tasty things start with “c”? Like candy? Hope you enjoy your time off. Yay snow!


  10. Luanne December 17, 2015 / 7:10 pm

    You had 40 Barbies? Are you kidding me?!!! No wonder I am the one writing about dolls and not you! I had one FAKE Barbie. One. Fake.
    On a serious note, I’m sorry about the bags the came bearing booze. Ugh.
    About the cookies: you weren’t scolded and you weren’t scalded. I love that play on words there. hahaha


    • Susanne December 18, 2015 / 12:21 pm

      I was spoiled in the Barbie game, that’s for sure. Just about any Barbie I wanted, I got – from many sources. If I had any money given to me for a birthday present, it went to the purchase of another doll. I was enabled in part by my mother who also liked Barbies and even bought a few of her own! Thinking about it now, it does strike me as weird that I had so many! Hmm. I need to think about that!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Luanne December 18, 2015 / 3:43 pm

        You would have been called a Barbie hog by my family haha! My gosh, even the girls I thought had all the great new toys were lucky to have 3 Barbies! What do you mean think about it? WRITE about it! 🙂


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