Pumpkin Cookies in a Pandemic

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Nana Tells All

By Donna Griffin

In the midst of a global pandemic I made pumpkin cookies…

Usually I only make this somewhat seasonal treat for holidays and special occasions, but the words of my granddaughter, Portia, prompted me to turn on the oven.

“Nana, when the Corona is done, I’ll come over and we’ll make pumpkin cookies.” 

But there’s more to this story because pumpkin cookies are made to be shared – ask my family, friends and my journalism students over the past two decades. In times of both celebration and crisis, pumpkin cookies are my go-to way to share the love.

The Backstory: Pumpkin cookie lore started 33 years ago in a small press room in New Palestine Indiana. I was cutting and pasting the weekly New Palestine Press and looking for just the right filler. It was actually a Tuesday afternoon in October 1987, which turned out to be “Black Tuesday” when the stock market plunged to its lowest point since the Great Depression (except for the current economic crisis.). At that time I listened to the radio in the back room at the light table and found a recipe for pumpkin cookies.  Looked simple enough to me and more importantly – it fit to print.

The next week when it was time to strip the page, I kept the waxed PMT copy and took it home to try for my kids, then 5, 3 and 1.

A year or two later, the pumpkin cookie tradition was born under a harvest moon at our Halloween weiner roasts. As both my nuclear and extended family expanded, more pumpkin cookies and cherished memories were made.

 Flash forward to April Fool’s Day 2020… the highlight of that day was delivering them to family from a social distance. It was what I wanted to do on my birthday. And as usual, more Pumpkin Cookie Tales were born…

My daughter, son-in-law and my two grandchildren came by to sing “Happy Birthday” and while I couldn’t hand the cookies to my grandkids, my grandson Noah’s “Hallelujah!” from the backseat continues to resound in my heart.

My grand-nephew Q ate his first one while I watched from the confines of my car in my sister’s driveway then left batches of pumpkin cookies at my dad’s, my other sister and brother’s homes for my nieces and nephews.

I baked a new batch of pumpkin cookies for my youngest granddaughter Willow’s first birthday April 11. I traveled to Bloomington and watched from a safe social distance as she snarfed down her first pumpkin cookie in between tastes of leaves, grass and dirt. Her older sister, Jude likes hers with icing.

Ever since the “Hunker Down Hoosiers” stay-at-home order, businesses and citizens are all clamoring to find essential items toilet paper, bread, milk, eggs, lysol, bleach or simply to be declared “essential”.

But grandparents know the most essential commodity is time spent with grandchildren – it’s not guaranteed and cannot be banked, promised or retrieved.

My mother-in-law used to say you have nothing to worry about if everyone is alive.. but people are dying all around and we know it. This is the first world crisis with millions of voices and harrowing stories from across the globe in our face 24/7. According to the The Austin-American Statesman, the coronavirus has now killed more Americans than the Pearl Harbor assault, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars – combined.

Be careful what you wish for…. I think about that a lot. I wished for more time – to slow down, to finally work toward those long-planned goals, but the irony is that a big chunk of that time was supposed to be spent with my grandchildren and children.

Grandparents know how fast tempest fugits. We blinked and our babies who saw us as their whole world walked out our door and now have their own families and lives – as it should be.


But with our grandkids it’s different, there is no filter between the pride and joy they bring to our lives. 

An “expert” in a recent NY Times article somewhat patronizingly advised parents on how to deal with grandparent separation anxiety, “Explain to them (grandparents) that just as they’ve taken steps in the past to keep their grandchildren safe, we’re now doing this for them, too. It may be difficult for them emotionally in the short term, but it’s an investment in both grandparents and grandchildren having a future together.” 

But here’s the thing – grandparents and grandchildren don’t plan for the future, they live in the moments. Stopping to watch precious faces reflecting everyday joy race back from the mailbox; unrestrained giggles during a spontaneous slam dunk “bedtime” basketball tournament, reading books during lunch at Panera, dance parties, baton twirling lessons, nighttime baseball games and styrofoam sword fights.

I’ve searched for a lot of crazy things at 2 a.m. on the internet, but I never thought I’d ever Google “Can grandparents hug their grandchildren?” and have 11,900,000 results in 0.42 seconds.

Since the quarantine I have apparently morphed from no-limits Nana to off-limits. I’ve discovered I am both elderly and at risk – really? So I’ve plotted and schemed – I bought a mask, and I’ve worn gloves. I’ve even thought about covering myself in a trash bag (yes, I would cut a hole for my head) just to be able to hug my grandchildren. Consider it essential Nana contact.

“Relax – focus on self care,” they say. Pooh – not something a Nana does. I’ve been through greater loss, been through greater grief and how I handled  it was by focusing on others – my children and for the last decade, my grandchildren. My generation has been through the threat of nuclear war, real wars, technological and cultural revolutions, 9/11, recessions, previous pandemics…should I go on?

Suffice it to say, Nana’s got this. So I’m recording my grandkids’ lullaby songs, reading them books via video, creating craft sessions over Zoom, traveling for random drive-by visits, sending too many sweets and too many gifts online via “contactless delivery” and most of all making pumpkin cookies.

My advice for those of you parents under stress – take a breath and hug those kiddos tight one more time…linger a bit longer for your mother and father who are aching for that physical contact. And as for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day gifts #don’tneedadamnthing – just a hug from our grandchildren.

Please know that despite our pitiful looks, our meltdowns, and our tears, we understand how you feel – we’ve been there and we’re still here. Don’t worry, we’re not going anywhere – literally. There’s this puzzle to finish on our next family vacation.


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