I take in signs and symbols. And on my drive home after donating blood in Paramus— after resisting the de rigueur Oreo snack packs at the canteen— I passed the old Nabisco plant on Route 208. That is not my normal route, but that’s how Google Maps sent me. Change is in the air. This is #18 in my series of flower-titled stories about sugar and overeating addiction.
Ever since my first time, as a college girl at the Red Cross blood drive in the Douglass Student Center, I’ve donated blood and/or platelets (a key component) when life and time allow. My mother was a blood donor, too.
I’ve given in the Port Authority, at drives in Montclair churches, to vampires on wheels (JK, I mean curbside mobile drives) outside my workplace on Park Avenue South and in the cafeteria at Catholic Charities New York. Lately, I’ve been going monthly to Paramus.
And every.single.time I can, at the “recovery table,” I nab several snack packs of Nabisco Lorna Doones and/or Oreos, along with a small juice bottle.
I tell myself I need and deserve the treats, for my effort to save lives. Or that I will take them home to my family, as I’ve brought Biscoff cookies (“The In-Flight Treat”) from airplanes—a souvenir from a stewardess and the bigger, wider world. I also want my husband and daughters to know, and to be proud of me. I got these cookies when I donated platelets today, I say. (In the 1970s, Mom came back with red stickers on her dresses: BE NICE TO ME. I GAVE BLOOD TODAY.)
But in general, the cookie part spirals out of control, and I eat one, two or more packs.
That’s why seeing the old Nabisco factory over my shoulder was an odd coincidence on the sunny afternoon that was a turning point in my eating-Oreos-and-Lorna-Doones-after-giving-blood journey.
Here we go again, back to Girl Scouts and cookies — but not as a cookie peddler.
The girls in our Dumont troop (#133?) — we were so lucky. Mr. Roche, the husband of our gentle, sweet leader, Mrs. Roche, worked at Nabisco. So whenever we went on a weekend camping trip (to, say, Glen Spey, in Port Jervis, New York or to Camp Trail o’ Nine), Mr. Roche tapped a virtual gold mine.
I mean real Nabisco Honey Maid Graham Crackers, in the true blue boxes, for melty s’mores…not the plain old ShopRite store brand my Mom bought. I noted the red NABISCO triangle/flag on the corner of the box.
We gathered around the crackling campfire, which we had learned to build (tinder, kindling, fuel) from our masterful blue Junior Girl Scout handbooks. We were comfy on our sit-upons — also handcrafted — even on damp ground. I can smell the charred marshmallows, hear the songs, the chatter. My best friend, Maureen, shivered in the night air despite layers of clothing.
But high beams ahead: An ample stock of Nabisco Pecan Sandies and Oreos. My eyes widened. Score! Treasure!
Beyond the cookies, especially now, I see the magic and the gift of camping, being away from home, bonding with peers, having an adventure. Stars. Night sounds. Flickering flames. Tents. Sleeping bags. Long underwear. Talking after lights out. Mess kits. Building resourcefulness.
Dan and I have taken family camping trips, and hope to soon again.
Friday, I donated platelets again. But this time, I made a firm plan beforehand to avoid the cookies — and I shared it with someone, not just my wobbly self. I told the angel who has taken me under her wing in our recovery program that I would not have the cookies or chips. (I didn’t wait until after to say I had donated, and, oops, eaten three six-packs/18 Oreos.) I told her I would have juice if I felt woozy.
When we leave the donor chairs, we go to the “recovery tables” to replenish before heading out.
“Time for some Oreos,” said a man sprung from a chair near me. He loped by in his blue jeans.
But Friday, nope, nada for me.
“Apple or cranberry?” the nice woman in scrubs asked. (The staffers do double duty, taking blood and serving snacks.)
“Cranberry, but just juice please,” I said, before she could get to “Pretzels or chips?” and then “Oreos or Lorna Doones?” It’s like flying first class, except the cookies aren’t warm .
“Yes, thank you,” I said with a smile, so she would know yes, I was sure, not wavering.
Nibble a Nab from Nabisco. My mother used to quote the old ad slogan. (But I found a different reference from a #88yo online: Nibble a Nab for a nickel.)
Nabs. Clever name for those small packs sold in vending machines and convenience stores.
Other cherished family cookie lore included my Aunt Mary’s stint as a top secretary at Nabisco (wow!) in New York City before she married Uncle Jackie, my mother’s middle brother, and they moved to Mineola on Long Island and had my five cousins. High status, Aunt Mary.
I’ve already written —in Addiction Story #13, Milk Thistle: Out with the Oreos —about the cookie jar I loved at Seventeen Magazine.
And: Let’s not forget the time my friend Eileen went with her family to visit a Sunshine plant in New Jersey. She told of the wafting, warm Cheddar aroma and the taste of Cheez-Its straight from the oven. She said the freshly baked squares were delicious.
But that, my friends, is all said and done. I am a grown woman now and I have a ways to go to get to a healthy recommended weight range for a person my height. I don’t want to die young.
I will need to take off many, many pounds of Land O’Lakes Butter and 5-pound sacks of Domino Sugar that I folded into cakes, pies, brownies and cookies for decades. To please myself and others with sweets.
A Devil’s Food Cake from the 2007 Martha Stewart Halloween issue called for three sticks of butter beaten into the batter for twin tender layers. The frosting? Two sticks of butter, a pound of chocolate and more.
Excess. Not necessary anymore. I can fill my soul in other ways.
Now for the spunky marigold. I plan to plant some again this year (maybe even grow from seeds) to repel deer — they don’t like the strong fragrance. Neither do I, but I do like the flower’s bright, ruffly hat and old-time appeal.
A neighbor joked that filling my long planter with petunias, which Dan and I have long loved, is like opening a dessert buffet for the deer.
Petunias might have to be a memory for me, too — unless a deer-resistant kind comes along. Yet there are so many, many, many other beautiful flowers to pick.
An Alice-resistant cookie? Nabisco, Stanley’s Bake Shop in Bergenfield, Tollhouse by Mom, dainty piped cream cheese snowflake by Sis, Cape Cod Yummy Bars, Christmas Eve Italian by Mrs. Tedesco and German by Mrs. Friedrichs, Social Teas at Granny’s, Pepperidge Farm, store brand, Girl Scout, Mr. Roche, Maine mother-in-law, Ladurée, Angel’s grandmother’s pumpkin chocolate-chip, Seventeen, Zaro’s, Little Daisy, bookstore ginger, Dean & DeLuca, Eleni’s, diner, Tate’s Bake Shop, Walkers Shortbread, Vesta, black and white, biscotti, famous Neiman Marcus, Rose Levy Beranbaum, blood donor center, doesn’t matter — there is no such thing. And while my homemade Christmas tree butter cookies — with sprinkles, silver dragées, melted dark Valrhona swags — were pretty and loved, now I know they can ravage my life and my peace. I simply cannot eat cookies in moderation. And I can show my love in other ways.
As a calm, effective adult, I’m after lasting beauty, not quick fixes, not petunias that look lovely only until Bambi finds them and eats the whole row.
No matter how hard life gets, how ugly sometimes, I am pledging here not to turn my back on people but to take my leave from sweets. This weekend was rough/nightmarish with teen Skipper, I won’t lie. But all the cookies in the world will not change that tonight, or going forward. They will only bury my good intentions and prevent me from seeing, remembering and honoring her true heart. I know it’s in there.
I published my first story about sugar addiction, “#1, Buttercup: I Know an Addict When I See One,” on January 31, 2021. My next will be “#19, Virginia Bluebell .” I’m giving the stories flower names, from the tiniest bright yellow bloom I saw as a girl on a summer night in Bedford Park to big, wide-open garden varieties, which I hope will signify my journey to self-knowledge on this sweet and sour road.
Alice Garbarini Hurley has been writing since sixth grade and lives in Montclair, New Jersey with her family. She worked on staff at Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Sesame Street Parents magazines, and freelanced as a fact checker at Cigar Aficionado. She has blogged daily at her website, Truth and Beauty, since 2010. Alice is in a recovery program.