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Comfort Cookies

 Mallomars are back on grocery shelves, just in time for cooler weather and a cup of afternoon tea. The little marshmallow and graham-cracker cookies coated with dark chocolate are released every September by Nabisco. From their beginnings in New Jersey way back in 1913, they were only sold from September through March, supposedly because of the warm weather risks of melting chocolate.  Today, of course, refrigerated trucks can easily alleviate that problem, but the fall and winter “Mallomar season” is now such a time-honored tradition that it has also become a valuable marketing ploy.

     Here in South Texas where hot days (and hurricanes, evidently) pay no attention to the calendar, Mallomars usually don’t appear in local markets much before early November, and even then, warm temperatures somewhere in transit can deliver us cookies with a “chocolate bloom.” (They are fine to eat, but they just don’t have their dark and shiny appeal.) No matter where we live, those of us who came to love these comforting old-time cookies while living in the greater New York area, where 70 percent of all Mallomars are still sold today, keep a keen eye out for the appearance of those little yellow boxes, bloom or no bloom. 

     The Mallomar season is very short here in Texas. Even the largest grocers get only a limited supply of boxes and when they’re gone, they’re gone, usually in a matter of three or four weeks. This year, especially, capturing Mallomars rivals the quest for hand sanitizer and toilet paper!  People are stockpiling like never before.  I bought four boxes on my first discovery a couple weeks ago, and just went back and bought four more. I doubt there will be any left when I make a third trip.

     A box of Mallomars contains 18 cookies (at 55 calories each); serving size is two cookies, but who are we kidding?? When you wait for these treats all year long, two can be gone in a New York minute! I have actually seen eager shoppers open a box right there in the supermarket and start munching (before mandatory masks, of course). And these treats are expensive. They run $4 or more a box, which during the pandemic when no one is spending any money on anything else but groceries, seems like a negligible indulgence. But this year, in 2020, friends up East tell me that big supermarket chains such as Stop n’ Shop are offering coupons and specials on Mallomars for a mere  99 cents a box, or two boxes for $4 — thereby offering a sort of national security blanket to a country in dire need of comfort and reassurance.

     To borrow the words Queen Elizabeth once used to describe an awful year in her life (1992),  2020 has truly been an “annus horribilis” for Americans. That may be the one, and only, thing all of us can agree on, and it’s not over yet. While there may be some lights at the end of the tunnel to guide us through our most immediate problems — the coronavirus, the economy, civil unrest, a functioning government — we still have to get through the tunnel. The lights can motivate us, but dare not mislead us; there is a difference between optimism and delusion. 

     Every four years, a presidential election gives Americans the opportunity for a fresh start: if the incumbent is reelected, a second term usually comes with a reevaluation of policies and procedures and a wish list of expanded goals for an enhanced legacy; if a brand new president is elected, then there is usually an implicit promise of positive change and an offer of a “honeymoon” period of cooperation and compromise. Even when an election has been hard-fought and the electorate divided in their choices, pundits, politicos, and the general public all point to the power of the poll as proof that America works and take pride in the fact that our democracy is secure, even if our own preferred candidate didn’t win.  

    But not this year.

    Forgive me if I wasn’t “dancing in the streets” last week. I am under no illusion that once Biden is installed as president, if he ultimately is, that the whole country is going to break out in a unified chorus of “Kumbaya” and that everything is going to “return to normal.” Not so. Our divisions are so deep, our distrust so entrenched, and our fear and apprehensions about going forward are so visceral that healing, in any sense of the word, will take a very, very long time. Even with a voter turnout of 160 million people, we are so polarized through these last four years, and so crippled by that division, that there is no reason to dance, much less pat ourselves on the back for preserving democracy. We have been perilously close to losing it; we still are. As a people, we are tired of the chaos, the confusion, the conspiracy theories, the inflammatory rhetoric, and the hatred. We have all lost in this election: lost the trust, the mutual respect, the belief in our institutions, and the faith in our democracy going forward. I am, along with Donald Trump, in the early stages of grief, albeit for different reasons.

     So some of us cling, metaphorically, to our past delights, to happy little yellow boxes  of Mallomars presenting themselves at just the right time in just the right month at just the right season. Here late in 2020, we need all the comfort we can get.

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