Five life lessons from the Cookie Lady (on the occasion of her 91st birthday)

Want to sashay into your 92nd second year with a twinkle in your eye? Then, you have to live like the Cookie Lady. Are you up to the challenge?

First, you’ll need to get your priorities in order — God first, family second and, if you have those two, who cares what else you have to face?

I popped by our neighbor Connie’s house for a visit yesterday, on the eve of her 91st birthday. She welcomed me, as she always does, with a big hug and some Cookie-Lady hospitality.

“Come on in,” she said. “Have some wine. No? Do you want some chocolate? Here, I have some Ghirardellis for you. My friends sent them from San Francisco. No? Some nuts, then. I mean, I know YOU’RE nuts, but maybe you’d like some cashews? Soda? How about some Chinese food. I just had Dong Po for lunch.”

I declined all offers of refreshment and settled in for a serious conversation. Connie promised she’d cooperate, but I’m pretty sure she winked when she agreed.

“What advice do you have -” I began to ask.

The phone rang.

“Hang on just a minute, honey,” Connie said as she picked up the receiver. “Hello? What’s that? No. I can’t talk right now. I’m dying.”

Then she hung up.

“I say that all the time to those telemarketers. What? Are they going to call back and ask about my funeral? No. It gets them off the line in a hurry.”

Then she grinned.

“What advice do I have? Smile and don’t be crabby,” she said.

The second thing you’ll need to develop if you want to live like the Cookie Lady is a sense of humor. Connie comes by hers naturally.

“I’m Irish. I’m Catholic and I’m senile,” she loves to say. “What do you expect?”

Then she told me story about how she’d bought some soup a few weeks ago, and took the trouble to dish it out into individual containers and store them in her basement freezer.

“I went down one day and opened the door and the light didn’t come on. So, I changed the lightbulb. Nothing. I looked in the freezer and all of my soup had melted. I had to call the repairman and the electrician. Oh, we all had a ball that day,” she said.

Perspective is the third thing you’ll need to live like our neighborhood matriarch.

“I’ve been very blessed,” she said. “I’ve been blessed with lots of good times. I’ve been blessed with sadness too, let me tell you. But, you need the sadness because then, when things go well, you have a reason to be so much happier.”

Connie achieves her unique state of frenetic zen courtesy of a hobby I’ve written about before. So, the fourth thing you’re going need if you want to live like the Cookie Lady is a pair of knitting needles and you’ll need to know how to use them.

To date, Connie has whipped up 1,058 Christmas Stockings, all personalized (regardless of how she feels about your baby’s first name).

“I don’t know what people are thinking these days,” she once said as she measured out a particularly challenging new baby name on the top of a stocking. “What happened to calling your kid John?”

No matter what their names, the neighborhood kids all love Connie. I stood outside talking to her one day last week and a sweet little three-year old cherub ran up.

“Hi Connie,” she said.

“Hi Hazel,” Connie answered. “Would you like some chocolate?”

The little girl nodded, ran past Connie and up her front steps, opened her front door and went in. She returned a few minutes later with both fists full of chocolate.

“She’s a smart little one,” Connie told me.

The fifth and most important thing you’ll need to develop if you want to live like Connie is a generous heart. She keeps trays of frozen peanut buster parfaits on hand for impromptu parties, which may include passing bands of school children, or construction workers toiling away outside her house. She is a take-all-comers kind of hostess who has Pizza King on speed dial so she can order a round for drop-in guests.

“I like to meet new people,” she said. “The old ones drive me crazy.”

Happy birthday Connie and thanks for all that joy.

Here’s a little snippet of my conversation with Connie. She doesn’t love to be recorded and she’s such a fast wit that it’s hard to capture her rapid-fire conversation, but here’s 26 seconds of a typical chat we had yesterday after she had received two different deliveries from the local florist…

How’d you like to look like this on the eve of your 91st birthday?
She’s a treasure and we’re lucky to have her in the neighborhood.
This is exactly the kind of sassy pose I’m talking about. Connie has lived in her house on the corner for 70 years. She decorates it seasonally and with great joy.









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