It was about 15 years ago, when she was in her early 70s, that Alleda Elam started baking cookies, lots of them, a hundred at a time, and always chocolate chip.
She had grandchildren who lived nearby, she said, so it was a good idea to have them on hand.
Somehow, though, word about those cookies got out among the kids who lived in the Three Fountains Co-op, an apartment community on Hessen Cassell Road, where Elam has lived for years.
Before I knew it, other kids were saying, She gives out cookies,’ Elam said. Word just got around.
As quickly as that, a tradition was born. Elam, who is 87 and widowed since she was 34, spent 42 years selling shoes at Wolf & Dessauer, L.S. Ayres, Toenges and J.C. Penney. In her neighborhood, though, she became known as the cookie grandma.
Elam always knew when the school buses had arrived at the apartments. Kids started knocking on her door.
She didn’t have any rules. There weren’t age limits. Little kids would show up at her door, and some kids as old as 16 or so. Everybody got a cookie.
It’s not as though Elam was feeding the Chinese army, though. Typically, she has handed out about a dozen cookies a day during the summer, and in winter she would hand out as few as a dozen a week.
Sometimes, she said, she would run out of cookies. I’ve given out graham crackers, but that’s an insult.
Eventually Elam stopped baking her own cookies. She started buying packages of cookies, spending $30 to $40 a month on them, and though nothing beats a homemade cookie, it’s hard to beat a free one, even out of a box.
Over the years, the kids she’s handed out cookies to have grown up, and some of them have come back to visit – sometimes with girlfriends in tow so they can meet the cookie grandma.
But times change.
She likes kids, Elam says. She was a Girl Scout leader when her daughter was young. She’s taught Sunday school.
But she’s had her troubles as of late.
She had a stroke awhile back. She’s had one knee replaced.
Now, she uses a walker and a cane to get around.
Getting out of her chair is harder for her, and walking to the door is more difficult when youngsters come knocking.
So she’s shutting down her free cookie store. She just can’t handle it any more.
A maintenance worker made a little sign for her to stick on her door. It just says Cookie Store Closed.
So when she ran out of cookies at the end of last week, the sign went up, and the tradition ended.
Almost all traditions end at some point. But there will doubtless be a lot of people out there who remember the old lady who used to give everyone cookies when they were kids.
Memories don’t go out of business.