I found the box about two years ago, when I was cleaning out my childhood home.

Since then, I have hardly opened it. Really, what is the point of keeping a box stuffed with my mother's outdated recipes that I will either never make or can easily find online?

Then, the invitation popped up on my Facebook page. A friend was having a party. The only requirement was to bring homemade cookies, a copy of the recipe and a story about it to tell.

A story?

While growing up, I was the one girl in the neighborhood whose mother had taught her to bake. I often made cookies for my friends and, sometimes, even their parents. That narrative, however, was pretty dull. I baked cookies, neighborhood kids devoured them, handed me back the Tupperware container and begged for more.

(Kristin Pelisek/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel/MCT)

I did no better coming up with stories behind my mother's recipes, but at least there was a recipe I knew that few people would have heard of. I headed for the little box.

When I pulled it out of a drawer and opened it, I found the recipe sitting right in front. I pulled the card out, then quickly snapped the box shut.

I plopped into a chair at my kitchen table and stared at the index card.

The recipe was neatly typed, its font and smudges revealing its pre-desktop origins. A typo was corrected with Wite-Out. For the post-typewriter generation who have never used Wite-Out or Liquid Paper, picture a nail polish bottle filled with white goop. You brush the stuff -- designed to match the tint of white paper -- over your typo, blow on it to dry, then type the correct letter over it. It's time-consuming and inefficient in today's high-tech world.


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CHOC. CHIP MARANGU, the recipe title read. I laughed out loud. My mother had graceful handwriting, but her spelling was quite atrocious.

Google MARANGU, and you will find that it is the easiest route to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The alternative "meringue" which Google prompts you with, is the correct choice: chocolate chip meringue squares.

I could picture my mother tapping away at the keys late in the morning when my brother and I were at school, and my father, a carpenter, was out building houses. Was she lonely and bored, perfectly content, or frustrated and impatient as she worked on her project? My guess is that she had a rare moment of free time in between cooking, cleaning and shopping, and she was determined to finally get her recipes organized onto neat cards for convenience and, perhaps, posterity.

The typewriter was the same one she sat me in front of when I was about 10 years old. It seemed silly at the time, having to listen to three typing instruction records. A voice commanded me to type, repeating its instructions over and over as I struggled to remember which finger was supposed to strike which key.

If I was to be a bookkeeper, as my mother had been before giving birth to my brother, she figured that I would need to learn to type. At the time, it was the only career path she could envision for me. No one in my family had ever attended college.

Neither of us could imagine that I would actually go on to college and that knowing which letters my fingers struck on the keyboard would become crucial to my career as a writer and social media editor.

As for the recipe, it calls for a decadent heaping of sugar, butter, eggs, flour and chocolate chips. I am not usually a fan of meringue, but there is something about that top layer of meringue, which seals in the moisture of the chocolate chips layered atop Toll House cookie batter.

I do not exaggerate when I say that my mother never faced a baking recipe she did not turn into an irresistible treat. As children, my brother and I came home to cookies, cupcakes or brownies nearly every day.

Still, having a mom like Mrs. Fields was a double-edged sword. I blamed her baked goods for making me chubby. It took all my willpower as a 13-year-old to finally say no to her sweets and go on a diet.

As a woman with a full-time career, I could not be more different from my mother. I hardly have time to eat dinner, much less bake cookies.

But on this evening, with the party date looming, I surveyed the cabinets for the recipe ingredients and preheated the oven. For the next 90 minutes or so, I might as well have been in the kitchen back home hanging out with my mom. I recalled her lessons as I went along: mix the sugar in until it does not crunch, use the "peak" test while beating the egg whites for the meringue and avoid the cardinal sin of baking: overcooking.

Before long, I had a yummy bin of chocolate chip meringue bars -- and a renewed appreciation for that old recipe box.

And, yes, I guess I had my story, too.

Deborah Petersen in the senior editor for social media at the Bay Area News Group. Reach her at dpetersen@mercurynews.com.