By Trent Rentsch
The past week, I’ve been obsessed with finding cookies like my Grandmother used to make, and so far, I’ve come up empty handed. They were fairly basic: chocolate cookies with chocolate frosting (well, really not “frosting,” she simply coated them with melted chocolate chips). That, however, does not mean that they weren’t special. I’ve not found their equal here in the nation’s capitol, and believe me when I say, I’ve been hunting.
I haven’t had them since I was a teenager; visiting the farm my Father grew up on back in South Dakota. My Grandmother knew they were my favorite, and always had a supply waiting when she knew I was coming. I suppose that, even up until last week, in the back of my mind I was sure that I’d have one more of these wonderful treats… even though it’s been years since my Grandmother did any baking, living for some time now in a nursing home. Now, I never will. My Grandmother passed away last week. And as sad as I am, and with all the fond memories I have of her, the one thing I can’t get out of my mind is those cookies. It seems crazy, but there it is.
My Grandmother probably would’ve laughed at the suggestion that her cookies meant so much to me; perhaps I would’ve gotten her trademark, “OH My!!” Neither of my Grandparents were much for talking. They really didn’t have the time. My Grandfather urged what crops he could out of the home place, while my Grandmother raised 3 boys, 1 girl, and countless chickens, sheep, dogs and cats. It was hard work, sun up to sun down, and while they seemed happy and content with their life, there just wasn’t much time to be wasted on words. Maybe that’s why those cookies are so important to me. My Grandmother may not have told me that she cared about me, but she certainly showed it by always having my favorites waiting for me when I visited.
How different my life has been from theirs. Not only is my life filled with an abundance of free time they could never have imagined, but my professional life has been one of words, or as my Grandfather probably would’ve called it, “a lot of hot air.” While I lost my Grandfather before I came to the industry, I imagine my Grandmother must have been amazed that I could actually make a living talking (and probably relieved, as talking was all I seemed to be good at as a kid).
As different as our lives have been, there’s no doubt that I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the influence of my Grandparents. Not one of us would be the same without the people who have been a part of our lives… the good, the bad, the ugly. Every experience we’ve had with other people has re-molded us in some way, changing us. Some changes seem large, some small, but all are profound.
I’ve written before about the power of shared experience, of pulling the listener into your Creative by using compelling bits of your own life in your scripts, bits that everyone can relate to. It’s a powerful tool to establish an emotional connection between your message and your audience, but I’ve also found that it can be therapeutic as well. If I’ve made a bonehead move in life, it takes some of the sting out of it if I make it a set up in a commercial… people laugh, they relate, and hopefully I can live and learn. It’s the same with the more sobering aspects of life. I know the health scares I’ve had in life have appeared in work for doctors, clinics and hospitals, and goodness knows the horrifying debacle of having my wisdom tooth pulled made its way into a “pain-free” dentist ad! It’s a process that makes for some compelling, entertaining spots. It’s also a process that helps me put life’s little ups and downs into perspective.
I realize that you might not be open to this. Not everyone is the open book I am. But on the other hand, who knows you’re doing it, other than you? As Creatives, we need to be aware of what life hands us, and be brave enough to use it. It’s OK to be real… people feel it, the same way they feel something that’s contrived doesn’t ring true.
Between the bookends of birth and death are a wealth of experiences we all share… don’t be afraid to share them! It doesn’t cheapen them, it honors and acknowledges them. Will I use my Grandmother’s cookies in my Creative? I just did.