Sunday, May 26, 2024

One tough ‘Cookie’: Life for candy store owner has been both sweet and tart

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Merry Jayne Flatbush, owner of Merry Jayne’s on the Granbury Square, has some of the sugar and spice qualities that one might expect in the owner of a whimsical, nostalgia-filled candy store. But don’t let the pink walls fool you. She’s no cream puff.

Flatbush has not only cheated death twice, but she also has the distinction of having once tackled a woman who tried to board President Ronald Reagan’s helicopter without authorization.

She is, to use a cliché, one tough Cookie. That word is capitalized here because Cookie is what Flatbush’s grandchildren call her.

Like so many people who lived elsewhere but chose later in life to make Granbury their home, Flatbush has a story. A lot happened before she found the sweet life as the owner of one of the most popular shops on the square.

Most tourists and Opera House patrons who visit Merry Jayne’s have no idea that the Blue Bell ice cream sold there has special meaning to the store’s owner. It was the brand she ate while enduring 16 rounds of chemotherapy after losing a lung to cancer.

During that time a few years ago, Flatbush, not surprisingly, was depressed. Her father had died of lung cancer and her mother battled anal cancer and cervical cancer. Flatbush’s three sons were grown and the youngest was heading off to college, so there was that empty nest thing.

“I had no purpose anymore,” she said.

Or so she thought. 

DADDY’S GIRL

Flatbush grew up in Arizona. Her dad served in the Coast Guard during World War II. She was the only one of the family’s six children to choose to go into the military. She served from 1983-1990 and was part of Operation Desert Storm.

“I was a master at arms and I carried a gun and actually got put on Ronald Reagan’s security team when he would visit Bethesda hospital,” she said.

Flatbush said that although Reagan’s wife Nancy had a reputation for being “rigid,” she was friendly and expressed appreciation to Flatbush and others who protected her husband.

“Mrs. Reagan never called us by our last name or rank. She always learned our first names,” Flatbush said. “She was very personable.”

During the president’s trips to Bethesda, Flatbush said, “The Secret Service would allow (the First Lady) to come visit with us. We would all sit in the conference room.”

As for the tackling incident, Flatbush said that the woman who tried to board Reagan’s helicopter was not trying to harm him and was, in her view, “a little off.” The incident ended quickly and Reagan remained on board until the matter was resolved.

Flatbush left the military because of pregnancy. Her husband John then signed up to serve, she said, and was part of Operation Freedom.

After John’s time in the military ended, the couple moved to Arlington. Flatbush had a sister in Dallas and other family members had moved to Texas as well.

In 2014, the couple moved to Granbury. They bought a house in Pecan Plantation in 2015. It was around that time that Flatbush was diagnosed with lung cancer. She had been sick while living in Arlington, but doctors thought it was her shoulder, or maybe her gallbladder. Shoulder surgery and the removal of her gallbladder did not relieve the symptoms she was experiencing.

Dr. Justus Peters, now practicing in Stephenville, made the diagnosis. It was the same diagnosis that Flatbush’s father had received.

“Dr. Peters said, ‘I think I know what it is. I’ll call you as soon as I know,’” Flatbush related.

The couple’s phone rang at 5:30 the next morning. Peters asked that they meet him at his office at 10.

“It is lung cancer,” he told them, but he added, “We got this. You’re good.”

It took 16 rounds of chemo, during which John was his wife’s “biggest cheerleader,” but Peters’ predictions were correct. 

FINDING PURPOSE

While Flatbush was dealing with her illness and treatment, she and John traveled to South Carolina. While there, they strolled around a town square and Flatbush took note of candy stores that were “so cute” and seemingly “on every corner.”

When they returned home, the two were walking around the Granbury Square one day when they spotted a storefront on East Pearl Street that was available. They wondered if it was maybe a sign that they were supposed to open a business.

Within six months, Merry Jayne’s opened its doors.

Four years later, in 2020, the couple had another scare. Flatbush caught COVID-19, resulting in a long hospital stay and another close encounter with death. She faced it the way she faced lung cancer. She fought.

Knowing that going on a ventilator would likely destroy the only lung she had left, she ordered any doctor who dared to say the word “intubate” out of her hospital room. Eventually, the medical staff taped a note to the door warning that anyone who used that word with Flatbush would be banished.

Eventually, Flatbush recovered and was back at Merry Jayne’s.

Older customers who visit her store are sure to find themselves walking down Memory Lane. The shop sells nostalgia candies such as Charms Sweet Pops, Bottle Caps, Bit-O-Honey, Neapolitan Coconut Bars, Moon Pies, Goodart’s Peanut Patties, Candy Buttons, Cherry Mashes, and even politically incorrect candy cigarettes. There are also nostalgia gums such as Clove Gum and Gold Mine gum, tiny pieces of yellow gum packaged in a little goldminer’s gunnysack.

There are also toys from yesteryear such as Tonka trucks, Fisher-Price See N Say, and the Fisher-Price old-fashioned-style toy phone with eyes and a smiling mouth that was a favorite plaything of countless toddlers for generations.

Flatbush said that the merchandise in her store is about 80% candy and 20% toys.

“At Christmas, we’re Stocking Stuffer Central because I try to get things that no one else has,” she said of her selection of “mini toys.”

Sometimes, casual observers might notice two little boys pushing tyke-sized shopping carts down the sidewalk on the square’s south side before disappearing behind the door of Merry Jayne’s. They are Flatbush’s grandsons, ages six and three. She also has a granddaughter on the way.

The boys fill their carts, mostly with toys, and tell whoever is working behind the counter that “Cookie said it was OK.” Their grandmother, a.k.a. Cookie, always pays for the items even though she owns the business.

Flatbush also pays back to the community. She is a supporter of the Granbury Opera House and performances by the Granbury Theatre Company that are important to the local tourism industry. She occasionally even creates a specialty item to complement a show. This month, in a nod to a scene in “Matilda,” Merry Jayne’s is selling a Chocolate Cake Shake.

“Merry Jayne’s has been a tremendous supporter of, and a partner with, the Granbury Theatre Company for years now,” said GTC board president Micky Shearon. “They not only support GTC financially by being a season sponsor every year, but they support our staff and cast and crew members by offering them a store discount on their purchases and at other times sponsoring the cost of our cast parties. We love Merry Jayne’s.”

So do Opera House patrons. Flatbush said they come before a show, during intermission, and after a show. Merry Jayne’s stays open until 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate them. Other store hours are noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday.

Flatbush has taken her love of town squares to Stephenville. She will soon mark the first anniversary of her western boutique Johnny and June, named after her idol Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter Cash.

She and John no longer live in Pecan Plantation. They moved to a 90-acre ranch in Pattillo, between Santo and Lipan.

The woman who just a few years ago felt a lack of purpose and direction is now driving back and forth between two town squares where she owns thriving businesses.

“It breaks my heart to drive through an old town and their square’s just falling apart,” she said. “I just think that it’s the heart of the whole city.”

As to why she is still here after two illnesses that others might not have survived, Flatbush said she has no idea.

“I don’t know if it’s my grandchildren. I don’t know if it’s my kids, my husband,” she said. “To me, there’s a reason. I don’t know what it is. I just knew that I’m too tough to let illnesses take me down. I just don’t play by everybody’s rules.”