Sitting in my modest collection of assorted cookie cutters is one that is unique from the rest. It is old, worn and you can tell it is of a different generation then the shinier, flimsier shapes that it passes time with as neighbors in the ziplock bag in the back of my kitchen cupboard.
It’s a cross that belonged to my grandmother.
I inherited a handful of things from my grandmother when she passed, including a rhinestone pin that says, “TRY GOD!”, and this cross cookie cutter.
This may seem like an odd thing to find in my house.
Many of you know that I am an inactive member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or as most people know it, a Mormon. (I stress the inactive because in no way should I be held up as any kind of representative of this religion.) Mormons don’t really “do” crosses. They are not worn on necklaces or on steeples or on the covers of bibles or hymnals. The thought, in a nut shell, is that they do not want to focus on Christ’s death and the way it happened as much as his resurrection, so…crosses are out.
My grandmother’s name was Bernice (like “furnace”) and the name fit her like the term “grandma” NEVER would.
When I try to describe her to people, the best description I can come up with is that she was a cross (no pun intended) between The Church Lady on Saturday Night Live and one of those women with the cat glasses in The Far Side cartoons.
I don’t know if you can tell but she was not a very visibly happy or pleasant individual. She had a hugely difficult life that I appreciate more and more as I get older. Her mother passed away when she was 6-years-old, the day before Christmas Eve, in the great influenza epidemic of 1918 and she lost her father at 18 and was an orphan. Her husband, my grandfather, died the year my parents married when he was only 50.
She did not often smile, and heaven forbid that she laugh. She was devout and pious and when she did not like something it came off in waves off of her.
Which was fairly often.
She was an extremely hard worker, efficient, organized and ran a very tight ship. When she died there were boxes of things still in their original wrappers and EVERYTHING was labeled.
Once I came home and her Bible study group was gathered in our house and I almost did not recognize my grandmother. She was laughing and really…she was delightful. It was quite a shock to me. I was used to just seeing her the one way and it made me feel confused and a little bitter that she could be this way for this group of ladies that shared her faith but to her grandchildren she was very reserved and unpleaseable.
She was a life-long a Southern Baptist from Iowa. This wouldn’t have made a fig of difference to me at all. The thing that DID matter is that she was quite anti-Mormon. She never got over my father’s decision to join a different religion or that his wife and grandchildren were also of the same faith.
It really sucks when your grandmother thinks you are going to burn in hell, even as an innocent little child.
For those that may point it out, I find it JUST as distasteful when this attitude is displayed by the Mormons or any religion, so let’s not make this post about this aspect. I explain because it touched and tainted everything. I know in her own way she did it out of love and concern, I just find it a huge pity that in all that worry about my salvation she utterly destroyed a chance to have a loving, kindly relationship with so many of her progeny.
I am also sad for the scars it left me with from a tiny age.
I have felt unacceptable to someone in one form or another as long as I can remember.
She did not like me.
Kids can tell when an adult likes them or they don’t.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. I was a charming, lovely little girl and I tried my best to twirl, laugh, sing, tell funny stories and smile to get her affection.
It didn’t work.
She probably loved me in a perfunctory sort of manner, but that isn’t at all the same thing. Every Christmas and birthday I got a card in the mail, usually with a crisp $2 bill enclosed in it.
Still…from all her conversations and comments and gushing (well, as much as she could gush) about her other grandchildren, I could tell that my brothers and sisters and I didn’t quite measure up to her very rigid standards.
One day during the holidays, a big shirt box showed up at our house.
It was from my Grandmother Bernice and it was CHOCK FULL of ALL different kinds of cookies!
I about passed out from excitement.
It was wonderful.
I felt the giddy rush of approval that somehow only comes from a token or gift from someone you’ve long sought favor and approval from. It remains one of my favorite Christmas gifts.
Bernice passed away when I was 22 and she got to see my first born as a baby. I find the irony that she died in Utah amongst the heathen an interesting twist to the story, but I am glad that my devoted father was able to care for her.
I will not say that the one box of cookies really changed anything between us, but it was a token of love and approval that I got once in my life and I love that memory.
As I finished cutting all the cookies for Christmas Eve decorating I noticed I had enough dough for one more.
I hope it made my grandmother smile, wherever she may be.