If a picture tells 1,000 words, then my Mema’s pastry cutter tells a million. It’s certainly not a fancy gadget, they are literally ‘a dime a dozen’ but what it represents is years of hard work, making due with what was available, and learning that along the way, it’s not about the fancy gadget, it’s about what you do with it.
I know this was not about money, in fact, it was probably the pastry cutter that was on sale, but as I look at it, use it, wash it, and put it away each time I make a dough or other baked good, I am reminded and can vividly see myself as a young child sitting on the counter next to my Mema as she cooked and baked for our family. As a retired nurse, my Mema and Grandpa moved to be near my mom and family when we were young children. I don’t ever remember my Mema ‘working’ formally again, but I remember the countless days when she would arrive with warm meals, stay at the farm for hours making lunches, suppers, and baking for us. She was our own version of “meals on wheels” as the way she contributed to our family. Growing up on a dairy farm meant constant work for my parents, my sister, and I so my Mema’s contribution of hot meals, a freshly frosted cake, and enough sandwiches to feed everyone who was helping put hay up was something that money could not place a value on. My mom appreciated it, not because she didn’t like to cook, but because it was one less thing she had to worry about.
When I look at the pastry cutter, I cannot only see myself helping her cook, but stirring my own bowl of batter along with her, adding chocolate chips and nuts to things, and learning how to tell if something is done in the oven. I can see her beloved recipe book with her handwritten recipes in tight, proper cursive that was sometimes so small, no one but her could decipher it. I can picture my grandfather coming in from outside and sneaking a taste, a bite, or a cookie before he disappeared to clean up and change his clothes before supper. In his very New England accent, I can still hear him saying, “oh Lill, this is good!” as he snuck a taste before getting scolded by her. They were married for 64 years before she passed away.
My Mema taught my sister and I how to cook too. She was the leader of our 4-H club, she taught us table manners, how to sew our own clothes, how to speak pig latin, and later how to drive. She celebrated my graduations and marriage with me and then mourned with me as I endured my own divorce. I can recall listening to her sharing her life stories once cancer began to ravage her body, and as she lived in pain and on morphine, how she hoped the pain would end soon.
I still pull that pastry cutter from the drawer, use it, and take good care of it. My sister holds onto her recipe book with the tight handwriting, and my mom looks after her hummel collection. I try not to remember her with cancer at the end of her days, but instead whistling as she cooked, worked in her rose garden, or teaching us how to put ‘right sides’ together as we began crafting a new dress. I carry her spirit in my own day-to-day life and try to model her always cheerful behavior and living my life on purpose. The pastry cutter is merely a vehicle with which I think fondly of my child hood and my young adult years where she was always around. The cardinal was always her favorite bird so I find it somewhat ironic that I moved to the state where the state bird is a cardinal and of course, every time I see one (which is often) I think of her. Perhaps that’s why I’m always looking to cook and bake. Bringing out some of her old things is comforting and helps make foods that she taught me to make, making me think she’s still with me.