In a Perfect World: Grace
For the fifth installment of In a Perfect World series for Advent, I knew I immediately wanted to create a piece about my grandmother. The word was grace. Those who knew my grandmother often commented on her beauty and grace. But I was more struck by the timing. Christmas Eve was the one year anniversary of her death. And the piece was to be displayed during the Christmas weekend. So it seemed a perfect fit.
From the beginning I knew that I wanted to use cookie tins. Grandma Merritt made cookies for the grandchildren every year for Christmas. I mean dozens and dozens of cookies. Molasses, oatmeal, sugar cookies and pecan dreams. There would be at least a dozen cookie tins of various patterns and sizes along the side board in her dining room. Whenever we came to visit her, we would always walking into the dining room and start opening the tins. Oatmeal were my favorite. Molasses cookies were the most crispy. The sugar cookies were great, too. I didn’t eat the pecan dreams that much. Maybe one a year to confirm that they weren’t my favorite.
But Grandma was a diabetic. And not the kind that takes a pill for her sugar a couple of times a day. She was a Juvenile Diabetic suffering from violent rises and falls of her blood sugar. The disease ravaged her body for years. I was certain that she would fade away in front of me at any moment. I was always petrified anytime her blood sugar plummeted. She would start out saying something really off. Sometimes she would nod off to sleep. Other times she would just pass out. She scared me to death.
Then I began to realize sometime after Thanksgiving of last year that this was not her fate. Despite all of the rides in the ambulances and the countless times they brought her back, it took her several days to die. We went to visit her on December 23rd. She really wanted to see Lucy, who was nine-months-old at the time. Think back to a year ago, children could not enter hospitals because of the swine flu. Grandma was staying in a nursing home for her final few months. And she asked a couple of times and said, she can not catch what I have. So we figured out a path through the courtyard and visited Grandma. She perked up to see Lucy and other family members who were gathered there. But as I watched her, she mainly sat there, dressed in her Christmas sweater with her hair brushed and her lipstick on. She patiently adjusted the watch bracelet on her arm and placed her hands in her lap. She was waiting to die. And she was so graceful.
My grandmother always, ALWAYS watched her diet. There were times when she didn’t eat bread for years. But we had to have a salad at every meal. Or at least some green vegetables. She did not like it when we put too much sugar in our oatmeal. So why did she make the cookies? At this point in my life, we don’t have any eggs or dairy in our house and haven’t for over a year. This is to accommodate Lucy’s food allergies. But Henry can eat eggs and dairy. I guess this is an unfair comparison. But she spent hours making something for us that she could not enjoy herself.
Originally, I wanted to have a dozen cookie tins and serve communion out of a few of them, using her crystal for the wine. I imagined the ivory tins with a golden glowing interior. I guess it would have reminded me of a meal in her home. But as the project became more thought out and I realized that I was placing the pieces elsewhere, they were cut down to seven tins and then five.
Over Thanksgiving, I was discussing the project with Ben and Bo. We were trying to come up with a phrase defining grace. Or what is also known as a Backronym. I blurted out “Grandma rarely ate cookies ever.” After a few more ideas from others, I said that I thought I liked that. It was simple and to the point. Cookies were such a prominent symbol of our Christmas Eve traditions, yet she could not indulge in her efforts.
Aside from the cookie tins, I needed several components to create something. I wasn’t sure what. I knew for years that I wanted to use photocopies of the Christmas piano music that we played on Grandma’s piano. It was one of the children’s lesson books, with circles and stars throughout the pages. Plus I asked mom to gather several pictures of us at Grandma’s from previous Christmas celebrations.
Since the project was about the aroma of Christmas, I ordered five different perfumes from Demeter Fragrance Library.
I emailed my cousins to ask them for their favorite Grandma smells. I wasn’t able to pick all of them. I left out chocolate chip cookies and blueberry muffins. I selected the following for each tin:
Grandma – Ginger Cookie
rarely – Angel Food
ate – Sugar Cookie
cookies – Mulled Cider
ever. – Cinnamon Toast
The Ginger Cookie and Cinnamon Toast are pretty similar. If I had to do it again, I would use the chocolate chip cookie even though I don’t remember Grandma ever making chocolate chip. I really wished that they had oatmeal.
I used my new Silhouette paper cutter to cut out shapes of cookies along with my handwriting, which I created with Fontifier. Ryan wrote something nice one time about how he could always recognize my handwriting. So that inspired me to use my font. My upper case letters ended up being much higher than my lower case for some reason. So I doubt that I ever use the font for anything very dense with text.
Then I adhered them everything together with Wikkistix, which I am pretty certain was a mistake. I imagine that some of the cutouts have dropped out of position. But if I had used my mini-Xyron machine first, I think I would have created the perfect new way to use adhesive. I will be sure to have it with me for a touch up tomorrow.
In the end, I had the perfect amount of pictures. I was crushed that I was not able to use my color printer with my computer. I could only copy the actual photographs that my mom had sent me. That meant with the final project, Grandma was not in any of the pictures. Only the grandchildren. We are seen opening presents, eating cookies, singing Christmas carols, sitting at the children’s table, and all over Papa’s lap. I guess it is actually an homage to Grandma’s creations.
I love peeking into the holes of the cookies and seeing various scenes from my childhood. In the Grandma tin, you can see Kate cutting her eyes to look at Ben. As you turn your head, you can see Ben smiling at the camera. They aren’t the best pictures, but they have the same feature that all pictures have of that era. Back before there was an instant preview to tell you if the shot was centered, if the picture was in focus and if everyone was looking.
The last hymn is Auld Lang Syne.
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne ?
A bittersweet ending to old traditions and welcoming in those of new. I am thankful that we still gather to celebrate our grandmother’s creation, which I am reminded of the most on Christmas Eve.
On the night of her death, we had gathered at Mom’s, who has hosted Christmas Eve for the last several years. Not everyone was with us. The Coley’s were in Elkin and Paula was with Grandma. Around 11:30 pm, we received a call that the children needed to return. She had passed away around 11 pm after Paula left for the night. When I was old enough to be concerned about Grandma, I was always sad about leaving her on Christmas Eve. She generally spent Christmas Day alone as we celebrated with our other families. But with her passing, I realized that maybe this was her time when she could finally rest and relax after taking pride in her hard work.
I love you and miss you, Grandma.
Grandma’s Cookie Tins is the fifth piece I created for In a Perfect World, a series celebrating the 2010 Advent Season. These are the six words for which I created work: Justice, Peace, Wholeness, Salvation, Grace, and Gratitude.
Here is a post from this piece in process.