Laurel's wedding present

No one, I suppose, tears up at the sight of an old wooden ice cream maker. No one has reason to but me.

I found it in a corner of our basement after the water receded from the July floods that declared five counties of Illinois a disaster area. We had been away when the rains came, and when we arrived home ten days later most of our choices were simple. Sodden storage cabinets, molding mattresses, college yearbooks with pages stuck together? Toss, toss, toss.

A helper picked up the ice cream maker from a damp corner and looked at it dubiously. “Looks like it’s drying out but it’s pretty rusty…had this long?”

“Exactly 34 years and three months,” I answered. “It was a wedding present and…it means a lot to me. It was from Laurel.”

Laurel was my college roommate. Strong-willed Laurel – the one who coerced me to take rock-climbing classes with her because she had a crush on the instructor. Crazy Laurel – the free spirit of the 70’s who got cited by Campus Security the night Mike and I got engaged for honking her horn while joy-riding in celebration all over campus at midnight.

Laurel in 1972, Fischer dorm

Decisive Laurel – who agreed enthusiastically to stand up at our wedding but neglected to admit she lacked the money to travel from her East Coast home to Chicago.  The day before the ceremony I was startled to suddenly find her at the door of our farmhouse, grinning broadly, her bridesmaid gown thrown over one shoulder and an Army Supply knapsack bulging on her back.

“I didn’t hear your car!” I exclaimed as we hugged.

“Don’t have one anymore,” she said nonchalantly. “I hitchhiked. Wouldn’t have missed the wedding. And here, take your gift! Couldn’t wait to get it off my back.”

It was a brand-new ice-cream maker: a five-quart RCW Frost King model with wooden slats and a hand-crank. The thing must have weighed ten pounds, and fiercely loyal Laurel had hand-carried it all the way from Long Island.

It is my last vivid memory of my impetuous friend. The following year she was descending from a climb on Oregon’s Mount Hood with that same instructor, now her husband. When the cry came: “Rock!”, Laurel ducked left while the rest of the group ran to the right. Her head was crushed. Critically injured, Laurel lay in a coma for six months. Her body eventually recovered. Her mind never did.

So when I look at that ice cream bucket in a corner of our basement, I don’t see an impractical, impossible wedding gift rendered useless by rust and damp. I don’t remember its cold refreshment when it was new.  I see instead a curly-haired young woman of 23 banging on my door in the spring of 1976, dropping her dusty gown in a heap before grabbing me in a hug.  I remember the day I learned the meaning of sacrifice.

On Sundays I sit in the sanctuary at church and gaze up at the cross suspended above the platform. We sing about it sometimes. And when I see that old rugged cross I don’t see a chapel decoration. I don’t remember how the worship crew hoisted it into view. I see instead a symbol of love and fierce loyalty. I remember the day I learned what it meant to have a Lord who loved me enough to sacrifice himself for me.

That old ice-cream maker and the cross have something in common, and it’s not just the wood they’re made from.