It’s usually when I’m baking pies or Christmas cookies that she comes to visit me. I suppose this only makes sense since she’s the one who taught me not only to bake, but her philosphy behind feeding her family and friends. A philosphy I also embrace. That to feed those you love is an honor. Honor them and yourself by giving them the most nutritious, well cooked real food you can. Junk food is fine once in a while, but even if it takes time, sweat, and hard work, by preparing food from scratch, you know exactly what is going into the bodies of the people you love. Your food literally becomes their body. Honor them by giving them your best as often as possible.
Today, I was rolling out dough for an apple pie when she came. My grandmother. MeeMaw. She saw that the dough was sticking and I could hear her saying, “Better sprinkle more flour on your cloth. You don’t want it to be pulling apart now. Work it too much and it’ll be tough, you know.”
I was slicing the apples, filling the crust when I heard her ask, “You going to let that glaze burn?” I turned off the glaze which had thickened perfectly. She came up with the recipe. I’m sure she read the basics of the recipe somewhere, but she perfected it. Nick insists that this was done in her super secret underground kitchen. In truth, it was in the finished basement on her side of the duplex I grew up in. When my dad tested positive for diabetes, she came up with this recipe. Make the pie like usual, but instead of sugar, use 1-2 cups of apple cider. To this add all of your usual spices then set it on the stove to simmer. After it “looks right” mix a solution of corn starch and water until it’s smooth and then slowly add it to the cider. Let it cook a bit then pour it over the sliced apples in the curst. I’d give measurements, but I can’t. She didn’t really measure and taught me how to tell if something “looked right” along with eyeballing how much cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and ginger to use.
As I was brushing the top of the pie with an egg beaten with water I asked her a question. “How am I doing?” She is the person I most wanted to proud of me. She is the person I most wanted to impress. I thought about my house and figured she wouldn’t be all that impressed with my housekeeping abilities, but she’d understand that as a working woman, there’s only so much time in the day. I thought about beginning my 32nd (Holy Toledo!!) year of teaching. You work hard and you’ve helped a lot of kids. Yep. She’d be proud of that. Then, I thought about my sons, her great grandsons, the greatest joys of her life. The day I brought Michael home from the hospital almost 29 years (Holy Toledo!!) ago, she snatched him up, decided he needed his diaper changed, kissed him all the way to the changing table, and when he peed in her ear, she giggled like a school girl. Once Nick came along and had colic, she’d see how exhausted I was, take him from me, and sit in her rocking reliner. I have no idea what she was saying, but she murmured to him and he immediately stopped his screaming, cuddled into her, and calmed. She was magical. Both of them are now men with their own lives, jobs, homes. They are both in their own way compassionate, intelligent, and strong individuals. I can count on them for anything. Well now. They couldn’t have turned out better if they’d tried. It’s an odd saying, I know, but it was her way of saying they were perfect.
Then came the big question. I’ve been feeling lost lately, unneeded (after all, the boys are grown men now), superfluous. When they were little, they were my life – and it was a fabulous life. Now, I just don’t have a good sense of purpose. Did you ever stop needing me? she asked back. I smiled. She did this. She answered your question with one of her own which led you to figure out the answer for yourself.
And you thought this essay was going to be about pie.