Grandma was the type to poke the bear, stir the pot, kick the sleeping dog. To give an example, she’d be sure to mention it if you had picked up a few pounds or gray hairs.
Several years ago, my family sat scattered about in my parents’ home, capping a day of Thanksgiving celebration with slices of pie. My wife, Lesli, had been assigned to bring the pies, and she had done so.
A bit of background on Grandma: She was born at the start of the 20th century and spent most of her life on a farm in Missouri. She was from a generation of Americans who had no other choice but to harvest their food, cook their meals from scratch, repair their equipment, tools, and machines with their own hands, and make and mend much of their own clothing.
She knew the difference between a homemade pie and one that came from Costco.
The Pie Ordeal
“Why, Lesli,” Grandma snarled in her nasal tone, “did you make the pies?”
“Nope, they’re from Costco,” Lesli replied unapologetically.
“Oh,” was all Grandma had to say.
The idea of homemade pies rolled around in my head for a short time. Though I do enjoy pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, my favorite is apple, and I pictured one fresh from the oven sitting on the counter, its aroma filling the air. I looked at my lovely wife who had gone back to enjoying her slice of Costco pie. “Honey, do you know how to make apple pie?”
She looked up. “Hell no.”
There were a few chuckles, but that was it. Other than me, nobody apparently cared about this. Well, me and maybe Grandma.
Silence had returned. Other than the sounds of silverware clinking against plates and the play-by-play of a football game on the television, the room was quiet.
I set my eyes upon my mother: “Mom, do you know how to make apple pie?”
Everyone seemed to pause, waiting for her answer. “Yeah, but I don’t like to.”
Grandma grinned, smugly.
Nothing else was said. Nobody chimed in. Did anyone else even care?
I Couldn’t Let it Go
“Grandma, do you still make pies?”
“Well, yeah,” she said, matter-of-factly. I waited, and she continued. “Roy liked having an emergency apple pie in the freezer, so I usually keep one or two of ’em on hand.”
My Grandpa Roy was a hell of a man, a man’s man, a farmer-turned-carpenter whose hands were strong and callused and whose smile was wide and genuine. Short but stocky, a man built like a fireplug, Roy wasn’t the type to take any disrespect from a stranger, though he’d give a neighbor the shirt off his back.
He was a joker. When living in town, Grandpa once jumped the wall into his neighbor’s backyard and replaced two grilling steaks with a couple of raw hotdogs while the neighbor had gone inside. He used to speed up for puddles to splash his fellow motorists, and if someone lost a ball cap, he’d swerve to run over it lest its owner might try to reclaim it. And he’d laugh heartily as he did these things.
Grandpa was certainly deserving of an emergency pie in the freezer, and I was proud of Grandma for obliging him.
But Grandpa had died in 1970.
“Wait,” I said, seriously intrigued by her answer, “you still keep an emergency apple pie in the freezer because Grandpa liked having one on hand?”
“Still, after all these years?”
Her grin grew wider. “Sure.”
This was It
After taking a moment to reconcile this conversation in its entirety, I made a declaration: “Well, there you have it. The downfall of America, exemplified before your very eyes, from one generation to another: ‘Hell no, I don’t make pies.’ ‘Yeah, I know how to make pie, but I don’t like to,’ and, ‘Well, of course, I still bake pies. Roy likes having an emergency apple pie in the freezer.’ ”
Nearly half a century after he died and this woman was still working to keep her husband happy.
God bless America!
Making me Proud
My youngest, Randi Jo, later decided she wanted to learn to make apple pie. Not long after, my mom taught her how to. I am sure that was time well spent that both will always cherish.
This year, a couple of days before Thanksgiving, Randi Jo, her sister, Jami, and their mother made six apple pies from scratch, spending an entire morning and much of the afternoon doing so. Our home was filled with the joy of family togetherness and the wonderful aroma of baked pies.
“Why six?” I asked, always the one to overthink everything.
“Well, one for Thanksgiving,” Randi began, “one for Papa . . .”
The two of them continued, explaining that Jami, my eldest daughter, had promised one to a student in her class who had won a fundraiser contest and asked for a pie. She had remarked that she could buy one. “No,” the sixth-grade boy insisted, “you have to make it!” She immediately thought of her sister and agreed to his request.
When Jami asked Randi if she would fulfill the pie order for her student, Randi told her she could come help, and then she, too, would know how to make apple pie.
Earlier in the year, Randi Jo had made a pie for Jami’s future father-in-law, a veterinarian who had given her dog a rabies shot and health certificate, but wouldn’t let her pay him. He had raved about the pie, so she thought it would be nice to include him on the holiday pie tally.
“Then,” Randi Jo explained, “You and Papa need your emergency apple pies for the freezers.”
The heavens opened up and an angel appeared.
It was at that moment, I realized, there was hope for the future of America.
* * *
A Good Bunch of Men
Door to a Dark Room