More than Just a Pie

More than Just a Pie

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

More than Just a Pie

To praise is an investment in happiness.

George M. Adams

I was making a pie this afternoon and thought of my mother. It wasn’t her pastry expertise that brought her to my mind as I carefully rolled the dough with the rolling pin I inherited from her kitchen, but the lack of it. I feel very accomplished every time I made a pie; I would gingerly lift it out of the oven and present it to my family like a work of art. My husband looks at me with an expression that says, “It’s beautiful, but sheesh, it’s just a pie!” If he only knew.

I am the product of eccentric lineage. My mother, although loving, could more appropriately be described as bizarre. While the mothers of my childhood friends baked cookies and hosted bridge parties, mine dabbled in the cross-pollination of strawberry plants and the breeding of tropical fish. While other mothers arranged flowers and reupholstered furniture, mine candled chicken eggs and nursed wild creatures back to health. She blatantly did her own thing. When I reached my teens and it was time to rebel, I became conservative.

Cooking was never my mother’s strong suit; although she always put a meal on the table, it generally lacked enthusiasm. We were a basic meat-and-potato family. She was, however, adventurous when it came to trying new products—I was probably one of the first children on our street to taste instant potatoes.

Baking at our house consisted of a family pack of Dad’s cookies. Once in a while, she would try her hand at a cake mix, or on a couple of occasions, a pie. Premade pie shells were yet to be invented; my mother’s pastry was produced from instant sticks—the type she would crumble into a bowl, add a tablespoon of water to, and mix vigorously with a fork. The mixture would be dumped onto a floured countertop where she would attempt to roll it into the shape of a pie. The process never worked—her piecrust always looked like a 500-piece puzzle painstakingly pushed together. We were too young to care.

Her lack of domesticity was overridden by a flamboyant interest in all things living—animals, plants, and an ever increasing assortment of kids. My friends thought she was totally cool. She let us play our music in the living room, and she always had enough pork chops to be able to squeeze another place at the table for whoever wanted to stay for dinner. Mostly, she had time to talk—or more important, to listen.

Mom was gifted when it came to communicating with teenagers. She had a no-nonsense approach that bordered on tough, but it was served with such delicacy it was easy to swallow. Our home was always loaded with kids, many of whom dropped by just to talk to her.

As I rolled my pastry in long even strokes and watched the increasing smooth circle form, I thought about how my mother’s pie shell mirrored her life—500 pieces pushed and molded together to form a unit into which she could pour a filling. Far from perfect, but strong enough to do the job.

Elva Stoelers

Reprinted by permission of Off the Mark and Mark Parisi. © 2002 Mark Parisi.

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