From Chicken Soup for the Soul in Menopause

A Slice of Life

I stepped over Grandpa’s old hunting dog, Jake, as he flopped across the back porch, and his only response was the thump-thump-thumping of his tail on the wood planks. The screen door squeaked open and slammed behind me as I tried to focus my eyes to the light in the kitchen. Granny was sliding a pan of cornbread onto a plate, and the old skillet hissed as she eased it into the sudsy sink. Turning, she gave me the heartfelt country welcome I had come to depend on throughout my forty-eight years.

“C’mon in here, honey. I’m so glad you stopped by!”

I hugged Granny and eased into one of the old green vinyl chairs at the table.

“How are you feeling today, Granny?”

“Oh, I reckon I can’t complain.”

She never did. Granny stood at the sink, a faded apron draped over her ample belly and tied in a neat bow at the back of her calico housedress. Her soft white hair was pulled back into a tight bun, and after eighty-nine years, it had grown thin enough to show hints of her pink scalp underneath. As she leaned, I caught a glimpse of the elastic garters holding up the nylon hose she wore every day.

Every time I came to Granny’s kitchen, it felt like coming home. Nothing had changed in it during my growing-up years except for having to replace the refrigerator a few years back. Her trusty cook stove had been rewired but was still “doing its job” as Granny put it. The old green teapot clock still hummed happily on the wall over the stove. The white enamel countertops with the red edging had been chipped a little but were still clean and shiny. And the wallpaper flowers had paled, but overall, it was comforting the same. Just like Granny.

Lately I had been feeling so down, and it was hard to explain why, even to myself. I knew part of it was facing fifty and the big changes in my life—my very empty nest now that all of the kids had left home, my husband’s plans for our retirement growing closer and closer, and the way my body and mind seemed to be out to get me.

Granny knew I had these things on my mind, and she had let me talk about them many times over the last few months, giving a sympathetic ear because she knew I didn’t talk about myself to many other people but her. As usual for Granny, though, she had not yet given much advice.

“Granny, did you have hot flashes when you were my age?”

“Humph,” she grunted, “If’n I did, I never knowed it.”

“Did you have night sweats?”

“Yeah, on hot nights, we all sweat!” she laughed.

Today, she sat down beside me at the table, handed me a paring knife and plunked down a big wooden bowl filled with ripe green Granny Smith apples. Granny’s steel blue eyes looked knowingly into mine, and she said in her matter-of-fact way, “Hon, I think we need to make us an apple pie. You peel ‘em while I make the crust.”

I began to turn the fruit in my hand, the knife unwinding the long curls of apple peel. She walked over and began gathering the things around her kitchen she needed, cradling them in her apron by holding up the bottom corners in one hand. She methodically arranged them on the chipped tabletop and began to mix the crust, but her eyes were on me. “What’s in your heart, child?”

As I peeled and cored and sliced the apples, I began to tell her again how I hated the thought of the “change of life” when it didn’t seem like life did the changing—I was the only thing changing! I told her I felt in some ways like my usefulness was over, that I’d worked so hard to love my family and do the things they needed for all these years. Now what was I to do?

She watched me as her knotty fingers began to gently pat out half the pastry dough into a circle on wax paper. Placing the dough into the dented aluminum pie plate and crimping the edges gently with her fingertips, she smiled at me.

“Why honey, you oughtn’t to feel thatta way. You’ve raised your children to be good strong grown-ups with morals and values. You’ve made a home for your family and yo’ life sure ain’t over. Now you don’t have to worry about such stuff as monthlies or having babies. That’s not so bad now, is it?”

I sprinkled lemon juice over the apples and then stirred in cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bit of flour. Granny spooned them over the crust and began to pat out the second half of the dough. I put the pie in the oven to bake, then dropped ice cubes into two glasses and poured some iced tea.

Handing a glass to Granny, I sat back down. For close to an hour she listened as I poured out my heart and softly cried. All the while, the kitchen filled with the wonderful aroma of cinnamon and apples. I knew Granny understood, raising four children of her own and watching each leave home.

When the pie was done, Granny handed me a rose-flowered handkerchief from her apron pocket so I could dry my tears. She then spread a clean dishtowel on the countertop, removed the hot pie, and placed it on the counter to cool. She gazed out the window as she washed up the bowls and utensils and put them in the old wire dish drainer to dry.

I wondered what Granny was thinking, knowing she had a no-nonsense approach to life and plenty of country wisdom. I knew I had to wait and give her time to collect her thoughts. Granny couldn’t be rushed.

“You know how much pride I take in my pies? I pour my love into them,” she said. “Everyone loves my pies.”

“Yes, Granny, of course.”

“Well, life’s not much different from making this here pie. You spend a lotta yo’ time in life doing all that needs to be done, but then when you go through the change of life, well . . .”

She sliced a piece of the warm pie, piled a big scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top and then gave it to me, along with a fork.

I waited for her to finish as the ice cream slowly trickled down. I took a bite of the warm, sweet pie—the taste of the tart apples and cinnamon and flaky crust was wonderful.

Still she didn’t say anything, and as I looked into her kind, wrinkled eyes, I knew what she meant. I laughed out loud.

“Granny, it’s like this pie. I’ve done the work and now it’s time to eat!”

“Yes, honey.” she smiled, “Now comes the good part!”

Kathy Reed

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