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  • Writer's pictureJerri Lynn Sparks

Ooooh...pie!

My neighbor growing up baked pies, which she’d let cool on the windowsill that faced the garden between our houses and the little patch of green grass I played in all summer with the frogs and the grasshoppers. There was a cow pasture and a white chicken house across the street and a row of pine trees that lined the garden but we could still see between them to each other’s houses. On Saturday mornings I had the world to myself, being the only early riser in my family, a habit that’s still true to this day, so I’d trudge outside and sit under the apple tree that someone planted years before I was born, along with a big rock for sitting in the shade, made eons before any of us were born. I’d be under the tree reading or writing poetry and picking pink and blue morning glories and wild purple violets for my mother when suddenly I’d hear Eloise call out: “Jerriiiiiii…I’ve made you a *pieeeeeeee*….” and her voice just wafted over the tops of the tomatoes, like a song across soil… And I’d set my book and paper on the rock and race across the thick red Carolina clay garden, careful to avoid the big dark, leafy green tops of the potatoes and peas we’d spent all Spring planting by hand together as neighbors (a chore I hated because it kept me from playing, what with all the hoes and little stones, the briars and the hot sun and the back-breaking digging) and rush up the big white front porch and enter Eloise’s perfectly ordered kitchen. It was a world of calm and peace and it smelled like the way I imagine anyone’s version of Heaven was with vanilla and cinnamon and the pleasing aroma of warm butter. I don’t think grownups realize the effect grandparents’ and older neighbors’ neat and orderly houses have on little children. Their moms are busy working and the house is often in disarray, toys strewn here and there, dishes piled up in the sink because everyone is doing too much, dinner is often take-out or back then a TV Dinner with perfectly square and tasteless carrots, and so the slowed down lives of grandparents provided a place where everything was in its place and was authentic, with real butter and real vegetables, slow-cooked by hand, clutter was nonexistent, a ceiling fan kept the air moving coolly and homemade baked goods sat on counters just waiting for little kids to take a bite of wonder and goodness. I can still see Eloise’s kitchen now in all its neatness, a place that no longer exists except in the minds of those who loved her, an unintended side effect of renovations and home improvements. Recently, a kind man who bought the house I previously lived in offered me a chance to see the house after he finishes renovating it and I gave a resounding “No, thanks.” I want to remember that house the way it was etched into my memories. Seeing it altered would be like ending the magical memories of a different time. It’s best to let Brigadoon be… In Eloise’s kitchen there would be rows of homemade candies on the counter: chocolates and pecans and white frosting, the year she got into making Dolly Parton white chocolate busts is a memory that still makes me giggle (and I remember how everyone who saw them giggled too, including Eloise), oh the smiles and lemonade and memory-making… And then she’d hand me this whole pie, sometimes it was a chess pie, other times a chocolate chess, some days a pecan pie, and once a chocolate pecan pie, and then say “Here. Take this home to your family.” My eyes would get big because I couldn’t believe she was giving us a whole pie but that’s just what she did, over and over throughout my entire childhood. And then she’d hand me a slice of a second pie just like the one she was giving me and we’d sit there quietly devouring sweetness in the quiet hours of Saturday mornings. I remember this incredibly happy look on her face. It really is a gift to give to others. Then I’d happily walk the few yards back to my house, going around the garden so as not to drop the pie, and place it on the kitchen counter in anticipation, knowing how happy my family would be when they woke up for there is nothing more pleasing than a surprise pie when you first wake up in the morning. It’s a practice I sometimes still do and I love it when people say “Ooooh…pie!” As a child this remarkable set up wasn’t as appreciated as it should have been. I simply accepted the magic hurled at me. These things were there and I simply partook of them - a pie from sweet Eloise and the soothing shade of apple trees - but now that I’m older and forging my own world, I realize how long it takes to grow trees and scrounge up rocks and how much craft goes into making a perfect peach pie. You have to get the balance right: too much flour and you’ve got a rock but not to sit on, one in the pie plate. Too much cinnamon and sugar and it’s just too sweet. Then there’s the crust, rolling and stretching and shaping into this pouch for peaches and pecans. My first attempt was laughable, a stone pie really, the hardest thing on Thanksgiving in college where this guy Mike, a former New York City punk rocker who moved to L.A. chasing the same dreams as all of us, tried in vain to crack it with a fork. He had surprisingly good manners for a rocker. “At least the filling’s good,” he said, still hacking at the rock hard crust. That crust probably still exists in some landfill in the desert of Southern California. If I’d known then how much work it all took to make a pie and make a life, surely I would’ve eaten more slowly, would have savored every last morsel of butter and brown sugar and Blue Ridge memories that surely the elders would have shared if I’d just slowed down and asked, maybe I would have offered to pick the peaches or roll out the dough in her country kitchen instead of hungrily eating up the magic until it was all gone. But I always was an adventurer, not slowing down long enough to be still and rock on the porch swing with her like my mother did. They’d sit there in the evenings sipping iced tea and chatting while I was always turning cartwheels and racing my bike, crawling on my hands and knees in the grass with a magnifying glass tucked in the pocket of my halter, or the camera that came in the mail from Time Magazine that I loved and spent all summer taking pictures of the micro world of lady bugs, catydids and praying mantis. Sometimes the two of them would call out to me to pick some creasy greens from Eloise’s lawn and they’d cook them up into a dish with hot oil, vinegar and wild onions over corn bread (amazing) and a bit of ham or bacon but mostly they left me alone to play. The macro world would come shortly after – driving to see boys and the Blue Ridge, later to see the city and eventually to see the world out in Los Angeles, leaving all these beloved people and places behind in my rearview mirror. I thought the people that populated my childhood would always be there. I’d just go home and see them every now and then and then go back to my next adventure. But I was wrong. Eloise has been dead for many years now and my family no longer lives in that house next door where I grew up but I hope the apple tree is still there in the garden with its rock, providing shade and comfort for the next generation of unaware children. And I hope that somewhere in the back of someone’s freezer, one of Eloise’s delicious pies still remains

keeping the earth a little sweeter just because it exists, just waiting to be appreciated in the way it deserves, just waiting for someone to see its sweet promise and exclaim “Ooooh…pie!” (Photo Credit: Jerri Lynn Sparks) #PieRecipe #Food #PeachPie

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