My grandmother was a great cook. She made egg noodles by hand and made the best peach cobbler with a double crust in a cast iron skillet. My brother does a good imitation, but it doesn't have the same warm sweet taste that my grandmother's did. He learned as I did, standing side by side with Gram, rolling out leftover spirals of dough, spreading on jam or jelly, rolling the dough into fat loafs and sprinkling the top with sugar before placing them carefully on the pan Gram placed in the oven alongside her pies and cobblers before hugging us and helping us clean the table where we worked.
After my divorce, I moved back to Ohio from Utah with my three young boys to live with my parents (joy, joy). There were some wrinkled apples in the refrigerator and I decided to make an apple pie. I felt adrift on a stormy sea of working two jobs, seeing little of my children and having no home of my own. Baking was my drug of choice.
Like my grandmother had taught me, I cut Crisco into a bowl of flour, added some ice water and turned the dough onto the floured surface of the counter, rolling the dough into a rough circle and fitting it into an old glass pie plate Gram had given Mom when she got married. Mom never baked pies, but Dad did. As the dough rested, I peeled and cored the apples, sliced them, added a little flour, salt, cinnamon and lemon juice to the apples, mixing slowly until they were all covered. I wished I had had a little red wine and some raisins, but that wouldn't have been welcome in my mother's house. After spooning the apples into the crust and draping the other circle of dough on top, crimping the edges and slashing the crust in four places, I brushed the top with milk and sprinkled sugar over it and popped it in the oven.
While I cleaned up the kitchen, the air filled with the sweet and comforting scent of baking apples and spices. Dad drifted through the kitchen, sniffing the air and nodding appreciatively. The boys, sweaty and red-faced from playing in the yard, descended en masse. "Will it be done soon?" For the first time in weeks, they seemed to feel more at home. Mom plopped her shopping bags down on the counter. "I hope you washed your hands." She rifled through the bags, eyeing the counter. "Give me the dish rag. This counter doesn't look clean." She wiped down the clean counter and threw the dishrag in the sink. "You didn't need to make such a mess." She grabbed her bags and went into the dining room to sort through her booty while I checked on the pie.
The pie crust was golden and cinnamon laced juices bubbled through the slits, filling the kitchen with the aroma of apples and cinnamon. I placed the pie on the counter just as the boys, drawn by the aroma, crowded around me. Eddie reached a finger toward the pie. "It's still hot," I said as I caught his grubby hand, "You'll get burned."
"When can we have some?"
"Later. Now go wash your hands and get ready for dinner."
Gram had promised to bring beef hash for dinner and she arrived shortly after. "Smells good," she said.
The boys were like tightly coiled springs held in place by crumbling rust all through dinner, barely tasting the food they shoveled into their usually chatty mouths, silent as the air before a storm. Quiet. Waiting. Barely held in check. Holding their breath, uncertain of the future.
I sliced the pie, serving my parents and Gram before I served the boys. Their forks pricked the edges, gathering up glittering crystals of sugar and placing them delicately on their tongues, their eyes closed as they focused on the taste, lingering over the first bit of crust, licking the tines of their fork of apple and cinammon-laced juices, making each morsel last as long as possible.
When dinner was over and I rinsed the dishes and put them into the dishwasher, Gram sat down at the counter and handed me the empty pie plate. "Your crust is better than mine," she said. I held the words carefully, afraid they would break and vanish, tears glittering in my eyes.
"Thank you, Gram."