As I looked forward to National Pie Day — today, January 23rd — I’m afraid I let my thoughts swirl into heady daydreams that were like gusts of wind that pick up bits and pieces of litter here and there and then suddenly drop the lot in an untidy jumble.
First thought: Oh, Pie Day is coming again! I must bake a pie!
Thought #2: If I am going to all the trouble to make a pie, I might as well do more than one kind.
#3: If I am baking more than one pie, I better invite some guests to help me eat them.
#4: Why not plan for 3-4 kinds of pie, and have a Pie Open House, say from 4-7 p.m. on Pie Day, to accommodate the schedules of several friends.
Another chain of events and thoughts brought me to my senses. Last week at our agape meal I was served a big slice of cheesecake, enough pie to last me a month at least. And this morning I reviewed my short-term goals and realized that Pie Day does not facilitate them…
Goals? Since when do I have goals? I am certainly not the goal-oriented type, but I am trying some wintertime goals this year that involve: 1) spending time in a large room that needs a thorough sorting and organizing, and it’s not the kitchen; and 2) ramping up my exercise to recover strength I’ve lost in the last two years or so — also not going to happen in the kitchen.
If you let me count the ways I love pie, it might be that I love the idea and history and symbolism of pies more than the eating of them. I remember my grandma and a friend named Kris, either of whom could put together a pie and have it in the oven as easily as some of us butter a piece of bread. There was the time we watched my daughter Pippin form the first rustic galette I ever saw made, one of the select few pies ever to come out of the difficult oven in our mountain cabin. I recall happy days in the kitchen with the counters — and sometimes floors — white with flour, when I would revel in being able to accomplish this kind of nourishment for the body and soul.
In later years it has been easy to take pictures of these pastries, each one a unique event. When Mr. Glad was still my fiancé we never thought of taking a picture of the first pie either of us had made, as we worked together on it and laughed (afterward) about the Pie Predicament we ran into. But it is the one part of that Thanksgiving feast that remains in my mind.
When I am reading the recipes and remembering pies of the past, or rolling out the crust — or especially admiring one fresh from the oven! — I’m energized with creative joy and the idealism of family love and tradition. When I sit down to eat my pie, I am faced with — my weakness. I am one of those people for whom the wholesome enjoyment of that first bite quickly turns into a passion of the wrong kind.
Pie as an ideal and as memories brought me to the creative satisfaction of writing this post. Pie as a reality becomes something I too often consume with a lack of reverence. It’s not too late for repentance, you say? That is true; we must never stop repenting. 🙂 I won’t refuse gifts of pie, but this year at least I will let my celebration be mostly in words and pictures, without spending a whole day at it.
One thing I might like to do today is look around Blogland and see if any of you are baking and/or eating a special pie today. I will love to look at your pictures and celebrate together!
I stopped and snacked on a few blackberries along my walking path this week, and that made me think about my dear late husband. And I wondered, how long does one use the descriptor “late” to refer to the deceased? So I read about that here. And after I read, I wanted to call him my “swete and late amyable husbonde.”
We are used to hearing that adjective attached to its noun, but I found it charming to read in Alexander McCall Smith’s novels of Botswana how people would simply state about someone who had died, “He is late.” You might think that the phrase refers to someone who has only recently died, but I can attest to the relative meaning of recently when we are talking about one’s lifelong partner.
A quote from this month’s New Yorker magazine, in the article about hospice worker Heather Meyerend, “The Threshold”, by Larissa MacFarquhar:
“People react differently to a death. Some cry, some are calm….Wives sometimes throw themselves on the body, weeping and grasping it, especially when the couple have been married forty, fifty, sixty years. ‘The Bible says, And two shall become one,’ Heather says. ‘It’s a wrenching that happens, a tearing, like a garment that’s being pulled apart.'”
Mr. Glad and I married when we were both 21, and soon moved from southern to northern California. Before we had even settled on what county we might live in, we were picking wild blackberries together, up in the redwood forests of Humboldt County. From then on it was a July tradition to search around the country roads or empty lots to gather enough for several pies and a few quarts of syrup as well. That’s how it happened that we formed the habit of his birthday pie.
As I’ve thought so much about my husband and our life together over the last year, Sheldon Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy comes to mind, because it includes a lot about the death of his wife and his dealing with that. I didn’t like the book very much when I read it many years ago, because of the way the two of them seemed unswervingly self-absorbed as a couple; but one thing the grieving husband did tell about always stuck with me and made me ponder, long before I imagined myself in his position.
His wife’s nickname was “Davy,” and within days after her death he experienced the “flooding back to me of all the other Davys I had known. She had been in the year of her dying the Davy she had become — the Christian Davy of Oxford and since,” but he began to remember her at various times of their life together and even before, and to liken this process to what happens when you come to the end of a novel. You have been focused on each page and what the character is doing, who she is at that point in the story. Then you close the book and begin to grasp the meaning of it all from the first chapter on through.
When you are a hospice nurse, or the sole caregiver of a dying person, you have to focus on that day, that page of the life, to give all the love and attention you can. I hope it is possible for you to read the article I linked to above, about this particular nurse – if it becomes unavailable try googling her name – because the description of her work and ministrations is that of a saint. The author of the article follows her on her visits to several different homes and chronicles her interactions with the patients, and her wise assessments of the needs of the dying generally. The story of her own life shows how she was formed and guided by God into this realm that she seems imminently suited for.
When my husband was dying, our family didn’t need the hospice workers to help us with matters of the heart, but I appreciated Heather’s insight about such things as this:
When a patient was tormented and having a difficult time dying, or was hanging on despite no longer eating or drinking, Heather would ask, Is there someone you need to see? If a patient was preoccupied with someone he was resolved never to forgive, Heather might say that this unforgiveness was like bondage, and that if he forgave the person who had injured him that person would no longer be his jailer.
I thought that when I helped my goddaughter in her last days that the experience provided plenty of revisiting of the last months of my husband’s life, but reading about hospice care a year later is actually helpful. I’m less self-absorbed myself and can look back more calmly and see many reasons for thanksgiving in the last weeks and even hours.
One phenomenon that is mentioned in the article is how many people when they are in their last days seem to wait until they are alone before they let themselves “go.” One wife worried a lot about this when her husband was in hospice care, concerned that she might not be with him at that moment, and she was relieved when she was able to be by his side at the end.
I didn’t worry about it, but I would have preferred to be with my husband, and I was. Only from this vantage point does it occur to me that this was a gift from him to me and the daughters who were also there holding his hand, to let us accompany him all the way until the crossing over.
Whenever Heather entered a patient’s home for the first time, she knew that she was walking into a long, long, complicated story that she understood nothing about, a story that was just then reaching its final crisis.
Until today most of my own efforts to look back on my husband’s life have taken me far from last year’s final crisis, and by means of photos I’ve been helped to remember him at earlier stages in his life. But reading things he’s written is perhaps even more satisfying. I’ve just begun to sort through papers to find notes and creations that surprise me, that make me see the depth and complexity of the man whom I was mostly reading page-by-exciting-page all those years. We were living out our own novel, so to speak, and we were, as protagonists usually are, unknowing of what was going to be on the next page. But our Heavenly Father was the author, and He was making the ending very good, in spite of crazy things the characters might do or go through along the way.
I had forgotten about this gospel tract that he created — was it in his 30’s? Unfortunately he didn’t put a date on anything I have dug up so far. In those days he did like to have some “literature” to give people he met, something they could read later on, and I imagine he found most such material too reductionist to be called The Gospel, so he had to make his own. The content of it tells of his foundation in Christ, and also of what he died knowing.
I miss my husband terribly. The grief ebbs and flows and is never the same, except for being always present. I’m glad I’ll be in this process for some time, of rereading my husband’s life and remembering more things to love him for, and be thankful. I’m loath to give up that berry pie tradition, so next week, on his birthday, I’ll be baking one again — even though I already know he will be late for the party.
Today I am gathering up some stories that feature “B words,” as part of my Springtime Scheme.
Over the last week and more people have been feting my birthday. It started with a Peter Rabbit Garden apron that arrived in the mail from friend Gabriella. I already washed it so the picture shows it a little wrinkly. The birds and bees and vegetables go with the theme of my new garden space, and I’ve even been wearing an apron more often again – especially last weekend, as I will tell you about with a different letter of the alphabet.
Soldier and Joy came with the boys and she had made me a vegan coconut cream pie with coconut crust — I know, it sounds incredible, and it was — and then on my birthday itself Kit baked a blackberry pie for me. I was telling Pearl about it on the phone while the pie was in the oven, and I couldn’t stop giggling over the topsy-turvy charm of that particular gift: After 40+ years of me baking a blackberry pie every July for my husband’s birthday, even when I had to do it over a campfire, on my first birthday without him someone is baking the same for me. Life is strange and wonderful.
The sweetest thing that belongs to this post is not exactly edible and doesn’t live in the garden. Baby Jamie turns a year old this month; he was the boy I wrote about last year, who was born the day after his grandpa’s funeral. We had a slightly early birthday party for him while their whole family was down remembering his grandpa with me.
He had the traditional first-birthday-brownie baked by cousin Maggie. And he also had his first chance at enjoying Grandma’s playhouse. Then, too soon, we had to say, “Bye-bye!”
The air above the beach was cold and still Saturday afternoon when I drove over with a collection of family members for a picnic and a stroll. Our shadows were long, because in the morning I’d kept everyone busy doing repairs and assembly and various other jobs for me. It’s not often one has two handy and willing sons-in-law on the property at once, not to mention their wives whose presence holds me up in every practical way.
But get away we did, and the first order of business on arrival at the coast was to eat our late lunch of sandwiches and Jelly Bellies, on this promontory along the Kortum Trail in Sonoma County.
About seven bodies were squeezed on to a little picnic cloth, so I sat nearby on something passing for a tussock and examined the tiny vegetation around me, plants that get walked on frequently, and have to make do with fog for precipitation these days. Their roots must be even sturdier than their micro leaves.
Thin blue sky, the open and fresh air, wide sweeps of dry grasses and bushes leading up to the hills and down to creek beds….the children scrambling on rocks and cliffs, a centipede in the path, the gorgeous ocean….We walked along the bluffs trail for a while, then returned the same way, and even little Ivy didn’t need to be carried, though she often liked to walk along with me and hold my hand. In her aqua fleece (as at top) she makes a bright spot against the grey-brown landscape in many of my pictures.
Before we got back to our cars, the sun had set.
I used my camera liberally all day, then came home to discover that my lens had a smudge on it, smack dab in the middle where I focused most of my shots. I’ve done a bit of cropping, but that doesn’t always work, so I am sharing some of the smudged pictures anyway. If you see something fuzzy just pretend it is an unseasonable wisp of fog.
Yes, we had gathered for Thanksgiving and this was the overflow. It was the happiest of long weekends, stretching out for me from Wednesday through Sunday, with Kate and Tom coming from D.C. first, and most of the other children and their families gathering for at least the day at Pearl’s new place in Davis. She hosted 22 people for a fine dinner. Kit was with us, and two other extra guests on top of the kinfolk.
Her tables were beautiful, with fresh lemons and limes from the garden, and the lemon tree shining through the window, too.
Before we sat down to dinner Soldier and I stood and read alternate stanzas for the group, selected from the Orthodox hymn of thanksgiving, “Glory to God for All Things.” It made me very happy to read verses like the following with my friends and family who are all of this mind and heart:
I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Thine angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now Thy love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity; from birth until now the generous gifts of Thy providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give Thee thanks, with all who have come to know Thee, who call upon Thy name.
Thou hast brought me into life as into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavour and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on Thine earth. It is a pleasure to be Thy guest.
Another highlight of the holiday was gathering in the living room after dinner to talk about the dear person who was missing this year, and share stories about him, stories from his sister, his children and their spouses, and from me. This was my idea, because I knew that many of us would be acutely aware of his absence, and it seemed only right and helpful to bring that part of us into the open — I think I’m not the only one who is comforted by hearing other people talk about my husband.
One of my stories was about the apple pies I had baked this Thanksgiving. After we married, it was probably in the 70’s that I made my first pies, for Thanksgiving or Christmas. Early on my husband had told me about how his grandmother, just before she put her fruit pies in the oven, would sprinkle sugar on the tops. So I did it as well, always, and he liked that I kept the tradition.
Last Wednesday I had been running all day, cooking and greeting guests and making gardening decisions. The pies were the last thing to get done, and by the time I was assembling them everyone else in the household had gone up to bed. When I came to that last step, it crossed my mind that the sugary finish didn’t matter now, he wouldn’t be eating the pies. Maybe I shouldn’t bother.
But it only took a split second for me to know that I did want to bother, for his memory and for him. “This is for you, Mr. Glad,” I said, as I brushed on some water, and then scattered sugar from a spoon. When we bit into them the next afternoon we found them to be really good pies. They were a bit lopsided with drooping crusts, but that is also traditional with me.
From Wednesday to Sunday I got help with a slew of household tasks — or more precisely, my family completed these tasks without any help from me! Some of the work that was done:
Watering new plants.
Assembling quilt rack.
Assembling a floor lamp.
Hanging mini LED light strings.
Rearranging bedroom wall decor.
Troubleshooting my laptop, desktop, phone, and Kindle — yes, all of them!
Drilling 2-inch holes in half barrels for strawberry plants, then moving dirt and filling the barrels.
Repairing the curtain rod in the playhouse.
Fixing a door latch.
I’m sure I’ve ungratefully forgotten to list just as many other tasks that they did. In recent weeks friends and family have accomplished many more jobs that could fill out a very long list, too.
Other satisfying recreational and/or heartwarming and bonding activities we enjoyed:
Six women cleaning up the kitchen after Thanksgiving dinner – so much fun and togetherness!
Ten people sleeping in my house for a couple of nights, and children’s happy voices.
Introducing Scout and Ivy to the playhouse. Ivy was overheard saying, “Grandma built this playhouse just for me!”
Pulling the children up and down the street in the new cart, because the back yard paths aren’t ready yet for the kids to play with it there.
Cooking more meals together, and picnicking on the bluffs at the coast. I made another batch of sticky rice and Kit whipped together a rice snowman to delight us and to decorate the table.
Reading before sleep with Maggie beside me in the bed, each of us engrossed in her own book.
Playing dead bugs: When I reminded Kate and Pippin how to do the dead bug position for back health, I demonstrated with my calves resting on the couch. ( I just learned by way of images that no one else does it this way.) Soon the children joined in and lined up next to the grownups. Ivy couldn’t do it properly that way because her legs just stood straight up with knees locked against the front of the couch.
Playing the spoons, with inspiration from Deb “Spoons” Perry. The children continued with the spoons into the next day, and Scout almost took a pair of my best teaspoons home with him.
Clapping: Kit taught us the cups-and-clapping game, which was very satisfying to play or merely to observe. I could have watched all night. The little children were mesmerized by the cups game, but found it far easier to keep clapping their spoons together trying to keep time.
My favorite video that inspired us that evening doesn’t even have cups. It is a clapping song that was very satisfying to me because the message of its lyrics seemed to sum up the net positivity of my first Thanksgiving as a widow. The celebrations were both harder and easier than I expected. If you watched the YouTube video I linked to above you’ve already heard the words, in their upbeat musical context, but here they are plain for posterity.
I’ll think of you as I go, so when I leave, you’re not alone;
and no matter where we are, we will never be that far
‘cuz I will think of you as I go.
I’ll think of you as I dream,
so when it’s dark, you’ll be with me,
and no matter where we are, we can look up to the stars
and I will think of you as I dream.
I’ll think of you when I’m down,
when my heart is on the ground;
and I will never lose my way even when the skies are gray,
‘cuz I will think of you when I’m down.
(refrain) O it’s a long and winding road, but you don’t have to walk alone,
‘cuz no matter where we are, I will keep you in my heart
and I will think of you as I go.