Updated: Nov 22, 2020
Originally Posted November 21, 2018
One of things I miss most about my mom is her apple pie.
She was one of those people who could bake pretty much ANYTHING, and it was all fantastic. Chocolate chip cookies. Homemade cracked wheat bread. Banana bread. Cheerios bars. PIE.
It was the pie of dreams...the apples were just soft enough, the "sauce" was just sweet enough, and the crust...ooooohhhh, the crust. Flaky, golden perfection hidden under a massive mound of Cool Whip (vanilla ice cream was also available in the downstairs freezer for anyone who wanted to be a heathen) (that was Dad) (and maybe my brother).
It never tasted as good as it did the years I came home from college for Thanksgiving. Walking in the door and seeing that pie on the counter was my signal that I could let down my guard and breathe deeply for the first time in weeks. I didn't have to impress anyone or be anywhere at a certain time. I got to be me. I got to be a member of the Matts family, steadfastly imperfect in the most dependable way.
The first year we didn't have pie was 2004, the year Dad died—on Thanksgiving. I sat with him the entire night before as his body powered down, and I watched him take his last breath just after 7:00 a.m. Thanksgiving Day was brilliant and beautiful that year, and as we left Duluth to make the hour and a half long drive home to Pike River, I imagined my dad soaring over Lake Superior, free from a body that had been eaten away by multiple forms of disease. I think we ate sandwiches for dinner, but I don't really remember. I was too numb.
The next year we didn't have pie was...well, I'm not sure about that, either. It was probably around 2009 or so, when Alzheimer's started taking bits and pieces of our mother right under our noses. It wasn't a big, noticeable thing at the time—Mom said that she just didn't do much baking anymore, and it was easier to buy a pie from Super One Foods. At least, I think that's what she said. I wish that moment were seared in my memory like the one in which I realized that my father's spirit had left his body, but it isn't. Now I suspect her spirit started departing the year she stopped making pie.
I wish I had learned to make pie from my mom, but I didn't. I was too busy with my own things—my own to-do list, my own struggles and worries, and my own exhaustion. I had good intentions, but I always ended up saying, "Next year." Yeah. "Next year" has a habit of becoming "Never" if you aren't careful.
I've tried to make Mom's Pie of Dreams on my own, but it never comes out quite the same. I've never tasted pie just like hers since then, either, and I don't think I ever will. Every one of them is missing the secret ingredient.
Plus, I've got the gluten/dairy allergy thing going on now, so eating Less-Than-Mom-Quality pie is just a wasted round of Migraine Roulette. I mean, if I'm going into the Danger Zone of Inflammatory Food, it better be well worth the cheat.
I miss Mom and Dad and The Pie. And I still wish I were still able to go home to 6941 Poirier Road, even without them there. But life is different now. Mom and Dad are gone, and so is the house.
Every Thanksgiving, I get a little blue. I heard once that grief is love's calling card, though, so today I told myself, "Connect with them. Find a way."
I will pause when I take my first bite tomorrow and think of them and my childhood home. Even though our blue house on the little hill in the country had stress and sadness in the walls, it was still the place where I was able to reset my soul. Every crack in the tiled floor, every squeak of the front door, every bit of wind in the trees, and every ladle full of water poured on the sauna stove whispered, "You're home, Carleen—breathe."
Miss you, Mom. Miss you, Dad. Miss you, Blue House on the Little Hill. Thank you for the years you were mine in real life. See you again—Next Time.
Update, November 2020: Thank you, Bob's Red Mill, for making an AMAZING GF pie crust mix! It's almost as good as Mom's. :)