When my parents passed away eight years ago, they left a house full of memories and lots of, well, stuff. Stuff that my brother and I had to sift through, trying to decide what to keep, what to toss and what to donate. It was a very difficult task, saying good-bye to these pieces of my parents. There was a great deal of stuff that I didn’t necessarily like, but because of their preciousness to mom and dad, couldn’t part with. These were put in the attic, to be sifted through a second time, maybe years later and maybe never.
Undoubtedly, their most treasured possession was an assortment of crystal that they collected over the years, at estate sales and on their many jaunts across the country. It was not mine. Most of it we donated, but I have a few pieces that sit in a curio cabinet in my dining room, not to be used.
As the years have passed and I have been able to set aside more of their stuff, I have found that one of my most treasured possessions from my mother is her mixing bowl and dough cutter, two items that most likely cost much less than the crystal in my curio cabinet, and, compared to those pieces, surely would have been considered expendable as far as my mother was concerned. The bowl is yellow on the outside, fairly scuffed from years of use, and white on the inside. It’s a heavy bowl that makes a large dinging noise when I place it on my kitchen counter. The dough cutter is simple; a couple of the blades are bent so it’s perfectly imperfect.
When my mom was dying, my dad and I, in a hospital waiting room, were sharing what we loved most about her. Among many other things, he loved her pies. She was not a fancy cook, often serving dinner from the freezer or a can, but she was a mean baker. Even though it was usually just the five of us at Christmas, I remember plates upon plates of cookies, nutroll, nut tossies, coconut tossies and kiffles. And pies.
I never baked a single pie until after my mother’s death. I felt the need to carry on the tradition. I bought a large book – an encyclopedia of pie-baking – and dived in, using her yellow bowl and imperfect dough cutter.
I don’t bake them often, but my husband and friends request a pie every now and then, and I always try to make a few at Christmastime.
When I’m making the crusts, I imagine the many crusts that were created this same bowl, her flour-covered hands gripping the dough cutter and the bowl’s rim where I now do the same, and creating magic. I feel closer to her when I make pies. She is working through me and I can’t help but feel her instructing me and, sometimes, cursing with me when the dough doesn’t want to cooperate.
Perhaps that’s why my husband and friends enjoy my pies. They are filled with love. They are made with love. And sometimes a little cursing.
I see my pies as a way to continue her legacy, to ensure she is never forgotten, that she lives on. It’s such a blessing to have that yellow and white bowl and a simple dough cutter that’s a bit bent. She would probably tell me to go buy myself a new bowl and cutter, for God’s sake, but I think they’re perfect. Just like a mother’s love.