Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Easy As Apple Pie

I imagine that my grandma is like any other American grandma. She did so much with her life, in the quiet ways, that don't often get recognized. She took people in and nurtured them, raised her family, worked full time and had supper on the table at 5 every night. She came from a family of 10 way up the Tucannon without electricity or indoor plumbing, and learned early on the pain of loss. Grandma and her identical twin sister live within 60 miles of each other and have their whole lives. Their summers were spent wearing flour sack dresses and running barefoot through the canyons. And since the early 1950's, she and my grandpa lived on the same 5 acres that I found so magical as a child and which never dims with my annual visits.

Every summer, she would take me and my sister for a couple of weeks. We'd go swimming and camping and fishing and blackberrying and sometimes mushroom hunting. She hates snakes. Hates them. And she taught me how to bake pies. Her apple pie, much like all of Grandma's "recipes" for things like making pickles and canning deer neck, are founded on experience rather than measurements. For apple pie, you have to have her big green bowl full of apples. You get the apples either from Uncle Vernon's orchard (he's since deceased), or from one of the roadside vendors. You heap the bowl full of apples and that will be enough for one pie. Core and slice the apples and mix them up with about this much flour (fills palm of hand- Grandma's hand, not mine), and about 2/3 cup of sugar.

In her later years, Grandma preferred Pillsbury pie crusts, but she used to make them from scratch with flour from the flour drawer, lard or Crisco, and some butter and salt with water sprinkled in. You know who makes the best pie crust in my family that I can remember? Uncle Steve. Yeah, he's the best. He also makes pretty good bread. Anyway, the trick with the pie crust is to let it rest and to not mess with it too much after you add the water. Roll it out on the bread board and poke holes in the bottom of the crust, add the mixture, crimp the top and cut a few holes, bake at 400 for about an hour (depending on your oven) and voila, apple pie.

I didn't think much about it when I was a kid. My summer days were spent eating cups of vanilla ice cream and ice cold watermelon on the back porch step with my cousin. My grandma is a lot like apple pie. Sweet and sometimes tart, crusty, lots of butter and encompassing of the ideals of the American Nuclear Family. She never fought in a war. She never marched on Washington or burned a bra or raised a ruckus. In fact, Grandma very much likes the status quo and going along to get along. She's the iron-willed peace-maker in our family and our beloved matriarch.

Each person, especially your author, is flawed and human. This is what makes us so interesting. Grandma, like those of her generation, is sometimes painfully and practically honest. She once told me- with the most helpful of intentions, I'm sure- that even though I wasn't as pretty as my sisters, I had nice childbearing hips. I was eleven. It's funny now, but during that fragile age of budding puberty, I was mortified. She just always says what she thinks- as long as it's in private. Grandma would never publicly criticize anyone. She wouldn't bring attention to herself that way. Because of this, people thought she didn't have political or social opinions. They are wrong. They were just said in the privacy of her kitchen, while my grandpa watched television in the front room. If this is the worst of my grandma, then so be it. I wish I were as good of a person on her worst day. I have watched her my whole life, taking care of others, giving of her time, energy, food and kind, supportive words. She has never been rude a day in her life and has never kicked anybody when they were down. She does not, and never has, drank alcohol.

Grandma also says that we reap what we sow. This is true. Her family loves and supports her. My grandpa died last September and it's been a decline for her ever since. Her whole life has been about the care and feeding of others- both literally and figuratively. She was a school lunch cook for over 20 years. She also cooked at several summer camps up at Camp Wooten over the years. There isn't anyone in our communities over the age of 25 that she hasn't touched in some way or another. The Dayton and Pomeroy communities do love her and they are filled with relatives and friends.

Grandma has recently moved from her home for the last 60 years to Booker Rest Home in Dayton. It's a difficult transition, made a bit easier by support from the community and our little family church. I wrote the pastor a note and asked him to pray especially for her. Pastor Greg, much like others in our town, is not shy about saying that he looks on Grandma as second mom. As for me, I write my blog and hope and tell my stories to others so they can know her too. I planted two apple trees in my back yard, to carry my uncle's tradition of orchard care, and to make apple pies for my grandma. It's the best I can do for today.

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