Grandma always said the best apple pie starts with fruits with the sharpest bite.
My house is filled with Christmas carols, bright and clear in digital remasters. We always made pie with old scratchy records, some long-forgotten Canadian band singing Auld Lang Syne. The oven is preheating, and I can hear her reminding me how to peel an apple in one clean swipe.
“Keep your hand even and don’t waver on the pressure.”
I remember her humming as she sat on the overly waxed bench outside, under our mistletoe-wrapped tree, as she snapped green beans. I remember her shaking her head, soft Missouri hills clear in her accent as she told me that I was full of prunes (She was too much a lady to swear, except when her temper was frayed beyond means, and even then, we kept it a secret).
It’s been a year since she’s been gone, but I was gone longer still when I struck out for college, and the East, with only a few phone calls back. There was one odd blip of a summer, where I spent pine-scented evenings with her on a porch, watching the deer amble in the yard while we drank beer cooled in the lake waters from a long-dead glacier.
Her mind fled before she did, so that the memories we carry bear even more weight. So I must remember the way she sang as she bustled around the house, the way her eyes laughed behind her glasses. The way she made her monthly appointments for her hair. I was positive she knew that grandpa and I were sneaking candy when she went on long supermarket trips. And I know she purchased a Baby Ruth bar as her own special indulgence.
My son never met her. And he never will know her, except through me. He’ll never know the woman who raised me and let me sit at her feet as she rag-tied my hair in my quest for curls, scolding me as I scooted too close to the fire until it threatened to sear me. Who pulled me back from anxiety attacks and gently woke me up each morning for school after a night teaching me how to iron trousers until the creases were razored enough to slice. Who taught me how to knock on melons and hear their soundness.
And who taught me how to make apple pie.
I cannot give her voice to my son. Her aphorisms sound jangly in my New-York-modified words. I can’t give him the way she smelled or her love of Chanel no 5. Everything is filtered through me, and I have a hardness that she never did.
But I can give him her apple pie. I turn down the music and call for him to join me in the kitchen. I hand him a Granny Smith apple.
“The best apple pies,” I tell him, “Always start with the sharpest fruit.”
Ellie Nava-Jones is the pseudonym for a philosophical investigator on the run. By day, she is a librarian accountant. By night, she is a mom and inventor of imaginary conflicts and worlds. She has been published in various trade magazines and scholarly journals.