Barbara Sirois Doyle
My parents divorced the year I turned nine, and I went to live with my father. That Thanksgiving, my dad was still living in his shared bachelor pad, a two-bedroom apartment in a high rise in Lowell, Massachusetts. My coming to live with him wasn’t planned, and even if he had the knowledge or inclination to cook a traditional turkey dinner, he certainly didn’t have the time to prepare for one. So, that Thanksgiving was the first (and only) one I spent in a restaurant. I don’t remember much about the meal. I’m sure, like everything in my life at that time, it was strange and unfamiliar when I wanted nothing more than safe and comfortable. I do know I raced through it because I wanted what I looked forward to every year—a piece of chocolate cream pie. My family’s chocolate cream pie is a very humble thing: simple cook-and-serve chocolate Jell-O pudding poured into a piecrust and topped with fresh whipped cream. I’d eaten it every year of my life, piece after piece, the first one sloppily cut from a not quite cool pan, the pudding and cream filling the empty space until the pie looked whole again, the rest cold and wobbling, the cream tinged a muddy pink where it touched the chocolate base. I felt like if I had that pie, then everything would be normal again. Everything would somehow be okay. My dad chose the restaurant based on the pie selection, and ordered two slices – after he felt I had eaten enough “real food” to earn it. The server told him they had run out, and I felt my lip shake as I tried not to cry. I didn’t want to ruin the meal my father was so proud to provide.
My father paid the check and I got my coat. I swallowed hard, trying to muster up enough of a smile to make him feel appreciated. We trudged through the gray New England afternoon and sat in his cold Chevy, going nowhere. It wasn’t often I saw my father desperate to please, and I’m sure I didn’t know that that was what he was feeling then. All I knew was that there was no pie. And there was no mom. And there was no big house with sisters. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but I’d still lost everything.
“I’m going to get you that pie, Buffy,” my father said, turning the key, the engine reluctantly surging to life. “You are going to have that pie, you hear me?” I believed him instantly, because when you are nine, your father is larger than life, and no one tells him no. Dad drove us to a bakery in the city, the name of which I cannot remember though I can still visualize it perfectly in my mind. I know it wasn’t open. The business of the day was long done. But somehow, while I waited in the car, my father got into that bakery, and he got someone to wait on him, and he got what he wanted. What I wanted. He came back to the car triumphant, a white box tied with candy cane striped twine. He got in the car and snapped the twine with his hands, revealing two miniature chocolate cream pies, piped and prettier than any pie we had ever made, but tinged muddy pink at the edges just like ours had been. It was nothing less than magic. A miracle. If he had told me then that he could walk on water, I would have believed him.
Dad said they were the last chocolate pies in the shop. His hugely charismatic grin filled his cheeks as he handed me a plastic fork. We ate those pies right there in the front bench seat, laughing and talking. I don’t think any pie before or since has ever tasted as good as that one did. I know we’re taught, and rightly so, that food isn’t love and that you shouldn’t eat your feelings. But that pie? Eating it made me feel like was loved more than any other little girl in the world. Eating it felt like going home.
Pie & Memory
Pie reminds me of family holidays: everyone gathered in a tiny yellow ranch house, plates piled with slices of pumpkin, pecan, and chocolate. Smears of whipped cream and crumbles of crust on plates and spoons piled in the sink, full bellies and smiling faces.
Pie reminds me of Halloween: gummy worms covered in chocolate and Oreo crumbles, the “dirt pie” of chocolate, cookies, candy all one perfect bite.
Pie reminds me of July 4th picnics: of slices of tart apples and crumbly crusts and vanilla ice cream.
Pie reminds me of my birthday: the time my husband came home with a pecan pie with a candle stuck in it because he knew it was my favorite.
Pie reminds me perfect combinations; salty and sweet, crumbly and smooth, hot and cold.
Photo credit: “Macropie” by mossimoinc is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.