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Pie Season

I grew up in rural Upstate New York, and for me the first sign of spring was when my Aunt Marjorie would make a rhubarb pie.  She'd grab a machete-sized knife off of the counter and we'd head down the hill towards the barn.  The early morning dew would soak through our sneakers.  It always seemed that we'd only cut rhubarb in the morning when the light was buttery with the hope of a warm day.  She'd work quickly, hacking at the pink stalks and tossing the tough poisonous leaves over the fence, saying that they'd kill us.  Rhubarb was dangerous and I loved it.

In the kitchen I'd watch her roll out the crust, touching it so lightly that it appeared to float above the counter.  Her flat broad hands would gently fold the blanket of dough into the pie plate. While making the filling Aunt Marjorie would talk about my grandmother's terrible driving or the gossip that she had heard over at church or my dead father.  She'd always smile when she told me stories about my father, and the corners of her eyes would grow soft with tears. Then she'd brush them away, and spoon out the filling. She'd lay the lattice strips and then with quick and nimble fingers she'd flute the edges of the pie crust.  She'd put the beautifully crafted pie into the oven and I would wait.  When she wasn't looking I'd peak into the oven to see the pink juice bubble out of the slits in the crust.  On those spring mornings when the kitchen was filled with sunlight and the sweet smell of pie I assumed that everything would always be wonderful.

Now, my life is a million miles way from that kitchen and my aunt's liver spotted hands.  I am gay and liberal and living in Chicago and she doesn't understand how I can live my life in such a terrible and hedonistic way.  She's in her late seventies now, and slowed by cancer and arthritis.  Last spring I went back home to visit her.  We sat out on her back porch, looked at her garden, and each had a slice of rhubarb pie.  We didn't talk about much of anything, just sat there with the pie between us like a bridge.  It looked the same as always, a tender flaky crust cradling the soft pink insides.  But that pie didn't taste as good as I remembered.  Nothing tastes as good as memory does.

Tomorrow, I'll head into the kitchen to make my own pie.  It'll be rhubarb custard with an oatmeal brown sugar crumb top. Like Aunt Marjorie's, no strawberries.  And with my hands covered in flour I'll flute the edge of the crust in a fashion that would make my aunt proud.

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