My mom could make almost anything. She made dresses out of old feed sacks. She knitted mittens without a pattern. She could build a paddock and fix our car’s carburetor. If she didn’t already know how to do something, she got a book from the library and learned from there. Sometimes she just took things apart and figured out how they worked. Mom was a real genius, except for one thing: Pies.
Mom’s Good Housekeeping Cookbook opened right up to the pie crust recipes. She never could make a good pie crust. Those pages had lard blops all over them. I could see right through to the writing on the next page. Some flour got caught up the binding crevice and stayed there, turning the pages all yellow-brown and stiffer than the other pages. Yep, she was a genius at making things, but not pie crust. She tried and tried.
I liked to help. Bonita, Deanna and I lined up on one side of the table, Mom on the other with her big crock mixing bowl, flour, water, and a big tin. My-oh-my, I never saw so much vanilla ice cream in my entire life.
“Can I have a taste?” I asked. I could feel my mouth getting wet, ready to slide around that ice cream.
“You won’t like it,” she said. “It’s lard.”
“Yes I will.” She said that about lots of stuff I liked. She scooped a big spoonful out for me. It was creamy smooth; so warm and slippery on my tongue, different from the sweet icy-cold of ice cream. I loved it. Mom’s mouth squinched up into a kiss, only she pulled her eyebrows together so tight, two lines formed at the top of her nose, which made her sour, instead of soft and kissable.
“I want some, too,” said Bonita.
“It’s awful,” Mom said. I thought I saw her shiver a little.
“Mmmm… Just like ice cream, only warm.” Bonita liked it too. I could tell even without her words, ’cause her brown eyes got bigger and all starry and her mouth looked like a big, pink capital O. Pretty soon, Deanna was asking for a bite of lard, too.
“Can I have some more? Please.” I said, remembering at the last second to use the magic word Captain Kangaroo taught me.
“It’ll make you sick.” Mom said taking the spoon away. She said that about a lot of things, like eating green apples and pears, and wild berries. Those things never made me sick, and neither did the lard. Maybe grown-up tummies got sick easier, ’cause grown-ups always talked about stuff giving them gas, or making them burp. That never happened to me.
Mom worked and worked that pie dough to get it just right. She did lots of that pulling her eyebrows together and clicking at the back of her mouth. Sometimes she even scolded the dough laying there on the board, all rolled out in a neat circle, then refusing to come off the board and get into the pie pan.
Dad tried to help Mom out by taking her to see Mabel. Mabel was a pie-making expert. Sometimes Dad talked about Mabel in his sleep, but that was just ’cause she made the best pie in the whole wide world. Mom was kinda peeved about Dad’s sleep talking, so Dad took Mom to Mabel’s restaurant to prove Mabel made such good pies, anyone would dream about them.
“While we’re there, maybe she’ll give you some pointers.” Dad said. Then Mom was throw-the-dishrag-in-the-sink-peeved. Right then and there I knew Dad had the same problem I did with his thoughts jumping right out of his mouth before he had a chance to think it over. Dad thought it made for a hilarious story, but just like Barney Googles’s howling, he only told it once or twice, ’cause Mom got that same look Deanna did. Maybe Mom threatened Dad with the “bloody knuckles”, too, like that man Jackie Gleason was always saying ‘to the moon, Alice.’
Of course, Dad never talked like that, and Mom never talked like Alice. Still, sometimes they gave each other the same looks, so maybe they just kept their thoughts in their heads, and bit down hard so nothing leaked out, with just a bit seeping out around their eyes.
Mom never did get the hang of pie making, no matter how hard she worked. I found out that was exactly the problem she was having. She worked too hard. The secret to good pie is not working the dough too much. Ice cold water and good old-fashioned lard still makes the best crust; but I switched over to Crisco because it’s supposed to be healthier. I’m the best pie-crust maker in the world. It feels great to be the best at something, especially when the secret is not to work too hard.