I think I’ve told Kelly the stories at just about every winter holiday, but – to me at least – they never get old. For some reason, whenever I find my hands coated in cinnamon, sugar and bits of apple, or whenever I feel the texture of floured dough and a rolling pin beneath my hands, it’s just like I’m there. There are certainly stories I tell when – this time around – she rolls her eyes and sighs as if to say “here we go again”, but never my stories about Mom.
As we stood at the counter together last night, peeling and slicing our way through a bag of McIntosh apples for Thanksgiving pies, I recounted the story once again of how my Mom and Aunt used to compete to see who could peel the longest thread of apple skin. They’d pick out the biggest apple they could find, and deftly slide their paring knives around in a meticulous spiral. There were no potato peelers here! Slowly, a pile of ribbonlike apple peel would appear on the countertop, until someone finally exclaimed… “eergh!” as the cut end of the ribbon fell to the counter. We’d all laugh and one sister would congratulate the other – and the piemaking would continue.
Sadly, I never learned the art of marathon apple peeling, though I doubt I’d have the patience for it anyway. But there is another favorite childhood tradition I can share with Kelly in the present-tense. One of the reasons I loved watching (and, in my own small-fry way, helping) my Mom bake her pies was, oddly enough, leftover crust. What didn’t go into transforming her pies into utter works-of-art went back into the bowl … and that’s where I came in. We’d toss some fresh flour on the counter, and hit that tablespoon-or-three of crust dough with the rolling pin. It usually ended up about the size of a saucer, with the thickness of a Christmas cut-out cookie. But what came next was the real magic.
Mom always kept a shaker of cinnamon-sugar in the spice rack, and after brushing a little butter or egg white over my newly-flattened masterpiece, we’d apply a liberal dousing of crunchy-sweet flavor over the top. Along with the pie, my doughy little confection would go into the oven, to emerge (a looonnng ten minutes later) as an inimitable sweet treat.
Well, almost inimitable – because last night, after we assembled our crumb-top apple pie, we managed to have just enough crust left over for a little trip down memory lane.
This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for memories like these, and for a loving family to share them with. I’m sure there are thousands more, shrink-wrapped just beneath the surface, waiting for the right touch, the right smell, the right place to bring them out. I’m thankful for those, too.