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by Mary Eliza Crane

The secret of a perfect pie crust
is white flour, Crisco,
and Shirley's recipe
from her 1929 home ec book.
I was the only daughter in law
she would ever have
and she did not want the skill to die.
Now I'm not one for fussy domestic arts,
rather thick bean stews,
unpeeled vegetables,
the stuff you don't have to measure or time.
She bought the rolling pin,
the pie plate,
the Crisco,
and a vegetable peeler too.
The quiche pan was wrapped
under the tree.
She fretted I'd add too much water,
hovered, afraid I would toss
a bit too much with the fork
and toughen the dough,
showed me how to flute the rim
all the while telling me
her sister makes a prettier crust than she.
I wonder for the zillionth time
why she feels inferior to
her crazy sister Barb
who hasn't left her house in years,
all the while wondering
how I am supposed to roll out
an unmixed pile of slightly damp flour
into something that could hold a pie.
But never mind the holes, she says,
you can always put in patches.
So I did.

For some reason, I kept on making pie crusts.
The kids knew to stay out of the kitchen,
my temper close with frustration,
until I ignored the recipe and added
enough water, changed the Crisco
to butter, and eventually discovered
the food processor.

By then it didn't really matter.

She was OK for a for a few years
after Nick died.
But then neighbors worried,
brandishing kitchen knives in the driveway
in her housecoat and bedroom slippers,
taken away to the hospital
in handcuffs in a cop car,
defiant all the way.

Shirley's one and only stand.

I saw her last three weeks ago,
hard to rouse, harder to focus,
face no longer capable of expression,
she hadn't recognized me in years.
But her eyes opened for one short moment,
saw a face she knew she loved
and who loved her,
lit the room with her emotion.

It was our good-bye.

She wasn't heroic like my father,
Or bold and daring like my mother,
just a 1950s housewife
with a sweet tooth,
the kind of mother other people had.

With a tattered grease stained paper
tucked between the pages of a book,
she somehow became mine.

OCTOBER 14, 1923 APRIL 23, 2009

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