It was our first mixed holiday. Since his mom and grandmother would not arrive until Friday, we decided to cut the turkey two days late. We popped in the extra table leaf and stashed our toiletries so as not to clutter the bathroom counter. My mom dressed the table with a chocolate cloth and crystal. She cooked for days.
Hailing from Mississippi, the Trailblazer pulled up just after five in the Georgia afternoon. Grandma came bearing fat, yellow lemons picked right off the tree. I’ve never seen ones so big. When I mistook them for oranges she corrected, “They’re YELLOW!”
Ah yes, just excuse my idiocy.
I’ve met my in-laws only three times before, twice in Mississippi and once at the wedding. There’s more of them, of course, than just mom and grandma. There’s dad and his parents and his four brothers, who would be my uncles, and my husband’s two brothers, and the almost fiancee of one brother. They are everywhere from Long Beach to Durham and many places between.
His mother and grandmother live together, mostly unhappily. I think they try to love one another, but years of scars and tears welt up all ugly and raw and keep them from seeing each other clearly. That’s mostly the nature of family. I just hug them both a ton, especially Grandma, and try to cover all those sorry disgraces with love.
Grandma beamed over that swollen fruit and with almost no prompting said it was too bad she didn’t bring her lemon pie recipe.
Pie? My ears perked up and all the little baby hairs on my neck stood at attention. Not that I think she was trying to get me, but in case she was, she did. Pie trumps. Running full speed and tripping over myself to fall into that trap, I asked, “Well, do you know the recipe by heart?” And sho nuff she did. Just so happens we were short a dessert in the turkey-day spread, so Grandma and I resolved to make lemon pie. Together.
I’d like to cite some brilliant analogy describing the lemon-pie-making experience in all its awkward glory. But mostly, it was like a new wife and her grandmother-in-law trying to make a pie together.
I learned, in a state close to shock, that cornstarch turns translucent when mixed with sugar and water and stirred over heat long enough. I learned that I don’t stir well and should scrape the pan infinitely more as I attempt to stir better. I learned to fork a crust and found that I should fork the crust infinitely more as I attempt to fork better.
“How’s it going in here?” asked mom.
“I’m trying really hard to let her do it, since I could do it so much faster,” responded Grandma.
“Trying really hard.”
Ah yes, just excuse my learning disability.
She did try really hard though, and she only took the utensil from me once to improve my forking. She helped me see that I don’t have to do it all perfectly, adding lemon juice by taste and using terms like “heaping tablespoon.” She instructed me to sit down a while and let the crust bake, when in my urgency I felt sure that violated all principles of efficiency. She showed me that efficiency is less important. She took time, never mind how much, to impart a family recipe. She didn’t storm out or sigh angrily or reprimand, she could have since we’re kin. But instead she stood right there beside me.
And she even let me lick the pan.
Well, she said if I didn’t want it, she really did, but if I wanted it to go ahead.
|Grandma’s Lemon Pie
Because learning from our in-laws is as precious as it is difficult.