My great-grandmother was called “Mother Martin” by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was a slight woman, in her seventies and small of frame. She stood perhaps 5’ 1’’ and, by that time, weighed only 110 pounds, though she had been heavier only a few years before. Her husband was “Hoyt” and why he was never called “Daddy Martin” has remained a family mystery [See “Hoyt’s Crabapple Tree” posted January 15, 2017]. They lived in a small white frame house in Lufkin. On the front porch grew blue and purple morning glories up several strings running from the ground to the edge of the roof.
Once I was visiting, apparently by myself, so it must have been during my college years. I was hungry, and like every good East Texas woman, she had a sixth sense for that. She offered to make a fried pie. I had never had a homemade fried pie before, and did not realize it actually had to be “made from scratch.” She got out the flour and shortening (“Crisco”) and set about cutting the shortening into the flour, rolling out the dough with an old wooden rolling pin, and placing some homemade peach preserves in the center of the dough. She folded the dough, crimped the edge, and placed it in an old beat-up fry pan, already sizzling with melted Crisco. After the perfect amount of time, she turned the pie over, frying the other side. In a few minutes, a piping-hot fried peach pie was on the table in front of me. My fork cut quickly into the pie. Steam, heat, and peach filling rolled out. My mouth began to water in anticipation. Into my mouth went her wonderful combination of hot, fresh peaches and slightly salty, doughy perfection. My mouth still waters over 40 years later, and I can taste every morsel, and I remember the details of her gift as if it were yesterday.
Why is it that such a memory is so vivid still? I have taken vacations to exotic locales. I have seen wonders created by man. I have listened to St Matthew’s Passion and seen Monet’s “The Magpie”. I have eaten expensive and outstanding meals at top-notch restaurants. Yet it is difficult to remember the details of those tropical islands (“It was pretty”), or the different colors of “white” in the snow of “The Magpie”, or the actual taste of those sweetbreads in that lovely restaurant whose name I’ve forgotten overlooking the hills and valleys of an unnamed and largely forgotten landscape. What portions of Bach’s Passion can I truthfully recall? And what was the name of that “awesome” village nestled in the hills of a forgotten district in Provence, or was it Tuscany?
And yet, and yet, Mother Martin’s peach pie rings clear. The heat, the sweetness and brightness of the peaches she had “put up” herself. The fragrance of sweet dough and the sizzle of the pie frying in Crisco. And, of course, that taste — how can it be described? Not that I have forgotten, but that it approaches the ineffable.
For you see, the pie was never just a pie. It was a gift of love from someone who loved me long before I was even born, who loved me in a way only a great-grandmother can love, who loved me for spending a few hours of my “precious time” to visit an old couple near the end of their days.
That love — that is what I experienced. It was just made manifest in a fried peach pie.