The Pie War: The Characters
By Justin Isherwood
Actually I lied. Before I can relate the pie war, I need introduce the combatants.
My mother had four sisters, as the good sisters they were, they alternately loved and loathed each other, something of an embedded Christian custom. The sisters were named in order: Grace, Eileen, Audrey and Marjorie, their names would be changed were they innocent, none of these sisters were innocent. Which benefits this story because as a general rule innocent people lack any decent narrative unless they‘re provisionally willing to lie about the actual events. To this collection of characters, our mother also had a naturally occurring mother named Bessie and an unnaturally occurring mother-in-law named Adah. Again sparing the innocent by using their real names. Beyond were yet two more characters, named Marion and Madge, sisters-in-law. Sisters-in-law as a species are pretty much up for grabs in American custom whether they constitute an actual relative, this variably how families feel about it.
Of these characters none was what I, a farmkid, considered a good cook. Being that farmkids are naturally ordained unto their food habitats combining ample proportions with local raw resources all driven by the situational competitive haste imposed by sundry factors such as siblings who can out-eat you. It is thus that farmkids know cuisine from a vantage point of a wolf pup, and equally sufficient to know the difference between adults who can cook and those who just flail. Our Aunt Marion was seriously incompetent if only occasionally lethal, she would follow a recipe faultlessly, an obvious indictor she didn’t know what she was doing. To the end her cooking was best categorized as un-anesthetized experimentation, which in most jurisdictions is illegal except where children and/or farmkids are involved. I visited Aunt Marion’s house on several occasions, never once to touch what I call real food. Aunt Marion’s problem was she had an overly generous world view, she without fear or modesty to attempt Greek and Hungarian recipes, Tibetan recipes, Hindu recipes. She willing to attempt the Dalai Lama’s favorite cookies for no good reason other than the Dalai Lama’s endorsement, to attempt Belgian Congo ice cream despite the ice there is very rare, a Siberian salad knowing some of these racial recipes begin with ingredients not substantially palatable to the unacquainted stomach. Some ingredients being a touch more than subtly toxic. Marion believed cooking was an overt act of humanism, you didn’t actually have to visit foreign places to know their culture, their landscape, their belief, just eat like them. If Marion’s cooking wasn’t precisely homicide, it was nevertheless maiming. Adults believe you can’t break a bone by eating something weird, kids know different.
Aunt Madge, the sister-in-law, believed everything edible came out of a box or can and actual cooking wasn’t necessary, only to reheat it. The reason nobody minded her cooking was Aunt Madge was the family’s knock-me-down-beautiful-woman. Aunt Madge could have served warmed up mud with a creosote gravy and none at that table would have objected. Madge could light the fires of contentment that didn’t involve the stomach. Madge was Uncle Kingsley’s wife, the true hottie of the bunch, tall, slender, her pool dark eyes, a kid isn’t supposed to fall in love with his aunt. Madge didn’t need to cook, there was nourishment in just looking at her, yet to add Madge in high heels.
Aunt Grace was our maiden aunt, families were once required to have one. I wasn’t the first kid to suspect part of her marital fate involved her cooking. Grace was basically a survivalist, capable of warming raw ingredients to the point where they could be gnawed into submission. Grace once toyed with opening a truck stop on her retirement, her food philosophy would have worked well at a truck stop.
Audrey was not the beautiful sister if she was the family’s fashion plate. Audrey’s very beingness was fragrant, her immaculate hair in curls, coiled tight as a voltage transformer, she fit her clothes as if stitched in. Painted on is the other illusion. Audrey was a museum piece, her make-up was that detailed, she employed incredibly tiny brushes, her lipstick was applied with a jeweler’s loupe. Audrey stood a head taller than her sisters, Audrey wore furs. Audrey’s very footsteps were perfumed. Audrey was a minimalist cook. Audrey could screw up boiled potatoes.
Eileen was the joyful sister. She laughed readily, easily, abundantly. She listened to kids, even farmkids, she spoke softly. She did however marry Norwegian , Iola slash Norwegian and subsequently Eileen slid into the dark abyss of Norse/Viking/old-fish gastronomy. Not exactly toxic but neither what you want to look at. As a general rule it should not hurt to look at food, Norwegians don’t’ believe this. Eileen brought lutefisk to Thanksgiving, according to the U.N. Charter of Nations, once on the table you had to at least try it to maintain world peace. Fish ordinarily aren’t covered with fur but lutefisk is covered with fur, as explains why once eaten you can’t get the taste of it out of your mouth. A serving of lutefisk at the beginning of the Thanksgiving meal would mess up the whole thing. Everything after tasting of lutefisk. We secretly prevailed on our mother to confine the lutefisk to the last course, along with the pickles, horseradish and mints, and other mouth-cleansing paraphernalia.
Marjorie was the baby sister, she an early-generation flower power. I believed even as a kid that Marjorie inhaled. She was bird-like, her motions were quick, her pulse rapid, if her voice did have that certain husky seductive séance, think Lauren Bacall, like said, Marjorie inhaled. Marjorie would tell really good jokes, grown-up jokes at the dinner table. We didn’t much care if she could cook or not.
These the characters of our Thanksgiving and its pie war.
OK, let’s make war.