So first, just in case you’re in NYC anytime now through Labor Day … Governor’s Island is OPEN every weekend with free ferries leaving from Brooklyn and the southern tip of Manhattan. Michael Arenella and his Dreamland Orchestra Jazz Age Lawn Party (June 15/16 and August 17/18) is a major highlight, but the little island with spectacular views is always a good time. Enjoy the adult swings at Picnic Point – they’re my jam.
But if you don’t feel like flying through the air on a strip of rubber, perhaps I can interest you in a memoir of the tearful variety? Some people like a good cry. Me, I still haven’t forgiven Bjork for Dancer in the Dark. But there’s a reason I read this memoir. After watching The Waitress on a girls’ night in, i.e. movie, wine and gluten free cookies, I had a craving for some pie. See, in the movie Keri Russell plays this woman stuck in a toxic marriage. She’s a waitress and baker at a pie diner where whipping up original pies is her one outlet and possible way out. After drooling over what seemed like hundreds of desserts – come here, Naughty Pie with strawberry and dark chocolate – and having not eaten a real slice since going GF two years ago, I knew I needed something sweet and flaky in my life. And since I’m no baker, Beth Howard’s Making Piece fell into my hands like a warm slice of apple a la mode.
What’s so interesting about Beth Howard? For one, she lives in Eldon, Iowa’s American Gothic house, the one from the famous Grant Wood painting. Also, she makes pie and runs the Pitchfork Pie Stand in her famous home’s front yard. Sounds like a happily ever after story for a Midwestern native eager to return to her roots, but Howard’s journey home came not from a mid-life crisis quest for joy, but a desperate attempt to find peace after losing her husband. Right away Howard let’s you know what you’re in for – A Slice of Sorrow perhaps would have made a more fitting title.
Howard begins her story at a miner’s cabin in West Texas where one summer she tucked herself away to write a fairy tale memoir on all the wonders pie brought into her life. She’s in the cabin when the medical examiner calls and she soon learns that a call from an ME can only mean one thing: Someone close is gone from this world. In this case, it was the man she loved and was in the process of divorcing.
What is it about baking that helps heal sorrow? Beth suggests it’s a “circle of life thing”. She notes how when people talk nostalgic about the traditions behind their favorite pie memories, what they’re really talking about is the passage of time. It’s a way of talking about death without talking about death.
A new word I learned from this book is “Weltschmerz”. It’s German for ‘world pain’, becoming overwhelmed thinking about all the pain in the world at once. Beth’s husband was German and among the many things he left behind was a monstrous RV. While terrifying to drive at first, this RV serves as the vehicle for her healing process to begin. She visits friends all over the west coast, films a reality show pilot and judges a few pie contests, which is how she ends up back in Iowa at the State Fair.
In Eldon, I was witnessing hospitality, generosity and community pride like I had never experienced before.
You grow to love Beth and her dream of making the world eat more pie. She originally intended to give herself a year to grieve, but finds that it takes more than time and way more than a year to do so.
I enjoyed this booked enough to recommend it to a baker friend with the warning that it’s a sad story and somewhat uneven read. A few passages were well written, but overall I think the memoir could have been better if the author waited a few years to write it. I haven’t read other memoirs on grief aside from The Year of Magical Thinking. Where Didion delivers consistent, pure lucidity on her painful grieving process, Howard’s book often felt like an uncomfortable bath in someone else’s tears. But again, that’s just me and my immense aversion to avoidable sadness. Maybe by reading about other people’s losses we can start to make sense of our own, but I won’t be visiting the grief memoir section again anytime soon. Not unless there are donuts involved.
My little sister loved this book so much she hugged it and baked me a GF vegan apple pie just for recommending it. So there. I got my goodness after all, however round about. If you behave, I’ll ask her for the recipe.