Grief doesn’t just talk. It screams. Wails. Blames. Sobs. Bakes. Yes, bakes. In Beth M. Howard’s memoir, Making Piece, she chronicles in cringe-inducing, gut-wrenching detail the downward spiral of sorrow that she succumbed to following the death of her husband—and how she eventually escaped the clutches of grief. And it has everything to do with pie Making it, not eating it. Curiously, as Howard muses midway through the book, the very act of navigating grief is quite a lot like making pie. Strawberry-rhubarb pie, in particular. “It’s bitter. It’s messy. It’s got some sweetness, too. And sometimes the ingredients get added in the wrong order,” says Howard. “Yet even though it isn’t perfect, it still turns out okay in the end.” As does Howard’s story. Readers who find themselves in tears early on—and, let’s be honest here, desperate craving pie recipes—won’t want to overlook the book’s last few pages.—Renee Schettler Rossi
I blame pie.
If it wasn’t for banana cream pie, I never would have been born. If my mom hadn’t made my dad that pie, the one with the creamy vanilla pudding, loaded with sliced bananas and covered in a mound of whipped cream, the one that prompted him to propose to her, I wouldn’t be here. Think about it. The anatomical shape of bananas. The pudding so luscious and moist. The cream on top as soft as a pillow on which to lie down and inspire certain sensuous acts. My parents were virgins and intended to stay that way until they exchanged vows at the altar. That pie made wedding plans urgent. If it wasn’t for that pie, they may never have gotten married and had me.
If I had never been born, I never would have learned to make pie. Not just banana cream, but classic apple pie and strawberry-rhubarb and chocolate cream and peach crumble and many others. If I had never been born, I never would have grown up to become a writer and gotten that job at the dot com that paid so well, but stressed me out so much that I quit to become a full-time pie baker in Malibu. If I hadn’t gotten that baking job, I never would have made pies for Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg, and I never would have taken time off to go on that road trip, the one where I ended up at Crater Lake National Park and met Marcus Iken that night in the hotel lobby.
If I had never met Marcus, never fallen in love with him and his almond-shaped green eyes, exotic German-British accent, and those odd-yet-elegant leather hiking boots that laced up at the sides, I never would have invited him to join me at my friends’ wedding in Tuscany. And I never would have taken the train from Italy to his apartment in Stuttgart, Germany, carrying that pie I baked him, the apple one heaped high with fruit, drowning in its own juices and radiating the seductive scent of cinnamon, the one that made him realize I was like no woman he’d ever met before and that he couldn’t live without me—the pie that prompted him to propose to me.
If it wasn’t for pie, I never would have married Marcus and moved to Germany, to Oregon, and then to Mexico with him. If I had never married him, I would not have been the one listed as the emergency contact, the one who got The Phone Call that day. I never would have learned how a call from a medical examiner can mean only one thing, how harsh the word would sound in my ears—“Deceased,” he’d said—and how that word would haunt me, change my life, change me.
If I had never been born, I never would have known what it feels like to lose Marcus, never known what his sexy, athletic body, the body I had made love to hundreds of times, looked like lying in a casket, cold, hard, lifeless, eventually cremated, his ashes buried, never to be seen again.
If only my mom hadn’t made my dad that banana cream pie.
I lost my husband of 40 years less than a year ago. Cooking has always been a passion of mine, and yes, I cook more than ever and do not eat it, but give it away.
I am not a pie maker, but can totally relate. I have not learned the art of making a crust.
I am struggling each and every day. Each and every week I get stronger and braver, to try something new, whether it be a new dish to make, a new book to read, a new anything. And then I go back to each and every day.
Amy, I am so incredibly sorry to hear of your loss. And yet your strength and courage—each and every day—is inspiring beyond words. Thank you for sharing. And for what it’s worth, I find that pie crusts are like dogs in that they can smell your fear. I have faith you can do it.
Oh, Beth…I can empathize completely. My partner committed suicide less than two years ago and in that first week following his death, I gave a pie-baking lesson to my best friend and a neighbor who came to help me. It got me through that one hard day and taught them how to make pies for life. Like you, I bake and I write and, like you, pie has been responsible for the start of relationships and for healing me when they’ve ended. My sincerest sympathy for your loss and my enthusiastic congratulations for your success. I look forward to reading more! Sending you a hug…Lisa McNamara (if you’re interested, you can read my essay “Pie-Eyed” in the anthology The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage.)
A friend of mine who was grieving once said to me and my husband that the easiest way to take the focus from himself and his loss was to focus on others. Seems you feel the same, Lisa.
Phyllis, I am so sorry for your loss. Your comment is so sweet and touching. It always fascinates me that that we can feel such a strong connection to our loved ones so readily through the act of making pie. It’s what keeps me baking. I hope you’ll keep on making pies too. I have no doubt you will. Take care of that rolling pin. And of yourself. With warmest regards, Beth (author of “Making Piece”)
Only want to say thank you, Beth, for writing your beautiful story. My mom, whom I lost in June 2013, was the “best” pie maker ever and I have inherited her rolling pin. My husband says I now make pies that are just as good as hers because of it. Every time I bake a pie, when I’m rolling out the pastry I feel like crying but I also feel like her spirit is right there as I hold her pin. Thanks again!
What a clever idea, Beth. It’s a tender, funny and memorable piece. Thanks very much for writing it.