Saturday, January 16, 2010

Fault lines, family and pecan pie

Interesting patterns sometimes happen in families; some represent time-honored traditions, warm memories and good feelings, and serve to underscore our connections. Others are not so positive, and can carry hurt and even destruction down through the generations. I imagine almost every family has its share of both; ours is no exception. I thought about this when I wrote about Mac and Dylan as little boys, and thought about it again last night when I mentioned Pop in my post. These fault lines, like the geophysical ones responsible for the catastrophe in Haiti, may change. We may grow in our abilities to cope with them, take their good and avoid being crippled by their bad. But the fault lines are immutable.

Though the pattern I'm thinking of tonight didn't really present itself in painful, undeniable focus until Pop was probably pretty far gone down the dreadful road to hell that is Alzheimers, it must have been repeated over generations from whom we cannot hear. And maybe our collective family view of it isn't even accurate, though it's all we have to go on. Briefly, then: Pop's family pattern, from which he seemed unable to deviate, was that the family had a son of whom he generally approved (Rodney's brother, and eventually, Mac) and one of whom he generally did not approve (Rodney, and eventually, Dylan). This confined his interactions with our sons, while Pop lived with us, to the limitations of those roles. And it created a break, in the long run, from which Pop's family wasn't able to regain its equilibrium. After Pop entered the nursing home, neither of the boys would ever see him alive again. When he died, the two men of our nuclear family who were present at his funeral were Rodney and Mac. (His very kind sister and her husband came down from Wisconsin to be present, that very kind brother-in-law delivering the brief homily.) Mac wore the uniform in which he graduated, his rank above that of his grandfather's, but his title, Machinists' Mate, proudly identical. All of us felt the absence of Dylan sorely. Perhaps Pop, resting at last, felt it most profoundly of all.

And as one of the other things we share in the face of grief is food, I thought I would offer you one of our family's most beloved recipes, which my dear friend Tracy gave me long ago. The time year I made it, years before we realized Pop had Alzhemers, I served it for dessert at Thanksgiving. Pop and his wife, our own tiny little saint, Bernice, were staying with us for the holiday. (One of these days, I will be courageous enough to write about Bernice, who truly was loved by every person who met her.) After his first taste, Pop leaned over to me and said, "I'll meet you in the kitchen at midnight with two forks".

So: into a slightly pre-baked deep-dish pie crust, you pour this mixture (I usually just throw it all into the mixer and whirl it together): a stick of melted butter, 1-1/2 cups of sugar, 1 heaping teaspoon of cornstarch, 1/4 cup of buttermilk (see me after class if you need to know why you have to use buttermilk), 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, 3 lightly beaten eggs and a cup of so of chopped pecans. Bake it for about an hour at 350. It's not impossible that some family fault lines -- the tiny ones, the ones that CAN be repaired -- could be made at least a little better by a slice of this pie.

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