Ask any one of my relatives. My Mother Mary – with the big hair, the big red lipstick, and the big always-at-her-side handbag – had the biggest heart, and sweet tooth on the planet.
It was no surprise that during her senior years, she volunteered to ”bring the pies” to all the family dinners. Not because they were hand-made family recipes (no, she hated cooking) but because the pies she brought were always “the best.” After all, they had the words, “Served in fine restaurants” on the front of the box. (They probably were served in a fine restaurant – somewhere – at one time.) But we all knew they were lovingly bought South Philly corner grocery store pies that my mother deemed as “gourmet bargains” because of the claim on the box.
But it wasn’t just the caliber of pie. It was the bigness of variety for her as well. Just like her innate “cook for an army” Slovak roots, she always brought far too many. Dinner for 4? We need 4 pies! Family dinner with the tribe? 8 pies is a MUST. Everyone got pie. And some to take home. Pumpkin and apple, coconut custard, pecan. My nephews and nieces and kids would joke. “Oh, look… Grandmom brought the pies!” in that utterly surprised tone. It was the family joke that Mom never caught on. She was too proud of her achievement.
So it was no surprise to any of us that Mom waited to pass until her last pie delivery during the holidays, right after her 84th birthday back in 2005. She rallied for one last piefest.
After the funeral, I remember coming home and racing to the refrigerator to see if my ultimate memento remained… her last pie box. There it was. With one last piece, still in the refrigerator. I removed the contents, cleaned out the box, and placed it on top of the fridge as a keepsake. Her last pie. It sat there for several years, now a prized possession.
Fast forward a few years to when my new fiancé – Nick – who was moving his things into my house before our wedding – began to rearrange our now combined kitchenware in the same finite space. The purge began with a good cleaning and inventory. “Here’s an old pie box,” he said aloud, ready to chuck it. “How long has THAT been here…?” he asked before I barked, “Don’t touch that! It’s my mother’s last pie box!” clutching it to my chest as I recanted the story to him. He gently placed it in a new home on the tippy-top shelf in the hall closet after wrapping it like a newborn baby.
A few months later, I was having surgery. Big, scary surgery. Just like a Hallmark channel movie scene, Nick was lovingly there in the recovery room when I opened my eyes and gripped my hand all the way back to my regular room. Once I became fully alert, he wedged himself at my bedside and presented me with a beautifully wrapped package. A frame of some sort. “NO….. you didn’t!” I exclaimed. He had hunted down a photo of my mother and enlarged it to fill the cellophane area of the pie box. The box was then trimmed and handsomely matted and custom framed for me, so she could watch over me through the pie box rather than sit in a closet.
I started balling happy tears about probably the most thoughtful gift I had ever received. The nurses rushed over…they thought my tears meant I was in pain! I blurted, “No, no. It’s my mother, in a pie box!”
I’m lucky they didn’t think I had too much anesthesia! Luckily, Nick explained the tale, showed the gift, and then blushed at our collective reaction of “Awwww. How sweet!” Yes, it was sweet. Beyond sweet. I was one lucky girl.
So although Mom is gone - (as Nick is, too, far too soon) - there she resides… permanently on my kitchen wall. My mother in a pie box. One that will always remind me that her pies were lovingly served in America’s fine restaurants. And better yet... that our family gatherings with our loved ones are indeed one of life’s most precious gifts.
May you have truly wonderful pie box and “thought-of-you” caliber memories with your loved ones this holiday season.
Mary Ellen Sokalski
Diva of Direct Marketing.