Holiday Memories: After decades of Christmases, the first was made most memorable with homemade pie

The Nevada Appeal's tradition of publishing Holiday Memories written by our readers will continue through Christmas. Thanks to all those who took time to share their stories.

- Editor Barry Smith

By Judie Hartwick

Carson City

Oh the fond memories ... our first Christmas together, 1956, and my first homemade pie.

I decided it would be nice to take one to my in-laws for the holiday, my very first pie. My husband, Lee, would be so proud of his 17-year-old bride. After all, he was so worldly. He had just turned 22. The very thought of it excited me. I could just picture his chest swelling like a preening owl, the way it always did when he was pleased with me or himself. How special!

We lived in a small apartment on Allen Street in Glendale, Calif. We had been married for five months, three weeks, a few days and a couple of hours. For the most part, we had been doing OK, especially in the eating department, due more to our parents than my cooking. It was easier to go to their homes for dinner than it was to cook. Both homes were only about 10 or 12 miles, not too far, at least not for me.

I struck my head into the small cabinet to the right of the sink, the dark hole, and amazingly enough managed to rattle myself up a round pan, one of our many wedding gifts. I was surprised because I had no idea what was in there. I had just kind of thrown everything away out of sight so that the kitchen would look neat. I kept only the decorative things in sight. That was another reason I liked the folks' place for dinner. Their kitchens were always messy, and mine was neat as a pin.

I knew I needed flour for the pie crust, and probably water. I didn't know what else I would need. So what, I said to myself, without a recipe, I couldn't be held responsible. There was no choice as to what type of pie it would be. It would be pumpkin (I hated pumpkin) because that happened to be the contents of the large can that I had opened earlier, of the 50 or so with the labels torn off that had been given to us as a shower gift.

Naturally, the idea was dreamed up by a cousin who could have out-cooked Julia Child. I know now she couldn't wait to give them to us. (She wasn't a cousin on my side, I might add.) I could just imagine her laughing for weeks about her great idea. Let her laugh, I thought, I had the pumpkin, I had flour, and I had water. I also had a funny feeling that I might need sugar, but I couldn't find any. Oh, well, everything else I would need would most likely be in the can, seasonings and such. I think I might have been ahead of my time. What a gal, and only 17?

I mixed the flour and water (cinchy) and spread it in the pan. It looked good to me, with the crevices and all. I then spread the pumpkin over the crust and once again used my new rolling pin to roll out the top crust, just like apple pie. I rested the second crust lightly and ever so delicately on the top of the pumpkin. I then make a few holes like I had seen my mom do (I used the ice pick). I kind of enjoyed that part. I then turned the oven on to some temperature. It didn't matter to me. I would let the top get brown, and then it would be done. It went in.

I sat at the kitchen table, tapping my fingers, while watching the oven, as though I expected it to do something else besides bake.

Finally it was done, at least it was brown. It looked wonderful. I grabbed my smudgeless pot holders, removed my pie, and proudly sat it on the kitchen table. I thought it turned out quite well, considering my limitations. What an accomplishment.

I started watching the clock for Lee, and every now and then I would glance at my pie. I couldn't seem to concentrate on anything else. I kept watching the clock, anxious to show off my heartfelt contribution to the Christmas dinner.

He was on time as usual, but it had seemed like an eternity waiting for him. I was excited and was now the one preening. He gave me a peck and glanced at the table and said, "Oh boy, you made a pie, that's great." I smiled coyly and appeared humble. Humble? It was soon to come.

He was reticent when he said, "Maybe I should take a tiny taste of it before we take it to the folks." I didn't understand why, but said reluctantly, "Well, all right, if you insist, but don't mess it up." He took a tiny taste from the edge so as not to destroy the overall beauty, and truly it was a beauty, except for the funny gray color. After his tidbit, he just looked at me. I have never been so looked at, except on our honeymoon.

He stared a few more seconds, and then his mouth started to turn down at the corners, and he shivered. He looked as though he had just tasted dog poop. I said annoyed, "What in the world is the matter with you? That's my homemade pie. You're shivering at it, don't you dare shiver at my pie."

He responded by saying very calmly (as he always did in any situation), which made me mad to begin with, "Did you put shortening in the pie crust?" I thought, oh that's just great, we're married five months, and all this time he knew how to cook?

I answered in a falsetto voice, "No, as a matter of fact I didn't, and who do you think you are, the Galloping Gourmet?" By this time, I had started thinking of other more creative things I could do with the rolling pin.

I said, "Well, you could appreciate my effort, at least. I've been working all day on this stupid pie."

He said in a calm voice, "I don't think we'll take this to my mother's," and at that he dumped it in the trash, pan and all. Actually, after looking at the face he made, I was glad I hadn't tasted it. I was just hurt at his lack of appreciation.

Normally I was shy and a little timid, but I told him right off where he was going to sleep that night, and added that if he told Joe Mama about my pie, there would be serious consequences. I really scared him, and he never told a soul. Sure ...

We've had many laughs over the years about my pie and other things. Our laughter has sustained us and held us steadfast in our relationship when everything else seemed awry.

Well, you'll be happy to know there were no serious consequences. I swallowed my pride and refrained for the next year from making pies, at which time I was rewarded by him for having done so with a brand-spanking-new, crispy-paged "Better Home & Gardens Cookbook." It was my Christmas present, or come to think of it, maybe his. I still have it. Oh, and by the way, the other gift was a maternity bra. What a Christmas!

We will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary in June. It just doesn't get any better. Merry Christmas and happy New Year. Bless all the precious children in the world.

n Judie Hartwick is a Carson City resident.


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