For every Thanksgiving as long as I can remember, someone has always made my Grandma Shirley’s pumpkin pie.
There is nothing particularly special about it. The pie has standard ingredients – canned pumpkin, nutmeg/cinnamon/allspice, eggs, etc. – and Grandma Shirley herself once told me that making your own pie crust was a waste of time. She used the Pillsbury kind, the ones that come rolled in a plastic bag.
No matter who is making the pie, it is ALWAYS the best pumpkin pie, because it tastes like growing up and learning to make it myself at my grandmother’s hip in the kitchen.
The recipe makes two pies, which is important, because though my family on that side is small, we sure can eat a lot of pie. Years ago, my Grandpa Joe, who was the tallest grandpa I ever met. My Uncle Mike, tall and burly like a lumberjack. My Uncle Eric, tall and slim and forever branded in my head with wavy 80s hair. Then there’s my mom, somehow a foot shorter than everyone else, even though she’s the oldest. Eventually there were spouses, and when I turned 13 there were finally cousins, first Joey, then Amy, then Dylan.
We always, always eat the pie with Cool Whip.
When I was growing up, Grandma made the pie, and when I was old enough, I helped. (Sometimes my mom made it, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why, if Grandma was still young and spry enough to do it.) When I moved away at the age of 22, I introduced the pie to all the Thanksgiving orphans who would gather at my apartment and later my house. I loved knowing that back in Missouri my grandmother was making the pie, just as I was making the pie. It was my equivalent of looking up at the same moon.
Talking about my grandmother is very hard.
She is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s, and no longer makes the pie. She may not even remember the pie, which she made a million times in her 80+ years. She also no longer remembers much about me, or her children, or sometimes how to form sentences or what words to use for simple household items.
This year, Joel and I are going to see my family for Thanksgiving. They have never met him, and we were hoping to ease into that on a non-holiday occasion, but my Grandma’s healthcare providers think this is the last year she will remember Thanksgiving, as a concept. I moved back to the Midwest in part to be close to her, to be able to spend whatever time I can, so we’re packing up the car and heading down.
It is hard for me to know that Joel will never know her as I knew her, that she will never know him. I am on the fence about Claire ever meeting her, because I would rather Grandma Shirley live for her in my stories, rather than be something scary and confusing. I am heartbroken that my grandmother will never truly understand the choice I’ve made, to tackle motherhood. And that if I have my own child one day, he or she will never sit on their great-grandmother’s lap (like I did mine) and feel her love and hear her stories.
This year, I will volunteer to make the pie.