When I moved into the American Gothic House I thought it would be a good place to write. And it was. I wrote “Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie” my first winter here. Winter being the operative word. Winters in Eldon, Iowa are supremely quiet, void of tourists and ideal for holing up to crank out a manuscript. But summers? I have managed to undo any sense of tranquility and internal focus during the summers by running the Pitchfork Pie Stand.
This summer in particular has been insanely busy. All the media attention garnered by my book–and my new life in the little white house made famous by Grant Wood’s painting–has brought more pie-loving customers causing my cottage industry to quadruple in sales. It may sound like a good problem to have until you take a peek into my kitchen. Measuring about 10 x 20-feet with limited counter space and one domestic Maytag oven, cranking out 100 pies per weekend is no small feat.
In spite of hiring help–a 19-year-old culinary student and the mailman’s 16-year-old daughter–I haven’t been able to get out of the kitchen. I have, literally, been up to my elbows in pie dough. To accommodate the bigger batches of dough, I bought a bigger, deeper tub for mixing it. Elbows indeed. It’s no wonder it looks like I’ve been spending time at the gym. I’ve made so much pie dough, and rolled it and crimped it, that my arms have developed bulging muscles. I tell people when they ask how I stay so fit, “Making pie in bulk is an extreme sport.”
So while I should be reveling in the fact that my business is both successful and helps me stay in shape, I find myself complaining about my lack of time to write. I believe in a balanced life. Pie making and writing complement each other and the two activities combined have long been a source of equilibrium for me. Pie making is physical, tactile, and meditative — and I am always satisfied to see (and smell) the tangible results of my efforts. And while writing is sedentary physically, the cerebral calisthenics are a great workout and release endorphins of a different but necessary kind. But my definition of balance is being able to switch between my two passions on more of a weekly basis, not seasonal. The scales are currently tipped to the extreme.
My life in summer is all pie, all the time. I spend my “days off” going on a weekly scavenger hunt for fruit for my pies. I order more ingredients from my wholesaler. I order more pie boxes and tins. I do bookkeeping. I fulfill pie T-shirt orders. I pay bills. I update my Facebook and website pages with the coming weekend’s pie menu. I teach one or two pie classes a week. On Thursday nights I prep for the next few days of baking by making and rolling dough, peeling a case of apples and slicing a few dozen lemons. Fridays and Saturdays are solidly spent in baking mode with nary a chance to answer the phone, let alone finish a cup of coffee. That leaves no time for writing my new book proposal, blogging or even writing in my journal.
I miss my computer. I miss my pen. I miss being alone with my thoughts to craft a story. I miss processing events — my encounters with people and places, my misadventures and my milestones — and finding meaning in them. A lot has happened this summer both in and out of the kitchen. I turned 50. My brother Mike visited and we painted a mural to brighten up a wall in Eldon. I got a new Maytag oven and fridge donated to the house after the disaster of my old one breaking down. The 3-year-anniversary of Marcus’ death was just last week. I baked pies for Larry the Cable Guy and with Marie Osmond. Oh, and I started dating an old friend from high school who I’ve fallen madly in love with. To name a few items of significance. I want to write it all down, to write stories about this crazy, messy, rich life. Before I forget. And believe me, my memory is terrible.
“Just get through Labor Day, then you can get back to writing,” my mother tenderly and wisely suggests when I call her with my lament. That’s just two more unbalanced weeks of pure pie. So until September 3rd at 5PM (the official date and time the Pitchfork Pie Stand closes for the season) you will find me wearing my overalls and a flour-covered apron, inevitably with pie dough stuck to my (muscular) arms and a smudge of flour on my face, either in the kitchen making pie or in my living room selling it. And after that? I will continue teaching pie classes (resuming in mid-October) and I will most definitely be spending time sitting at my desk, getting my typing fingers and my brain back in shape.
NOTE: The Pitchfork Pie Stand, located inside the American Gothic House in Eldon, Iowa, is open summer weekends, Memorial Day to Labor Day, Saturdays and Sundays 12 to 5. Pie classes are held in the American Gothic House year-round. For my book events, pie demos and other appearances, please check my Appearances page on my website: www.theworldneedsmorepie.com.