Ari Cheren’s video editing is getting even better. Here’s his second installment of the “Pie Across the Nation” RV Book Tour video update. Here we are in Seattle. As you can see, it’s been a jam-packed schedule. And as you can hear, I’ve lost my voice. With a little help from Vick’s Vapo-Rub, my lungs and vocal cords are gradually improving. Enjoy the show. And enjoy the music — it’s by the Portland band, Keep Your Fork, There’s Pie. (Blogger is cutting off the right side of the video. If you want to watch in full screen mode, you can either double click right on the video or view it over at YouTube: http://youtu.be/7iC2Rdj-ryY)
Less than 48 hours after my long haul from LA to Portland, I drove the RV north to Seattle — with my parents and two dogs as passengers, in the rain — for my 9-year-old niece’s dance recital. Tired and cranky and clenching the RV steering wheel as semis whizzed past, kicking up curtains of blinding rain, I wanted to turn “The Beast” around and go home. But, by god, I was not going to miss this dance performance.The last time I went to my niece’s dance recital was five years ago, her very first performance when she was four, when she still had baby fat on her little body. Now she is long, lanky, and muscular, a graceful athlete with big brown eyes and excellent coordination. She is full of strength, beauty, and confidence — and some fine dance moves. And I was an aunt full of pride. (Photos: That’s my niece Eleni above, far left — and below, front and center.)When the youngest dancers came on stage for their turn it brought back a flood of memories. I remembered watching Eleni in her first recital, a gasp-inducing pageant of cuteness. I can still hear the collective “Awwwwww” from the audience when the baby ballerinas came on stage. I remembered my own dance recitals from my own childhood. My sister and I spent our entire elementary school years in ballet, tap, jazz, and gymnastics classes. Over time we collected trunkfuls of tutus, leotards, and sequin- and feather-covered costumes, which we used for subsequent talent shows, well-organized events that included choreographed song and dance (thanks to my sister), and profit-earning ticket sales to the neighborhood. I marvel now at our pre-Game Boy era creativity and industriousness, underscoring the advantage of growing up in a place (Iowa) and time when TV didn’t air 24 hours a day.Now in this Seattle suburb, I studied this new crop of wide-eyed 4-year-olds. I observed their innocent faces, watching them take in the enormity of their on-stage debuts. This experience would be their first time in front of a big audience, first time wearing makeup and princess-like layers of satin and tulle, first time hearing the seductive sound of applause.
My sister remembers her first time on a stage like this. She told me that the feeling was so powerful, so addictive, it formed her entire future. She knew at that precise moment, hearing all that clapping — just for her — at the age of four, that she was going to be an actress. And that’s what she did, she became an actress, and a successful one at that.
So I sat there and wondered, what are all these little girls thinking right now? Are they so smitten by this glorious moment that they’re going to spend their lives seeking to recreate this stage-loving feeling? What will they grow up to be? Will some of them prove to be such talented dancers they’ll end up in the New York City Ballet? Or will some go the other direction, maybe become strippers. Will they become doctors? CEOs? Pastry chefs? Pie Bakers?! Will they win scholarships to Harvard? Will they get into drugs and drop out of high school? Will they have children? Will they get cancer? Have their hearts broken? Will they be freelance writers who marry sexy, smart German men, work really hard at the marriage, threaten divorce only to lose their husbands to ruptured aortas and become grieving widows? Do they have any idea of what life holds for them? To look at their beautiful cherubic faces, it was clear. No. They have no clue. Lucky them. Lucky, lucky them.After the little girls took their bow, the older girls came on stage. These 14- and 15-year-olds didn’t inspire the same kind of wonder. It was clear they were already forming their life’s direction, already having created some kind of history. By their wild gyrations these girls expressed what I was feeling at that age: Let me out of the house, I’m ready to see the world! I’m ready to have sex! Okay, maybe not all of them. But there were a few suggestive hip-hop numbers that indicated their innocence had left the building.The recital ended and the lobby filled with parents handing bouquets of roses to their happy dancers, exuberant girls with cheeks glowing pink from all that rouge and adrenaline. Between glimpsing all this hope for the future and reflecting on all my nostalgia, it was well worth the white knuckle RV drive in the rain.
But it wasn’t my musing and memories that stand out. It was one specific moment, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing. My niece spotted me sitting in the second row, next to her dad (my brother Patrick), and flashed me the biggest, most magnificent smile, a smile that said, “Look at me, Aunt Beth. Isn’t this cool? I’m so glad you’re here.” Glad I’m here? I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now! That moment made me forget about everything else — my grief over Marcus, selling my pie TV show, the Iraq war, the Gulf oil spill, my overdue taxes — even if just for a few blissful minutes. Which is why I’m already looking forward to next year’s recital. No matter how far I have to travel for it.
I went to Seattle again to visit my brother, the one who is recovering from chemo. I am so very very very VERY VERY VERY happy to report he is looking healthy again. He has color back in his face, a little roundness to his cheeks, and his eyebrows have grown back. It’s amazing what a difference eyebrows can make. Who knew how those little patches of hair could influence whether you look like you’re alive or one step away from death!
I stayed a few extra days to help with the kids who had shorter school hours this week. I picked up the two youngest ones from the bus stop and took them on an afternoon hike in the foothills of the Cascades. Now, I thought I might have to coax them up Tiger Mountain, a 2,300 foot climb, with bribes of treats, but instead the two of them, ages 9 and 10, decided they would run up the mountain. RUN! Those young and athletic little shits! So it was me that had to bribe myself as I tried to catch up with them. “If I make it to the top I will…pant pant….reward myself…pant pant…with pie!” I mumbled aloud.
When I finally reached them at the summit — she was lounging like a little lizard in the sun on a flat rock while he was engraving his name on a log — they chimed, “Hey, Aunt Beth! What took you so long!”
Six point two miles and two and a half hours after we started, we returned to the car. They both fought off sleep as I drove us a few miles further up the highway to the town of North Bend. It was half way up the mountain hike, during a moment of sweaty, near-hallucinatory fatigue, that I remembered something about a nearby diner that had been the setting for old TV show.
“But we want milkshakes, Aunt Beth,” came the chanting from the back seat.
“Yes, I’m sure they have milkshakes too. It’s one of those old-fashioned diners,” I replied, mindful not to add, IF the place is still there.
Yes, the pie diner is still there. It’s called Twede’s now. It still has a wall of memorabilia with the Twin Peaks actors’ autographed headshots (presumably copies of the originals, replaced after the diner burned down 10 years ago) and it still has pie on the menu. After some negotiating and compromising, we ordered two extra-thick strawberry milkshakes and a slice of boysenberry pie. I cannot say I was impressed with the pie — its filling was somewhat goopy and obviously reheated in the microwave– but the milkshakes were fantastic and, anyway, it was still a sweet reward for our accomplishment. I mean, how else does one gain satisfaction from this torturous life other than achieving small but doable goals and rewarding ourselves for them. I just wonder, though, that if my goal was a tiny little mountaintop and my reward was a piece of mediocre pie, how will my brother reward himself for beating cancer and getting his health back. He will need to think of something bigger than pie! Maybe for now having a clear MRI is reward enough. That and getting his eyebrows back.
I paid the check and smiled as my still-energetic niece and nephew bounced their way back out to the car. My belly full and my calves tight, more chanting came from the back seat as we drove past a looming peak with a patch of snow on top — it was Mount Si, Tiger Mountain’s big brother, and it boasts a monster of an 8-mile hiking trail.
“Aunt Beth,” they said, “can we climb Mount Si tomorrow?”
Oh, to be 10 years old again.
I’m in Seattle at the Seattle Pie Company, a new pie shop in the Magnolia neighborhood run by a darling young blond woman with the world’s most welcoming smile. It’s a sweet little spot with a big display of crumble-topping pies filling the space – four giant shelves packed with fruity, homemade-looking, county fair-comfort food kind of pies — with a sign above stating “Voted Seattle’s Best Pies.” Call me crazy but I ordered a Swedish pancake to eat instead of a pie slice. (And I didn’t even know tomorrow is National Pancake Day.)
I plan to drive back to Portland any minute, but right now I can’t seem to extract myself from this pie womb. You see, I’m feeling quite low today. Oh sure, I know what you’re thinking. You should have had the pie, silly woman, not the pancake! But that’s just the problem. While I like to think pie is the cure for everything, to my knowledge pie cannot cure cancer. And that makes me very sad.
I have just come from dropping off my youngest brother at his office in downtown Seattle. I watched him and the back of his newly bald head, his briefcase weighing heavy in his hand, as he disappeared through the doors of the highrise. As the doors closed behind him the knife that has already been living in my heart for the past six months twisted and gouged its way in even deeper. I don’t want to lose him too!
I made the 3-hour drive up to Seattle yesterday to see my brother, who on October 26 – the same day I swallowed a radioactive iodine pill to kill my hyperactive thyroid gland – underwent surgery to remove a malignant tumor on his testicle. This is why life is not fair: I am childless and newly widowed with no job, no real obligations (financial or otherwise), no mortgage, no car payments – basically, no pressing need to stick around on this planet – and after my treatment I received a clean bill of health. My brother is married with four kids under the age of 16, with a demanding career, a family to feed, baseball games to coach, dance recitals to attend, a big lawn to mow — he is greatly needed here! — and after his treatment he received news that the cancer had spread. Vascular invasion, they call it. For the past two months they proceeded to pump him full of poison chemicals until he was so sick he couldn’t leave the house, let alone the bed.
He finished his chemo treatments two weeks ago and called me, excited with the news that his doctor had deemed him “clear” enough to remove the easy-access chemo port that had been sewn into his chest.
My brother is brave and positive. He is not, like his big sister, dwelling on the “what if’s” and “why me’s” (or “why not me’s”). While I continue to sob and wail over losing Marcus, he is donning his suit and tie every day, each morning packing lunches for himself and all the kids, going to work to earn the money to pay for the house, the soccer/basketball/baseball/swim team fees, the dance lessons, the soon-to-come college tuitions, the health insurance. While I continue to languish in my grief, my brother (who at 42 is one year younger than Marcus) has taken on the greatest fight of his life – a fight, from all signs so far, he is winning. At the very least, he is moving forward with strength and grace.
I need to stop focusing on the post-chemo pallor of my brother’s skin, the sunkenness of his eyes, and the hairlessness of his body, and start focusing on his spirit – his bright, optimistic, willful, unstoppable spirit. I need to quit dwelling on the knife of grief penetrating my heart, or at least start learning how to tolerate its pain better. Marcus is gone and my endless crying is not going to bring him back. My brother is still here. He is a mighty warrior whose battle cries are not those of sadness, rather filled with hope.
What I am trying to say is, when life throws a shit pie in your face and you’re trying to wipe its mess of depression off your cheeks, I for one can look to my brother for how to deal with it. “Shit pie?” he would say. “No thanks. I’ll have a slice of attitude adjustment with a scoop of determination on the side.” To reply to that I’ll borrow a line from When Harry Met Sally and say, “I’ll have what he’s having.”
I’ve been sitting here long enough now burning up so much energy ruminating on death — and fending off death — that I’ve digested the pancake. To quiet the hunger pangs I’m going to order some pie for myself before I hit the road. Funny, just the thought of a piece of marionberry pie lifts my mood a little. But the thing that buoys me even more is realizing how lucky I am to have a brother who is such an inspiring human being. So inspiring that I’m going to buy him a whole pie — the delicious-looking Desserted Island Crumble — and drop it off at his office on my way out of town.
Seattle Pie Company, 3111 W. McGraw St., Seattle, WA — Phone: 206-217-4PIE
I’m back in Portland and my brother just sent me some pictures. The verdict on the pie was “Excellent,” he wrote. “Yum.” But then I already knew that because I bought a whole pie for myself too. The same kind, Desserted Island, which is a mix of berries, apples, and whatever else — the kind of pie that has something in it to satisfy everyone’s taste and the perfect pie for a gemini like me who can’t make a decision when faced with too many good choices. Apple? Blueberry? Marionberry? Peach? Strawberry? How about all of them! I just finished my second piece. Indeed, excellent. Yum. It’s so nice to end the day feeling better. Pie may not cure cancer but it does cure the blues. Thanks, Seattle Pie Company.