Goodbye, Bob

Death is part of life. I continue to be reminded of this almost daily. Yesterday, on the day that marked six months of Marcus’ passing, I learned that Bob Webb, father of my friend Mimi, died. He passed away a few weeks ago, I was told by Betty, my Texas landlord who just lost her faithful four-legged companion, Shippy, due to old age. I just saw Mimi the day I left LA to return to Portland in the RV, so I can only surmise Bob passed away immediately after my visit with Mimi. I met Bob this summer in at Mimi’s La Posada Milagro Guest House in Terlingua and made him a Banana Cream Pie. I fell in love with him as if he was a surrogate grandfather and he, in turn, adopted me as his “fifth daughter.” Our time together was short but as sweet and nurturing as the vanilla pudding in the homemade pie. Mimi cooked us suppers as Bob and I sat around the kitchen table where he talked animatedly about his days in the war, when he lived in Japan and Germany. He was interested in hearing about Marcus’ work (Marcus was workng in Germany this summer) and even spoke a little German with me. Well, now Bob will be able to meet Marcus for himself and ask him all about what it was like to be an engineer with a German automotive powerhouse. Better yet, Bob will be reunited with his two late wives.
Whatever version of heaven you believe in, I like to think there will be a huge smorgasbord of pie and that Bob is up there right now helping himself to the biggest, best piece of Banana Cream Pie he’s ever tasted. (As for Marcus, surely he’s enjoying some good German beer with his pie.) We’ll miss you, Bob. Party on, dudes. And save some pie (and beer) for the rest of us, because we’ll all be joining you eventually.

Pie Fixes Everything? I Wish!

My trip to Austin was short, less that 48 hours short. What was I thinking going there at a time like this – “this” being one month since my husband died. Of course Grief came along with me, like a hitchhiker, sitting right there next to me in the passenger seat. I had to pull over quite a few times to quiet the bastard down, pull over and cry and cry and cry to subdue its backseat driving. Anyway, what I could see of Austin, through the cloudiness of my sad and puffy eyes, was spectacular. Austin appears to be a sweet city with an eclectic combination of funky farm life, youthful university vibe (all that promise for the future!), stuffy government (just think, W lived here…), athletic energy (all those runners and bikers along the river trail), and downtown sophistication with elegant bistros. And then there’s the music scene. At 10PM on a Monday night there was live music blaring from every bar in the six-block radius I walked. I liked everything I saw, though admittedly I didn’t see much. I’ll be sure to return when I get my energy back….at least one can hope. On my drive back to Terlingua, I stopped in Fredericksburg, a German town right here in Texas. Even the street names are in German, including the German word Strasse for street. There was Friedhelm’s Bavarian Restaurant, Der Lindenbaum, and the Altdorf Biergarten. Naturally, this reminded me of Marcus…but that was okay, in fact it was good, nice, cozy – or gemutlich, as long as we’re using German words here – and made me feel closer to him. The thing about Fredericksburg is that is not only German, it is also famous for its pie! (Maybe this is where Marcus and I should have settled.) This Texas hill country is fertile with peaches and pecans, both exceptional pie fillings.

I was determined to stop in Fredericksburg for a piece of pie. And like I did with my yoga session last week, dedicating my practice to Marcus (you know, let him use my body to enjoy an hour of yoga, like Patrick Swayze used Whoopi Goldberg’s body in GHOST), I planned to dedicate my pie eating session to Angelika, Marcus’ mother. Angelika has been on my mind every day since Marcus died. I am not only grieving for Marcus, I am grieving for her. Marcus was her only child. And even from my bottomless pit of pain, I cannot begin to fathom what it’s like to lose a child. If grief were a contest, I have no doubt a mother would win every time. Which is why I thought a pie dedication to Angelika was needed.
After asking a local woman for a pie recommendation, her face lit up with a smile. “Oh, that’s easy. The Fredericksburg Pie Company. It’s just around the corner.” Are you sure it’s open today, I asked, having noted that although there were a number of tourists strolling the sidewalks nearly every restaurant was closed. In Germany this is called a “Ruhetag” or rest day, though a Wednesday seemed an odd day for everything to be closed. “I’m sure it will be open,” she insisted.With buoyed hopes and a hungry belly, I drove around the corner and there it was in its kitschy, cute, touristy glory: The Fredericksburg Pie Company. An old white Craftsman cottage with a front porch, covered in vines, perched on a pert green lawn. It was picture perfect. I could already taste the peach pie, or maybe pecan, or maybe both. I would have one piece for Angelika (pecan is her favorite) and one piece for me (peach is one of my top 5), and, if necessary, a third piece for my hitchhiker, Grief.
As if my mission wasn’t clear enough, I saw a sign hanging from the rafters of the house. “PIE FIXES EVERYTHING,” it promised. In my broken state, I was desperate for pie. (Well, no, I was desperate to have Marcus back, but….) “Pie is better than a psychiatrist,” I thought. And then I saw another sign. “CLOSED,” it said. “And you thought putting your life back together after Marcus was going to be that easy, did you?” said the voice inside. “Easy as pie? Ha!”
I got back in my car, pulled over a few more times to cry, and eventually ate a stale croissant I had been carrying around for 3 days. I will have to think of other ways to help Angelika with her grief, while still dealing with mine. My goal is to spend Thanksgiving with Marcus’ parents in Germany. I will bring all the ingredients to make pecan pie — and I will make every effort to leave Grief behind.

Our Sixth Anniversary…On the Floor, On the Road

If your husband has just died and if you are anything like me, which I hope you are not, this is how you “celebrate” your sixth wedding anniversary.

PHOTO: Walking toward the light. Our wedding in Alpirsbach, Germany, six years ago.

You start the day by opening your eyes, struck once again with searing grief at the realization that your husband is gone. Gone as in no longer a resident of Planet Earth. Gone as in deceased. Deceased. Deceased is the word the Medical Examiner used when he called you and told you that you were listed as the emergency contact for a Marcus Iken. He used the article – “a” – as if your husband was an object. A car. A watch. A book. A husband. A deceased husband. “Your husband is deceased,” he said, his voice deep and gravelly like a military officer. These are the words from The Phone Call you wished had never come, The Phone Call that you makes you wish you could turn the clock back a few years, a few months, even just a few hours. The Phone Call is what you remember each morning you open your eyes to reality. Harsh, painful reality. Reality that you are alone, that you don’t want to be alone, that you want to wake up next to the man you married, the man you loved, the man you still love, the man you would sell your soul to have back in your life, back in your bed. You want to close your eyes again, but you cannot. You cannot sleep even though you wish you could sleep forever, sleep and never wake up again.
You have two dogs that need to go out so you have to get up. You put on your husband’s bathrobe, the red plaid one that still holds a bit of his scent, the one you sleep with every night like a security blanket, pressed up to your nose, your faced buried in the cotton, your tears soaking it. You wrap his robe tightly around you, as if to wrap yourself in your husband’s body, his strong, manly embrace, the embrace that comforted you, made you feel safe, so many times. When he was alive. You open the door for the dogs, holding your hand over your eyes to ward off the blinding bright morning sun.
You say to your husband who is not there, “Good morning, my love. Can I make you a latte and toast with Nutella?” And you do. You make coffee and toast for both of you. And then you remind yourself, “You know, if you keep pretending Marcus is here with you, you will need to see a psychiatrist.” You don’t care. You need to keep talking to him. You need to believe he is with you in your desert cabin. You need to make him his favorite breakfast on your anniversary.
You’ve lost 15 pounds from the stress of losing your husband, your best friend, your confidante, your soulmate, so you figure you should just eat his Nutella bread and you drink his coffee, you need the calories.
After breakfast you take a shower. You use the Verbena soap you bought for him at Whole Foods, which you found when sorting through his belongings, it was still in the little sack on which you had written “Enjoy,” which makes you remember the day when you gave it to him, when he took an afternoon bath that you ran for him in your Venice apartment. The soap reminds you of just how much he left behind, how much he had been looking forward to, how instantly he vanished. You start crying. Not just crying but sobbing. Deep guttural sobs. You drop into a heap on the shower floor. You are crying so hard you sound like something primeval. Like an animal. Like a cow that has been hit by a car and is laying in the middle of the road moaning in pain from the impact, wishing someone, anyone, would come by and shoot it, put it out of its misery, end its despair. You are that cow, injured and broken, moaning with pain, writhing from despair. Strange sounds emit from your body, wailings that define the brokenness of your heart. Loud, desperate cries that you hope the neighbors can’t hear. If they hear you they will know how bad off you are, they will not let you be alone. You lay there in the fetal position for an hour, water streaming onto your body. Your back heaves up and down with each sob, each gasp for air. Somewhere inside you are aware that you live in a desert and that you really should be more conscious about saving water. But you tell yourself, “If a long shower is what will keep me from driving my car off a cliff into the Rio Grande, then let the water run.” The water runs and runs, as hot and steady and constant as your tears.
You’ve become an expert at crying. You have sobbed hard like this every day for 33 days now. You are used to looking at yourself in the mirror and seeing puffy eyes. Permanent puffy eyes. You don’t care. You don’t care about much. You don’t bother to brush your teeth. You don’t shave your legs. You never put on makeup or lipstick, not even lip balm on your dry, cracked lips. You don’t care that your jeans are two sizes too big from losing all that weight, uninterested in food, uninterested in life, unable to eat, unable to swallow with grief living like a rock wedged in your throat.
The phone rings so you raise yourself off the ground, slowly. You turn off the shower and crawl to the phone which sits on the bathroom cabinet. It is not The Phone Call. It is Melissa, your best friend in LA, the only person who seems to be able to rub any salve on your shattered soul. She hears your voice and KNOWS. She knows you need help. “Come home,” she says. “I will give you my bed. I will take you swimming in the ocean and walk with you on the beach. We will find you a place to live in Malibu so you can still be in nature. You need to come home.”
You say, “Okay. That’s a good idea. But first I’m going to check out Austin for a few days, as long as I am still in Texas.” You dry your tears, blow your nose, and pack up your Mini Cooper, setting off a day early on your road trip. You know that driving is better for you, safer for you, than staying home alone in your quiet little house with sharp knives too close at hand. Leaving today gives you a destination, a purpose, a chance to find greener grass.
You load up the dogs – “Team Terrier” you call them – into the car and drive through Big Bend National Park. You choose this route even though it will add two hours’ driving time and cost you a $20 entrance fee, because you have been meaning to do this for several months and you still have not done it and your husband’s passing has shown you, you cannot wait. “Do it now!” you hear him telling you. “Don’t wait another day!”
You recognize the friendly face working at the national park entrance booth. It’s Blue from your yoga class. You can tell from the way she looks at you with sympathetic blue eyes she knows about your husband. “You heard about my husband, didn’t you?” you ask her. She nods with compassion. “I’m so sorry for your loss,” she says. “I need to get out of town,” you tell her. She nods. “I understand,” she says as she runs your credit card through her machine.
You drive through the park, looking at the scenery but not really seeing it. The park feels so big, so empty. You cannot wait to get out of its confines, its wilderness only magnifying your loneliness. Once you exit the other end you drive into a half blue, half gray sky. It is a cloud burst. “That’s Marcus,” you say. “He is expressing himself. He’s mad that he was yanked away so soon.” You understand. You would be mad too. You are mad. You are angry with how life works, how unfair it is, how you can’t control things. You continue driving east and soon you see a rainbow. “It’s Marcus again,” you note. You drive toward the rainbow, thinking you are getting closer, but the closer you get the more it eludes you.

PHOTO: Chasing, but not catching, Marcus. Heading east on Highway 90, Texas.

“Oh yes, that’s just like Marcus,” you say of its unattainable-ness. You drive for more than an hour into the rainbow, its colors growing more intense, deeper, richer, stronger. You think you can finally touch the rainbow, that you’ve nearly arrived at its pot of gold, that Marcus will be there waiting….until the rainbow gives way to a thunderstorm. The rain begins to pelt the roof of your car, gradually at first, but soon becoming stronger. The noise grows as the drops come down bigger and faster. “That’s Marcus,” you explain to the dogs who are wondering why it has become so loud inside the car. You keep driving, driving straight into the middle of the storm cell. The storm grows, the wind intensifies, lighting strikes in bolts straight to the ground, thunder rattles the earth. The rain falls so hard you can barely see the road. You hold tight onto your steering wheel to keep your little car, yourself and your dogs from blowing off the highway.
“What are you trying to tell me, Marcus?” you ask. “What is it you are trying to say?” You cannot make out his message — you don’t understand how or why the lure of his heavenly rainbow has led you into this stormy hell. But you don’t have time to dwell on this theme as you are running out of gas, so in spite of the dangerous conditions, you keep driving in hopes of reaching Langtry, the tiny town on the map, the one where Judge Roy Bean held his court.
You put on your hazards and move at 40 mph and finally hobble into the filling station, the one with the lone pump, a pump that doesn’t take credit cards. You discover the gas station is closed and will not open until 8AM — the next day. You realize you will have to wait out the storm and also wait for the gas station to open in the morning and you wonder how your sixth anniversary came to this. You were heading to the campground at Amistad Reservoir, the place where you spent three blissful days camping with your husband only nine months earlier. You were going to drink an anniversary toast to him in this special spot.

PHOTO: Our special camp spot. Amistad Reservoir, Del Rio, TX, Dec. 2008.

Now you are going to sleep in the back of your Mini Cooper, curled up in a tight ball with your knees jammed against the door. You are sobbing yet again. “What are you trying to tell me, Marcus?” you ask for the tenth time as you lay there in a new form of misery, lightning striking all around, rain pelting your car. “Are you telling me to slow down, to stop being so impetuous?” You admit you left in a bit of a hurry, panicked by touching the depths of your grief, needing to run away from yourself. You acknowledge that he was a helpful anchor to you, like a necessary, stabilizing tether to your hot air balloon which constantly threatens to float away without warning. “You cannot get away from yourself,” he seems to be telling you. “You need to stay still and I am going to make sure you do.” That he had to create a tempest to get you to stop and listen is not lost on you.

Still unclear about his message, you sit in your car until the storm passes. The stars appear in what is now a deep black night sky. You open the car’s sunroof, staring at the stars and talking to Marcus, until you fall asleep. You wake up to the sound of a truck engine roaring next to your window. You look up and there is a large, handsome black man with a gun strapped to his belt. Your mind wonders what kind of danger you are in until you see he is a Border Patrolman. He asks you why you are parked at this gas station at 2:00 AM and after you explain – minus the part about your husband and his elemental messages – he escorts you to the next town where there is a 24-hour gas pump. You make it there, touched by this officer’s kindness, fill up with premium, and drive until you find a Motel 6, because Motel 6allows dogs.

It is 3:30 AM when you settle into your room. Finally, you pour yourself a small glass of sake, from the expensive bottle Marcus bought at Whole Foods, the same store where he discovered the soap that you bought him. You couldn’t possibly have known how much this bottle would come to mean to you, but you somehow had the foresight to bring it with you from LA to Texas. At last, after surviving the storm, surviving yourself, you raise your glass and say, “Love of my life, Happy Anniversary.”

You shut your eyes and pray that when you open them in the morning you will have a little less pain, a little more will to keep living. That you will keep remembering the man you love, and to keep appreciating what time you did have together, even if that time was cut short. You vow that you will keep celebrating what you had with him and what you still have without him. “Whatever else you want to tell me, Marcus,” you say, “I am here. I am listening.” And with that, you fall into a deep sleep. Wrapped in your husband’s bathrobe. With his scent. With him.

How – and Where – to Grieve, to Move Forward, to Start Anew

Can a place to grieve be too quiet? After three weeks of non-stop activity, travel, funerals, and hundreds of well-wishers imparting their condolences, I am back in Terlingua, Texas. Instead of being in the center of the funeral whirlwind, I am now surrounded only by nature, pure and silent — the Chisos Mountains, prickly pear cactus, and huge blue sky dotted with puffy clouds and blazing sun. I loved this place before. Before Marcus died. I loved my wide open big Texas space here having come directly out of the madness and density of Venice Beach, California. I loved my time alone to write, to read, to walk the dirt roads through the empty desert with my dogs. I loved my outhouse, the thunderstorms, the power outages, the local radio station that plays 3 songs in a row, the yoga classes in the old church, the afternoon dips in Terlingua Creek. I loved baking pies for La Posada Milagro’s coffee shop. I loved all this before Marcus left so suddenly and unexpectedly. Now the silence and solitude threaten to consume me, the void of humanity providing me with too much time alone in my head, too much room for thoughts of “what if” to take over.

WHAT IF if I had let Marcus come here to visit me in August like he had wanted to, had planned to? When my dad was here visiting he said repeatedly, “Marcus would love it here.” Yes, he would have. What if we hadn’t been filing for divorce? What if we could have worked out our differences, stayed married, had our happily ever after that we dreamed of, strived for? What if he hadn’t had to spend his Portland vacation moving our furniture and boxes into the storage lockers? What if he hadn’t ridden his bike 30 miles two days before he died? What if he had known his bicuspid aortic valve put him at high risk for a ruptured aorta and resulting death? What if he had learned that the persistent cough he’d had for several months might have been a warning sign? What if he was still alive, would we have signed the divorce papers or would we have at the last minute, like we did before, look at each other and say “What are we doing? We love each other. Let’s make this work.” What if, what if, WHAT IF… (Marcus’ last photo taken…after his 30 mile bike ride. Lake Oswego, OR)

Yes, I know these are not healthy, productive thoughts and that I cannot – should not — blame myself for his death. One friend was particularly direct about this: “You have an over-inflated opinion of yourself if you think you have some control over who lives or dies in this world!” he said. Ouch. Another said “There was nothing you could have done to prevent his death.” And yet another friend – actually more like four friends – said, “The decisions you made about Marcus were the right decisions at that time.” I am trying to believe what these friends are telling me is true. All I know right now is that no matter how much sadness and regret I feel, I cannot bring Marcus back, I cannot fix things. Or so I am trying to convince myself. But who am I kidding. I still want to fix things. I still want him to be here.

I have, in a way, found a way to keep Marcus here.

“Talk to him as if he is in the room,” Victoria, a life coach/psychic in LA, has instructed me. “Most importantly, write him a letter telling him things that you appreciated about him and how he may have helped you in your life. Small things are just as important as the big things. They read all these letters. Every single one of them. And if there are things that you are still angry or upset about with him – put that in the letter too. It helps the ‘spirit guides’ decide what areas he’s going to be working on first. Really. I’m not kidding.”

I never believed in an afterlife before Marcus died, but now I am hanging on to Victoria’s every word like a lifeline, to keep from drowning in my sorrow, and using her advice like great gulps of air. My letter to Marcus is at least 50 pages long already. Her suggestions provide hope and a way to keep from wanting to follow Marcus on his new journey. To this point she had some additional advice. “Your trip to Texas was the beginning of your new life alone. Keep following your gut, your heart and your path.”

My gut, my path, it appears, is telling me to leave the quiet and solitude of Terlingua and get to a place with more people around, more stimulus, a place with collective creative energy. My gut wants to take me on a path forward, not back. Not back to Portland, which is so full of Marcus’ memory and, let’s face it, too rainy and gray to meet my Vitamin D needs. Not back to LA, where in spite of the hiking trails and beaches to walk, its big city vibe is too aggressive for my current state. In order to go forward and not back and, also, to avoid standing still (which is my greatest fear of all!), I am planning a scouting trip to Austin, Texas, where I hope to find a little house with a yard for my dogs, a lake to swim in, a coffee house with good espresso, music and free WiFi, a writing class, new friends, new adventures, a new beginning. For my journey, I will try to leave my guilt, my sadness, and my “what ifs” behind. But I will bring along my writing paper to keep those letters going to Marcus. And, to brace myself for my return to city life, I will be sure to bring along my ear plugs. And, of course, my pie baking supplies.

Snake Obsession Overtakes Pie Obsession

Jim Carrico returned to Terlingua and brought with him another batch of fresh rhubarb from his Colorado garden. In anticipation of his delivery I made a shopping run to Alpine for strawberries. Though the rhubarb cream pie I made from his last batch of the celery-like vegetable was a success I couldn’t get excited about making another one. It was missing something…. I was convinced it was the strawberries.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a 90-mile drive to the grocery store. That is how determined I was to get the berries to go with the rhubarb. But 90 miles is nothing compared to the 750-mile journey Jim Carrico made with the rhubarb. Anyway, I don’t mind the drive. I love my Mini Cooper and in it I can cover the 90 miles in an hour…or less.

With three pints of strawberries shriveling up in the back of my car in the 100-degree heat, I drove 40 miles over the speed limit to get my groceries home from Alpine to Terlingua. Speeding down Highway 118 with the stereo cranked, I saw something ahead on the road. Could it be? Yes! A snake! This time it wasn’t a dead Red Racer, but instead a full-size live rattlesnake, it’s tail distinctly marked with black and white stripes. Like Betty did last week, I stepped hard on the brakes, turned around, and drove back to the spot where I had seen the snake. Not only did I NOT get out of the car to touch the thing, I was too afraid to even roll down my windows! I watched it wiggle, raise its head, stick out its forked tongue and wave it at me (the horror!), and then slither off into the grass. I snapped a few pictures, but my hand was shaking too hard to hold the camera steady.

I resumed my drive home and about fifteen minutes down the road I spotted another object on the highway. Yes! Another snake! This time it was a green and yellow one, and also very much alive. Not a rattler, but still possibly poisonous. Again, I stopped the car (not easy to do when going100 mph), turned around, and snapped a few pictures with the windows closed – my hands still shaking.

I made it home before the strawberries died from heat exhaustion and was greeted by an email from Betty. The subject line read: “Yikes! A Rattler!” I opened the email to find a photo of a very mean looking rattlesnake attached. She, too, had spotted a snake on the road. Betty’s picture, unlike mine, was not blurry. Clearly, she has more snake courage than me. Her email said, “I took this for you.” Gee, thanks, Betty! “Never never never try to touch one of these.”

It may seem like I am even more obsessed with snakes than I am with pie. When you live in Far West Texas, a place that moves you a little further down the food chain than you might be used to, you start to pay attention to anything that moves, creatures that could end your life or at least inject you with enough poison to make you very, very miserable for a while. So, yes, I suppose pie does take second place to that.

That said, I’ve got $25 worth of strawberries and three pounds of well-traveled rhubarb waiting in my refrigerator. Baking a few pies (one of which will be for Jim Carrico and his wife) should take my mind off of the snakes – and, hopefully, for a few relaxing hours while cleaning berries, chopping rhubarb and rolling dough I will forget about the spiders, scorpions, centipedes, coyotes, javelinas, and mountain lions too.

Patty Griffin is “Making Pies”

I spend an inordinate amount of time alone here in Terlingua, Texas. If not for bumping into my landlord when she walks her dog in the mornings I could go for days without any human contact or conversation. And apart from the chirping birds and the occasional clap of thunder, it’s also incredibly quiet here. (I’m not complaining, as I am hardly longing for the sounds of honking horns and sirens!) But there is a need for some kind of “noise” to provide stimulus. When Kurt Vonnegut died, National Public Radio’s obituary said “Vonnegut believed music is the meaning of life.” I took note and have allowed more music in my life ever since.

It is for these reasons I love listening to the radio. But a radio station in Terlingua, Texas is not your ordinary radio station!

KYOTE-FM – whose irreverent slogans include “Perhaps the best radio in Far Out West Texas” and “Community supported radio, strangely enough for THIS community” — plays a diverse range of music. Unlike other radio stations that would have an hour (let alone an entire station) devoted to one genre, here on 100.1 FM, you can hear Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Foreigner, Dave Matthews Band, Dire Straits, Jackson Browne, Grateful Dead and some cowboy honky tonk – all within the same hour. The exciting thing is you never know what you’re going to hear next. Some days they play the same song three times in a row. Other days the power goes out and you hear nothing.

There is one artist – a female folk singer — they play over and over. Her voice is distinct, somewhat haunting and sorrowful, but pretty, a voice that sticks with you. I didn’t know who it was for two months as they never announce the songs. (The upshot to this, of course, is that there are no interruptions – and no ads.) I finally emailed the radio station, which is run by a blind man who calls himself “Uh Clem.” Yes, it did occur to me that a blind man isn’t going to be able to read my email, but I sent it anyway, describing a few lyrics I had remembered, and asked if he could tell me who it was, and in return, as an avid listener, I would be happy to help support the radio in any way I could.

To my surprise I got a prompt reply (KYOTE radio is apparently not running on Terlingua Time!). “Patty Griffin is the artist you are hearing. To support us, you can buy t-shirts and bumper stickers at the Leapin’ Lizard art gallery. And in the fall we want to have a fundraiser for the station.” Fundraiser? My first thought is…..bake sale! Or maybe a pie auction! (Stay tuned.)

Meanwhile, I run into my neighbor, Ralph, who hosts his own radio show on KYOTE-FM on Thursday nights. “I am hearing you play a lot of Patty Griffin songs on your show,” I tell him.
“Yeah, she’s great. You know she has a song called ‘Making Pies,’ don’t you?”
“What?! I have to hear it!” I practically run home to get online and look up the song. I find it on You Tube, I go to save it in my “Pie” favorites folder, and wouldn’t you know it – it is already saved in there. This is one of the reasons my husband wants a divorce – my memory is terrible and it usually takes hearing information two or three times before it sticks in my little peabrain. Apparently, this annoys him.

Well, I won’t forget it now. I not only have two copies of “Making Pies” (which, sadly, is not the most uplifting song — see the lyrics) on my computer, I now have an entire Patty Griffin album on my iPod. That way, the next time the power goes out and KYOTE-FM offers nothing but dead air space, I’ll have someone to keep me company and remind me there is indeed a meaning to life.

NOTE: KYOTE radio is doing a 30-day trial on shoutcast.com. To tune in online, go to www.shoutcast.com and search for KYOTE or Terlingua.

Easy-Bake Oven

My friend Jim was teasing me about living in Texas, about how it must be so hot down here I wouldn’t need an oven to bake my pies. I thought of his comment this morning at breakfast, when I realized the croissant I was craving was still in the freezer, frozen solid. The sun was out and it was probably already 90-some degrees. (I make a point not to know the temperature. When the temps get into the hundreds, trust me, it’s better not to know.) So rather than heat up an entire big oven for one small croissant I thought of what Jim said and put the croissant outside in the sun. Keep in mind, however, that outdoor baking has its perils: the birds would eat it…if the ants didn’t get to it first. As my dogs were on front-porch patrol this morning, the French pastry was protected. Lo and behold, 10 minutes after I left it in the sun to “bake” the croissant was not only thawed, it was warm and flaky! Our Chihuahua Desert sun may not be hot enough for oven-free pies (imagine what 400 degrees would feel like) but I like this new technique. It’s the ultimate natural microwave or, what I like to call as a nod to my childhood (and my first introduction to baking), an Easy-Bake Oven. If only all of my cravings were this easy to satisfy.

How to Kill a Spider in Texas

I was writing in my journal– about how I ended up giving the pecan pie to the married man after all, and how he liked it so much, and how I liked him so much, and how it would all just end up badly as these things inevitably do, and how tragic and doomed the whole damn love story thing was – when I saw a spider scurry by my bare feet. (Thank goodness for peripheral vision!) The spider, medium in size (though miniscule compared to a Tarantula), had a black body with skinny WHITE legs. He was fast. He was confident. He was good looking.

I jumped out of my rocking chair as he ran into the corner behind it. My killer instincts kicked in – I would throw something at it and rid the uninvited visitor from my home. Not wanting to ruin my new cloth-bound journal I grabbed the first book from the growing library pile on my side table. On top of the heap was my small Spanish dictionary, its years of overuse causing the pages to loosen from its spine, and as I threw it the loose pages flew through the air scattering all over the floor. Not an effective weapon. The spider successfully avoided contact and simply moved one foot to the right.

Even in my state of angst I knew enough not to throw my brand new copy of “Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson. More importantly, I didn’t throw Mimi’s book, also new and on loan to me, “Federico Villalba’s Texas” by Juan Miguel Casas, about the early Mexican settlers of Terlingua. It’s the book I had been reading before my thoughts returned (as they have been all too often lately) to the pecan pie, the married man, and, worse, the lust I felt while watching the married man enjoy eating my pecan pie. It was a little hard to concentrate on 19th century interracial tension in a tiny Texas mining town while thinking about that pie, which is why I put down the book and picked up my pen and journal. But back to the spider…

Instead of the new books I grabbed the two old paperbacks my dad left behind after his June visit. “You’ll really enjoy these,” he assured me. “Great,” I replied. “I’ll read them. Thanks, Dad.” Never intending to read them, the only reason I still have the books is because I don’t know yet where to find a local book recycling center. Therefore, “The Innocent Man” by John Grisham and “Fatal Secrets” by Allison Brennan went hurling into the corner of my little rock cottage living room. “Here’s a Fatal Secret for you, Mr. Spider.” WHACK!

Not sure if he was dead, I ran into the kitchen to fetch the fly swatter, nearly knocking over the fan in my hurry. I returned to the living room, swatted the corpse with a few more death blows, and scooped him onto the plastic swatter head to carry him to his final resting place – the garbage can. Peace restored, I refilled my glass of white wine, noting as I opened the refrigerator that I still have pie dough to roll along with leftover chopped rhubarb to make another “Jim Carrico Special.” I had meant to make that pie today, but seeing as procrastination is a quickly and easily acquired trait here in Terlingua, well, there’s always tomorrow.

I resumed writing in my journal and wondered if perhaps the spider was another one of those omens I’m so good at ignoring. Did the spider represent the married man? After all, my “Special Friend” – also fast, confident and good looking — had called me this afternoon. Like the spider, he cheerfully and innocently scurried into my world, when out of nowhere I pummeled him with the equivalent of a stack of (hardback) books. I let him know that men of definitive, unchangeable marital status were not invited in my home. Like the spider, I stunned him into silence and left him for dead on the other end of the phone line.

The thing is, it wasn’t his fault — he is “The Innocent Man.” I’m the one who made him the pie. His only crime was eating it and telling me how much he liked it. His enthusiasm only made me want to make more pies for him, many more pies, I would make him pies for breakfast, for lunch, for dinner, for the rest of his life, and then….well, just as quickly as one can spot a spider that must be killed, it dawned on me that this story has been told a million times – by Shakespeare, by Jane Austen, hell, probably even by John Grisham — and the ending would not, could not be a happy one. No matter how badly I want it to be my happily-ever-after fairytale. No matter how much he likes my pie.

Since I didn’t heed the moral of the story last time, it bears repeating – -with a little addendum:

Be Careful Who You Bake Pies For – You Might End Up Throwing Books at Them and Inflict Irreparable Damage. And, when you live in Texas, it’s always a good idea to keep a flyswatter within reach.

Buttermilk Pie – at the Big Bend Motor Inn Café

In my search for a UPS pick-up spot to ship a birthday present with overnight delivery from Terlingua, Texas to a friend in Washington, D.C. I went from the Terlingua Trading Company to the Cottonwood Convenience Store to the Lajitas Horse Stables and finally to the Big Bend Motor Café. None of the people in any of these places had a clue as to how to ship my package, but during my otherwise fruitless search I did discover that Big Bend Motor Café has pie. Under “Dessert Special” on the chalkboard menu it read: “Homemade Pie $2.25.” Naturally, I inquired. “What kind of pie do you have?” I asked the cashier behind the counter.

“Today we just have Buttermilk,” she answered. “We usually have other kinds but we’re out.”

“What is Buttermilk Pie?” I asked. I may know pie but this one was unfamiliar to me.

“It’s like custard,” she replied. I glanced at her name badge and noted her name was Eva.

I couldn’t control my curiosity. “Who makes your pie?”

“I do,” Eva replied. “When I have time. It depends on how long I have to work out front and how much energy I have left at the end of the shift.” In the 104-degree days of summer my energy guess was “not much” and therefore not many pies were getting made.

Because I had also noted while poking around the Big Bend Motor Inn Café that they offered free wireless and a quiet, uncrowded, air conditioned room in which I would certainly be more comfortable working than in my 100-degree house, I returned the next day. I set up my laptop and I ordered a piece of the Buttermilk Pie. After all, a pie baker must always scope out the competition.

The custard was a combination of egg, vanilla and way too much sugar. The crust? Definitely store-bought. Blech! I left the fluted edge of it on my plate.

C.J., an artist who was working for Mimi when I arrived in May, stopped by my table to chat. “Are you going to eat that?” he asked, pointing to the abandoned crust. I don’t know if he smokes pot, but he sure looked stoned to me. One would have to have those kind of pot-induced munchies to want to eat this tasteless-cardboard excuse for pie dough. (I’m so sorry, Eva! I don’t mean to be such an ungrateful customer! Your service was excellent, your wireless signal strong, your drip coffee drinkable.)

“No, go ahead,” I told C.J. “You can have it.”

Satisfied that my pie sales at Mimi’s café were untouchable by the competition – and having caught up on my Internet surfing — I paid my tab and left. When I reached the parking lot what did I see parked out front? Big and brown and hooked up to the gas tank hose, it was the UPS truck! I had just mailed my package via the Post Office’s Express Mail service that morning – paying the premium price for overnight service, which, by Terlingua standards translates to two days. (“Manage your expectations” is always a good rule to live by in these parts. I managed. I had already missed my friend’s birthday, what was one more day going to hurt.)

I knocked on the side of the UPS truck and a gray-haired man poked his head out. “Hi,” I said. “I was just wondering…in the future…I mean…how I can send a package by UPS from here?”

“You new around here? Where do you live?” he first wanted to know.

“Yes. I live in one of Betty Moore’s guest houses. I’m Beth.”

“Oh, sure. I know Betty. I’ve delivered to her house before. My name’s Jerry.” His smiled beamed and his eyes twinkled behind his wire-rimmed glasses and I suddenly had the feeling I was living out a scene from “The Andy Griffith Show.” “You just call 1-800-PICK-UPS,” he continued. “The company will let me know, and I’ll come get your package.”

And that’s just one more story (however loosely related to pie) about this funny, crazy, wonderful little life in Terlingua, Texas.

Rhubarb Pie: A Community Effort

This is a story of how it takes a whole community to make a pie. I want to thank everyone for their generosity, help and enthusiasm – especially Jim Carrico for being the connector and catalyst. With the care that has gone into it, this is sure to be one delicious pie!

JIM CARRICO OFFERS THE INGREDIENTS, BETTY MOORE BEARS THE NEWS
It was only a week ago when Betty delivered the news that Jim Carrico would be sending me fresh rhubarb from his garden in Colorado all the way to Far West Texas. “Sure, sure,” I thought. “It’s a sweet thought but I doubt he’ll follow through.” This afternoon I was on my way up to Mimi’s house to collect her empty pie plates – the glass ones that keep getting passed back and forth as I bake my pies for her shop and she returns them for me to refill yet again – when I heard my name being called across the cactus fields. I was being summoned back to my house by Betty, who I could see even from the distance, had a visitor with her. The visitor was holding a large plastic bag. Rhubarb delivery!

JOCELYN DELIVERS THE GOODS
Jocelyn, a tall strawberry blond young woman, had just driven 750 miles from Colorado and brought with her a huge bundle of the promised stalky red-green celery-like vegetable. How did anyone ever identify this as a good ingredient for pie?!
Out of small-town courtesy, Jocelyn stayed for a few minutes to exchange stories. (Besides, there’s no hurry in Terlingua.) “Two months now,” I answered when she asked how long I’d lived here. “Two years,” she answered when I asked how long she’d been away from our darling desert town. I pumped her with questions about her round-the-world travels through Asia, Antarctica, and beyond from which she had just returned. Even after exploring the big, bold, beautiful world, she is happy to be back in this funny little corner of the planet. That’s one thing we have in common: our love for Terlingua. That and Jim Carrico, our faithful rhubarb provider.

MIMI WEBB MILLER PROVIDES THE VENUE
When I set off for Mimi’s I had been planning on making apple pie. This was in spite of Mimi’s comment: “Can’t you make anything else?”
“Sure,” I said. “If you want to pay the premium price for imported fruit. It’s not like you can get any locally grown ingredients around here.” I couldn’t help but reflect back on my year in Portland – a pie baker’s paradise – where I picked pounds and pounds of blueberries, marionberries, blackberries, raspberries, and peaches in the summer, and, in the fall, apples. “Apples are easy to get and they’re pretty durable in this climate.”
“Okay,” Mimi replied. “But I just think we should have some variety.”
Ask and you shall receive. Enter: Rhubarb. I still had to go up to Mimi’s to get the pie plates, which was timely as I now needed to borrow her cookbook to find a rhubarb pie recipe. She was thrilled with the news that her very first menu in her new weekly dinner series would feature what she planned to name “Jim Carrico’s Special Rhubarb Pie.”

TOMMY MOORE CLEANS, PEELS AND CHOPS – AND SHARPENS

I returned home with pie plates, recipes in hand, and rhubarb waiting to be washed. Just as I was settling into pie baking mode (complete by donning the prerequisite and decidedly unglamorous outfit of apron, head scarf and sports watch/timer) with my iPod cranked full volume I had my second visitor of the day. (It’s such a rare occurrence to even SPEAK to another human being during my days here, let alone have people VISIT my house!) Tommy, a neighbor/massage therapist/cabinet maker, stopped by to drop off yet another rogue pie plate (per Mimi’s instructions, so he said). Regardless of his motivation, he was just in time to help. I buttered him up by offering him a beer first, then dropped the bomb: “Would you mind cleaning and peeling the rhubarb while I made the pie dough?” He was happy to oblige – until he tried three of my knives and found each of them to be unacceptably dull. “Do you mind if I go home and get my knife sharpener?” he asked.
“Hell, no,” I said. “Go right ahead!”
Tommy not only did a superb job cleaning and chopping the rhubarb for the pie, he also left me with a drawer-full of sharpened knives.

TERLINGUA RESIDENTS DO THE REST
I followed the rhubarb pie recipe from the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook (the 1953 edition) for a Rhubarb Cream Pie. I have no idea how it’s going to taste, but at least it looks edible. I’ll let the rest of the Terlingua community be the judge of that. For anyone interested, dinner – and Jim Carrico’s Special Rhubarb Pie for dessert – will be served at Espresso y Poco Mas tonight at seven.

THE RECIPE
Combine 1 and ½ cups sugar, ¼ cup all-purpose flour, and ¾ tsp nutmeg (I used cinnamon). Beat into 3 slightly beaten eggs. Add 4 cups 1-inch slices rhubarb (I used 5 cups). Line 9-inch pie plate with pastry; fill. Dot with 2 Tbsp butter. Top with lattice crust. Bake in hot oven (400 degrees) for 50 to 60 minutes.