We were finally getting to the pies. Though I was enthused, the back of my thoughts were creeping closer to the chicken assignation which would come after the pies. Maybe I SHOULD go help Uncle Gus later. Blrlrlrlr… I shook it out of my mind as we entered the kitchen, and set our chicken parcels on the table. Chin filled one side of the sink with warm water then beckoned me to the table and I sat down. “Here mon cher,” she said, bringing me the peaches, a big plastic tub, a little tin can, and a table knife. “I think you can do this, and this knife is sharp enough to cut peaches without cutting Pitous.” A kiss was deposited on my forehead. She showed me that all she wanted me to do was half each peach, take out the freestones, put the halves into the tub, and the stones in the can. I got busy.
Aunt Chin then took the hens from the table and though my back was to her now I could hear her tear open the paper and plop the chicken’s in the water. I knew what she was doing,… my mom thawed chickens the same way.
We were humming along now. Chin was actually humming. My task certainly being easy enough, I turned to see what she was doing. A wide screen of chambray house dress blocked my view. “What’s that you makin?” I quizzed.
“It’s crust for our peach and lemon pies.”
‘Come again’ I thought. That’s the first time she mentioned peach-LEMON pies. “I’ve just had plain peach pie, not peach and lemon.”
“Child, you do make me smile…” she tittered, “that’s two pies, one peach and one lemon.”
“Oh, so that’s what the lemons are f…” suddenly it hit me. Was she talking about my true grand favorite of all summer pies.
I jumped up and turned around to face her so fast and noisily that I startled her. I saw her jump a little and have a disturbed look in her eyes when she turned around… the words were already flying out of my mouth. “Do you mean lemon MERINGUE pie?”
“Yes sweetie,” her reply was tentative, and almost a little aggravated for having alarmed her, “Is that good or bad?” wondering about my reaction.
“That’s good, OH THAT”S sooooo good, it’s my favorite, favorite, FAVORITE pie!” I was actually shouting.
“Whoa there t-man, I’m so glad that we is makin your favorite, favorite, favoritest pie.” She put her floury hands on my shoulders to calm me down. “So now tho’ you get back to them peaches and we can do all this in a minute here.” She moved her hands off me and saw flour on my shoulders, “AW heck now, look what I gone and did.”
She turned to the sink and rinsed her hands, then grabbing a towel both dried her hands and began to dust off my shoulders. “Sooo, Lemon pie huh? I thought you tole Chin your favorite was peach.”
‘Was she doubting me?’ I thought. I HAD gotten a little dramatic about the peach pie earlier. “No,” I corrected “I said I really liked peach pie…it’s my sort of favorite…but lemon meringue pie I like better than anything, it’s my most favorite,… ‘cept maybe pecan pie, but that’s only at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Nothin, nothin, nothin I want to eat more than lemon meringue pie.” I exclaimed waving my hands. I was being dramatic again, but this wasn’t completely an exaggeration. I did then and still do love lemon meringue pie. It absolutely tastes like summer. She looked at me as though she wanted to say ‘ok child get a grip. It’s only pie’ and though she was too kind to say it…I realized it.
Part of me was genuinely excited about this whole day but part of me just kept plopping out over exuberance everywhere in a nervous reaction. I wanted to show Aunt Chin how much I was enjoying myself. Then again, I began to feel there was something nervous in me, something a little ill at ease. Hummm…Knowing what it was, I knew once it was over I’d be more myself.
I was so intrigued with how Aunt Chin kills chickens different than anyone, that I didn’t think I could pass it up, and yet, I was just plain scared, partly of having to participate, and partly of having to put forth the intrepid act while doing so.
I calmed down and sat back down and halved the next few peaches. I closed my eyes and said a little silent prayer… ‘Please God, help me be like a grown up.’ I took a deep breath and decided to get on with other more the fun stuff at hand and in no time…“I’m done.” I announced.
“Are your hands sticky, cher?” She asked making me wonder why.
“Not so much I think.”
“Then I think we need some music, how ‘bout you?” she motioned with her head toward the dining room doors. Her hands were already back in the dough and she had out a rolling pin. “See the radio over by the toaster, turn it on for us?” I looked in the direction she was showing me, and on the other side of the frig, where the counter continued to the wall and bordered the dining room, was indeed some small appliances, including a radio. My hands were too sticky for this however so I rinsed them off and dried them first.
As I went to the radio I noticed an adapter in one of the plugs that had plugged into it, a fan, a little green bankers lamp, a big electric mixer, and the radio. The toaster was in the other outlet. I thought to myself ‘I hope my dad doesn’t see this’. “How do I turn it on?” I called over to her.
“Right in front under the clock is a dial that says on-off.” I found it and turned it and it clicked on playing some honky-tonk country music. Aunt Chin immediately knew the words and was singing along in surprisingly good voice, “Crazy…crazy for feelin so blue…” she stopped to ask me “Isn’t that just the saddest thing about her? I loved her songs so much and will miss her.”
I didn’t want to seem dumb and she thought I should know what she was talking about, so I played it off. “Yesss,” I said long and slow shaking my head, in a complete acting performance. I wouldn’t find out until years later who the woman was, and that she had died in an infamous plane crash just that previous March.
Before I knew it Chin had two crusts in two pie pans and was headed for the box fan. “Well she said our coolness is over for a bit, I gotta turn the oven on,…and the fan around.” which she did. Then she got one of those little metal scraping flint contraptions and lit the gas oven, which involved her getting down on her knees. She grabbed the stove and pushed up with a big groan. She then walked quickly past me to the other side of the kitchen, and turned on the little fan by the radio. It was only then with the flap, flap of her steps that I noticed she was now wearing flip flops. When and where she had put those on I did not know.
“Now were cookin’, cher.” Chin grabbed one of the crusts and put it in the oven, along with a cookie sheet of pie crust scraps dusted with cinnamon and sugar. Another thing my mom also did that I liked.
“Oh, do I get to eat those scraps?”
“Well you will share’em with Aunt Chin no?’
“Sur’nuf.” I answered. But I was also thinking that she had accidentally put an empty pie crust in as well.
I wondered if she noticed, I wondered if I should tell her.
Not wanting to be rude, but not wanting to ruin some pie either, I mentioned. “You DID notice there’s nothing in that pie crust yet, right?”
Chin threw back her head and chortled, “Yes pet I noticed there’s nothing, but there will be before it’s all over. Why don’t you get your chair and pull it over here to watch me.”
I did as she said and soon was standing on the chair next to her between the sink and the stove. “What’s this flour for?” I asked her seeing the big blue bowl still there.
“That will become Chin’s famoouse biscuits for our supper Pitou. And it’s there as, in case I need a tad her and ther for things” I was off again in fantasy with that statement. We had tasted her coffee and beignets, so I could only wonder how good all her other food would be. And now homemade “famoouse” biscuits, the dinner scene in my mind distracted me for a moment. Fried chicken, biscuits, other stuff…fresh vegetables…peach and lemon meringue pie, I could see it now, we would all be eating this incredible supper, and my mom, dad, brothers, and sister, would all be so happy they decided to return for supper. Aunt Chin would tell them all that I helped, and Everyone would be happy with me.
As I watched Chin from my little supper reverie, her hands became a precision machine. The experience of years of good cooking were obvious in the way she did it all. So second nature was the preparation that it was on auto pilot. Aunt Chin was singing with the radio while her hands swiftly peeled and sliced the peach halves into a bowl. She was using a short stout little paring knife with a turquoise plastic handle. “My favorite knife” she said, “but it’s sharp so’s I don’t want you touchin it ok?” A moment’s pause and out came the cooked pie crust and scraps to cool on the table. Then in typical swift Chin style, she had another bowl, and to some sugar, added a handful of flour, a smattering of spices, pinch of salt, blended it and threw it over the peaches and was tossing them in it. Then an egg gets cracked into a little bowl, poof…a splash of buttermilk, a smidgeon of softened margarine, vanilla, and almond, squeeze from a lemon, whip, whip with a whisk, and thrown over the peaches it is mixed all together and voila…it’s all going into the remaining uncooked pie crust. “Now we weave a basket eh?” Chin looked to me.
Rousing from my mesmerized state, “Huh?” came out, but before I had the chance to even register, Chin had gotten a plate from the cabinet with a pie crust rolled on it. This one was cut into strips.
“Here sweetie,” Chin laid a strip on the pie top, then a second, a space away. “Now you do one across the other way…”
I was just realizing that I was to be doing something, and what it was we were doing.. “Oh…(blink, blink) ok,” I picked up a strip and placed it perpendicular to the others. We continued taking turns, her warping to my wefting, until the lattice pie cover was built. Sharp little knife in hand, Chin trimmed the pieces of the weave off to edge the pie, and pinched them into place.
“Now is that not purtty?” Aunt Chin stood back for us to admire our handiwork together. I nodded,… and whoosh the pie was off into the oven, and Aunt Chin was winding a kitchen timer.
“And NOW…?” Chin was looking at me, hands on hips, awaiting an answer.
In a fraction of a second a sudden terror hit me… it was all too fast, I was ill prepared, It was thrust upon me…CHICKEN DEATH…. Searching I fumbled for response. Avoiding eye contact with Aunt Chin I glanced around the kitchen. An empty pie shell and pie crust scraps were on the table to my left. The counter was to my right with the bowl of lemons and the one of eggs. The veil was lifted just as I lifted my eyes to Chin’s again…relief…and now…
“LEMON PIE” we both said in unison.
“Jinx.” Chortled Chin.
It wasn’t the chickens yet…but I knew it was coming. I turned back to the counter, still standing on my chair, and tried to compose my thoughts, shaking off the chicken scare, and return to the fun of pie baking.
Chin was humming to the radio again as she pulled out a sauce pan and set it next to the bowls on the counter. “Three and three.” She remarked to me holding up three fingers. “I find three eggs, and three lemons, to be just right for this pie.” Sure nuf that’s what was left in the bowls. “Do you know that three is a perfect number?”
“What does that mean?” I quizzed.
“To be honest I’m not really sure.” She laughed. “Gus told me that. He said if you gonna’ make a little stool, better to make it with three legs than four cause three is perfect and the stool can not wobble… and IT’S TRUE! I had never thought about it till he taught me that. But I think three is perfect for lemon meringue pie too.”
In a moment she had separated the three eggs, whites in the bowl, and yolks in the saucepan. Aunt Chin leaning on the counter took a lemon and held it up to me. Tap, tap, tap, Attention students… I suddenly felt back in school, “Lemons are the most wonderful thing. They are so pretty a color you can decorate you food with pieces of lemon, with parsley, and red radishes. And …” she added, “ you can use lemon to add a little sumpin, sumpin, to almost any kind of food or drink. A good cook always wants a few lemons in her icebox. You take this one, Pitou, and roll it here whiles pressin down hard. You’re squishing it insyde, but don’t press too hard you split it open.
While I was squishing the one lemon she started grating the zest from the remaining ones into the bowl. We traded, and squished and grated until all three lemons were done. Then with the same little turquoise knife she slit in each lemon a tiny hole and squeezed all the lemon juice into the bowl. Spoon in hand she was fishing out the few seeds that fell into the lemon juice and zest.
Whoosh again a cup of sugar was thrown into the sauce pan, along with some water from a measuring cup, and she spooned some cornstarch from a box into it as well. Frap, frap, frap her hand was whisking the mix together. She looked at me with a smile and went around from my left to my right and set the sauce pan on the burner, turning it on. Slowly she whisked frapped, whisked frapped the mix as it heated.
I was amazed at her efficiency but at the same time my mind was back at my pre-mature reaction from moments ago. I couldn’t get the chickens off my mind. I balled up my courage to say something… “Aunt Chin…” she looked my way still frapping, “The chicken thing…”
“Baby,” she immediately responded before I got it all out, “This has been on your myne all mornin’ eh? And I can see it’s spoilin’ your fun. Hold just a minute whilse this is almose ready.” Chin was whipping the mixture when all at once it thickened into a lovely yellow pudding. Walking back around me she grabbed a potholder and sat the pan down. The lemon mix went in and she never missed a beat of the whisking, “Can you open this for Chin?” she handed me the little bottle of almond extract. I opened it and handed it to her while she put a few drops into the pan and finished the mixing. “Smell!” she held the pan out to me to smell the lovely lemon filling, while on her way to the table to pour it into the baked pie shell. “Perfect.” she noted. “Pull your chair back over her mon cher, and have a seat.”
Having sat the pan on the counter Chin was off into the dining room and back in a jiff with a tall can of long thin items. “What color do you like?”
“Blue,” was my response to what I did not know. She reached into the can and pulled out a blue thingy handing it to me
“This one can be yours bebe. Open it up I can see you are sweating as much as I am.” I realized then as I looked at the little plastic clip at one end that this was another paper fan. ‘My God,’ I thought as I opened it, ‘she has a whole can of fans.’ Mine was a peacock picture which pleased me greatly with my choice. I clipped the handle around to hold it open, and began to fan myself. Chin having returned the can-o-fans to the dining room, stopped off at the frig and took out the water pitcher again. Holding it up to me and raising her eyebrows in a silent question, I nodded in response. In no time we had glasses of cold water on the table, and the pitcher had been refilled and returned to the frig. Aunt Chin sat down and grabbed her fan and hanky.
“My, my it is gotten hot over by that stove huh t-man?” Chin observed and I agreed. “Let me show you some fun,” she continued. Reaching over to a pie crust scrap she showed me to dip it into the pie filling and take a bite. “It’s like potato chips dip in the dip…eh…only sweet.”
This was fun and for a moment we sat drinking our water, fanning ourselves and enjoying crust chips dipped in lemon filling. But then it got serious. Chin put her fan down and looked me right in the eyes.
“This whole chicken thing…I think it would be good you watch TV or help Uncle Gus next thing whiles I take care of the chickens…and not another worry for you. Settled?” she asked. I nodded relieved.
We went on with our water and snack, but after a bit Aunt Chin took the lemon dip away as the pie needed to cool a bit in the frig. “So I her you is a good drawer.” Chin was making conversation.
“How did you know that!” I asked, surprised she had heard that.
“Your momma tole me. Will you draw me a picture later?”
“Sure, of what?”
“Oh I don’t know honey, what ever take your fancy. I would like to have a Pitou original.” This made me feel great. My mom had bragged on me, and drawing was a sure way to impress as it was something I did well and enjoyed doing.
“You want me to draw right now?”
“Less finish up this pie mess first. Then you can draw her whiles I go kill them chickens”
“You need to make meringue on the pie, huh…with the rest of that egg stuff?” I was feeling good now….for a second anyway
“You are so right, smart guy.” Aunt Chin walked over took the egg whites bowl and set it on the other side of the frig by the mixer. Then she went back for the bag of sugar and something off of the spice rack. “This electric mixer is a great invention, when I was a girl we made meringue by hand. Pull your chair over her bebe.”
“How did you make meringue by hand?” I was dragging my chair over to the mixer when it occurred to me that what I had been curious about all morning… “The right way to kill chickens” I would not find out about.
“You beat it and beat it with a whisk like that one over there, until your arm was gonna fall off.” I heard her answer but my mind was back on the chickens.
“Could I just watch you kill the chickens the right way? and…” Chin turned and glared at me. “And then I wouldn’t have to help, …and I could go see Uncle Gus if I decided I didn’t like it?” Chin was visibly exasperated. She stared at me until I averted my gaze. There was a long pause. I looked up she was still staring… “I could just see how it is and then go do something else.” ‘Alright, already Aunt Chin’ I was thinking ‘please answer.’
Chin put her hands on her hips. “Child, child,…OK, but if I think its not good for you, or you don’t like it you go to your uncle.” She cautioned
“OK.” I agreed. Chin slowly turned back to the mixer to start the meringue, maybe waiting to see if I was yet to change my mind again. She put the whites in the mixer bowl with a scraper, and In short order she had it done with sugar added and a smidgeon of cream of tarter.
It was cooler over here away from the stove and by the little fan on the counter. When Chin opened the frig to get the slightly cooled pie out, a swirl of cool air hit us. “AHHH” we both had the same reaction. “That feels good don’t it?” Chin observed holding the door open for a moment. Then she closed it and asked me to join her at the table to add the meringue.
I was looking again at the many items plugged into one outlet. I thought I’d warn her. “My dad says that’s not safe, plugging all that stuff in there.” Aunt Chin had walked over to me to get the bowl of meringue, and I was showing her what I meant.
Chin was certainly patient with me. “Ok, I will take that under consideration.” This was her simple answer case closed. “Do you want a taste of this meringue?”
I pulled my chair over to the table and Chin had one of the few remaining crust scraps dipped in the meringue for me to taste. “Good?” she asked
“Good.” I answered.
And with that she piled the meringue on the pie and started to spoon it around until the pie was covered. Then she pushed the topping towards the middle away from the edges making a little trench all around the meringue’s sides, a trench she then filled with more meringue. “Why are you doing that?” I had to know.
“Well when the meringue cools it shrinks and this keeps it from pulling away from the crust so much.” I didn’t quite understand but pretended to. She then used a spoon and spread and sealed all the openings in the meringue and around the edge, and using a fork made little whip designs evenly all across the top. “Like a cloud eh” she smiled over to me and I nodded. She pointed back at the pie “Oh look there’s a little angel sitting right there in the cloud.” I looked down at the pie again. “Woops, she’s gone.” We both giggled as she put the pie in the oven “Five minutes.” She reported, just enough time for us to sit and finish our water.
“It only takes five minutes for the lemon pie to cook?” I was surprised.
“Oh it’s all cooked baby, just have to brown the meringue then it cools to set.” Chin explained as we sat down with our water and paper fans.
“Oh, ok” I pretended to understand again.
“You know I will still expect you to draw that Pitou original you promised.” Chin finished her water, as did I.
“I will. I promise.” I was trying to think of what to draw. I wished I could draw her, but knew it wouldn’t be very good. “I still don’t know what to draw.”
“Don’t you worry when you get the pencil in your hand the idea will flash in your head.”
“It will?” I wondered if she knew something I didn’t.
Moments later it was time to take the lemon meringue masterpiece from the oven and set it to cool on the same trivet it was on before. We picked up everything else and wiped off the table. The single pie left gleaming in the middle almost seamed to say “TAH DAH!”
“You know,” she said, “ole Chin has a bright idea. Come with me.” And she led the way to the living room. she pulled out a fan from the corner and faced it towards the couch. Then she turned on the TV. Switching around channels she found a game show. “You like this?” she asked and I affirmed. “Good, why don’t you rest in her whiles I finish clean up the kitchen, and that peach pie be done real soon. Then I come get you for our doing a’ the deed with them chickens OK?”
“Will you really come get me?” I was a little suspicious.
“I promise tit-pette, I’s not tryin to con you.”
Satisfied with her suggestion I nuzzled into the soft couch to watch TV, while Chin returned to the kitchen. The show on TV was “Concentration” with Hugh Downs… which I dearly loved. I started to watch and began to stretch out a bit, eye lids becoming heavy. The puzzle being uncovered on "Concentration" had a queen with many hearts... and something I sleepily remember about tarts. Pretty soon my head was close enough to one of the pillows that I just let it rest there…and all she wrote, a dream state gently took me…I was in Uncle Gus' fairy-tale village again with Alice from Wonderland and we were skipping along the path when we heard “Off with their heads!!” we turned to the chicken coop only to see the Queen of hearts had all the chickens lined up to meet their maker.
Sunday Drive: Stand by Me
2 days ago