01 January 2010


We were soon to host seven people for dinner. From the state of our kitchen, you'd have thought we expected an army. My husband Dave and I spent an entire daylight hours cooking and baking up a storm. He used my grandma's recipe for never-fail pie dough, rolled out crust after crust using the huge wooden rolling pin that came from Emil Cager, the white-haired soft-spoken gentleman I remember from Organic Gardening Club days of my youth.
Emil and Gladys Cajer lived somewhere past the railroad bridge coming into Valparaiso, Indiana. Their house was squirreled away down a shady lane. If you didn't know to look for it, you'd drive right on by. Their place offered a taste of country living inside the city limits. Like my parents, the Cajers belonged to the local Organic Gardening Club, a group of mostly elderly people who met once a month for two-hour meetings that included programs on such scintillating topics as making compost and all-natural insect repellents. My siblings and I were privileged (read "forced") to attend.
Emil had retired as a professional baker by the time we came to know him, but he remained an avid gardener to the very end of his life. He gave my parents one of his monstrous rolling pins. I asked my mother for it before she died. It occupies a place of honor in our home--when not being pressed into service for rolling out pie dough, it serves to remind me of dreary talks in a basement meeting room each winter and (weather permitting) outdoor garden gatherings the rest of the year.
Those meetings were the one social event our family attended that did not revolve around our conservative church. It came as revelation to me that there could be kind caring people like Emil and Gladys who did not share our theological beliefs--and from whom we could learn things. Lessons of another sort were delivered courtesy of "Nurse," an ancient wheelchair-bound lady who attended the summer garden parties. She swore like a sailor. My good-boy ears flushed red in her company.
So the rolling pin serves me as more than a simple kitchen tool. It forges an early link to a worldview bigger than the one I bought into as a youth and young man, one I didn't embrace until after I came out. It reminds me that there are all kinds of people in the world, and that some part of who we are and what we love and how we live our lives does implant itself in those around us whether we are aware of it or not. Whether we live to see it come to fruition or not.
Truth to tell, the rolling pin most often serves Dave in its original function. He makes the pie crusts in our family. He has the patience and finesse to roll them out thin so they'll be flaky and light. He takes his time, works at it in a way that would make Emil proud. Dave and I have seen the results of my rolling out pie dough. Think thick rubber strips. Think cardboard. Think fruit leather, chewy and stretchy as you tear into it with your teeth. No, Dave rolls out the pie crusts in our family.
Pie baking became an all-day affair. Darkness had long since fallen before we finished supper dishes. We'd be off to bed in an hour or so.
I turned to Dave. "Maybe this is a metaphor for all of life, but what would you like to do with this little time that remains to us?"
He looked at me. He's used to these kinds of questions, this way of looking at the world. "How about Scrabble?"
And so we played with words, made vampires and orgy and query and zit, then ziti, then zitis. The first word down was "mere," in itself a comment on who we are, how much time we have, what we may hope to accomplish.
All around me, reminders, reminders. Time is short, shorter than I know. Actions do have consequence and impact on those watching. What will I do with the little time before the darkness falls? Care to ask yourself the same question?

This essay appeared in the January issue of The Letter.