Aunt Gertie and I made blueberry pies this morning. I think I have been baking with Aunt Gertie for about thirty-five years now; I’m sure I started when I was no older than Emma is now. She taught me to make chocolate chip cookies first. They’re very easy. We worked our way up to more complicated things, like banana bread. I never mastered pie crust. Then I went off to live on my own and learned to bake other things, like muffins and cakes from scratch. But I still could never do pie crust.
I’m not exactly a domestic goddess, in fact I dislike most housekeeping chores and am terrible at them. I’m a barely passable cook, a less-than-adequate cleaner, and completely unskilled in the textile arts (e.g. can’t sew a button on straight). But I do love to bake. It’s not the most practical use of time and energy but it is the one thing I really enjoy doing around the house. I’m not even great at that — not, say, on the level of Dallas Green, a friend of my mom’s and my Aunt Bernice’s who makes cakes so moist and delicious they almost speak to you. My baked goods are pretty average. You could buy as good or better at a decent bakery. But baking is an end in itself — it has intrinsic value, just because I enjoy it.
Aunt Gertie doesn’t bake anymore, because she can’t. Her hands, which have done so much baking and cooking and housecleaning and knitting in their time, no longer have the strength to cream butter and sugar together. A couple of years ago Aunt Gertie asked if I would like to come over someday and make apple pies with her. We’ve done it several times since then: apple pies, or blueberry pies in season. It benefits both of us: she’s able to participate in the act of baking again, but with a stronger pair of hands to help, while I have one last chance to learn to make her pie crust before it’s too late. Plus, it brings me back a piece of my childhood and youth that I loved. And at the end, there’s pie. What’s not to like about that?