An Apple Pie for Charlie
It's the least you can do.
Your husband asks how did you discover Charlie. You reply that you forget. Your husband doesn’t like this response. He prefers multiple references from respected sources, along with the obligatory multiple bids. How do you know if Charlie is a) reputable and b) giving the best price?
You just do. Something about how he said, “that tree’ll help you remodel and get a new roof if you leave it there for the winter.” You told Charlie you wouldn’t remodel the old, three room house even if you could afford to, which you can’t. That led to you asking Charlie how much will it cost to save the house from the tree this winter.
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He replied, “an apple pie.”
“You got it,” I said.
He had one caveate, “lard, right?”
“Absolutely,” you assured him.
“I’ll be over next Wednesday.”
“An apple pie. That’s your guarantee he’s good?” your husband says.
Yep, you say, because a man who knows the best apple pies require a lard crust is a man you can trust.
Let’s stop for a moment to consider the virtues of lard.
You learned about pies from a 1965 edition of the Farm Journal’s Complete Pie Cookbook. There isn’t one pat of butter in any of its 21 crust recipes. You also were given a crust-making lesson by a fellow waitress in a restaurant deep into farm country. She only used lard. In fact, she used very fresh leaf lard given to her by a friend whose family’s farm raised a small gang of prized pigs.
Readers may be wondering whether lard imparts an off-putting meaty flavor to, say, cream and pudding pie fillings. There can be a slight undertone of animal fat but that shouldn’t interfere with the desire for a flaky crust. Be assured it’s a very fair tradeoff.
As readers may surmise by now, anyone who favors lard crust is a person after your own heart. This logically leads to the knowledge that this person is of fine mind and character and the firm conviction that you’re in good hands, even those who carry around a heap of chainsaws.
Charlie arrives a week later with his wife Annette in the cab of a very beat up mud spackled truck. He explains she has very bad COPD and he insist that she travels around with him to get out of the house. You all say hi. She tells you not to pay any attention to his lame jokes.
“Send him back over here if he annoys you,” Annette says, revealing the marital hierarchy between them.
“How long you’ve been thinking you’re the boss?” He asks with a laugh that underscores this is a fond patter between them.
“Long,” Annette shoots back and rolls her eyes at you; translation: husbands, right?!
Right, you smile back.
“That’s right,” he says and taps the truck’s hood above her head as lightly as a caresse before he heads off to confront the offending tree.
Charlie bends his slightly over six foot frame to study the full length of the job at hand. His blue eyes squint and, to get a better view, he takes off his sweat-stained red baseball cap. His ponytail of graying blond hair sways a few times against his shoulders. He smells of work—pine and sweat—and has a couple of scars across his right forearm. He’s missing a few front teeth. You measure him to be anywhere from mid-forty to mid-sixty and bet girls started falling for him in the sixth grade. The affection he shows for his boss would loop to him any smart woman with worn feet. There’s already the lard thing between you and him.
“That’s what we call a widow maker,” he says of your tree.
“You’re not going to climb it, are you?”
He looks down at me and laughs, “you brought my pie?”
“I got it,” you say.
It’s sitting on the counter of your tiny kitchen and it is the bleakest pie anyone has ever contemplated. You cut in too much barely fresh commercial lard. Worse, you lost count of how much water you added. The first rule of crust making is to remove all distractions around you. Your crust is a good representation of just how hard it is these days to not be distracted. Given the age of the lard, the filling may taste more like a pig roast than a mélange of apples. Given the water thing and the correction you tried by rolling it over a lot of flour it’s going to be what pie bakers in the 16th century called a coffin. You’re woman enough to advise Charlie to chop a piece from the pie pan, smack the crust open with the back of a spoon, zap the mess in the microwave for around a minute, then take it out and drop a large scoop of ice cream on it.
Charlie laughs. “That’s all right by me. A pie’s a pie.”
How can you not hold a lot of affection for a person who goes through life believing this?
Just as you turn to go inside and retrieve your you-should-be-ashamed-of-yourself pie, Charlie’s oldest son and son-in-law arrive with a bucket truck and they start arguing about the best way to approach the tree. Charlie and your husband are standing around at a safe distance watching the younger man while trading son jokes when you carry the damn pie back. It’s pretty clear the men are enjoying themselves and you leave them to it to walk over to Annette.
“Look at that,” she exclaims over the pie in her lap, a very charitable woman, indeed. Her COPD has curbed her cooking skills and maybe that’s why she adds, “you can have him if you make meatloaf and mashed potatoes the next time.”
Meatloaf happens to be one of your all time blue ribbon specialities. There are a handful more trees threatening the little house so, yes, the next time you will make a big meatloaf for Charlie and Annette.
Soon enough the tree comes down and the younger men start throwing stumps into the back of Charlie’s truck. The bill Annette hands you is more than what the crummy apple pie cost, and extremely less than you expected.
“How much?!” Charlie yelps when he sees the amount of the check I’m writing out.
Annette says, “add in the apple pie.”
He does and shakes your husband’s hand and yours. Then they drive away—Charlie and Annette, a pitiful but well-intentioned apple pie, and a truck bed full of desiccated tree trunks.
And don’t forget to leave a note! I’m all alone….would like to hear from you!