Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Cooking or Baking (01/04/07)
TITLE: North and South
By Elizabeth Burton
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Even though I wasn’t a good cook and had never made anything from scratch before, I’d gotten my mother’s recipe and set out to bake a pie of my own. My tiny apartment seemed even smaller as I measured, poured, and stirred the ingredients together. Before too long, the smell of baking peaches filled the air. I wanted to open my windows, remembering how the crisp, dank smell of falling leaves mixed so deeply with the baking pie, but the bars discouraged me. “What kind of neighborhood is this?” my father had asked the landlord when he’d seen them. Despite the man’s assurances, I’d never felt safe enough to even crack the windows open. The busy street I could see below through the bars just made me homesick for my family’s farm and the sight of barns, white board fences, and horses grazing in lush green fields. The only green space I’d found so far in the city was a cemetery.
I couldn’t help questioning my decision to come here. The city was so big, the people so indifferent. Everything from the buses I hadn’t known how to ride to the professors I didn’t know how to relate to seemed to point out “You don’t belong.”
While the pie baked, I fretted. I probably missed something in the directions; it wouldn’t taste anything like my mother’s. But when it came out of the oven looking just like a pie was supposed to, I felt a glimmer of hope. Even in the midst of this strange place, I’d been able to find a touch of home.
For the first time, I had the urge to open my windows. “The landlord said the bars were just a precaution,” I reminded myself, and with a whispered “Lord, please protect me,” I went to the window and raised it all the way up. Then I jumped back and stared at the bars, expecting every burglar within a twelve-block radius to immediately break through them. After a few minutes of nothing but birds chirping, brakes and the occasional honking horn, I felt silly enough to laugh and breathe normally again. I moved the pie to the table to cool.
It was only after I’d gotten out a plate and the pie cutter I’d bought just for this occasion that I let myself admit that baking the pie didn’t really make me feel better. I wasn’t just homesick; I was lonely. I put the pie cutter down and just sat there, staring at the untouched pie.
“That smells awfully good there, miss.” A voice came through my window. I jumped like I’d been shot and grabbed the pie cutter to defend myself.
“Peach, isn’t it?” the voice continued. “My mama used to bake peach pies every Sunday. Taught my wife how to make ‘em, too. Haven’t had a good peach pie since she died; nobody ‘round here knows how.”
I held onto the pie cutter as he introduced himself. Mr. Woods, or “Frank” as he insisted I call him, turned out to be my next-door neighbor. He’d spend most of his 78 years living in Georgia, but had moved to the city three years ago when his wife fell ill and needed specialized treatment. After her death, he’d kept his apartment over the objections of his son, wanting to be able to visit her grave at the cemetery I’d seen down the street.
Frank raved over my peach pie, calling it as good as his mother’s and me a “real Southern find.” We sat at my table, talking and laughing until the late evening chill forced me to close the window.
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