I been thinking about what we all inherit from our folks, and I can’t say I see too much of my parents. Meaning when I look in the mirror, I really got to break my body into sections to notice. To notice then the skin wrinkles around my knees, the rounded tip of my nose, and the oceanside curve of my spine. That’s Mama. Like she took an afternoon to shave away pieces of her own bones while sitting barefoot on the porch, and that’s how I was built. But I don’t need to look real hard when it comes to how I’m acting today. Both Mama and Daddy use cooking as a means of saying love you without having to speak. Mississippi Man and I been dating for a few months now and we ain’t said it yet. Our skin cicada-crackles, waiting. I’m wanting him to say it first because I don’t think I’ll know my answer fully until I’m confronted with it. So, until then, I’m making him a pie as a way of knowing where I stand.
This is my mama’s summer strawberry pie. Because it’s too hot for pecan or pumpkin in August. Perfect for these days because the strawberries and filling mix well with the whipped cream, and it’s so cold on your tongue, you can feel it cooling your stomach. I remember when I was talking to the Protestant preacher’s son, I asked Mama who said I love you first between her and Daddy. She told me he said it at her parent’s house—the same place where he’d propose to her on the living room rug, the green wool pulled and pilling.
Some of the strawberries are larger than the others. One of them looks like three strawberries pushed together—a turtle’s foot, waves, or flower petals. I lean forward, pressing my weight, and the bottom of my rib cage meets the counter’s edge. Cutting the strawberry into thirds, I plop two slivers into my mouth. Sweetness coats my tongue, the taste of rosebuds, and it’s almost like I’m back in the kitchen standin’ on a step stool smirking watching my mama make this pie for the first time. I used to get in trouble because I’d eat too many sliced strawberries and she’d laugh at me saying, Honey, we can’t have this pie be more filling than berries now.
Today, I honor Mama’s wishes and make the pie the way she says is best: berries and gelatin glistening up to the crust’s edge. I spoon whipped cream on top, almost the whole jar. I swipe my finger along the spoon, licking the cream before tossing the spoon into the sink. Mississippi Man prefers pie over cake. He told me when he was half awake describing his dreams of just colors and shapes. Almost like a kladiscope, he said, drawing his index finger in gentle circles.
I don’t make the dough for the strawberry pie. The crust is store bought so I can give the filling more time for the flavor to settle. (Would making pecan pie despite this weather be a clearer sign of love? Watching the strawberries cascade, become crust-cradled, I don’t know.) You let the pie sit well away from the open window so the bugs don’t draw themselves to the sugar. I’ll be going over to his tonight. Even though I live with Mama to save the money, she doesn’t think it too out of the ordinary I visit Mississippi Man. Just because Mama loves the Lord doesn’t mean she’s traditional in the ways you’d expect at first glance.
I fold my feelings into what I make, wonder if it sticks. When Daddy moved out, Mama made more than enough gumbo for the two of us. Rex’s filé powder returned our home to the earth, scent rose after adding a few shakes in our bowls, just to our likin’. Mama said she made gumbo in the big pot to have enough for leftovers, but part of me thinks it’s her way of hoping.
And I’m my Mama’s daughter. Mississippi Man lives in an apartment close to the university. He’s mighty grateful for the pie. Mouth full, he asks me what I dreamed about last night. I swallow and tell him how my dreams are the kind where people are there but not there. How I can’t see that they’re around me, but I can feel it, deep within myself. We continue to eat. He asks me how I know and I say I just do.
To notice then the skin wrinkles around my knees, the rounded tip of my nose, and the oceanside curve of my spine. That’s Mama.