By John Parris © 1984
Issue: May, 1984
(Taken from a short story collection, "These Storied Mountains" by John Parris.)
Grandma lived at a time when a juicy, crisp-crusted homemade pie broke down a man's resistance to matrimony a heap sight easier than a pretty face or a pretty dress.
She always said it was her apple pie and not her looks that led Grandpa into popping the question and getting hitched up.
“We'd been keepin' company for close to a year," she once told my mother, "and Rufus hadn't so much as hinted marriage when he come to the house one Sunday for dinner and I brought an apple pie to the table and Ma told him I had baked it.”
"He told Ma he was mighty fond of apple pie. I remember he ate two pieces and said it was the best apple pie he ever ate. That evenin' he asked me to marry him. Said seein' as how I could make a good apple pie, he reckoned I was the girl for him."
Grandpa never had occasion to rue the day. For Grandma kept him happy for 60 years. She kept him happy with her cooking. Especially with her homemade apple pies - fresh apple pies and dried apple pies.
When Grandpa passed on in 1926 at the age of 83, Grandma never made another apple pie. She took to her bed the day he died. Three weeks later she went to meet him. My mother always said Grandma died of a broken heart, just grieved herself into the grave for Grandpa.
During their 60 years together, Grandma saw to it that Grandpa never went wanting for apple pie.
Even though Grandpa did his best to turn all his apples into cider, there were plenty of apples that fell on the ground for Grandma to make fresh apple pie and for making into dried fruit and apple butter and apple jelly.
She had dried apples from one harvest to the next, so there would be apple pie for Grandpa every Sunday of the year and on Christmas and on his birthday.
Grandma used to say that Grandpa was so fond of apple pie that he could eat it three times a day and never get foundered.
Grandpa even liked hot fried apple pie for breakfast, a custom not uncommon up in New England and in Michigan but rare here in the hills.
I don't know where Grandpa ever got the idea of hot apple pie for breakfast. I never heard any of the family ever say. It could have been from a Yankee named John Alvis who became a friend of Grandpa's after he found Grandpa lying wounded with a Minnie ball in his hip in a thicket on Missionary Ridge during the battle for Chattanooga.
For, after the war when Grandpa came home from a Yankee prison and after he and Grandma got married, John Alvis came down for the first of several yearly visits. He was a Vermont man and like Grandpa was fond of apple cider and apple pie.
So, it could be that John Alvis introduced Grandpa to hot apple pie for breakfast.
Be that as it may, Grandpa had his hot apple pie for breakfast off and on right up until he died. A heap of folks who knew about his strange habit reckoned that he was a little queer, but Grandpa never paid them any mind.
A few days before he died, Grandpa had come to the place where nothing he ate tasted right to him. He just couldn't seem to eat. And that worried Grandma. She suggested all sorts of things, but none of them seemed to appeal to Grandpa
Finally, Grandpa told her maybe he could eat some apple pie.
He and Grandma were sitting around the fire when he said it. Night had come on and they were just before going to bed. A hill wind was prowling down from the Cowees and whistling under the eaves.
"I believe," he said to Grandma, "I might could eat some hot apple pie in the morning.”
Grandma got up and went back to the kitchen. She took down a string of dried apples that was hanging back of the wood-burning cook stove. Then she got a pan poured some water into it from the bucket that sat on a table near the back door.
Grandma rinsed the dried fruit and then put it in another pan with just enough water to cover it and left it to soak overnight.
Grandma was up before daylight the next morning. She took the dried fruit that had soaked overnight and started it cooking. Then she got busy and made up her pie dough and rolled it out and fitted it into a round pie tin.
Grandma didn't put any sugar in the cooking fruit. Grandpa didn't like anything too sweet. He always said folks ruined apple pies by putting sugar in them. So Grandma didn't put in any sugar.
When the apples had cooked real tender, Grandma poured them into the pie tin on top of the layer of pie dough. Then she sprinkled in some cinnamon and nutmeg and covered the apples with another layer of dough.
Like she always did, Grandma turned the corners of the pastry up and pinched them together and made tiny holes in the top with the tines of a fork.
She put the pie in the oven and then went into the front room to see how Grandpa was. He was still in bed. But he was awake. She asked him how he was feeling and he said he thought he was some better.
Grandma put another stick of wood on the hearthfire and Grandpa said he reckoned he had better get up.
Grandpa started getting up and Grandma went back to the kitchen.
After a while she called Grandpa and told him his breakfast was ready.
Grandpa came on back to the kitchen and took his chair at the kitchen table where he and Grandma always ate, if there wasn't company.
It was still dark outside and they sat at the table in the flickering light of the oil lamp.
Grandpa said the blessing, like he always did.
Then he took a sip of coffee. He said it tasted mighty bitter.
Grandma asked him did he think he could eat some corn mush. Grandpa shook his head.
"I fixed a pie for you," she said. "You want to try it now?"
Grandpa said yes, he guessed so. And Grandma got up from the table and opened the oven and took out the pie. It was all golden brown, the way Grandpa liked his pie crust.
Grandma put the pie on the table and then got a knife and cut into it and the steam came out. She lifted out a slice onto a plate and set it before Grandpa.
Grandpa picked up a spoon and cut into the piece of pie. He always ate pie with a spoon. Never a fork.
He tasted the pie and didn't say anything. Then he took another bite.
"Reckon I've just lost my appetite,” he said. "It don't taste just right, but I know it is. It's just me." He put his spoon down and shook his head.
Grandma didn't say anything. Not just then. But she knew that something was mighty bad wrong with Grandpa when he couldn't eat apple pie. Grandpa finished his coffee. Then he pushed back from the table and got up and went on back to the hearthfire and took his chair and got out his pipe and just sat there.
"I just sat there and looked at the pie Rufus had left," Grandma later told my mother. "I wanted to cry, but somehow I couldn't. I knew he was going downhill fast."
The following morning Grandpa was dead.
And the pie, the last apple pie that Grandma ever made, sat untouched in the kitchen safe, untouched except for the one wedge that had been sliced from it and which Grandpa hadn't been able to eat.
Editor's Note - The above story was taken from John Parris' book, "THESE STORIED MOUNTAINS". It was published in 1972 and contains a collection of wonderful old time stories and interviews with "old timers" and observations about the hills around Sylva, North Carolina, John Parris's home town.
Mr. Parris was born in Sylva, on November 23, 1914. He began working for his hometown newspaper THE JACKSON COUNTY JOURNAL and for the ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES as a local correspondent at age thirteen.
In 1934, he joined the United Press in Raleigh, two years later he moved to New York to become a daily bylined feature writer. Mr. Parris came back to North Carolina to work for THE WINSTON- SALEM JOURNAL-SENTINEL for a year before rejoining United Press as cable editor. In 1941 he was sent to London to cover the diplomatic beat until 1944, also covering the North African invasion.
Mr. Parris then joined the Associated Press in London, working as diplomatic correspondent until 1946 when AP transferred him to New York to cover the United Nations.
He returned to Western North Carolina in 1947 to devote his future writing in creative avenues. He wrote the book, THE CHEROKEE STORY and in 1951 became the director of public relations of the Cherokee Historical Association.
In February of 1955, he undertook what he calls the best newspaper assignment in the world - moving about his native hills and writing a column called "ROAMING THE MOUNTAINS" for THE ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES. This popular and well received column ferreted out and recorded for posterity the old stories, traditions and legends, "which without his labor of love would have been lost for all time". This brought him the coveted honor of being included in "100 YEARS-100 MEN", a book containing condensed biographies of the men and women who have done the most for the State of North Carolina in the past 100 years.
John Parris is married to Dorothy Luxton, a native of Michigan who was formerly an art teacher and designer in New York. They live in his home town of Sylva.
The Mountain Laurel thanks John Parris for letting us reprint this story from his book. All the stories were so interesting it was darn near impossible to choose which one to share with our readers.
John Parris has written several books but unfortunately, some are no longer in print. Ask your local library about the books no longer in print. We're sure you will enjoy reading them.
The John Parris book, "Roaming The Mountains" is still in print and may ordered from The Asheville Citizen-Times, P.O. Box 2090, Asheville, N.C. 28802. It is $9.60.