It’s like a pecan pie … burnt on the floor of the oven

22 04 2010

“Do you think she’ll kill him?”

“Absolutely.”

“Kill who?”

“Wait! Wait! I can explain!”

Oh the laments of a college afternoon in 1972. Sometimes it’s fun to take a trip down memory lane. Been doing a lot of that lately as the ol’ high school’s 40th Reunion approaches this fall. With a group of friends over dinner the other night, a pecan pie was brought to the table for dessert. Although with my tree-nut allergy, I can’t eat such, the wafting sweet fragrance of warm brown sugar and honey, along with the toasty nut aroma triggered an afternoon years ago in Carbondale, Illinois.

On quiet, two-block long Hays Street, Dan, Mark, and I lived in a typical three-bedroom southern Illinois bungalow. Now, we’re talking 1971, so I don’t have to explain about the regular use of herbs and spices in college life. Mark for some reason have craving for a pecan pie. He convinced my then girlfriend to make him a pie. In the heat and humidity of a warm afternoon, she rolled out a from scratch pie crust, mixed up the pie filling, pre-heated the oven, and put in the pie.

“Don’t touch it,” she cautioned. Dan and I were doing our homework at the kitchen table, but Mark, having completed his, had imbibed in some fresh herbs. I don’t remember why, but she then left the house—I have a vague memory that a dog had been hurt in the street or something. The fragrance of the pie filled the house. The sweetness of the browning sugar and syrup, the nutty flavor of the pecans, it was intoxicating.

After a bit, Mark came into the kitchen sniffing the air, “I wonder how it’s doing?”

“Don’t know, Mark, but she said, ‘don’t touch it.'”

“I just want to see it.”

Mark, I have to explain is over 6-feet tall, she was 5’5 or so. He was a former all-Chicago first baseman for Mather High School; she was a refugee from Aquinas Dominican and weighed under 100 pounds. In the slowly ending summer afternoon in southern Illinois, the influence of the demon weed crushed common sense, and Mark pulled open the oven door.

With a potholder, he carefully and slowly pulled the rack forward, deeply inhaling the fragrance of the pie. He admired its golden color, and carefully pushed the pie pan back into the oven. Yep, pulled out the rack, pushed back the pie pan. The look of horror on his face with the glop of pecan pie filling hitting the floor of the oven—pricelss. The summery fragrance of warm sugar coagulating into charred and burnt coal—terrifying.

Dan and I looked at each other and returned to our homework. Mark, panicking now, turned the 400-degree oven off, grabbed the household spatula, and began shoveling the burnt mess back into the pie pan. My back was to the door, but Dan looked up as she was seen returning to the house.

“Do you think she’ll kill him?” he asked as Mark fled quickly into his bedroom, locking the door.

“Absolutely,” I confirmed. 

“Kill who,” she asked and then sniffed the smell in the kitchen air. “What happened?”

The bedroom door opened a crack, and a plaintive voice pleaded, “Wait! Wait! I can explain!”

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