it is HOT
and September
and nothing makes sense
But iced tea
and rhubarb pie

Growing up in Colorado, we had a garden of strawbwerries and rhubarb. Since it was arid where we lived on the eastern side of Pikes Peak, we couldn’t grow anything in our backyard except the one fruit and one vegetable. (According to Michigan University, rhubarb is a veggie.) Because it was so dry in the Summer, the grass often gave up the ghost, making room for weeds to grow. Those were the times we ate dandelion greens in place of canned spinach. Neither was tolerable to my childish palate unless a promise of pie preceded the meal.

When the neighbor kids came over on skin blistering days, we drank sugarless iced tea and crowded in front of our one window fan. On the good days, there was pie. Somedays were too hot to be cooled off merely with dry air blown over our sunburned bodies so Mom taught us a trick that she learned growing up in southwestern Kansas during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. She soaked a towel in cold water and draped it over the makeshift air conditioner. It was enough to cool us off while she reminisced about the times she only had potatoes to eat and other children made fun of her for having one dress to wear everyday to school. We begged for more stories about a distant time and place so different from our own, but it was time for us to finish our snack, she would say, before leaving us alone again. We sipped our iced tea and ate our treasured treat with renewed sense of gratitude and energy to play again.

Everyone who was lucky enough to taste it, declared Mother made the best rhubarb pie. Her secret was tapioca instead of cornstarch for thickening the sauce and lard and vinegar for making the flaky crust. She didn’t put any strawberries in it. She didn’t believe in “doctoring” something that was already perfect. Strawberries were saved for freezing and for eating later in Winter.

Many years later, after I had moved to Seattle and was recuperating from a painful operation, Mother along with my sisters, took time out of their busy lives to travel up to the Great Northwest to help me. I was never considered a spoiled child growing up, but that week I felt very special.

I could barely eat and keep anything in my stomach and I was getting weaker each day. My mother asked what she could do to make me feel better. I knew the perfect medicine. Unsweetened iced tea and rhubarb pie, please. Yours, of course. None of that store-bought-strawberry-doctored pie for me. Anything other than Mom’s rhubarb pie would simply be nonsense.