Pat (with the pitchfork) and her sister Beverly get iconic.
Last month I traveled to St. Louis to visit my sister Beverly. Frank and I had been there in 2010 for two weeks so he opted to stay home this time.
I made the drive in two days traveling on one of my favorite highways that follows the old Route 66. Back when my sister and I were teenagers our family had traveled to Chicago on 66.
It was only two lanes back then and we dodged armadillos, alive and dead, stopped at gas stations and roadside stands for cold sodas, souvenirs and a glimpse of baby rattlers in a barrel. The signs said see the live baby rattlers with a picture of rattlesnakes. We paid our quarter and approached the barrel with some trepidation hearing the snakes making their rattling sounds. When we looked into the barrel there nested in wood shavings were four or five pink and blue baby rattles. The proprietor was laughing when we got back to our parents. I have never forgotten it.
Nor have I forgotten the old Burma Shave signs that dotted the highway. They were a brief respite from some of the more boring parts of the road in Texas and Oklahoma.
The highway is now a major artery across America with trucks and travelers like me getting from here to there at speeds that would have seemed supersonic back when it was two lanes.
I have driven it many times to visit my sister. I have my favorite rest stops and I always stay in Tucumcari, N.M. my night on the road. I also track other travelers who are pacing me and I look for interesting license plates.
I compared how my trip was this time with all the modern conveniences as compared to our trip back in 1959. Having air conditioning is a biggie, but now I had my iPhone with hands-free communication and up-to-date weather and radar so that I could track storm cells.
I could find gas stations and the cheapest gas, or how far the next rest stop was going to be, with just a touch of my finger. This technology is still so new to me that I was constantly marveling how cool it all was.
I love driving and I was really looking forward to this trip. Not only because I was going to see my sister but also because of an article I had read in the May issue of Real Simple magazine. It was written by Beth M. Howard, the author of “Making Piece,” a memoir of love, loss and pie.
She told of losing her husband, dealing with her grief, and how pie had influenced her life. While in Iowa judging a pie contest she happened upon the American Gothic house in Eldon, Iowa that was made famous by the artist Grant Wood. After visiting the museum she inquired why the house was empty. When she found out it was for rent she made a life decision, rented it and started the Pitch Fork Pie Stand, selling pies out of her living room.
It is not often I am motivated to meet an author. The last time was Nevada Barr and I got to meet her when she spoke at Wahweap a few years ago. I really wanted to meet Beth and I wanted to have a piece of pie, a cup of coffee and maybe talk about writing.
My sister was up for the road trip and we traveled up the Mississippi River stopping along the way at some interesting sites and visiting the Mark Twain Cave.
We planned to stay with Bev’s friend Sandy who lives in California but kept her family home in Quincy, Ill. We got the grand tour of Quincy, which is noted for being the site of the Lincoln—Douglas debate.
Sandy decided to join us on our day trip to Eldon and between our two iPhones we managed to only get lost once on our way to the American Gothic house.
We were typical visitors taking photos and checking out the museum. My sister and I donned costumes and posed in front of the house.
But the highlight for me was meeting Beth. She was as gracious as I had anticipated and it was a real pleasure to meet her. We bought our pies, she signed my copy of her book and posed for photos. I bought a slice of lemon pie and a cup of coffee that she made fresh. It was amazing pie and I am still kicking myself for not buying one in addition to the apple pie I got to bring home to Frank. Thank goodness the recipe for Shaker Lemon Pie is on her web site www.theworldneedsmorepie.com.
Even though we didn’t get to talk about writing I left Eldon totally satisfied. It was a wonderful experience to meet her in her front room of an American icon.
My sister is planning to return to Eldon in August and this time she will be getting the lemon pie.
Pat Talbott is a volunteer for Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
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