without a definite route

for the love of pie

While trying to impress a fellow pie lover with my pie eating credentials, I started telling her about Char’s Café in Peever, South Dakota. I asked google to find something and was happy about this wonderful article/love letter from South Dakota Magazine. However, I quickly became alarmed when I got to the end and discovered that Char’s burned down last October. 

char’s cafe, July 2010

Both of my grandmothers frequented Char’s over the years, generally with a group of ladies, as is the proper way. Is there anything better than sitting with your friends, drinking coffee, eating pie and gossiping? As the article points out, Peever is a tiny town, under 250 people, but Char’s felt like a part of a larger community. It was certainly the heart of Peever and you might could argue it was also the heart of Roberts County. It was a place where everybody knows your name, or, at least, your grandmothers’ names.

pie menu, July 2010

People drove from all over, especially for Pie Day on Wednesdays. Coffee was 10¢ a cup and you served it yourself, putting your dime in a can. The pie was spectacularly incredibly out-of-this-world good. I never tried anything other than rhubarb or blueberry, but it’s a safe bet that all the many other types were amazing. The crust was perfection, light and flakey, but structurally sound enough to withstand any filling. The flavor of the crust was mild with just a touch of saltiness and enough blessings from the pastry gods to add a counterpoint to rhubarb, blueberry and whatever else Char chose to put in there. Let me take a moment to gush about the rhubarb pie, which is completely different from the one I make. Instead of straight rhubarb and sugar, Char made a rhubarb custard pie with meringue. I’ve looked online for recipes and found them, but I’ve always been a little intimidated. Now, I’m going to have to get over that and just try to make one.

The last time I was there was July 2010. I was in Sisseton with my mom and kids, ostensibly on a working vacation to take pictures and capture family stories for my Creative Renewal book. Mom said she’d watch the kids so I could zip over to Peever. It was lovely, although strange, to go by myself. The server asked me about “my people,” and was happy to talk about my late Grandma Nigg. A man I didn’t know encouraged me to take his picture after seeing me photograph the menu and my pie.

Nobody’s a stranger in a small town

Before that, the last time I’d been there was during the family reunion the summer before Grandma Nigg died. When we arrived, Grandma was greeted warmly and asked by our server to introduce each of us. The wonderful small-town-interconnectivity way of introducing people ensued: “This is Jaq, Gale’s daughter…her mom is Jane George from Sisseton…Marie and Jimmy’s daughter…” (the appropriate response: “Oh..yah…yah…”) Most of our menfolk had remained at the lake to fish and have some time without all the hustle and bustle of kids. We asked to buy whole pies to take back to them and were denied. We could, however, purchase eight individual slices of pie. For some reason, I loved that. Rules are rules.

I was only ever a tourist at Char’s Café, but I took it for granted, thinking it would always be there. I should have learned a lesson from all of the businesses in Sisseton that have shuttered and are gone forever: nothing is permanent. I wish I had tried other pies, taken more pictures, talked to more strangers.

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love the one you’re with

i wrote this a year ago, but never published it for some reason. it is still true (and poopie is still crushing morale at the international headquarters of team chaos)…

emmit is not a normal boy. today it was a picture of a friend’s 5-year old in karate class that reminded me. last month it was a friend of josh’s asking if emmit has started any music lessons. those are things that “normal” 5-year olds do. those aren’t things that 5-year olds with dandy walker and autism do. at least not my 5-year old with dandy walker and autism. comparing emmit with other kids is automatic, i can’t stop myself, but it does no good. not one bit. nada.

it’s entirely too easy to get a little sad watching emmit develop more slowly than other kids, more slowly than his little sister. i get glimpses of who he isn’t daily. but wallowing isn’t an option. there are too many things to do. meals to prepare. songs to sing whilst tucking in. lunches to make. normal things. the store, work, school, laundry. plus the extra things like speech and occupational therapies, doctor appointments, insurance phone calls, anti-seizure meds twice a day. if i let myself sink into the pit of darkness, i’m not sure i’m coming out. and where is the fun in that?

so i shake myself, snap out of it. stop looking at emmit for who he isn’t. that just gets in the way of how proud of him i am for who he is. wallow or no wallow, he’s not going to be “normal.” besides, i love that stinkin’ boy. and who he is is who he is is who he is is who he is.

he’s quirky and adorably awkward. he thinks i’m way more interested in the political workings of the island of sodor than i actually am (i know! i know! henry pushed the freight cars, can we move on please?). he isn’t potty trained and, on top of that, he has some major poopie issues. i gotta be honest, that’s the big one that pulls me down. poop is a morale demolisher. and yet, he is sweet and silly and heartbreakingly gentle. he is pure unbridled love.

Love Emmit For Who He Is. strangely, it’s a lesson i have to relearn on a daily basis. he’s not “normal,” but who is? luckily, for every twinge of sadness for something he can’t do, there are so many more moments in which he shows me the wonder of the things he can do.

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