Grandmother’s Hands | Kristen McQuinn

The part she remembers the most is the smell of apples. The fresh, bright smell permeated the warm kitchen, made heavy with the darker, almost sinister, notes of cinnamon and nutmeg. A light spark of lemon flitted over the top before disappearing into the ether. It was the scent of a tradition in the making.

“Slice them thin,” her grandmother corrected, pointing to the thick chunks of apple before the younger woman. “The thinner they are, the more juice and flavor you get out of them. It makes lots of good goop in the filling, too.”

The way she said it made the term “goop” into the most wonderful of all possible things, the penultimate achievement to which every pie should aspire but which few actually attain. The young woman followed the elder’s directions carefully, slicing paper thin sheets from the crisp apple in front of her. It seemed that such a comment applied to more than mere apples. Extract the full flavor from every experience. Savor and taste and learn as you go. That pleased the young woman immensely, and she smiled. There was learning in everything.

In went the spices, adding their commentary to the creation. Sweet and spicy, like a sassy little girl full of zest. Mellowed by butter. Enriched with a splash of brandy. Into the crust, piled messily, the potential of the sticky coated slices obscured by the haphazard way they clung together.

“You have to pinch the edges together like this,” the grandmother said, demonstrating. Her wrinkled, bent, ravaged hands, nearly crippled with arthritis and life, gracefully created elegant fluting around the edges of one pie. The young woman’s hands, smooth and beautiful and inexperienced, clumsily imitated her, ruining her own pie, puncturing the smooth canvas of the top crust with long lacerations and lumpy bumps of dough.

One day, the young woman thought, I hope one day my hands look like hers.

Kristen McQuinn studied at Arizona State University, where she earned her M.A. in medieval literature in 2003. Since then she earns her keep by working in cubeland, a variation on a theme of adult higher education, dreaming of the day when she can write full time. She is a single mother by choice thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and a highly skilled reproductive endocrinologist. She is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up, but today, she would like to have Anthony Bourdain’s job.


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