Stella Made Crumb Apple Pies
This piece is part of a blog salon, curated by Caridad Svich, called "Stages of Resistance." The series welcomes reflections on themes related to making work for live performance in political and aesthetic resistance to forms and systems that oppress human rights and censor or severely limit freedom of expression. We are in increasingly hostile, volatile times around the world, and this salon hopes to serve as a space for considered, thoughtful, polemical articulations of practice and theory on the subject of resistance, the multiple meanings of political art, and the ways in which progressive, wholistic cultural change may be instigated through artworks. Stay tuned for more articles and reflections in this series throughout March and April 2017!
Stella made crumb apple pies
Stella made crumb apple pies and managed the kitchen of St. Pius X Catholic High School.
In 1984, Stella was sixty years old
And also eighty-three years old.
As a kid, I ran to see Stella of the kitchen. Her small office, tucked away behind the fryers, oversized ovens and oeuvre of burnt bacon fat, hosted a sturdy, brushed gun metal machine of chipping turquoise paint, purposed to organize coins into sleeves for bank deposit.
Power on the machine and see me run my fingers over agitated, vibrating coins, pushing them southward to shooting cylinders, fragile, paper origami.
Stella made witchcraft with butter and flour
Stella made witchcraft with butter and flour. Boo-boo grandmom, as she was nicknamed, was a first generation immigrant from Sicily who made crumbly apple pies. A slice would bottom out at the touch, spraying liquid sugar. Intoxicating, this pie delivered immediate ecstasy to my mouth, every taste bud like bumpers within a pinball machine. This pie went well paired with Thanksgiving, a post-tryptophan drug that pulled misfit children from comas. One bite may cause fits.
Boo-boo grandmom was adorned in a caftan of purple and red. Cuts and scars from fights with steel cutlery and cooking oil make patterns of Sunday church dresses on the foggiest of mornings. After she retired to her house, a perpendicular walk five doors down from the St. Pius X, she recorded entries in her diary, a three by five notebook of daily living speckled with marinara and beef stock. Yearning found home between recipes of French dressing and beans with bacon fat.
A year ago, I paged through these notebooks, which mother kept in a canister, tucked away in a stained oak armoire.
Within the pages:
My dishwasher broke
Aug. 16. 1987
My eyes exam June
Ronnie moved out
June July 2nd.
T.V. set Oct. 15th 1988
INT. MIND - NOW
The day she left and appeared there in that vaulted place looking like stone and marble looking fragile and her face like chalk, white chalk with the smears of red sauce marinara sauce stains upon her cheeks put there by someone with a paint brush creasing over lines and making her look “present and presentable” they say more” young” I change to more “available” for people who want to see and remember this is not what it is
This is me while you’re reading this
(Looks for food. Reaches into cabinets and looks to the eating. Peanut Butter scoops on finger. Raisin handfuls. Microwaveable bowls of brown rice and soy sauce. Eating everything that is nothing in the sight of everything. Nothing. Sugar and salt.)
iMessage from Joe: “I am sick”.
Is this how astronauts eat?
EXT. EYES OPEN – PAST
(Watches memory film while eating Peruvian corn)
(Drops lit cigarette into window adjacent wine glass)
See food en masse to hungry Catholic school children. Macaroni and cheese. Pasta with meatballs and red sauce. Salisbury steak. Polish kielbasa. Apple juice and milk.
I remember chocolate milk was extra in public school.
The kitchen. Stella’s kitchen.
The walk-in freezer, a vault of thickly frozen air brings movie horror trepidation, where ladies in grey, cotton sanitary dress forms key entry to secret gardens. Is anyone watching? Pull the latch open. Enter.
Fog cauterizes the nose and the door behind slowly creeps out the world.
Blue. Blue packages. Blue peas, carrots, corn. Blue metal. Blue nose. Blueness.
Glide blue fingers across the sticky to the sound of cracking glass. I move about room, imaging scenes of Boo-boo’s culinary witchcraft. Soups, stews, sides and rituals. She was the alchemist, the holiday communal meal Sorceress of the Floral Walls. Her book of spells mixed the familiar with the unfamiliar with instructions such as “boil until dented” and “cook until curdled”.
Deep within the freezer, an antechamber door appears as secret within secret garden. A place, a time chamber imagines a tale where things age by unmeasured time. The kid mind plays monopoly of wildness bouncing around storage cases of the fantastical consumption. Hunger claws from within gut because it wants to know, wants to drown in the nourishment.
Tempt uncertain fate and pull latch. A burning feeling. A feeling that is blue sticky, blue frozen. Remove hand and the symphonic sound of cracking glass comes. Pull latch again. Knives of one hundred burn rickets. Remove hand to bind in shirt and pull again. And the sweet opening…
And if we wait
And if we wait another day to not open the latch and sink within ourselves to wake up each day and find that the wrestling of desire with potentiality is not met, if we wait for another hour to view our screens and find that we’ve sank a bit further and, if we wait for one minute two seconds one breath to find we did not open the latch because we were too frightened of the box of Pandora, we wait for four years.
Consider the curious child
Consider the curious child who adults and discovers that they are not so distant of the people whose caftans of cuts and scars were made of making living.
Memory resists a linear scale of pain and pleasure. It chooses to hibernate in caves on either end, stepping out into Spring when it’s finished with sleep. If memory is two sleeping beasts, they must face each other in March, diaries of their time spent in the frozen antechamber, head on, mouths full of red sauce and bacon fat. They stare with war on their minds, opposing forces built for imminent territorial actions.
As they approach, foaming guts of mid-century modern, their claws sprout flowers of emerging fingers and the pupils of their eyes contract human qualities. The earth that closes within the middle is a desert that now births a super bloom of wild flowers of pink. The violence, the war dance becomes an appreciation of separation. Fur flies in every direction as the beast become genderless children playing cowboys with flower guns.
This is not a commercial, they think to themselves as they stand face to face and pause.
A long pause