Mark Remy (Of Runners World, Remy’s World, and “race face” fame) is a ridiculously good runner, and a clever guy. I’ve met him, and occasionally we chat… mostly about politics rather than running….
He may not have the trade mark on the phrase: “will run for pie”, but he’s where I picked it up from, and I respect him, so I credit him.
I’m not much of a dessert person. I like sweets well enough, sure. On occasion. It may be fair to call it a craving, yes. And usually a couple pieces of Dove chocolates or a Lindt chocolate thingy will do. Okay…like 3-5. They’re small. Stop judging me.
This isn’t a post about pie though (Sorry, Mark).
Well. It is, and it isn’t.
Mostly, it’s a post about my Mom.
August was ….a busy and …complex… month. I got married that month. Everyone acted ridiculously toward us for “rushing” the event and not “putting in enough time to plan”. I guess what they didn’t understand was:
A) My Mom was declining in health, and we didn’t have whatever amount of time someone arbitrary-to-us decided we should have taken to plan and invite people.
And B) We’ve been together for 16 years. High school sweethearts, and all that. At this point, the ceremony was a gesture for my Mom, and not the all-encompassing important part of our relationship.
The day after our wedding, my Mom’s health took a serious dive and she was put back in the hospital. Things got complicated and dangerously bad fast…and two weeks after our wedding my Mom “let go”.
In my line of work we give death notices all the time. Training tells us never to use “soft” terms like “let go” or “passed away” or “gone”. The powers-that-be always want you to be direct and say, “they died.” But saying “let go” here is more poetic. It feels right. And, it’s my Mom. I’m allowed to be soft about her death.
I said there would be pie in this post, and there is.
A couple years ago I started doing my long distance runs from my office. I would get out of work around 2-2:30 in the afternoon, and take off on a loop that would vary between 15-20 miles and ended at my parent’s home.
My Mom never really understood my running when I started it. Truth be told, she probably didn’t try to understand it even years later, when she would accompany me to expos and races.
Or even later than that, when she would listen to me recap what my running group friends were doing, and my race plans.
All that mattered to her was that it gave me friends and made me happy. It was a thing I did that made no sense, but didn’t hurt anything and, a bonus to her, made me eat more.
You know moms. They think you’re starving yourself if you’re not eating in their presence.
On these runs I would end at her home, she’d be expecting me. And she was willing to lovingly drive my stinky, sweaty butt back to my office. But before that, she would sit me down at the kitchen table with a tall glass of water, a mug of hot chocolate and a piece of pie.
There was always pie. More often than not, pumpkin pie.
Because my Dad would grow a few, and the neighbors would give their uncut Halloween decoration pumpkins to them. Mom would get all the eatable portions from the pumpkins, freeze a ton, make 6 or 7 loafs of pumpkin bread, and then throughout the year, make pumpkin pies.
I found a sort of peace in those moments. Sitting in the chair I grew up sitting in, at that old, beat-up kitchen table. A mug of hot chocolate, over-filled with marshmallows (because my Mom knew that I loved the hell out of some marshmallows on hot chocolate) before me. And a small piece of pie.
The kitchen would glow a warm yellow. The kitchen was always warm, because Mom was always baking or cooking – and the oven would always be on. There was coffee all day, because Dad would inevitably forget that he had a mug, and would want more, even if it was mid-afternoon. It would smell like cookies, or roast beef, or french fries…
The pie? It was delicious. Every time. And I never felt a pang of guilt indulging in that moment. Even those few times when I started and ended a small 4 mile run from their home. (If you want hill training, you run the neighborhood I grew up in. Fact).
My Mom’s patient humor and sincere interest about this incomprehensible hobby of mine, that included some “out there” characters, extended to those same characters as well.
On one particularly long 22ish mile run, I was joined by a friend who was training for a 100 mile race. Her first. She was brilliant, but the planning for it made her a bit spacey and crazy. Yes. She reads this blog. She knows I think she’s an amazing runner. She should also know that she was crazy. 🙂
We weren’t planning on passing through my Mom’s home on the run. Just near-by and then completing the loop up to my office. But my friend was struggling and begging for some Coke (The magic ultra runner juice, as praised by the ultra-runners in my running group). I dialed my Mom to check in and see if she minded. It was around this time that she was starting to have significant health issues. My Mom told us to stop by and my friend could absolutely have a Coke.
We arrived at Mom’s home, dove through the front door, and my friend was barely finished greeting my Mom when she blurted, “Can I have a Coke?” My Mom found so much humor in this moment that she was laughing as she handed my friend a Coke. My friend barely had two sips in when she noticed that my Mom had a freshly baked corn bread on the table. My friend exploded: “Is that CORN BREAD!?? May I have some!”
My Mom gladly cut my friend a piece of the bread and my friend swallowed it without chewing, now gushing about how wonderful it tasted. My Mom never could take a complement.
As my friend went out the door to finish our run, and I paused to thank my Mom, she hugged me, sweat and all, and told me that my “crazy running friends” were always welcome. I think she fell in love with my friend that day. She always asked about her after that.
I also think that her meeting with that friend, and her hearing about the other ultra-distance runners in my group, has proved to her that I’m not as ridiculous as she may have thought when I started into the long-distance stuff.
My Mom had reacted with shock, and awe, and a little, “you’re crazy” vibe as my friend explained that she was training to do a 100 mile race.
It was obvious that the concept of running 100 miles blew my Mom’s mind. She looked at me in horror and asked if that’s what I was training for. I calmed her down saying I was only doing the 30-mile option. Her look of horror only let up a little bit.
Well. I say horror.
She was also proud. The distances always amazed her. She had difficulty walking for a half hour on her treadmill, so the concepts of distances beyond 3-4 miles impressed her. She didn’t have to understand why we went as far as we did. She didn’t even have to approve. But she did approve. And she became invested. She was invested in my running. And in my friend’s mission to reach 100 miles. She was invested in the running antics of all my friends. She didn’t understand us. But she loved us. Even without meeting most of my running group. She watched races on the news, looking for our running group logo or name on the shirts. She didn’t need to know the person wearing it. When I would call to check in on her, she would proudly let me know that she saw my running friends on the news. When she was in the hospital, months before the wedding, one thing that was breaking her heart was she didn’t think she’d be able to watch the Flying Pig Marathon on the news there, and so she couldn’t watch for my running group and me. My running made no sense to her, but it became that important to her.
It’s Saturday after Thanksgiving now. Mom has been gone for 4 months.
Four. Whole. Months.
I didn’t miss her during the holiday. I didn’t have much of one – I had to work. But as everyone is talking about their holiday, and their foods, and the pie they’ve been eating for three days now, I’m starting to let the reality sink in. There’s no more running to Mom’s house just to have pie afterward. There’s no small smile as she tries to understand why I’m running a marathon every month next year, and my loud, pink-loving friend is doing a more difficult 100-miler, and my other friend is doing a triple-“ironman”. There’s no knowing smile and teasing tone as she tells me, “you must be racing Saturday? I know because it’s supposed to rain. A lot.” – her private joke that it only rains if I’m running races.
I can, and do, stop by to visit my Dad. But it s not the same. First off, the pies aren’t there, and when they are, they’re store-bought. He hasn’t gotten around to gutting the pumpkins this year. My husband and I will probably bake a pumpkin pie for him in the coming week. But we all know that won’t be the same either.
I don’t want you to feel bad for me. Loss is normal. Its expected. But if you wanted to share a good recipe for pie, that’d be great.
And if you wanted to know a good way to end a run, why not opt for a piece of pie one time?