Mincemeat Pie By Rich Giffen (aka Chris Wunderlich)

It must have been the early nineties—my memory is hyper-clear on certain details and completely blank on others. I’m guessing it was an especially warm Thanksgiving weekend. I was six years old, or maybe seven. I sat in a small café and ate what was probably a single scoop of completely forgettable ice cream. From where I sat, I could see out into the street and down to the lake. And near the lake sat a gigantic, red, million-year-old barn. I was fixated on it. It told me everything I needed to know about where I was.

The town of Port Perry is where my grandparents live. Before I became old enough to fully grasp my surroundings, this is the only way I knew the town. It was where Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings took place. It was nostalgic and dusty, and it smelled like chicken pot pie. It was distinguished, with character and charm, and forever stuck in an age that remained a mystery to me. Homes had fireplaces and backed onto woodlots. Shops had awnings and hand painted signs. And right at the crux of it all lay a giant, red barn. I had no idea what it was actually for. A beacon of small-town magic, probably nothing more.

Later I would understand that said charm hid terrible truths—the same as any other town. I learned how the lake would pretend to freeze over, tricking careless snowmobilers and eating them whole. I met people caught in the class divide, having broken homes in terrible poverty rub shoulders with enormous wealth and indifference. I saw the all-too-common obituaries of teenagers, killed while drinking or driving or both. But that sad reality remained invisible during my childhood, thankfully. Port Perry is still, after all, my grandparents’ town. And any time I see farmland stretching out to meet suburbs or hear quaint downtowns bustling with friendly energy—or taste specifically horrendous tap water, to be honest, I think of them and that place.

I don’t remember how I came to be sitting in the corner café with my ice cream, but I do remember both my dad and grandpa (that is, my mother’s father) had taken me there. Perhaps we’d been playing catch in the park earlier. Perhaps my mother and sister and grandma had gone shopping somewhere feminine. The only thing I remember perfectly clearly about that day is my grandpa’s order. He’d asked for a slice of mincemeat pie.

It was the first time I’d heard that term, “mincemeat pie”. It sounded disgusting. My dad timidly cautioned him, asking “Are you sure? We’re having dinner soon”. My grandpa laughed without answering. When we sat and ate, I marveled at the flakey, buttery triangle of pie. It was full of fruit and raisins and brown, sugary ooze. My dad was surprised as well.

And that’s the day we both learned that mincemeat pie was not a hearty meal of beef or chicken, but a desert—almost like a giant butter-tart. Lesson learned. Call it a “slice of life”. As quaint as that big, red barn; as charming as Port Perry itself.

But it’s the interaction between my dad and grandpa that has me, to this day, still thinking about that moment. They were (and still are!) both loving, caring, men, dedicated to their families, with sound tempers, sage advice and nothing but good intentions in their hearts. They were my most important male role models growing up. They still are. But rarely did I see them genuinely interact. We’d attend baseball games together, eat at all the same family meals, and visit the cottage on the same weekends. They’d known each other all the years I’d been alive and even some before. But I can only recall a single conversation between the two of them. My dad was worried my grandpa would fill up on meat pie before supper; my grandpa laughed it off. It was barely a conversation at all.

My mom and dad divorced when I was in my early teens. It was for the best, and I’ve continued to have an excellent relationship with both of them. They made it work, and I think they live happy lives now. I don’t want to know the specifics of their relationship—the drama, the sadness, the words exchanged that my little ears were never meant to hear. I just want to know that they are happy.

So, this has me wondering, how can two people have their lives so intrinsically entwined for so many years without forming a meaningful bond? My dad spent most of his life without a father—did he see a father-figure in my grandpa? From what I saw between them, it isn’t likely. If I were to ask either one, I’m sure I’d get a respectful assessment of the other, tinged with reluctance or disinterest. Both men have affected my life in countless, meaningful, life-altering ways, yet they have seemed to have no effect on each other. I could find the truth about their relationship (my mom loves a good chat), but I, like them (or because of them) am hesitant to face the reality. I don’t want to see what dark secrets might be hidden beneath the apathy. I don’t want to tint the nostalgia of all those Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings. I want to remember, exclusively, the magic of my ignorantly pleasant childhood. I want to remember my dad being slightly embarrassed while my grandpa enjoyed his delicious slice of confectionary perfection. To this day I love mincemeat pie—an inheritance, perhaps.

Some people you meet only once, and they change your life forever. Others you can know for years without forming a meaningful connection. I’m terrified that I’m not working hard enough at the relationships that I have. I don’t want to be passive, forgettable and irrelevant to those I care about. But I’m also too scared to ask, to know where I stand. When my grandpa finally leaves this world, will I have made him proud? Will he look back at my role in his life and smile? Or will he simply think of me with respect? Any shred of disinterest, reluctance or dishonesty would be too crushing to bear.

Fear will keep me ignorant, always striving, always worried, surely to an unhealthy degree. But I know what’s in mincemeat pie. That’s enough. I don’t want to see what’s hiding in the barn.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This