(by Evangeline Wurst)
The first decade of my childhood was normal. I grew up in southern Virginia with two young parents and a little brother. We lived a healthy life with a lot of love. But when I was ten years old, normal got flipped on its head. My parents were divorced, and my mom met a new man. We’ll call him Tom. Tom was ten years younger than my mother, which made him exactly ten years older than I was. As a kid, I thought this age difference was awesome—a new, young, and exciting father figure, especially since mine had started to become absent a few years before the divorce. It wasn’t my dad’s fault; he was a soldier and was gone for a good chunk of time.
Less than a year after my mom met Tom, she was pregnant with a baby boy, and they got married. Everything was moving fast, and my young ADHD brain kind of liked it. Each day was fun, and I looked forward to the future with my new brother and stepdad.
The day my mom got home from the hospital with that little baby was the day everything changed for us—the day my mom found out that Tom was using and selling drugs while cheating on her. When confronted, he tried to run over my mother and my new baby brother with her own car, while I watched in horror. It was the beginning of the long eight years that Tom would rain chaos and horror down on us.
Almost every day after lunch or after school, my brothers and I would curl up on Mom’s king size bed and watch TV. There wasn’t much parental control, so we watched anything and everything, and when we were hungry, we’d eat whatever we wanted. Cooking was a monster my mom just couldn’t tackle—ordering takeout or microwaving frozen food was the go-to for our meals. It was heartbreaking because she’d been such an amazing cook when she was with my dad, and she baked almost every weekend. Anything we wanted, she’d make. Now, getting her to leave her bed was a challenge.
But it sparked an interest in cooking for me. At the age of 15, I started baking once a week. Cookies, brownies, and cakes were my specialty, but what I really wanted to do was bake a pie. Living in the South, I’d seen homemade pies at practically every social gathering, but I’d never watched anyone make one. They just kind of appeared in all of their flaky, gooey deliciousness. I felt like it would have been a Southern sin to make a pie from a tutorial online. No, I needed to make a pie with the baker herself.
Asking was not going to be the problem. Nine times out of ten, my mom agreed to things, but getting her to stick to that agreement was probably more difficult than making a pie from scratch. I slid the idea into to our daily conversations, asking what her favorite pie was and what were her tips and tricks. She seemed interested in making one with me but never in the mood to actually do it.
Tom had been gone for a few days, doing God knows what, and his absence would usually send my mom into one of her darkest depressions, but this time was different. She wasn’t sleeping all day or running around making herself sick with anxiety. She was...happy. She was out of bed, hanging out with us. It felt like the mom I knew when I was a kid, before Tom.
One morning I was making eggs for her and my brothers, and I heard her say from the other room, “Hey, Eva, what do you say about making an apple pie today?” We had discussed apple pie, but I thought she’d be more interested in coconut cream or strawberry. Whatever—I was ready. We laid out all the ingredients, and she asked if my brothers could help, which I was more than happy to hear.
My brothers were washed and ready to start. We were a little assembly line: the three-year-old standing on a chair at the sink scrubbing the red apples clean, Mom peeling, my 13-year-old brother and I chopping. We were a family, and a happy one at that. I don’t remember the conversation, but I’ll never forget the laughter and the random apple slice being tossed playfully.
Suddenly there was a loud pounding at the front door. Two cops were standing there with a warrant for my mom’s arrest. My brothers and I watched in disbelief as the one of them cuffed her and read her rights. Then they drove off, leaving us with no idea what to do. I didn’t know who to call, and I especially didn’t know how to finish that pie. I remember all three of us sitting on the couch watching cartoons, numb and confused, apples still sitting on the counter, looking more bruised by the hour.
It had been dark for some time when the front door finally opened and my mom walked in. I could tell she had been crying, but she managed to smile at us. We ran to embrace her, and we all slumped into a pile of tears and relief. The sound of her sobs started to change into what sounded like laughter, but that couldn’t be right. How could being arrested in front of her three children be funny? When I pulled away to look at her in confusion, she wiped her tears with her wrist and said, “My hands are still sticky from the apples.” There were a few seconds of silence before a burst of uncontrollable laughter from all four of us, hugging each other even tighter.
We never did finish that apple pie.
It turned out that Mom had been arrested for previously lying to an officer about knowing Tom’s whereabouts when he was on the run for selling drugs. The charges were dropped. We learned that the arresting officer was a dirty cop who was arrested himself for harassment and fake charges. There was a small house on our land where a cousin was living, so I imagine my mom had told the cops we'd be all right, but they certainly didn't care much about leaving kids alone.
When I was 18, my mom left Tom, but not before having two more kids with him. I’m in my 20s now, working through the trauma of living with a drug addict and an abuser.
I’ve still never made apple pie.
(If I ever made an apple pie, it would be this one from my grandma's old cookbook.)
1/2 c. unsalted butter
3 T. flour
1/4 c. water
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
pastry for 9-in. double crust pie (here's one)
8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
Preheat oven to 425 F.
Stir butter and flour in saucepan over low heat to create a paste.
Add both sugars and water, and bring to a boil.
Fit bottom crust into a 9-in. pie pan.
Fill with apples, and add the top crust, crimping the edges.
Gently pour the saucepan contents onto the pie.
Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 F. and bake for 35 - 40 minutes more, until golden brown.