My father loved cherry pie. At least I think he loved cherry pie. He must have because every time I think of cherry pie and especially when I have a piece of cherry pie, I think of him. I hear his "Mmmm" in my ears as if he were there enjoying it. My mother made cherry pies now and then. She wasn't a regular at the baking thing, but I do remember helping with the lattice top crust, laying the strips carefully across, weaving the second layer in and out. It was at art. And then we'd pop it in the oven for an hour more or less. It would cool on the kitchen window sill for a while, until after dinner, when we would all have a piece with a bit of vanilla ice cream on top.
This memory comes to mind whenever I hear the song, "Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy..." At least I think it is a memory and not something my mind has created out of the bits and pieces of a rather fractured family life I had growing up.
Fact is I don't know a lot about my father's likes and dislikes. I know he was a good man who suffered from alcoholism. Because of that, he was not home a lot. Yet he went to work every day until he became so disabled he could not walk to the corner to catch the bus to go to downtown Detroit where he worked in a factory assembling shipping crates. Even then, he got himself a job with his bar buddy, Elmer, on the back of a garbage truck picking up garbage. He knew he needed to work to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of my mother, brother and I. We never went hungry for the necessities. What we lacked was the necessity of knowing my father.
I know he like to drive, and drive fast. He wrecked every car he ever owned. His younger brother confirmed this for me during one of the family vacations in the hills of Pennsylvania where we went most summers for two weeks. Even then, he didn't talk much so I never got a sense of who he really was. In those days many dads thought they needed to be silent, strong and aloof. He had a fiery temper, (his siblings did too), and that I remember well with the drunken rages and sober rants. I remember one time he was trying to do his taxes and he called the IRS to ask a question. The person on the other end of the phone either couldn't answer the question or didn't answer it. To this day I remember the crash of the received onto its cradle so hard it cracked in two.
Funny thing, I loved my dad. Even with all his fits and starts at doing anything, and never finishing much of anything, he was still my dad. And there were rare occasions he actually told me he was proud of me, like when I learned to type. He thought that was quite a skill to have. He barely made it through 8th grade...if that far. And when I graduated from college, well, he wanted to see me so badly he put on his three piece suit he had worn at my mother's funeral, boarded the train in Detroit and rode all the way to San Bernardino. When he got off and I saw him in that suit, beaming ear to ear, I knew it really didn't matter if I knew what kind of pie he liked. Maybe he had changed into the suit just before the end of the three day trip, (I hope so), but in my mind he just wanted to be sure he looked his best.
My dad died in 1991. Twenty-five years ago. We never really talked much, just brief conversations on the phone now and then. Once in a while he's say he loved me. He's say he knew I was a "good boy." I always wondered then and still wonder now how much he knew about me. But I guess that is how it is between fathers and sons sometimes. The most important thing is to know the bond is there no matter what, love is behind it and cherry pie tastes better when it reminds you of your dad.