“Rhubarb Pie,” Friend, July 1995, 40
I nearly flew out the door when the train stopped at the Huntersville station. In a wink, I was swallowed up by one of Grandma’s big hugs.
“Look how you’ve grown!” Grandpa exclaimed. “You’re not my Itsy-Bitsy anymore.”
“You’ll just have to think of a new nickname for me,” I said.
As soon as the car stopped at their farm, I jumped out, ready to explore. I was just about to the back gate when Grandma called, “Rachel, change into your playclothes first.”
“But I want to see the barn!”
Grandma put her hands on her hips and gave me that “don’t argue with me” look, so I headed for the back porch. As I went through the screen door, I let it bang shut to let her know how I felt.
By the time I got to the barn, Grandpa was already milking Babe. Long, slim streams of milk sprayed into the pail. “Pring, pring,” the milk sang in steady rhythm. As the bucket filled, the sound changed to a “swirt, swirt.” Milking Babe looked like fun.
“Can I try, Grandpa?”
“It isn’t as easy as it looks—you have to have really strong hands to milk a cow.”
How hard can it be? I thought. Grandpa just squeezes—left hand, right hand, left, right. “Please,” I begged.
“Maybe next time. I don’t think Babe would like someone new taking over halfway through her milking.”
I wanted to try, though, so I went on the other side of her and started squeezing as hard as I could. Startled, she jumped sideways, kicking over the pail. The milk made a foamy puddle on the cement. I jumped up and raced out of the barn before Grandpa could scold me.
I ran straight to the old apple tree by the pasture and climbed to the limb where someone had nailed a metal seat from a farm machine. No one would find me sitting up there.
I stayed in the tree until my stomach started to rumble. Grandpa would be done with the chores, and Grandma would have dinner ready.
I climbed down and walked slowly toward the house. No one was in sight, so I sat under the open kitchen window. The aroma of fried chicken drifted out. Dishes rattled. I heard Grandpa’s deep voice blessing the food. I wanted to go in, but I couldn’t. What would Grandpa say? I sat there for the longest time, my tummy rumbling louder every second.
Then I heard Grandma. “Pie for dessert.”
“Rhubarb pie! My favorite!” Grandpa said.
Rhubarb pie? I’d never heard of it. But I’d tasted some of Grandma’s other pies—cherry, apple, and peach—yum! Rhubarb pie must be really good. I just had to have some! I took a big breath, walked up the back steps, and opened the kitchen door.
“Why, here’s Rachel,” Grandma said. “Sit down. I’ll get your dinner.”
No one said a word about the spilled milk.
Grandma set a plate in front of me—mashed potatoes, fried chicken, stewed tomatoes, and spinach. Spinach? Yuck! In no time I cleaned up the rest of my plate.
“Pie for you, just as soon as the spinach is gone.” Grandma set the pie just behind my dinner plate. It looked so good, the crust all golden and sprinkled with sugar, pink juices oozing out the sides. I pushed my dinner plate away.
Grandma frowned. “I said, ‘As soon as you eat your spinach.’”
“I hate spinach.”
“Eat just a bit then. You have to at least taste it.” Grandma was determined.
I scowled at her and then at my plate.
Grandpa started to laugh. “You look like you just swallowed a lemon, whole,” he said. “Maybe your new nickname should be Sourpuss.”
I wanted to get up and stomp away from the table, but that pie held me like a magnet. Finally I forced down two tiny bites of spinach, and Grandma took my plate.
The pie was delicious, the crust so light it could melt in your mouth, the fruit sweet and tart at the same time. “It’s my favorite,” I told Grandma. “It’s even better than apple.”
The next morning, Grandma made me help pull weeds in the garden. I wanted to play on the rope swing, but she said there’d be plenty of time for that later. As we went out the door, Grandpa said, “Hi, little Sourpuss.”
I frowned at him.
In the garden, I saw a strange plant with giant umbrella leaves and long red-green stalks. “What’s this, Grandma?”
“That’s rhubarb, Rachel. It’s what I made last night’s pie from.”
“Oh, yummy! May I eat a piece?”
“You won’t like it. It needs lots of sugar to make it taste good.”
But I remembered the pie. Rhubarb had to be good. “Please, Grandma,” I begged.
She took the little knife she keeps with her garden tools and cut off a stalk. I took a big bite.
My mouth shriveled. My eyes watered. “Oooh, sour!”
Just then Grandpa walked by. “What are you so sour about now, Rachel?”
“Rhubarb!” I answered, holding the chewed stalk up for him to see.
Grandpa started to laugh, a deep belly laugh that just kept going. When he finally got to the chuckling stage and could talk, he said, “I think I’ve found the perfect nickname for you—Rhubarb Rachel.”
“Oh, Grandpa,” I protested, “that isn’t any better than Sourpuss. It means the same.”
He winked. “Not if you add a little sugar. Then you could be my Rhubarb Pie.” He turned and walked away, whistling.
That started me thinking. Maybe Grandpa was right. I had been acting pretty sour. But how could I add sugar? I thought about it as I pulled the weeds from the rest of the row. Then I forced the corners of my mouth up into a little smile. It felt good. Next I tried whistling. It felt even better. After a while, I went over to where Grandma was thinning carrots. “I’m sorry I’ve been so cross. And I’m sorry about the milk.”
Grandma grinned. “I know you are. But you needed to say it. How about cutting some more of the rhubarb stalks—I’ll make another pie for dinner tonight.”
“Sure,” I said. “Can I help you make it?” I wanted to know all about turning rhubarb into rhubarb pie.