A Heaven-Sent Slice of Pumpkin Pie

Her mother’s favorite Thanksgiving dessert saved the day during a difficult holiday.

Posted in , Oct 26, 2020

A slice of pumpkin pie in the sky. Illustration by Mike Hansen

My mom must have made hundreds of pies in a hundred different combinations of flavors over the course of her life. She was the queen of the flaky crust. In the summer she used fresh blackberries and cherries for filling. In the fall, sweet raisin, apples, decadent chocolate. And at Thanksgiving, always pumpkin, her personal favorite.

But Mom would not be baking any of her famous pies this particular year. Two weeks before Thanksgiving, she’d had a stroke and lost the ability to speak and swallow. She was being fed through a tube and would have to stay in rehab while she remastered those skills. I was thankful she’d be able to return home soon, of course, but I was sorry that we wouldn’t get to enjoy her hosting Thanksgiving, as was our tradition. My husband, my brother and I made reservations to have our meal at a restaurant near Mom’s rehab center, so we could spend the rest of the afternoon visiting with her.

The day before Thanksgiving, we got a bit of good news: Mom had passed her swallowing test. The doctor wanted to keep her on the feeding tube to be on the safe side, but Mom could now handle pureed foods and her speech was slowly improving. This was progress, but I couldn’t help feeling sad that Mom would get no Thanksgiving to speak of.

At the restaurant the next day, we had turkey and cranberry sauce, potatoes, and sweet potatoes. We finished with plenty of room for dessert, but no time. We’d have to get it to go if we were going to make it to the rehab center before visiting hours ended.

“We’ll have three pieces of pumpkin pie,” I said. Mom liked nothing more than to watch her family finish off their dinner with a good slice of pie. And that would be the closest thing to a real Thanksgiving that I could offer her. Maybe the nurses could blend up a little for her too.

“I’m sorry,” the waitress said, “but we only have one slice left.” Clearly it was meant for Mom. The waitress packed it up, adding a generous dollop of whipped cream on top. On the way to the rehab center, I looked at the container on my lap. God, am I just being silly thinking a slice of pie will be any kind of Thanksgiving for Mom?

When the three of us arrived at Mom’s room, we found her in good spirits, as usual. We chatted for a while, and my husband and my brother went out in search of coffee. Mom had been eyeing the to-go container since we’d arrived. Now I opened the lid, presenting the pie like it was a diamond ring. Her eyes widened with delight.

“You’ve been doing so well with swallowing, I thought you might try eating just a little.” I reached for the fork, but Mom beat me to it. She grabbed the container from my hands and dug in. There went the whipped cream, then the pumpkin filling. I could tell by the way she sighed and closed her eyes that Mom was savoring every bite of the first real food she’d had in weeks. An angel had saved the best piece of pumpkin pie I never ate for the Thanksgiving I’ll never forget.

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