A Cherry Pie Birthday

Cherry Pie. 

A Sister Celebration

One week ago my sister Elaine celebrated her birthday; it comes exactly one week after mine. When we were children, our parents made it a point to mark each occasion separately (except for the year we each chose one special friend and went to Knott’s Berry Farm). As adults, though, when our schedules permit it, we gather and share our days.

Some years, schedules don’t permit it.

This year I got lucky. We carved out the evening of the Saturday between our birthdays and planned a casual meal at her house. She’s my big sister, but her boys are younger than my girl, so her day was basketball-busy.

I made Mom’s potato salad and brought wine. She provided tri-tip, beans, chips and dip, and dessert.

Dessert. I knew what she wanted when I first saw her text message:

What shall we serve for “cake”? 

As girls, we asked for cherry pie for our birthdays, preferring it to cake. Mom always accommodated our requests, right along with preparing favorite meals to mark our days: teriyaki for me, chicken and dumplings for my sister. But Mom’s been gone for three years, so we plan our own menus now.

We are ready for cherry pie again.

She phoned me the day of the party. “Costco doesn’t have cherry pie! They told me they only carried it once, two years ago!”

“Wait. You’re at Costco? Can you grab something for me while you’re there?” Just like that, I switch our agenda to my needs. And my big sister goes along with the detour. I need a big bottle of antihistamine. She promises to get it.

I report the pie emergency to my husband. And here, I should mention that though Rich is a major fan of most things sweet, cherry pie is not his favorite.

The drive to my sister’s place, fifteen miles away as the clouds float, is an hour long, following freeways around a nuisance of a mountain that lengthens our trip. Rich searches out Marie Callendar’s locations, identifies one along our circummountainous route, calls to confirm. Yes, they have plenty of cherry pies.

And so we leave a few minutes early to drive around the mountain to my sister’s house. Because we need to stop and buy a cherry pie.

For certainty, she has cheesecake and carrot cake. I text her: “Pie mission success!”

We drive on, deliver our pie. My sister remembered my antihistamine. Big sisters are good at remembering things for their little sisters.

I’m standing in her warm kitchen as she stirs beans and I put pickles on a platter and my dad and his dog watch us, our husbands chat, my nephews return home from neighborhood hoops.

Watching her I remember why I named my daughter for her, this only sister of mine. I remember shared bunk beds and cereal squabbles. I remember tears and secrets and how she chauffeured me through adolescence in her orange Volkswagen bug. I’m trying to figure out how we landed in our fifties in two blinks. Now we’re singing, silly, shouting over each other as we reach the line, “Happy Birthday Dear…” as the rest sing “Elaine and Sheila.” I want it to be about her.

And she wants it to be about me. 

She’s slicing pie and I aim my camera and she says no, so I photograph the cherry pie. You will have to trust me when I report to you that my sister is an exceptionally beautiful woman.

I’m wondering how it could be that we’ve allowed schedules to preempt this celebration. I make a vow.

I’ll make sure we have cherry pie. She will remember the antihistamine.

For through wisdom your days will be many,
 and years will be added to your life.
Proberbs 9:11 (NIV)