Butter Tarts and Pie

The way I remember it is that she skipped into the room. Eleanor Pearl. I was surprised at how fit and nimble this woman in her 70’s appeared to be – I would have guessed her to be younger by at least 10 years. I noticed her husband, John, possessed the same youthful countenance as he strode in and took a seat.

Her daughter, Brenda, had prepared dinner and as we shared a meal together, as well as stories and testimonies, I could see that her spirit was light. When John invited me to come visit them at Sylvan Lake for Christmas, I glanced her way to see how she would react to having an unexpected guest. There was only warmth and welcome in her gentle eyes.

When she spoke, I was enthralled with her voice, which was deep, calm and inviting. I broke down while sharing a bit of my testimony, and I remember her assuring me in her beautiful voice that they had all been through the same kind of thing and then inviting me to go on telling my story.

Eleanor brought butter tarts, her specialty, to be enjoyed for dessert that night. I’ve sampled a number of butter tarts in my Canadian experience, but none as delicious as Eleanor’s. I noticed in subsequent years that her butter tarts were frequently requested by others as well.

There was an old-fashioned genteelness about Eleanor, an open hospitality in her demeanor and speech that is rarely experienced today. Though Canadian, she reminded me of ladies in the small towns in New England. Ladies who were always occupied hosting, baking and caring for their families, but never seeming overly busy or hurried in any way. Unexpected guests were made to feel welcome, as if they were expected all along.

Such was the way as well with another Eleanor – Eleanor Rose – my Aunt Ellie. A farmer’s wife, who was herself one of eight children, she was constantly entertaining in the kitchen of her farmhouse in Weedsport, New York. Everyone liked to be in her kitchen, which was the site for the canning and jarring of vegetables and fruits alike. Her delightfully plain and simple kitchen table was also the site for visiting and catching up with friends and family, with the enticing smell of home cooking and baking wafting through the air.

Aunt Ellie’s signature dish, if you will, was pie. To have a slice of Aunt Ellie’s pie was to enjoy a little slice of heaven. To every family function she brought her pies, and as the rest of the clan was prone to argument, I believe Aunt Ellie’s pies could perhaps be credited with keeping the family together at times. It was one thing to lose an argument, but it was another to be excommunicated from the group and the pies. The family learned to get along when those pies were around.

Like Eleanor Pearl, it would be hard to rattle my Aunt Ellie. She seemed to cope with unexpected events as if she expected them all along. All were made to feel welcome in her presence and in her home. 

Eight years ago, I said goodbye to my Aunt Ellie – Eleanor Rose. Last week, I said goodbye to my friend Eleanor Pearl. These two Eleanors were ladies of a time and place where women prospered in the home. Just as Christ offers us grace and invites us into the kingdom of God, these ladies graciously opened their hearts and homes to those who crossed their paths – this was how they bore His image.

Perhaps the lazy, hazy days of summer are bringing these two Eleanors to mind – days where it seems a sufficient enough goal to get the housework done during the heat of the day, and a visit later in the warm, sultry evenings. Regardless, it is with a sense of gratitude, and yes, nostalgia, that I remember these two Eleanors and hope that some of their bygone ways remain in me.