Death and peach pies



One time when I was a junior in in high school I got a ride with a friend to his house after school. We were going to play basketball. We had been friends since freshman year. I had never been to his house. No one went to his house.

Peach pieWe did not notice that no one went to his house. He always went to someone else's house. It never occurred to us to notice that he always came to our houses.

Mothers loved him because he was so polite and courteous and he helped clear the table and offered to do dishes and that sort of thing. We would have razzed him for sucking up to our mothers but he was a wrestler and enjoyed pinning us to the grass for entertainment.

Fathers liked him because he was a wrestler and because his dad had been an aircraft engineer in the war. His dad died suddenly one day in the kitchen. He was the one who found his dad dead at the kitchen table with his coffee spilled on the newspaper.

The newspaper was open to the business section, he told me once. I asked him what he did with the newspaper after he took care of his dad and mum and kid sister and the ambulance and the undertaker and the priest and he pinned me to the grass without comment.

He was an excellent wrestler. He had a crush on a girl in school, and had told us all about it many times, and finally screwed up his courage, and practiced asking her out in front of the mirror to check his facial expression, and was about to ask her out, when suddenly another guy asked her out, and she said yes, and the next day at lunchtime my friend walked into the lunchroom and sought the other guy out and pinned him to the linoleum floor of the lunchroom without comment.

We parked his car in the driveway and I asked where was his mum's car and he said she and the kid sister were away with the aunt at some army aircraft engineer reunion thing in the city and we had the run of the house so we could eat and then play ball and then maybe watch the Knick game if I didn't have to hustle home. I said great and we went in the house.

I went in the kitchen with high hopes. His mum was the kind of mum who baked more than one pie at a time and gave the extra pies away easily and casually as if a peach pie was something to give away rather than to eat half of immediately and the other half as soon as you could recover. She was always giving pies away to convents and bake sales and firemen and organisations for crippled veterans.


"I asked him what he did with the newspaper after he took care of his dad and mum and kid sister and the ambulance and the undertaker and the priest and he pinned me to the grass without comment."


All I knew about her was the pies because my friend brought in pies for birthdays and teachers' anniversaries and raffles and such at school. I didn't know anything else about his mum.

My friend said she was too cheerful, a remark I didn't understand. He said she was a different person after his dad died, but who wouldn't be different after your spouse died at the kitchen table and got coffee all over the business section of the newspaper?

So I was in the kitchen hunting for pie when he came in and said we have to go. I asked why, if no one was home, and he said we just do.

I said no way, I was going to find one or more pies come hell or high water, and he said we are leaving, and I razzed him, and he said don't make me pin you, so we left the kitchen, but for some reason I went left, toward the back door, as he went right, toward the front, and I saw his mother sprawled on her bed, so drunk the rum had spilled everywhere and there were not one but two bottles on the floor.

She had a red apron over her dress and was wearing one shoe and there was a picture of Jesus by her pillow and a beautiful blue glass rosary looped over Jesus. I turned and went back through the kitchen and out the front door and my friend gave me a ride home and we never, not once, in all these years since, discussed what I had seen, and I never told anyone about it until now.

Everyone is made of pain and joy in such complicated doses that all we can do is be tender and hand each other gobs of attentiveness as if they were peach pies and we were being ridiculously profligate with such rare and precious and wondrous things.


Brian Doyle headshotBrian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland, and the author most recently of the essay collection Grace Notes.

Topic tags: Brian Doyle, alcoholism, depression



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Existing comments

An extremely touching and beautifully expressed piece. I hope the friend found deserved happiness after years of fortitude.

Gillian | 05 April 2016  

This was so beautiful it made me cry. Thank you for sharing your gift of storytelling. I wish you good luck and happier times.

Ayesha roy | 06 April 2016  

A most tender and beautiful piece of story telling. Thank you Brian.

Michael Kelly | 10 April 2016  

Such a moving, sensitive story and so try. Thank you.

Frances | 10 April 2016  

God bless the son of the pie-maker. God bless her son. God bless you for sharing their pain.

glen avard | 09 May 2017  

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