As I stood on the banks of the Allegheny River watching the waterfowl swimming and flying over and around the docked pontoon boats across the way; I recollected a childhood story told to me by my grandmother. It was a story about my father and uncle growing up in the small town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania. Here I stand in 2012, I had made a road trip with my wife, Susan, to revisit my father’s birthplace, retelling her the story of “Salty Apple Pie.” It was about 1939, a warm summer’s day, when young boys would swim in the river while cooling down from the hot days sun. On such a day, my father, Reynolds, dressed and headed down the steep, ridged Johnston Avenue going home. On his way he would pass the house of Aunt Jeanette, who was known for her great apple pie. As he walked by her house on Wilson Avenue, just across from the Fourth Ward School, he smelled the aroma of freshly baked apple pie. It was unmistakable! The warm summer breeze was blowing the scent of the pie through the neighborhood. Reynolds caught the scent and began to run towards her house, as he had done each day after school to catch a chance at a delicious treat. He would always knock first before entering the unlocked screen door. “Aunt Jeanette, its me.” The aroma of cinnamon and apples created images in his mind of a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting over slice of warm pie. Aunt Jeanette answered the door, “Rennie, where’s your brother?” I left him at the river, he’ll be along sooner or later.” She apologized, ” I’m sorry about the apple pie, but there’s been a small misstep on my part, I mixed in salt thinking it was sugar.” Disheartened, he replied, “Sucks, I really was looking forward to a piece of your special pie.” She ordered, ” Rennie, you better throw out the pie, excuse for a minute, I have to run an errand.” There was a moment of silence, as she left slamming the screen door. Rennie’s thoughts began to entertain the idea of playing a practical joke on his brother,Jack, who was 4 years his senior.
Rennie ran out of the house, down the steps, and across the street to the school yard, looking for Jack. “Hey Jackie, Aunt Jeanette made us some apple pie.” Jack’s eyes opened wider with each thought, he turned without a word and raced across the street and into Aunt Jeanette’s house. Jack found no one home, so he decided to help himself to a piece of pie by pouring some cold milk over a slice. There were few comforts living in a small mining town, but eating homemade pie was at the top of the list. Jack’s expectations of pleasure turned into a mouth full of disgust, as he spat out the pie into the sink. He was duped, he was mad, and he was going to get even with his younger brother.
Later that same afternoon, Jack returned home in a crabby mood and with a surly mouth. He had been fooled by his younger brother and was humiliated. As Jack walked in the door, he could hear his brother telling their mom about the tomfoolery.
As I finished telling the story to Susan, we decided to visit the schoolyard and Aunt Jeanette’s house on Wilson Avenue, laughing about a tale of two brothers that has been handed down over the generations. All parties to the story have left this earth, but their spirit lives on in the hearts and minds of those who loved them. To this day, I love apple pie.