A Mother’s Love and Her Poisonous Pumpkin Pie

14 Nov

As a kid my favorite part of Thanksgiving dinner used to be the Marie Callender’s pumpkin pie afterward, until that is, my mother decided to make me one from scratch.  It was tradition, one of many my father and I had during the holidays, to make the trip down to Marie Callender’s restaurant and bakery and withstand a brutal line that wrapped around the entire building.  Finally reaching the front was half the fun for my father and me.  He would mock the other customers who would complain about the wait, complain about the prices.  He’d make faces at me and, if any ever caught wind they were the brunt of his joke, they’d smile uneasily and look the other way as if they hadn’t seen.  My father was a big Greek.  Most everybody would laugh with him in his presence.  Hours later we’d return weary yet victorious with two splendid brown boxes – inside one was a tall banana cream pie for him and in the other, a perfect colored pumpkin pie for me and the rest of the family.

But one Thanksgiving morning my mother put a stop to all this when she proudly announced she’d be baking me my very own pumpkin pie.  “I’m tired of you two spending all that time and money on a store bought pie when you’d be so much better off with a home cooked one.”  To my silent and crushing disappointment, she came home with a bag full of supplies to prove it.  There was a plastic tub of Cool Whip, a package of two frozen pie crusts and a big can of pumpkin filler that resembled the wet dog food I fed our pit bull mix Brutus.  Part of me wanted to point out to my mother that it was still store bought, at least in terms of the ready made ingredients, but I knew if I did my dessert that night would be a slick bar of Ivory soap.  She’d threatened to wash my smart mouth out before.  A crack like that might make her wise up and actually follow through.

My mother was a good cook but oftentimes she was a distracted one.  Like the time years later when she demanded that I pay attention to how she was sauteing an onion when I kept pointing to the flames that had leaped from the stove to the kitchen curtains.  It took an entire box of baking soda plus a package of flour to put out the fire.  By the time we were through it looked like the ceiling had opened up and the sky had snowed down on every inch of the kitchen.  That Thanksgiving afternoon my mother baked two pumpkin pies, nearly forgot about them in the oven, then covered them tightly in foil.  My father watched football in the family room with the screen door ajar.  I roller skated with my older sister safely out of smell shot on the sidewalk of our cul-de-sac.  There was a sense the whole house was burned by my mother’s efforts.

After a real feast of roast turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes and fresh green beans, my mother brought out one of the uncovered pies.  It was darker than a Marie Callender’s pie, not to mention the pumpkin filler had somehow grown a hard skin and bubbled up all over like gigantic blisters during baking.  There was no getting out of tasting the poor burn victim that was my mother’s home cooked pumpkin pie.  My mother served me first.  I forced down most of it because I wanted to please her.   Later that night I was sicker than I’d ever been.  Hours and hours of violent retching that made my ribs ache and my throat raw.  My mother stayed with me, crying the entire time.  As she wiped my forehead with a cold compress, she repeatedly apologized.  “Oh, Sweetie,” she talked over the noise of my gutteral hurls, “I should’ve checked the expiration date at the bottom of that damn can of pumpkin filling.”

Last year my mother and I got together for another holiday dinner.  My father had since passed but thankfully old traditions die hard.  This time my mother agreed to come with me to Marie Callender’s.  Laughing about that night she poisoned me with my favorite pumpkin pie has become our own tradition.  And while I’ll probably never be able to enjoy a pumpkin pie like I once did, my mother and I made do by cutting into a thick and creamy New York style pumpkin cheesecake instead.


Leave a Reply


  1. Mystery Reader

    November 15, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I love heartwarming holiday stories especially if they involve the problems attached to using canned pumpkin filling! I will send this around to all my friends and family for Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing. I hope you’ll come up with an equally fun entry for Christmas!

  2. Ruth

    November 15, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    What a calamity! I’ll stick with Mrs. Smith’s frozen pie and be sure to check the expiration date.

  3. Naoko

    November 15, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    I miss having the dangerously delicious New York style pumpkin cheesecake with you.

    • Paula

      November 15, 2010 at 7:37 pm

      Good to hear from you, Naoko! Considering how many time zones separate us, if I sent you a piece it just might not look or taste the same as you remember it.

      • Miles

        November 16, 2010 at 9:27 am

        Your humor is very biting, so to speak. I will look forward to your Christmas entry which it sounds like you’ll be writing next time. All my best, Miles.

  4. Pumpkin eater

    November 16, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    Pumpkin pie is a tradition at my house too. No poisonings, but one of family fueds. Dad acts like he does not like my mom’s old family recipes but he’ll be the first one to finish the pie! Love the story. And it reminds me to check my dates on filler!

    • Lenore

      November 17, 2010 at 11:08 am

      Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays! This piece is so enjoyable and unpretentious. Very funny reading. Will pass it along to others.

      • Trista

        November 17, 2010 at 11:39 am

        I’m no great cook. My husband and I rely on restaurant bought pies too. Is that so bad? After reading your piece, I think not!

        • Jilli

          November 18, 2010 at 11:38 am


  5. Christina

    November 22, 2010 at 11:45 am

    Superb blog post, I have book marked this internet site! This piece on Thanksgiving cracked me up! Looking forward to what you’ll be coming up for during Christmas. I hope you’ll be writing a couple more and not just

    • Sunday Times Reader

      November 23, 2010 at 9:43 am

      Came across this site by accident. I’m sure glad I did. I’m sending this to all my friends. It’s nice to read something fun and light about family around a special holiday. Happy Thanksgiving!

      • Renalda

        November 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm

        I’ve never tried pumpkin cheesecake but it sounds delicious. I’m looking forward to your next post. Love the story about your father, by the way! I hope you’ll be writing about your relationship with him again real soon.