Don't Forget the Pies, Please
Writing the past isn't just about getting the facts right--it's about how that chapter in life felt and tasted
Today’s post is unusually personal: it may, or may not, be for everyone. It was written for a website memorializing a former Wesleyan University colleague, Christina Crosby, who suddenly passed over in January 2021 at 67. You can learn more about her here. Perhaps because I am writing a biography, I have come to see lives—including my own—in chapters rather than a continuous narrative. Friendship is one way of framing those chapters, allowing us to intersect with someone else’s life and allowing each of us to become a slightly different person than we were before. So what you see below is a snapshot of one chapter of my life, as I lived it on a small New England college campus in the 1990s. If you think it’s a good piece of writing, by all means:
Photo credit: Joshua Heyer/Wikimedia Commons
Oddly, although Christina and I spent tons of time together for a while, we never shared a classroom, not once. We were in different departments, even different divisions. But for a short time, we were very, very, good friends.
So here’s what I’ve got for you: what no one should forget about Christina, ever, is how much she loved parties. She loved big parties, small parties, cocktail parties, dinner parties, and parties that ran so late that I wonder today how we managed to put one word after the other the next day (answer: we were very young.) And Christina particularly loved entertaining in her home.
I first met Christina at a party. I had just begun my appointment as an assistant professor in the history department. I saw a talk advertised at the Center for Humanities, and I thought: well, here is an opportunity to make some friends.
And I did. After the talk, Dick Ohmann, the Director, invited me to the canonical post-talk party. Christina strode up and introduced herself. In her distinctive, Christina-like way, she was soon interrogating me about where I stood as a historian. I did not really believe in facts, did I? Was I a Foucauldian? And surely, I did not believe that archives were somehow the path to a historical truth of some kind? I was clear, was I not, that all knowledge was constructed? Was I familiar with the work of Joan Scott? (I did get the last question right.)
In any case, this terrifying encounter led to a dinner invitation at Christina’s little shoebox of a university rental house, where I can honestly say I spent some of my happiest evenings at Wesleyan University.
It made sense that we would eat together often. We were both in commuting relationships. We both took off each weekend, she to Providence and I to New York City. For those of us who had two homes in those years, the other option was to eat alone, and making dinner for one is dreary. In addition, Christina and I each had an unspoken evening deadline: a phone call home. Before cell phones, Southern Connecticut Bell charged for long-distance, so getting to one’s own handset before bedtime was imperative.
Dinner often followed a squash game, which I always won because I was a very good squash player, and Christina, while an outstanding athlete, was not. As a result, we almost always ate at Christina’s house: while she never beat me at squash, she always won, hands down, at making dinner.
Christina was one of the best cooks and most generous hosts I have ever known. So my contribution to our evening entertainments was thumping her at squash, going home to shower, and bringing a decent bottle of wine to Christina’s house, where she would already be embarked on making a marvelous dinner. After the death of the sweet and elderly Shameless Hussy, who I only knew in her final golden year, I brought my lab mix, Daisy as well. Daisy would entertain Christina’s relentless and undisciplined puppy, Babe, by pinning her to the ground and barking in her face. This taught Babe nothing, but Christina and I thought it was hilarious.
Christina was an amazing cook. I cannot remember anything she made except one item: pie. Christina’s pies will be vivid in my memory forever because the only person who made a better one was my grandmother. They were never too sweet, and Christina’s crust (the hardest part, if you are familiar with pie) was as good as any crust I have ever had, and she didn’t cheat by using vodka instead of water like I do. She made it look effortless, and between late spring and early fall, the pies contained various fruits that she bought at farm stands on the drive from Providence.
While the dogs slammed around the house, Christina would cook something simple but marvelous. She would roll out a crust and bake that pie, easy as you please. Often other people would come over, and they would bring bottles too. We would talk about everything, and laugh, and yell, and argue. And we drank. We drank far more than was good for us, I am sure, but in the end, it didn’t do any harm. We were young, happy, healthy, and pretty resilient. We slept well under all circumstances. Around 10:00 or 11:00, I would drive home very carefully and finish up my lecture for the next day.
And then, a few days later, we would do it all over again. I think it was exactly the life that—at the time–we both wanted to live. And the fact that we got to do it together, and be young together, was a gift.
Claire Bond Potter is Professor of Historical Studies at The New School for Social Research and co-Executive Editor of Public Seminar. Her most recent book is Political Junkies: From Talk Radio to Twitter, How Alternative Media Hooked Us on Politics and Broke Our Democracy (Basic Books, 2020).
What I’m Reading:
Don’t worry about the American birth rate, now in decline for the sixth year! “It’s easier than ever to prevent unintended pregnancy, and there are more reasons than ever to delay or forego childbearing for more women than ever.” (Jill Filipovic, May 6, 2021)
Lucinda Franks, 74, the first woman journalist to win a Pulitzer prize, has passed. (Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times, May 6, 2021)
Esther Wang on the new Texas anti-abortion bill. (Jezebel, May 6, 2021)