|Years later, I'm still reminded of my friend Monte and her pecan pie ministry when I pull out my rolling pin. Read about the impact she made in my life and the legacy she left behind.|
Nuts. We struck up a conversation on Flight 2358 about nuts - pecans to be exact - when I offered her one of my turtles. She gladly accepted one, maybe two, before introducing herself and sharing with me that she likes pecans so much that makes a pecan pie for every member of her church on their birthday. That would sometimes mean up to four pies a day. People from all over bring pecans for her husband, Bill, to crack and shell while she prepares her homemade pastry and the scrumptious goo for her ministry. Turns out we shared a passion for this dying art form so we traded mouth-watering recipes and tricks of the trade as our plane headed south. As we visited, we decided to send each other a new recipe to try each month. Monte wrote down her pecan pie recipe and gave it to me along with her promise to be my recipe pen pal.
We kept that promise for six years. Every month, I would receive an update about her family, her pride and joy. I remember her funniest letter said that during an arteritis illness which curtailed her pecan pie ministry, Monte had discovered that there were so many things she’d been doing for Bill over the past 58 years that he could actually do for himself. Each letter would bring a recipe from her collection. Some of my family’s favorite recipes have come “from the Kitchen of Monte Prude.” Monte was old enough to be my mom, but letter by letter, she was turning into one of my treasured peers. We shared secrets, successes, sorrows, stories, and savory sensations. We even phoned one another periodically and it was always nice to hear the friendly voice of that accomplished chef, my mentor and role model.
But Monte’s last call wasn’t so nice. It was her voice, all right, but she wasn’t calling to share a new recipe or give or get an update. She was calling to tell me that she had cancer and that, while she was going to stay hopeful, she wasn’t certain what the future held for her. She was calling to thank me for my friendship and she was calling to say good-bye. I didn’t let Monte say good-bye that day. I told her that she was strong and that she would fight this thing and that I was praying for her and that she’d be fine. I even sat down that night and wrote her a Get-Well-Soon card, optimistically including an easy recipe for her to try. Several days later, I got a note, but no recipe. It would be the last letter I ever received from my recipe pen pal. It read:
Dear Barbara, I enjoyed your letter so much. Thanks for your encouraging words. You know, I have felt good this whole time. God has blessed my family, especially me, for years. He gave me 2/12 months last summer of the best health I’ve had for years. We remodeled our house, carpeted, installed storm windows, got a new electric stove, and had new cabinets put in. But the most important thing is that I have been planning for years to write a book for each of our four boys. Through the years I have written down all the cute and funny things they’ve come up with so I typed all of that on real pretty paper and wrote each one a personal letter. It was a pretty notebook and quite lengthy.
They were all so pleased and touched. I feel like that time was given to me for that special purpose. While your children are so young, you might keep that in mind. I start my chemo in the morning and have no idea what to expect. I’m supposed to have six hours at the clinic, then they will install a contraption that will slowly drip for the next 48 hours at home. They’ll take it out Monday then all my sessions will be there in the clinic every two weeks. I don’t know how long. The only visible sign so far is my shaky writing. Thanks for the past 6 years. Love, Monte
Imagine worrying about her penmanship! I was so glad she had written and I cherished the sage advice from my valued friend, but I still didn’t know that this was good-bye. I bought a packet of wildflower seeds just before spring break and sent them to Monte instead of a recipe this time. I figured that, even if she wasn’t well enough on the road to recovery to plant them herself, Bill would put them into a planter box so she could see them from her kitchen window. I’m not sure if she ever got them. You see, I received a phone call during spring break from her daughter-in-law (Miriam I think she said her name was) that they’d buried Monte earlier that week. “It was a beautiful celebration of life ceremony”, I heard her say as I choked back tears. She thanked me for being Monte’s friend before she hung up. I pulled out some of Monte’s letters and re-read them through misty eyes that night, unable to believe that Monte was gone. I still wasn’t ready to say good-bye.
I called Monte’s husband Bill, who told me with pride that at her funeral, they asked all of the people who ever received a birthday pecan pie from Monte to stand up and that almost everyone in the room rose to their feet. Her son added jokingly that if there was anyone “who wished they’d gotten one of Monte’s pecan pies, would they please stand,” and Monte got her standing ovation that day. They were able to calculate that she’d made some 1700 pecan pies over the years. What a wonderful tribute to Monte’s tremendously giving spirit and generously delicious ministry.
Remembering Monte today, I am hopeful that there is a great big kitchen in heaven and that she is able to cook up a storm, serving the most incredibly tasty meals followed up fabulously delectable desserts to her heavenly family. If I could write to Monte one more time, my note would go something like this:
Dear Monte, It’s been almost a year since I got your last letter and I miss you so much. I think of you every time I pull out my recipe box. Thanks for sharing your recipes, your wisdom, your friendship, and your love. The children are growing like Texas Wildflowers in the springtime. I can hardly keep up with them. I talked with Bill today. He says he’s getting along okay, but he still misses you like crazy. You were such a great cook and a caring role model for so many people. I’m a better person, Monte, because I met you along the way on my life’s journey. You shared not only your recipes for the kitchen, but more importantly, your recipe for life, and for that I will always be grateful. Good-bye for now, my sweet friend. Love, Barbara
ps. If it’s not too much to ask, could you save me a piece of your pecan pie?