The other day I was out picking raspberries and blueberries at a local berry farm. I was reminded of another day, back when I was baking professionally in Vermont, when I had an unusual experience.
"Olin Clara" was someone who made a big difference in my life as a young Amish girl. Years later, I wrote this tribute to her for a public speaking class I was taking at Community College of Vermont.
Peach Pie Heaven
I first noticed how different Clara Yoder was from the other women in my Amish community one bright summer day at church.
I was ignoring the Amish sentiment that people should not bring attention to themselves, because I wanted people to know it was my birthday. First I tried telling Elizabeth Yoder, who was usually nice to me. She just looked at me and said nothing, then attended to a child who was pulling at her dress. I tried several other women, and they were no different.
Then I found Clara. She was carrying plates of cheese and pickles to the tables that had been set up for lunch. She looked at me and said, “Oh, really, how old are you — nine?”
I nodded proudly.
Clara said, “Well, happy birthday!
Call me starved for love, but I was so happy, I almost cried.
Several days later I got a rare letter in the mail. It was a birthday card, with a beautiful handmade bookmark inside. Clara had made it herself, and she had written, “Happy Birthday, Saloma,” next to the flowers and the butterfly she had drawn with magic markers.
Not long after that, my mother asked if I wanted to go help Clara with her Saturday cleaning. I was puzzled at first. If Clara really needed help, there were older girls in the community, who lived closer than I did. I felt unworthy of going to her house, but I sure wasn’t going to turn it down. Thank goodness I didn’t.
I remember the first time I walked the mile to Clara’s house, and saw her garden on the little hillside before her house. The vegetables stood in straight, green rows, flowers of every color bordered the garden. Next to the garden, and just outside the kitchen window, was a bird feeder, with goldfinches and nuthatches flying back and forth between it and the trees on the edge of the yard.
As I walked to the kitchen door, I smelled freshly-baked cookies and pies. Clara said, “Come in Salome.” She was the only person I knew who combined my Amish name, Lomie, with my English name, Saloma. I decided I rather liked it.
I stepped inside, and Clara said, “Hello, Salome, you are probably all tired from your walk. I have warm cookies here, and I can get you lemonade or milk, whatever you would like to drink. She pulled out a kitchen chair, and urged me to sit down. I said, “But I came to help you with Saturday cleaning,” and she said, “Oh, but just sit, you have to try my cookies before I put you to work.”
I did try them, and I wasn’t sorry. The chocolate chip cookies melted in my mouth, and after two I wished she would offer me another. Clara was one of the best bakers in the community.
I did help Clara out, that day and many other Saturdays. I learned a lot from her. She showed me what a normal and happy family in the community looked like. She and her husband, Olin, took me to the grocery store for the first time in my life. She taught me how to make frosting from powdered sugar, and use a pie blender to make pie crusts.
Then one day she made the queen pie of all pies. I was eating fresh-sliced peaches sweetened in a glaze, layered between a pie crust and a layer of whipped cream. The crust melted in my mouth. The combination of the three flavors was like being in peach pie heaven.
Years later, when I had my own bakery, I modeled the summer pies after Clara’s peach pie. I made strawberry pies, peach pies, peach-blueberry pies, peach-raspberry pies, and peach-raspberry-blueberry pies. None of them were ever as good as Clara’s peach pie. Not even close.
One of those rare sunny summer days in Vermont, when there wasn’t a cloud in sight, I was out in the field in Charlotte, Vermont, picking blueberries for peach-blueberry pies I would be making the next day. As I picked, I thought about the inspiration behind the pies I made, and I realized I had never thanked Clara. As I picked blueberries, I drafted a letter in my head of what I wanted to say to her, of how her caring had made a difference in my life. I had not been in touch with her since I had left the community, and I didn’t know if she was even still alive. As I was thinking about that, I looked up, and there was a friendly little cloud right above me, and it was the only one in sight. I felt like Clara was with me, receiving my thoughts, and she wanted to let me know she understood.
I finished picking blueberries, and headed towards the shed to weigh the berries. The friendly cloud moved with me. I looked up, and I almost said something to Clara, but I didn’t know whether her presence was my imagination or not.
Not long after, I wrote a letter to Mem, asking her about Clara. She told me that Clara had died two years before. Then I knew the cloud in the blueberry patch that day had indeed been a visitation.
Maybe Clara is in peach pie heaven, making a difference in someone else’s life.