Beth Howard’s marriage to her German husband Marcus was passionate but often tumultuous. His job required long hours and frequent relocations, and over the course of six years she often felt that he didn’t pay enough attention to her own needs. During the summer of 2009, they were living apart—Marcus in Germany, where he had just been relocated once again, and Howard in Terlingua, Texas, working on a memoir about her stint as pie baker to the stars in Malibu. But when Howard suggested they make a plan to see each other during Marcus’ vacation in August, he dismissed her; he was too overwhelmed with plans and schedules at work, and didn’t want to think about making any more arrangements. Fed up, she asked for a divorce.
Marcus protested, but she held firm. That August, instead of coming to see her in Texas, Marcus flew to Portland, Oregon, the city they considered their home base, prepared to sign their divorce papers. A few hours before he was to meet with their divorce mediator, he collapsed and died of a ruptured aorta.
“Psychologists call it complicated grief,” she writes. “Complicated grief is when someone you are close to dies and leaves you with unresolved issues, unanswered questions, unfinished business. . . . Complicated grief is when you ask your husband for a divorce you don’t really want, and he dies seven hours before signing the papers.”
Devastated, Howard returned to Portland to grieve and to figure out what to do next. She turned to the most wholesome, healing activity she could imagine: baking pie. Though her initial attempts to find a job as a baker were unsuccessful, she soon met a friend of a friend who suggested that they travel around the country shooting footage for a potential TV series about pie. They started out with a trip around California, interviewing longtime pie makers, making pie with a group of eight- and nine-year-olds, revisiting the pie shop in Malibu where Howard had worked several years earlier and baking 50 pies to hand out on the streets of L.A. for National Pie Day.
The series didn’t get picked up, but the trip had given Howard enough momentum to keep her going on a new path—one that eventually brought her to Iowa, where she had grown up (and where they know a thing or two about pie), to judge the pie contest at the Iowa State Fair. On a whim, one day she visited the American Gothic House, and learned, surprisingly, that it was for rent. She moved in and, naturally, opened up a pie stand.
Howard’s journey may seem aimless at times, but through it all she is an engaging and sympathetic narrator, and the reader is drawn into her story of grief and healing. You will put down Making Piece believing, as Howard does, that “Pie is comfort. Pie builds community. Pie heals. Pie can change the world.” And if you still need further proof, just try out one of the recipes she includes at the end.