Written by Melissa Mehring
Photo Credit:  Levi Guzman

Esmeralda wore a smile as she opened the screen door with a bang.  Her tiny frame and head of dark brown curls bobbed in the breeze as she swept her arm forward, gesturing for me to come in. She wore a beautiful black and white dress, a white apron tied behind her back, and sensible shoes on her feet.  The apron’s lace trim stood out with its tiny, flowered pattern, so delicate along the border hem. 

The scent of fresh coffee swirled in the air, surrounding me, before I heard the familiar drip of the percolator, and spotted the old pot in the corner. The yellow kitchen was worn and small with barely enough room for us, and she had set a small aluminum table for us in the corner. Crisp white linen napkins and small dessert forks dressed the place settings surrounding a small blue glass vase of daisies in the center. “Welcome to my home,” she said as she reached for my hand and gave it a squeeze. “Thank you for coming to see me,” she tilted her head toward the pie as she spoke.

I presented the dessert to her, and as I did so, she carefully laid it on the counter removing the linen towel cover, and gave me a wink placing the knife and pie server in front of me. “Thank you, Melissa,” she nodded and turned to fetch two China cups from the cabinet. The thin blue China saucers tinkled as she gently settled them onto the table and asked me, “Do you take cream or sugar?” “Black,” I acknowledged, “thank you.” She poured the coffee while I cut and plated the pie, blueberries seeping out the sides onto the delicate plates.

Comfortable with each other, we settled into our chairs, and she asked me to pray with her. I bowed my head as she reached for my hand and held it. It was small and warm, fitting snuggly into my palm with nails that were clean and polished. I noticed her skin was softly wrinkled, olive colored, with dark spots scattered randomly about, and I was startled a bit when she pulled my arm towards her halfway across the table and began to say grace.

The quiet,” Amen” at the end of her prayer led to an invitation. “Please call me Grandma,” her brown eyes smiled, and she cut into the pie. 

“Certainly,” I replied. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you.” I smiled at her, taking in the tiny trailer neatly clean. The curtains were old blue cotton panels, hemstitched rods, and pockets free of dirt. The aluminum window latches pushed out or slid and all were open to the light breeze that fluttered in. The laminate countertops were polished and clean. The paneled walls were dusted bare. The place was sparsely furnished and well cared for, I thought, eying the freshly folded laundry in the basket at the back of the living room behind where she sat.

She took a bite of the pie and moaned with delight as she chewed and swallowed. The pie was perfect on this warm summer day, and I savored the moment along with her, the sweetness of the berries on my tongue followed by the bitterness of the warm coffee flowing down my throat.

“Did you know I have all my original teeth?” she asked.

I stifled a laugh. It was such a strange question and such a funny thing to say upon our first meeting, that I sat silent, not knowing how to politely respond at first. I gave a small chuckle and shook my head, “No, Grandma, I did not.”

She laughed heartily, proceeding to inform me that though, well worn, all her teeth were still her own at 89. She straightened her back as she leaned in to whisper, “I have no cavities.”  

“Brush several times a day,” she shared as if conspiring with an ally, “this is the secret to my long and healthy life.” I nodded in appreciation, feeling warm and welcome.

The conversation turned to family, and I found myself leaning forward as she told me of her son, Leon. This was my fiancé’s father. Leon is Leon Gabriel or Gabe as she fondly referred to him, who left Montana as a young man of 17 to serve in World War II with nothing but the clothes on his back and his wallet.  Gabe met his wife, Vera during the time he was stationed as a gunner on a B17 with the 305th Bomb Group in Chelveston, England.  Esmeralda beamed with pride as she confided to me about the two and how very proud she is of her son for serving.

With grace, she rose to take my plate, leaving me wanting more, both story and pie. I dropped my gaze as Esmeralda apologized that her husband Roy is not with us to enjoy the dessert but confided, “he is out with Paul,” his middle son on an errand.  She poured us both more coffee and asked if I had heard of a place named, “Burnt Tree Hole?”

 I shook my head, “no, I have not. Where is that?” I asked, inviting her to continue.

She told me how she and Roy met there when their respective families were traveling from opposite sides of the continent to vacation in this beautiful place in the Madison Valley of Montana in early 1900. I was struck by the thought of what that journey must have been like for them both and how they forged a bond in that period of time that led them to this expansive land and to the inception of this large and loving family.

I was immersed in the world she described and the picture she painted as the day disappeared. She enthralled me with sweet stories, family history, and meaningful moments in her life. Captivated, time went unnoticed until the shade of late afternoon beckoned me to look up at the clock. I suddenly realized I must return home to my little black lab, Bea. I live in Great Falls now with Steve, my fiancé, and her grandson. He is out of the country right now servingI am sure Bea is waiting for me to return and relieve her hunger. Reluctantly, I excused myself from the table and helped to clean the remains. Goodbyes come too soon, and I was sad to leave her side.  As I drove slowly away, I watched her wave in my rearview mirror and my heart was full knowing I would return.

Esmeralda died in 1994. Upon her death, I was gifted a petite brown wood box, cracked, rough, and worn. Inside it held her life’s collection of recipes written in her own hand. She is never absent from me for long, as every time I look in that box, I think of her and remember the moments we spent together and the positive impact they had on my life. I love to look at her writing on the recipe cards and think of the meals made together in that tiny space. Recently, I made blueberry pie, and I could see her chewing a bite, laughing, blueberry leaking out of the side of her smile. On these occasions I hear the sound of her laughter, the kindness in her voice, and most of all I feel the touch of her hand in mine.


About the Author

Melissa Mehring is a 34-year military spouse and proud advocate for the military community. She worked 18 years for the Montana National Guard Association receiving the Distinguished Service Award for her efforts. She is an accomplished entrepreneur and business professional who with her husband, Steve and their lab, Sadie splits her time between Montana and Utah. Melissa recently earned degrees from the University of Montana and the University of Southern California. During their military service, Melissa has run two companies and founded a non-profit.  She encourages everyone to dream big and go after it.


This piece was originally crafted in The Work of Words writing workshop. Within the course, you'll discover how to string words together with creativity and discernment in a creative non-fiction framework.

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