By Jane Flint
I never agreed to provide a tart and I certainly never said I would ask my husband to produce the confection he made for our special holidays. But as the afternoon waned, the full biff, bang, wham of my son’s crushed and guilty voice on the phone and what it might mean for his relationship to his girlfriend, grafted itself first to my throat, then my lungs, and finally to my heart. And while I didn’t really believe that a frangipane pear tart could pave the way to forgiveness from his girlfriend’s parents, I knew I wanted to do something that might demonstrate my good intentions to them.
We all loved her. Not only was she a beauty, she was a good and genuine person – caring, smart, and in love with my son. When he first brought her to meet us, I lightly dismissed the fact that she was the first in her family to be born in this country. After all, my son’s dad was Jewish and I was not. One of my cousins was married to an Argentinian and another was married to a Japanese-American. Most of my son’s friends were self-described as “mixed.” We all lived in 21st century California. I assumed that all those issues of mixed-race/mixed religion relationships had ended with my generation.
But, in retrospect, I see that I had watched myself as their relationship developed and I learned more about her family. I wanted her to know I cared about her and at the same time I wanted to honor her family’s traditions. I didn’t push to meet them but made sure she felt welcomed in my home. When Christmas came and she and my son had been together for eight months, we sent her home with a pear tart to share with her family. I was hopeful that such a gift was enough, but not too much; hopeful that, in some way, sharing food would open up the door between us and them just a bit; hopeful that my son’s and their daughter’s love for each other could bridge the cultural divide between his American expectations that you can love and be whoever you want and the traditions of love and marriage her family still honored.
Then, when the story poured out on the phone that day, I could see that my son’s comment to another girl on OK Cupid, posted very early in his relationship to his girlfriend but only recently discovered by his girlfriend’s sister, could be a big thing to them, even though it seemed like a small thing to me. And so I agreed to ask my husband to make a pear tart.
It was a Sunday. The New York Times was spread all over the kitchen table where the tart was cooling, waiting for my son to come for it and carry it with his flowers and his written plea for forgiveness to her family. That’s when I saw the story: two young people, each from different sects, who worked together in an ice cream factory; how after several months of sharing glances, she had tossed her cell phone number, written on a small tight wad of paper, onto the sticky ice cream floor; how he had picked it up discretely several minutes later; how, after eight months of courting with their eyes, they became a couple; and how, the first time they got into a car together, they were surrounded by an angry crowd who threatened to drag them out and beat them.
I felt sick. Even though the couple in the story was not from the same country as my son’s girlfriend, I was stunned at my naiveté and hopefulness. The sun was down. The air was chilly for August. In the garden the sunflower’s leaves were still turned towards the last place they’d seen the sun. I watched them like oracles, my heart gelling like custard. Two hours. Three, now four since I had sent him off armed only with a tart. How could I have ever hoped a tart could mend a breach and difference that stills runs deep, like a fault line through our earth’s crust?