Karen S. Bennett

The Value of Pi

by Karen S. Bennett
Pen in Hand Literary Journal
July 2018

Our seventh grade math teacher turned her back to the class and wrote on the board in caps, THE VALUE OF PI.  My head snapped up. She had my full attention. She turned to us and mumbled something about “three-point-one-four.” What the hell? Pie? Plus, she misspelled the word. What was she talking about?

There I was, suffering through a class in Math, basically a foreign language, and lo, the woman breaks into a lecture about dessert! Pie, ahhh, pie. The subject whooshed me back to my home’s square kitchen table, me swinging my feet, waiting for the pie to be cut and delivered to my waiting hands. My fork was on the folded napkin. I was sitting straight. Was I alone, or celebrating with other family members and company? Bottom line was one or two pies were on the table and they were being sliced.

My mother’s crusts were legendary. She fashioned a ruffled rim, fluted with neat regularly spaced peaks with an imprint of her fingernail in each pinch. The buttery, cinnamony Macintosh apples, wilted in the baking process, made them easily yield to the fork. Because we were Pennsylvania Dutch we frequently had Shoo-fly Pie, a confection of brown sugar crumbs over a molasses base. Ohhh, so delicious—and so necessary. And what about pumpkin pies, a subject onto themselves, where the words ginger and cinnamon are added to the story?

When I was about eight and attending a summertime party, I’d stationed myself near the hostess, not to miss the dessert. In time I was handed my first piece of pecan pie, symmetrically placed on a china plate. My eyes opened wide. God smiled down. One never knows when a beatific gift will present itself. This was it. The amber syrup bubbles glistened like jewels, and I knew I stood on holy ground. The sweetness of the dessert threatened to kill me, but I realized at that moment that all previously eaten pies up to that point were my preparation for this glorious piece of pecan pie.

I directed my attention back to the teacher and concentrated to see, what was the business of those numerals? Sure enough she had drawn a pie wedge, its tip in the middle of a circle, with a right sided parenthesis curling around the central point of the pie. I was confused.

Three-point-one-four? Okay, so this was math class after all. The measure around the pie is 360 degrees, and I knew the distance of cutting straight across was 180 degrees, right? Such small numbers for pie. Based on my pie eating expertise I knew we couldn’t be talking about calories, because pie’s numbers were way up there. The calorie count would soar into the many hundreds with the addition of squirted-on whipped cream—non-dairy or full creamy, served with a spoon. I was stumped. So I’m sitting there, all transcendental like, and it comes to me.

The Value of Pie is the tartness of the lemon filling topped by the visual joy of beads of sunlight perched on the toasted meringue. Or, the real Value of Pie could be a single person, licking the coconut flakes folded in the white creamy pudding from the fork, in the privacy of the bedroom. Now, that’s the value of Pie.

About the words, “three-point-one-four.” Oh, the teacher was probably saying, “Free pie—want more?”

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