Here a Pie, There a Pie

Today at Dead Housekeeping we celebrate Pi Day (it’s 3.14 - π - get it?) with not one but two lovely memorial pie stories.

We've got Mr. James’ Pecan Pies by Adam Young and Traveling Pies by Emily DeDakis.

You really should leave room to try both. If indulging increases your circumference, your diameter should adjust accordingly.


See You at the Movies

A piece we ran in September, 2015 has been adapted as a short animated film, and we’re so pleased to share it here (links below).

detail from Permanently Pressed by Yvonne Haugen

detail from Permanently Pressed by Yvonne Haugen

Animation artist Yvonne Haugen says the essay Permanently Pressed by Nicole Chakalis “just triggered my visual imagination - some stories give immediate and strong visuals and Permanently Pressed, in it's delicate and simple style hit home, so to speak.” Watching the completed movie now, it’s amazing to see both the imagery and Peggy’s mood reflected from Nicole’s writing in Yvonne’s work.  

Nicole was a good friend as well as a contributor to Dead Housekeeping, and watching this after her death is bittersweet. Noola Laguardia, one of Nicole’s children, told me that her mom loved Claymation, which is just the icing on the cake. I think she would have loved this.                                                                             

- Meredith Counts

Visit Yvonne Haugen’s website, or go directly to the movie.

And read the story, by Nicole Chakalis, here

title card from Yvonne Haugen's Permanently Pressed

title card from Yvonne Haugen's Permanently Pressed

Dead Housekeeping's Pushcart Nominees

With great pleasure, we sent in our nominations to be considered for the Pushcart Prize this year. Every essay in the Dead Housekeeping world of advice is special to us. These six exceptional pieces prove how much we can give the reader to know, see and feel in 250 words or less. We thank all of our contributors for sharing your memories and methods with us.

They are:

How To Be A Racist And Raise Your Granddaughter To Be An Anti-Racist On The Sly by Jennifer Cumby

Traveling Pies by Emily DeDakis

How to Make an Introduction by Sarah Grey

How to Name a Daughter by Rowan Beckett Grigsby

How to Make Daal by Saadia Muzaffar

How to Decorate by Jen Selk

photograph by Stefanie Le Jeunesse

photograph by Stefanie Le Jeunesse

If you have a memorial how-to to tell in 250 words or less, read our essays, and check out our submission guidelines.

Rosa Parks' Featherlite Pancakes

Even heroes have secret ingredients.

"Not only did she grow up in Alabama at the same time George Washington Carver was doing his work there, but as her niece Deborah Ann Ross told me, "She loved peanut butter. That's probably what made her write this down."

We love this exploration of Rosa Parks' pancake recipe by Dan Pashman for NPR.

Wind Telephone

Published in Atlas Obscura


A disconnected rotary phone for "calling" lost loved ones offered a unique way of dealing with grief in disaster-stricken Japan. 

When Itaru Sasaki lost his cousin in 2010, he decided to build a glass-paneled phone booth in his hilltop garden with a disconnected rotary phone inside for communicating with his lost relative, to help him deal with his grief.

Only a year later, Japan faced the horrors of a triple disaster: an earthquake followed by a tsunami, which caused a nuclear meltdown. Sasaki’s coastal hometown of Otsuchi was hit with 30-foot waves. Ten percent of the town died in the flood.

Sasaki opened his kaze no denwa or “wind phone” to the now huge number of people in the community mourning the loss of loved ones. Eventually word spread and others experiencing grief made the pilgrimage from around the country. It is believed that 10,000 visitors journeyed to this hilltop outside Otsuchi within three years of the disaster.

The phone is, of course, meant as a one-way communication. Visitors dial in their relative’s number and catch them up on their current life or express the feelings necessary to move on. Some find comfort in the hope that their relative might hear them. As the residents of Otsuchi work face the slow progress of rebuilding their city, this little phone booth helps to also slowly rebuild their own lives too.

Other sources (cited in Atlas Obscura):

Delicious Pies 

by Emily DeDakis

"Behind every lie, there is truth deeper than a thousand fathoms, and behind every truth, there is pain. After the pain, there’s pie. Delicious pie." –Stephen DeDakis

"Traveling Pies", a posthumous tribute to my grandfather Hugh, was inspired by these wise words from my little brother Stephen, mined from the snappy genius of his Facebook page, written on 20th September 2009, less than two years before he died. My brother, that is. 

Count cards all you want, but you’ll never guess the order they’ll be dealt. 

Stephen passed away more than a year before Grampa, at one quarter of his age. Stephen lived eleven years in each century. Hugh’s life started before the great depression in the 20th and arced past another in the 21st. (Like I told my 9th-grade algebra teacher, math is not fair.) Stephen’s life was out-out-brief-candle, Hugh’s was a longform poem. But both were beautiful, and the two of them were proper buddies.

Both of them were cooks, and clowns too. Stevie spent a number of childhood summers with Grampa in upstate New York – staying in the house Hugh built, hanging out with the cousins, and going to clown camp with his grandfather. Hugh’s alter ego was Shuffles the Clown, a visitor to friends in hospital and kids in Sunday school. Stephen was a wicked mimic and a juggling fool. I don’t know if he ever totally mastered playing his trombone while unicycling but, y’know, life goals. 

Scraps are infinitely findable, if you’re attentive and gentle with the lost/found items a family accumulates amid the entrances and exits. You can press them together, and eventually roll something resembling a new crust.

Now and then, the three-story house upstate goes on the market. I flick through real estate photos. In those empty times, when there’s space for invisible escapades, I like to think they’re temporary roomies again.

The 22-year-old cooks with chef’s knives and is susceptible to quiet dark funks. The 88-year-old is a retired mechanic, given to stubbornness. Both revel in late-night giggle fits.

There’s baseball on the telly. 
Drum solos from the basement. 
A unicycle and a half-repaired golf cart in the yard.
A good dog hanging around. 
Twilight sing-alongs on the porch. 
Grampa smoking his pipe, Stevie smoking everything else. 
Future clowning engagements penciled on the calendar. 
Artful salads on the table. 
Chicken & dumplings on the stove. 
One delicious pie in the oven.

The daughter of a musician and a journalist, Emily DeDakis grew up in the Southeast U.S. and emigrated to Belfast, N. Ireland, in 2005. As dramaturg & producer for Accidental Theatre, Emily has developed scripts & run workshops for dozens of playwrights. Dramaturgy credits include: Gordon Osràm’s Funeral (2016); The Lost Martini (2015); The Kitchen, the Bedroom & the Grave  – winner of a Stewart Parker Trust script award (2014); & The Dutiful Wife (2013). She founded the Belfast version of Fast & Loose, a 24-hour theatre project now in its 10th year. She received 2014 & ’15 dramaturgy fellowships from the BBC Performing Arts Fund, and is writing her first plays – Shipwrecks & Lighthouses and Stowaway City. Emily’s prose has appeared in The Vacuum, The Yellow Nib, Ulster Tatler, Poetry Proper, and on 2SER (Sydney). In 2012 she collaborated with drummer David Lyttle & pianist Conor Scullion on an improvised musical reading from her novel-in-progress Voicetown.

Long-Distance Connection

First published In Reader's Digest in 1966, Paul Villard's simply titled "A True Story" is worth putting other things, uh, on hold to read. As seen all over the Internet, but especially Telephone Tribute:

When I was quite young, my family had one of the first telephones in our neighborhood. I remember well the polished oak case fastened to the wall on the lower stair landing. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. I even remembered the number - 105. I was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when my mother talked into it. Once she lifted me up to speak to my father, who was away on business. Magic! Then I discovered that somewhere inside that wonderful device lived an amazing person - her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing that she did not know. My mother could ask her for anybody's number and when our clock ran down, Information Please immediately supplied the correct time.

My first personal experience with this genie-in-the-receiver came one day while my mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing myself at the toolbench in the basement, I whacked my finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be of much use crying because there was no one home to offer sympathy. I walked around the house sucking my throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway. The telephone! Quickly, I ran for the footstool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, I unhooked the receiver and held it to my ear. "Information Please," I said into the mouthpiece just above my head. A click or two, and a small clear voice spoke into my ear. "Information." "I hurt my fingerrr-" I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that I had an audience. "Isn't your mother home?" came the question. "Nobody's at home but me," I blubbered. "Are you bleeding?". "No", I replied. "I hit it with the hammer and it hurts". "Can you open your icebox?" she asked. I said I could. "Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it on your finger. That will stop the hurt. Be careful when you use the ice pick," she admonished. "And don't cry. You'll be alright".

After that, I called Information Please for everything. I asked for help with my Geography and she told me where Philadelphia was, and the Orinco--the romantic river I was going to explore when I grew up. She helped me with my Arithmetic, and she told me that a pet chipmunk--I had caught him in the park just that day before--would eat fruits and nuts. And there was the time that Petey, our pet canary, died. I called Information Please and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-up say to soothe a child. But I was unconsoled. Why was it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to whole families, only to end as a heap of feathers feet up, on the bottom of a cage? She must have sensed my deep concern, for she quietly said, "Paul, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow, I felt better.

Another day I was at the telephone. "Information," said the now familiar voice. "How do you spell fix?". F-I-X." At that instant my sister, who took unholy joy in scaring me, jumped off the stairs at me with a banshee shriek-"Yaaaaaaaaaa!" I fell off the stool, pulling the receiver out of the box by its roots. We were both terrified--Information Please was no longer there, and I was not at all sure that I hadn't hurt her when I pulled the receiver out. Minutes later, there was a man on the porch. "I'm a telephone repairman. I was working down the street and the operator said there might be some trouble at this number." He reached for the receiver in my hand. "What happened?" I told him. "Well, we can fix that in a minute or two." He opened the telephone box exposing a maze of wires and coils, and fiddled for a while with the end of the receiver cord, tightened things with a small screwdriver. He jiggled the hook up and down a few times, then spoke into the phone. "Hi, this is Pete. Everything's under control at 105. The kid's sister scared him and he pulled the cord out of the box." He hung up, smiled, gave me a pat on the head and walked out the door.

All this took place in a small town in the Pacific Northwest. Then, when I was nine years old, we moved across the country to Boston-and I missed my mentor acutely. Information Please belonged in that old wooden box back at home, and I somehow never thought if trying the tall, skinny new phone that sat on the small table in the hall. Yet, as I grew into my teens, the memories of those childhood conversation never really left me; often in moments of doubt and perplexity I would recall the serene sense of security I had when I know that I could call Information Please and get the right answer. I appreciated now how very patient, understanding and kind she was to have wasted her time on a little boy.

A few years later, on my way back to college, my plane put down in Seattle. I had about half an hour between plan connections, and I spent 15 minutes or so on the phone with my sister who lived there now, happily mellowed by marriage and motherhood. Then, really without thinking what I was doing, I dialed my hometown operator and said, "Information Please." Miraculously, I heard again the small, clear voice that I know so well:"Information." I hadn't planned this, but I heard myself saying, "Could you tell me, please, how to spell the word 'fix'?" There was a long pause. Then came the softly spoken answer. "I guess," said Information Please, "that your finger must have healed by now." I laughed. "So it's really still you. I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during all that time...." "I wonder," she replied, "if you know how much you meant to me? I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls. Silly, wasn't it?" It didn't seem silly, but I didn't say so. Instead I told her how often I had thought of her over the years, and I asked if I could call her again when I come back to visit my sister when the semester was over. "Please do. Just ask for Sally." "Goodbye Sally." It sounded strange for Information Please to have a name. "If I run into any chipmunks, I'll tell them to eat fruits and nuts." "Do that," she said. "And I expect one of these days you'll be off for the Orinoco. Well, good-bye."

Just three months later, I was back again at the Seattle airport. A different voice answered, "Information," and I asked for Sally. "Are you a friend?" "Yes," I said. "An old friend." "Then I'm sorry to have to tell you. Sally had only been working part-time in the last few years because she was ill. She died five weeks ago." But before I could hung up, she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Villard?" "Yes." "Well, Sally left a message for you. She wrote it down." "What was it?" I asked, almost knowing in advance what it would be. "Here it is, I'll read it-'Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean'"

I thanked her and hung up. I did know what Sally meant.

Paul Villard

How to Brag on Writers: Pushcart Nominees

It’s with great pleasure that we announce and re-share the essays we nominated for Pushcart Prizes this year! This writing by our contributors and editorial team, writing that represents the wide scope of memory and memorial and reflects good values for any home.

Pushcart photo.jpg

Our nominees:

Rowan Beckett Grigsby's How to Have Nice Things

Ashley Nicole Black's Sleeping Bags for Two or One

Jacqueline Bryant Campbell's 50 Tickets, or How to be a Good Citizen

Stefanie Le Jeunesse's How to Fry an Egg

Laura Lucas' Nine Kinds of Ice Cream

and How to Make the Coffee, written collaboratively by Dead Housekeeping editors.


In other good news, watch our site or our social media for our first foray into merchandise! Gear featuring the lovely new Dead Housekeeping logo by Jenny Poore.

2016 NFPW Contest

Fun news here at the premier internet journal for very short essays about how the dead did things.

We won second place in the National Federation of Press Women's Professional Communications Contest, in the national category "Web site edited or managed by entrant (for profit)."

Thanks to the NFPW, who provided us with some great feedback from contest judges, and who share great resources for writers.

"Six Questions For" the Dead Housekeepers.

A Q & A with we Dead Housekeeping editors is featured on Jim Harrington's great resource for writers, "Six Questions For..."

To give you a sample, contributing editor Stefanie Le Jeunesse says we're looking for "Something revealing about the departed. Preferably something juicy. The right length, or something that makes me forget there is a right length. A how-to that I didn't already know or know really well and feels suddenly universal."

Check out the whole interview for more details. We explain what we look for in submissions, how we got started, and what this project means to us, as writers, editors, and humans. There's even a link to a playlist we made to get you in that Moody Home Tips mood. 

My Father's Things

In my father’s things, I find a paper bag containing hair from my grandmother, from a haircut she received in 1926. I find paperwork from my father’s first stint in rehab, completed just a month before I was conceived, during the holiday season of 1985 and 1986. The doctor had written that Allen’s prognosis was good. He seemed capable of making logical decisions about alcohol.

My oldest sister finds naked photos of our parents, whose divorce--each from their second go-round at nuptials--was finalized on my 21st birthday. Oddly, she insists I have to look at them too, but I refuse, and into the trashbag they go, along with the hair. The discharge paperwork from in-patient treatment goes into the growing pile of things to recycle, along with boxes of documents from the custody battle that won a different sister & I a life not spent in fear & battered women’s shelters, greeting cards, and progress reports from each of my father’s five children. There is a paper figurine in my father’s likeness, with string running from the popsicle stick on his back to the parachute made of coffee filters, made fifteen years ago when we sent him sky-diving for father’s day.

Months and months later, there are still stacks of boxes containing old photographs and scrapbooks in my basement room, pushed up against a wall and semi-hidden behind the futon. I cannot bring myself to sort through them, and only open one enough to see a bag full of dozens and dozens of headshots of my grandmother, some blurry and some in focus. Her hair is curled beautifully. I see my father in her face. On top of this box is also one of my grandmother’s diaries, this one written between May or June of 1938 and January 1939. She writes of opening a gym in Eugene, Oregon, with her first husband named Don--the father of my Auntie Karin who lived in Redondo Beach and liked ice cubes in her glasses of red wine--and of studying massage and kinesiology. She writes of financial worries and losing an oar to their boat in the river on a sunny day. She writes of arguing Hitler late into the night after her shifts at the salmon cannery, and she writes of hearing the War of the Worlds broadcast that Halloween night, thinking it was real and walking to her mother’s house with her husband, carrying what they could.

photo by the author

photo by the author

I think I know her better now than I did when she was alive, when I was seven or eight and she was a terribly old, thin woman who lived in a maze of a house, surrounded by stacks of newspapers and to-go containers. When she stuffed napkins in her sleeves at restaurants, “for later.” I don’t know if this is the case, but I’ve read the thoughts she told only to a page in a notebook, so maybe so. In one of her planners from the early nineties that she saved, and then my father saved after her, I see written on September 1st in her scratchy old woman’s hand, Ashley’s birthday, and then after, celebrated at the Hogranch, the name we Bensons adopted for our Woodinville home. I have no recollection of this celebration, but I think I know a photograph taken that day, of my sister Scarlet & me on Grandma Doris’s lap. Grandma Doris, I know, is smiling. My hair is white-blond. We are just back from Las Vegas, moving home to Washington after a four year absence.

I save my father’s writing, bits of prose tapped out on typewriters and dating from the 70s, the 80s, the early 90s. Less from later. I save his art, an old sketch of a shoe leaving through the Hogranch’s front door, another a self-portrait of an anguish. I can’t read the prose or hang the portrait, but I keep them now. Maybe when he is gone.

photo by the author

photo by the author

- Ashley Benson is a teacher, baker, small-time farmer, and writer from the Pacific Northwest. Her written work has only ever appeared on her own blog and her sister’s refrigerator. She lives in the Frelard neighborhood of Seattle with her cat, Clementine, and her partner, Patrick--although not for long. She can be found online at 

Celebration of the Life of Mary Lou Pearce

We probably talked about this painting, my sister and I. I probably said, “Oh, wow,” rubbing my chin and moving closer to the blurry edges of the faces.

“MLP, July 20, 2000” by Angie Galipault, mixed media.

“MLP, July 20, 2000” by Angie Galipault, mixed media.

In it, African-American men, women and children – four each – mourn for Mary Lou Pearce, the woman my father hired as our housekeeper but who really kept our soul . The men gather to the upper left, three of the women to the upper right, all against a cerulean blue background; the children – two boys and two girls – peer from the mahogany-hued foreground.  Mary Lou, resting in a white casket, her head held by one of the women standing at the casket’s end, is the center of all this near-symmetry. The woman is her sister Margie, helping Mary Lou transition from this world to the Promised Land, singing.

A raised border of wood, painted white with a blue line intersected by hatch marks like barbed wire, surrounds the painting.

We attended the funeral, but we are absent among the mourners. Instead, the painting honors Mary Lou’s family, her choir friends and neighbors, the east side of town. When we were children, they had welcomed us to picnics and church. At the funeral, they placed us in the front pew reserved for family.  Our white suburban home never welcomed Mary Lou in the same generous way. It never even occurred to us.

Nine years after she made this, my sister died. How I wish I had called Margie to sit with us and sing.


Meg Galipault's publishing experience includes serving as managing editor of the Kenyon Review and executive editor of dialogue: voicing the arts, a nonprofit magazine covering the visual arts in the Midwest. She is a contributing editor for yeah write and has a blog called Pigspittle Ohio. Meg earned her bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University. She lives with her husband and cats in Mount Vernon, Ohio.

Read her Dead Housekeeping piece about Mary Lou Pearce here.