A Word From the Weiss
I had planned to tell you this week about another
little misadventure I had in Miami, because I generally try to keep everything on NiceJewishMom.com nice and light. But real life,
as we all know, is not always light. It’s just real. Sometimes a little
So in the interests of keeping it real – nice or not – I’m going to tell you about the harrowing ordeal that suddenly and unexpectedly took
over my life during the last week.
It all started late Friday morning when I went for
my annual gynecological exam.
Well, that exam is supposed to occur annually, anyway. Apparently, according to my doctor’s office, I hadn’t subjected myself to this necessary evil for nearly two years.
That was largely because
it still seemed like only yesterday that I had been lying there on the examination table
with my feet propped up in the proverbial
stirrups, letting my gynecologist poke around in all sorts of unmentionable places I would rather not discuss.
On the other hand, I knew that it could not have been only
yesterday, because my gynecologist had
retired last spring, after which I had failed
to schedule an appointment because I was not psychologically prepared to proceed in that area with someone new.
I had already been traumatized by the need to do this
when my original ob/gyn – the incomparably good-humored
and empathetic fellow who had delivered my last-born –
had retired a few years ago. I’d been so deeply fond of Dr. Edmund Olsen that
I had never felt embarrassed about discussing even the most intimate details of my life
with him. Rather, I readily put my feet in those stirrups and barely noticed anything that followed.
After he retired, I’d also been psychologically unprepared to proceed with someone brand new. So I’d begun seeing another
longtime member of his practice, even though I fully realized
that, along with being similarly good-humored, Dr. Richard Kates was of similar vintage to Dr. Olsen, so it would be only a matter of time before he retired, too.
Now that it was
time to bite the bullet once more, I’d decided
to finally do the prudent thing and choose
someone in their practice who was considerably
younger. And after perusing the credentials of the remaining candidates, I’d
booked an appointment with a young woman who’d gone to the same college
I’d initially attended before I’d transferred out.
So there we were last Friday morning – me with my feet in the stirrups, her wielding a stethoscope and various instruments of torture – while we bonded as best we could, given the circumstances, over memories of frat parties, dormitories,
and other college life.
Everything was proceeding normally, and I was even beginning
to feel relaxed and almost comfortable, when she poked me somewhere deep inside, so hard that I almost screamed. Then her face took on a look of mild but unmistakable horror. She
was alarmed by whatever she’d found and said I needed an ultrasound right away.
very day, if possible.
Unfortunately, it turned
out that there was no technician present in her office to perform an ultrasound that day. Or even the next. I would have to wait until Monday.
Obviously, I wondered what the urgency was. What the heck did she
Clearly, she didn’t want to say just yet. But it was
equally clearly NOT GOOD.
As I drove home,
my mind began to race as I considered all of the possibilities. None of them AT ALL good.
I couldn't imagine waiting through the entire weekend to have that test performed and potentially get my worst fears allayed. So when I got home,
I immediately phoned the medical imaging
place where I get my mammograms and asked
if they might be able to fit me in that afternoon.
They said that there were, indeed, openings, but they needed
more details of what kind of ultrasound I needed, as well as to have my doctor phone in a prescription for the procedure.
So I called my
gynecologist’s office, and she soon called back to explain that I needed a very specific sort of ultrasound. One that could only be done
in a gynecological office, and for which she preferred to be present.
And even if I were to have a more generalized ultrasound done elsewhere, she would not be in her office to interpret the results
for me. They were closing at 3 for my former ob/gyn’s retirement party, which just happened to be scheduled for that day.
I couldn’t believe I’d have to wait three more days before at least
getting an explanation.
“Please, just tell me,” I pleaded. “I need to know. What is it you’re worried about?”
I shouldn’t blame her for no longer continuing to beat around the bush (as crass or black-humored as that
cliché might be to employ in this particular case).
she said. “Obviously.”
There. She’d said it. But that still wasn’t quite enough.
“What kind of cancer?” I persisted.
cancer,” she said.
The one that is known as "the silent killer," because there are no effective screening
tests for it, and by the time it is diagnosed it is usually already quite advanced.
Then she hung up, and I sat there thinking that my life would never be the same.
I should have known better than
to start investigating diseases on the Internet at that point. Because face it.
I may not be a hypochondriac, but I’m only human. And no matter what the disease may be, I instantly start to feel all the symptoms and become convinced that I have them all.
But I must confess that
in this case, I was both relieved and really mystified.
For the basic symptoms of ovarian cancer were listed on a variety of websites, from
WebMD to MayoClinic.com, and I must say that I didn’t actually suffer from a single
one of them.
Unexplained weight loss? Hardly.
Loss of appetite?
Never. Not me.
Neither did I ever experience
a quick feeling of fullness soon after I
started eating. If anything, I’d begun
worrying that it took a little too long before I ever felt totally full.
Nor had I noticed any discomfort in my pelvic area, changes in my bowel habits, a frequent need to urinate, or abdominal swelling (beyond the mounting customary midlife battle of the bulge).
But what did that matter? The doctor had found something
mysterious inside me. Something that shouldn’t be there and that had made her unmistakably concerned.
That was enough to make me concerned.
Make that terrified.
Aside from the understandable terror
I felt about my health was growing anxiety about how I would handle everything that I needed to do within the coming
My son was getting married in June, and my daughter and I were throwing a bridal shower in April. And so many details of the ceremony and
reception still remained to be arranged.
Would I need immediate surgery, followed by chemo? Would I be too weak and
ill to enjoy those events (and by the time
I went to them, if I could, would I still have any hair)?
And what about Purim?
For the fifteenth consecutive year, I had recently written the lyrics for my temple’s annual Purim spiel. This year's musical extravaganza was “Good Chai-brations,” featuring
the music of The Beach Boys, and I’d already been rehearsing for several months to play the pivotal role of Queen Esther.
At least I was supposed to play Queen Esther. How would I manage now to belt out
my song onstage? And if I were too sick or
weak to do it, who would take my place?
is not a good time for me to have cancer!” I howled to my husband.
“No time is a good time to have
cancer,” he replied, with a feeble grin.
Yes, I had told him everything the moment I’d gotten home, and he was doing his best to reassure me and keep my spirits up. But I was
not making it easy.
When he went to the refrigerator to make himself his
usual lunch, an egg salad with fresh dill sandwich on
pita bread, I told him that he would need to
learn to make his own egg salad because
I would not be around much longer
to make this or anything else.
That, of course, was the least of my worries. Never mind cooking and the other
domestic duties I’d been performing
for over 30 years of marriage. Would I
live to see my grandchildren?
And what about my children? How
would I have the heart to break this terrible news to them?
I was particularly
reluctant to let on to my daughter that anything was wrong because she was recording her second
album on Sunday and already nervous enough.
And I didn’t want to tell my son and make him keep this awful secret
from his sister.
Meanwhile, my older brother, my only sibling,
was about to leave on a relaxing tropical vacation. How could I risk ruining his trip by breathing a word of this to him?
I decided not to mention it to anyone else until I got the diagnosis confirmed.
But when one of my friends called
me on Saturday, she could hear it in my voice. And when I realized that it was no use lying to her and blurted out the truth, she told me that the same thing had happened to her at the gynecologist only a week or two before.
In her case, the ultrasound had ultimately revealed that she had simply been a little constipated,
and the mysterious bulge that her doctor had
detected had been nothing more than a bit of stool protruding from her colon.
“Just take an enema!” she advised me. “Or laxative! You’re probably just fine.”
Intuition told me I was not in for such a happy ending. And what if I weren’t fine? “Then you need to keep a positive attitude and trust you’ll get through
this,” she said.
A positive attitude?
Hard to imagine. But she was right. A neighbor and dear friend had been diagnosed with an
advanced stage of the exact same disease only a year ago. I’d been astonished by her own ability to remain indefatigably upbeat and hopeful.
as a result of that mental resilience, she had endured the surgery and months of chemo and was now in remission. I needed to follow her heroic example.
So I tried to
think positive thoughts. But under the circumstances, my mind still went in a decidedly
negative and dismal direction. The most positive thoughts I could come up with
were the advantages of the prospect that I might not have much longer to live.
If I died soon, I wouldn’t have to endure the eventual
death of my beloved dog, Latke. The loss of our last dog, Zoe, had been so heart-wrenching that I had been reluctant to ever get another dog, convinced that going through that again would kill me.
If I died soon, I would never have to endure the indignities of old age, and would also be spared having to
withstand the eventual loss of friends and other loved
And if I died soon, maybe I would get to reunite in some way with my
mother, Bunnie, my own nice Jewish mom, who I had helped nurse through five years of cancer and chemo, a dark, dismal period of my life that remained a little too fresh in my mind.
Also, just think. If I died soon enough, maybe I’d also be spared having to withstand the presidency of whichever
candidate gets elected in this fall’s upcoming
OK, so that last one was
a little ridiculous. I would probably be around for a few more years, however this might go. But at least I hadn’t lost
my entire sense of humor.
What I had entirely lost was my appetite. Over the next
two days, I could barely get down a bite. But I was still determined to keep up appearances at all costs until I knew what
was what. So when we went out to dinner as planned on Saturday night, with our friends Sally and Dial, I made a valiant effort to chat normally and surreptitiously
shoveled half my food onto my husband’s plate.
But each night, I could barely sleep a wink. Every time I
nodded off, I would wake up soon after, remember
the dire news that I’d been dealt, and
be unable to drift off again.
Try as I might to remain calm and confident, I felt utterly exhausted and hopeless. I spent much of the
weekend lying on the couch weeping, wailing, and hugging anything I could get my hands on – the dog, throw pillows,
or my own evidently disease-ridden gut. For I couldn’t stop thinking of all the things I wanted to do and maybe now never would.
On Sunday, my friend Amy posted a story on Facebook about
a 90-year-old woman named Norma who’d learned
that she had tumors in abdomen that were
presumably cancerous. Her doctor had wanted to operate and commence chemo, even though it was dubious that she would survive the surgery. But Norma had staunchly declined treatment,
with her family’s full support, in favor of taking a road trip and enjoying the rest of her days as best she could. And six months later, she was still going… and going strong.
As inspiring as this story was, I was too young to refuse treatment and hit the road. Why had I given up my chance
last spring to travel with my daughter to Japan, the one place I’d always longed to go? Now I would never see the ancient
Buddhist temples of Kyoto, the eerily human-looking snow monkeys of Nagano, or the cherry blossoms and bright lights of Tokyo.
I would also never go to India and see the Taj Mahal.
Or would I? I couldn’t stop myself from continuing to peruse the Internet,
desperate for answers. Nothing that I found was remotely reassuring. On the contrary, I learned
that even the ultrasound would probably not provide a definitive diagnosis. I would also need a blood test called CA-125 that
helped detect cancer, then might be
subjected to a biopsy that many women had described as being infinitely more painful than childbirth.
Even so, I couldn’t wait until Monday, so that
I could get any and all of the above.
For no matter how many benefits I could fathom about not
getting to live to a ripe old age, there was the
lingering fear that I might never live to see my future grandchildren. Nor be there for my children when they had their own children. And that trumped everything else.
So I woke up
early Monday morning ready to get some answers at last.
My doctor’s office had emailed me that they needed to reschedule the appointment.
Were they joking?
When I called, they explained that my doctor was ill and had been throwing up all night.
I not so calmly explained
that I had also been up all night and had been crying all day since Friday. I couldn’t wait any longer. Wasn’t there anyone who could see me?
“Are you willing to
go to another office in another town?” the receptionist
town? “I’m willing to go to the moon,” I replied.
Only one doctor on staff had an opening in a nearby city at 11:20 a.m. My husband, who insisted on accompanying
me, said he’d come right home from work.
I soon understood why the ultrasound needed to be performed in an ob/gyn’s office. It wasn’t the standard procedure you get when you’re pregnant, involving a wand rubbed over your belly amid wads of goopy surgical jelly. This was an internal exam involving something that looked like a long vibrator that was used to probe deep inside.
The woman who served as my technician was cordial but businesslike, as technicians tend to be. But after about 5 minutes of probing around inside me
– which was uncomfortable, but not actually painful –
she asked if they had performed the
CA125 blood test on me yet.
From this, I could only surmise that she was detecting all sorts of masses deep in my innards that were not supposed to be there, so I would be needing this test for sure.
After 15 minutes or so of exploration, both inside and out, she said that she needed to go summon the doctor and let her observe first-hand what she had discovered.
I tried to keep my mind blank as I shivered beneath
the paper sheet and waited.
At last the two of them returned together. The doctor was an older woman who I remembered
from my pregnancy days, 30 years ago. To be frank, when the receptionist had mentioned her that morning, my heart had sunk a bit. I remembered this woman as being extremely blunt and rather stiff. I had usually opted to see
her partners instead.
At least, I figured now, whatever the news might be, she
would give it to me straight.
The technician hastened to show the doctor a fibroid she
had detected, which she said was small, only
about 2 cm. by 3 cm. She also told the doctor that she
had been unable to locate my ovaries, although, as the doctor hastened to explain, at my stage of life these reproductive
organs often shrink down to the size of a walnut. Or almond.
But after pointing out a few more details, the doctor was ready
to give her prognosis.
Which was that I did not have ovarian cancer. Or anything else wrong with me at all!
Her best guess, in fact, was that my situation was exactly like my friend’s. Whatever the first doctor had felt was probably just some stool, and it had since passed.
My relief at these words was so intense and extreme that I gasped and began sobbing aloud.
Seeing me blubber uncontrollably, the doctor rushed to find a carton of tissues and then foisted the whole box upon me. Maybe she wasn’t all that cold and stiff, after all.
Yet maybe I wasn’t totally out of the woods just yet either. She still needed to speak to me in her office, she said, but had two patients ahead of me, so I would
have to wait.
When my husband joined me in a
small private waiting room in back, he looked shocked and petrified to see my puffy, tear-streaked face, so I quickly told
him the good news.
Then we sat there together,
still with bated breath, while I continued
to brace myself.
But it turned
out the doctor just wanted to make sure I was satisfied
with the results. Even though she didn’t see anything wrong, did I want any further testing, just in case?
She assured me that the fibroid they’d found was of absolutely no concern and would probably shrink in time. Fibroids are fueled by estrogen, she said, and given my age and stage of life, my supply
of that hormone was waning fast. But they still hadn’t been able to locate my ovaries.
Did I want another procedure in order to find them?
“Why look for trouble?” I asked. After all, I hadn’t come in complaining of any symptoms. The mysterious bulge had simply been detected during a routine exam. As for my ovaries, I wasn’t worried. Where could they have gone?
Shopping? To shul? They had
to be in there somewhere, and the fact was I didn’t really need them anymore.
What I did need to do was call my kids. But not
until my husband and I went downstairs to the cafeteria in the medical building. Because I was suddenly ravenous!
I also felt like celebrating at once, so even though I wouldn’t get to see my late mother any time soon, I ordered her favorite sandwich in her honor, a BLT (pardon the mention
Then I did phone my children, who were just a little miffed
that I hadn’t told them in the first place, but
understood my motives and were infinitely relieved that all was well.
All is well. No, even better than well. Weller than
well! If that were an actual word. I can hardly contain my constant sense of euphoria. Cancer coming to my door was my wakeup call.
Every morning when I wake up now, getting to see the sun shining through my window is a gorgeous gift to me. I
can’t believe the boundlessness of my good fortune. I’m alive! And, yes, well!
I don’t need surgery. I don’t need chemo. I’ll get to play Queen Esther in the Purim spiel! And I will see my son
wed in June and be able to walk down
the aisle -- healthy and with all of my hair!
Hair, shmair. Here’s the best part: I will surely live now to see my grandchildren!
And yes, maybe someday, even see Japan.
Sorry that I put you through this entire drawn-out tale, rather than reassuring you from the start that all would be OK in
But I wanted you to understand at least a little of how this felt, so maybe you could share my joy and unspeakable
relief as well.
And from now on, I promise to go back to trying to keep things nice and light.
Not just light. Lighter than light! For ever since I got a new lease on life, I feel like I’m floating on air.
A Word From the Weiss
With the polar vortex reigning with a vengeance in my neck of the woods – not just the Northeast,
but my neighborhood and very own back yard – it’s hard to believe that only a week ago I was walking barefoot on a silky, sundrenched beach.
The harder thing to believe is that I came back… to this. But here I am. Freezing my tuches off again in the bitter, brutal cold and snow. What the heck was I thinking? And dare I ask -- did you miss me?
Every year, as you may have noticed, my husband and I escape Siberia for a week or so in balmy South Beach, to get some sun, see
good friends, and otherwise preserve our sanity. But this year we flew south with an added mission in mind:
It was our only chance to meet our future macheltunim (Yiddish for “in-laws”) before my son and his wonderful
fiancée, Kaitlin, get married
I’m happy to report that Kaitlin’s family turned out to be delightful people, and that the meeting went virtually without a hitch. But beyond that, rather
than risk potentially ruffling any feathers, I think I should wait until after
the nuptials take place and they’ve become actual in-laws before I dare invade their privacy by writing another word about them.
Instead, allow me to treat you to some highlights of our lively trip and a little taste of South Beach.
It’s always a hard call when planning a vacation to choose between the greater of two goods
(versus the lesser of two evils, which leisure travel
should never entail).
On the one hand, there’s the opportunity to savor the sights, sounds, flavors, and scents of somewhere new and exciting. After
all, there are still many continents, let alone countries, on which I have yet to set foot.
On the other, there’s the chance to revisit places that you know well and already love, so it's a safe bet
that you will love them all over again when you experience them once more.
is short, and vacation time even shorter, so you're lucky
when you get to choose from either of the above. But the truth is that I often return from the more ambitious excursions so exhausted that I feel like
I need a vacation from the vacation. And when you live in the Northeast, as I do, battling the elements from pre-Hanukkah through Passover takes such a toll that it’s
nice to go somewhere warm and familiar and do absolutely nothing.
So I’m happy to report that all last week, we
managed to mostly do a whole lot of nothing.
But that “nothing” included reveling
in all the things we look forward to every year – the temperate weather, the palm trees
and Art Deco pastels that pervade Miami Beach, lunch
daily at our favorite roadside eatery, La Sandwicherie, and one special treat that we only get
to savor while we are down there, my favorite dessert, Key lime pie.
Of course you can find that last item, a tart and tasty staple of Florida cuisine, in all sorts of places, including
the frozen food aisle of almost any supermarket. But as
with pizza in Naples, there's simply no substitute for the real thing. All I know is you need to be there, for it never turns
out to be nearly as good anywhere
Last year, when we went down to celebrate my 60th birthday, I requested that our good friends Rick and Lynn get one for me in lieu of a birthday cake. And this year, when these same friends invited us over to dinner on one of our first nights down -- and Rick proposed that we bring dessert -- I instantly decided to return the favor.
The question was, where
could we find a really good pie reasonably near our hotel, The Hall, a recently renovated Art Deco habitat
formerly known as Haddon Hall?
I knew from my many years of visiting Florida that, short of driving down to Key West, one of
the best Key lime pies to be had there – or anywhere,
for that matter – was at the most famous restaurant in all of South Beach, Joe’s Stone Crab (pardon the mention of shellfish, which as we all know is trayf).
I also knew that this level of quality and world-wide reputation came at a hefty price. But until
I checked online, I didn’t know just how hefty this price actually was. I was so
astonished after checking Joe’s website, in fact, that I asked my husband
“Thirty-four dollars?” he ventured.
That was almost exactly right, I told him… if he were
interested in buying half a pie (though how can you bring half a pie over to someone’s
According to Joe’s website, one of their famous
Key lime pies cost $68.95.
Only later, when
I called the place after we returned home, would I learn that this was the price to ship a pie, and that this rate went down incrementally in
relation to the number of pies you wished to have shipped; two pies cost $94.95, and three
could be had for "only" $109.95.
The actual price to pick
up a whole pie was a far more affordable $22.95 for a small pie, and $28 for a large, both amounts that I happily would have shelled out
for such sheer, albeit sugary, pleasure.
But at the time I believed it
was $68.95, and that struck me as high-calorie highway robbery, no matter how fabulous their famous Key lime pie might be.
On the other end of the price spectrum, I knew that a pretty decent Key lime pie could
be obtained at the local supermarket, Publix, for a paltry $8.29. But their pie is garnished with some sort of unidentifiable “whipped topping,” versus authentic whipped cream. Plus, I didn’t feel like driving to the nearest Publix, which was probably a
couple of miles away or schlepping to any supermarket, for that matter, while
I was busy doing nothing on vacation.
So my husband and I decided to take a quick stroll down the
nearest shop-lined thoroughfare, Washington Avenue, in search of Key lime pie.
At least I thought this would be quick. There are plenty of bakeries on Washington Avenue.
Also fruit markets, grocery stores, and restaurants.
There are not, however,
I can now tell you, ANY Key lime pies.
A little Cuban greasy spoon in which we'd
had breakfast one morning had listed Key lime pie on its menu. But when we checked back there now, they only had an assortment of standard Cuban desserts like flan and something called tres leches cake, which is made with sweetened condensed and evaporated milk and heavy cream (meaning it was definitely NOT
on the wedding diet that we are supposed to be following till June).
In fact, with Cuban culture the prevailing influence throughout the Miami area, almost every
confection that we came across was something extremely sweet and unfamiliar to us, including all sorts of gooey pies and pastries flavored with syrupy-looking guava paste.
Not tart and tasty Key limes.
After trekking up and down the avenue for well over an hour – an hour that could
have been very much better spent riding the floating pink flamingo in the pool at The Hall, or padding around on the beach, or preferably doing nothing
– I gave up my search on foot and consulted my cellphone. That’s when I found it.
There was evidently a Miami fireman named Derek who moonlighted
making pies. Not just any pies. Key lime pies. The Key lime pies that Fireman Derek made were so incredible
that they were included on many lists of the area’s top 10 Key lime pies, and so he had finally opened his own little place to sell them.
The Key lime pies at Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop looked pretty darn luscious (and well worth the price, $27 for a 9-inch whole pie). Fireman Derek’s Bake
Shop, however, was
a good 25-minute drive away in a section of Miami called Wynwood.
were on vacation and did not want to drive nearly an hour round-trip just to buy a pie.
So we gave up and settled for buying a pound of attractively
decorated butter cookies. Then we went to the beach, followed by the pool at our hotel,
The Hall, in which I floated around on that giant resident blow-up flamingo, feeling not just in the pink, but on it.
Well, it turned out to be a good thing that we had never managed to locate a Key lime pie
(or schlepped to
Joe’s Stone Crab, pardon the reference to trayf). Because as often happens with married couples, Rick had
proposed that we bring dessert, but he had not bothered to mention this to his wife, Lynn, and she had spent the better part of the afternoon trying out a
new recipe for chocolate bread pudding made with buttery
brioches and drizzled with crème anglaise (something
also decidedly not on the wedding diet, but well worth breaking it for).
There was no way we could have eaten both that and so much as a forkful of Key lime pie.
By coincidence, though, it turned
out that Rick and Lynn wanted to spend the next afternoon with us touring the Wynwood section of Miami.
Wynwood is apparently the new, edgy place to hang out down there, filled with hip boutiques,
stylish cafés, and art galleries, kind of like what the West Village was to NYC before the East Vllage became the new
West Village, and Williamsburg became the new SoHo.
And as much as my husband and I like doing a whole lot of nothing while we're in Miami,
we were up for at least a bit of adventure. So we readily agreed.
by now I had developed an irresistible craving – a craving that had not quite been sated by that delicious chocolate bread pudding – and I told my husband that no matter
what happened, I intended to pick up one of Fireman Derek's Key lime pies while we were there, if it was the last thing on earth I did.
We spent the entire afternoon touring the hip boutiques, stylish cafés, and art galleries
in Wynwood, as well as an ultra-edgy and
artsy section filled with giant murals known as Wynwood Walls.
Then we stopped for some very pricey iced tea at a trendy café called Panther Cofee, where I succumbed to snacking on a mouth-watering almond croissant.
(As you may have gathered by now, I believe vacation is no time to be adhering strictly to the wedding diet.)
But even this did not quite satisfy my insatiable craving, and the moment that Rick and
Lynn departed, I told my husband that I was going to get my Derek’s Key
lime pie at last.
So we set off at
once in search of Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop, guided by Google Maps. But
many more shops and galleries distracted us along the way, and the distance turned out to be much farther away than we had initially judged from Google Maps. And when we finally had come within only
a few blocks of the place, it was already past 5 p.m. and the parking meter on our car was about to expire.
And my husband said that after traipsing around all day his knee ached, and he wanted to go back to the car at once.
Maybe I should have done the noble thing and abandoned my mission too. But by now
I was hell-bent on buying that Key lime pie. It was a matter of pie or die! I only worried that by the time I reached Derek's bakery, it might already have closed for the day.
To my relief, as I rounded the bend on the final funky avenue, I saw a
sign in the distance that read “Fireman Derek’s Bake Shop & Café.” As I approached,
I was able to make out a placard on the door. “Come In," it read.
Bursting through that door,
I encountered a multi-tiered glass case completely filled with pies of every description.
There was apple pie, cherry pie, chocolate mint pie, and something called Candy Bar Pie, not to mention assorted cheesecakes.
But these other confections held no interest for me. I knew exactly what I was after.
“I’ll take one of your Key lime pies, please!” I called to the man with thinning hair and a pie-spattered apron positioned behind the counter.
this, he screwed up his craggy face as though he'd been sucking on lemons. Or tart but
tasty Key limes.
said ruefully, shaking his head. “We had at least five of 'em
left only half an hour ago. But then there was a sudden run on Key lime pie, and I’m afraid we're all out now.”
out? Seriously? I couldn’t believe my ears. I told him how I’d read about those pies, been salivating for days at the thought
of them, and just walked a good mile only to buy one. How could there not be so much as a single slice
left? Was he absolutely sure?
he called to a young woman barely visible in back, she replied reassuringly that they
had a few in the freezer.
But after searching a large metal unit, he returned and shook his head yet again. Even those were gone.
Reluctant to leave empty-handed, I asked to at least buy my husband a flan, which happens
to be among his favorite
desserts. But even there, I struck out. They had chocolate flan and coconut flan, both served in novel little jars embellished
with Derek's face, but none of the usual golden custard floating in tawny caramel syrup. Which is all that you really want when you really want some flan. Argh!
By now, I was so desperate to taste Derek’s Key lime pie that I was not about to give up. But neither, this being our do-nothing vacation, was
I willing to go to the ends of the earth to get some. Wasn't there anywhere back on South Beach that carried Fireman Derek’s
Key lime pies?
The fellow behind the counter, who was not Derek himself, scratched his head and thought hard. Then, suddenly, he came up with one remaining option.
There was a little place near the bottom of the Beach called My Ceviche. It sold Derek's pie by the slice, he said. But since we were
no longer going to someone's house for dinner, I no longer needed a whole pie anyway. In fact, at this point, I would've settled
for a measly forkful. So I quickly jotted down the address.
It wasn't easy to find amid the one-way palm-tree-lined streets of South Beach. But finally,
we saw the sign. My Ceviche turned out to be a little hole-in-the-wall take-out joint
adjacent to a busy youth hostel.
The upside of its rather low-brow location was that
its prices were exceedingly reasonable. We not only took two slices of Derek’s Key lime pie to go for $3.75 apiece, but also sprang for a large cup of creamy guacamole accompanied
by a brown paper bag full of tangy, still-warm tortilla chips for only $5.95.
Even after my arduous and rather unnerving odyssey in pursuit
of the pie, I was not about to bite into it until we had downed that guac with the chips, then gone out for a hearty dinner at Puerta Sagua, our favorite
Cuban eatery, where we feasted on arroz con pollo and inky black beans with a side order of succulent fried sweet plantains.
But never fear, we still had plenty of room left when we got back to the hotel. So at last
I got to bite with pleasure into my treasure, my dream dessert come true, Fireman Derek’s Key lime pie.
It turned out that I had been wrong. There was no way I would have settled for only a forkful
of this divine concoction. It was just the right amount of tartness. Yet also sweet. Creamy. Rich. Yet ethereally light. It
was everything I had wished for, longed for, dreamed of, and more in a slice of Key lime pie.
Even without any topping at all, beyond a slender slice of fresh lime, this Key lime pie
held the key to my heart.
At last, my unbearable craving was sated. But my story
does not end there.
A day later found us back in Miami looking for something
more to do amid the nothing. My husband, who once lived in this city before we met, had a sudden craving of his own. He wanted to visit a favorite old haunt, a popular Cuban restaurant
When I mentioned this place later to a South Beach resident, she informed me that the locals pronounced
its name not as I had said it – “ver-SIGH,”
like the royal Chateau in French – but more phonetically: “ver-SALES.” I found this hard to believe, and my husband openly sneered rather than sighed when he asserted that
she was wrong.
What was even harder to believe, though, was what we encountered there.
Adjacent to this venerable and veritable South Florida institution was a modern annex that now housed something called Versailles Bakery & Café.
And there, amid all the Cuban pastries in its vast glass-enclosed case, was its own version
of Key lime pie.
Never mind that
we had come in search of flan and croquetas. We took two lime-garnished slices to go, and this time we didn't wait
until after dinner to dig in. We didn't even wait until dark. At least I didn't. I dug right in.
These slices also went for a mere $3.75 apiece (or $17.95 for an entire pie).
The verdict on the pie from Versailles (however you choose to say it)?
OK, I'll admit it’s been a whole year since I had enjoyed the far more famous pie from Joe’s Stone Crab.
But I must say that the Key lime pie from Versailles was even tastier and creamier than Fireman Derek’s, and just as
good if not better than Joe’s.
Either way, I can now say that I am one not just nice,
but also extremely lucky and grateful Jewish mom.
I got to get away from the frozen tundra for over a week.
I got to spend a relaxing vacation in a place I know and love doing almost nothing.
And I got to savor not just one, but two sensational versions of my all-time favorite dessert.
Sadly, I am safely back in Siberia now, but I don't really mind that much. The truth is
that after more than a week away, I missed my kids and my dog, and you, my readers, so much that I was pretty much ready to
And now that I'm here, I have only one regret.
It's not that I have to bear the bitter cold. Or the drifting snow.
It's not the 2 or 3 pounds I gained down there (big surprise!), which have already managed
to melt off.
It's that I need
to keep the only Key lime pie on the premises, a frozen one from our local supermarket, stored safely in my freezer. I'm back
on the wedding diet.