It took about four hours to make the pies: peeling and slicing the apples, rolling the dough, carving out little stars from the excess edges and affixing them to the top. Ina Garten does an egg wash, and so did I: It makes the crusts shine, and the cinnamon sticks better.
It was November 4, 2008—Election Day—and apple pie was my contribution to the America-themed dinner party that friends were throwing at their GradHo house. We would dine on broasted chicken, collard greens and mac-and-cheese in front of a television tuned in to election results; our hosts clanged a horseshoe every time a state went for Obama. Spirits were high: The previous year, the city had elected reformer Michael Nutter, and the Phils had just won the World Series. There was a sense that everything was, finally, starting to line up right, in the city and in the nation.
To all of the people in that living room, and to so many in my post-boomer generation, the election felt like a tipping point. It wasn’t just that we’d been rooting hard for Barack Obama, though of course we had. I’d rooted as far back as 2004, when I was a graduate student in Chicago and he was a young aspiring senator from Illinois delivering a brilliant speech at the Democratic National Convention.
No, it was that we came of voting age in the post-patriotic era of Monica Lewinsky and miscounted ballots in Florida: To us, patriotism was at best a quaint vestige of the Reagan era and, at its worst, the calling card of a certain type of aggressive country singer. September 11th devastated us, but we were, for the most part, neither indifferent nor impassioned afterward; we were sometimes engaged but rarely active. In 2004, we had no idea that we’d be volunteering for that would-be senator’s presidential campaign in four years’ time, and doing so in record numbers. We just knew, back then, that we felt the first flush of … something.
The “audacity of hope,” he called it, his voice cadenced and swelling like the last bars of a fanfare. We who were moved were all in: Sign us up for audaciousness! And if audacious didn’t work out, we also had passports and really liked the idea of Spain.
The epilogue to 2004 was a bit less inspiring—it was John Kerry who didn’t work out. We didn’t move to Spain. Instead, we got jobs. But we never really stopped rooting for Obama, for that feeling. A few years later, his team stamped a word on it: Change.
After I walked home from our America dinner, tin-foiled pieces of leftover dessert in my purse and strangers stopping for high fives, I sat in my apartment in the glow of the televised commentary—the biggest popular-vote majority win in 20 years—and called my old Chicago friends to celebrate Change We Believed In, as I nibbled cinnamon-spangled stars off my apple pie.