Covert Mom: This Must Be the Place

By Mariah Mottley

Mariah Mottley

We arrived early to Pie-o-Rama, the annual fundraiser for the Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts. TCFA is housed in a monumental Greek Revival building, and hosts music, dance, and art lessons.
“The one with the big pillars,” my son directed from the backseat.

At the door, we were handed a voting card and directed to the 20 pies on tables in front of the stage. We were to taste each pie and vote on our favorites. The winner of the popular vote would take home a whimsical trophy made by revered local blacksmith and artist Durand van Doren. Next came the pie auction.

Armed with an iced decaf from neighboring Gimme! Coffee, and a little plastic spoon, I surveyed the small cups filled with morsels of pie on my plate. Triple berry. Samoa cookie. Tiramisu. Company pie,with pineapple and coconut. Peanut butter fudge swirl. Lemon lime. Blueberry ginger. Lemon meringue. Raspberry lemon meringue. Ginger pear, with pecans. What better way to support the arts?

More than a chance at charitable gluttony, this was a victory for our family. We had just walked, jogged, and cycled a total of 8.3 miles. Pie-o-Rama had been the carrot at the end of a carefully planned ‘exercise as a family’ stick. And we had arrived with time to spare.

Photo by Mariah Mottley / Tompkins Weekly
Just one of the views of nature along the 8.3 miles of exercise before Pie-o-Rama.

Ours was a take no prisoners strategy. We started at Taughannock Falls, and went straight down the Black Diamond Trail to the Children’s Garden in Ithaca. A one-way trip, requiring an extra vehicle and a friend to hook us up with a roadworthy bike rack. It was unclear how our unpredictably enraged tween, Bela; the defiantly sedentary bookworm, Billie; and the accident prone first grader, Winnie, would handle the challenges of the trail.

At the trailhead, we announced the rules. They were: Stop at all road crossings, keep us in sight, and stay out of other people’s way. We would share the burden of the backpack holding water and snacks, starting with Bela. She took it with a sneer and pedaled away. At the first road crossing, we found the pack beside a nasty note scribbled in the gravel, signed with her initials. Brimming with emotional maturity, my husband scuffed out the letters with his feet, delighting Billie.

Still irritated, he swung the backpack in arc over his shoulder, eyes ahead. He didn’t see Winnie, coming up behind him on his bike. The bag clocked him right in the side of the head, knocking him to the cinder path. He skidded on the heels of his hands and knees. I shook my fist at Bela’s back. I hadn’t packed first aid stuff.
Sean lifted the bike off Winnie, who scrambled to his feet, eyes on the sister in the distance. We checked out his knee – a small case of road rash.

“Honey,” I said to him, “I’m so sorry. Your Dad just didn’t see you.”
“It’s OK,” he said. “I was just surprised.”
“Are you sure? I asked, turning his palms over in mine, hugging him to me. Sean mouthed over Winnie’s head, “He is so tough.”
“Can I go?” I nodded and he was off, his tires making a scratching sound, his seat a little too low.

At the next stop, Billie reported that her brother was bleeding.
“It’ll dry in the wind,” I told her, handing her the backpack.

She carried it without complaint, looping her periwinkle and purple bike between the grownups and the kids, bringing news each way.
The trail was glorious. Buds and blooms on trees, dandelions in the grass, the path ahead straight and flat, hills in the distance. We passed the bison farm, and the house of a dog named Barney. Cyclist traffic was brisk. My favorite one had a bell that he rang the way cab drivers in the city use their horns.

“The Cherry blossoms smell like cherries,” Billie informed me, when I saw her next.
She asked that I take a picture of the water sparkling over the shale in the creek, so she could ‘paint it later.’ I did, offering to carry the backpack for her.

Now, back at the conservatory, hips and feet heavy with mileage, I settled into my research, carefully marking my favorites on the voting card. The coffee was perfect. My choices were heavy on the citrus pies, but also paid homage to the peanut butter fudge and samoa masterpieces.

Having already sampled everything and eager for the auction, Winnie squealed with delight as Bela spun him across the conservatory floor, scabs forgotten under a layer of trail grime. It is easy to recover from an unfair blow when you are headed to a pie contest.

Donate to TCFA at
Originally from Manhattan, Mariah was educated in Massachusetts, Montana and Texas, often by failure. She lives with her husband and three children in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. Mariah can be reached at

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