Every so often I'd wonder whatever happened to Beth M. Howard, the author who gained fame several years ago while living in Grant Wood's "American Gothic" house in Eldon, Iowa, and traveling the country teaching people how to make pie.
As it turns out, the Davenport Assumption graduate will be back in Davenport on Sunday, Sept. 14, to talk about her latest book, "Hausfrau Honeymoon: Love, Language, and other Misadventures in Germany" at the German American Heritage Center.
We first met Howard in 2012 when her debut book, "Making Piece: A Memoir of Love, Loss and Pie" was published by Harlequin.
The book chronicled the deep, complicated grief Howard was plunged into at the sudden death of her husband, Marcus, several years previously and how she worked her way through it, although the grief never entirely went away.
Pie played a major part in her story and became a metaphor for sharing, healing and community.
Howard was written up in newspapers across Iowa and featured in national publications as well as CBS-TV's "This Morning" show. A Quad-City Times photographer and I drove to Eldon (about 140 miles southeast of the Quad-Cities) for an interview and "home tour" of the American Gothic house. We also bought one of her fabulous apple pies that she sold on weekends at her Pitchfork Pie Stand.
Now Howard has published the "prequel" to "Making Piece," sharing the beginning of her relationship with Marcus and her adventures and misadventures in Germany where she followed him for his job and lived for three years.
Howard had lived other places, so she didn't expect living in Germany to be so hard. But she just couldn't learn the language. "I couldn't wrap my head around it," she said in a phone interview. "The structure, the length of the words — it just sounded wrong coming out of my mouth.
"I would spend five hours in class, and then I'd come out and I couldn't understand anything the people on the street were saying."
Marcus was working long hours at his job, leaving Howard feeling lonely and isolated, although the book describes plenty of passion and fun, too. The story ends with the two coming back to the United States, to Portland, where Marcus was transferred.
His death of a ruptured aorta eventually brought Howard back to Iowa and, serpendipitously, to the American Gothic house that Wood used as the backdrop to his famous 1930 painting of a farmer holding a pitchfork next to his daughter.
But after four years, she decided to leave. Living in a tourist attraction and spending long hours of peeling and apples and rolling dough had become too much.
She moved to Los Angeles for six months but, as she said, "I was miserable."
"Iowa had ruined me for California."
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So she decided to use the 420,000 frequent-flier miles she had inherited from Marcus for a three-month trip around the world, making pie in nine countries, trying to spread goodwill, peace, comfort and good feelings.
Stops were in New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, India, Lebanon, Greece, Switzerland, Germany and Hungary.
Some went better than others. India was difficult because she couldn't reconcile the extremes of extravagant wealth next to grinding poverty. In Lebanon she took a dozen pies to a large refugee camp on the Syrian border, "but it did not go well."
"It was not what I expected," she said. "They thought I was Angelina Jolie."
As Howard traveled, she wrote about her experiences online and posted pictures. But, "people loved the farm stuff more than the exotic travel," she said. "I was like, 'Oh my gosh, what does that tell you? They want simplicity, calm."
In September of 2015 she came back to Iowa to pick up her dog that she'd left with a farmer named Doug and, as she says, "I'm still here."
She and Doug — whom she met at a pie class — live on a three-generation family farm near Donnellson where she writes, blogs, makes pie and does occasional radio commentaries.
In addition to "Hausfrau Honeymoon," Howard has written a book about her four years in the American Gothic house, but she said it needs major revisions.
Next on her list is to write about her trip around the world ... and to visit Davenport. Her talk will be at 2 p.m., and her books will be for sale. The center is at 712 W. 2nd St.; admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children.
And no, no one is living in the American Gothic house now, which is owned by the State Historical Society of Iowa.
After Howard left, the society decided against renting it again because visitors to the next-door American Gothic Center constantly ask about looking inside, a representative of the center said. That kind of curiosity is not a good fit with tenant privacy.
So now the first floor of the house is open for tours on the second Saturday of the month from April through October and is occasionally used for special events.