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Jessica Runck, Published October 10 2013

Homegrown Hollywood: Finding fall – and my place – in L.A

Nothing makes me miss the Midwest like autumn.

Growing up, I loved the crisp air, changing leaves, and trying to figure out how to hide my snow pants under my Cinderella Halloween costume.

Here in Los Angeles, it has been 90 degrees for the past week, and autumn colors are only found on ad campaigns for Bloomingdales, not on actual trees.

This always makes me a little sad, so to fight the melancholy (and for my boyfriend’s birthday) I decided to do something that always gets me in the fall spirit: Bake a pie.

I dug out my grandma’s piecrust recipe and headed to the local grocery store for the ingredients. If the women in my family have taught me one thing, it’s that you cannot make a decent pie crust without lard.

After a few unsuccessful attempts at finding this essential ingredient, I finally decided to call ahead to the next store to save myself a trip.

“Hi, I was just calling to check if you sold lard?”

There was a long pause at the end of the line. Finally, the grocer responded.

“Um, how do you spell that?”

“Lard. L-A-R-D. Like, animal fat.”

There was another long, much more judgmental, pause.

“No, we definitely don’t have anything like that.”

I hung up the phone and was so frustrated that when I finally did find L-A-R-D (hidden behind the last lamb chop at a specialty grocery store) I had to resist the urge to hold it over my head and shout some kind of Midwest war cry.

After that, I was on a mission. I was determined to have a lard-filled Midwest-style fall, despite the obstacles. I wore scarves and leggings; I drank hot pumpkin spice lattes and defiantly put a pumpkin on my porch to wither in the sun.

In the midst of my fervor, I decided I needed a garden. A garden would make me feel better. A garden would remind me of late autumn nights with my mom. I pulled on my heavy black boots and my wool scarf and headed out into the heat.

Two hours later, I was on my way back. I breathed in the scent of my back seat – beet plants, peas, winter tomatoes and the flowers that reminded me of the farm.

It felt good. It felt right. If I closed my eyes to the palm trees I could almost imagine I was home.

As I came over a hill, my breath caught in my throat. From the top of the street, I could see the ocean sparkling in the sun. It was beautiful and stunning and something I could only get in Los Angeles.

I pulled my car over and stared at the sea. I sat there with the sun on my face and realized that what I was actually trying to recreate wasn’t about autumn at all. It wasn’t about the changing leaves or the pies or even the weather. What I missed, what I sometimes felt desperate for, was the community. The traditions that made me feel a part of something bigger – that made me feel at home.

Sometimes mourning so deeply for things from the past stops you from seeing the future that is sparkling right in front you.

I felt something inside me unlock, and I pulled off my scarf and boots and rolled down the windows so I could breathe in the ocean. The salty air mixed with the smell of tomato plants, and I smiled. This was something new and different – and it was just as lovely.

I drove home feeling lighter. I had fall vegetables in my car, I had the ocean in front of me, and in my freezer were pie crusts made from lard.

Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.