Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie

When I was fifteen, I worked as a cook for The Viking Village Smorgasbord on Snelling Ave in St. Paul, MN. It’s not there anymore and someone long ago turned the building into a furniture store. A few decades have passed since I last clocked in, but a few stories stick vividly in my brain as if they happened only yesterday.

In “The Cities,” as we were wont to say, we prided ourselves on being urbane, but we were surrounded by the State of Minnesota that had its share of dirt farmers. On this particular weeknight, a farm couple wandered in for dinner. He was wearing his best overalls and she, her best go-to-church Sunday dress. Neither had very many teeth, their faces were ruddy with sun and wind and their hands gnarled from years of manual farm work. They held all the cash they were going to spend in The Cities in their hands. Maybe it was all they had left, maybe all they started out with or everything they planned on spending but you could tell it wasn’t much.


6 Replies to “Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie”

  1. The Viking Village made the most delicious fresh strawberry pie I have ever eaten.

    The pie lady there was named Henrietta. She would come in early every day and make all the pies. She was the most soft-spoken, shyest woman in the world but held her head high when she walked. She had worked there for the past 15 years when I got hired and was there after I left three years later. Every afternoon, at 4:00 her bother Henry (who drove a cab and had no front teeth but had the most charming smile) would come in, have a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. Then he would drive her home. Seven days a week she worked.

    I think I may have been the best (or the worst!) influence on her. She never complained about anything and was grateful for the job she had. She never found the downside of anything (or so we thought) On Saturday mornings, us cooks would make a “family breakfast” for everyone right before we opened up. Henrietta would never join us even though we invited her every time. She never talked with anyone, but she talked to me. Well, only after about a year of me just talking with her and just getting nods and smiles back. To this day, I do not know why she chose to talk with me. Maybe I just wore her down and she figured I wasn’t going to go away easily.

    Then one Saturday, she was at the table eating with us. Everyone was shocked, but nobody said anything about it. I quietly thanked her for eating with us later and she was at the table every Saturday after that. As it turns out, she was watching everything and knew the owner was a jerk, a crook and had all sorts of opinions about the place, especially about the lazy teenage pie girls at night. And she had a temper. Who knew? I did. I talked to her.

    I think about her often. I wonder if she is still alive and what a woman like her does when the place she has worked at all her life just closes up.

  2. It is so amazing how people fit in.

    Sometimes it is a clean fit. Sometimes it is like the jigsaw piece that isn’t quite right. You know… the blue piece. There is a lot of sky, and a missing piece. You have a piece. It is blue. It is really close to the right shape, so you shove it into the hole. Later on, you find you are missing a piece on the side of the blue car and the remaining piece doesn’t fit. Oh, yeah, the shoved in piece… Swap them and it fits, but now the one on the car has rough edges from being stuffed into the sky. Now, the puzzle is a bit out of kilter… it’s just not right.

    People are like that. Trouble is, it is tough to find the right spot at the right time in the right location to put everyone where they belong.

    Maybe she was meant for pie making. Or maybe she was just good at it, but didn’t really want to be there. Could she have run her own pie shop? Could she have managed employees, taxes and rising insurance premiums, not to mention health inspectors, Alar scares, cherry pits breaking dental work, or someone slipping on the sidewalk in front of her store?

    Or perhaps it was just simpler to show up, make the best pies, collect a check and go home.


  3. I use to work at the VIking Village in Minneapolis on Lakestreet in the 1970’s! Enjoyed the work but it was hard work.

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