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.
Dinner was $4.95, all you could eat, not including pie. Pie was extra.
They had gone down the line, filling their plates with fried chicken, steamed cod and mashed potatoes. She had a comment on everything, mostly with how delicious everything looked. I think she was just happy she didn’t have to cook for one evening. In her mind, her husband was treating her like a queen for a night. And when they got to the end of the food line, he confirmed it.
“Did you want a piece of pie?” she asked. He shook his head and said, “No, you go ahead. It cost extra.”
“We got enough,” she said and he caught my eye. I looked down and began wiping the line.
“No, no.. there is tax and everything. You go ahead.”
As the cashier rang up their meal, I looked up and noticed her counting out the remaining money. I got a sense that it was close, but more than enough to cover the price of another piece of pie.
She looked up at him and said, “Dern ye, ya shoulda taken d’pie!”
Happy National Pie Week. If life offers you a piece of pie, take it. There will be more than enough lean days ahead.