Pie Story

This is such a stupid story that it’s hard to believe it’s been told and retold in my family for over 30 years now.

I was 18 years old and living on my own for the first time, in a small efficiency apartment on the third floor of the Gerard Hotel in Ladysmith, working in the Norco Windows factory 20 miles away in Hawkins.  Being new to independence, there was much I didn’t know, but I knew this much:  I liked pie.

I’d discovered, in the frozen foods section of the local IGA, frozen chocolate crème pies.   You just took them home, thawed them out, cut a slice or two and ate, returning the rest to the refrigerator to be consumed later.  They were delicious, and as they required no cooking or preparation, they were perfect.

In early November, I turned 19, and the IGA started stocking Thanksgiving specialties.   Among the seasonal foods were boxes of pumpkin pies, right next to the chocolate crème pies in the frozen food sections.   Being the pie fan I was and remain pumpkin pie is right up there at the top of my list of favorites.   Having had such a rewarding experience with the chocolate crème pies, I didn’t hesitate to pick up a box.

I got home, let it thaw out a little, and dug in, removing a spoonful from the pie’s center.  It looked delicious.  However, shortly after that first spoonful, I realized something was horribly wrong.  Looking at the box, I discovered directions for heating and baking the pie.   Turns out you had to put it in the oven!   Disgusted by the false and misleading packaging (it looked just like the packaging for the chocolate crème pies, and they didn’t require an oven), I put the pie in the center of my spacious refrigerator, where it sat next to a couple cans of soda and a jar of jelly.

A couple of days later, with deer hunting season beginning, my dad and my brother stopped by to pick me up and take a look at how this neophyte was adjusting to bachelorhood, how he was getting by in his first apartment.  It didn’t take long for my Dad to open the refrigerator and see the raw pumpkin pie with one bite taken out of the middle.   I explained that I didn’t know you had to bake it, and they got a big laugh at my expense, confirming their suspicions that I was too much of an idiot to adequately manage independent living.

A few weeks later, back home in southeast Wisconsin at Christmas, with the larger family gathered together, my Dad told the story of me and the pumpkin pie for the first time, explaining how he opened the refrigerator and there was nothing but a pumpkin pie with a hole out of the middle in it.  Everybody had a good laugh, including me, excusing the slight exaggeration of the empty refrigerator (there were a couple of other items in it, but it was a small point, and made for a better story, so I excused his embellishment).

Sometime later, my Dad told the story again.  This time there were two pies, each with a hole in the middle.  Then, the next time, there were three pies.  Years later, when telling my children, his grandchildren the story, the number continued to rise, until, shortly before his passing last year, it was a “refrigerator full” of pies, all with a single hole eaten out of the center.

Debate has raged whether he deliberately exaggerated the number of pies for effect or if time and the act of telling the story so many times actually modified his memory, and he really thought there was a refrigerator full of pies, if he came to actually believe his own story.  It was hard to tell, because he always told the story with a straight face.

So some perspective is required.  I remember the refrigerator being of your average, run of the mill, full-sized model.  I have no idea what the capacity of the typical empty full sized refrigerator would be for storing nothing but pies.  Lets for the sake of argument say the refrigerator could have held 15 pies.   That means, if he really believed his own story, that I did one of two things:  I either went to the IGA one time and bought 15 pies, or I made 15 separate trips, buying one pie each time.  Either way, I opened 15 packages, took a single bite out of the center, and returned them to the fridge.  To believe his story as told he’d have to believe that his son was engaging in behavior that at best was extremely quirky but more likely psychotic.

I think I tried pointing this out to him more than once, but it never got through, and sure enough, at the next family get together, we’d hear him start telling the story again, knowing it all by heart except for how many pies there would be this time.

Of all the stories my dad told, and re-told, the mysterious pies with the center eaten out of them may be the stupidest, but we couldn’t wait to hear it, and I of course loved being the butt of the joke.  When my wife and now grown children gather together, we still retell the story, and we all speculate how many pies my Dad would be up to if he were still alive.

As many times as I heard it, I’d give anything to have him here right now and hear it one more time.  No one could tell a story, especially a stupid story without much of a point, like my Dad.

Worn in the USA

This is getting bad.

I don’t know when or where I purchased the brown baseball cap, with the words “Carharrtt  manufacturer Detroit-Mich” printed in brown lettering inside a small fading yellowish box bordered by dark brown.    I have no idea what I paid for it.  It’s just a cap, plain and unassuming.  I call it Cappy.

I like plain and unassuming.  I don’t like calling attention to myself.  I typically don’t like wearing clothes that have printing on them, that advertise something, some product or person or philosophy.   I’m not sure why, I have no problem with anyone else wearing anything like that.  I don’t sit and make judgments on anyone’s fashion taste, although I’m sure there are fashion conscious people out there who make judgments on my fashion sense.  Again, I don’t really give a rip, let them judge me all they want.  Odds are they are right.

I dress to be comfortable.  I typically wear blue jeans and a plain colored Champion t-shirt.  The only thing inscribed on the shirts is the Champion logo, which is pretty small.   I like them because they seem to be fairly durable, they are big enough that they are comfortable – they stretch out enough that they don’t hug my middle aged paunch.  I hate the other shirts I have in my drawer that I’ve outgrown that hug my pot belly – I am shallow enough that I’d rather hide that.

I have several plain denim shirts, either blue or brown, that I wear over my Champion t-shirts.  Add in white tube socks and dirty sneakers, and you have a picture of what I wear probably 85% of the days of the year.

I started wearing caps a long time ago, after I started going bald, although being follicly challenged never really bothered me.  The thing about new caps is that they are stiff, and they haven’t had a chance to adapt and conform to the shape of your head.  Then there is the bill, which at first is straight and stiff, and you need to bend it and put a crease in the middle, so it shades your eyes, and makes you look like a mysterious and tough dude.   There is nothing that makes you feel more like a dweeb than wearing a brand new cap, stiff and clean and sitting too high on your head.   There is a required period of breaking in a new cap that you have to put up with in order to eventually get the maximum effect.  Once a cap is broken in, it becomes an extension of your head, and not only is it so comfortable that you forget you are wearing it, others recognize it as a part of you.

Cappy has been my steady companion for the past several years, and we’ve become very close.   There are acquaintances I’ve made who’ve never seen me without Cappy.   He is by far the best cap I’ve ever owned.  And believe me, I’m not one to get overly sentimental about clothing.

A couple of weeks ago, my wife made the comment that Cappy has to go.  I was shocked and stunned.  We’ve been married for over 31 years, but my first impulse was to reply, maybe you have to go.   I added that being jealous of a cap is evidence of insecurity and other serious character flaws.   That may be so, she said, but it doesn’t change the fact that it’s falling apart, it’s rotting.


After she left the room, I took Cappy off and took a long look at him.  What I saw shocked me.  There were two small holes worn through the cloth top, and the edges of the bill are frayed.  In the two weeks since, the holes have gotten bigger, and I’ve also become aware of a slightly unpleasant odor.   In short, Cappy is decomposing before my very eyes.

I still wear Cappy but I know his days are numbered.  I don’t like to think about it, we’ve been together so long.   But even caps fade away and die.   At some time I’m going to have to break down and stop wearing him.   I’m thinking of purchasing a glass case where I can stow Cappy and look at him forever more, but that seems a bit weird.  Besides, he never was much to look at – he was meant to be worn.

I suppose someday I’ll buy a new cap, but I don’t like to talk about that while I’m wearing my trusty Cappy.   Cappy, please know, that even after you are gone, there can never be another to replace you, and you’ll always live on, if not on my head, then in my heart.

Veteran’s Day

Veteran’s Day.  We drop a line on Facebook for all our ”friends” to see.   We pay tribute to them as our heroes.  We even write a couple of paragraphs on our web pages, so everyone can see how caring and appreciative we are.  We wave the flag and “support our troops” and congratulate ourselves for our sensitivity and patriotism.  Then we go about the rest of our day, and the next day, and the next, and they are removed from our thoughts, those who fought in Europe and Asia in World War Two, in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, and even those who are still fighting and dying in Afghanistan.

For us civilians, for those of us who never served, Veteran’s Day is just a day, and it makes little difference if we remember it or not.

We watch the news through whatever political lens we view the world, and we listen to the talking heads briefly discuss surges and deadlines and drones and IEDs and which party or politician stands to gain or lose, before they move on to the more “important” issues, like the economy and taxes and contraception and abortion.  To those of us who’ve never experienced it, war is a distant and incomprehensible concept.   I don’t know but I’m guessing that the main thing that we who haven’t fought in a war can’t understand is what it feels like to have people trying to kill you, and what it feels like to be asked to kill other people.   Veterans are the ones for who war is a reality, who survived, the ones who are expected to come home and return to normal, as if nothing ever happened.   It’s easy to identify heroism on the battlefield, the Medal of Honor winners, the courageous acts in extraordinary circumstances.  It’s a little more difficult to recognize heroism in the every day.

This Veteran’s Day I’m thinking of a guy I used to work with who fought in Vietnam.  We worked together for eleven years, and we had a ball.  He is one of the funniest people I’ve ever met, with a wonderful ability to laugh at himself.  He is kind and caring and gentle and unassuming.  He is a good father and husband.  To me, he’s always been a good friend, one of the best.  We worked close enough for a long enough time  that he  shared some of the nightmare he experienced over there, and some of the problems he had adjusting to coming home.   I can’t even begin to imagine.

I’ll never know what it felt like to be over there, and I’ll never know how difficult the burden of those experiences has been to carry all these years.   I just know that he is a kind and decent man and a good friend, and that he’ll always be a hero to me.