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.