Without so much as a "thank you" or an "appreciate it," he launched into a conversation as if we'd already been holding one.
"...And a young man would buy a pie, and eat it with a young lady. But I didn't have a young lady to eat it with. It was an old lady. I wish I'd had a young lady to eat that pie with."
"Did you get a pie tonight?" I asked, realizing I was already a part of his conversation and employing what little hereditary Southern charm I possess, when all I wanted to do was walk away.
"No, no pie tonight. But there was pie then."
"Well, sir, was it a good pie, at least?"
"Oh, yes, it was a good pie. I don't remember what they call that."
We walked haltingly in the direction of our cars, strangers in the Kroger parking lot.
"That pie, you know. You were supposed to eat it with a young lady. And, when you get married, they put a cowbell under your bed or something. No, not when they put cans and horns on your car. All that BANG BANG BANGING around. That was a chivaree. I wish I could remember what they called that pie."
He was talking more to himself than to me. Every so often he would look at me hopefully, as if I might know what that pie was called or that I might trigger something in him that would remember.
That word, chivaree, it struck somewhere in the recesses of my memory, though I couldn't recall exactly what it was. I was stuck in an awkward situation; standing my by car with a very old and very possibly senile old man. My home training made it impossible to be rude to this man. I was eager to get in the car and go home, but he wanted to tell me more about the pie.
"You eat that pie with a young lady, but the problem was, I got an old lady! I got an old lady and it nearly made me cry."
"Well, maybe you'll have better luck next time."
"Oh, no. There was no next time. She was the only one." With that, he turned and walked off toward his car.
"Have a nice night, sir!" I called to his bent and gnarled back.
"You too, young lady," he tossed over his shoulder.
I climbed into my car and immediately called my momma. "Listen to this...." When I'd relayed the bizarre conversation, she was initially as stumped as I had been. "What is chivaree? I know that word," I asked. She answered (and wikipedia confirmed) that a chivaree was the forbear to tying cans on the back of a newly wedded couple's car. A chivaree is a middle-of-the-night surprise celebration at the bride and groom's home, complete with clanging pots and pans, horns, and other noisemakers.
"Oh! But that's not what he meant, Savannah. He was talking about the old-fashioned 'pie socials.' Girls, or old ladies I guess, would bake pies and men would bid on them. Whatever man won the pie got a chance to sit with the girl at the church picnic. It was a fundraiser for the church. Savannah, he bought a pie, thinking it was made by a cute girl and it turned out to be from an old lady! Honey, he was sharing memories with you!"
Naturally I googled when I got home and found this entry from familytreemaker.com:
We also we had pie socials at the little old school house .One day some of the girls baked pies and they took them to the school and the boys or men would bid on the pies . Jim Haggerty liked a girl named Violet Crow so him and another fellow were bidding on Violets pie , they bid it up to $27.00 before they stopped and Jim had the highest bid . So he got the pie and he also married Violet. There was lots of good clean fun back in those days.I found another website that tells a lovely story of someone's grandparents meeting at one of these socials.
|found at The Courting Quilt|
His story, however jumbled, reminded me of my mother's parents. Harris Tooker and Bessie Sue, though everyone knew them as Bud and Sue. They had an American Dream courtship, they are one of the few first-and-only love stories I have in my life.
I hung up with my mother and drove out of the parking lot, away from the chatty old stranger. I wondered if he has an old lady to go home to. I wondered if he has children who know the story of the let-down pie. I wondered if he has someone in his life to be chatty with, or if he often strikes up conversations with young ladies who pick up his bread. I wondered what sort of pie maker I would have been back then, what kind of young man would have been disappointed if he hadn't won my pie. The man who "won my pie" in this lifetime is nothing short of a gentleman. Yes, he has a rogueish streak, but he came from good stock, and he knows what's what.
I'll never know what came of that stranger's pie.
I couldn't tell if he was truly disappointed when the identity of the pie baker was revealed, or if he went on to marry that "only one" old lady. His life's story only intertwined with mine for about three minutes, but it was enough. Enough time for him to reminisce about a long-past afternoon, and enough to stir my imagination (and romanticization) of a by-gone era.