Pie suppers and cakewalks

Friday, April 1, 2005

I hadn't thought about a pie supper or a cakewalk in a long time. But for the one-room buildings where I learned to read and write -- and, unfortunately, never quite mastered fractions -- fund raisers were essential to the financial survival of country schools.

The 1950s were a period of school consolidation, and rural districts looked at every dime that could be raised as another 10 cents between busing students to town or keeping a country school open.

So pie suppers were important social events for the sparsely populated Ozarks over yonder where I grew up.

Pie suppers were more for adults than children, although there were plenty of games to keep youngsters busy. Not all of them were organized. When I was growing up, any group of kids instantly turned to some sort of fun activity: hide-and-seek, tag, Red Rover, I spy, 20 questions, softball.

Why am I waxing nostalgic about pie suppers all of a sudden?

There's a simple explanation.

Two of the best softball players ever to come out of Shady Nook School over on Greenwood Valley, just over the hill a piece from Killough Valley, are putting together a pie supper starting at 6:30 p.m. Saturday to raise money for the building where I started school and attended revivals (the building was Shady Nook Church on Sundays).

It hasn't been easy for sisters Maggie (Brown) Thorsland and Donna (Brown) Johnson to keep the building heated and in decent repair. They were among the organizers a few years ago of the first reunion in this century of old schoolmates. A potluck dinner was held in the school yard under the oak trees where preachers waged war on sin under brush arbors back in my childhood.

Since then there have been a couple of other get-togethers, and attendees are asked to contribute, if they can, a little something to keep Shady Nook in place.

I won't be able to attend the pie supper, so I'll be mailing a check to Maggie. I hope enough funds are collected to keep the building going a little longer. This effort costs some money, but the memories are priceless.

Here's what I remember about pie suppers. Remember, these are the memories of a wide-eyed youngster who only later in life realized there was a lot more going on at these events than having fun.

For example, pies baked by farm women -- expert cooks -- were auctioned off to the highest bidder. As I recall, the baker and buyer were expected to eat together. So husbands and beaus were pressed to spend top dollar for their wives' or girlfriends' pies lest some other fella horn in, if you get my drift.

Of course, how was a farmer or mule skinner supposed to know one pie from another? Ah, that's where pie suppers got interesting as heck.

Cakewalks, on the other hand, were relatively straightforward. Someone drew a path with chalk on the schoolhouse floor. The path was marked off in blocks. While music played, you walked around the path. When the music stopped, you won a cake if you were on the right block.

Simple, right? That's where "easy as a cakewalk" came from.

I think.

Remember, I'm not the official expert on all this stuff, just an enthusiastic observer.

From half a century ago.

If you want to go (gospel, country and bluegrass music included), take Highway 34 west from Piedmont about nine miles to Route KK. Make a left and go about 1 1/2 miles to the church.

Don't show up empty-handed.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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