Bob Mitchell: Pie suppers provided entertainment

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Long before modes of transportation made ours a mobile society, entertainment was sometimes a make-it-yourself proposition, which in recalling wasn’t such a bad situation.

One of those special occasions and sometimes occurring on a seasonal basis was pie suppers. Now, these were most usually an event held in rural schools of Barry County, and during this era there were well over 100 scattered in every community in the county. This provided plenty of locations for pie supper events to be scheduled for various purposes including fund raising for special activities.

These activities were often frequented by Cassville youth who were within walking distance of the event. Those youths attending these pie suppers didn’t usually plan too far in advance, but were probably just spur-of-the-moment ideas that would come from someone remembering there was a rural school within walking distance having such an evening event.

Schools such as Stoney Point and Black were within easy walking distance, however, Oak Ridge was attended if a ride became available. And, sometimes when the auctioneer was someone from town, Shell Knob and Viola schools were always receptive to adding a few boys to their crowd.

It wasn’t that money was any object of the schools wanting the larger crowds consisting of the Cassville boys, there just wasn’t much of that available in those days. If there were any pies that went for pocket change, which was not that frequent, a boy might make the purchase of a pie, but that didn’t happen very often.

Auctioneers like Col. Woolford Nicoll and Lester Loften would frequently find themselves owners of several pies when they got ahead of themselves in the bidding process. If this happened and they ended up with more pies than they wanted to take home, they often shared the surplus with the local boys. This was the main reason our departure was never before the event ended. Another reason for staying the duration was the possibility of getting a ride back to town. In the later years of its popularity, Rolland Meador got in the auctioneer business.

Quite often, the auctioneers would charge very little for their services, or proceed to put their fee back into buying pies, possibly attempting to promote their future sale business.

Taking into consideration the transportation, there were very few times when such events were outside walking distance, but when they were, after collecting a contribution out of several pockets, the boys would hire Hoot Gibson’s taxi cab for a ride. In such cases, Gibson would frequently stick around for a while, sometimes even buying a couple of pies.

The process of these events was quite simple, bakers would make their favorite pie, either fruit or cream, box and wrap it and place their name on a piece of paper inside the package. The person bidding on the pie seldom knew whose pie was being purchased. That was part of the attraction of these events — the usual surprise of who would be sharing the treat with you.

Naturally, the surprise wasn’t always in the process, as the most costly pies were those that some boyfriend was attempting to purchase and opponents would increase his cost with their bids. Here again, this was part of the scheme of things in a pie supper. Sometimes a trade might be negotiated if a successful bidder might have any remorse about causing problems with a budding friendship.

An indicator of what might be on the auction block was the attractiveness of the box. On most instances this was an indication of an experienced pie contributor that had gone to extra effort to dress-up their product with hopes of bringing an extra price for whatever project the event might be benefiting. On a rare occasion, these highly decorated packages would contain an absolute spoof. There were some instances, not frequently, when the box would contain forks and a note suggesting no one could eat a whole pie, “go beg a piece from a friend.”

Most usually there was some entertainment, be it a one-act play by students of the school, some pickin’ and singin’ group or a community related speech. Election years found the crowds swelling and coffers of whatever designated purpose would swell considerably.

Last pie supper

The final pie supper in my memory for Cassville was in the opening days of the Summer Baseball Program, beginning with Little League. Interest in the program was high and the school’s first gym was jam-packed on a hot evening. Lige Frost, a real estate man and auctioneer, was crying the sale. There probably wasn’t a pie that sold for less than $50, much to the amazement of the surprised buyer, but the intended goal of funds to start the youth program was achieved.

It never was fully decided what about that night caused it to be the final pie sale in Cassville; be it the cost assessed against each item sold or whatever, there hasn’t been a pie supper here since.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State University’s Regional Media Hall of Fame.