Pie Contest (again)

(Apologies to those who have already read this.)

Two summers ago, at a farmer’s market near my small town, someone asked if I wanted to buy a chance to judge the pie contest for a dollar.  Sure, I said, chances for two friends and me, please; strangely, we all got selected. 

On the morning of the contest, I put my kids on a plane to NY to visit my family.  My sister was to pick them up in Albany and take them to the Adirondacks for a week.  Normally, you need to pay a big extra fee for unaccompanied minors; it would almost be cheaper to just hire someone to go along and pay for their whole trip.  When you get to the airport, there’s a whole ‘nother charge, maybe fifty dollars per child, that I’ve never fully understood, but I’ve always paid it.  Paying this fee obligates the parent to go through security, out to the gate, and then wait until the plane takes off.

But this time, we went through the line, got boarding passes, and the guy didn’t mention anything about the extra fee, or me going to the gate.  My kids and I exchanged a look, like, “score!” and skittered away from the desk quickly. We were all on the same page: the last thing my kids want in this world is to sit with their mother in the airport for an hour, especially because I get sort of teary.  Of all of the things that could go wrong on the plane, I’m pretty sure the extra fee won’t make a bit of difference.
Also, my kids hate to be on that leash.  They hate wearing the wrist band, and being condescended to by the flight attendants, and being stuck in Divorceland, which is what they call the locked-down children’s room where they must spend their layovers, filled mostly with weird kids travelling to see the other parent.  I used to think they were exaggerating, but sheesh, the stories they tell.  And the crappy kid food.  (When did it become a normal to only offer minors fried things?)  So I hug them at the edge of security, and walk off without looking back.  Okay, maybe I look back just a little bit.
Skip forward, a day at the office passes, and I go to the market, quite excited about the contest.  The judges, eight of us, are seated at picnic tables, and we get a scoring sheet, plate, and are told that one at a time, we’ll be served nine slices of pie.  Right about then, my sister calls, and says the kids didn’t get off the plane like they were supposed to.  The plane arrived, but not them.  She called the airline and went off on a big rant about how these are unaccompanied minors, and their mother pays all these extra charges for them, and they lose the children, blah blah blah.   The airline was apologetic, and tracked them down.  It’s discovered that they were just spacing out in the Newark airport and forgot to get on the plane.  They had rented a wheelchair, my son had donned a long red wig that he happened to have in his carry on luggage, and thy were just tooling about, having fun. I know.  Marisa, who went to college at 14, and has flown solo to Africa twice.  I know. 

“Um, Kath, about that… I didn’t actually pay the fee.  I thought they’d be able to navigate that little layover.”
Silence.  “Okay.  I guess they’re going to be on the next plane.  Are you eating?  What are you eating?”

“Pie.”  I don’t want to get into it, because my sweet sister has gone way out of her way to have the kids for a week, and now, she’s dealing with one more hassle.  “Call me back if you learn more.”  I’m trying to be attentive, but I also don’t want to be the lame judge talking on the cell phone.

“What kind of pie?”

“Apple.  Gotta go.”

The metric for scoring includes looks, taste, originality, and a bunch of other things, which makes me think harder than I usually do when eating pie. 

She calls back 10 minutes later.  “Planes aren’t leaving Newark due to smog.  The plane they missed is the last one for a while. 

Again, I think of how my dear sister got up at the crack of dawn in eastern Massachusetts, drove all day to get to Albany on time, went through security, out to the gate, and is now trapped there.  “Oh, that sucks.  I’m sorry!”

“Are you eating again?”


“What now?”

“Same pie?”
“Blackberry.  Gotta go.”

“Where are you?”

“Oh, sweetie, I’m so sorry you’re stuck there.  Gotta go.”
This goes on for a while, until I finally confess that I’m judging a pie contest while she’s sitting alone in the Albany airport for like, three more hours. Has anyone ever been to that airport?  There’s nothing there at all.

The winning pie was apple, with a bit of rosemary in the crust, and a perfect letter “A” formed by pricking the crust with toothpicks.  Some of the senior citizens standing around are kind of pissed off that rosemary was in a crust.  “That’s just not right,” they mutter.

The pies’ author was a young mother, who, with toddlers hanging off her, told me she almost got a divorce over the whole thing, because she’s been so obsessed with the pie, and her husband isn’t even speaking to her, and she hopes he gets it now, how important it was.

Last summer, every week I went to the market looking for someone selling the judging tickets again, but didn’t see anyone.  I finally asked about the contest, sheepishly.  I didn’t want to seem too interested (that’s never a good strategy, I hear), but then again, I don’t want to miss out.

“Oh, do you want to enter a pie?”

“Um, actually, I was hoping to be a judge.”

The woman gives me a strange look, like “Wow, there is something really off here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it,” but says “Well, we don’t have the contest set up yet because no one has come forward to help get it organized.  Would you like to be in charge of it?”
What could I say?  So I agreed, and she took down my contact information.

“I’ll get back to you soon,” she said, the way people do before you never hear from them again.  This year, I think I'll make a little more effort, and possibly even make a pie. 


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