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  Texas : Features : Columns : All Things Historical

PIE SUPPERS

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman

One of the difficulties every politician faces during election year is raising money.

As anyone close to politics knows, you become almost afraid to answer the phone or open the mail. As the first Tuesday of November approaches, politicians seem to turn into a wild pack of animals ready to pounce upon your last dollar.

But here in East Texas, I've always felt that some of our folks devised an ingenious way to deprive politicians of money right when they need it the most.

It's called the pie supper. And it works this way.

A church, volunteer fire department or PTA decides to raise money for a piano, fire truck or library books. The group's wives get busy and bake enough pies, cakes, cookies and cobblers to feed Dallas.

The objective here is not quality, but quantity. Few of the cooks are trying to win the Pillsbury cookoff.

Every politician within earshot is invited to the supper, the confections are spread out on tables under an oak tree or in the church parlor, the assembled candidates are given a minute or two to say a few words, and then they're expected to bid on the baked goods.

At some suppers, they often add a Draconian twist. The candidate who bids the highest on a pie or cake gets to make a longer speech -- which nobody pays any attention to.

Few politicians in the county can afford to be absent for fear of incurring the wrath of the entire membership of the church, volunteer fire department or PTA. At the same time few of those who show up can afford not to bid on every pie or cake for fear of offending the cook, her family, and two zip codes full of relatives.

So in a spirited bidding process pushed along by an auctioneer who has been chosen for his ability to make politicians squirm, the prices reach levels unheard of in a French pastry shop.

The system works wonderfully well, especially when there are lots of contested races and plenty of candidates -- all of them deathly afraid to pass up a cake that might have been baked by a grandmother of 22 grandchildren -- every single one of them a registered voter.

When it's all over, the church has raised a bushel basket full of money for the new piano and the cooks are happy because their products have not gone unnoticed. The politicians, however, usually have a lot less money than they started with.

Taste seldom has anything to do with a pie supper. Few politicians have ever been heard to say, "Boy, that was a great cake I paid $50 for." Some have been known to be so sick after leaving a pie supper that they threw away their purchase.

A friend of mine who ventured into the world of county politics a few years ago had the misfortune of running into a pie supper near Bald Hill in Angelina County. The result was disastrous. He ran out of money after buying two pies and a cake for $105.50 and for the rest of the night, the cooks gave him looks reserved only for egg-sucking dogs.

"I lost a hundred votes right there, and it cost me the whole blamed election," he groaned afterward.

But for someone who isn't running for election, attending a pie supper in East Texas can be a pleasant way to spend a preelection evening. You leave almost euphoric, knowing that somebody has finally found a way to take money out of a politician's pocket.


All Things Historical
October 29, 2000
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers Published by permission.
(Bob Bowman, a former president of the East Texas Historical Association, is the author of 24 books on East Texas history and folklore. He lives in Lufkin.)

 
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