Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Pumpkin Pie Insult

All through my High School career I had an after school job pumping gas at an ARCO station on Lancaster avenue in Bryn Mawr,Pennsylvannia. The station was a few miles from my house so I could walk there before I had my driver's license. The pay was great for a High School kid and I learned many lessons both about auto mechanics and human nature in my tenure manning the Pumps. This was before Self-Serve was in vogue and when a customer came for gas we checked oil and tires and cleaned windows.

During the week before Thanksgiving of my Junior year, my Boss inquired if I would work Thanksgiving day as he intended to open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to cash in on the travel trade. My Family was never one for the mid-afternoon Thanksgiving feed. We generally had dinner at 7 p.m. after the Parents,Aunt's and Uncles had an hour or so of cocktails.So I was happy to work and make time-and-a-half and make it home well before the traditional feast was served.

Business was slow during the day and mainly me and the other guys on the crew cleaned up the bays and watched football on a T.V in the office.
One car came in at about 2 p.m.. I will never forget the car...and old Mercedes Turbo Diesel. The occupants were and older couple who informed me they had just dined at Merion Cricket Club for their Thanksgiving dinner. The woman at the wheel inquired how late I was working and whether I was upset to be working on the Holiday.I assured her it was not a big deal. I filled their tank, checked the oil and offf they went, the turbo diesel knocking and clanking down Lancaster avenue.

About 20 minutes later, the Mercedes pulled back into the lot. I was standing on the Island taking pump meter readings in preparation for the 3 p.m. Station closure. The kindly old woman with whom I had chatted now pulled up and motioned me to the driver's side of the car. I approached and saw her hold a cellophane wrapped paper plate out the window. As I came to the side of the car the woman offered me this plate which held a wedge of pumpkin pie. She explained that she felt bad that I was working on Thanksgiving and wanted me to have some pie for after dinner. I was speechless since I had never before been the object of someone's pity nor been offered any token of charity. I mumbled a thank you while staring down at the cracked brownish surface of the pie that a short time before had been a "doggie bag" item left over from their Club dinner. The Mercedes and it's crew of pie-bearers drove off again. To this day I recall that I felt insulted by this couple's assumption that I was a poor unfortunate kid who was doomed to eat a Swanson Turkey dinner alone on Thanksgiving. I had a nice home and family dinner waiting for me in a lovely neighborhood on a lovely street just around the corner. I did not need their charity pie. I know they were trying to be nice but I could not quell my feelings.

I walked across the lot from the Pumps toward the office holding the plate like it was piled with feces rather than a traditional Holiday dessert.I entered the office, opended a drawer in the desk and retrieved a plastic fork. I removed the cellophane and took a bite of the pie. It sucked. The pie was grainy with sugar and poorly spiced; the crust was dry and tasted commercial. I flung the good intentioned offering in a waste oil barrel in the corner, helped lock up and walked home.


vir beātum said...

There's a fine line between pity and kindliness. I sense the tension here.

RulingPart said...

Pity served on a paper plate... no thanks. You know what, though? I think it has something to do with the wretchedness of the gift.

Suppose she'd gone to a nice pie shop and brought you back a whole pumpkin pie, for you and the guys. That's not pity; that's largesse. I'm a big fan of largesse.

Julie DeBrandt Hunter said...

That's a funny story. And why did I not know you worked at a gas station. I guess it didn't come up in german class.
Happy Thanksgiving back at you and your family, old friend.

Anonymous said...

Too bad you didn't come back later that evening for some live music at The Main Point.