Pies on Parade – A Holiday Vignette

“Where’s the costuuuuuuuuuuuuumes?!?”

A high-pitched voice emerged from the scrum of kids congregating in the kitchen area, the elongated U piercing through the post-dinner haze. Whatever patience the frollicking youth previously possessed had vanished, and the lounging adults were sufficiently notified in the living room next door: it was time for Pies on Parade.
The elder matriarch of the household, Nannie– with doughy brown eyes that projected eternal warmth– slowly rose from her customary parlor chair and led the brigade, sashaying to the hallway closet. Her three adult daughters and their husbands soon followed suit, and the six of them shuffled towards the back porch to retrieve their picnic baskets loaded with pastries.
“You got this, kiddos,” Nannie’s older brother quipped, reclined in the faux leather La-Z-Boy, as the other adults sprung to assist the proceedings. “I’ll be right here waiting, your willing audience.” He flashed an OK symbol with his left hand, while his right reached for the remote control.
The children giddily converged around their Nannie as she entered the kitchen with the familiar, weathered cardboard shoebox (labeled ‘P.O.P. Paraphernalia’). She plopped the container on the counter opposite the kitchen table– keeping the flat, empty surface available for the untold assortment of desserts to come– and stepped back to view her grandkids’ excitement. A smile creased over her wrinkled lips as a blissful rush raced throughout her body, and the wee ones pulled the box onto the worn, peeling linoleum floor.
Their little hands– some washed, most sticky with bits of residue remaining from the Thanksgiving feast– flitted around, yanking forth the delicate treasures held inside. The younger group of kids battled for the variety of ‘traditional’ bonnets and buckle hats made from construction paper, each thrilled for the opportunity to don a worthwhile approximation of Pilgrim style. They dispersed the stack of carefully folded headgear amongst themselves, focusing on the requisite costumes for the forthcoming Pies on Parade performance.
An extravaganza of familial proportions, Pies on Parade was integral to the extended family’s love of the turkey-themed holiday. Started as a gag nearly two decades earlier– when the family patriarch, Grampie, first threw on a Victorian-era top hat to lead his three toddler grandchildren in a pre-dessert march around the house– the tradition had become the highlight of the fall for most of the family. The autumnal celebration could never be complete before the parade finished its route, and the sugar-filled delicacies would never taste as sweet without the presentation each year.
The group of seven youngsters (three boys and four girls, each aged ten or under) battled over who could wear what, while three older cousins (a pair of female twins and their male coz) hung back indifferently. A nine-year gap existed between the batches, and the older group worked hard to project a too-cool demeanor towards the goofy happenings each fall.
“I wish we had Indian feathers,” a younger boy cousin grumbled. He was quickly chastised by one of the older females, from her seated perch atop a countertop.
“Just be a pilgrim and quit whining,” she scolded. “Our family doesn’t culturally appropriate.” The boy frowned quizzically, before moving on and grabbing a hat far too big for his head.
“At least not anymore,” her non-identical twin piped in, nudging her male cousin beside them. The three older relatives– each home from college for the holiday break– chuckled amongst themselves, unconcerned with a joke going over the head of their younger counterparts.
While the children prepared themselves with the necessary garb for the joyous march to come, their parents schlepped their antique wicker baskets into the household warmth. They arranged pies, cookies, and whipped cream canisters inelegantly on the table provided, knowing the futility of careful arrangement.
“The kids are just gonna grab them however they feel like,” the middle sister’s husband proclaimed, verbalizing what was already understood.
“Just make sure they’re all here,” his wife added. “I got the whoopie pies, the Toll House bars, the pecan…Ma, what’s taking Dad so long?” She turned towards Nannie– who was puttering around the kitchen, assisting her grandchildren while retrieving the paper plates and plastic silverware needed for dessert– and impatiently awaited an answer, receiving her older sibling’s two cents instead.
“Is he gonna be ok walking around?” The oldest adult sister was known for excessive worry. “How’s his knee been feeling? I know how much he loves Pies but he had surgery like a month ago. We don’t need a hero, mum, the kids need a non-crippled Grampie.”
“He’s actually looked pretty good today, hun,” the oldest sister’s husband chimed in. “He didn’t look to be in any pain when he was moving around.”
“He was downright spry,” the youngest sister added.
“Oh, he’s fine, sweetheart,” Nannie noted chippily, as she pried open the folded slit of a Pilgrim bonnet. She placed the ‘hat’ on her head– earning approval from her grandchildren below– before continuing. “Stoney baloney probably just lost track of what he was doing.”
The three adult sisters each furrowed their brows, confused by the vague content offered from their mother. The youngest sister subtly side-eyed her adult son– the oldest grandchild/cousin, a senior at college who she had when she was 17– connecting dots she wasn’t sure were present. She bit her tongue with a sly smirk, while the fretful senior sister pressed for information.
“Has he been forgetting things lately, Mom?” The firstborn daughter reached out to cradle her mother’s forearm in comfort, innately offering support to a fellow human. Her eyes began welling with tears, as her mind instantly assumed she was learning her father had dementia. “Is this something new that’s happening, or has it been going on for awhile?!?”
“He doesn’t have Alzheimer’s, you goob,” the youngest sister quickly offered, hoping to assuage her sibling’s worry. “I think she means…” She trailed off in a hushed tone, scanning her children, nieces and nephews on the kitchen floor, ensuring they were unconcerned with any boring, grown-up business. Satisfied they were ignorant of her next actions, she mimed smoking a joint– which her son gleefully noticed in his peripheral– to the astonishment of her two siblings.
“Oh my God!” The oldest sister exclaimed, bringing her hands over her mouth. “No, what? No!
“I think so, sis. Is that what you mean, Mom?”
“I don’t know. Maybe? I don’t know what I’m saying, I need another glass of wine.” She shrugged, then waltzed past her daughters and their spouses, heading towards her bedroom down the hall. “I don’t know what’s happening, let me go get the old fart!” Nannie hurriedly– at least swift for a woman pushing seventy five– exited the kitchen area, speeding past her brother and disappearing around the corner to the master bedroom.
Her three adult daughters exchanged discerning looks with their spouses and one another, silently agreeing to transport the location of their discussion. They hastily retreated from the kitchen– migrating back to their previous spots in the living room area– and left the kids to choose their desserts while they waited for their Grampie’s emergence.
Once the adults departed, the children raced towards the table, eyeing the wondrous treats before them. The youngsters bounced around the table, buzzing with energy they could not contain, and made a cornucopia of sounds in anticipation.
“Ughhhh, yum, yummy.”
“I wanna carry the apple!” The youngest grandchild– barely able to see with the hat covering his eyes– pointed excitedly, leaping around in short, staggered hops. “I want apple this year! I want it, I want it!”
“You know I’m carrying that 4-H winning, mile-high beauty, bud.” The older female cousin again rebuked her little relative from the counter, barely concealing her irritation. “You get the Cabot cans or Cool Whip.”
“I hate the whipped cream. It’s not fair! It’s not fair, not fair, no fair!” The young boy slunk to the floor, slapping his thighs and kicking his feet in frustration. His sister quickly slid next to him, pinching him on the arm and pointing fiercely in his face.
“Enough of that, or you can’t walk!” She warned, and the young boy pouted while quieting down.
“Where’s Grampie?” A soft girlish voice inquired, a quick interjection ignored by her siblings and cousins.
“Ok,” the eldest cousin of the younger group spoke, taking charge. “Apple, Oreo, and pecan are taken. I’m carrying pumpkin, so who’s got what else?”
While the children called dibs on baked goods in final preparation, their Grampie secured the drawstring– from the replica royal mantle flowing over his back– under his neck in the master bedroom. The faux regal cape draped down behind him to the floor, and dragged slightly, a consequence of the old man’s diminished posture through the years. He winked to himself in the mirror once the garment was in place, completing his ensemble– with the haughtily placed top hat and antique walking cane, featuring a solid 24k gold lion’s head handle– as the Grand Poobah of Pies on Parade.
He shuffled from the mirror over to his nightstand, sighing as he gingerly lowered onto the edge of his bed. He pulled open the drawer– checking the coast was clear behind him as he did– and pulled out a small, silver vape pen from within. The shiny, slim device still felt odd in his fingertips, and he remained flabbergasted over how such a device delivered marijuana into his system. He continued to wonder where the grass went, but he did not question the outcome, as he pressed the circular button on top with the pen between his lips.
After inhaling for three seconds, he released the button and pen from his mouth, holding the vapor in for an additional five seconds. Holding in “your hit” was crucial, according to his grandson, who had brought him to a legal marijuana dispensary the month before (per the old man’s request). He had a long, dark history with alcohol and pills, and the prospect of surgery– and any prescription painkillers required for recovery– had been terrifying. But with the recent legalization of medical and recreational marijuana in the state, he decided to inquire with his progeny on the potential of “the pot,” and was blown away by the results.
The familiar tingle lurked over his skin as he exhaled, and he coughed slightly. He rubbed his eyes– feeling a calm run from the top of his skull to the tips of his toes– and heard the door creak open behind him. He continued massaging his closed eyelids as he turned his body, regaining his vision to see his lovely wife slide in and shut the door behind her.
“Oh, my goodness,” she covered her mouth with her hands, while her eyes sparkled. “You are friggin’ adorable!” She made her way to the bed and nestled beside him, nuzzling her head into the felt fabric of his fake regalia.
“Coming from a Mayflower denizen like yourself? That means the world.” He leaned away, his glassy eyes glimmering with merriment. “Are they getting antsy out there?” He glanced down at the pen resting in his palm, very slowly curling his fingers around it.
“Of course they are, but you can’t expect anything else from the kiddies.”
“I’m feeling ready, darling, feeling downright…frisky, tonight, my dear.” He looked around dramatically before finishing his sentence, craning his neck and face into hers. He giggled at himself, and took another two second puff off of the vape. “Do you think they know?”
“Who cares if they do? It’s legal, they all keep saying, so what the heck does it matter.” She turned away sheepishly, before sitting upright and restoring her own confidence. She tapped the vape in his hand as she went on. “I think I spilled the beans on that little guy, I’m sorry.”
Her husband kept his face frozen as she spoke, and let a small cloud exhale from his mouth as she finished. He pursed his lips before shrugging.
“They remember when I used to take the pills before–”
“And the booze,” his wife added.
“And the booze, too. Yup. And compared to that poison?” He sighed and leaned slightly forward, gaining momentum and inertia to stand upright. He grabbed the cane beside him, very cautiously leaning on it, and majestically maneuvered himself in front of his wife. “This stuff is a gosh darn miracle.”
The old man gently tapped the cane twice on the hardwood floor, beckoning his wife up from the bed with his hands.
“But now, my queen, the time has come for the royal brigade. The Grand Poobah demands it!”
His wife stared at him in perplexment– her left eyebrow fish-hooked up to the ceiling– without moving a muscle. Like clockwork, he raised the vape pen to her mouth, and she simpered as she took a hit for several seconds.
Very soon after, without warning, Nannie burst back onto the scene in the living room. As she came bounding down the hall, Grampie’s shadowy outline leisurely emerged from the dark hallway behind her, and she shouted the customary instructions to her family.
“Ladies and gentleman! Boys and girls of all ages! Are you ready…for…the Grand…POOBAH!!!” She dance stepped to the side– slyly gliding back into her favorite parlor chair– and began to clap, the familiar CLAP*CLAP*CLAPPING in rhythm, as the rest of the family joined in.
The children carefully sprinted into the living room from next door– each with their respective pie or dessert in hand– and squealed in delight as their Grampie march-stepped into the spotlight. The adult sisters hooted and hollered– encouraging their elderly father to shimmy around just five weeks removed from knee replacement surgery– while their husbands dutifully clapped along, unable to contain their enjoyment at the in-law’s customary silliness.
Grampie continued his marching with flair– each step perfectly in synch with the clapping, to his three daughters’ surprise– and raised his cane into the air. On cue, the children began to count off, as he spun around to lead the march before them.
“1! 2! 3! 4!” The family counted off to start the tune, and began the traditional accompaniment for the march (sung to the tune of the chorus of, “I Love a Parade”):
Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn! Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn!
As the family began to sing, Grampie led the parade from the living room into the hallway, and into the kitchen. The circular set-up of the old ranch house allowed the parade to loop around, through the kitchen, and back into the opposite side of the living room. The cyclical nature of the parade path matched the original song, as the lyrics were sung on a loop, over and over, in conjunction with the rhythmic CLAP*CLAP*CLAPPING that kept the beat.
Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn! Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn!
The children joyously sang and danced behind their prancing Grampie, and as they circled back through the living room– past their parents, aunts, uncles, and Nannie– they dutifully displayed the treats they held. The children cavorted by their elders beaming with pride, and each enthusiastically waved their delicious dish or platter (or whipped cream cans) as they skipped down the line.
The three older cousins pulled up the rear, and sarcastically chorus-lined through the living room, unable to suppress their jubilation from the lifelong event. The three “original” participants of Pies on Parade received a special roar of applause as they traipsed through, and all three laughed with a mixture of elation and embarrassment.
Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn! Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn!
As the parade completed its third lap, the Grand Poobah once again raised his fancy cane, indicating the final leg was upon them. The parade couldn’t last forever, and the desserts weren’t going to eat themselves, as he would say. The line caterpillared back into the kitchen, and one final chorus was sung by the attendees.
Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn! Pies on parade! They never will walk, they never will walk, agaaaaaiiiinnnn!
“Woooo! Alright, awesome job, guys!” Nannie congratulated the participants, and sprung up from her chair with vigor, beelining towards the kitchen. The various desserts were being returned to the table as the song and parade ended, and her inherent desire to serve any guests in her home overtook the predilection for relaxation.
“Best Pies on Parade, ever!” The eldest younger cousin proclaimed, as she huddled over the pumpkin pie she had carried, determined to snag the first slice.
After leading the pack into the kitchen, Grampie strode into the living room, and took his expected spot in the corner recliner, while everyone else jockeyed for pie. As he leaned back and let his legs stretch out, he emitted a low groan, and called out to the kitchen.
“Slice of pecan, strawberry rhubarb, and a whoopie pie, please and thank you!” Before finishing his sentence, his oldest grandson emerged with a pair of plates and coffees, including exactly what his Grampie requested. “Oh, yes! You’re a good boy, you are.” He leaned in to whisper with a devilish glint in his eye, “You’re my favorite grandson, you are! Shhh, though, it’s our little secret!”
The old man roared with laughter, and his grand son smiled slightly in return. The boy handed one of the coffees to his Grampie, and raised the other.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Grampie. I love you.”
“I love you, too, my dear boy.” They quietly cheered– each taking a sip of the scalding liquid– and ate their desserts peacefully, as the rest of the family slowly made their way in to join them.