Alison Colby-Campbell, Humor, Nostalgia, photography, Pie and coffee, Uncategorized

Searching for the Good Old Days in a Slice of Pie

When big changes descend upon us and our lack of control basically smacks us across our faces, it’s not unusual to bemoan the loss of simpler times. Or as in my case, to try and recapture the past, even if it wasn’t my own past but a fictionalized version presented on old time television. I wanted, no, I needed pie and coffee. It was the staple of every day life in Mayberry. Every small dilemma could be solved in a 1/2 hour, if you had a slice with a dollop or extended squirt of real whipped cream sidling up next to one of those heavy cream colored porcelain mugs with a swirling contrail spiraling upward into the noisy diner atmosphere. That’s what the world is missing today, more places to sit down and eat pie. Pie as a star attraction, pie as a social occasion, to be enjoyed at a strange afternoon hour that is too early for dinner and too late for lunch. Pie as a solution. It’s funny how after a month of big things that it was the little things that tipped the scale. My husband, Jon, and I wandered through the century old but newly renovated agricultural cooperative store. The new wing of the Essex County Co-op was relegated to excessive dog items. It now offers 33 brands of dog food, some raw, some home cooked, some grain free, etc., and the flavors were beyond exotic, lobster, duck, cod. There were also chocolate bars for humans in chicken and waffle and pork and tater flavors. Bang and bang more knocks upside the head that proved, ‘Times they are a changing’.
Agawam Diner in Rowley, MA (c) Alison Colby-Campbell
‘Change back’, my psyche screamed. Somehow I was able to mask my desperation and calmly suggest in an only slightly quavering voice that we needed to go up the road a piece for a calming pie and coffee. Ever supportive, Jon was on board and we drove to the Agawam Diner, in Rowley. It’s a silver retro place serving all the old time standards, hot dogs, clam cakes, meatloaf, tuna melts, soups of the day, and pie. Lots of different types of pie. So many that it added to my mental angst so I flipped through the songs on the table top jukebox. As an added bonus for like minded people here’s a link to The Musical Time Machine so you can find the music of the era you crave, in the country you associate with home.
Agawam Diner Jukebox selections from Tony Bennett to Shakira, Luther Vandross to Incubus. (c) Alison Colby-Campbell
“Can I get you something to drink?” asked a young, patient, and beautiful waitress (they weren’t called servers back in the day. Hey wait, wasn’t she supposed to be middle aged, gruff and sassy?) That’s when the dream started unraveling. Jon told her that he wanted iced coffee. “That’s the wrong drink.” I thought. “It won’t come in a heavy white mug.” In his defense, it was super warm for early March, in the mid 60s, and I had to admit iced coffee sounded good. Then after repeating the pie list twice, without a decision by me, the waitress left me with her laminated list of a dozen sweet pies and got the wrong coffees exactly as we’d requested. It was in the 4 o’clock hour, with a closer lean to 5 and I asked Jon which pie he was getting, and he pulled the unraveling thread a little farther. “This is going to be it for you, isn’t it; you’re not going to want dinner will you?” I admitted dinner wasn’t likely to be a thing that happened. “Then I’m getting something to eat, but it can’t be too much because they only take cash and I don’t have much, do you?” Ahh, ‘cash only’ just like the old days. Fortunately, and against character, I was carrying enough to eat well if not sumptuously.
Agawam Diner Jon with his pretty dang good chili (c) Alison Colby-Campbell
Jon’s order was typical ‘diner’ if not pie, a bowl of chili with Saltines. He asked for cheddar cheese on top, and was told they only had American cheese. I’m not an American cheese fan, but it was still part of the dream where you didn’t have to deliberate over such an overwhelming number of choices. Maybe not so good for the chili, but good for my quest of simpler times. We discussed sneaking in a Ziploc bag filled with aged cheddar on our next visit. Jon ordered it plain and with the first spoonful smiled the smile that said, ‘this is pretty good’. On the off chance I couldn’t read his smile, he said it out loud.  ‘This is pretty good.” I’d narrowed my pie choices down to three: coconut cream, mixed berry, and pecan before torturously coming to the decision that mixed berry was my pie as long as they had ‘ala mode’. “We have vanilla ice cream, but we don’t have a microwave so the pie will be room temperature.” Wow, no microwave that’s so retro, but also contemporary, hadn’t many restaurants stopped using them.  I nearly asked her to rest my slice atop the oven for a few minutes to warm it up, but decided I didn’t need to be such a bother. These were in fact simpler times when you enjoyed what you got and didn’t ask a small local diner to handcraft a unique and disruptive dish for one person, though I might have liked a cappuccino, too, had that been a possibility, maybe grande decaf mocha with two pumps chocolate, no whipped, and unsweetened coconut milk.
Agawam Diner mixed berry pie ala mode. Photo (c) Alison Colby-Campbell
She rested the pie on the Formica table top. It was thick and dense with tart and sweet berries and not one but two scoops of rich ice cream – the perfect pie. I ate my slice slowly, savoring a moment of relative calm with my main (read only) squeeze. They say you can never go back, but we did, for about 45-minutes, and though I am decidedly a contemporary gal (save for some technology issues) who loves unique cheeses, barista crafted coffees, who thinks ‘Indian’ logos from the 1940s are questionable at best, who typically travels confidently with just a debit card, I know we need places like this. Places to chill with room temperature pie, places that remember because they are authentic old style rather than ‘vintage themed’. When I watched the Andy Griffith Show in black and white co-starring a toddler-sized Ron Howard as Opie, I  didn’t know that Andy had set the show in contemporary times (the 1960s) but in his mind, it was a throwback to the 1930s. He’d been seeking a simpler time, too. Photos and Text (c) Alison Colby-Campbell
Agawam Diner Photo (c) Jonathan W Campbell

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