ELSIE KELLER HAS BEEN at the country church for hours already when I discover “The Pie Room” at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, and slip inside. Sandwiched between the social room and a hallway into the fellowship hall, this galley way serves as 85-year-old Elsie’s work station during the Nerstrand area congregation’s annual Ice Cream Social.
For some four decades—so says Elsie’s son, Craig Keller, because his mother has lost count—this petite farm woman has sliced and plated the (mostly) homemade pies donated by church members. On this Sunday, they’ve brought 43 pies for the long-time summer event sponsored by the youth fellowship group.
With a fan positioned outside The Pie Room, Elsie settles onto a tabletop-high wooden stool, pies to her right, pies in front of her and frozen pies to her left, back in a freezer. A stack of hefty plates are positioned on a cart nearby.
Through an open wall window, this life-time St. John’s member passes the scooped pies into the kitchen, where whole pies are tucked away in cupboards with masking tape labels—blue berry (sic), pumpkin, pecan, pineapple…
Two lists are also taped onto a freezer—one a list of pies, the other a list of pie donors like Mildred Tatge, Norma Meyer and Diane Bauer. The Kellers have brought three chocolate and three strawberry pies. Elsie made the Crisco crusts (no lard for her; I ask) for the berry pies and Craig made the fillings for all six.
I’m told, not by Elsie but by another volunteer, that some of those attending the Ice Cream Social will request a specific pie made by a specific person. Lemon meringue, Elsie’s favorite, is already gone by the time I arrive around 6 p.m.
Diners line up at the kitchen counter to first select a piece of pie, carefully positioned to one side of a dinner plate, before choosing from the other a la carte menu items of BBQs, ham sandwiches, potato salad, cake, ice cream and sundaes.
Back in The Pie Room, Elsie keeps cutting and plating those pies. This has always been her job and she just keeps doing it, smiling as she works. Ask her why she continues with a task that gives her blisters, from struggling to slice those frozen pies, and she simply says, “I like working with the kids.”
She also loves the church where she was baptized, confirmed and married, belongs to the Women’s Guild and teams up with another member each fall to prepare the German potato salad for St. John’s annual German Fest, this year on Sunday, September 25.
Elsie reminds me several times that I should come for German Fest and I promise I will try to be there.
Then a teenaged boy interrupts, tells Elsie he needs more pie. She grips the edge of a pie tin in her left hand, slides a spatula under a generous piece of pumpkin pie with her right hand and deftly slips it onto a plate.
© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling