Patty Griffin’s beautiful song “Making Pies”, from her 2002 album 1000 Kisses, always finds a way back into my heart during the holidays. This year it was the sight of an elderly African American man walking down Gwinnett Street in Savannah on Thanksgiving morning. He was carrying a single bag from Kroger and his steps were heavy and his head hung down. I wondered what was in the bag and how far he had to walk and who, if anyone, he was sharing his Thanksgiving with.
You see, Griffin’s song isn’t really about pies, it’s a song about living the life we have as opposed to the life we imagined. Griffin paints an unforgettable picture of a middle aged woman filled with loss who gets up at 5am every day and walks to her job at the Table Talk pie factory. We gleam so much about her life from so few words~~ a sweetheart killed in the war, a nephew she adores and a parish Priest she does some typing for because “it gets me out and he ain’t hard to like.” These men, past and present, fill the voids in her own life and give her the strength to get up every day and put one foot in front of the other. The fourth man in her life, a picture of Christ hanging on the wall in Father Mike’s office, is the one she seems the most removed from.
I’ve often wondered how Griffin, who grew up in rural Maine, came to write this song. The Table Talk is an actual Pie Company/Factory in Worcester, MA, founded in 1924 and still in operation today. In it’s early years, the town’s workers were a mix of Italian and Greek immigrants which Griffin makes reference to in the song: “Did I show you this picture of my sweetheart taken of us before the war? A Greek and his Italian girl one Sunday at the shore”. It feels like such a personal song, as if it was someone she knew.
I’ve had a few robust arguments with people over the years about this song. Some find it too depressing to listen to. I choose to the see the hope in it. The end of the song soars and the refrain of “making pies, making pies, I’m making pies” feels like a mantra of hope to just keep going; as if the sheer routine of it- and making something that others enjoy- might just be enough.
However you interpret it, it’s one of Griffin’s most beautifully written and wrought songs. A decade later, it still both breaks and mends by heart.