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Pilfered peach pie packs a punch

Story illustrates there’s more than meets the eye

There is a story that came out of the Civil War – a not-young woman had attached herself to an infantry unit.

She did little oddments of work and gradually worked her way into a position with the unit. The men appreciated her work and help and called her “Mother.”

Ultimately, she was placed in the unit’s kitchen, where she proved a good cook. Her affection for “my boys” remained steadfast. A short, stocky figure, she did her work in her camp kitchen, and the men loved her.

One day, someone brought in a box of peaches, and she set to making some pies. But the aroma of the baking pies drew the attention of other officers, who came and helped themselves generously to the pies she had intended for the ill and injured.

Protests did no good.

She was, after all, 1, a woman, 2, non-commissioned, and 3, totally without official status. The officials to whom she protested were themselves among the raiders. The men grumbled, but what could they do?

Later, a second batch of fruit arrived, and again the cook baked pies, which smelled glorious and attractive as they lined up on the cookhouse windowsills.

Again, the raiding officers entered and helped themselves generously.

Again, there were fruitless protests. Who cared what a graying woman without status or influence said?

But those who knew her knew that the set of that jaw meant something.

The next batch of pies was set on the windowsill to cool, as had happened before, and the raiding officers followed the enticing scent and ate generously. But all was not well.

A growing line of men was forming at the latrines. The cook had laced the peaches with a strong cathartic, and the raiding officers were wretched.

As the cook and her crew watched, the miserable raiders left the area and did not come back until the next day. Again, there was nothing that could be done.

Everyone knew what had been going on and those who had missed the last raid suddenly felt better about missing it.

And somehow everyone knew there could be no prosecution in a case like this.

I do not remember either the title or the author of this story. It would be nice to report what became ultimately of the doughy little woman who fought unfair privilege with pies – and won.

Elizabeth Widel is a columnist for The Chronicle. This is the 2,890th column in a series. She may be reached at 509-826-1110.

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