Our girlfriends wanted to go to the winter prom, but my friend Jonathan and I wanted to do it on the cheap. Instead of renting tuxedos, we would wear suits. And instead of taking them to a fancy restaurant for dinner, we would cook for them at my house. Neither of us knew much about cooking, but my mom, an excellent cook, agreed to help.
“What’s this?” asked Wendy. “Chocolate cream pie,” I answered helpfully. “It’s like soup,” said Jean.
In practice, this meant we spent the afternoon with my mom in the kitchen, helping her. But when we ushered Jean and Wendy into the dining room, decked out with china, candles, and flowers, it seemed like we’d made the right choice. And when they raved about the full-course meal of steak, mushrooms, baked potato, and asparagus, we thought we were home free.
We cleared the dinner plates and I brought out a chocolate cream pie. It looked beautiful. It was the only course that Jon and I hadn’t at least helped with. My Mom had prepared it alone.
But something was wrong. I needed a spoon to serve it onto the dessert plates.
“What’s this?” asked Wendy.
“Chocolate cream pie,” I answered helpfully.
“It’s like soup,” said Jean. The chocolate filling hadn’t set.
All of us picked at it, not quite sure how to eat it. We looked at each other awkwardly.
Jon looked at us slyly and ventured a quote from Tennyson. “Ours is not to reason why—“ he began.
“Ours is but to eat the pie!” we all chimed in. And dissolved into laughter. Which was repeated many times during the evening.
More than forty years later, I have little memory of my winter prom itself. But I will always remember that pie—and I’ll bet Wendy, Jean, and Jon do too.
John Unger Zussman is a creative and corporate storyteller and a co-founder of Retrospect.