We head Up the Road this week to the Nord Country School in tiny Nord, California. This spot in the road just northwest of Chico, central to cattle, fruit tree, and nut ranches, puts on some of the best community events anywhere. When was the last time you went to a pie auction? The next one is coming right up, Saturday night at the Chico Elks Club, and you won’t want to miss it. Tickets are still available through the school, or online through EventBrite.
Before the school board voted in 2005 to shutter it, and then to allow the community to reopen it as a charter school, Nord School was both the smallest and the oldest school in the Chico Unified School District. It was known as the Missouri Bend School when it first opened its doors in 1867. The following year it was renamed Mt. Diablo Meridian School—the area’s Meridian Road, today, being a remnant of that title. The school took on its current and lasting name in 1872, when Nord was established along the Central Pacific Rail Line—at the time, the northernmost valley community in Butte County, nord meaning “north” in French.
The purpose of the pie auction is to generate some serious money to support school enrichment programs, which the event has done successfully for more than a decade. It’s immediately clear just how important pies are to the evening’s festivities. They are all on display in front of the auctioneer’s stand. Every five minutes or so, an earnest young Nord School student carefully picks up one of these home-baked miracles—everything from chocolate-peanut butter pie to handpicked wild blackberry pie—and slowly walks it through the hungry crowd, waving it in people’s faces as they wait to belly up to the BBQ table for a feast of Santa Maria-style tri-tip, pinquito beans, French bread, and salad. No sooner do you manage to staunch the drool than another adorable child, with an even more adorable pie, wanders by. And the pies are all listed, with detailed descriptions, in the auction brochure, so you can pine for them over and over again.
When the bidding starts, it’s not about being hungry. It’s your own fault if you’re hungry, because if you can shovel in seconds at dinner, they’re usually available. No, it’s psychological torture—a tune-up to get everyone lusting after pie—starting with so-called “dessert.” Not everyone, not even every table, will be able to buy a pie, alas, and none is available by the slice, at any price. So the Nord Country School folks have the kids hand out those itsy-bitsy, kindergarten-size ice cream cups, with four ounces of ice cream each, along with a tiny wooden spoon, just like the ones you got in grammar school. Not nearly enough. Barely a palate cleaner.
The bidders—you’ll get your own auction paddle, once you sign up—are no less canny than event organizers. Most of us outsiders can only guess why bidding is so competitive and cutthroat, gasping as bids start climbing into the thousands. Thousands of dollars for a pie! And with a professional auctioneer at the gavel, things get exciting fast.
Maybe so-and-so’s brother-in-law from the feed-and-seed is competing with his brother, over at farm credit, a little friendly sibling rivalry. Or maybe it’s whoever owes the most to the bank. That was my dad’s explanation for my younger brother David’s 4-H steers, even that mindless beast that dragged him by the lead rope from one end of the show ring to the other. David always got top auction dollar. Slowly, we kids were learning how small towns work—some might say, how life works.
So consider coming to this year’s Nord Country School Pie Auction, and spend your extra cash on an excellent small-town education.