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Home --> Embarrassments --> Celebrity Encounters --> Keep Your Fork

Keep Your Fork

Legend:   Visiting Royal being feted is told "Keep your fork; there'll be pie."

Examples:

[Collected on the Internet, 1996]

Shortly after he married Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip was on a tour of Canada and as part of the tour he went up north to one of the Inuit communities. The ladies of the village organized a meal for all the visitors at the community centre and as they were clearing the plates from supper one middle-aged woman warmly said, "hold on to your fork, Prince, there's pie."
 

[Collected via e-mail, 1998]

We were told that the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire visited Prince George, B.C. (Canada) in September 1919. The Duke of Devonshire was Governor General of Canada from 1916 to 1921. A banquet was arranged in honor of the official party. The local ladies sent to Edmonton for appropriate dress. The highlight of the visit was a horse race down Third Ave. The Duke's aide on this visit was Harold MacMillan, then a young man, but later to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. A colorful local legend has it that during the banquet in their honor, as the table was being cleared between courses, the waiter leaned over and whispered to the Duke, "Hold your fork, Duke, the pie is coming."

Variations:  
  • The list of Royals supposedly so instructed includes (but certainly isn't limited to): Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh), Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles, and the Duke of Devonshire.
  • Various Canadian towns and cities have been said to have been the site of the incident, including Sudbury, Prince George, and Yellowknife.
Origins:   This story is particularly well-known in Canada, so much so that one need only allude to it for most folks to recognize the anecdote and grasp its implicit message about the warm, unpretentious nature of Canadians. (For instance, a 1992 newspaper article about local restaurants chose to describe one eatery Fork simply as a "Keep your fork, Duke, there's pie" kind of place, its writer understanding such portrayal would immediately convey all that needed to be said about the nature of the establishment being reviewed.)

How long the legend has been in circulation is a mystery. According to The Vancouver Sun, the late Peter Gzowski worked at tracing its origins during one of his broadcasts, saying it happened (if it happened at all) in a northern British Columbia diner sometime between 1911 and 1916 and involved the governor-general at the time, the Duke of Connaught, not Prince Philip (the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Elizabeth II.) Whatever its true age, the story does clearly predate the reign of Elizabeth II and so could not have starred the Duke of Edinburgh in the pivotal role. (Prince Philip, unlike Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, was never officially appointed Prince Consort.)

Yet Prince Philip is by far the Royal most often said to have been told to retain his fork by the helpful waitress. In this the legend has evolved to use contrast to more strongly make its point, because the Duke of Edinburgh is known for his high-handed treatment of those who attend him and thus would be especially unlikely to accept such familiarity with good grace. The adjectives most commonly used in describing his behavior towards others are haughty, uncompromising, abrasive, and brusque. (He is, however, mercurial and can be unexpectedly good-humored at odd moments, so it would not be correct to utterly rule out a tolerant response to such a breach of etiquette.) A familiar joke plays on public knowledge of his temperament:
[The Daily Telegraph, 2001]

"There's a marvellous story," said a former courtier, "that, after Sir Michael Adeane, who'd been the Queen's secretary for 20 years, had retired, he suddenly started roaring with laughter while shaving one morning. 'What on earth are you laughing about?' asked his wife. 'Oh,' he replied, 'I just thought: I'll never have to work with that man [Prince Philip] again!"'
By contrast, the serving person who advises against prematurely surrendering the cutlery is (in the versions we've seen, anyway) always a woman. Moreover, she is often described as an Inuit or an older person, either of which qualifiers position her in the story as someone out of touch with the protocols of waiting upon visiting dignitaries, let alone royalty. Her advice is motherly, and those who hear the legend assume it would be received as such; even that quite possibly its object would welcome the breath of fresh air:
[Collected on the Internet, 1996]

Everyone who hears it smiles that someone could be so unaffected that she doesn't realize that of course a prince would normally get a separate fork for almost every bite of food. And to think of the concern that the prince's handlers would have over the breach of protocol. But there is always agreement, "I bet the prince liked it that way," says one of the listeners to the story.
The nature of the proffered dessert also tells the story of the Royal having been dropped into a Canadian backwater marked by the simplicity of its warm-hearted inhabitants. Pie is a down-home confection which cannot be mistaken for anything other than an unpretentious closing act to a meal. Whereas any number of sweets commonly made at home and served in casual family settings also have more upscale expressions, pie stands alone in this regard — there is no swank version of it, at least not as a final course. The legend therefore demands the motherly server to advertise that "there'll be pie" rather than cake, pudding, or some other dessert.

Though it shares a fork retention meme with the "Keep your fork, Duke; there'll be pie" legend, the following tale should not be confused with it:
[Collected on the Internet, 2001]

Keep Your Fork

There was a young woman who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness and had been given three months to live. So as she was getting her things "in order," she contacted her pastor and had him come to her house to discuss certain aspects of her final wishes. She told him which songs she wanted sung at the service, what scriptures she would like read, and what outfit she wanted to be buried in.

Everything was in order and the pastor was preparing to leave when the young woman suddenly remembered something very important to her. "There's one more thing," she said excitedly.

"What's that?" came the pastor's reply.

"This is very important," the young woman continued. "I want to be buried with a fork in my right hand."

The pastor stood looking at the young woman, not knowing quite what to say.

"That surprises you, doesn't it?" the young woman asked.

"Well, to be honest, I'm puzzled by the request," said the pastor.

The young woman explained. "My grandmother once told me this story, and from there on out, I have always done so. I have also, always tried to pass along its
message to those I love and those who are in need of encouragement.

'In all my years of attending church socials and potluck dinners, I always remember that when the dishes of the main course were being cleared, someone would inevitably lean over and say, 'Keep your fork' It was my favorite part because I knew that something better was coming ... like velvety chocolate cake or deep-dish apple pie. Something wonderful, and with substance!' So, I just want people to see me there in that casket with a fork in my hand and I want them to wonder "What's with the fork?". Then I want you to tell them: "Keep your fork ... the best is yet to come." The pastor's eyes welled up with tears of joy as he hugged the young woman good-bye.

He knew this would be one of the last times he would see her before her death. But he also knew that the young woman had a better grasp of heaven than he did. She had a better grasp of what heaven would be like than many people twice her age, with twice as much experience and knowledge. She KNEW that something better was coming.

At the funeral people were walking by the young woman's casket and they saw the pretty dress she was wearing and the fork placed in her right hand. Over and over, the pastor heard the question

"What's with the fork?" And over and over he smiled. During his message, the pastor told the people of the conversation he had with the young woman shortly before she died. He also told them about the fork and about what it symbolized to her.

The pastor told the people how he could not stop thinking about the fork and told them that they probably would not be able to stop thinking about it either.

He was right.

So the next time you reach down for your fork, let it remind you ever so gently, that the best is yet to come.

Friends are a very rare jewel, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share a word of praise, and they always want to open their hearts to us.

Show your friends how much you care. Remember to always be there for them, even when you need them more. For you never know when it may be their time to "Keep your fork."

Cherish the time you have, and the memories you share ... being friends with someone is not an opportunity but a sweet responsibility.

Send this to everyone you consider a FRIEND even if it means sending back to the person who sent it to you.

And keep your fork.
The version quoted above (which has been circulated widely in e-mail), is a rewrite of the 1994 Roger William Thomas short story "Keep Your Fork," which appears in the 1996 best-seller A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Barbara "fork lifted" Mikkelson

Last updated:   20 May 2005

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  Sources Sources:
    Barnes, Sally.   "Summer Replacements Fill in for Usual Headliners."
    The Toronto Sun.   29 August 1994   (p. 12).

    Beatty, Jim.   "Here's 'Yer' Guide to Royal Protocol."
    The Vancouver Sun.   4 October 2002   (p. A9).

    Colombo, John Robert.   The Penguin Book of More Canadian Jokes.
    Toronto: Penguin Canada, 2003.   (p. 459).

    Foley, Shirley.   "Buffet Lunch a Good Buy at No-Frills Restaurant."
    The Ottawa Citizen.   12 March 1992   (p. C5).

    Horton, Marc.   "Rule Britannia: Blood, Especially the Blue Sort, Is Thicker Than Water, Say Authors."
    Calgary Herald.   2 February 2002   (p. ES10).

    Thomas, Roger William.   "Keep Your Fork."  
    From: Canfield, Jack (editor).   A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul.
        Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 1996   ISBN 1-55874-747-8.  : (pp. 186-188)

    Visser, Margaret.   The Rituals of Dinner.
    New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.   (p. 215).

    The Daily Telegraph.   "Prince Philip: The Most Complex and Interesting Royal of Them All."
    The Vancouver Sun.   1 June 2001   (p. A12).