It took courage and faith for my now husband Robert to come live with me in southern Wisconsin. It was a long, twelve hours away from his home in Joplin, Missouri. He didn’t know if the love would last. He didn’t have a job. He didn’t know when I might try to sic my German Shepherd Dog on him, again, the way I did when he first tried to court me.
Still, he threw caution to the wind for the hope of eternal love and made a good bet.
Robert had been with me for about a month when we took a little road trip to visit some friends. Emerald green corn fields raced by on both sides of the county roads. They were interrupted only by the red barns, topless silos and mature trees of intermittent homesteads. I looked at the clock. It was well past noon. It didn’t take long before I spotted a restaurant-bar on the next four way stop. Well, to be honest, there’s a bar-restaurant on nearly every corner in Wisconsin, but I noticed this one because I was hungry and it was there just when I needed it.
We received the typical once-over from the locals as we walked to our table. Four guys in various styles of lumberjack flannel and their buddy, who was wearing a hunting jacket adorned with accoutrements of blaze orange patches, were sitting at the bar gently handling their beer glasses. Bass Pro Shop, U of W, John Deere, Milwaukee Brewers and what was probably a high school team logo donned their caps which were in various stages of deterioration and filth. At the far end of the room there was a dusty Moose Head mounted above an obsolete jukebox and a couple of trophy large-mouth bass hanging over an old chest freezer. Taped upon the avocado green deep-freeze was a cardboard sign with hand written prices of various fishing baits. It was curling at the corners where the silver duct tape had worn off.
“Two Blue Moons,” we requested of the waitress who handed us less-than-pristine, plastic coated menus. The stitching on mine was pulled out because the metal corner had fallen off months, perhaps years earlier. I glanced at Robert who seemed as much apprehensive as mesmerized at what he was reading. In the short time we had lived together, there was something I had discovered about him. Robert had a tough time negotiating a restaurant menu. If there were too many items, he entered into culinary overload. He seemed especially challenged when making the choice between cheddar, Swiss, American or provolone cheese on his burger. It was one thing to have the option of bacon – that was a no brainer – the answer was always affirmative. But, deciding upon the mushroom Swiss or the burger with barbeque sauce and cheddar seemed to cause his brain to freeze up. I could tell this menu was going to cause him some grief, so I calmly said, “Let’s just relax and enjoy our beers. I am in no hurry to get back in the car right away.”
He has this furrow in his brow that is slightly unevenly placed between his eyes that deepens when Robert is struggling to make the all-important decision about what to eat. Maybe that comes from ten years in the military where he had no choice. I suppose that pulling out a can of Spam was often the better of two evils. Maybe, he just wasn’t exposed to sufficient variety as a child. Regardless of the root cause, it was a struggle for him to make a decision. I knew what I was going to order, but was holding back sharing it. I wanted to alleviate any pressure the proclamation might have over my man.
Then, it happened. Robert moved out of the burger section of the menu and all hell broke loose. He paused, cocked his head and glanced my way. His eyes dropped back to the menu and he spoke.
“What’s a bratwurst?”
Swoosh- snap! Swoosh-snap! In near perfect unison, four Flannel-Men whipped their heads around and focused their gaze directly upon us. The fifth guy was a bit slower because his initial response had so much detonation behind it that he had to reach for his cap. It would have flown off his head had he continued gyrating towards us. While they turned so quickly that I felt a mild breeze hit my face as their bodies wafted french-fry-scented air towards our table, they were still able to protect their glasses of beer from even the slightest bobble; an admirable trait, I must admit. They weren’t going to spill their beer over it, but they had to catch a glimpse of who, perhaps better to say “what sort of creature” would utter those words; “What’s a bratwurst?”
Just a few years earlier I had moved from northern Illinois (Chicago Bears territory) to Wisconsin. A year later the Packers won a spot in the Super Bowl. The morning of that “blessed event” I attempted to pick up some items at the local supermarket, but it was closed for the day. Apparently, Super Bowl Sunday was considered an official holiday in Wisconsin. Those cheese-heads take their football seriously. What I learned that beautiful summer day, sipping Blue Moon at a corner bar, is that Wisconsinites hold their State sausage in similar high regard. Questioning brats was pretty darn close to asking “who’s Green Bay’s quarterback?”
“Why don’t you get the double cheese burger with cheddar and bacon?” I slightly pleaded. After all, there was no reason to spill beer on a Sunday.