Monday, April 19, 2010

In heaven there is no beer

I started out thinking about the disappearance of really cold snaps during Montana winters during the past decade: warming that, without -20 to-30 degree periods, has allowed pine beetles to thrive, killing a whole bunch of trees. Then my mind wandered to all those really cold spells in which I grew up in northwestern Wisconsin. In Eau Claire, at the confluences of the solidly frozen Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, a car's tires (before radial tires) would freeze flat where they touched the ground. As my Dad would drive my sister and me to school in the morning, the tires would thump for several miles until the friction would warm them up enough to get round again.

Thinking about Wisconsin, my mind wandered farther, thinking about that state's culture. By my time, the cities were becoming large, but the little agricultural-supporting towns at the intersections of highways retained their pioneer beginnings. For instance, central and west-central roads heading north-south in Wisconsin still would alternate: German Catholic, Norwegian Lutheran, German Lutheran, etc. A tavern in one town might feature a bowl of raw hamburger on the bar; a church basement in the next, 20 miles up the road, might be serving lutefisk. (Hard to know which was the more lethal.)

But, as my mind continued to wander, I remembered those county roads that crossed the main roads somewhere halfway between the little towns. At almost every corner was a roadhouse - a bar with a big dance floor that really bounced on a Saturday night.

People came from everywhere, nearby towns of every religious persuasion and farms from all points of the compass. A band would be playing a polka - "In heaven there is no beer; that's why we drink it here!" - and pint-sized granddaughters would be dancing with their granddads, young people would be swinging themselves around, and mothers and fathers would be stepping pretty with their kids. There were no arguments, no fights. Everybody was having a good time, and everybody would get up Sunday morning to attend one church or another.

I might be sitting at the bar with some friends, there because we could get served, enjoying a scene I sort of miss.

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