Sauer Kraut Day in East Dubuque

A graduate of Exeter and Harvard, RICHARD BISSELL knows our inland waterwaysthe Ohio, the Monongahela, and the Mississippi (on all of which he worked as a mate or a pilot) — as well as Mark Twain knew them. From this river experience came the source material for his first novel, A Stretch on the River. He is the coauthor of The Pajama Game, a highly successful musical comedy based on his second novel, 7½ Cents; and his third, High Water, made its debut last autumn under the Atlantic-Little, Brown imprint.

by RICHARD BISSELL

WELL just lemme tell you about Sauer Kraut Day if you think so much of Adolph Kramer. Mind I don‘t say Adolph ain’t a big man, he has made a mint of money off his place and I don’t begrudge him none of it. He carries on an entirely different type operation than we do here even if he is right across the street. I guess he’s about the biggest man around this part of Western Illinois whereas I am small, a small man and not a wit ashamed of it. I‘ll stay in my nish and Adolph can stay in his nish and we‘ll all be happy. But just to give you an idea on how careless he is with money just listen to Sauer Kraut Day.

See, we have a Tavern Keepers Association over here, so we got the idea of putting on a Sauer Kraut Day. Tiny Obermiller was up in Wisconsin into some little two bit town up there where the mosquitoes is as big as sparrow hawks, and they had a Sauer Kraut Day — give away free sauer kraut and bulieners you know — only wait a minute, seems to me they charged for the bulieners — anyway they drew 17,000 people into town and the taverns really cleaned up as well as lots of business for the other merchants. So we decided to do the same and we called on Bernie Kennedy to go out and collect $200.00. That’s what they said would take care of everything, just $200.00. Well Bernie said O.K. but then he backed out because we decided to put the sauer kraut stand by the firehouse and he claimed it was too far from his place and he wouldn’t get no good out of it at atll. As far as that there aspect is concerned look at me here, I was the furtherest away from the center of the fun of anybody. Every tavern on the street was closer than me. But I figured what the hell, let’s get the yokels streamin into town, so I said I would go out and collect the $200.00. So I went out and collected from everybody and when I was done I had $950.00 and I was proud. And I figured if all we need is $200.00 and I got $950.00, why we are in a fine shape. But oh my.

So we had Sauer Kraut Day and what a mob. They come all the way from up at Platteville and way down to Savanna and there was folks here from Prairie du Chien and a whole crowd naturally come across the bridge from Dubuque. Well it is a lot of fun and of course there’s quite a few folks don’t care too much for sauer kraut but they come anyway just to see the people, it gives them an excuse to go someplace just for a little excitement. That’s only human nature. So they come in droves and they ate kraut till hell wouldn’t stand for it and they drank beer. It was a nice crowd and no trouble, just out for a good time, no fights or nothing like that, nothing serious anyways, and now you take on an ordinary day like that say I ring up maybe $50.00 here, why that day and evening I rung up $375.00. Now I call that worth while, don’t you? So I thought Sauer Kraut Day was a pretty nice thing. But oh my.

Adolph Kramer was in charge of the arrangements and the finance and well it was a fright. To a big man like him I guess money don‘t mean nothing, but Jesus, this wasn’t his money to begin with, but that didn‘t hold him back none. The bills! The way them bills begun to come in you never seen such a thing in your life. The first one I seen was $150.00 for the rent on the tent. $150.00.

Ed Sohovik he brought the bill over to me together with the ones from the brewery and like that, and a lot of other crazy ones too. So I sent my boy Cletus acrost the street, to see if Adolph could set his brandy down long enough to come over and see us for a few minutes. Great brandy drinker this hero Adolph is, twenty-year-old stuff — he gets it from some importer in Chicago and he is at it all day long not to mention the evenings, nights, and National Holidays.

Cletus come back and says Mr. Kramer he is out to his stables. That‘s another hot one, him and his stables. You know he bought the old Marshall farm out on the road to Hurricane and has a couple of plugs. He calls them Kentucky Thoroughbreds but I believe the closest them nags ever come to Kentucky was the blue grass country west of Milwaukee. Him and that girl friend of his from South Chicago go out there and they put on some swell parties I hear though I never been invited as I am not high enough up for them and like to take my shoes off when my feet hurt.

“We’ll climb in my car and go out there and see him, shall we?” Ed says.

“In a pig‘s eye we will,” I says. “I ain’t kowing and towing to no Adolph Kramer,” I says. “I‘ll call him up and tell him to get off of Spark Plug and come in to see us.”

So about an hour later in comes Adolph and the girl friend and I must say one thing for him, he can sure pick ‘em and train ‘em. This dame had on an outfit that must of cost an M if it cost a dime, and the looks to match.

Adolph he had on them skinny pants that bulge sideways at the top, and the riding boots and all. He was a sight to behold. His girl set down at one end of the bar and I give her what she wanted, a sloe gin fizz, and got out my dusty bottle of Hennessy brandy which had been idle since the last time Adolph honored us with his company, and I told him we had a handful of bills here to pay and we wasn‘t too satisfied with them.

“Take this here bill for the tent, Adolph,” I says.

“What about it?” he says. “It was a good tent, wasn‘t it?”

“Yes,” I says. “But my God we didn’t need no $150.00 tent, Adolph,” I says.

“Well, we had one,” he says. “And everybody liked it real fine.”

“For $150.00 we shoulda kept it,” I says.

“Well, we hadda have a tent, Fritz.”

“I wished I had paid more attention to it,” I says. “I would of gone and stood in it for awhile and got some enjoyment out of it if I’d knowed it was a $150.00 tent.”

Next off the reel here is a bill for a case of Kinsey whiskey. “ Where’d the case of Kinsey go? ” I says. “We didn‘t sell no whiskey,” I says.

“That was for the Committee,” he says. “Didn’t you get none?”

No I didn‘t, I says. “But I see it was bought from your place without no discount. Seems like since you was selling the whiskey for our own consumption you might of give us an inside price.”

“Leo must of sent out the bill,” he says. “I didn’t have nothing to do with it.”

Well there was $5.74 for Fig Newtons. I suppose somebody on the Committee was a Fig Newton addick but I let that pass. And the rent for the kettles to cook the kraut in, $9.38. I don‘t see how nobody with some kettles to rent arrives at no figure like $9.38 but it was reasonable enough by comparison so I left that go by. And paper napkins come to $41.00 but Adolph says they was no way to get around it. As he pointed out, you can‘t issue no fancy invitation and get people coming in from all over to eat free sauor kraut and then hold back on the paper napkins, it would create the entirely wrong impression, and I must admit I was forced to agree with him for once. Next there was a bill from the lumber yard for over a hundred dollars for lumber for the counters and all, but as Adolph’s brother-in-law Frank runs the lumber yard I knew it was useless to go into that.

But when I come to the Jaegelinder cheese I balked. “$28.00 for two Jaegelinder cheeses,” I says. “All the cheese I seen was ordinary rat cheese and not much of that.”

“You was too busy with your cash register,” he says.

“Yes,” I says. “You must of been pretty busy yourself, eating cheese.”

But the next bill was a daisy, $65.00 it was, for crackers. “$65.00 for crackers!” I says. “Why Adolph, I was down there all day and I never seen a cracker. What do you suppose happened to them crackers?”

“How do I know?” Adolph says. “Anyway they was delivered, because here’s the bill.”

“I see the bill,” I says. “But I don’t see no crackers. Somebody sure has a lot of crackers in his back room and I hope he gets one stuck into his windpipe.”

Well it went that way all the way down. So we begun to pro rate the bills: Crackers, $65.00. So we marked down “Crackers, $25.00.” Well even so the bills for that God damn Sauer Kraut Day come to $1500.00. Can you imagine a thing like that? There‘s your big Adolph Kramer for you, why he like to broke the organization.

Didn’t we make no money on the public beer stand, you say? Oh yes, we made a killing there. We had eleven kegs of beer and we sold it at ten cents a glass. Oh that was a very big deal — verybig. The total receipts on it was just exactly $112.00. Where the rest of the money went to, you stand there and guess if you want to, but don’t ask me or nobody else because you won‘t get no answer.

That was seven years ago and we ain‘t eiidulged in no more Sauer Kraut Days and I ain‘t about to, even if they do have it again like they are talking about now. “Go ahead and have her, boys,” I says. “And be sure to get a nice big tent. But count me clear out. because I ain’t ready to go.”

“And listen, boys,” I says. “Be sure to buy plenty of crackers.”

You want another beer?

Frankly, sauer kraut gives me the heartburn anyways.