This is the second installment of a group of memoirs about my travelings through a small town in New Glarus, Wisconsin. To read the first installment, go here.
The bright July sun baked the inhabitants of southwestern Wisconsin that year. My family once again stopped by New Glarus on the way home from our camping property. We were disappointed to find that the New Glarus Bakery no longer operated their upstairs cafe, only the storefront bakery was open. It was my first lesson in the fact that each moment must be enjoyed to the fullest because it is a rare occasion when its luxury can be repeated. My best friend since kindergarten was with my family this time. She, being two years older than I, had already past the awkward first stages of womanhood, and was flashing her perfectly shaped legs in short, shorts, on the street side of the sidewalk. I, on the other hand, still had braids in my hair.
As a weekend destination, many of the restaurants for tourists were not open during the day on weekdays. Our options were limited. So, mother led the way to a little bar next to the bakery. As we walked in, we felt the eyes of many small town regulars follow every move we made. Even though the quaint town had become a place tourists stopped by, it was evident that we had tread upon sacred ground reserved for locals only.
The room was a cave compared to the light of the summer day. The odor of cigarettes and beer were very unfamiliar to me. My family of faith included generations of ministers, and an atmosphere like this was completely foreign to me. Shortly after choosing our table, it seemed that the staring eyes were finally able to tear themselves away from the cityfolk who had invaded their territory.
Trying to feel more at ease, my mother’s eyes roamed the room. “Look girls,” she coaxed, “A jukebox! I haven’t seen one of those in years.” And handing each of us a quarter, we edged our way toward the wall with the currently quiet contraption. Due to my sheltered childhood, I struggled to find a familiar tune.
“There!” I said to my friend, “Eye of the Tiger! Isn’t that from the new Rocky movie?”
I can not tell you the stir our choice started. If it wasn’t obvious before that we didn’t belong there, it was completely obvious now. But undaunted, we were determined to have a good time. Noticing a pool table in the middle of the room, we asked my parents if we could try playing. Notice the word TRY. I had never played pool before in my life.
My friend, thoroughly enjoying every cowboy-want-to-be eye on her, began stretching across the table every which way. Next, it was my turn. BAM! My ball went across the table onto the floor. There was a long collective draw-in breath. I looked up, afraid to make eye contact with anyone, but looking for some reassurance. Finally, one man in overalls and a baseball cap with the name of a manure company embroidered on it, smiled… then chuckled, and pretty soon he was slapping his knee and laughing. Slowly, like the “Hallelujah Chorus” one man joined in, and then another, and another…until I was laughing too.
Suddenly, we were no longer on foreign soil. We had become a part of the town of New Glarus. We belonged. Looking back on it, the scene reminds me of the movie “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” when he has offended the inhabitants of a biker’s club and they threaten to kill him. Giving him one final request, he plays a song on the jukebox and dances for them winning everyone over….except we didn’t get a free motorcycle.
Has an event ever seemed to break the spell of an unfamiliar and unfriendly place? Tell us about it.
Go here for next story…