I Need a Drink

Frankfort Tavern, aka “Gracie’s”

When I was a kid back in the nineteen fifties Mom often sent me to look for Dad. It was always on a Sunday afternoon. I knew exactly where to look for him. At the end of our block just a half-dozen houses away from home was a tavern. Dad enjoyed nursing a nickel draft while watching his White Sox play ball. Taverns were a big part of neighborhood life. In my book, Jun-e-or, Reflections of Life in the Nineteen Forties and Fifties I tell a few stories about taverns.

As I grew older, I began to notice that there were taverns in every town we traveled through. My Grandfather spent a lot of  time in a small country store tavern in Michigan. Taverns were places where people went to meet other people. The need for social contact is strong especially when you work in a field by yourself and never see a soul. In my Dad’s case his need to watch a baseball game drove him to seek out a TV. In that era, taverns were ground breakers and used a TV set to draw customers. It worked.

The other day, as I walked through Frankfort, I recalled those early days. I wondered what life was like in this tiny country town of German immigrants. How many taverns did they have? For certain, there was one. It is still in business and doing well. Currently called the Frankfort Tavern, it went by the name of Gracie’s for decades. Why? Because a woman named Gracie owned and operated the place. On the same street, there are three more taverns. All three are inside a place of business. The second oldest is the Frankfort Bowl. No self-respecting bowling alley would be without a bar. The other two are in modern restaurants.

Frankfort Bowl

The number of bars grows as one leaves the historic district. Three blocks North is the Stray Bar. It is only three years old. The adventurous owner started his business just as the bottom fell out of the economy. The bar is doing well, and is my favorite. Next door to the Stray is another restaurant bar. After that the closest is a mile away in either East, West, and Northerly directions.

When I moved to Frankfort, the population was about three thousand souls and the few bars in the historical district served our needs. Today, we are sixteen thousand strong and we need more bars to soothe our stressed souls.

Smokey Barq, aka Kansas Street Grill, aka Tavern on the Green

 

Francesca’s Fortunato, aka Bier Stube

Tough Old Bird

Grampa Jim’s daily ritual to Fish Corners often left him coming home after dark.  He socialized with anyone who came in and sat down with him.  He sat at a favorite table, and everyone in the area knew him.  It was almost as though he was the township Godfather.

Most of the time, he got a home, but one summer night Gramps had to walk.  His house was a long quarter mile away along a desolate road.  There are only two houses between the tavern, and the farm; both of them are immediately behind Fish Corners.  After that, the woods grew out to the road.  The side opposite the woods is farm field void of any buildings.

Gramps walked with traffic in the dark.  On this night a car came up behind him, and hit him. It dragged him for three hundred feet before the driver stopped. Fortunately, the driver sought help. An ambulance took him to the closest hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan; a hundred and fifty miles away.

I was eight years old, and I remember mom getting a call at our home in Chicago. It was the hospital; her father was critical, and not expected to survive.

Mom talked it over with dad, and left for Ann Arbor, by train, the next day.  She stayed as long as she could and came home after a week.  She expected to receive a call that he passed away.  Mom was very upset, and cried allot.

A week later I came home from school, and who was sitting there, but my seventy-two year old grandfather.  He had a lot of abrasions on his arms, legs, and head. Otherwise, he looked good.

Gramps told us that the doctors were planning to experiment on him, and he had to get out of there.  He kept repeating over, and over that they were planning to kill him.

He survived for many more years, but did have a skin problem after that. We often saw him applying hot wet cloths soaked in boric acid solution to his arms and legs.  He always blamed his itching skin on that accident.

Jackin Up The “A”

One of Grampa Jim’s closest friends was Mr Toth, a Hungarian farmer from down the road. His friend worked in the pickle canning factory in Coloma, and he farmed too. Mr. Toth was a character who excited easily, and cursed incessantly in Hungarian. I never understood what he was saying, but I knew he was swearing. He ranted and raved and called people names.  The crowd at Fish Corners knew him well. They often played tricks on him just to see him get excited.

I remember watching a prank played on him.  Grampa Jim and his buddy arrived at Fish Corners in Mr. Toth’s Model A: a daily ritual for the two of them.  He pulled up next to the gas pump, ran a gallon of gas into the tank, and went in the store to pay. Of course they had to have a beer too.

Fish Corners was a 1950’s version of today’s Gas City.  This family run business consisted of a small grocery store, an auto service station, and a tavern. Grampa walked through the store into the tavern, and sat at his favorite table on the edge of the dance floor. They nursed a beer, and cajoled with friends.

While they talked, the pranksters went to work. Two older boys put a jack under the rear axle of the Model-A. They lifted it  just enough so the wheels would spin without grabbing. Everyone, at the store, saw what was happening, and many of them waited around to see the outcome.

They came out and got into car; started it up, put it in gear, and let out the clutch.  The car didn’t move. Mr. Toth got out swearing to himself. He looked around. Everything seemed okay so he tried again. The swearing got stronger. The motor was running, but the car didn’t move.  Mr. Toth sent Grampa Jim  to watch the wheels. He put the car in gear again. Gramps bent over to watch. He saw the wheels turning. The swearing got really loud. A very red-faced, Mr. Toth jumped out of the car ranting, and kicking the gravel.  I picked out Hungarian words like Jesus, God, mother, saint, and heaven. All were mixed with words I heard often, but didn’t understand. This time, he found the jack. He raised his arm and shook his fist as he ran toward the store. All the while he ranted in Hungarian. His face was purple, and the veins in his jugular stuck out; boy was he mad. Everyone at Fish Corners laughed hysterically. Grampa Jim stood back and laughed too.

GRAMPA JIM’S LAST DAY

Grumpa Joe as a Toddler

Grampa Wigh died with a cigarette burning in his hand.  The ash was nearly one inch long.  He was discovered by a friend.  The friend stopped by to pick him up, a daily routine.  They would drive the distance to Fish Corners for a beer.  Grampa would stay at the tavern all evening, nursing his one beer and smoking his Camel cigarettes.  He would spend the time socializing with the many people who came to Fish Corners for gas or groceries, or for a social outlet.

When the friend, Mr. Toth, didn’t get a response from his toot, he decided to check on Jim.  Jim was just inside the door on the daybed.  The cigarette was still burning between his fingers.  He looked asleep.  He was dead.  It was 1958 and I was at the University of Illinois in my first semester after transferring from St. Joe College.

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