Memories are tricky. A few weeks ago, I was asked what I remembered as my earliest memory. I sat and pondered, sweeping at the cobwebbed corners of my brain to find the tail string of that elusive first remembered experience. I struggled but couldn’t pinpoint one specific day, time or event as the first memory, but I could imagine a series of childhood objects and situations. Things like the bedroom I shared with my brother and listening to him experience night terrors while my parents rushed to our room to calm and soothe him. Or taking afternoon naps after my mother pulled the shades tight, clasped the curtains together and tucked me under the covers. Or sitting at the white Formica kitchen table in the high backed vinyl covered chairs, eating a breakfast of custardy farina cereal out of Corning Ware dishes. My memory hops and jumps from spot to spot and I’m not exactly sure which event happened first, but I think it was all around the same time. I trust my memory in the sense that I know all this happened to me.
I have a friend who, I’ve discovered over the years, will tell stories that are not hers. It took a while to figure this out – it was the day she told me a particular crazy story and I blurted out that it didn’t happen to her, but to me! I was appalled. I felt betrayed. I was disappointed. I had laughed, cried, questioned and supported her through so many tales, and suddenly I was left wondering it if was all a façade. Was there any truth to any of it? Did any of the stories belong to her? It took some time, but I finally learned to sit back and enjoy the tales she continued to tell, always certain the story belonged to someone else. I think she does this because the incidents or people are so appealing and interesting that perhaps she wishes it belonged to her. **************
There’s a tiny little bar along Highway H in Mason, Wis., that’s been in operation for years. It’s directly across the road from the farmstead my grandmother’s family founded sometime around 1901. Mason is a small farming community located between Delta and Ino townships on the edge of the Chequamagon National Forest in Bayfield County. It’s a beautiful area where the earth is tinged red with clay and the pine trees grow tall and thin. My grandmother and her eight siblings were raised in a five-bedroom farmhouse complete with a summer kitchen, barn, tool shed and hundreds of acres. It was known as the Homestead and still stands today, although in a well-worn state. The small community was founded mostly by Slovaks who immigrated to the U.S. because the countryside and farmland were reminiscent of their homeland. I’m not certain what ancestry Frosty Munson descended, from but he was a colorful swatch in the fabric of the community.
Frosty Munson ran his bar – simply named “Frosty’s” – for years. Frosty’s never changed. Off the beaten path and often passed by tourists travelling the north woods, it wasn’t fancy or impressive and had no false pretenses. It was a small establishment, attached to the front of his house. Six stools and a few tables filled the space. And if you looked to the right when you entered, you could see directly into his living room. It was that kind of place. Whenever the sign was on, it was open. It was a convenient stopping place for our family’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
One warm summer day, a couple of my cousins and their friends stopped at Frosty’s on their way to a fish fry at one of the lake resorts. They found Frosty inside, perched on a bar stool. He greeted them heartily, always happy to receive a customer. His shoes were off and set on the stool next to him. His socks were on the bar. He was busy cutting his toenails.
The group grimaced. They bypassed the dollar tappers and requested a round of bottled beer. At Frosty’s, it was best to avoid ordering a drink served in something that needed to be washed. The quality of cleaning was typically inconsistent and always questionable, and here was a new situation with him clipping his toenails. Frosty happily took the order, jumping off the bar stool and ducking behind the bar to fetch the bottles from the cooler. As they watched him open the bottles one by one – Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! Pop! – they were pleased with their quick thinking, as Frosty had stockpiled his clippings and cuttings on the bar. He never washed his hands.
They offered to take the bottles off the counter, but Frosty brushed them off, saying he’d bring them right over. They didn’t see a problem with this. Frosty then proceeded to stick his fingers into the long necks, carrying the bottles around the bar to his appalled guests. They watched, slack-jawed as he set the bottles in front of them. He was so glad to see them and declared the first round was on him. Wide-eyed, the group gaped at each other. Then one by one, they lifted the bottles and drank a toast to Frosty. *************
Now, this story doesn’t belong to me. My cousin told this to us at a family gathering and I’ve probably gotten a few of the details wrong, perhaps embellishing some other parts. However, every time I drive by Frosty’s I can’t help but think of the Toe Jam in a Beer. To my friend, I say you can share this story. I know you will.