It was a snowy Saturday in the late afternoon. My little sister was having a birthday party for her new husband and sent out text messages to meet them there at three. I really think she never thought we'd show up and we almost didn't. Rick was white knuckling it all the way there. His Georgia roots come out every time we need to get in a car and there's a trace of snow on the ground. It requires I leave a minimum of a football field between us and any other car fore or rear. I did the best I could and he managed to not hyperventilate or loose his lunch prior to arrival.
The parking lot behind the bar was almost full which is not too unusual for a Wisconsin bar at three in the afternoon. Since we had made the journey and safely arrived we saw no other alternative then to hustle out into the freezing afternoon and into the comfort of the heated bar. From the near whiteout of the snow covered parking lot it took a second for my eyes to adjust to the cavern within. Multi-colored mini-lights encircled a rectangular bar filled two deep with a mix of middle-aged couples wearing Wisconsin Badger or Green Bay Packer sweat clothes, flannel shirted workmen just off their shifts at the Oscar Mayer plant and Birthday party guests all yammering in voices choked and strained from trying to be heard over a mix of country music and eighties pop blaring out of the juke box that also doubled as a photo booth where you could punch in a tune and put your picture up on the screen all at the same time.
I had heard about meat raffles but only in a peripheral sense that allowed my imagination to go wild with an unsubstantiated definition. I fantasized a group of tank-topped tattooed women vying with a bunch of macho beer-gutted inebriated rambos fighting it out for some outdated tainted meat. I could smell the stench of putrefaction as some sort of bidding war was fought among these desperate combatants willing to pay discounted prices for hamburger two steps away from dumpster. Boy was I wrong.
The meat part of the raffle ended with a two-dollar entry fee for a chance at five pounds of select bacon. Who can devour five pounds of bacon is beyond me although Wisconsin is known for an abundance of tractor butt. Our luck had run out but then maybe not winning five pounds of select bacon might be considered winning in the weight gain game.
What happens after that is something a bit unexpected. After all the meats have been doled out there's a last bit of excitement with a fifty-fifty raffle. This one touts a five-buck entry fee. Everyone is welcome to put in as much as they want. The winner walks away with half the take and the other half goes to a different charity every week. We may be a bunch of lushes here where the winter temperature tends to hover around zero but our hearts never freeze in a bar where charity is as important as a fifeteen pound box of Oscar Mayer wieners.
Carl Corey, photographer
From his book, Tavern League