Tag Archives: Elderly

Sauerkraut Supper 2011

By: Clare

Deep in the rolling Midwestern hills of Wisconsin, there’s a place called Middle Ridge. That’s where I grew up. Located on the top of the hill, right across from my house, is a Jewel. The Jewel of the Ridge, we call it. It’s our Catholic church, St. Peter’s. It’s stood proudly at the top of the hill since the late 1920s, I believe, and has since been inhabited by a great many German Catholic families. In the 1960s, the congregation of St. Peter’s held the first annual Sauerkraut Supper, which has been successfully held every year since then on the second Wednesday in October.

 My first memory of the Sauerkraut Supper is from when I was a four-year-old homeschooled kindergartner. Mary and I headed over with a handful of quarters and jumped in line for the cake walk. You bought some Tootsie Rolls and if I remember correctly, the one with a gold wrapper underneath the regular wrapper was a winner. After I won one cake, it just wasn’t enough, and I was hooked on the cake walk for life. I now have my own little schedule for the Sauerkraut Supper. Get off the bus, grab all the loose change off my dresser, and head straight for the cake walk.

  The cake walk, as well as everything else the Sauerkraut Supper has to offer, is run by parishioners of St. Peter’s who I know well. This meaning that I can usually coax and cajole them into letting me pick whichever cake I want. Sadly, the boy on the left made sure I didn’t get any special treatment. This special part of the Supper has kind of turned into a competition between the siblings to see who can win the most cakes, so I wanted to get the most cakes, as well as the best tasting ones. As it was, I ended up with 4 cakes and 1 container of cupcakes. That was good enough for me, knowing I would have to share, or just get my cake stolen, with the family.

 Truth be told, The Sauerkraut Supper is very popular with the elderly, and it honestly took me ten minutes to spot one young person in the considerable crowd. This is a little bit humorous. One elderly man won a cake by drawing the orange chip out of the box and decided to walk away with his chip instead of collecting his cake. His wife just shook her head and muttered something to herself. Another man who was old, and broken by hard work on the farm decided he wanted to give the cake walk a try, so he rudely hobbled over to his wife, poked her in the arm, and said, “give me some money for this”, and walked away with her wallet.

I had promised my friend that I would help her serve for a while before I sat down to eat. Now, usually I wait the tables after I finished eating, but I figured I might as well help out a little extra. I didn’t turn out to be very dedicated, and ended up taking quite a few lengthy breaks to the cake walk, and to run across the road to my house. It’s hard, waiting tables! I found out that I’m not very good at it either. I’m always getting into someone’s way, or forgetting something. Once I tried pouring an older man’s coffee and ended up spilling it all over the table! Many, many people attend our small church’s supper, a fact that I’m very proud of. We get well over a thousand people every year. They start out buying their tickets in the tent, where they can sit, visit with friends, and listen to some traditional polka music.

Or you can opt to sit in the church and wait for your ticket number to be called.

Once their number is called, they can head down to the church basement for a delicious meal, started off with some homemade pie. I know, dessert first? Yup, it’s just that great of a supper.

Mashed potatoes and gravy. Carrots. Some amazing sausage.

And of course, the very famous, sauerkraut.

One word. YUCK. It may be called the Sauerkraut Supper, but for me it’s all about the mashed potatoes and the sausage!

Although the meal is amazing, the real intrigue is behind the scenes, in the kitchen. This is not as true today, but when the supper comes around you’ll see many women in the kitchen who you don’t often see in church. But every October, they’re there, working hard. These strong, hard-working German women never sit down. Their all about the ‘kraut, and they put a lot of time and energy into the supper. For instance, a couple weeks ago I went over to church one day to help out cleaning the church in preparation for the supper. One older German lady decided she couldn’t stand up for much longer, and wanted to know if she could have a “sitting-down job”. One lady suggested that she just sit down and rest, and the look of dismay on this woman’s face when that was suggested was almost laughable. She couldn’t fathom taking a break. She never ended up sitting down by the way.

It took me awhile to summon up the courage to even go up to them and take them a picture. They seem like such intimidating people to me.W

When Mary saw this picture she said that even running into posts could not deter these German women from plowing right into their jobs. This is very  true. Too true, too true.

Half an hour before the supper ended, when things started dying down, I decided I couldn’t take standing up anymore and went on home. Hey, I’m proudly Irish, NOT German. And it shows.

Just before I crossed the road I looked back and realized I had forgotten something. There’s a horse chestnut tree by our church, and the horse chestnuts are all around the ground when the time for the Sauerkraut Supper comes. The kids used to have some pretty intense chestnut wars with them. I used to take these wars very seriously, and would walk across the road to stock up on chestnuts almost every day for about a week before the Supper, just so I was prepared. I realized that I hadn’t thrown one chestnut that day, and I knew I couldn’t leave my tradition in the dust. Bending down in the dark, I took a minute to fumble around and finally found a small chestnut. Scooping it up in my hand, I threw it across the road, reliving memories past. With my deed done, I contentedly walked back home with a stomach full  of great food, and hands smelling of ‘kraut.

Loretta and Joe


On my way back from the library this morning I saw Loretta and Joe, a couple in their 80’s who are frequently walking arm and arm through the neighborhood. Today is soft and cool, with wet black boughs against a grey sky and the promise of more rain soon to soften the soil. Loretta and Joe wore windbreakers in shades of purple- his softer, hers brighter- and he carried a dapper black and white umbrella. Her arm was in his, and he steadied her as they made their way. They live at the top of the hill at Canterbury Place, a beautiful building that marries a hundred year old Episcopal Home and former orphanage with modern architecture and a sky high floor of glass walls with gas fireplaces and a spectacular view of the downtown.

Every other week I bundle the baby into her sling and halfway run up the hill, since I am almost late, to teach Gentle Stretch at Canterbury Place. There are a wide range of residents, some with Alzheimers and some in need of intensive care, but I teach a group of genteel elderly persons who are always thrilled to see me, mostly because I come bearing the baby. We spend half an hour reaching for the ceiling and swimming through invisible waves, rolling our shoulders and pointing our toes. After six months the regulars are surprisingly limber, which goes to show that it is never to late to stretch ourselves, but the real draw is clearly Olympia. She has been coming since she was a month old, and now on the cusp of a year, on the verge of walking, she is able to wave and coo and holler to express her delight in the roomful of adoring grandparents.

Loretta and Joe joined the group just after Christmas. They are white haired, lean, and have come to resemble each other in the way that long married couples often do. They are the only couple in the class, and so I have watched them closely. Loretta is blind in one blue eye, and at first she seemed vulnerable and confused. Joe is protective, one arm curved around her often, both eyes on her and ready to offer an explanation or a brief smile. Lately she is smiling more, and as the snow thaws and the spring slowly softens the edges of the world I have seen them walking together more and more. Joe told me that they used to walk all over the city- once taking an afternoon and covering twenty miles in one day. As the days lengthen, they plan to slowly lengthen their walks through this neighborhood.

Watching Loretta and Joe disappear down the hill , her hand on his arm and his body protecting hers, it is clear that the fact that they are still twined together is what strengthens them both, allowing them to stretch and explore the beauty of this world, even as their frailty increases. I am so grateful for my old people, and they way that they have taught me to stretch my conceptions of aging, marriage, and living.