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Milwaukee: Beer, Fireflies,
and Northern Pike - Age 18

Recently retired from the California Department of Education, Andrew Laufer is writing a book about his life including periods as a butcher's helper, food service worker, construction laborer, animal research assistant, seasonal fire fighter, and janitor. In his youth, he hitch-hiked up and down the coast and out to Colorado numerous times providing context for hundreds of short stories.

My buddy, Jon, and I visited his Aunt Rose and her son, Dale, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We were on our way to New Jersey during our first major road trip without adult supervision.

Touring the famous Miller Brewing Company, established in 1888, went to the top of our list. The brewery was massive, and its architecture used design and construction techniques dating back to the early 1900s. The tasting room had an antique, hand carved, dark cherry wood bar from the Victorian era, custom made for the brewery, possibly before the turn of the century. Directly behind the bar was an ornate mirror, also custom made. To the right of the bar, a glass wall overlooked the beer-making plant. While there, we tasted the freshest beer we ever had.

We brought home a case of beer and were drinking in his aunt's back yard around dusk when I thought I was seeing things. Too much beer maybe? "Woe! Dude! Check it out."

It was the first time either of us had seen fireflies. Our heads were bobbing and weaving as we watched the little flies light up. They were magical, floating here and there, on and off. Fascinating and beautiful.

The next day, Jon and I went shopping with his Aunt Rose. On returning home, she was upset with Dale for leaving an empty paper bag near the stove. She explained to us that he was careless and wanted to teach him a lesson, so she singed the edge of the bag then left it.

When he came home, she exclaimed with a look of dire urgency "LOOK! YOU ALMOST BURNT THE HOUSE DOWN." It worked. Jon's cousin was duly regretful for almost destroying their lives. I'm sure he has never left a paper bag near the stove again. Jon's aunt warned us not to tell him the truth and her secret was safe with us.

Dale, a cool guy a few years older, took us fishing. We drove on windy roads lined with tall trees and lush, green forests to one of Wisconsin's thousand lakes. We rented a small rowboat and headed out to the center of the lake to catch a Northern Pike. After an hour or two sitting on calm waters nothing was biting.

We were bored stiff when suddenly Jon's pole bent down so far that the tip went into the water. I had never seen a fish hit a hook so hard. It startled all three of us, and we thought he hooked the mother of all fish. It was an epic fish fight, and I thought the line would snap any second. Any sportsman show would have paid good money to watch him bring that fish in.

The Northern Pike was almost two feet long. A fish that size usually won't put up that kind of fight, but there is an explanation. The Pike had been snagged. The hook somehow sank into the middle to the Pike's back giving it leverage to put on an incredible fight. It fought like a 20 pounder.

A true fish story neither of us will forget.

~ Andrew Laufer







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