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October 05, 2022

Where Every Family Matters

YOUR STORY: Ronald Lau

In "Whenever My Sons Play in the Snow," Ronald Lau shares a story about long, northern winters ... and why the smell of beer brings it all back.

YOUR STORY: Ronald Lau

Growing up in a tiny Wisconsin dairy town of 800 people, I was no stranger to cold and snow. Boy, did we get a lot of it, and with the frigid temps, the snow lasted all winter.

    My grandparents owned the town’s only diner / tavern which had a big parking lot that constantly needed to be plowed. Clearing all that snow led to massive piles rising to a dozen feet or more —  absolute paradise for kids during long northern winters.

    My brother and I loved to dig snow caves in these piles, big and complicated, with many tunnels and slides. In doing so, we often found buried treasure … precious aluminum cans that we could recycle for 5 cents each.

    Strangely, though, the beer cans were often full and usually not frozen solid as they should be. Beer was yucky tasting, but we couldn’t understand grown-ups losing full cans of it. No matter, we enjoyed shaking the cans until they burst, spraying everywhere, then we took the empties to the grandparents for our valuable nickels. Oddly, the adults of the family never scolded us for smelling like beer.

    For many youthful years, my brother and I enjoyed this annual wintertime activity in naive childhood ignorance. Only as we grew into adolescence did the truth of those beer cans become apparent. Our teenaged uncles had been secretly bootlegging beer to all of their peers from the back door of the tavern!

    Being a large Catholic family of eight siblings, everyone had chores. The uncles had the heavy-lifting chore of keeping beer stocked in tavern coolers from the subterranean cellar where it was stored warm. Under the cover of darkness, those uncles would sneak beer into my snow caves, bury it under a few inches of snow, then contact their underaged customers to covertly pick up the contraband. Except sometimes the teens couldn’t locate the beer, or forgot or were scared off by adult activity. That’s how I came across it.

     Many years later, the uncles confirmed their long-running deception. My brother and I caused them a lot of trouble, but not enough to change their methods. They certainly weren’t going to scold us since we dug the necessary snow caves for free! 

    My grandparents and my aunts didn’t seem to notice, as the uncles always put the retail value of the beer into the cash register. The uncles obviously profited handsomely and led a very “That 70s Show” kind of youth.

    My brother and I were kept sugared up by soda pop and candy bars all winter long during our single-digit years so we would have the energy and desire to dig the important snow cave “drops”. My grandparents sold the tavern and retired by my 10th winter, so it all ended before I was knowingly involved.

    To this very day, I swear I smell beer whenever my sons play in snow, and the sight of a snowman or snow cave brings all the memories back.

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