I’m a mutt. A Heinz 57. An American Mongrel. I have no pedigree and we cannot trace my family tree back more than three generations.
This reality has always vexed me to my core. All of my friends know both their ethnic and historical extraction. Their ancestors’ country of origin. When they got off the boat. Where and why they settled. The only thing I know is that there are three Native American tribes in my family and I know only one of them for certain. So when a moment of potential family discovery presented itself in my young adulthood, I seized it like a rabid dog.
In the last year of her life, my paternal grandmother suffered from dementia—but amidst the mental confusion and dearth of any short-term memory this condition asserts, also exists thankful moments of lucidity. I happened to be at my parents’ house where she was staying when one of those precious moments surfaced. Snatching it from the hands of Father Time, I said to her “Grandma, where did your family come from before you moved to Tulsa?”
I waited with bated breath as a thoughtful expression crossed her face. I imagined my recent ancestors were probably typical, poor, European immigrants who came stateside seeking a better life, probably landing at Ellis Island in the late 19th century. However, I secretly hoped that some famous, infamous, or otherwise colorful historical figure would also surface. Something that would give me a sense of who I was connected to; something that would attach me to my family’s past.
A moment later, she said “Well, it seems like my mother’s family came from Tennessee.” A sad trombone rang pathetically in my mind as though I were locked in an SNL Debbie Downer skit. In that moment I was as much a nobody as I was two minutes prior.
On the drive home I pondered my non-existent heritage. I felt a little like Alex Haley, but without an ultimate Kunta Kinte to anchor me and give me a sense of my lineage. So I did what any good American would do: I decided to adopt one. I considered the idea and patiently gave it some time to percolate.
A week later I was sitting at a local bar with my best friend Fran and I ordered my third beer. When the bottle arrived I responded to the bartender without thinking: “Danke schoen.” Fran turned to me and said “Hey; sprechen sie Englisch?”
“You thanked the bartender in German but you obviously don’t speak German you big doof—and neither does the bartender.”
“I took a couple years of German in high school; sometimes it slips out after I’ve had a couple.” “Whatever.” Fran retorted dismissively.
Ignoring him I suddenly noticed the label on the bottle of Bavarian wheat beer I had just poured into my glass: Franziskaner Weissbier. As I read the words, an epiphany descended from the heavens: my people were no-doubt Bavarian. After all, they eat a lot of meat, drink too much, and they aren’t very industrious. Now it’s not really the case that they’re lazy, it’s more the case that when work is done, their primary concern is to retire to a beer hall, eat sausage, and drink. I live for that!
My lips donned an irrepressible grin as a choir of angels broke into song. I ordered a Jagermeister to celebrate.
Fast-forward 10 years: I’m married to a Heidi and live in a German settlement called Pflugerville with my dog Gretl. Imagine my excitement when I noticed that a new German restaurant was going in—Bavarian no less. Nirvana.
I waited with bated breath as the Nuernberg Brauhaus grand opening date approached. Unfortunately, work and personal commitments prevented me from heading over to the beer house during opening week. However, the following Tuesday evening I was headed to the grocery store and took the opportunity to stop in on my way. I stepped through the door bristling with anticipation.
I sat down at the one seat left at the bar. The energy was frenetic. Further, it was obvious to me that not a single member of the visible wait staff was older than 20, which made it unlawful for any of them to sling booze from a bar in Texas. So I sat and waited patiently as I watched them take orders, pour soft drinks, and retrieve food from the kitchen.
After about 10 minutes an older man, who appeared to be the manager, addressed me: “Someone will be right with you.” Another 10 minutes and my highly anticipated Bavarian beer hall experience was reduced to watching teenagers run back and forth in a panic. More sad trombones as I walked out the door.
The next time I tried Nuernberg it was closed for kitchen repairs. Subsequent trips produced equally disappointing results on the heels of the giddy high of anticipation, because each time it would be closed for one reason or another. I felt a little like Clark Griswold reliving his trip Wally World over and over and over.
Then one day in mid-December of 2011, a Christmas miracle occurred. I decided to give the place another try, and voilà: it was open and business was modest and orderly. I sat down at the bar and the bartender immediately took my order. Cheerfully, I responded with a single word: Franziskaner. Two minutes later, there it was: a half liter weizen glass with the Franziskaner emblem affixed, and filled to the .5 liter mark with ice-cold yummy goodness. I dabbed my bev-nap to dry the tear that had spontaneously formed in the corner of each eye. It gets better.
After a brief conversation with the bartender, Silke, she divulged that she was the owner and that she was actually Bavarian. I went from being a bit giddy to being immersed in a state of complete ecstasy. The only thing missing was a dirndl. Unfortunately for yours truly, it was all too perfect. As she served me beer number two she said “I’m going to miss this place.”
“What?” I gasped, nearly choking on my beer. “Yeah; this is our last week.” A chorus of sad trombones, erupted ending my near climactic euphoric state and I sat there lamenting the loss of this new-found treasure. What a pisser!
Silence ruled the bar as I contemplated this latest bit of data and my mind began to drift back to my 50th birthday party.
Three years ago, my wife arranged a celebration with about 45 people at another local place that’s still around: The European Bistro. They specialize in a number of European cuisines, among them German.
I smiled as I thought about how my wife, her friends, and my daughters had braided their hair, put on German costume dresses, and posed with me and my friends for photos. And as I made my way from table to table a woman followed me around singing German folk songs and playing an accordion. How awesome is that? For that one night I was a full-on Teutonic Herr—without the lederhosen of course. My wife and daughters begged me to slip on a pair, but that’s not really me.
Here’s what is me: A loyal American mutt with a crafted heritage as fine as any authentic Bavarian hefeweizen. And my life in Pflugerville? Here I’m a VDH registered German Shepherd.