Early on in Sweet and Sour Pie: A Wisconsin Boyhood, published by University of Wisconsin Press, Dave Crehore recounts a road trip from his family's home in Manitowoc. He returned with his mom and dad to Ohio, to spend Christmas with relatives. Young Dave went to the store with his great grandpa, a comically bad driver, who made a purchase he took pains to conceal.
The year was 1952 so I was pretty sure it wasn't pornography. But, perhaps in reflective homage to my own Wisconsin childhood, I assumed it was booze.
Later, it's revealed that the old goat actually bought a whoopee cushion to play a prank (which, by the way, goes over like a lead balloon, not that he minds).
These are stories about adults who crack themselves up with smart-aleck remarks in church, parcel out boxed chocolates one per person per day, and go ga-ga over a stray dog who joins the fam. They're delightfully idiosyncratic, and fundamentally decent. They don't drink, don't rage, don't even swear (I think there's one expletive in the whole book, used in reference to cow excrement). Even his parents' fights are sweet.
I loved this book. It made me laugh. It made me long for a childhood I never had, and which I sort of suspect Crehore is remembering a bit too fondly, with added saccharine. But I don't mind. The stories ring true, for the most part, and they immortalize a time and place that reflects well not just on the state but humanity.
These are stories about fishing and hunting and lessons about life imparted parent to child, mainly through example. Crehore's dad, also named Dave, is the kind of guy who keeps getting wiser as his son gets older. He avoids anger and boastfulness and bad form, and it's no accident that he usually manages to come out on top.
There's a wonderful vignette from the same Ohio trip where members of Crehore's family are sitting down talking about dropping the bomb on the Russians one minute and befriend a Polish couple who come knocking at the door needing help the next. People were like that then -- they'd never turn away a person in need. Some people are like that still.
One story describes a visit from an Englishman whom Dave Crehore Sr. is asked by his employer to entertain. The visitor accidentally lets the roosters escape, goes on a successful grouse hunt and outwits an angry cow.
"We never saw him again, but he and Dad exchanged Christmas cards and tins of tobacco until Dad died in 1984," the son remembers. "Sometimes the cards had pictures of grouse, sometimes cows or chickens."
Finally, and endearingly, the book ends with a glossary of terms, from "A&P" to "sheepshead" to "Holstein." Truly, this is meant as a work of history.
Crehore is a former spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources and many of these stories previously appeared in Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine. He explains his uncanny ability to "remember so much" from his boyhood by claiming his parents did the remembering and passed these stories on. Now Crehore has extended the favor.