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Woodworking column: The arrival of the 25-cent hotdog

The Fourth of July is just around the corner and that means hotdogs galore.

Our family has been fighting over the luscious cylinders for as long as I can remember. One day, my mom got hungry for a dog and walked all the way into Blair to Schroeder's market (she didn't know how to drive) and came back to the farm with a pound of the morsels, which everyone says you don't want to watch being fabricated.

Along with the wieners, she exulted with a discovery of a rare find in the gourmanderie of Blair: BROWN mustard.

"Where's the yellow mustard?" asked my father, who thought hotdogs were just child's play.

"Don't you see?" replied mother. "I found BROWN mustard. It's much better on wieners."

"Never cared for it," replied the head of household.

Call me sentimental, but 70 years after mother's death, I still won't eat a hotdog with yellow mustard.

Dijon, maybe. But BROWN for sure.

These days, everyone raves about Portillo's hotdogs over in Woodbury. I asked an aficionado how much they cost.

"Between 4 and 5 bucks, depending on extras, like the Chicago ..." I walked away when he mentioned Chicago dogs, the bilious baubles smothered in mustard, dill pickle spears and green pond scum. The very thought of a $5 dog, sent me into another sentimental rapture. When I was a little boy, we motored from Blair to the metropolis of Eau Claire, where dwelled my well-to-do aunt and uncle.

Usually it happened on the Fourth. The grown-ups laughed and talked and drank something called "highballs." Uncle Floyd gave me a quart jar of nickels to play his slot machine in the basement barroom. After some of those highballs, Uncle Floyd got on the phone.

"Hello this is the Amundsen residence on 606 Gilbert Ave. Is this the Coney Island restaurant? It is? Good. I want you to send over 100 hot dogs, 25 plain, 25 with mustard and onions, 25 with Coney sauce and 25 with the works. Send them over by bike."

A teenager arrived at the door with a big box full of smaller than usual hotdogs, the aroma overpowering my senses. Uncle flipped the kid a five-spot with "a dollar for your trouble."

"THANK YOU!" said the kid and a host of heavy highball drinkers were happy once again. I washed mine down with Nehi orange from a seemingly endless supply in Aunt Myrt's electric refrigerator.

Nickel hotdogs, of course, didn't last forever. As I grew older, I was allowed to visit my Eau Claire aunt and uncle for a week every summer. I always looked forward to the day she took me downtown and bought me school clothes from Penneys, then took me to a crummy Strand Theatre off Barstow to watch third-run movies, like "Boom Town" with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. Up in the balcony I'd eat my fill of popcorn as Aunt Myrt chain-smoked Camels and told me that Floyd said she bore a marked resemblance to Mary Astor.

The movie over, we walked the block to Barstow and stopped at Woolworth's stand-up counter where Auntie ordered us hotdogs with mustard and onions and root beers. The 25-cent dog had arrived. They couldn't match the old Coneys, but they were better than good. Back at home, I asked my father why we didn't offer hotdogs at our restaurant, also on a Main drag, called The City Cafe. "Why? Why? How much do we charge for a quarter pound hamburger with the works?"

"Um—25 cents."

As usual, the old man had a point. But he was wrong about brown mustard.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.