The whole town has 250 people. So how does one church in Walburg, Texas, serve dinner for 4400 without a hitch?
On the first Monday of November, Zion Lutheran gave to me
Twelve parking-attendants pointing
Eleven iced-tea bearers pouring
Ten potato-mashers mashing
Nine smokehouse stokers smoking
Eight ticket-sellers tearing
Seven ladies slawing
Six sausage-sellers weighing
FIVE TO-GO LINE MONITORS!
Four toting ice
Three pot carriers
Two cannister scrubbers
And a greeter at the front door.
Very sorry. The ditty leaves out hundreds more volunteers who pitched in for this year’s Wurstbraten, the biggest thing that happens all year in tiny Walburg, Texas (pop. 250).
There were 30 co-chairpeople arranging for everything from marshmallow sprinkling (on top of the 1600 pounds of sweet potatoes) to trash collection. There was a crew to set up dining tables for 480 people in the Zion Lutheran School gymnasium, a team in striped vests and straw hats directing folks to their seats, and 26 women on hand Monday just to cut up pies.
How does one parish in an unincorporated village pull off such an event?
“This isn’t their first rodeo,” said Carroll Fuchs, Wurstbraten chairman for the 19th year. It seems the combination of experience, organization and joy can move a mountain, at least a mountain of pork (13,700 pounds), along with potatoes, slaw, sauerkraut and desserts.
It all began simply enough 39 years ago when the church needed to pay for a new floor. Parishioners decided to host a fall sausage dinner. People in this German/Wendish community could cook a cabbage and knew their way around a meat-grinder. They canned their own pickles and baked their own bread already, so putting on a public feast just meant stepping up home-cooking a few notches.
They bought two slaughtered hogs in nearby Taylor, processed the meat down at the Walburg community center, stuffed, smoked and cooked the sausage, and served it up with a few side dishes and desserts that first year, 1971. The effort raised enough money to rebuild the church floor and then some.
Wurstbraten perked along well for several years and then, quite suddenly, as Penny Drueger remembered, the numbers exploded. Rather than the hundreds they had served in years past, thousands showed up. ”It just jumped!” she said. “And they were totally unprepared. They were buying up everything, going to town to get ice, going to HEB to get sweet potatoes….It was chaos!” she laughs.
You’d never know that now. As another pie arrives, desserts co-chair Robbie Mersiovsky records it and shuttles it to the table for slicing and packaging. A tape of yodeling by the Walburg Boys pipes through a speaker in the fifth grade classroom, where eight people on either side of a long table scoop sausage, slaw, two species of potato, pickles and bread onto to-go plates and hand them out the window.
“As you have seen around here, everybody is doing something,” says Ray Mickan, counting back change at the table set up for selling fresh sausage at $4 a pound. “And that’s not just from today, that’s from last year’s experience, the year before, ten years. Everybody knows that it takes a lot of work, and they plan on delivering that work ethic.”
That sounds pretty stern, but the mood is calm. Faces are happily intent. People are working. It’s all working. Nobody’s calling directions. There’s no need, as everyone’s seems to know just what to do and to enjoy doing it. Carroll Fuchs says that finding a role in the event and jumping in, assured that there’s a solid team working with you, is “what’s so attractive about Wurstbraten. We’ve got a lot of the old timers and then it’s rubbing off on the new folks.”
“We started the second line without your permission but we saw your wife and she said it was okay,” someone says to Fuchs as he strides past.
“Go for it,” he replies.
The meal at Wurstbraten officially starts at 5 p.m., but after 39 years, the crowds know better. They begin showing up about 3:30 and by 5 p.m. the whole gymnasium is full. Tickets in hand, people are queued all the way down the school hallway, as more trickle in through the front door of the church, each one greeted by Evangeline Daniell. Someone’s playing hymns in the choir loft, on an organ that proceeds from another Wurstbraten bought. And on FM 1105 the line of traffic in both directions reaches as far as the eye can see.