Brats and Bricks

A woman plans to visit Milwaukee because of bratwurst and a brick.

For many years, Jane Frances Cryan has lived in San Francisco, which, we all know, has its charm earthquakes, a so-called golden bridge that isn’t golden, and a fisherman’s wharf where entrepreneurs troll for tourists.

However, San Francisco fails miserably in the most important comparison with Milwaukee it doesn’t have good sausage, “which I miss very much,” Cryan said.

Her hometown is Milwaukee, which has the best of the wurst and that brick she wants to visit. This strange story started 56 years ago, and it started a few weeks ago.

Cryan, who was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1942, wrote to the hospital recently. She said that her father had never paid the bill for her birth.

However, he had an excuse: “He was an irresponsible musician, incapable of being domesticated,” she said.

He recognized musical notes, but never fiscal ones, and didn’t pay bills, including the first his daughter incurred, the one St. Joseph’s Hospital charged for her birth.

“I’m embarrassed,” Cryan told the hospital. “Could you look it up and tell me how much I owe you?”

During a telephone interview, she said she had memories of her father playing piano in Milwaukee clubs, including that satanic blot on the city’s past, that horrendous den of iniquity, the Empress Theater, which employed women to walk off stage wearing much less than when they had walked on.

“I remember clearly, when I was 4 or 5, my dad put me in the back row of the Empress Theater, where he was playing,” Cryan said. “I remember a woman in a red dress on stage.”

“As my father aged, his drinking habits got out of hand, the poor guy,” Cryan said. “Now I’m getting older, and wiser. I’ve found life is tough for most people, and I’d never judge him. He spent his life playing beautiful music, so I’ll pay the bill he didn’t.”

Her parents divorced and now are dead. A graduate of Washington High School, Cryan went to San Francisco for the first time because she’d been corresponding with Jack Kerouac, the point man of the Beat Generation. Some people called him a writer, some people called him a typist, but he proved that mixing booze and drugs wasn’t good for either of those occupations.

When Cryan arrived in San Francisco, “Jack was supposed to meet me, but… he was stoned out of his mind in Mexico.”

It wasn’t long until she asked herself a pertinent question: “What am I doing with these crazy people?”

She returned here, and then returned there, out of reach of the battered Beats. Recently, maybe because she’s getting older, maybe because she watched a TV show that stressed the importance of paying debts, she contacted St. Joseph’s about that long ago bill her mother had told her about.

“We couldn’t find the bill, so we took our best guess,” Larry Widen, director of marketing, said.

He said $50 would cover that long ago debt, in which Cryan was an active participant but was a tad too young to be fiscally responsible. Widen suggested that she purchase a brick for a walkway in Sister Jeanne’s Park, across the street from the hospital. The park was named after Sister Jeanne Gengler, a longtime hospital president and benefactor.

Cryan sent the check with an appropriate inscription for the brick: “With this brick, the debt is paid.”

In a letter to Widen, Cryan said, “Hail to the good people in my hometown, cheers for the bratwurst, which I miss very much, and alma mater Washington High School. I haven’t visited Milwaukee in 10 years (other than tours on the Internet) but the next time I do, I’ll visit my brick.”