An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eighty-Eight

Above, 1917 advertisement for La Perla that appeared in the San Antonio Light

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eighty-Seven

Andrew Stevens, August 1917

“Andy,” says the Colonel, “be on your guard in the coming days and weeks. I’m not asking you to break any laws, but I have wind that there are some pesky State Senators planning on trying to serve me with a subpoena. I would prefer that effort fail.”

“Yes, sir. I will reveal your whereabouts to no one and decline to admit anyone without an appointment.”

“Thank you, Andy. And whenever you call for my automobile, perhaps it’s best if the boy brings it around to the back door.”

“Well, well, Colonel,” bellows John as he strides into the office. He places his hand on the Colonel’s forehead. “No fever that I can detect. Yet you are here, and the House is still in session for another day or two.”

“One can never be too careful with one’s health. I thought it best if I were not present to vote on the question of passing the impeachment matter up to the Senate. Where? What? From whom? The continuing peppering of Governor Ferguson with questions about the origins of his $156,000 loan were striking closer to home than I desired.”

“And, dare I ask,” says John, “how much did you, or is it we, give Farmer Jim?”

“You mean loan. Don’t ask, John. Ignorance on your part is a wise defense. But let it suffice that perhaps Jesse Jones of Houston has more at risk than most.”

“Except, Colonel, he’s neither an elected official nor a brewer.”

“True. But Pa Ferguson’s lips are sealed. Or, as he says, ‘locked tighter than an alligator’s jaw on a plump piglet.’ He pledged he’ll resign before revealing the origins of his loan.” 

“But what incentive does he have to keep that promise, Colonel?”

“There’s no way in hell he can repay that loan, John. He’d would rather keep the farm than his short-term home in the governor’s mansion.”

John picks up half a sandwich from the plate in front of him. “Thanks for getting these sandwiches for us, Andy. I’m starving.”

The Colonel takes his first sip of the beer Andy placed before him.

Pfffffft. The Colonel sprays it everywhere. “What on earth is this? It tastes like dirty river water.”

“Missus Koehler calls it La Perla. Near beer. Brewmaster Etter wants your opinion, sir.”

“Near beer,” mutters the Colonel.

John takes a sip. “Well, it certainly isn’t Pearl.”

“Mister Priest wanted me to read the advertising copy he and Missus Koehler wrote: ‘La Perla. The drink that satisfies. Wholesome–Invigorating–Delightful.’”

“Delightful?” interjects John.

“‘The drink for all occasions. It has the snap, the sparkle and the flavor that reaches the spot. Yet it is non-intoxicating. Try it with your meals–it will make the lunch taste better.’”

“No. No, that it definitely does not,” objects the Colonel.

“Andy,” says John, “grab us two Pearls. The Colonel’s health is too fragile for such weak medicine.”

The Colonel grimaces and moves the glass of near beer far away from him on the desk before Andy has a chance to do so. “If Perla is where we are heading, I’ll be switching allegiance to the mustang grape wine Sophie’s family makes. What good is our shiny new fleet of Vim delivery cars if near beer is all we end up being permitted to deliver?”

“And ice cream. Missus Koehler says the fleet will help get the ice cream to market before it melts.” The Colonel’s scowl greeting this answer serves as Andy’s cue to stop contributing to this conversation.

“While trying to appease the prohibitionists,” says John, “President Wilson is labeling his proposal for limiting the alcohol content for malt beverages to 2.75% as yet one more war measure. As though conserving our bushels of barley, rice, wheat and rye will feed millions of starving children in Europe.”

“Tommyrot!” grunts the Colonel. “It’ll only hurt the farmers. German submarines are not about to let our freighters through to England and France.”

“Pros are wrapping up everything as part of the war effort, Colonel. They claim if production and distribution of alcoholic beverages were shut down, more than a million men would be freed up to serve in the military. The selective draft called up half a million men last month. I trust that should be more than enough men to deliver victory.”

“Their most evil strategy, John, is trying to portray the entire brewing industry as German-controlled. President Wilson stoked that fire by describing naturalized citizens born under other flags as seething poison endangering the American way of life. I fail to see how his new Espionage Act has any possible connection to brewing beer.”

“Pros point us out as German-owned,” says John. “My roots run deep in San Antonio, and there isn’t a scintilla of Teutonic blood in my veins.”

“And I was born and reared in Fredericksburg, Texas. The entire reason my parents came here was because they opposed the imperialism and clericalism in Germany. They believed in a democratic form of government.”

“Emma was born in St. Louis,” adds John, “and, with Otto’s unfortunate early demise, every single one of our major investors was born in this country.”

The Colonel’s face is getting redder and redder. “They claim we interfere in elections. The only concern breweries ever have had with politics is prohibition. Our efforts only have been defensive. We have the right to protect our legitimate business enterprise we established through a lifetime of hard labor.”

“The role of alcohol,” says John, “as a soothing and medicinal beverage dates from the dawn of civilization. All of this religious poppycock shouldn’t be applied willy-nilly to wipe out a tradition that has endured thousands of years.”

“If the Methodists and Baptists don’t want to drink, they certainly can refrain. But they shouldn’t be able to trample upon the other men’s right to do so.” The Colonel sips his beer and then holds up the glass to admire the bubbles shimmering in the golden ale. “Gott im Himmel, this tastes like ambrosia to me.”

“And, please Lord,” says John, “don’t force anyone to consume that namby-pamby near beer.”

Footnotes

The Colonel was missing from the action in Austin for the final votes concerning the impeachment of Governor Jim Ferguson. When the Senate took up the action the following month (Senate Journal, September 20, 1917), both Jesse Jones and Colonel Wahrmund were mentioned as the possible good fairies bestowing the timely loan upon the governor. The Author is unsure whether Otto Warhmund ever received the Senate’s subpoena, but Pa Ferguson did indeed continue to refuse to divulge the names of his generous benefactors.

Much of the verbiage concerning the association of the brewing industry with Germany is drawn from remarks Colonel Wahrmund made on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives in 1918 (House Journal, 1918, pp. 101-104). 

Whether Colonel Wahrmund cared for it or not, La Perla went on the market in 1917. The promotional copy, authorship unknown, is from a November 1917 advertisement.

Continue to Chapter Eighty-Nine

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