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Beer and Sausage Propel Idyllic Town on a Wheat Prairie

Church, Foster. "Beer and Sausage Propel Idyllic Town on a Wheat Prairie." Oregonian, 20 January 2008.


Best loved of the music acts is the Oom Pa's and Ma's, a local group whose members wear yellow hats in the shape of geese and put out a wonderfully wheezy, pumpy sound from sax, clarinet, trombone, tuba, flute, accordion and anything else that can handle the repertoire of up-tempo polkas and waltzes.

The place to stay in town is La Collage Inn on First Avenue. Ed Hayden runs it with his wife, Nadya, who arrived two years ago from Kyrgyzstan. Hayden designed the rooms with different themes, including South Sea, Frontier and Outback. The motel is about a 10-minute walk from the action, and considering the amount of beer flowing and the police presence in town, a walk is not a bad idea.

Back at Das Kraut House, Schafer presides genially at his biggest weekend of the year. People line up for blocks, and as Deutschesfest cranks into full power, he puts out stand-up tables on the street and people eat their paper plates of food in harmony with the traffic.

In the three months Das Kraut Haus operates each year, Schafer estimates he grinds out 4,000 pounds of sausage -- a chewy, delicious combination of one-third beef and two-thirds pork, flavored with garlic and brown sugar. He serves sausages on a plate, cut up in barbecue sauce or on a stick like a Popsicle.

Schafer's father came to Washington in the late 19th century from a farm on the Volga River and cleared 160 acres of sagebrush for a farm that Schafer still owns.

Odessa's German influence adds seasoning for sure, but more than an ethnic enclave, it's an idyll of small-town American culture, circa 1915 -- the kind of place Americans long for and seldom find. It's got a hospital, a golf course and many churches. Its streets are lined with spacious, pleasingly proportioned, century-old houses with columned verandas.

First Avenue remains the classic American town center, and the towering grain elevators suggest the plenty of the American soil and the prosperity of local farmers. People are gracious and conversational.

An elderly woman, inching down the street, is patted on the arm by passers-by.

The question for Odessa and for lots of little towns shriveling on the Washington prairie is whether they can hold on long enough for the world outside to discover them.

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