“I have a feeling that I’ll regret this, but I want to make a confession,” Eric said to us as we drove past the gas station on the way to the golf course. “I want your advice. Steve doesn’t even know what I’m about to tell you. Can you guys keep a secret?”
“Does a bear shit in the woods?” Duke rhetorically asked him.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Just don’t laugh,” Eric said, attempting to negotiate with us.
“We won’t laugh,” I reassured him.
“I’m a virgin,” Eric confided in us. “I’ve never had sex.”
“That’s hilarious,” Duke laughed sarcastically, cracking open one of the cold beers we had brought with us. “Ha, ha, ha.”
“No, it’s actually true,” Eric admitted. “It’s kind of embarrassing. Some people say that I’ve just had problems meeting the right type of girl, but most girls don’t even pay me the time of day. What do you guys think?”
“It sounds to me like you’re lacking confidence in yourself,” Duke said to him. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”
“Sure,” Eric replied. “If you think it could help.”
“What’s unique about you?” Duke began to question him. “I think most women want a man who is one-of-a-kind. So, the question is, what makes you different than most other guys?”
“Well,” Eric wondered silently for a couple of seconds. “I am a Tennessee Squire.”
“A what?” I asked.
“A Tennessee Squire,” Eric repeated, but he could sense that Duke and I were still confused, so he began to elaborate. “To become a Tennessee Squire, you have to have a special place in your heart for Jack Daniels. More importantly though, you have to be nominated by a current Tennessee Squire . . .”
“Can you nominate me?” Duke interrupted him.
“I could, but a squire can only nominate one person in their entire lifetime,” Eric replied. “So I’m not sure I’d want to do that.”
“What does being a Tennessee Squire entitle you to?” I asked him. “Do you get any special privileges that might interest the single ladies?”
“Well, I did receive a gold-embossed deed to a tiny plot of land and a certificate that makes me an honorary citizen of Moore County, Tennessee,” Eric replied proudly. “More than once a year, I receive letters from local farmers asking for my permission to let their cows graze on my little piece of land. I was even told that if I can ever get to Lynchburg, Tennessee, I can hang out in a secret room at the distillery.”
“What?” I chuckled. “A secret room?”
“Yeah, most people don’t know about it, but there’s a secret room at the Jack Daniel’s Distillery. Apparently, it’s such a secret that not even the tour guides are allowed to talk about,” Eric jabbered on. “It’s called the Tennessee Squire Room. It was built about a dozen years ago. It’s all trimmed and floored with pine, and there’s a leather recliner to lounge in.”
“I don’t know, man,” Duke interjected. “I’m not sure boasting about being a Tennessee Squire is going to help get you laid.”
“You’re probably right,” Eric agreed in a despondent tone.
“Have hope,” I said. “You never know what’s just around the corner.”
“Try to take your mind off of it,” Duke suggested to him. “Immerse yourself in a hobby. Join a club or something.”
“Like what?” Eric asked.
“I don’t know . . . join a gardening club or volunteer your time. Do something. If all else fails, you can try to write a book . . . like he’s trying to do,” Duke said, nodding in my direction. “You’ll meet the right girl when you’re least expecting it.”
“You’re writing a book?” Eric asked me.
“Yeah,” I nodded.
“About what?” he prodded me for more information.
“About this trip,” Duke answered for me. “About Remer . . . about Hamm’s Beer . . . about Freedom and Fun. Fear and Loathing in Remer.”
“But what’s so interesting about Remer?” Eric asked me. “It’s a town of 350 people.”
“Nothing that I know of,” I said. “But that’s not really the point.”
“I think Remer is a remarkable town,” Duke argued, before taking a long pull off his beer.
“Why is that?” I asked him.
“Well, for instance, did you know that Remer is home to the world’s largest statue of an American Bald Eagle?” Duke informed us. “I bet you didn’t know that.”
“Is that why it smells so much like freedom around here?” I joked.
“Remer is also home to Thunder Lake Lodge,” Duke continued. “Al Capone used to hide out at Thunder Lake Lodge when he needed to get away from the heat in Chicago.”
“How do you know all of this?” Eric asked him.
“My family’s from here. My grandfather and his siblings grew up in Remer, so I know more than most,” Duke explained before continuing to educate us regarding the 100-year history of the town. “There was a huge black market of booze that was raging in northern Minnesota back in the 1930s. The proximity to Canada, along with all of these wooded back-roads, caused giant headaches and tons of grief for federal law enforcement officials. I have a lot of stories I could tell you, but you probably wouldn’t believe me.”
“What else?” I questioned Duke. “What else do you know about Remer?”
“Only one other thing,” Duke answered. “During World War II, Remer was home to a massive logging camp that relied on German prisoners-of-war. Nazi POWs worked twelve-hour-days harvesting trees for the paper mill industry.”
“Really?” Eric asked. “Did any of them escape?”
“Surprisingly, escape attempts were almost unheard of,” Duke answered him. “Some say the escape rate was higher at most federal and state penitentiaries than it was at the prisoner-of-war camp in Remer. There simply wasn’t anywhere for the prisoners to escape to.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Eric agreed.
“It’s not a matter of me being right,” Duke said before taking the last swig of his beer and then chucking the empty can out the window. “By most accounts, the POWs got along quite well with the people of Remer. The prisoners would spend a good chunk of their free time fishing. They were all paid for their labor in the camp and were permitted to spend the money they earned to buy items like newspapers and cigarettes. They were even allowed to travel into town and watch movies at the theater.”
“How many prisoners were held in Remer?” I asked him.
“I’m not exactly sure, but I think it was more than a thousand,” Duke guessed. “I do know that there were more German POWs in Minnesota after the war ended than there were at any point during the war. American soldiers came home to Remer when the war was over to find the German soldiers working the fall harvest in 1945. Can you imagine coming home to that?”
“That can’t be true,” Eric said in disbelief.
“It’s all true. Look it up. It took as long as two years for some of those Nazis to be repatriated, and there are several rumors that some of them never left the area.”
“Don’t tell me those things,” I said. “I’m trying to enjoy my time in this town.”
“Now that I think of it,” Duke kept talking. “That could help explain why a person living in Remer is nearly twice as likely to be assaulted, raped, or murdered when compared to the national average.”