Memories of Rock Rapids' Linkenheil Meat Market

The Linkenheil Meat Market was located on South Story Street where the Mercantile Bank Square is now located. The buildings on the south end of the block burned to the ground several years ago, and the lots were subsequently purchased by the bank and made into a beautiful landscaped part where various town activities are staged at various times.

I can remember visiting the Linkenheil Meat Market as a small child. The proprietor was a butcher-merchant, Charlie Linkenheil, a short, stockily built gentleman whom I would judge to have been of German descent. He spoke with quite a smattering of an old country accent. He wore a white apron. Well, I would presume that it was white at the beginning of the workday. Since my visits to the store with my father or mother were later in the day or on Saturday night, I can only remember the apron as being of "many colors." The "many colors" were the result of Charlie continuously grasping the lower section of the ample apron to wipe his hands! Another of my recollections is of Charlie peering over his glasses which always seemed poised at mid-nose level as he waited to hear your order.

I grew up on a farm near Rock Rapids, so we always had a ready supply of chickens, geese, hogs and cattle to meet our meat needs. Therefore, I don't believe we bought much in the line of meats. I do remember buying wieners, cheese, huge dill pickles from a wooden barrel, canning salt, and seasoning salt for our home-cured hams and bacon. My mother canned a sizeable amount of pickles from her garden, but there was something special about those meat market barrel dill pickles that tasted great!

The Linkenheil Meat Market had a huge, fierce-looking, shaggy-haired buffalo head mounted and fastened to the wall overhead in the store. I was scared to death of it. I had never seen a real live buffalo at that stage of my life. I remember clinging to my mother's hand or skirt and trying to keep her between myself and that awesome, glassy-eyed monster! He always seemed to be staring at me wherever I moved about in that store. I entered the store with fear and trepidation, and I left with a sense of relief that the behemoth had not tumbled off the wall and attacked me!

It was amazing how adept Charlie was at handling the big "wheels" of cheese. He had a huge, oversized knife that must have been honed to a high degree of sharpness so he could wield the knife to cut slice after slice of cheese. He kept one eye on the wheel of cheese and the other on the scale as he flipped each slice of cheese onto the big old scale. It was quite a different process from the meticulously wrapped cheese we buy at the grocery store today. Of course, some of the housewives would buy a good-sized chunk of cheese and slice it at home as was needed. I can remember my grandmother slicing cheese into slices. She would grasp a piece of sewing thread and draw it through the cheese to the preferred thickness of the slice. It was fascinating to watch Charlie Linkenheil if a customer gave an order of cheese by the slice; in this case he didn't have to keep an eye on the scale weight as he sliced. How the knife would flash through the cheese, and how the cheese would fly toward the scale as he counted the slices! It seemed to me that my mother would quite often purchase cheese in that way.

It was equally fascinating to see Charlie Linkenheil fill an order of wieners. The wieners in those days came in a continuous string; each wiener was attached to the next one. He would reach into the meat showcase, grab the end of the "rope" of wieners, and deftly fold one over on top of the other on the scale until he had the order filled; at this point he cut the string. Then in one motion he would tear off a piece of wrapping paper, securely holding the wieners in one hand. He slapped the wieners onto the paper, flipped over one corner, folded in the sides, and finished wrapping by flipping the bundle of wieners over and over until the paper was used. At this point he would grab an end of string from the overhead string dispenser and flip the package this way and that, securely tie up the package with a neat knot, and sever the string with both hands. Presto! It was faster than the eye could follow! The package was neatly wrapped, no doubt, from many hours of practice!

I can remember aisles of products that ran the length of the store, but I don't recall the variety of things that were sold. I don't believe that they carried a great amount of things that would have been found in a grocery store as there were seven or eight grocery stores in Rock Rapids at that time. I just don't remember what the items were. After all, I was quite young and I did have to keep an eye on that buffalo head on the wall!

I do remember the meat market was meticulously clean. The terrazzo floor with its intricate, geometric design always looked freshly scrubbed. It was fun to walk on the floor; you could come down hard on the ball of your foot, and your step would resound with a hearty "slap". My mother did not appreciate this exhibition.

I suppose I would be remiss if I neglected to tell you of one more memory of Charlie Linkenheil, with apologies to his heirs. In his later years, Charlie walked with a waddle which was due to his sore feet. I suspect that years and years of standing on the wet cement floor in the back workshop where the butchering, grinding, and various meat-market work was done took its toll on his legs and feet in later years. I am sure that the hard terrazzo floor didn't offer much relief to his feet either. He walked as though each step he took was extremely painful. If he had to walk additional steps to get something from the backroom or off one of the shelves, and you listened closely, you might have heard him mutter under his breath, "Oh, mine feet, mine feet, mine gawtt dom fet!" How they must have pained him. What an effort it must have been to keep on working in a business where walking the only way!

In later years, Charlie's son, Carl Linkenheil went into partnership. After Charlie passed away, Carl operated Linkenheil's Meat Market for a number of years. As I think back to my childhood, I can still call to mind the smell of the meat market as I entered the store: a distinctive smell of soap, seasonings, and the vinegary smell of the dill pickle barrel. There is also the memory of Charlie peering over the top of his glasses and wiping his hands on his apron as he listened for your order. And I remember the buffalo head!

Provided by Evelyn Halverson
Transcribed by Roseanna Zehner

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