I have not been in a mood to go out, mostly because of the work around the house, the town and the friends that drop by, but it seems I can be dragged to the Honky Tonk for a beer or two. No alcohol can be served or sold cold within the city limits, so I go out and about. The bar’s way out there in the county, an old sawmill-type building that seats about three hundred. Cold in the winter and hot in the summer, the windows are propped open with sticks and the beer is as cold as the small roof-lid refrigerators and the three keg taps behind the bar can make them.
The bar is ten feet of mahogany stretching along the wall as you walk in. Josie Stevens stands behind it as she has for decades, a cigarette in her hand and a glass of ginger ale in the other. She will take your drink order and ask no questions, but if you get in trouble on the way home, well, just ask the Bannville High football team if Josie will help you out of jail.
A stage is set up along the far wall and chairs and tables dot the large open floor. They can be moved aside for dancing if the mood takes you. Normally a small area is cleared and a few couples bob along to the beat, but today nothing like that is happening.
A lone man stands on the stage. The crowd is silent and respectful as the words of Jupiter Hammon are read aloud. The young black man reads the words of praising God, of devotion and calm and hope. The crowd listens until he is done, wait patiently and clap and hoot and holler when the words are finished. They have gathered for Black Poetry Day, a small day of remembrance of the traditions of others and of other ways to enjoy the words of life.
With a name like “Honky Tonk,” one would expect a certain level of… well, dumb redneck racism. That is not tolerated at this bar, though, the only place in town to get a decent drink. “If you can pay, you can stay,” has always been the motto as far as anyone can remember and everyone respects that and leaves their prejudices at the door. Probably one reason any respectful mother tells their sons to stay away from “that Stevens place” and few do.
I sit with my friends, with Ocean and her husband Daryl, and with Jessie who used to run IT for us at the library. He now works for the city schools, giving the internet to all the children of the land.
Ken Harris’s here, too, but he’s at the bar talking to Josie and I do not want to bother them. When they start in on each other, the sly fights that old lovers gone past can have, it is best to stay away and let them have their fun.
I look around at my friends, enjoy their laughter and fun and thank… whoever, whatever has blessed me. Nothing is ever so bad as a man without friends.