Proponents of alcohol sales have made jokes about the Lone Star State’s Sunday sales hours of 1 p.m.-6 p.m. They said those hours were a compromise between wets and drys in order to give the church deacons “an even start with everyone else” on Sundays.
Perhaps the most contentious series of events I’ve ever witnessed occurred in the Liberty County town of Cleveland in the late 1960s and early 1970s. With apologies to opponents, especially church folks, proponents, and advocating neither side, here are a few humorous recollections.
In the three and one-half years I was there, Cleveland was faced with three wet-dry elections. All three failed to allow liquor sales.
Just prior to the first election, I was picking up an ad in a local store one day and the owner summoned me to his office. The older man, a front-row occupant at the town’s largest church, said to me, “Uh, Boy, how you stand on this wet-dry issue?”
I told him: “Right on top of the fence.”
He replied: “I’m damn glad to hear that.” Then, he reached in a deep drawer of his desk, whipped out a fifth of Old Crow bourbon whiskey and said, “Let’s drink to that.”
Local restaurateur R.B. Boyett made no bones about his support of selling liquor by the drink in his restaurant if the measure was approved. Two things I admired about R.B. were his forthrightness and his sense of humor.
SINCE IT FAILED three times, R.B. threw his support behind a similar measure for package stores in neighboring San Jacinto County (sometime known as The Free State of San Jacinto). When the measure passed, someone asked R.B. what he was going to do. His reply: “I’ll tell you one damn thing (his favorite preface to almost any remark he made), I’m gonna throw me up a whiskey store over there.” And, he did, just across the county line less than five minutes from downtown Cleveland.
R.B., his wife and their two youngest children were members of the First Baptist Church in Cleveland. R.B. didn’t attend, but the rest of his family did and it was well known that the restaurateur sent a big check each week.
His close, carousing friends teased him and said his initials stood for “Round Boy.” Good sport R.B. always laughed but gave as good as he got.
According to local legend, not long after his San Jacinto County “whiskey store” opened, R.B. was paid a visit one day by three deacons from his home church. They’d come, they told him, to “church” him, which meant to read him out of membership in the church.
R.B. stood there, arms folded as he did when someone was addressing him in a manner he did not like, and listened to one deacon state their mission. When the man finished, R.B. began with his usual preface, “Well, I’ll tell you one damn thing. If it wasn’t for that back door that I built especially for your Baptist brethren, I couldn’t keep this S.O.B. open. Now, get out.”
HE SERVED on the city council after I’d moved on to Conroe, not too far away. He pulled some cantankerous move in a council meeting and I wrote a column in the Conroe Courier about how wrong-headed it was. Shortly afterward, I was in Cleveland and made a stop at the newspaper. I was standing in the lobby in full view of the door as R.B., who was known to have a hot temper, passed by. He stopped and came in with this look I recognized as “mock mad.” He walked over to me (the Cleveland publisher backed up as if to flee), stuck out his hand with a big grin and said, “How in hell are you?” I said, “I’m fine. You mad at me?” His reply, with a side look at the Cleveland publisher: “Hell no. I always know where you stand. You’ve got backbone. Good to see you.”
As I said, I had a lot of admiration for Round Boy. You always knew where HE stood.
Willis Webb is a retired community newspaper editor-publisher of more than 50 years experience. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.