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How the Power of the Vote Changed the Lives of one Small, Southern Town Forever

Kenneth is a rural citizen of Hamilton, Ala., and has begun to observe life and certain things and people helping him to write about them.

What I Need to do is

relax, calm down, and tell a story. Rather, relax, drink a cup of black coffee, and tell “the” story—and knowing the personal risk to my integrity, reputation for fair play, and love of America will be questioned, but so what? Won’t be the first time, and won’t be the last.

I know that you are waiting with bated breath to read this narrative since it is one of the pieces that I wrote in my Two Weeks Sabbatical to celebrate Christmas and New Years, and I also know that some of you (when you are reading) will look over at your companion in a stunning look with wonder painted all over your face—trying your best to find out the town where this true narrative takes place.

Good luck with that. I’ve heard many people, from many backgrounds, races, and vocations use that one phrase. It has a certain authority about it. When people hear this phrase, they sit up and try to take notice. I can’t take any of the credit for that last statement which should read, “sit up and take notice,” for two reasons: I inserted the verb “try” between and take giving the appearance of struggle when people today simply cannot stand still and listen to a rube like me. And two . . .the correct version sounds and even looks a lot better. Thanks. (Kenneth).

Illustration from Hawaiian Gazette about anti Saloon League.

Illustration from Hawaiian Gazette about anti Saloon League.

There was and Still is

a small rural city, population: 6,739 in 2016, where people there are friendly, hard-working, and many live suspicious lives. I would be right in saying, “miserable lives,” but since I stand against editing as I go, I will let it be. In this city, a very conservative town that would make “Mayberry, N.C.” look like Boston, MA., in plain comparison, and the Police Force would be considered redneckisq compared to Andy “Taylor” Griffith and Don “Barney Fife” Knotts.

This small southern town’s citizenry are mostly slow-moving, easy talking, and always watching what may be happening over the next horizon. I did touch on telling you about those who live “suspicious” lives, because a citizen of this town can walk out of any retail business on any type of weather, and hear a Cherry Bomb-like pop clear across town and in seconds flat, whatever police officers are on duty are speeding toward the direction of “that” pop with sirens wailing—making the nerves of the population (and stomach) draw-up in nervous knots. This town is no virgin to gunfire. The local newspaper is always standing sharp and ready to report any and all shootings. Sad though, this town and many like it, are evolving into the Metro Giants, Birmingham, Florence, Ala., and Atlanta, Ga.

The little town that once frowned on men using curse words when females were near as 10 feet from them were considered “criminals.” Crime was a stranger to this sleepy little hamlet. And the children all played in the gravel roads and on sidewalks until the Curfew was sounded. All was quiet and peaceful at 10 pm.

But this little town that I am speaking about never knew what locking a front door meant. Doors were open day and night. Citizens did not have to “teach” respect for each other, they just grew up that way. And everyone was happy with that way of life. At the terrible risk of editorializing, Respect was never about race or color or what brand of chewing tobacco a man chewed. It was purely about not dragging someone down with fists or tongues and people liked that way of living.

For many, many years this little southerninhaled and exhaled like every day that came and the day before that one. Nothing really changed, except maybe a drug-addled man lost his reasoning and took the lives of a young mother and her three children—in broad open daylight, something that only happens in (a) Birmingham, Ala., or (an) Atlanta, Ga. But truth is truth. No blanket of religion or morality could cover it up. Citizens had to look and bear it. One good-hearted man was said to say to another citizen of this small southern town, “with the three murders, “we” have now stepped into the 21st Century,” and really the man who said this observation, was probably not thinking how true this statement really was. But he said it. Others with their ooo’s and ahhhh’s just tried to pretend that everything was okay and held on for another day.

Yes, time was slow and sleepy if you were a visitor to “this” small town sitting so prim and proud at the Foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, but every now and then, a Meth Still would either explode in someone’s mobile home and the still and homeowner(s) were killed or seriously damaged or the Meth Manufacturers were watched by a branch of the ATM and local authorities with guns drawn, yelled “Police! You are surrounded!” or something of that nature and then arrested until bail was made and the same Meth Makers were back in business.

And the very same citizens with their heads held high in the air with their oooh’s and ahhh’s when they read the front page news of such evils, just went on straight-forward, with blinders on tightly and waited for another uneventful day to come to the little town that (these) citizens had grew to love and appreciate.

But as every History student knows, Alexander the Great wasn’t victorious over every nation. Macedonia with its leaders and citizens prepared for war with weapons far too superior than those of Alexander, proved to be too much for this young ruler.

Now that our history lesson over, I put this tidbit about Alexander the Great to prove something to others and again to myself, who sometimes finds life in (this) little town to be nothing short of amazing.--so much so that if you and I were riding and enjoying a perfect summer day in our ‘56 Buick Roadmaster and when we came near the middle of (this) town, our car suddenly took metal wings like an F-16 with you and I shut our eyes as we took off—this event would, I am sure, be amazing to the citizens of this little town and their amazement might last for a year or so, but when the people had talked the “Flying Buick Event” to death, life would return to the slower pace as did its forefathers.

It was in the darkness when most plans are made, and while these plans were not deemed as “evil,” or a move of “blasphemy,” still, these plans, circa 1984, were laid to move the little town and all other little towns in its county have a Wet and Dry Election where a contingency of voters could use their right to vote alcohol sales to be legal and do away with those traditional “hush businesses” of southern folklore: Bootlegging. And in this county prior to the Wet/Dry Election, there was a total of 44 different bootleggers sprawled through woods, trailer parks and in deserted frame buildings—bootlegging was more than a few good ol’ boys sneaking to their local bootlegger a few bucks on a hard Friday evening after work and tie one on. This was all a bootlegger was for: Easy access to alcohol, but the bootleggers had the upper hand. Their “runners” or people who drove to a place over in the State of Mississippi and brought back several cases of beer and fifths of liquor and then inflate the price as much as 30%. The only difference in a bootlegger was alcohol and the drug pusher, his heroine.

Facts are facts. The Pro-Alcohol Force were tough. They handed out brochures to employees going into or off of work, buying time on the radio and ads in the newspaper to saturate the “Legal Way” to have alcohol on shelves for the drinking people to spend their money in their own town, thus making their economy stronger. This was their main bargaining chip.

These Pro-Alcohol citizens, where were impervious to what was really happening (the end to the Slow Pace of Life in this town) so they kept always vigilant with various daring strategies that would shock the Ultra-Conservative townspeople, the sons of fathers of sons of fathers four generations back to the founding of “this” small, slow southern town, to which this drama of the Pro-and-Con Municipal Election might open the eyes of the drowsy rural people and poke them into living in reality.

Outsiders who drove around or through “this” lovable rural town had all been expertly-deceived. These non-citizens of this little town, (just a dot on the State of Alabama town), were mostly from bigger cities with more-important jobs making a ton more of money, so people of “this” description really never gave much thought to the lives of “this” town. Or ever wanted to.

Examples of how Real Excitement was defined by the people of “this” little town: groups of friends would meet once a month in the only laundry mat to talk about if another laundry mat might be built in years to come; meeting on the third Saturday in March at the airport, small to be sure, to count the rare occurrence of two planes landing to re-fuel before flying to the bigger airport in their bigger town where they lived; groups of older men would take photos of what older dogs in the city were sick from mange or other diseases and make “friendly bets” to see which dog would die first—of course, no “winner” won any money, just a friendly handshake.

In the year of 1966, a rare event happened one Saturday evening right before the eyes of the townsfolk who had just came to town to buy a few groceries. When lo and behold, the coroner was summoned by an innocent bystander who found a body laying in the front yard of his home. When the coroner and local authorities finished the reason of this citizen’s death, it was discovered that this middle-age man had died from a slow pace of life with a slight dose of laziness—attributed from his buttocks being grossly-oversized than most men of his age. This story made the front page on the next week’s newspaper. And such tragedies have never happened since.

Then, on one slow Monday morning, two men dressed in work clothes, walked briskly to the town’s city hall. The two had come to conduct a bit of big business and did not want it spread around by known gossiping mouths.

What these two men were doing was one of those plans made in total darkness while the population of “this” town were all sleeping—but when the one newspaper, one radio station got wind of it via legal channels, life for once had begun to start moving a heartbeat faster—a lot faster than an Amazon sloth climbing a banana tree.

The two men’s business that were given the Town Clerk would have made Bob Stroud and Frank Morris break out with wide, gaping smiles. Especially Morris, along with the Two Anglin Brothers who had planned and executed “the” most diabolical, masterful plan to escape from Alcatraz, a hellish prison near San Francisco, where the “worst of the worst” in the USA were held.

Murders, rapists, and gangsters all under one roof. Safe and secure. Until Morris and the Anglins broke free one dark night and the three were never found. Many leads by expert detectives were carried out, but all went cold.

Not with what the two men in City Hall were about to sign-over: The Town Election For the Legal Sale of Alcohol, which had been planned since the last of such election (the County-wide Alcohol Sales Election, circa 1984) held on Aug. 28 2012, with this small town’s Municipal Option Election that asked one question of its citizens: Do you favor the legal sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages? The Yes voters were: 1,491 and the No voters were: 1,086.

The time had come. Brooms held by housewives were heard hitting the kitchen floors. Even silverware in the town’s one cafe was heard falling into the plate when the diner who was reading “the news” found in the one newspaper about the small town about to hold a Legal Municipal Election to finally see what the 21st Century was really like when anyone of legal age could walk into the one convenience store, pick up a six-pack of beer, pay for it and go home. This was big news, man. Big.

But, as “these” clever Pro-Alcohol strategists knew, “this” municipal election was not going to be the same shameful disaster as the Pro-Alcohol Election held years ago, Aug. 28, 2012. No. “This” municipal election was going to run as smoothly as a fine mixture as Takka vodka and Chevron gasoline burning in an Evinrude bass boat. No slip-up’s. No chance of any skulduggery from the Anti-Alcohol bands who swore that a “dry” town was the same as a nice, slow-moving town.

The clock was ticking ..... .eyes rolled left to right, lips were bitten in sure anxiety, all signs of yet another band of booze-crazed loonies who had the cash and means to get such an election off the ground. These people who hated alcohol of any type, shape, and fashion were mighty worried and what their Main Worry was: the little, quiet town in the south about to “change,” the word was almost struck from English books in students’ books in this town. Things were growing more serious by the minute. Diets that were once honored, were now cast away and the Worried of Heart were now just a band of slothful over-eaters who almost grew high from the sudden lard intake from the meat they were eating.

Church services were not held in the little town’s only church on the Sunday before the Municipal Election for Pro-Alcohol Sales. The flags at the city hall and courthouse were hung at half-mast, a sure sign that the town’s “death” was only a mere 48 hours away. Even the hard-hearted souls cried like babies embracing other hard-hearted souls who for the first time, shed their first tears at this legal election that if voted “Yes,” meant a sure end for this little town that might have been a Historical Landmark if it not for booze being legal for adults to buy.

On every street corner, gas station, and grocery store, hordes of people whispering in serious tones about what these God-fearing, all-American people were to do when the little town “went wet,” but those in powerful offices only shrugged their shoulders and looked stupid for not knowing how to handle such a legal action as having a State-Declared Legal Municipal Election for Legal Alcohol Sales. Time was looking dim and blurred. What used to be fashionable and prim, were not disappearing in smoke before the very squinted-eyes of the small town’s neighbors.

One elderly gentleman, arguably the wisest man in the small town said: “iffen this was like World War One, I kin shure tell ye what I would do. I’d call out the Furst Cavalree—them ol’ boys could kick sum butt.” The old man was seldom wrong in the few statements he had made prior to this serious election which was the subject of all of the citizens—even the two preachers were so worried about their church members that a 12-hour fast of bread was declared by these godly men in hope that God would intervene in this of most-serious and humbling human events.

Mouths and lips were working overtime in talking about how “serious” and “dark” a town might turn like godless men with no hearts within a 24-hour period of alcohol were voted “Yes” to the crowds of Pro-Alcohol Voters whose numbers were growing by the numbers. Times were more serious now, than those days like those Anti-Vietnam War Protests in the Turbulent 60s.

But sadly, the Anti-Alcohol Voting Committee had been taken by total-surprise by the eloquent planning of the Pro-Alcohol Voting Front. It was like I told you in the beginning: all planned and designed in the dead of darkness. No phone calls to relatives who lived out of state. And no door-to-door Anti-Alcohol Sales Campaigns were executed that might have sent the Scales of Justice tittering back to a Peaceful Balance with the slow and too conservative lifestyles holding a small advantage.

Politics and Wars have always been treacherous, I’ve always said, and the Anti-Alcohol Election talk that was now growling like a wounded Brown Alaskan Grizzly was surfacing between families, friends, and anyone pumping gas at the one convenience store.

I will share only one of the Typically-Ignorant, but Dramatic Things that were being said to me from a person who was totally against the small town selling alcohol to only the adults who were citizens of this town. The caller did, I have to admit, have a good argument for being “against” the selling of alcohol, but as most heated politically-motivated rants go . .. .this caller went a bit “out there,” and I want to tell you that listening to “this” caller sounded like a tape from someone who was still living in the mid-1960s—kitchen apron, heels, dress and pearls like Donna Reed. Stylish, but very conservative.

The caller asked me this one question: “Do you know what is going to happen once “this” little town goes “wet?”

“What do you mean, ‘wet,” I asked. (I was allowed to ask one question.)

“Well . .. .I will tell you. I am much older than you, so I know a thing or two,” the angry caller said. I detected someone who would not stop at “just” voting NO on a Serious Election such as the one where a small, mostly-obscure southern town, if the scales were tipped to a YES to sell alcohol to adults—she scared the stuffings out of me and I did not even know her.

Funny things about having your name and telephone number published in a phone book.

“what’s going to happen, but listen. I am just a private citizen and. . .” I was trying to remain a private citizen and remain objective about the future Municipal Election to Go “Wet” or “Dry,” but this caller interrupted me.

“I’ll tell you what’s gonna happen! When alcohol is LEGAL, our town’s headed for the Pits of Hell, sure enough. That ol’ whiskey, beer, and that vodka stuff . . .bad enough to kill a wild hog! I know. I’m older. I’ve seen plenty of growed men fall into the clutches of booze—taking their families away and sending them to the Poor House,”she said now almost yelling. I just kept my mouth shut, which I thought was a wise choice.

“When the boozers in this town vote to go Wet, there’ll be a whore house in every corner of town and them big casino’s coming to take more of our money . ... .and I am scared, I tell you. Scared,” she said now really yelling.

“I take it that you don’t drink?” I said innocently.

“NO! I do NOT drink, and I think that you would vote for YES if the ‘lection was held tomorrow,” the called snapped.

“Well, you sound like someone who is very educational, so let me propose something to you,” I said softly. She said yes, to my question. “if the vote is Wet when this Municipal Election is held, then the bootleggers who are now selling alcohol to adults and KIDS will be out of business. And another thing: the local police and sheriff can have more power to police the roads coming out of the big towns of Tupelo, Miss., Florence and Jasper, Alabama, two “wet” towns that the Secret Drinkers in this town now go to drink and to bring back the booze for their homes—giving these cities OUR tax monies. Is any of this right?” I asked hoping for an intelligent answer.

A slight silence happened.

“Yeah, you are just like them that drank at home and haul it back from them bigger cities. And you want this to happen?” the caller snapped again.

“No, not at all. I just asked you virtually the same question. I don’t want the drinkers to bring back any booze. They can buy it in this little town if the town goes Wet. But they can only buy booze if they adults and I know that I sound like a Campaign Manager, but now, teenagers and kids 12 years of age can buy alcohol from the many bootleggers who live and sell out of this town without any State License. Do you think this is right?” I asked.

Another slight silence happened.

“Uhh, well, no. I gest don’t want whore houses and casino’s coming in town and what about the grandparents? Do you have any grandkids? What about them?” the caller continued.

“Ma’am, I do not drink. I have three grandkids who know about drinking and alcohol and when they become adults, they can make their own minds up about drinking. But the wet and dry is more about economics than anything else—and taking the bootleggers’ business down,” I said.

“Well, how are you going to vote, wet or dry?” she asked.

“What? You are asking me to tell you about a protected right, My Voting?”

“Yeah, you are one of them drankers and I am going to vote NO when they have that vote. Bye!” she said very hatefully and hung up.

As the distraught caller hung up, another “big” step was taken when “this” once-”dry” southern town: citizens of the town voting overwhelmingly to approve the selling of alcohol to various licensed-outlets and only by outlet and alcohol sold only to adults. A few let out a collective sigh.

Three or four days after the “YES” vote was cast, and it was now Legal for Alcohol to be sold in “the” little town, life was in many ways, quite the same. No whorehouses, casino’s, or mentioned of the Mob in the little town and the citizens old and young, black and white, went about learning how to get along with each other getting along a lot like life was when “this” little southern town was “dry.”

Story is finished.

Jan. 7, 2018

The Drunkard's Progress  A lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement  January 1846.

The Drunkard's Progress A lithograph by Nathaniel Currier supporting the temperance movement January 1846.

© 2018 Kenneth Avery