The Fam­ily Busi­ness — And All The Cast Mem­bers

McDonald County Press - - COUNTY - Stan Fine

“You see that man over there. What­ever you do, don’t talk to, bother or even get near that guy.”

Although Mike was no more than 10 years old, he could tell that his step­fa­ther, who he called Ken­neth, was deadly se­ri­ous. As Ken­neth nod­ded his head from side to side and in the di­rec­tion of a one-armed man stand­ing near a flatbed truck, his softly spo­ken whis­pers fur­ther ex­plained his orig­i­nal cau­tion­ing.

“His name is Jack and he’s killed at least two peo­ple that I know of in Ok­la­homa.”

Mike stared at the man but didn’t ut­ter a word or even the slight­est of sounds as Ken­neth walked to­ward the man with the missing arm. “Hey Jack, how’s it go­ing?” “OK Ace, let’s do some busi­ness.”

Mike’s step­fa­ther mar­ried Donna Lee Poyner when Mike was 5 years old. Ken­neth Asa Meador, known to most as “Ace” came by his mid­dle name nat­u­rally as his fa­ther was named Asa. The fam­ily lived in the small South­west Mis­souri Ozark town of Noel where em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties were few and far be­tween; there­fore, Ace and Donna Lee de­cided to go into busi­ness with an­other cou­ple, Olen and Mary Lou Rit­ter.

The four­some ne­go­ti­ated a deal with Guy Cox and pur­chased a busi­ness lo­cated on the out­skirts of Noel. The liquor store, smoke shop and gas sta­tion were called “Elk River To­bacco.” The busi­ness pros­pered and, not long after its open­ing, a liquor com­pany sales­man told Ace that the busi­ness was thought to be the largest liquor store, at least in terms of square footage, in the state of Mis­souri. Four gas pumps stood in front of the build­ing and, while pay­ing for the gaso­line that filled up their pickup trucks, lo­cals could buy a candy bar, a pack of Pall Mall smokes or a few cans of Edel­weiss beer — seven cans for a dol­lar.

The one-armed man had driven his mod­i­fied 1950 Mer­cury to the liquor store and, like so many oth­ers from Ok­la­homa, came to McDon­ald County, Mo., to buy liquor.

The town of Noel was a wel­come re­treat for sum­mer tourists who basked in the hot Ozark sun while swim­ming in and float­ing on the wa­ters of Elk River. While the tourists’ dol­lars were wel­come, some in the Noel area found an­other and far more prof­itable means to sup­port their fam­i­lies. Those en­trepreneurs sold liquor to en­ter­pris­ing men who covertly trans­ported the whiskey and gin to Ok­la­homa where the sale of such in­tox­i­cat­ing bev­er­ages was il­le­gal.

The il­le­gal­ity of liquor sales in Ok­la­homa did not, how­ever, dampen the thirst and de­mand for the al­co­holic bev­er­ages. Men like Jack found the prof­its from the sales to thirsty Ok­la­homans made the risks ac­cept­able. Flatbed farm trucks laden with bales of hay rou­tinely came to the rear of the store. There, older gentle­men dressed in cov­er­alls shook Ace’s hand and smiled as helpers re­moved the bales from the wooden plank constructed truck beds.

Men climbed onto the beds of the trucks and pulled han­dles re­veal­ing trap doors that, when opened, un­cov­ered se­cret com­part­ments. Ace and oth­ers loaded box after box onto the trucks, after which the over­all-clad men care­fully placed the boxes of Ten High bour­bon and Gil­bey’s gin into the se­creted stor­age ar­eas. Prior to leav­ing, hand­fuls of cash were ex­changed, followed by hand­shakes.

In the year 1959, Noel was a great place for chil­dren to grow up. On week­ends and after school, kids could be found play­ing near the river’s edge, meet­ing and talk­ing with school friends on the side­walks of Main Street or, on Fri­day nights, catch­ing a movie at the Ozark Theatre. How­ever, the res­i­dents of Noel were hard­work­ing peo­ple and ev­ery fam­ily mem­ber had chores. The Meador fam­ily was no ex­cep­tion.

Ace and Donna Lee worked in the liquor store, as did Olen and Mary Lou Rit­ter. In 1959. the four­some built the “Dairy Land” ice cream busi­ness which was lo­cated di­rectly across the road — ru­ral High­way 59 — from Elk River To­bacco. While the Meadors worked at one of the two busi­nesses, the Rit­ters worked at the other, switch­ing job lo­ca­tions ev­ery other week or so.

Although Dairy Land was mod­er­ately prof­itable, its rev­enue could in no way com­pete with that of the liquor store. Help was needed with the Ok­la­homa sales and that need cre­ated a job for Mike.

Mike waived to his friends and school­mates each day as the yel­low school bus pulled away. When the hours of class time came to an end, Mike would exit the bus in front of his fam­ily’s busi­ness, Elk River To­bacco. Mike knew the rou­tine very well and, as he en­tered the store each af­ter­noon, his mother’s voice was heard asking the same ques­tion, “How was school?”

“OK,” Mike an­swered, of­ten with­out of­fer­ing even the slight­est glance in her di­rec­tion.

Mike’s job was a sim­ple one. He would re­move the bot­tles of whiskey and gin from the orig­i­nal boxes and, us­ing sheets of thin brown pa­per, wrap each and ev­ery bot­tle. The 11-year-old boy care­fully — care­fully be­cause bro­ken bot­tles were worth­less — wrapped each fifth of Ten High whiskey and re­turned the bot­tles to their orig­i­nal cases.

The wrap­ping pa­per was thought to be an in­su­la­tor of sorts, min­i­miz­ing the chances of break­age dur­ing the trip back to Ok­la­homa. After all, the cases of liquor were tightly packed within the false com­part­ments of those flatbed trucks and the pot­hole-filled, dirt back­roads were rough.

Work­ing at the fam­ily busi­ness did have ben­e­fits. There were the free Her­shey choco­late bars and com­pli­men­tary soft drinks, and there was the ice cream busi­ness lo­cated just across the street. Although Mike didn’t work at the Dairy Land, he did have ac­cess to the in­side of the store and the in­ven­tory within.

There came a time when the Meadors and Rit­ters de­cided to dis­solve their part­ner­ship. When the dust set­tled, the Rit­ters as­sumed own­er­ship of the Dairy Land busi­ness while Ace and Donna Lee kept the Elk River To­bacco shop. Over time, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment be­came in­creas­ingly more in­ter­ested in the busi­ness of trans­port­ing liquor to Ok­la­homa and even­tu­ally those trans­ac­tions be­came much more dif­fi­cult. In May of 1959, the peo­ple of Ok­la­homa elim­i­nated the need to buy Mis­souri liquor when they voted to end the era of pro­hi­bi­tion in the state.

When Mike talks about wrap­ping those bot­tles of whiskey, those men with the hid­den com­part­ments in their trucks and the ice cream sun­daes, he smiles. It’s a smile born of mem­o­ries about Ken­neth, Donna Lee and a dif­fer­ent time. It seems like ice cream was thicker and creamier back then, and Her­shey bars had more choco­late in them. That smile re­mains while Mike re­calls his mother work­ing at the cash reg­is­ter, her af­ter­noon week-day ques­tion and, above all, he remembers his brother Gary who passed away on the fifth day of Jan­uary in the year 2016.

All the cast mem­bers of this story, save one, have passed on. Ken­neth and Donna Lee are buried in the Noel Ceme­tery, while Olen and Mary Lou were laid to rest in Ben­ton County Arkansas’ Lee Ceme­tery. But what about the one-armed man named Jack. Our mem­o­ries of seem­ingly in­signif­i­cant events and peo­ple seem to defy ex­pla­na­tion, as is the case of Mike’s rec­ol­lec­tions of Jack.

How clever Mike thought of Jack’s head pat­ting. Jack, the homi­ci­dal ma­niac, was mak­ing noth­ing more than a shal­low at­tempt to con­ceal his true di­a­bol­i­cal na­ture. At least that’s the way a 10-yearold boy per­ceived the ac­tions of the one-armed man from Ok­la­homa.

Mike and his wife Linda now live in Grove, Okla.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.