An obituary posted Oct. 27, 2015 in the web version of my hometown newspaper took me out of my living room chair in Port Orange, Florida and mentally deposited me on the doorway of Little Joe’s Cocktail Lounge in Saranac Lake, N.Y. The bar no longer exists but I remember it clearly. Two bars stand out in my memory of walking downtown in my girlhood. One was Little Joe’s and the other was at the bottom of the hill from Berkley Square. I would take quick peeks into those establishments as I scurried past. Both looked dark and spooky to me. I could see men sitting on stools at the bar and somehow associated them with shady criminal types. No-one ever said anything to me caused that view. I have no idea where it came from and I never asked my parents about bars. Recently after I read the obituary about Joe Gladd, the owner for Little Joe’s. He passed away at 90. I wish I’d gotten to know this man celebrated for having a delightful sense of humor, as a family man. He was well liked by many in my hometown, not because he owned Little Joe’s but because he was a man worth calling friend. I never spent any time in a bar growing up. Our family had favorite restaurants that included bars but kids remained on the restaurant side. Parents might have a before dinner cocktail or a beer with a meal both at home and in the restaurants. Somehow I never tied those drinks to the drinks being served in dimly lit bars. I had and have an overactive imagination and I obviously enriched the bar scene to fit novels, movies and who knows what else.
Little Joe’s obituary prompted me to recall a short list of bars I frequented prior to my retirement a decade ago. Heavy drinking was never part of those visits. It was more about gathering with friends and extended family. County commissioners, City Council members, County and City officials, off duty law enforcement officers and a cross section of the community used to meet at one bar in Wahpeton, N.D. It was a great place for a reporter to unwind and pick up news tips and background for stories. I was a reporter and an editor. I played pool badly there, drank very little, often stuck to a soft drink, and never gave much thought to being there. Living lakeside on a Minnesota lake, a nearby bar was a favorite, especially in the winter which started early and lasted long. I have fond memories of evenings of storytelling, laughter and sharing at various bars in cities where I attended meetings or conventions. It was the only time I saw dear friends I’d met professionally as we all lived in communities all over the nation. When I had my own public relations firm, I had more than one meeting with clients that included sitting around a table in a bar.
Bars can be dens of iniquity or they can be places were friends, family and even business types meet to enjoy one another, to discuss business, or to have a mixed discussion agenda that includes sports, politics and life’s high and low points. One can be a Christian and still cross the doorstep of a bar. One can enter a church weekly and never surrender one’s life to Jesus. God knows the heart and he surely knew the heart of Little Joe Gladd. He knows the heart of those who patronize bars and those who strive to live as Christians with the help of the Holy Spirit. Little Joe lived a long life and he seems to have lived it well. His obituary sent me memory walking and left me slightly homesick for the mountain town of my birth and the people and places I love in North Dakota and Minnesota. It also caused me to prayerfully reflect on Jesus who had a habit of hanging out with people the religious establishment deemed unacceptable for a crooked list of reasons.
Luke 7:34 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Lord, remind me to live as Jesus taught and showed. Let me love others as you would have me love them. I know I will and do fail but I know I need to keep trying in your name. Amen.