Hometown- The Cafe in Louisiana, Missouri 1934

This video shows bootleg whiskey and liquor being seized and dumped during prohibition in the United States…HD Stock Footage

Owings Cafe, as it looked in 2007, Louisiana, Missouri

In today’s post, Ray Owings, age 91, recalls the early years of what some call the American Dream. Wikipedia defines the American Dream as “a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work.”

Ray shares:

What took place over my lifetime is what some now call the American Dream. We hear it, but no one gets to the nitty gritty of how it was obtained.

I was born in Bates City, Missouri south of Oak Grove, in 1923, to parents who worked on a farm. My father had attended a one-room country school with eight grades and one teacher. He was an outstanding pool player as an adult. His hands and forearms were muscular, and I always thought this was a result of milking cows.

We moved to Oak Grove when I was five. My dad ran an elevator in town. One day, in the post office, my dad asked a man if I could start school early, at age five. I walked to school. My first teacher was Katy Gibson. She taught the first and second grades and knew the family. After that, we moved to Lebanon, Missouri, where my dad was a flour and feed salesman for the Kansas City Flour Mills (KCFM)- in 1928 to 1929. In 1929, the depression hit, KCFM folded up, and he lost his job.

He went to work for Standard Oil, running a bulk truck in Macon, Missouri. We lived in a house next to the jail and across from the courthouse in Macon, during prohibition. Every once in a while, the sheriff would run into the country and bring in a still, more to give the appearance of enforcement than anything. He’d place all of the accoutrements of the still on the sidewalk outside the jail. I liked that, because the dried fruit was always good. My dad knew the sheriff, and since my dad also sold kerosene and gasoline, he could pinpoint the stills by noting high kerosene sales, but he never told the sheriff, and the sheriff never asked.

I went to school in Macon up to the middle of the sixth grade, and in 1934, Dad quit Standard Oil and bought a small restaurant in Louisiana Missouri for six hundred dollars. In February 1934, we all piled into a chevy sedan for the move, and a young woman joined us. She was 13, and the people she lived with were hard on her and mean to her, so we took her in because she was so badly treated. All of us piled into that car, and moved.

Louisiana, Missouri was on the Mississippi River and it had some damn good businesses: a button factory that made buttons out of shells from the river; a tool factory; a glove factory; a basket factory. Pipeline workers moved into the town, which also featured Stark’s Nursery. The nursery provided good stock and it had orchards, during the height of the depression. Lloyd Stark became the governor of Missouri. If you really want to shake it down, there was money in bootleg whiskey, and during the Pendergast Machine years there was a monopoly on jobs and also there were certain stores where you had to trade. Anyway, Stark had a falling out with Kansas City Boss Tom Pendergast following the 1936 election, and turned against the Pendergast machine.

I worked in our restaurant, washing dishes, learning how to cook, and learning how to run the restaurant. I started school in the sixth grade, and there were two schools, one for the lower income element and another for the rest of them. The school was a two-story brick building with a tube-slide fire escape, and it was run by an old maid who was big and tough. The sixth grade teacher wore high neck dresses all the way to the floor.

Kids would come to school, 16 and 17-year-olds in the eighth grade. The PTA during the depression would take turns cooking meals, because many kids showed up at school to eat during the noon meal. Our restaurant would contribute- a big pot of chili (high-octane fuel) or macaroni and cheese. They’d get a little bottle of milk from the local dairy, and the local bakery would contribute bread and rolls.The older kids ran things and they sometimes ran the little kids home.

Our restaurant served hometown fare- meatloaf, ham, potatoes, vegetables in season- but people especially enjoyed my mother’s home-baked pies. My dad was on good terms with everybody, even the lowest of the low, and people knew this, so one day a wino came in, belly hanging out, and he siad, “Where’s Upton? I’m sick.” Upton was my dad, but he wasn’t around, so the man was left to the mercy of my mother, who threw him out. Harold, the man on the stool at the counter said, “Now Pearl, do you always treat people that way?”

to be continued…

Gramp with mosaics
Ray Owings visiting Pearl Harbor, March 10, 2013

21 Responses to Hometown- The Cafe in Louisiana, Missouri 1934

  1. ed nelson says:

    Good stuff as always… Crane stay…

  2. frsandoval says:

    I understand. But one does not need a piece of paper to assist in understanding quantum mechanics or even classical mechanics for that matter. Look at Henry Ford? All he had to do was pick up the telephone and he would have all the doctorate certificates he need. However, in quantum mechanics it appears that a pretentious attitude is almost an absolute.

    • I’ve had that experience with neuroscientists, but not quantum physicists and especially not astrophysicists.

      I am more interested in the study of consciousness and psi.

      • frsandoval says:

        Seems to me that one would have to possess a bar number to interact with such distinguished minds that deal with neurological systems and is facsinated by the physics of the microscopic world.

        As a shrewd prosecutor likes to imply, “Am I right?”

        • No bar card necessary. Universities and conferences.

          I have been studying the mystery of human consciousness since the late 60s.

          • frsandoval says:

            No Bar Number??? Well so much for my psychic ability. I have been telling my friends for a week now that California Chrome will win the Belmont by a nose making him the next Triple Crown winner since 1978; that the Kidnapped Nigerian school girls and The Malaysia Boing 777Airline Flight MH 370 will be found before the end of the month; that Pistorius will be found not guilty due to a mental disorder during the commission of his crime; and that China would point their ugly finger at us once again concerning our cyber-espionage allegations.

            But you my friend, half a century of study in the field of para-psychology is a wealth of experience. Should we expect a book? Would you care to share?

          • I didn’t say I didn’t have a bar number. I did have one. I was a criminal defense attorney for 30 years defending clients charged with felony and death penalty offenses. My specialties were forensics, particularly DNA evidence, and mitigation. I was a law school professor for three years after I retired from practicing law.

            I’m interested in a lot of subjects.

            Right now I’m focused on maintaining this website and co-writing a book with Crane about her legal case and how it ties into the corruption that I exposed in the law school.

            The lives of whistleblowers are never easy, but at least we can sleep at night knowing that we stood up against corruption and our day is coming.

  3. frsandoval says:

    @Two sides to a story

    So true. Unfortunately, it appers that it is not going to get any better any time soon and we will all go through those trying periods of creativity equaled to the times in our history we are discussing. In my field, I can almost chart what the stock market and economy is doing with the type of case load intake. Presently we are experiencing a case load which entails representation in areas of crime, divorce, and people just being pissed off.

  4. For some people, we’re almost at this level of depression now despite an upturn for others. People are getting really creative and living together in extended families to make ends meet.

    • Yes. We have pared back to a simple life, as most know, for example, we eat out of dumpsters. We are not complaining at all, and in fact, it’s our little way to cut out some mass consumption and needless waste, I suppose. So yeah. We are at a level of depression. Many are worse off, for sure. But people who are struggling do get creative and help each other out, and that restores my faith in humanity, in an ever-increasing inhumane atmosphere.

  5. frsandoval says:

    Your story ignites meditation that transports the reader into the times and lives of the Great Generation. It provides us with a numbing insight and history lesson into those hard times our great country and its people endured. Somehow the story defines each and every one of us. Thank you for your contribution.

    • Well, thank you so much for the read and the kind comment, frsandoval, much appreciated. You may be interested in some essays I have previously written as well. I have written about things like rural farming medicine during the early years, and also about traditions like thrashing of the wheat, canning, apple butter, butchering, planting corn, um…I will maybe try to re-post some of them- I am realizing that I did not post them here. So, something to look for. Meantime, there was this one, from Christmas. Now, if you have seen this already, then just let me know when you started reading…about what month…


      • frsandoval says:

        Thank you, Rachal. “And All Through The House” was another well framed history lesson, very interestingly written, and of course, a most humbling presentation and reminder o four past.

        I am actually a new fan to you all’s labor of love. A few months ago, by accident while doing research, I came across your site. It was quite refreshing to read your posts after a day of pleas, motions, and dealing with the realities of life on the square. In my work, I sometimes hold my labor of love in the balance for the benefit of others less fortunate. It is refreshing to read some of your stories indeed.

        Nevertheless, in my world, I supposed I may be considered one to be willfully ignorant, I find quantum mechanics, the superstring theory, and Stephen Hawking to add burden to my already burdensome world. In fact, my preference would be for him to take his synthesizer back to Britain. In my humble view, his theories are lacking in substance. Well, enough hot air for one weekend. I certainly do not want to contribute to global warming.

        • In my humble view, his theories are lacking in substance.

          I doubt you would say that if you did not have some understanding of what he said.

          As Gerrie Nel is fond of saying, “Am I right?”

          Care to share?

          • frsandoval says:

            Let me share this with you my friend. If any one says to you that they understand and can explain entanglement, quantum mechanics, quantum twins, or the paradoxes of interference and such, be wary. Even if convencing authority is provided to you.

          • I enjoy learning and do the best I can to understand those fascinating subjects, but I do not have a PhD in physics and do not pretend to be an authority on any of them.

        • LOL! I am going to keep on writing- and people for some reason do enjoy the history. So, I will hold to my promise and put some of the essays here. Thank you so much.

          • frsandoval says:

            Attaboy Girl. Sounds like a good deal to this history loving old man.

          • masonblue says:

            Oh wonderful! CS again, I also love history, and this works out because I am trying to put these essays together here. There will be new ones as well.

  6. bettykath says:

    What a teaser. Does Pearl treat everyone that way? Does she have a pithy rejoinder? Does the man she kicked out come back? What does Upton have to say about this? part 2, where art thou?

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