In Praise of a Neighborhood Bar

I know I said that my next few posts would be about my grandfather Isaac and my quest to discover the truth about his origins, but I’ve been distracted the past few weeks with domestic issues.

We finally set a date for our wedding, and we don’t have much time. My life is scheduled around the University and my future husband’s family lives around the Harvest. We had to negotiate a time between farming and teaching duties so that we could all meet in the same place.

We settled on March 29 because its my spring break and their planting won’t have started in earnest yet. March is still winter in North Dakota.

The short timeframe isn’t a true hassle at all because this isn’t the first time I’ve planned a wedding, or been a bride. But even with a small close-friends-and-family affair, there are things to do.

One of the major chores of any public nuptials is finding a place to host the ceremony. Most folks around here use the family church. We just don’t happen to belong to any particular church, so we’re forced to find a more secular spot.

This is an expensive and annoying process that I simply didn’t have the chutzpah to pursue. I looked around at a few obvious places here in Little Rock: Trapnall Hall, The Arts Center, a couple of local bed and breakfast inns. In the meantime, we settled on The Oyster Bar for our reception. After a frustrating evening checking schedules and prices, I asked my betrothed if he objected to just doing the ceremony at the Oyster Bar. It sounded good to him.

Our friends think this is the coolest idea they have ever heard. At least, this what my friends Lesha, Betsy, and Sheena all immediately exclaimed the minute I told them.

They think this, because The Oyster Bar is much more than a local seafood joint in Stift Station. The Oyster Bar, just like Pizza D’Action down the block, is like our own living rooms.

A few weeks ago we walked into Barnes & Noble and I spied a new children’s book version of Puff the Magic Dragon. The minute I saw the green dragon on the book’s cover, I was immediately transported into my own history.

I was four years old, at the “Pizza D” down the street from the Oyster Bar, and I was listening to “Puff the Magic Dragon” on the juke box. My parents and their friends would play it for me over and over and I would dance to it until I couldn’t dance anymore. In the mid-1970’s, the place was still fairly new and hadn’t acquired its characteristic grunginess quite yet. The was still filled with smoke and hippyesque twenty and thirty-somethings sitting around the bar in wrinkled t-shirts and over-worn blue-jeans. I could remember those nights perfectly: my parents and I would eat dinner at the Oyster Bar, slurping down peel-em and eat-em shrimp and hushpuppies. We’d over-use the roll of paper-towels on the table because we all over did it with the cocktail sauce. Then we’d wander down the block to “Pizza D,” as we still call it. I would listen to “Puff,” my parents would have a couple of cocktails, and then we’d head home to our rented Sears-catalog cottage at the corner of Van Buren and Kavanaugh.

I realized, when I saw that book, that my life really hadn’t changed that much since then. I don’t think Pizza D has “Puff the Magic Dragon” on the juke box anymore, but the sequence of events remains the same. I can’t count the number of nights I’ve spent as an adult eating at The Oyster Bar and wandering down the street to drink at Pizza D. Lesha I used to run a reading series out of The Oyster Bar when we were in college. At least once a week, I crave the shrimp etouffee there like other people crave their momma’s fried chicken.

I think, this time, I’ve picked the right guy to marry. He developed his own personal love of the Stift Station bar scene before we met and so we’ve managed to find much joy in repeating ritual together. I’m glad it finally dawned on me that we could get married anywhere we wanted, sans security detail and a $500.00 security deposit. I think that getting married at The Oyster Bar is the coolest idea I’ve ever had.

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