By Sabrina Hornung
Photo by Sabrina Hornung
Our opinion: In the sanctity of the community living room
Last Saturday, we said goodbye to our friend Marcy at an intimate graveside service. Marcy was the proprietress of the Watering Hole Bar in Lehr, North Dakota. She and her husband Clayton bought it in the early 90s and ran it until their last days: Lehr, a tiny village in south central North Dakota, its best claim to fame being it’s the smallest town situated in two counties, Logan and McIntosh.
That day a group of people comparable to the population of Lehr came to pay their respects. Some were locals, some came from 100 miles east, some were family from as far as Nebraska and Missouri.
Marcy would often comment about having to deal with both Logan and McIntosh County law enforcement. Though Lehr was far enough from either county seat, visits weren’t too frequent and if they did stop by, they’d often sit and visit and Marcy would send them home with something, whether it was a piece of her mind, a confirmed bit of gossip, a jar of pickles or a bag of chicken feet – okay, maybe it was just once that she tried to get rid of the chicken feet…
You see, the Hutterites used to use the bar as a dropoff point for folks who ordered their goods. Like many small towns, Lehr's a pretty tight knit community and the folks who would hang out at the Watering Hole were a group of locals and a handful of out-of-state hunters; and they were treated like family.
Marcy was really good at getting people together. Not only did she have the last social space in town, aside from the church, she had a mind for community. She and our friend Chauncey, the former mayor of Lehr, spearheaded a fundraising effort to renovate the old American Legion. He donated his city salary and Marcy put together a cookbook, set up a fundraiser at the bar, and raised a considerable sum of money for it. I never made it to that one, but from local reports, the bar was filled wall to wall, the capacity of which is probably double the size of Lehr, hunting dogs included.
In fact she was always poring over cookbooks and recipes; up until she passed she was collecting recipes from members of the community for the Lehr 125th that’s coming up next year. Like many folks around here, food was kind of her love language – that and a cold beer.
She was also part of a fundraising effort to raise a flagpole at the Lehr Cemetery. Prior to her service, that was the last time I was at that cemetery. After the flag raising we had our own celebration that lasted the rest of the day and well into the evening, leaving us heavy-headed once we woke up. It was the greatest of nights and the worst of mornings but I’m glad we had the chance to celebrate. I cherish the laughs and conversation we had that evening, and I think that’s where our friendship started.
There was a tender edge to her.
That was one of my favorite things about her. It didn’t matter what it was, she would tell you exactly what she thought and if there was something on her mind she wouldn’t hesitate to let you know. Oftentimes it would be followed by a scowl or a mischievous smirk. Her brother shook his head as he commented that, “She could be tough,” at her graveside service.
“Don’t get me started!” She’d often say, just when she’d REALLY get ready to get started. She’d be seated at a kitchen table in the corner of the bar, the best spot to keep watch over her patrons, as they grabbed their beers from the cooler. “Grab one for me, while you’re at it – no, grab two!”
I always like to refer to a good dive bar as a community living room. These social spaces are so important and not just for the buzz…
It’s interesting to think that in areas of population, folks struggle to stay anonymous, but in these rural spots they strive for interaction and still trust their neighbors for the most part. Any outing is a social event, with the bank closed and the post office only open certain hours; and where else will you get your news? The next nearest watering hole is 20 miles in three of the four cardinal directions.
A couple of days before she passed away, her nephew was helping her out with cleaning up the bar. He scrubbed everything down and moved things around to accommodate the new pull-tab machines, washed all of the bar glasses, scrubbed the floors. She never made it back to the bar to see it sparkle.
When Marcy passed away her friends – aka regulars – drove around town dazed, like kids who’d lost their clubhouse, passing each other, stopping in the middle of the road to chat, like you do in a town the size of Lehr.
“Now where do we go to congregate?”
“Now where do we get our gossip?”
“Has anybody heard anything?”
She wasn’t perfect by any means, and she may not have always felt accepted by Lehr, by her Lehr. But she had a fierce sense of community, and her community grieves for her.
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