SUNNY CAL JOURNAL - Wild And Woolly Clay, Boozers And Revelers

By Bob Weaver

The historic rough and tumble days of Clay County were beginning to fade in the 1970s, but there was still plenty of action. It was here where the phrase of "knife and gun club" was etched into my brain, referring to Friday and Saturday nights.

I arrived in Clay to seek employment as a mortician at the Carl Wilson Funeral Home, to live in that county for about a year. Wilson, now deceased, was a quiet, soft-spoken man who bore the mantle of the backwoods community, having grown up near the wild and crazy coal community of Widen, his brother shot dead during a period of unionizing.

My first night there, I was introduced to the frenzy.

The store front funeral home was a loitering place, sitting on long flower beds and drinking a few beers with Eugene Beasley, who was one fine person, and the funeral home's ambulance driver.

Eugene, who had more girlfriends than you can count, was not much of a drinker, but my alcoholism was beginning to take its toll.

About midnight a dozen young guys swilling whiskey and beer had devised a Main Street drinking game, making start to finish lines on the pavement. The runners to be set off by the firing of a pistol into the air, they would dash to the finish line, the winner getting a slug of booze.

It seemed like Saturday night entertainment, but as time crept by, they transformed to noisy and boisterous revelers, imbued with the unholy spirit of cheap booze.

The activity took a turn for the worse, a boozer picked up a rock and threw it through a department store window across the street.

Not to be outdone, others joined the object throwing, tossing things through the windows of the Seneca Tavern and the Henry Clay Hotel.

Being a dutiful civic minded citizen, I went to the phone to call the town cop. After explaining the activity, he clearly responded, "If you think I'm coming down there, you're crazy. Call the State Police."

What happened next I can't recall, we went to bed in an upstairs apartment, with Eugene saying, "Welcome to Clay."