As I've described previously Floodgate Store was a complex retail business operation with long daily hours. During the day Marguerite Avery was the sole attendant at the deli, convenience goods, bar and gas pumps part of the operation. Sam was in his shop out back doing the chain saw and other small motors repair work.
Marguerite ran the whole front-of-store operation balancing a serenely magisterial affect with a friendly, helpful one that immediately put strangers, City People, at ease, and always made us “locals” feel like we were being served by our no-nonsense older auntie. Physically she was a tall, spare woman with a lovely coif of elegant grey hair as only French women seem to possess. She had a slightly clubbed left foot and a bit of an arthritic limp, but her otherwise erect, firm stature told every one of us, “brightlighters” or locals, who was in charge. And she ran the most unpredictably busy part of the business, the bar, with a firmness that brooked no unsocial behavior on any patron's part.
As I've described in previous pieces, the bar between, say 4 PM and closing, around 9, was populated according to the time of day and day of the week. So Tuesday's at 5:30, maybe three or four people, Friday at 6, after work in the woods and ranches, perhaps a dozen or fifteen, maybe more, including, in summer, a few out front in the parking lot socializing around the gas pumps and visiting vehicles.
Typically the customership was almost entirely locals, so everyone knew everyone else along a spectrum from immediate kin or close neighbors to people who worked together on farms on in the woods, or minimally acquaintances up and down the Valley from Yorkville to Comptche. Most of the conversation was of a cordial, exploratory nature, what's going on in the woods weather and timber price-wise, deer hunting season plans, who's doing what to whom in Boonville, or what are those hippies up to at the Rainbow Commune up Greenwood Road . The City People who stopped by during the dry season usually took a cautious look around, bought their convenience food and left; or tried a beer and got frustrated by not being able to understand a word of the verbal play, so got back in their cars and drove away.
Marguerite's supervision of the bar and its deportment was very clear and firm regarding limits of controversy in her domain. Differences of view on next week's storm intensity, the customs of the new hippie community in The Valley or more broadly the meaning of Women's Liberation were acceptable, but voices weren't to be loud enough to disrupt other conversations, no ranting and absolutely no physical engagement, exception to follow, if you read on.
Reno Ciro, for example, when he would go on his chants over in the canned goods section about the gourmet glories of “Dinty Moore” beef stew, if he got too obsessive, she would simply say at a normal but firm volume, “Alright, Reno, that's enough. You've drunk too much to drive already, go on home to Comptche.” And Reno, without a retort, would pay his bill and saunter out the front door feigning at his wobbly best being sober. Mission accomplished.
Another time when he was obviously drunk, loud and deep into his psychoanalysis of the Zodiac Killer around eight one evening, she simply said to him, “OK, Reno, closing time, grab your stew cans and pay up.” And she turned off all the lights in the store, except the backbar advertisements of course. The five of us at the bar sat patiently in the dark, enjoying our beers and lowered volume conversation, watched Reno exit, shuffle erratically across the parking lot and drive off without checking for advancing traffic. Marguerite turned the lights back on even before he left the parking lot.
Or Rob Bloyd. One evening he was sitting, it appeared for hours when we arrived, with his trousers down his hips enough first thing we saw upon entry to the bar was his ample butt crack, and ranting aggressively in the face of his next neighbor, I don't remember whom. As Rob's volume rose so did his body off the stool and into attack mode, while Marguerite twice warned him to settle down mentally and physically, no avail. Finally, just at the verge of what appeared close to combat she rose from behind the cash register, came around the bar, put her right foot firmly at anchor, pointed to the door and said firmly and evenly, “Alright, Rob, that's it; get out of here now and don't come back.” Such authority: Rob subsided onto his bar stool, then got up and staggered forlornly across the room and out the door, banned. Apparently Marguerite had kicked him out for bad behavior twice before in the past ten years or so, one by-stander told me. But this sentence was new: banned for life.
Not quite. Somewhat over a year later, if I remember correctly, one afternoon just after I arrived at the bar, the door opened, always a note of interest to us all, a new participant to refresh the commentary, and Rob slunk humbly in and up to the cash register. With eyes lowered he softly asked if please, couldn't he get permission to come back to Floodgate Bar. Marguerite was both tough and kind in her jurisdiction, after all he had been a neighbor and customer for a quarter century at least. Her declaration: ”Alright, Rob, but remember...” I never saw Rob Bloyd act up at Floodgate again.
But under Marguerite Avery's jurisdiction there were also exceptions to The Rules at Floodgate. For example, during the tree-planting season, say 1976, Tom English's crew regularly assembled after work at Floodgate to water down, discuss the day's work and find out what was going on in the rest of The Valley. I was a loyal member of the congregation, and sometimes there were three or four of us, sometimes six, eight or more in camp. An almost daily visitor was a little Cajun “genuwine” Bayou Boy, Dan LaRue, ten years older than us, a smoker too, and almost totally productionless on the job site, never could ““follow the line” up a sidehill, simply planted a few trees an hour, never mind he and his wife needed the money, along the skid and truckroad berms at the bottom of the hill, while drinking beer and sharing gossip with whomever happened to come by working in his neighborhood. ”Scoop” LaRue we called him because he had gossip, true or not, on dozens of individuals and families around the Valley, which he broadcast in his slurred deep Bayou drawl even after we passed him by heading up the hill.
Well, one Friday evening practically the whole crew was there as well as the congenitally overweight thyroid damaged friend, “Fat Dana” Dana probably weighed in around 350 pounds, barely mobile, couldn't fit behind the driver's wheel of a car. But he was such a kind, decent friend we all, whenever we could, provided him with transportation to Floodgate and other social centers, private and public, around the Valley.
That particular rainy evening, Scoop was more drunk than usual and was declaiming with increasing vigor the weaknesses and failures of as many friends as he could. We tried but we couldn't get him off the air. ”Come on, Scoop, that's not fair, let it go...” Finally he apparently went a step too far. He started demeaning his long-suffering wife, Marilyn, who shared with him a small cabin down in Prather camp, where she lived with no means of egress since he took the family car to work every day. And Scoop started down the road of how all his problems were because of “...That Murrilyn, she's no good at cooking, can't get the laundry done...” and so on.
Then he paused, looked uncomfortable, wobbled off the barstool apparently betaken by a full bladder, stumbled and collapsed onto his stomach across the barroom floor. Without a pause and with an alacrity surprising to us all Dana gracefully slid off his stool just to Scoop's right and sat majestically with a gentle smile, like a giant Buddha, on Scoop's butt- facing toward his feet.. Scoop of course broke into an irate babble, more of a choked gasp, given the compression his torso was enduring, than a howl of “Goddammit, Dana, you fatass, get off of me..” which went on for full minute or two while the rest of the bar went quiet.
And when he thought the time was right, Dana simply signaled to us bystanders, and two of us grabbed his outstretched arms and hoisted him onto his feet and back over to his barstool. Scoop lay there for a while, deep breaths restoring his normal respiration rate while we all waited expectantly for how the next scene in the drama was to play out. Maybe some of us were disappointed, but Scoop merely slowly rose to standing, left his baseball cap on the bar, and slowly shuffled out the front door, no eye contact with any of us, crossed the parking lot, carefully got into his old Volkswagen, and decorously drove away, not a sign of drunken navigation.
Inside the bar silence continued for a minute or two before desultory conversation resumed with no reference to Scoop that I remember. And so, without a word from any of us including the proprietor, Marguerite's Floodgate Bar rule of Law regarding belligerent behavior had been enforced physically, gently, collaboratively by its compliant customers.
PS: Scoop and “Murrilyn” left the Valley a couple of years after this Floodgate event. Scoop himself returned for a visit sometime thereafter, still driving the old VW bug. And he was in good physical shape too, proud of himself because he's quite smoking and drinking, gotten a good steady job in the Sacramento Budweiser brewery warehouse, and found a good home for himself and his wife. Still had that exotic Cajun Bayou drawl, thank God.
(Next Week: Sam and Marguerite, their Valley Story)
Notice Of Error And Disclaimer: In last week's story about karaoke at Floodgate I mistakenly identified Billy Owens as of Arkie, descent. Sorry. Even I used to know Billy is of “Okie” extraction. The disclaimer: The stories I tell in these pages are to the best of my recollection “true,” though they may be a little bit “dramatized” or “glamorized” to enhance the texture and color of life in those days now gone.