This story is by Desmond Dixon and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
This story is fiction but the Claude Tavern is real, the rules, the brass plaques, the grease spots on the walls and above the urinals from greasy hair is real and so is the fortune teller’s rat.
Willard was a single guy in the 1950’s who worked as a backhoe operator for Campeau Construction Company and spent his weekends swilling beer at the Claude Tavern.
On Saturday mornings he took his dog, Hubert, shopping, and Hubert would faithfully wait outside the hardware store, the grocery store, and the butcher shop and they’d go on their way to the next establishment. But when Willard went into the Claude Tavern, Hubert headed home as he knew he would be there for hours before Willard came staggering home.
On Friday afternoons, Willard stocked his refrigerator for the following week where he spent his evenings swilling at home. He lined up at The Beer Store with all the miners getting off shift, watching with envy as they staggered out under their heavy load of three cases of “Two-Four” bottles of Silver Foam Beer, for what was known as ” A Sudbury Miner’s Weekend.”
# Northern Ontario’ famous Country Singer Stompin’ Tom Connors composed the song about a Sudbury Weekend in his song “ Sudbury Saturday Night” and made the rounds of all the taverns singin’ the song while stompin’ one foot on a wooden breadboard that became his trademark. The song became a big hit in Canada and he turned into a national celebrity and a legend. He even got The Governor-General’s Award for his contribution to the musical history of Canada.
The Governor General’s Award it should have also gone to The Claude Tavern. The building stood on the dividing line o the French-Canadian settlement called Frenchtown and the English sector of Sudbury. When you entered the tavern you’d have to stand there for a while to get used to clouds of cigarette smoke, the dimly lit room, and the din of noise from scraping chairs on the terrazzo floor, the clinking and smashing beer glasses and the shouting from patrons.
The guys of the Claude, both young and old, got together every Saturday night to watch Hockey Night in Canada and wait for the voice of Foster Hewitt shouting “He Shoots He Scores” The place would go wild with excitement. The French Canadians particularly liked to watch Maurice, “The Rocket” Richard” and the English rooted for Detroit’s Saskatchewan product Gordie Howe. They were both close to getting the all-time record of 50 goals for a season. There was a great rivalry between the French-Canadians and the English about who was the best super-star and fights would occasionally break out when the fans had too much to drink. The waiters were also proficient bouncers and would grab the offenders and toss them out into the street.
The Claude tavern had its old timers who were revered and brass plaques adorned the backs of their chairs. They were given the honored position of having their chairs placed along the wall and spent many years tipping their thrones back and resting their heads against the wall. This left a greasy black stain attesting to the many years they spent in the tavern. If one of the honored members of the brass plaque died his chair was declared holy ground to be left vacant forever against the wall. Every drunken overloaded patron added to the oily spot above the urinals when his unsteady wobbling legs were steadied by pressing his forehead against the wall while peeing.
The Ladies and Escorts section of the Claude tavern was visible from the men’s room. The resident fortune-teller, Wanda Moosehorn, held court every night while feeding her large pet black rat she called Rodney. Willard never liked to sit in the Ladies and Escorts section of the Claude tavern but tonight he sat with his girlfriend Pansy Cloutier.
“Hey Pansy, did you know I’m getting close to being awarded a brass plaque on my chair? Pansy was sick of his drinking and took this opportunity to dump him. “Does that mean you will be a certified alcoholic?” She sneered at him in disgust, got up and went over where another guy greeted her with a too-familiar kiss on the cheek.
Willard brought his glass of beer over and dumped it on her new boyfriend’s head .”
“I’m done with you Pansy, you little tart.” “That’s okay with me Swillard, good luck with the brass alcoholic’s award.”
Willard forgot about Pansy and concentrated on his main goal of getting a brass plaque on the back of his chair and an honored place along the wall. That day would never come and it was the fault of his ex-girlfriend, Pansy Cloutier. She spread the news that Willard was now to be called Swillard.
One Saturday night Willard was drinking with his working buddies and heard laughter coming from the next table and they were pointing at him. “Hey, Willard we hear your ex-girlfriend Pansy, has renamed you Swillard.” “Very funny you guys, and all I have to say to that is, up your ass with a wire brush.”
Just then a waiter was coming by carrying a tray full of draft beer for their table. Just before he got there Willard stuck out his foot and tripped him. The waiter let the tray go into the air and it crashed down on his tormentors soaking them and breaking their beer glasses. Willard was placed on The Claude’s “Shit List” forever ending his eligibility to be awarded the brass plaque.
Two waiters grabbed Willard and gave him the bum’s rush to the door and threw him out into the street where he landed heavily and was knocked out of his senses. When his head cleared he saw a beautiful young lady in a sunbonnet leaning over him and offering a bottle of water. “Have some water sir, you look tired,” she knew he was drunk but wanted to be kind to him. He thought at first he was looking at an angel and accepted her help then staggered home.
The next time Willard saw the sunbonnet girl she was was standing at the door passing out Alcoholic Anonymous pamphlets at the entrance of the Claude Tavern. “It’s a hot day sunbonnet lady, can I buy you a ginger ale? “Oh, I remember you, how are you feeling? “I’m okay now I just needed to sober up and get a night’s rest.” “My father was an alcoholic and he recently passed away.”
“I’m sorry to hear that ma’am, my name is Willard and I’d be glad to buy you that ginger ale” “I’m Sue Simmons, and I’d like to have a Ginger Ale with you, Willard.” Willard studied the beautiful girl with the sunbonnet and thought of the song “Sunbonnet Sue,” and the name stuck in his mind every time he looked at her.
Willard was hooked and kept staring at her and was fascinated at how refined and proper she was and how pretty she looked as they talked the evening away. He walked her home and for the first time in months, he was sober on a Saturday night.
He ended up marrying Sue Simmons, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and for years Willard and Sue were seen passing out Temperance pamphlets at the door of the Claude Tavern.