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Chapter 20

The Lonestar Tavern

I don't know how long Irene had operated the tavern before she met Charlie. It was not love at first sight. Charlie had retired as Mess Sgt. from the Air Force, taken a job as dietitian with the Veteran's Hospital and retired from that. He started hanging around the tavern and soon started helping Irene close up at night. As Irene put it, "It was cheaper to marry him than feed him."

Located on the Mexia, pronounced "MUH-HAY-ER" by natives, highway between Bellmead and Axtell, it was a real family honky-tonk. An ongoing pool tournament provided entertainment accompanied by a juke box that played only Czech and Country music. The most popular songs being, "In Heaven There Is No Beer" and "The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde" by Merle Haggard.

As I recall, the bar was about ten feet long with stools to match. A regulation pool table took up the center and caused customers to brush against each other as they moved about the room. In the back room, five tables with four chairs, one table with six chairs were located around a small 8 x 8 dance floor. The kitchen when I first saw it had a regulation gas grill, electric stove, two refrigerators, a deep fat fryer, a work table and two large sinks with drain board. You could not cuss a cat without getting hair in your mouth.

Charlie had started small. He often prepared steaks for special customers using his "secret ingredients." Ever frugal, Irene told him he should start charging for the steaks. When we first came upon the scene, twenty-five steaks would be a big night for Charlie. We spread the word about the food and soon most of the cadre who spent the week in Waco were dining there every night. Expansion didn't bother Charlie. He found a large walk in icebox large enough to hang the fresh loins he purchased, knocked out one wall of the kitchen and made it part of the structure. By now we were old friends.

He stepped on a nail and wasn't able to cook. He knew I had experience in the kitchen and asked if I would fill in from four until nine five nights a week for twenty-five percent of the gross to be paid every night in cash. I was there anyway and it was a good way to stay out of trouble. I averaged a hundred a night. This was when I was making $1250.00 a month for Convair. It brought my earnings up considerably.

Charlie's brother-in-law had wired all the appliances. He was somewhat mentally challenged when it came to city code and wiring. I discovered this the first night in the kitchen when I touched the stove and the deep fry at the same time. Charlie told me he had forgotten to warn me about that. Standing on a damp floor, 220 volts will get your attention. I told Charlie at the time he was looking for trouble. I checked the circuit breaker box and found 60 ampere breakers where 40 should have been and so on. Charlie said this kept the lights from dimming and going out. It did until about three months later when the place went up in smoke about three in the morning. It was a blessing in disguise. Within a week, Charlie had a real contractor on the job and the all new LONESTAR TAVERN was operational in less than a month with seating for over a hundred. He rotated the tables four times each night which means over four hundred pan fried steaks. The steaks were never frozen, cut fresh from hanging beeves every night. He served T-bone, Ribeye, Sirloin and Chickenfried. The Chickenfried was made from half inch sirloin pounded in to submission, tender as a mother's love and delicious.

Charlie's steaks were so good, the owner of the Black Angus Steak House ate there. Charlie had one rule that was never broken. He served steaks from four until nine in the evening. Irene had a sign printed on a piece of cardboard that read, "Sory, last steak." (Yes, that is the way "Sory" was spelled.) People would be lined up outside the door waiting to get in. She would count down to the nine o'clock cutoff and place the sign around that customer's neck. No exceptions except for me and B.F. Thomlinson. Even then I had to cook our steaks.

I left Waco in November 1968 but remained friends with Charlie and Irene until his death five years ago. He had retired, sold the Tavern and spent his time fishing for the big bass he had stocked in his farm lake. Irene asked me to be a pall bearer and it was an honor I was glad to fulfill. Before he died, he gave me his recipe - the real one. I promised to keep it secret and pass it along only to someone who enjoys a good steak.

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