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OPINION: Democrats and Republicans

April 8, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.

Some say the fight was over politics -- one Democrat and one Republican. There are those who argued that Paul Viles didn't care to be told what he could or couldn't do. Others believed that my grandfather, Floyd Fine, expected folks in the small town of Noel to do what he told them to do. After all, he was the city marshal. However, many who knew both of the combatants said the fight was inevitable and it was just a matter of time before the two men tangled.

My grandmother, Phoebe, her sister, Rosalyn, and my grandfather were Republicans through and through. My grandmother was such a staunch supporter of the Republican Party that she named her Siamese cat, Mamie after Republican President Eisenhower's wife, Mamie Eisenhower.

My grandfather had a few years earlier campaigned as a Republican seeking the office of McDonald County Sheriff and he was victorious in that endeavor. Following his four-year stint as the sheriff, he found his way into the also-elected position of Noel City Marshall.

Noel, a small rural town nestled in the Southwestern Missouri Ozarks was a lively place in the summertime. The city street lights dropped a glow on the shoppers and tourists who walked the streets at night. Travelers from all over the Midwest came to Noel to swim in and float on the waters of Elk River.

The gift shops were filled with an array of good old country and Ozark-themed souvenirs which tourists seemed to love. The Ozark Movie Theatre was open for business on Friday and Saturday nights and there the newest, well maybe not the newest, Hollywood releases could be viewed.

The big attraction in town was Shadow Lake. The nightclub was only feet from the river and the dance floor vibrated as couples shuffled their feet to the music of live entertainment. Bands from all over the Midwest came to entertain, and the music floated across the river, over the meadows and settled into the ears of campers roasting marshmallows over small campfires.

However, for the townsfolk, Noel was a place they called home. Families were raised, crops were harvested and folks went to work in the Ben Franklin Five and Dime, Harmon's Hardware Store and at other locally-owned businesses. A living had to be earned.

As important as work was, politics was, at least for many, equally important. There were few who were party unaffiliated among the residents of Noel. One was either a Democrat or a Republican and proud of it. Most folks were cordial to one another but, during campaigns for city and county political offices, tempers became short.

It was during such an election time that the differences between my grandfather and Paul Viles transitioned from words to deeds. The local Republicans were enjoying a Republican Club dinner at the Ginger Blue Restaurant near Lanagan. Everything was proceeding according to the agenda when someone was spotted entering through the front door. It was Paul Viles.

Now Paul was a steadfast Democrat and he was never bashful about stating his political affiliation. What in the world was he doing at a gathering of Republicans? Well, my grandfather was either designated, or he volunteered, to be the one who might ask Paul that important question.

My grandfather was known to be a rough old cuss and Paul had a reputation as someone with a short temper. Paul's temper had sometimes been displayed to onlookers as he was not someone who would back down from a fight.

"Paul, I say, what are you doing here? I say, by God, this is a Republican Club Meeting and no Democrats are allowed." The entire conversation was not overheard but it most certainly was not cordial in nature. Following the exchange of words and threats, Paul grudgingly exited the restaurant.

For a time, the two men, either intentionally or coincidentally, avoided one another but Noel was a very small town. Then, one evening, the two men found themselves at the same place at the same time. My grandfather was seated on his preferred stool at the Main street basement pool hall owned by Les and Anne Porter.

Paul sauntered down the concrete steps and into the room. A partially emptied glass of beer rested on the bar in front of my grandfather and Les leaned against the wall behind the bar. For a moment, a short moment, the two men seemed to ignore the other's presence but then, and for no reason apparent to the men shooting pool and playing dominoes, harsh words were exchanged.

The version of who said what and when varies depending on who's telling the story but, nevertheless, harsh words were exchanged. When all opinions of one another had been exhausted, Paul bent down and took off his slick soled shoes. After all, that chewing-tobacco-stained floor was slippery and Viles was always looking for an edge. With tightly clenched fists, he slowly walked over to my grandfather.

The city marshal, with eyes never straying from Viles, slowly rose up and off the stool. No more words were spoken as each exchanged a punch.

"Hey, if you two are bound to fight, why don't you take it up the stairs so my place won't get all broken up."

No words of agreement to the request were uttered as both men silently stood there, maybe sizing one another up. The pool hall was as quiet as a -- well, you could have heard a pin drop.

The subterranean billiard parlor was silently deemed by the two men, and Les, to be an unsuitable venue for the fight. Viles replaced his discarded shoes and the men climbed the odd number of concrete steps, opened the wooden door and exited onto the Main Street sidewalk. That would be a more suitable setting for the ensuing fisticuffs.

Some folks stayed for the whole fight while others only saw a portion but, by all accounts, it was a doozy. There are those who claim the fight lasted an hour but that is most likely the same way fisherman turn the minnow they caught into a whopper. Anyway, by all accounts, it was one good fistfight.

The winner, well, generally agreed upon then, and even to this day, it was a draw. Evidently, sometime during the brawl, the two men ceased throwing punches, looked at one another and just walked away. By all accounts, there was never a rematch.

I recall that during one of my youthful summer sabbaticals to Noel, my grandmother Phoebe asked me to reconsider the way I parted my hair. She said the look of that part, and my hairstyle in general, reminded her of the young upstart, President Kennedy.

I once asked Phoebe why she wanted to be a Republican.

She paused, then and, with a wry grin on her face, said, "Well, let me ask you a question. When I was a girl growing up on the farm, mama used to make "cathead biscuits" and "speckled gravy" for breakfast. Do you know why that was such a treat?"

"No," I answered.

"Well, it's like asking why I want to be a Republican. You can't appreciate it until you've tried it. Jiminy Cricket, would you do something about that part in your hair. It brings to mind that danged blasted Democrat, Kennedy?"

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

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