I Love This Bar: An Unlikely Christmas Story

by Tom Bassford –

Ten years ago today I wrote an article based on an experience I had in a little bar the night before. Not a year goes by that I don’t think of this experience and for some reason I just wanted to share it with you.  In a very real sense it captures the heart of what I see in so many people who just want to lend a hand and make this world a little better place. The bar and grill no longer exist but the spirit of the people who were there that night still does and that’s why I continue to do what I do. Take a minute and read, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it and have a Merry Christmas, 2016!

December 23, 2006

Christmas came last night, a full three days ahead of schedule.   Actually it snuck up on me in the most unusual place and in the most unusual way.  By the time it had played out I realized I had just taken part in a real-life Christmas pageant without the benefit of a dress rehearsal.

There’s a little bar and grill called Outlaw’s in downtown Kearney, Missouri that my sister Kathie and her husband Ron own.  Great barbecue.  Family dining from noon until about8:30 or 9:00 Monday through Thursday.  But on Friday and Saturday nights the DJ gets there around 9:00 gets his Miller Light and fires up the karaoke machine.  “If you want to hear it or sing it, I can play it,” he announces.  Then in ceremonious fashion he begins the night with the same song he began with last week and every week for the last year or more; Toby Keith’s, “I Love This Bar.”

We got winners, we got losers

Chain smokers and boozers

And we got yuppies, we got bikers

We got thirsty hitchhikers

And the girls next door dress up like movie stars

Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar

I live about 45 minutes away and decided to make the pilgrimage in order to give my sister her Christmas gift, eat some barbecue and have a few laughs with her family and friends.  Now I’ve spent my entire adult life as a minister and as a rule have not been the frequent patron of many…make that any bars over the years.  But I have to admit the chorus to Toby’s song rings true every time I walk through those doors.

I love this bar

It’s my kind of place

Just walkin’ through the front door

Puts a big smile on my face

It ain’t too far, come as you are

Hmm, hmm, hmm I love this bar

 The night was moving along in typical fashion.  The family crowd had eaten and taken their leave and little by little the younger, or at least younger-at-heart crowd began to take their places.  Handshakes and hugs, beer in hand and everybody knows everybody.  Then in walks a lady, looking a bit lost and very out of place.  She asks a waitress where she might find Kathie and the next thing you know she’s standing next to my sister and me telling her story in awkward embarrassment and tearful desperation.

Her name is Lila Mae; she’s all alone on her way from Texas to Minnesota to be with her 84 year old mother whom she hasn’t seen in over a year.  She made a wrong turn trying to stay on I-35 somewhere in the downtown area and trying to get back on the right way bottomed out her car and now something was terribly wrong.  She gets off the highway at Kearney and pulls into the Casey’s Convenience Store to ask for help.  No help at the Casey Store but the attendants are a resourceful lot.  Someone has a friend who has a sister who works as a waitress at Outlaws and she’s dating a guy who knows how to fix cars and he’s probably over there right now.  So she draws Lila Mae a map and off she goes on a cold winter’s night looking for an Innkeeper who can help her in her plight.

Kathie puts her arm around her and showing her true waitress heart calls her, “Hon.” She moves her to a quiet table out of the way and then disappears into the crowd.  Next thing you know there’s another waitress bringing Lila Mae water, Ron’s got a flashlight, socket set and a screwdriver.  He and two “good ol’ boys” from the bar disappear out the front door to see what they can do.  I look over at Lila Mae sitting all by herself and decide to join her.  We talk and every once in awhile she puts her hand to her mouth and covers her eyes to try and hold back the tears.

Twenty minutes later the guys smelling of gasoline join us back at the table to tell Lila Mae all was well again; a loose hose and a broken clamp.  Nothing a little duct tape and bailing wire couldn’t fix…or something like that.  More tears and it’s not just Lila Mae any more.  She thanks us and tells us she’ll be on her way, hoping to make the Iowa border where she plans to pull over in a rest stop or Wal-Mart parking lot to catch a few hours of sleep before finishing the last leg of her trip.

screen-shot-12-23-16-at-09-40-amKathie tells her it’s too late for her to get back on the road and she’s arranged a room for her at the local hotel, compliments of the hotel owner himself.  More tears and just then my heart is awakened to the fact that this must have been exactly how Joseph and Mary felt that first Christmas so long ago; helpless and at the mercy of strangers to somehow help them in their hour of need.

I’ve asked the rhetorical question in Christmas sermons past; “What would you have done if Joseph had come knocking on your door on that first Christmas?”  Last night I saw what a few every day ordinary people in an out of the way bar would do and I saw the Christmas story in a whole new light.  I was reminded of Jesus’ words, “Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to Me.”

Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year and I will be in church to both celebrate and remember the wonder of the Christ child being born.  But I suspect that what comes in the celebrations and ceremonies of the next few days will be an encore to what I saw and experienced in that smoke-filled karaoke-singing bar and grill just north of Kansas City last night.

Merry Christmas!

Tom Bassford