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Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

With the arrival of the London Olympics and the recent Golden Jubilee Celebration of Queen Elizabeth we are all reminded of our British heritage and its traditions.

One of these traditions became the subject of an argument and ensuing bet in Hap's Bar that once operated at the corner of Mott and Powell streets in New Madrid. The New Madrid Chamber of Commerce now occupies the portion of the building that was Hap's.

Hap Dawson at his bar in December 1978. [Photo: author's collection]

Luke "Happy" Dawson and his wife, Verba, operated the bar into the 1980s. The songs on the juke box that stood in the southwest corner had not been updated since about 1946. Doris Day's Sentimental Journey was a favorite. Hap always meticulously wrapped each beer, can or bottle, in a white paper napkin. It always took 3 or 4 minutes. There was no hurry for anything at Hap's. Time pretty well stood still.

The bar had a number of regular customers, many of whom came in as soon as Hap arrived at the bar each morning. They would sit at the bar, watch television, and wile away their day. One evening the television news announced the Queen of England was coming for a visit to the United States.

He never did get to meet the Queen of England. Toddy Higgerson at the bar in December 1978. {Photo: author's collection]

It just so happened that Perry Leuer, a local philosopher, was at the bar that evening. Sitting next to him was another regular, Charles "Toddy" Higgerson, a local house painter and fisherman.

Perry turned to Toddy and told him that when the Queen comes into a room everyone bows. Perry was quite well read and knew about protocol and royalty--and many other things.

Toddy, not intimidated by such a pronouncement, replied, "I don't bow to no one, Dub."

He addressed most people as "Dub."

"Oh, yes you would," replied Perry. "Everyone bows to the Queen when she comes in."

"I said I don't bow to nobody, even the Queen," shot back Toddy.

"Well, if the Queen walked in this door (pointing to the entrance to the bar) you would get up and bow," announced Perry.

Back and forth the argument went until Hap intervened.

Hap had heard enough, and the way he ended all such serious arguments between loyal customers was to propose a bet. Both agreed, and each produced a five dollar bill.

Hap wrote the bet on an envelope: "If the Queen of England comes in the bar, Toddy will bow to her. Perry says yes and Toddy says no." He then pinned the envelope with the $10 to the bulletin board next to the cash register where it hung with all of the other pending bets between customers. Perry and Toddy went back to watching the news and drinking their napkin-wrapped beers, each glancing at the door every-now-and-then to see if the Queen had come in.

There the bet hung until after Perry's death some years later.

Toddy was in the bar one evening recovering from the effects of the paint fumes of the day and noticed the envelope on the bulletin board. "Hap," he said, "I'm going to call down the bet."

Now, under the rules, a customer could call down the bet and get his money back if the other party didn't protest the call. By right of longevity, Toddy knew his "call" was a sure thing.

Hap looked around, and, hearing no objections from any of the patrons, handed Toddy the envelope. Toddy promptly bought a round of beers with the money--which everyone expected.

Hap eventually sold his bar and retired. Toddy died in the early 1990s.

But, if ever the Queen of England should ever come to New Madrid . . .

H. Riley Bock

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