Writer of Wrongs
There’s trouble in River City – Not a Memoir, Part 6
He had a laugh as big as Texas, and a hug that made you feel like a freshly squeezed grapefruit. He exuded confidence, maybe a little too much. I was completely under his spell.
My father, Clymer Wright, fighter for the underdog, righter of wrongs, or writer of wrongs, was the editor of our family newspaper, the Fort Bend Reporter. It was the summer of 1958 in Ft. Bend County, and in his mind, there was trouble in River City – that is, Richmond, Texas, on the banks of the Brazos.
It was no secret that a couple of bars in Richmond called Black Cat and Rosa’s weren’t operating on the up and up. In addition to gambling, serving alcohol to teens, with a “bawdy house” on the premises, the larger problem, Dad believed, was that local law enforcement and elected officials turned a blind eye to such matters, as they had in Galveston for decades.
Of course, my dad, in his mind, was the man to clean it up, with the help of his best friend, Jeff Segers, a local insurance man whose charm matched Dad’s bravado. Mom had a way of bringing Dad down a peg. When The Flintstones debuted, she started calling Dad and Jeff, Fred and Barney. Fred was always coming up with schemes and dragging Barney in with him. Conversely, she (Sandra) and Jeff’s wife Evelyn were Wilma and Betty.
Dad had managed to get the attention of Texas Special Assistant Attorney General Jim Simpson, a hero in Dad’s world of heroes and villains. Simpson had already “cleaned up” the so-called Free State of Galveston a year earlier in the summer of 1957 through a series of legal maneuvers that basically broke the Maceo family empire, which had essentially run the island since Prohibition days.
Simpson had learned the hard way not to include local law enforcement, elected officials, and even some judges, when planning a raid. Someone would inevitably tip the gamblers, who would close up and hide their illegal equipment minutes before the raid. Instead, he worked with a couple of local refinery workers, who did the undercover investigating.
Now, under Simpson’s supervision, Jeff Segers and his business associate Bud Williams would do the undercover work at the Richmond bars. The problem was that they couldn’t tell their wives why they would be working late two or three nights in a row – until 2 a.m.
My mom, Sandra, knew what was going on because she worked at the newspaper. Mom was a world-class secret keeper, as she well-demonstrated when Evelyn got suspicious.
“Jeff’s having an affair,” Evelyn announced on the phone one evening while Jeff and Bud were working late. “Are you kidding? Jeff is crazy about you,” Mom countered.
Mom listened as Evelyn ran down a list of possible women suspects. It reached the point that Mom actually agreed to drive Evelyn around in search of Jeff’s car at fictitious women’s homes. By the time they got home, Jeff’s car was in the driveway. Things were tense. Jeff put up with looking like a schmuck until the night the Texas Rangers swooped in, smashed up some dice tables and illegal pinball machines, and slapped the bars with injunctions to close.
The front page of the Thursday, June 19, 1958 Fort Bend Reporter pictured Jeff Segers and Bud Williams as local heroes, along with the news of the raid. Everybody in town knew Jeff. Once the morning paper started hitting front yards, word spread quickly.
Downtown newspaper stands emptied immediately, resulting in a crowd outside of the newspaper office as extra issues came cranking out. Good ole Aunt Jessie saw fit to bring me up there to see the action, while she was busy signing up new subscribers. This was clearly one way to sell papers.
Soon after this, I was invited to the Segers’ house to play with Ginger, their daughter who was my age. That evening, both my parents came to pick me up and have a few drinks with Evelyn and Jeff to “talk shop” about the big story.
Dad, quite pleased with himself, was standing in their kitchen, all puffed up, proudly pontificating, drink in hand. While making some point in his usual blustery way, he reached down to pick up a cracker from a tray. The “cracker” was actually a dog biscuit. Evelyn started to warn Dad, but Jeff nudged her to be quiet as Dad took a bite, sipped his drink, then took another. When he realized what he had done, he said the biscuit wasn’t actually that bad. Everybody had a good laugh and somewhere in my young mind, an impression was made. The newspaper business is really fun. But soon Dad would learn, not everybody saw things his way.
Editor’s note: This column is part of Cindy Gabriel’s “not a memoir” series. Read the previous installments at thebuzzmagazines.com.
Want more buzz like this? Sign up for our Morning Buzz emails.
To leave a comment, please log in or create an account with The Buzz Magazines, Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+. Or you may post as a guest.