There’s an old joke that goes something like this:
What’s the difference between a Baptist and a Methodist?
A Methodist will say “Hi” to you in the liquor store.
Last month, my hometown of Amory voted to go wet, a decision that has been a hot topic in Amory for many years.
Amory voted against legalizing alcohol in 2014. Maybe I noticed because I’m older, but there seemed to be a lot more heat around the vote this time around. More voters, too. December’s vote drew twice as many as the 2014 vote, garnering a voter turnout of nearly 45 percent. Churches posted signs and passed out small pieces of literature wagging a finger at alcohol. The day before the vote, alcohol opponents held a prayer walk against going wet.
Back in the 1800s, there was a saloon for every 150 Americans. To boost their business and beat the competition, saloon owners also brought gambling and prostitution into their establishments. Religious panic over this immorality manifested into the Temperance Movement. By outlawing alcohol, the temperance community bet that people would reinvest their energy into the church and other positive organizations.
Prohibition was introduced in 1920 and repealed in 1933, when President Franklin Roosevelt signed the 21st Amendment, then helped himself to a cold one. However, the question of prohibition in small towns like mine are a matter of culture as much as anything. About half the counties in Arkansas are dry. And there are strange spots in Kentucky and Tennessee where bourbon is manufactured but can’t be consumed.
The dry city of London, Kentucky (population around 8,000), saw a fierce debate over whether to go wet in 2012. A television ad commissioned by area churches depicted wet towns as festering holes of poverty, crumbling infrastructure, abandoned buildings, etc. Ultimately, London voted to stay dry. Another ad airing in Williamsburg, Kentucky, declared, “Serve Jesus, not alcohol.” Williamsburg voted to go wet by a mere 14 votes. The Southern Baptist Convention took a hard stance against anything to do with alcohol in 2006.
Back in October, Booneville voted to go wet in an equally spirited debate with identical dividing lines. Like Amory, Booneville voted against alcohol recently, back in 2010.
There’s a lot of information out there about the economic impacts of going wet, both negative and positive. The same goes for whether going wet might be safer, since people don’t have to travel to drink, then drive home. I don’t think these factors are at the heart of the issue, though.
It is strange to see a small town change its ways, though it probably won’t change as much as some folks fear. I don’t have much cause to go to Amory these days, except to visit my parents, but I’m surprised when anything new pops up, even though I shouldn’t be.
Perhaps we rely on small town life to be this magical thing that never changes, like the set of an Andy Griffith episode. When it does, it reminds us, maybe, of our inability to hold onto anything.