June 17, 1997
In the last column, we began a remembrance of the Gem Cafe, its owner, Wes Marcy, and the longtime chef there, Homer Thompson. The cafe was one of Perry's most popular eating places in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. We misidentified the owner of the used clothing store that formerly was housed in the old Gem Cafe building. The lady who operated that business was Ermine Marchbanks, now a resident of the Perry Nursing Home. Here's the rest of our recollection.
Presiding over the kitchen at the rear of the Gem Cafe was Homer Thompson, whose skill with the skillet was celebrated for years throughout Northern Oklahoma. Homer, a rather large and happy man with a broad grin, had a special way with those thick, succulent grilled steaks. Many of them came from choice herds right here in Noble county. In later years, and with Wes Marcy's good wishes, he branched out on his own and opened a barbecue cafe on the curve of old U.S. 64, about where C. J. Taber's gleaming octagonal office building now stands. Homer's place was an instant success. It attracted barbecue lovers from distant points until his untimely death at the front door of his cafe on a Christmas eve in the 1960s. Homer was one of the leaders of Perry's small black community, and he was a well regarded citizen.
During the depth of the depression, when our family operated the City Drug Store on the north side of the square, we set aside each Sunday noon after church for a dining treat at the Gem Cafe. We would stroll across the courthouse park on agreeable summer days to enjoy what to me was the supreme repast -- Homer Thompson's fried chicken on a platter with mashed potatoes topped by a dollop of cream gravy, plus green beans and a fresh hot roll. This was usually preceded by a steaming bowl of homemade (never canned) chicken and noodle soup. After the evening diners had been served at the Gem, and at Wes Marcy's invitation, I would ride my bike from the drug store to his cafe and he would fill a quart-size ice cream container from our soda fountain with some of the leftover soup That would serve as our supper, and it was a grand climax to those wonderful Gem Cafe Sunday dinners. We usually ate while listening to Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen on the Sunday night radio lineup. The drug store remained open until 11:30 each night, including Sundays.
Wes had an older brother. Gay D. Marcy. who operated Marcy's Furniture Exchange at 614 Cedar, just up the street from the Gem Cafe. Among other appliances, Gay sold Crosley refrigerators. They were rather small by today's standards but they were economically priced and designed to appeal to apartment dwellers. We had two of them, one in our living quarters above the store and the other in the pharmacy itself. Gay also dealt in used furniture. In later years, after Gay had passed on, his wife, Lilah Marcy, was the attractive hostess at the newly opened Cherokee Strip Restaurant on I-35 at the west edge of town. Lilah had been a professional musician in her younger years. She was an accomplished pianist. Jack Marcy, son of Gay and Lilah, was a standout Perry Maroon football player in the 1930s, and I believe he now lives in Midwest City. None of the Marcy family live here today.
The Gem Cafe played host to some minor celebrities and sports figures through the years. I remember one time, not too long after the end of World War II, Perry was visited by Lyle C. Wilson, the chief White House correspondent for UP, the United Press. He was touring "grass roots America" and had chosen Perry for one of his first stops. W. K. Leatherock, then publisher of The Perry Daily Journal, took Mr. Wilson and a select group of our civic leaders to lunch at Wes Marcy's Cafe and treated him to a superb steak. W. K. insisted that Wes furnish Mr. Wilson with a "steak fork" to cut the steak, assuring the visitor that the prime slabs of beef in this part of Oklahoma did not require a knife of any kind. Mr. Wilson very kindly mentioned that in his story about Perry when it moved on the nationwide UP wire a few days later, and it earned a measure of fame, momentarily, for Wes, the Gem Cafe and this little city.
The cafe's ownership eventually passed on to Eddie Watts Jr., who was listed as proprietor in the 1952 city directory, a time when Wes Marcy's health was failing. Although the Gem Cafe of those earlier times had been gone for several decades, just thinking about it produces a yen for some of that fried chicken, followed by the realization that it's no longer on my diet, even if Wes Marcy and Homer Thompson were here to serve it up in person. But it's nice to remember all that, even with those limitations.