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December 24, 2002

Christmas Eve is so filled with substantive meaning that it hardly needs local happenings to help us focus on it. Traditionally this is when we celebrate that holy night long ago when the baby Jesus was born in a rude Bethlehem stable. He was, and is, no less than the Son of God Almighty, sent to Earth by His Father to show us how to live and to take upon His own sinless body a sacrifice to earn redemption for all the sins and misdeeds that we have committed. You already know all that. It is a glorious thought, indeed.

But for just a moment let me call your attention to another frosty Christmas Eve more than four decades ago, when a real-life drama was played out in this community. It was a tragedy of many dimensions with ramifications that affected numerous lives. Changes in the local social order probably took place as one result. It is not the kind of thing any of us likes to remember, especially at this wonderful time of the year, but it at least has meaning as a sign of the times.

Homer Thompson was a well-liked 53-year-old Perry cafe operator in 1953. His barbecue was celebrated far and wide as some of the finest to be found in Oklahoma. Diners regularly drove to Perry from Stillwater and many other parts of the state to sample Mr. Thompson's spicy offerings. He opened the cafe in 1950. It was known simply as Thompson's Bar-B-Q. The cafe was in a white painted cement block building on the old U.S. 64 route. For 20 years prior to that he was the chef at Wesley Marcy's Gem Cafe on the south side of the square and he had a natural talent for something like pure artistry in the kitchen. He was not trained at Cordon Bleu but customers didn't care. The menu at his own cafe was just about the same as those at other barbecue houses, but there was something especially delectable about the food he prepared. He was a rather large, seemingly happy man and almost always wore a broad smile along with his chefs apron. He was a leader in the dwindling local black community, and he was respected by virtually all who knew him.

On that fateful Christmas Eve in 1953, Mr. Thompson was having a party for employees, friends and family in the cafe building at the intersection of 11th and Perry streets. Twenty or so had been invited but several others who stopped by were cordially invited to join the happy throng. Laughter and glad tidings filled the air, and that probably is part of what attracted two Perry brothers as they approached the building.

The brothers, 38 and 40 years old, wanted to join the party, but Mr. Thompson stood at the front door of the cafe and denied them admission. Details of what ensued are not clear. The younger of the two brothers apparently had a .38 pistol. As the argument became heated he used it to fire a single bullet at Mr. Thompson. It was a fatal shot. The brothers fled but just a few hours later they voluntarily surrendered peacefully to Sheriff John Beasley and Perry Police Chief Gene Wood. They were taken to Stillwater and jailed there for their own safety. Details of what followed, including final disposition of charges filed against the brothers, are not important to this story. But the loss of Homer Thompson on an otherwise happy Christmas Eve was a sad ending to what should have been a time of joy. Thompson's widow operated the cafe for a time after that, but eventually the property was sold and the building razed. The loss of Homer Thompson was traumatic for his family and friends. It marked the end of an era in this tight little community.