Senator Largent, others make journey to Nashville

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, July 29, 2003

The elegant Plantation Club was the top choice for snazzynightlife in post-World War II Nashville, Tenn. The nightspot sawmany a celebrity, politician, entertainer and tycoon enjoy its finesteaks, excellent drinks and danceable music.

But one special night may stand out in the annals of theclub.

The nattily attired “Senator” Matt Largent; Charles Emmette(“Fast Charlie”) Brennan, his bodyguard and advisor for domesticaffairs; and one, Bill (“The Judge”) Peeler, his advisor for allother affairs, soaked up the atmosphere in the prestigiousPlantation Club, one dizzy spring night in 1950.

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Charlie has just slipped a buck to the master of ceremonies andconfided in him that the elderly gentleman at his table was theesteemed senior senator from Florida, Senator Matt Largent.

After a drum roll, spot light and the public addressannouncement of the presence of such a distinguished visitor, thetable was besieged by eager political wanabees, gushing widows andother interested onlookers. They offered free drinks and desiredhandshakes or a seat on the senator’s lap with a kiss on the cheek,depending upon the preference of the individual.

This was the climax of a night on the town by Charlie and hisfriend Bill Peeler who along with their chum and mascot, MattLargent, had traveled the 32 miles to Nashville from Lebanon,Tenn., where Charlie and Peeler were attending Cumberland LawSchool.

Largent, a Lebanon character, was an ex-jockey who claimed tohave ridden Jesse James’ stallion in a horse race many years beforeon a nearby racetrack. Now he was retired from the strain of beingan ex-jockey and lived alone in a dirt-floored shack a few milesout of town with his little fiest dog and his nearly blind old nagwho provided his only means of transportation by pulling a ricketywagon to and from town.

Charlie had arrived in the unpolished rural East Tennessee townof Lebanon after his discharge from the Marines in 1946 to pursuetraining for the legal profession, a family tradition. Uncannily hehad quickly homed in on a spot known as “The Devil’s Elbow”,composed of a pool hall on the corner, flanked on one side by JoeJordan’s restaurant and on the other by the Brass Rail — a nofrills beer dispensary, with a long bar and no chairs or tables.The proprietor had discovered after much experience, that he couldsell more beer per hour per square foot if customers were requiredto remain standing, rather than having them leisurely lounging incomfortable chairs and laying their heads on tables.

It was in the first few hours of Charlie’s discovery of thischarming establishment that he met Matt Largent. Brennan hadnoticed a scraggly horse-shaped animal with a wagon, tied to aparking meter in front of the Brass Rail. And then a Popeye-typehuman being entered the warmth and gaiety of the Brass Rail. Thebewhiskered individual was dressed, uh – informally in ragged shirtand dirty overalls, and eggbeater-styled hair. But in spite of hisunimposing appearance, he was warmly greeted by the regularcustomers upon his entrance.

Striding proudly to the bar he slapped down a check of some sortand, taking a stub pencil from the bartender in his fist, scraped afine “X” on the back of the check. Upon this the bartender loudlyannounced “OK, beer’s on Matt” amid the cheers of the regulars.

Upon inquiry over this curious event, Charlie learned that everymonth when Matt got his county pauper’s check, he wasted no time intaking it to the Brass Rail to set up everyone there with beeruntil it was exhausted. In return, all other days of the month hewas entitled to be set up with unlimited beer by the regularcustomers of the joint. It was an arrangement welcome to all, theowner, the regulars and Matt.

Charlie and his law school buddies soon became strong supportersof Matt and enjoyed many an evening of philosophical andintellectual discussions of weighty matters of current interestwhile lifting a can of suds or two. They valued his opinion on manysubjects as they regarded him as a man of the people, experiencedin many areas of life, and besides, he had a ready means oftransportation available to get them to and from school – the nagand wagon – which also came in handy for beer drinking hay rides,although curiously they were never able to get any girls to comealong. Few of the students on the GI bill had automobiles in thosefirst few years following World War II.

The big event at the Nashville nightclub came about as Charlieand Peeler planned how to celebrate the end of first semesterexams. Making the trek to the bright lights and excitement ofNashville immediately came to mind – and then, to make it amemorable pilgrimage, they would take Matt along with them.However, this required, (a) cleaning Matt thoroughly, (a dauntingchallenge) and, (b) clothing him suitably.

The (b) requirement was readily satisfied from the donation of athree-piece suit another friend had won in a crap game, and theloan of a Homburg hat and a smart cane. Requirement (a) was alittle tougher, but finally with the offer of handsome tips andfree beers later, a barber agreed to undertake the task of bathing,shampooing, shaving and hair cutting the old gentleman. After hisshampoo, Charlie and Peeler were astounded to discover thatLargent’s hair was almost white rather than the burnt umber it hadalways appeared.

Finally the day arrived and the “soon to be” senator and hisentourage embarked on a Greyhound to Nashville. After enjoying goodsteaks, (Matt somehow managed to consume his with gusto in spite ofthe lack of lower teeth and having knocked it to the floor, tryingvaliantly to properly use the unfamiliar knife and fork) the trioset out for a tour of the nightlife of the city. Some events arebest left to the reader’s imagination, but eventually they foundthemselves the center of attention at the Plantation Club aspictured.

Their return to Lebanon in the wee hours after missing the lastbus was accomplished by pooling all of their remaining funds andhaggling a starving cab driver to make the trip back to Lebanon forabout one-tenth the usual fare.

Thereafter, Matt was greatly respected in Lebanon and honored asthe esteemed “Senator” Largent until his dying day.