Kitty Lucek doesn't spend her saloon time dancing on top of the bar anymore.
She had to give that up two years ago. When she was 82.
Make no mistake. Her desire, the spark and the energy are still present and accounted for. And Lucek still spends as many Saturday nights as she can in saloons most notably the Rye Bar and she continues to brush up on her terpsichorean skills with whatever country-western band that happens to be on stage.
But she does miss the bartop dancing, and her only regret in life seems to be the nasty fall she took in 1998 that forced her out of her favorite pastime.
"I was just doing what I wanted to do," she recalls of her dancing heyday. "I was just young and crazy and full of spirit. But we had so much fun."
Boy, did she. In fact, it would be no stretch to call Miss Kitty, as all of her friends call her, Payson's Original Party Girl.
One of Lucek's closest friends, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells a story about how Miss Kitty once climbed atop the bar at the Candlelight Lounge (now La Casa Pequeestaurant) and proceeded to do her own thing much to the annoyance of one grumpy customer, who groused, "Kitty, get down off the bar."
When Lucek ignored him, he said, "Kitty, I'm gonna call the cops." To no avail. The man called the cops.
"Pretty soon, Homer Haught, who was the deputy sheriff then, came in on the call," the friend remembers. "And (the grump) says to him, 'Homer, get her off the bar.'
"Well, Homer looked at Kitty dancing for a while. Then he said, 'Put another quarter in her,' and left."
Lucek's life was not always so carefree. Born in Evansville, Ind., she and her three siblings lost both of their parents when she was just 3 or 4 years old. Lucek was put into an orphanage, from which she was eventually adopted by "a very nice German family."
She grew up in Indiana; met her late husband, John, at Lafayette-Purdue University; married him in 1938; and proceeded to produce children: John Jr., now 60, Walter, 58, Susan, 55, and Bradley, 43.
The Lucek brood moved west during World War II, moving first to Los Angeles and then, in 1949, to Phoenix in hopes of easing her oldest son's asthma.
"Phoenix was absolutely beautiful back then, unlike today," she says. "Today, it's terrible. Horrifying. I don't care for it at all."
Slightly better were the years she spent in Scottsdale, which was then "really out in the country. I had a little dress shop called La Tiendecita around the corner from Fifth Avenue, across from what used to be the Kachina Theater."
A series of career switches including furniture design, interior decorating and real estate sales followed.
"But I didn't stay very long with any of these things," Lucek says. "I just kept moving on until I came to Payson in 1970. And then I just sort of just stopped everything and starting having a lot of fun."
Although that relocation took place 31 years ago, Lucek says, the Payson of 2001 would be unrecognizable to someone who did not witness its growth firsthand.
"There was nothing here. We had to take the dirt roads to get here from Phoenix, and that was a drive of about five hours," she said. "Oh, it was rough. But I liked Payson, because it was the country and just a beautiful little town. I felt really good and free here."
Lucek's memories of Payson paint quite a different picture of the town, too.
Among the most entertaining and mind-boggling is a tale that unfolded in the early '70s, when Lucek met a woman, "a rough character," who was running from a bad marriage in Las Vegas.
"She wanted to know if she could stay with me a few days," Lucek says. "She stayed two years. We ran a bar together in Star Valley, but she didn't have any money, so my husband and I were paying all the bills. Well, she was supposed to pay me back, but she didn't. I eventually had to take her to court and that's when I found out she had connections to the Mafia.
"The only thing that saved my neck was her ex-husband in Las Vegas, who also had connections to the Mafia. He once told me, 'If you ever need me for anything, call me.'
"Well, she had these guys sitting in front of my house in her car, taking pot shots at me, calling me up and saying they were gonna shoot me. They wanted to blow me away because I was suing her!
"But nobody could keep me from going after her and getting my money. So I called her ex-husband, and he said, 'The minute you hang up, I'll take care of this.' A few minutes later literally a few minutes they drove away, and I never heard from them or her again. But I got my money," she adds with a victorious grin.
"I understand that woman is now doing some kind of psychiatric work up in Oregon," Lucek concludes, adding the sort of wry, straight-faced, eleventh-hour twist that ends most of her tales of life in Payson.
The only one of her stories that doesn't end on the upbeat, in fact, is the chronicle of her forced retirement from bartop dancing, which took place following a nasty, back-injuring fall in the old Wal-Mart.
Since then, she says, "I haven't been as active as I used to be. But I'm still doing pretty darned well. I feel like I'm 17 going on 90."