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 Texas : Features : Columns : The Thirties in Texas
Endangered Stories

Excerpted from "I Was a Teen in the 1930s and Some More Stuff"

MY DATE WITH MARY

by Harold Bell

Her name was Mary.

Mary was the cause of the most exciting week of my young life.

Now I'll tell you what happened.

I was about seventeen-years-old in 1935. I was working summers and on weekends for the Fort Worth Press. The Fort Worth Press's circulation reached out about one hundred miles in every direction except east to Dallas, of course. My boss, who was the full time assistant circulation manager for the Press, picked me up at Decatur, my hometown. It was halfway to Bowie, where I could work for a few days or a week to promote the circulation in the little towns around Bowie.

We checked into what I think was the Bowie Motel, I think it was. My room was about ten-by-ten with a bed and a little bathroom. One afternoon while I was sitting in my room, Louis Sibert, the guy I was working with, came in with a young fellow about my age. Louis was about twenty-five, I guess. The young fellow was named Don. His father ran the Gulf Station next door to the motel.

We were talking awhile, and Louis Sibert said, "Don and I have a date tonight. Don knows some girls here and uh . . ."

Don said, "Yeah, I could get you a date if you'd like, Harold. She's a girl who lives out here in the country, a real nice girl. I know you'd like her, and she's a lot of fun. Her name is Mary."

I was plenty eager for some companionship. So the three of us got in the car and drove out in the country about five miles. First, we picked up the other two girls, Louis' and Don's girlfriends. Then we drove up to this farmhouse, where there were no lights on. It looked pretty dilapidated to me, but I wasn't caring about that. Somebody told me I could have a date with a fun girl, and that's pretty strong, you know, when you're seventeen years old.

The gate was locked, so all of us climbed over the fence and went up and knocked on the door. Just then, around the corner of the house, came an old farmer in overalls with a big straw hat and a shotgun. With him was a young man a little older than I was - with a knife.

They started yelling at me. The farmer screamed, "Get the h - - - outta here! You're out here after my daughter!" and he shot his gun a couple of times in the air. The other guy held his knife at his side in a threatening manner. I started running back toward the car with the other guys.

The farmer kept yelling stuff at us. "Get out of here and never come back, and leave my daughter alone!"

We got back in the car and drove off, scared to death. (At least I was.) The other kids, two guys and the girls, said, "Well, Harold, he was really after you 'cuz you were the one that was out there after his daughter. But you're upset, so let's all go to a movie."

We'd just bought the tickets and started walking into the movie when a guy put his hand on my arm and said, "Are you Harold Bell?"

I said, "Yeah."

And he said, "Well, listen, I got a report that you were . . . I'm the sheriff here, and I got a report that you were out at Mary Brown's house, and her father is very upset with you, and he's talking about making a lot of trouble. I'd like for you to go out and apologize to him. I like to run a nice orderly town, and I would like for you to go out and apologize to him, so that everything will run smooth. Just tell him that you're not going to come out there again."

I was very hesitant, and I said, "Uh . . . "

But he kept insisting, and the other guys said, "Yeah, Harold, it wouldn't hurt to go out and apologize to him . . . for after all, you were out there trying to get his daughter."

So finally, I asked the sheriff, who had already shown me his gun and badge, "Can I depend on you for protection? I don't want this guy shooting at me."

And he said, "I'll guarantee you that he won't shoot you or anything like that. I'll stay between you and him and guarantee that you'll be safe."

Finally, I went for it, so I told them I would do it. And we went back out to the farmhouse. This time the gate was open. They'd unlocked it, and there was the farmer and his son, some other guy, and Mary's mother, plus a couple of other girls, and they were all standing out there. I walked up to them, and the sheriff told Mr. Brown that I was there to apologize.

So I said, "I'm very sorry . . . I was just passing through."

And he said, "Yeah, that's just . . . that's the way everybody is. Everybody that passes through tries to come out here and git my daughter."

He called me a lot of names, and as I started to run, he raised the shotgun. I sensed that he was shooting over my head since I didn't feel the sting of the buckshot in my back. That would come later. The sheriff was between us, talking, trying to calm him down, but the guy started shooting in the air anyway. So I turned around and ran to the car. I beat everyone to the car, but in a couple of minutes the other guys were there, and the sheriff was hollering at the farmer to "Calm down and be quiet!" and hollering to me that "Everything is going to be alright." We got in the car and drove back to the motel room.

The rest of that week - since this was like a Tuesday night - we were working in the town and having breakfast every morning in a little coffee shop. I was nervous because every time a car pulled up behind me, or close to me, I looked around and over my shoulder to be sure nobody was after me.

We used to work six days a week, including Saturday, so the following Friday we were still in Bowie. I'd seen Don a couple of times, and Sibert and I were still working together.

About five o'clock in the afternoon, right after we got to the room, Don, the guy from the gas station, came over and said, "Harold, Mary is upset about the way her father treated you. She feels very bad about it, and she would like to apologize."

So I said, "Hah, I don't want anything to do with that family. I've had enough. That guy was shooting at me. Just tell her it's OK."

But they kept on and kept on pleading, and finally they said, "Mary is right out here in the driveway. She's not fifty feet from here, and she is a nice girl, so come on and say hello to her, and let her apologize."

So I did it. I went out and talked to her a few minutes, and she did apologize for her father. There were two other girls in the car. One was Don's girlfriend, and one was Louis Sibert's girlfriend, and we kept talking.

Finally, Mary said, "You know, my father bought him a new pickup today, a new green Plymouth pickup. He's real proud of it. As a matter of fact, he went up to Wichita Falls to get some feed for the cattle, and he won't be back until midnight, so why don't we all ride around awhile?"

I didn't like the idea at all, but finally they talked me into it. So we decided that Don and his girl and Mary and I would ride in one car. As we drove out in the country, Louis Sibert and his girl were ahead of us on this old country dirt road. They pulled up about two hundred yards in front of us and parked, and we stayed parked behind them.

We were talking and doing what seventeen-year-olds did in those days, which wasn't very much when you came right down to it. Anyway, Mary mentioned again that her father had gone to Wichita Falls, and we didn't have to worry about him because he wouldn't be back until after midnight. So we talked some more.

Then I saw a car coming over the hill. It was over a mile away, but I could see the lights coming. It was a very desolate road, and we didn't expect any cars to be coming out there. So I looked back a time or two as the car approached. Finally, the car stopped right behind us. I looked out and I could see it well then because he had on his lights. It was a new, green 1935 Plymouth pickup. I knew I was in trouble! I turned around and looked. The father got out on his side, and Mary's brother got out on the other side. The father had his shotgun, and the brother had his knife. They started coming toward the car, so I took Mary and pulled her out of the car and held her in front of me. I was scared to death. I really was.

And I'm awfully glad I didn't hurt her - because I could have. I really don't know why I didn't, though. I was scared enough and mad enough.

They both started walking toward me, kinda veering in on me, and I thought, "Well, this is not gonna work."

I was holding Mary in front of me for a shield. So I threw her to the ground, kinda at both of them. Then I turned around and started running as fast as I could to Louis Sibert's car, hollering, "Louis! Turn around! Let's get outta here! They're after me again!"

The old farmer started chasing me and shooting his shotgun in the air. Every time he shot, Mary's brother was running behind me and hitting me in the back with a handful of BBs. I thought I was getting shot all the time. The farmer kept chasing me, and he would shoot his shotgun above my head, and her brother would hit me in the back with more BBs. I was pretty fleet in those days, and actually, I imagine it was about three hundred yards rather than two hundred yards. So I was outrunning them, and I jumped in the car. I told Louis Sibert to take me back to my home, Decatur, which was thirty miles down the road south from Bowie. I didn't want anymore to do with that town. I didn't care about my suitcase or anything like that. "Just take me home."

But Louis said, "Well, after all, I want to get my suitcase. I'll take you home, but I want to go get my suitcase first. Why don't you come go with me, and I'll pull around to the back of the motel? You can slip in and get your suitcase while I slip in and get mine. We'll go back to Decatur, spend the night, and then I'll go on to Fort Worth the next day."

So I finally agreed to that. It seemed like I was agreeing to anything. These guys could talk me into about anything. So we got in the motel, and we hadn't been in there but just a couple of minutes when somebody knocked on my door. I looked out. We had window shades, not drapes then, and I could see the silhouette of this farmer standing outside my window. He had his big straw hat and his shotgun by his side, and it scared me to death. So I thought I would get out my bathroom window. The windows were really small, about eighteen inches by fourteen inches, but maybe I could get out of there. It was worth trying anyway. So I headed for the bathroom window when I heard a noise out there. I was sure that it was Mary's brother with the knife. I had just as soon face a shotgun as a knife.

I went back and looked at him, the farmer, standing there by the door. I decided the thing to do would be to pull open the door and surprise him, knock him down real quick-although he was a lot bigger than I was. I was counting on surprise; I would knock him down and then run. Maybe I could get away and hide somewhere.

And so finally, I opened the door, and there must have been twenty-five people out there, just standing in sort of a semi-circle in front of my hotel room. They had all been in on the charade from the very beginning. They were all laughing. The farmer started laughing and came up and put his arm around my neck and hugged me. He was maybe seven or eight years older than I was. I found out later that he was the cook up at the restaurant where I'd been having breakfast every morning. No wonder he had such a big smile on his face when he scrambled my eggs.

Mary very deliberately came up and put her arms around my neck and planted a kiss on my mouth that I remember to this day. If I had known that she would or could kiss like that, I'd have been more willing to lay down my life back out on that country road thirty minutes before she kissed me.

They'd been playing a trick on me all week, and they were so good at it because they'd been playing it for years. Every few days they'd put on this production. Some young kid would come through town. They'd offer him a date with a fun girl, and naturally, he'd take it.

What they expected him to do the first night - and what most of the boys did when they took them out - was that they'd take off through the field and go through barbed wire fences, brambles, and briars, and in the middle of the night, they'd finally get back to Bowie. I just reacted differently. I ran to Louis Sibert's car. And even on the last night, when I ran and got into the car, I was supposed to cross the ditch and make my way back to the hotel five miles away.



Well, anyway, about four years later, I came through Bowie. I was in the Air Corps by then, and I stopped by the gas station where Don and his father were still selling gas.

I saw a suitcase over against the wall, and I said, "Whose old suitcase?"

Don said, "Well, it was a guy who came through here, and we took him out to see Mary, and he never did come back for his suitcase."

I asked him, "How long ago was this?"

Don answered, "Oh, about two years. His suitcase has been sitting here in the gas station for all this time. Maybe someday he will come for it."

Eight or nine years after my date with Mary, right at the end of the war, I was getting my discharge at Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, and I was driving through Bowie. I figured that by this time, surely all the guys had gone to the Army, and the girls had gotten married, and nobody in Bowie played this joke on people anymore. That was just a thing for Depression times when nobody had the money to go to the movies. So I'd stopped by this gas station to get some gas, and there was a young fellow in there about eighteen years old, I think. He was real bright looking and had blond hair and blue eyes. I bought the gas from him, and I was talking to him as I was paying him for the gas.

He said, "How long are you going to be in town?"

I said, "Well, I don't know, just kinda passing through."

He said, "My girlfriend and I have a date tonight, and we were hoping somebody would go with us. Would you like to stay and go with us? I know a real nice girl, a girl that you would like, a real fun girl, if you know what I mean."

And I said, "Well, I don't know."

Then he said, "Well, you know you could have a lot of fun. She's a nice girl. She lives about five miles out in the country. She is a fun girl. Her name is Mary."

Harold Bell

First Published in TE August 2003
More excerpts from
"I Was a Teen in the 1930s and Some More Stuff" by Harold Bell
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    Nobody in the world, dead or alive, knew how long Miss Bell taught the fourth grade in and around Decatur, Texas...
  • The Sheriff
    "You never know when somebody says something, or does something, that it may have a big effect on you the rest of your life."
  • The Tight-Wire Walker
    "She's very daring. They put her wire up to the very tiptop of the tent thirty-five feet above the ground, and she does exciting maneuvers without using a net."
  • My Date with Mary
    Mary was the cause of the most exciting week of my young life.
  •  
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