name was Mary.
Mary was the cause of the most exciting week of my young
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
I saw a suitcase over against the wall, and I said, "Whose old
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
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."
"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."
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
Published in TE August