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


by Harold Bell
You never know when somebody says something, or does something, that it may have a big effect on you for years - maybe the rest of your life.

In the summer of 1937, I was selling Holland's Magazines in some little town in Alabama. I don't even remember its name. On Sunday after I was walking around the courthouse sightseeing and killing a little time, a fight broke out on the courthouse lawn.

Two men - both over six feet tall and weighing more than two hundred pounds - stopped fighting about the time I got there because someone had told them that they had called the sheriff. Sure enough, the sheriff and two deputies appeared in just a few minutes. The sheriff was a small man -about my size - 135 pounds - and I thought he was very old - about fifty-five or sixty - and he walked with a cane. The deputies with him were really big guys.

The sheriff walked up and asked the fighters what the problem was. One of the men involved in the fracas told the sheriff that the other fighter had a gun. The sheriff turned to this man and asked him if that was so. He said he did not have a gun. Then the sheriff turned to the first man and said, "You said he had a gun, but he says he doesn't."

"Well, I thought he had one," the first man said. So the sheriff walked up to the first man, who towered over him and hit him across the chest as hard as he could with his walking stick. He said, "Don't you lie to me, you S.O.B." Then he turned to his deputies and said, "Take this man to jail."

I thought it was terrible that the sheriff hit the man with his lead slug cane. I thought it was degrading, and that he shouldn't have done it. It made me mad.

That night I tried to think of a way I could punish that old sheriff for what he did.

Now back in those days I was a pushy salesman. I thought that was what I was supposed to be. As you know, there are all kinds of salespeople. Some sell airline passenger tickets and some people sell airline companies. All of your life, you'll be influencing people. Everybody sells either products or ideas all of his or her life. Somebody also will be influencing you, and this is proper.

So, I was known as a very pushy salesman. When selling my magazines, when someone gave me an objection, I would always have three ways to break down their objection. If they told me it was too expensive, I had at least three answers of how they actually would save money taking the magazine.

Anyway, I was pretty good and could make people subscribe to my magazine or wish they had because I would stay right there and with them and try to convince them.

The night after the fight I decided I would find out where the sheriff lived and go to his house the next morning and be pushy and make him sorry he'd ever seen me.

Well, this is just what I did. When I drove my old Model A Ford up to his house the sheriff was sitting in the swing on his front porch. When I got to the gate, he saw me and stood up and said, "Come in, young man." "What can we do for you this morning?" I told him I was a student selling magazines, and he said "well, that's fine. Come on up and sit down with me on the swing."

We talked for just a minute, and then he turned toward the window and called his wife. He said, "Martha, there's a nice young man out here from Texas. Would you bring us a glass of lemonade? It's already getting hot and lemonade would taste good." The sheriff and I kept talking and he was so nice I couldn't believe it. He asked me what town I was from and what school I attended.

About this time, his wife came out with the lemonade. She was very gracious and smiled and told me how nice it was to see me. By this time, I had pretty much decided I didn't want to punish this sheriff with my pushy sales pitch. He was about the nicest guy I had ever met. In a few minutes he asked me what magazine it was that I sold. I had a copy neatly folded in my back pocket, and I whipped it out to show him.

He said, "Now this is really something. I think this is the magazine my wife has been wanting to subscribe to for years." So he turned and called his wife back to the porch. I showed her the magazine, and she said, "Oh, my goodness,my sister over in Macon, Georgia takes this magazine."

The sheriff turned to me and said they sure would like to have it and asked the cost. I told him it was two dollars for five years or one dollar for two years. He said they had better take the five-year deal. (I only sold about two five year subscriptions a week, as most of them were for only two years.)

By this time, I was loving this old sheriff. If he had asked me to mow his lawn, I would've asked him to show me where he kept the lawnmower. I'd never met anybody as gracious as this man. I decided that if he had hit that fighter with his cane, then he probably had it coming. What the heck.

Harold Bell

First Published in TE February 17, 2004
Excerpts from
"I Was a Teen in the 1930s and Some More Stuff" by Harold Bell
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  • The Sheriff
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  • My Date with Mary
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