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 Texas : Features : Books Reviews
Book Review
I WAS A TEEN IN THE 1930s
AND SOME MORE STUFF
by HAROLD BELL


Reviewed by John Troesser


TE's suggested title:
Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned by Listening to Old Men
On My Paper Route in Decatur, Texas
and
What They Didn't Tell Me Was Supplemented By
Selling Magazine Subscriptions Around the Southern United States
During the Great Depression.
Boys From Texas 1937
"The Boys from Texas" c. 1937
Eager to get on the road. Harold is on far right.
Photo Courtesy Harold Bell
Excerpts from
"I Was a Teen in the 1930s and Some More Stuff" by Harold Bell

  • Miss Bell
    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.
  • Wise County Wisdom

    After reading certain local histories one can't help but have positive feelings about some places. Our feelings toward Decatur have been positive for some time - thanks to a book called Eighter From Decatur by Joe Tom Barton (Texas A & M Press). Mr. Barton's personal recollections of Decatur are entertaining, informative and memorable.

    So, it was a surprise to hear of another set of memoirs from Decatur - those of Harold Bell. We found Bell's memoirs even more entertaining, informative and memorable, perhaps because they were a little more personal. We had the privilege of speaking with Mr. Bell over the telephone and figured that if he wrote as personably as he talks, we'd enjoy the book. He explained that it is a collection of stories about Decatur and a few other parts of Texas and that someone had suggested that it would be the type of thing that would interest our readers. They were right on the money.

    It becomes immediately apparent the stories are true - since the most fertile imagination couldn't invent some of the events, occurrences or characters. Reading the stories will take you back to Decatur - even if you've never been there before. Taken as a collection, if they were a movie, they'd be directed by Frank Capra. Taken one at a time - it's a little like Jimmy Stewart reading you bedtime stories.

    We do find fault with the title, but only because it might not attract the attention it deserves. Our suggested title is: Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned by Listening to Old Men On My Paper Route in Decatur, Texas and What They Didn't Tell Me Was Supplemented By Selling Magazine Subscriptions Around the Southern United States During the Great Depression.

    It's only a suggestion.

    Several of the stories are downright unforgettable and if "My Date with Mary" doesn't become a classic - there's something wrong with Texas.
    Young men, think twice if you're passing through Bowie, Texas.

    Mr. Bell takes you to Decatur's town square and introduces you to a trio of men who spend their days changing benches - seeking shade or warmth as the sun moves seasonally over Decatur's courthouse. They correctly singled-out Harold as someone who would listen to their stories and tall tales - never imagining that he'd be sharing them with us so many years later. One gets the feeling that if they knew - they would've tried to stretch the stories even a little bit more. He also introduces us to Mr. Mann - a Decaturan that used to interrupt Harold's paper route to "tell me things he thought I should know."

    The best stories, though, are Harold's own experiences. Mr. Bell may have written the stories, but they were Harold's experiences - and we read them through Harold's eyes - eyes that get increasingly wider as the book progresses.

    We're taken inside Cisco's Mobley hotel after it was turned into a boarding house and one overworked electric fan cooled off the guests as they listened to FDR's "fireside" radio chats. We visit Fort Worth and Bowie and we follow Harold as he sells magazine subscriptions across the South - one of his customers being William Faulkner. He has a life-changing experience with a sheriff in Mississippi that had nothing to do with crime or lawbreaking - (perhaps the first and last time an incident like this ever occurred) and we also learn how today's Mr. Bell manages to own the exact hotel room that once impressed young Harold.

    The cast of characters includes a one hundred-pound piano mover, how George lost his fingers in the Civil War, circus performers and children with and without "gumption." The mystery of what happened to the courthouse cuspidors is finally answered and we're introduced to an unlucky daredevil, a chicken thief who just borrows chickens and "The Love Birds on the Chicken Ranch." Is there an extra-terrestrial buried in the Aurora cemetery?

    The additional tidbits that Mr. Bell includes under "more stuff" is just as interesting and his "about the author" should be a model for other writers - but not Harold Bell. That Wise County should produce the authors of both "I was a Teen in The 1930s" and Eighter from Decatur says something favorable about Wise County, Wise Countians and the teachers of Wise County.

    I Was A Teen in the 1930s (and some more stuff) - now in its second printing can be ordered from Harold Bell - 5908 Diamond Oaks Court, Fort Worth, Texas. A book signing will be held November 16th, 2002 at the Wise County Heritage Museum - 2 to 4 p.m. The address is: 1602 South Trinity - about one mile S. of the Courthouse. Jack Bryant, artist from Springtown (Parker County) will also be in attendence. Proceeds from the sale of books will go to the Wise County Historical Association.

    John Troesser
    October 2002

    See Decatur, Texas

     
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