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
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
It's only a suggestion.
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