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Joe B. Frantz on Small Towns

Editor: Noted Texas historian Joe B. Frantz was born in Dallas in 1917 and raised in Weatherford. He earned a bachelorís degree in journalism at UT in 1938 and a masterís degree in history (UT) in 1940. He served in the Navy during WWI, earned a PhD writing on Gail Borden. He died in 1993.

The following except is from the Foreword to the charming book Eighter from Decaur: Growing Up in North Texas by Jim Tom Barton. While Barton was from Decatur and Frantz from Weatherford, the two county seats are a mere 36 miles apart. The foreword can also serve as an essay on small towns everywhere. It is a shame the foreword was not expanded into a book. Sadly, Eighter from Decatur (published by Texas A & M Press in 1980) is currently being discarded from libraries across Texas. It is, however, available from online sources.
ďPeople with small-town backgrounds generally divide into two groups: those who sentimentalize until they blot out reality inconsistent with nostalgia and those who criticize their small towns as oppressive, restricting, devoid of tolerance for creativity and nosy to the point of outlawing privacy and individuality. Small-town life lies somewhere between Thornton Wilderís Our Town, which traces the comfortable experience of people living with people who know and trust each other, and Sinclair Lewisí Main Street, which exposes the shallow and small minds that pose as people.Ē

"Weatherford has become a Fort Worth bedroom and has lost much of its identity. I suspect the same thing has happened to Decatur. But there existed a time when these county seats in rural areas were the whole world to several thousand people."

"The dismal town can provide a corrosive situation, bleak and uninviting to anyone sensitive and creative. It can produce a warm situation if you are naturally gregarious and want to know everyone you meet and if all you seek is to grow up, get a job, get married, have babies, and grow older."

"To my mind, small-town life is overrated unless you are willing to let others make your life for you. Itís chief virtue is security and sanctuary. It can be a good place to dream when you are young, though your dreams are hamstrung by the shortage of people of broad knowledge who can introduce you to good music, good literature, to plays and museums, to taste and elegance and good dining. Most of the things I have enjoyed for the last 40 years, I never heard of until I left Weatherford. My body and my emotions loved the town; my mind and my soul starved for things unknown and unheard of."

"Is it the same in 1980? Or has television simply replaced the gossip line? I donít know, canít know, without moving back. And that is something I am not about to do."

"But donít let me act like a small town arbiter. Read this book for an astringent view of small town life in the 1920s and make up your own mind. Itís a book that will make you want to read parts aloud to your partner, and itís a book that will remind you that people remain the same.Ē

- Joe B. Frantz
October 5 , 2014 Column

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