Joe B. Frantz
on Small Towns
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.
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.
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
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
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