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The Place is Argyle: The good old days not so good

Profile image for Lynn Sheffield Simmons
Lynn Sheffield Simmons

Our Christmas season is plagued with issues ranging from the tax reform, to Russia playing around with votes, women suing men, drugs at an all-time high, North Korea shooting off missiles and people asking what happened to "the good ol' days." According to H.L. Harrell, the good old days weren't so good.

Harrell, known as "The Bard of Argyle," was a farmer prior to World War II. After selling his 66-acre Denton County farm, he and his wife moved to Argyle where they lived on Dallas Street. Harrell was born July 14, 1878, and didn't begin writing poems and letters to newspaper editors until after WWII. He wrote poems and essays on many different subjects, but his life growing up is what intrigues me this holiday season.

<p><span style="font-size: 1em; background-color: transparent;">Gene Gordon of Denton, chief photographer for the former Fort Worth Press, took this photograph of H.L. Harrell in the early 1950s when Harrell was honored by the newspaper on "H.L. Harrell Day."</span></p>Courtesy photo

Gene Gordon of Denton, chief photographer for the former Fort Worth Press, took this photograph of H.L. Harrell in the early 1950s when Harrell was honored by the newspaper on "H.L. Harrell Day."

Courtesy photo

When Harrell was a boy in the 1880s and '90s, towns were small and people made their living farming and raising cattle. He said there were no riding tractors. They dropped corn and cotton seeds through a "shoot" fastened to a plow. They sowed wheat and oats by hand. His first plowing was with a yoke of oxen, and he said he had an awful time getting them to "who-h" and to "bi-ack."

He said when he was a small boy they used candles for light at night. After a while they had a brass-coal oil lamp that didn't have a chimney and smoked something terrible.

There weren't any screens on the doors or windows. Harrell said the flies and "sketters" made life miserable. In the summer they had to leave the doors and windows open or burn up. They burned cow chips to smoke out the mosquitoes and sometimes it smoked them out. He remembered one night the family was awakened with the dogs barking in the kitchen, and when his father lit a lamp and went in there, a 6-foot rattlesnake was coiled up and ready to strike.

Harrell said when the dogs visited friends at night, skunks would enter the house. He said a "stay-at-home" dog was worth its weight in gold.

Wallace Lynch, who passed away in March at the age of 93, was born, raised and resided in Argyle all his life. He knew Harrell quite well.

"He lived in the second house west of me," said Lynch in a 2014 interview. Lynch also remembered Harrell's stories about the early days living in Argyle. He said Harrell was correct when he told about the wood-frame houses being cold in the winter and hot in the summer.

"I remember how drafty and cold the house was in the wintertime and how we left the door open in the summer," Lynch said. "Our screen door was wood at the top and screen at the bottom and it didn't fit well. Sometimes squirrels, opossums or chicken snakes came into the house."

Harrell said while growing up they had muddy roads and balky horses. He remembered when his horse sank to its belly in a mud hole and he thought he could never get him out. He said because there were not any bridges to cross the rivers and creeks they had to wait until the water went down.

In remembering his school days, he said the school house was one room and the students were from 7 to 21 years of age. He said they didn't know anything about germs because all of the students drank out of the same dipper (cup) and spit on their slates (small chalk boards) and cleaned them with their elbows. The older boys would spit out their chewing tobacco on the floor.

As we enter this Christmas season we shouldn't let all our joy be dampened with today's problems because "the good ol' days" weren't any better and I doubt if any of us would like them.

Relax, enjoy the holiday season and be thankful for all our many blessings. And have a very merry Christmas!

LYNN SHEFFIELD SIMMONS is the founder and past president of the North Texas Book Festival Inc. She is the author of 10 children's books and two history books on Argyle. Her website is www.argylebooks.com She can be reached at Lynn@argylebooks.com.

In the Know

In addition to his poetry, H.L. Harrell also wrote essays about everything from war and the United Nations to life in 19th and 20th century Texas. Many of his writings can be found at the Emily Fowler Central Library, 502 Oakland St. in Denton.