Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Legendary day Disneyland came to Hill County

Barbershop news not always on the square
A Big Chief Tablet Tale
From the back files of
The Son of Obituary

Hillsboro – Dog days during a red hot Sheriff's race are the stuff of Texas legend.

If it ain't down and dirty, it ain't no Texas Sheriff's race, what I mean. No fireworks? No recriminations? No rumors, both outlandish and credible? You're looking at a reshuffling, an appointment, a change of command ceremony. 

That's why The Metropolitan Barbershop was a favorite spot for anything in britches when the heat hovered at well above 100 during those final days leading into cotton season, the days of brown lawns and shimmering heat waves rising across the broad expanses of pavement on the square.

To start the description, let us first consider that the place still had spitoons; its huge beveled mirrors mounted on opposing walls were angled just so that a man reclining in the chair for a quick shave could still make eye contact with another in a similar position at the other end of the tonsorial operating theater.

A massive carved mahogany shine stand complete with fancy cast brass stirrups for the boots of any bowlegged philosopher wanting a nickel rub-off dominated the area by the front window where the attendant would announce the pending arrival of visitors, saying, “Here come Mist' G_____,” or, “There go Mist' H______,” if the customers passed on by.

Benches amply supplied with current copies of crime news magazines, pulp rags with lurid covers and headlines such as “The bold Yank who single-handedly captured a Nazi brothel,” sports tabloids, The Dallas News, and “The Drover's Journal” for those feeding cattle or herding mama cows, lined one wall. Next door, there was a peculiar and innovative form of adult day care, a social program a century ahead of its time, called “Bond's Alley.”

There, the spit and whittle club congregated each day, sitting on wooden benches in deep counsel to solve the problems of the world. They changed to the opposite side of the alley, sitting on the benches on the west when the sun made its post meridian passage to cast its scorching rays on the baking surfaces of the brick walls of the “Old Rock Saloon,” which once housed one of the town's shot houses, and the T.B. Bond Pharmacy on the other side of the alley.

Here, there was much swapping of pocket knives - for luck. They recited The Work, one to another, in low tones, often offering corrections prefaced with such remarks as "Boy, you better think about taking 'The Pledge.' You done slipped back a couple of notches. I have it..." 

It was during one of these unfortunate periods that Dr. Morgan Buie, a co-founder with Dr. Silas Grant of the Grant-Buie Hospital, revealed the fine art of disinformation – or, in the extreme, misinformation – to a budding but as yet decidedly un-legendary newsman for that mighty organ of public opinion, “The Hillsboro Daily Mirror.”

Dr. Buie was a ball of medical fire who started his career as a general practitioner, then switched to a surgical specialty by taking a residency in middle age to expand his practice.

He affected the iron gray brush cut of the general surgeon who scrubs in every morning before daylight, leaving a closely-clipped military moustache on his closely shaved face.

It was during the sweltering afternoon of a hot mid-August day that Buie took his place in the rear-most barber chair and announced in a loud voice that “They're about to run Frank and that bunch over at the office half crazy, a'callin' in to see if they can buy options on both sides of the split...”

No one spoke for an moment or two, then a real estate sales agent with a brokerage rival that of “Frank and that bunch” cleared his throat and asked, “Options on what, Dr. Buie?”

“Aw, options to buy, man. Disneyland is coming through the country, looking to locate somewhere in between Itasca and Milford, all that area in there between Interstate 35 East and Interstate 35 West.”

The news hit like a thunderclap. The rattle and snap of newspapers, throat clearing, and “Look'a here, Morgan...” was a sudden seismic shift from a low murmur concerning the various acts of meanness of a deputy who was front-running in a late season runoff for Sheriff, a man who had numerous times shot the dogs as he stepped from his patrol car - before he ever got to the porch to serve his papers.

It was true that he had also shot a number of men under mysterious circumstances, but Grand Juries had always no-billed him and it smoothed out ruffled feathers on both sides of the disputes. Shooting dogs was a reflex action for this fellow, who eventually retired after a couple of terms as Sheriff.

All that was forgotten as the crowd peppered the doctor with questions, to all of which he merely threw up his blunt-fingered surgeon's hands and peered through his bottle glass bifocals, saying, “Now, that's all I know, y'all. That's what it's all about, man. That's all I know.”

How come no one had heard anything? “They don't exactly advertise it, don't you see? Don't send any telegrams...” His tone trailed off in a tentative expression of exasperation.

The place cleared out quickly, guys finding reasons to be elsewhere.

Not being one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, I tried to confirm the rumor, but when I couldn't, I printed it, as such, as old but enticing news. Two days later, the evening network feed announced that DisneyWorld would be located near Orlando – in a swamp - at a place called Kissimme; the item made national headlines.

Decades later, when Buie was still practicing from a makeshift office at a rest home on the edge of town and I had an oil burner case of pee-noo-moan-yah, I asked him - “Why in the hay-all did yew doo thay-at, Doctor Buie?”

“Way-all, I just can't stand it when they get all morose and carry on like they were – talking about ol' Ray and his trigger finger. Just wanted to see what would happen.”

He peered over the top of his glasses, looking up from where he was scribbling in my chart, and said, “Sure enough, the news beat me back out to the hospital. It was the first thing someone said when I walked in the back door. Had I heard about Disneyland. Grant and I had our little wager, you see, and...”

What about the other rumor, the one that had it carved in stone that the Disney organization was hot for Hill County real estate until the old skin flints on the Economic Development Council had defiantly opposed the California outfit on the grounds that locating a Disney theme park there would raise the payroll threshold to a level unbearable to other employers and manufacturers?

“Get the hell outta' here, and get well quick, hoss. You're coming along fine,” Dr. Buie said, slapping me on the back. 

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