Yesterday I sought out the company of one of my “Friends of the Written Word” who lives among my other friends on the bookshelves in my study. Harold Bell Wright (1872-1944) was an American novelist who wandered off to the Ozarks in the 1890’s for health reasons and later wrote stories about his experience there. He wrote nineteen books and was one of America’s top-selling inspirational authors in the early part of the 20th century.
This friend (Harold) died the year after I was born, but I was introduced to him by another friend, a life-long resident of our little town, J. Morton McCardell. “Mort,” as he was called by all, was a woodworker and a “restorer” of antiques. But he was much more! Mort was something of a philosopher, a poet, a teacher, and a musician. We often went to the woods together, where with the help of Mort and others, I had built a little cabin. We would spend the day there, enjoying the picnic lunch his wife had packed for us, and talking about many things. It was there I first heard him speak of Harold Bell Wright. Mort had read Wright’s books as a young man. He offered one of those books, “The Shepherd of the Hills,” to me, introducing me to his writer friend. Now, Harold Bell Wright, has become my dear friend too.
Sometimes my friends ask me why I ever came to this little town and stayed for all these forty-plus years. My usual answer is that I felt “called” to be here, and I still do. Mort has long since died, but just having been with him has made the sojourn here a meaningful one. In his later years, Mort would sit on his porch (in the middle of town, near Center Square) and watch the people go by, epitomizing William Foss’ poem, “The House By The Side of the Road,” which he could recite from memory. I meet Mort every morning as I sit down at my desk. His photo and his beloved poem hang on the wall of my study.
Oh, these morning hours! They bring so many thoughts to the surface, so many that I can’t even keep on topic. I began with Harold Bell Wright but ended up thinking of Mort. Well, I guess the two go together, for without my friend,Mort I would never have met my friend, Harold.
In the peace of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;-
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.
Let me live in a house
by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by-
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;-
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.