Weatherford library gets overdue book... 70 years later

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by JIM DOUGLAS

Bio | Email | Follow: @wfaajdouglas

WFAA

Posted on June 13, 2012 at 6:47 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jun 13 at 11:34 PM

WEATHERFORD — A spry, elderly man opens up a worn copy of a very old library book. It is yellowed, but not musty. The book's spine is held together with Scotch tape.

"This is 'Penrod' by Booth Tarkington," Billy Barnes said. "I checked it out April 7, 1942."

Billy was 11 years old when he borrowed the book.

Now 81, Bill Barnes returned it to the Weatherford Library on June 13, 2012.

"I'd like to check a book back in," he told the librarian, matter-of-factly.

But before we get to that, there's some good stuff between the covers of his story, too.

"That's my graduation picture from Crozier Tech," Barnes said, pointing to a portrait of a skinny kid in the late 1940s. At Crozier in Dallas, he was one of very few boys to take typing. He did it to meet girls.

He has a newspaper photo of himself posing with the world's fastest typist in 1948.

Barnes said he didn't get many girls, but typing got him a good jobs, first in the Navy... then at the Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News and at Western Union, where he sometimes typed telegrams for Hollywood actors.

"So I got Burgess Meredith," he laughed. "That was something! He was drunk on his tail."

Barnes laughs constantly; after all, the heartache of his youth finally healed just a few years ago.

Through his tour in the Navy in the 1950s, Barnes kept photos of his girlfriend Shirley taped to his ship locker. The photos stayed up — even after she dumped him for another man in 1951.

He kept all her letters, too.

"These are love letters from Shirley," he smiles, holding a six-inch stack of bundled mail. "The last one is a half-page 'Dear John.'"

Shirley had a long marriage, but after her husband died, Shirley and Bill got together again.

They wed in 2006. She jokingly calls it her "guilt" marriage.

Bill calls it his "revenge" marriage.

Barnes admits it's more vanity than honesty that motivates him to return a 70-year overdue book.

"For my 15 minutes of fame... it's as simple as that," he chuckled.

But Barnes also wants to bring attention to Booth Tarkington's work. Barnes loves the book. He says it should have been returned sooner, but it got mixed up with possessions of a family often on the move in the midst of World War II.

His mother had the book, then he got it back. One thing leads to another. The Parker County Library itself disappeared in time.

So off he went from his home in Flower Mound, all the way to the Weatherford library, where he was not happy to hear the library has no copy of "Penrod" on its shelves.

"Potter, Smotter, read something good!" he admonished any kids who would listen.

Bill Barnes got some good news at the library, too. The maximum fine was just $5.

It could have been worse... a lot worse.

"At 5 cents a day? $1,649," the librarian told him. She agreed to sell him back the book for $10.

E-mail jdouglas@wfaa.com

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