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BLENDING GOOD FOOD WITH GOOD TIMES BEEF & SEAFOOD ENTREES STEAKS BEER BATTER SHRIMP OYSTERS lunch happy hour dinner late night delights S,INENANI ANS 414 Barton Springs at S1st Austin. Texas Mardi Gras Room where Allen almost got us thrown out. His voice, to quote one of his favorite Texas lines, “was too loud for indoor use,” and he insisted on trying a few quips on a waiter who wanted to take the order and get the hell out. Bode and I got to the Hilton after five on the 18th and found Allen in superb form: sober, animated, brimming with news, healthy-looking, and clearly glad to have some interested company. I seem to remember his saying he would visit some old friends and fans in California and that J. S. Sykes of Walnut Creek was on the list. Sykes was one of two people \(Robert John Allen of Texas of the weird art of writing harelip. Back in the Forties Alpine was inevitably on his mind, if in a slightly different context. Texas Monthly had recently carried a long article on him, dealing largely with his unhappy residence there. The magazine piece, which Smith liked only after long reflection, was painfully truthful. “When I read it for the first time,” he said, “I thought: hey, this guy as much as says I am a has-been. You know, I don’t think of it like that. I’ve written forty books, I’m always in the magazines, always working. . . . Then I got to thinking about it. Hell, the man was telling the truth! I am the guy who was on the bestseller list back in the Forties!” As we drove over to a German restaurant near the airport, Smith was saying that one El Paso book editor, since retired, had written in his column that H. Allen Smith sat in his hilltop house in Alpine, armed with pastepot and scissors, putting together new books out of old material. “That griped my ass and I have never forgiven him for it,” he said. \(To .a certain degree the editor’s claim was true. When the column was written, Smith’s Low Man Returns and The Best of H. Allen Smith had recently appeared, made up largely of magazine articles and excerpts from old Smith books. But he always had new ideas and new material working, and while he could admit it himself, it clearly griped his ass, as it should have, when somebody else raised the question, however delicately, of his has-been status. Incredibly, when the three of us were seated in the restaurant, the book editor in question came in, spotted us, and walked to our table. “Allen, what have you been doing lately?” he asked, seating himself with us. “Oh, I’ve been down in my hilltop home in Alpine,” Smith said, never missing a beat, “armed with a pastepot and scissors, making new books out of old ones.” The editor took it well and Smith, after we finished our meal, graciously stopped at the editor’s table to be introduced to the man’s wife and guest, and for a chat. Both at Heins Restaurant and the Hilton Inn, the conversation was a typical mixture of trivia, anecdote, and Alpine storyeverything turning on writing, the only interest Smith had. He signed two copies of The Return of the Virginian for usand it reminded him of an Alpine incident. He told us of a librarian in the town who had all the mytholgical attributes of a maiden librarian: hair pinned in a bun, skirt at her ankles, modest, prim, plain, and tight-lipped. She had never said more than a few words to him nor, apparently, to anybody else. She did ask him to sign a copy of one of his books for her, Allen said, and he wrote something like this: “To , remembering our moonlight tryst on the beach at Puerta Vallarta that summer of divine happiness. With all my love, Allen.” According to Smith, the librarian read the inscription, closed the book, and with no discernible change of expression, said simply, “Thank you.” We talked of Kerrville, Bode’s hometown and a place Allen had considered moving to when scouring the maps for a place to get away from upstate New York; of Decatur and George Washington Gale Ferris who invented the Ferris Wheel in 1892 and who wasn’t, as legend had it, from Decatur; and Black Bart, the poet-highwayman. Allen said Bart was from Decatur, the town’s most luminous ex-citizen, a dirt-farmer until he went out to California and accidentally became a stage-robber. Allen said the Fowler book was his most ambitious project ever, that he tried to tell the story with truth the principal criterion and that in telling the unvarnished truth he was worried that the “Vassar girls” editing the manuscript would screw it up. We left him at about ten and drove back across the mountain. Six days later, on Feb. 24, 1976, in San Francisco, he died. He was alone in a hotel room and his heart gave out. All the obituaries I read mentioned him as the author of Low Man on the Totem Pole and Life in a Putty Knife Factory, two of his oldest books. Some mentioned his controversial residence in Alpine. And some seemed almost surprised to discover he had not died long before. Dale Walker, director of news and information for the University of Texas at El Paso, has written four books on Southwest themes and two on Jack London. February 11, 1977 13