Category Archives for Sessums History Snippets

Sessums Snippet #3 – Something personal

A recent reader said in her review that she found Jenny’s enabling of JD’s drinking “cringe-worthy.”  And I’ll be honest, she’s absolutely right. Jenny Dee does enable her dad.

The truth is, there’s a lot of me in Jenny, including the way she handles her dad’s drinking.  My dad was an alcoholic…  Never physically abusive, but just a pleasant, happy drunk.  And for most of his life, when we were growing up, he managed to keep the drink in one hand and a wrench in the other.  He worked hard, super hard as a diesel mechanic and never let his drinking get in the way of putting food on our tables. In those days Mom worked evenings and I can remember me and my sisters heating Daddy a plate of dinner each night as soon as he got home so he wouldn’t pass out with an empty stomach.

Several years ago under my “romance pen name” I wrote a story about two alcoholics.  One recovered, the other working her way towards recovery.  To prepare for All the Wrong Reasons, I decided to read Alcoholics Anonymous ( The Original Text of the Life-Changing Landmark). Originally published in 1939, this book provides a description and definition of alcoholism as well as a step-by-step explanation of how the twelve-step program works. It then relates story after story told in first person by members of the group.

Post-Prohibition Era diagnoses of alcoholism were grim. Some believed it might be an allergy of sorts to which some were more susceptible than others. Most medical and psychiatric experts believed the condition was incurable and terminal. Those with limited resources were resigned to state hospitals or charities like the Salvation Army. If you had financial support you might get more aggressive treatment including the “purge and puke” method with barbiturates and belladonna.

Still most of the time those resulted in relapse and eventually death associated with the condition. In the beautiful story, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn when the doctor notes that the father’s death certificate will read pneumonia and alcoholism as the cause, the mother begs him to leave the word alcoholism off for her children’s sakes. It’s a heartbreaking scene.

Eventually, though, a group of alcoholics, starting with Bill W. and Dr. Bob began to experiment and find success by applying the theories of The Oxford Society to their illness. A Christian fellowship movement, The Oxford Society’s tenants were described by their founder as follows: “All people are sinners”; “All sinners can be changed”; “Confession is a prerequisite to change”; “The change can access God directly”; “Miracles are again possible”; and “The change must change others.”

Many of the beliefs of The Oxford Society were adapted for the problem of the alcoholic and although the two groups diverged in the later 1930s, many of the edicts of the twelve steps have some connective tissue to The Oxford Society.

I relied on the stories of the “anonymous” contributors of the book when creating the relationship between JD and Mr. Killough. And when you read The Christmas Kettle Caper in the Mysteries of Christmas Past anthology, you’ll get a little more of that very special relationship.

Unfortunately, in 2018 my own dad died without ever having beaten his addiction to alcohol. Interestingly, his death happened just a few weeks before I released All the Wrong Reasons, the story for which I’d researched so much about the disease. I’ll always say my Lord’s timing is perfect because I know without a doubt that my understanding of his struggles with drink is what helped me deal with the impact of his death.

So there’s a little snippet of history plus a lot of personal history.

Have I mentioned how humbled I am that you’re reading this and my books? From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

~C.H. Sessums

Sessums Snippets: People’s Petroleum Building

When Jenny Dee Pierson’s heels clack against the terrazzo halls to the office she shares with her father, she’s walking through what was once called The Peoples National Bank Building.

The summer of 1929 saw industry and manufacturing cutting back on production, signaling the coming economic collapse. Workers were laid off or lost their jobs. The unemployed didn’t purchase as much, and so production declined further. A vicious cycle ensued. Thousands of banks began to fail between 1929 and 1933, but even before that, they’d begun overextending credit on speculation. The hard times got harder.

Still, with deprivation of 35% unemployment nationwide, rampant hunger and want, some of East Texas managed to stave off the coming disaster, at least for a while. Black gold in the East Texas oilfields was the reason. The Peoples National Bank Building became a center of that oil-rich prosperity.

In 1932 local Tyler attorney Samuel A. Lindsey commissioned and assisted in financing the construction of a fabulous art-deco style building. At the time of its construction, it was one of the tallest skyscrapers west of the Mississippi River. Opening its doors in November 1932, it was fully leased by 1933. And in 1934 oil magnate H.L Hunt located the offices of Hunt Oil Company in one suite of the building. Through the Depression and on until the 1950s, the building remained a prime location for offices in downtown Tyler.

Eventually, time took its toll on the building. Construction moved away from the downtown area and vacancies ran high. By the year 2000, the building was considered to be mostly unoccupied. And then three Tyler businessmen began what this humble writer believes to be a remarkable transformation. Tim and Garnett Brookshire,along with Andy Bergfeld, acquired the building, naming it the People’s Petroleum Building. They undertook an extensive renovation project to bring this spectacular Tyler landmark back to its former glory, going to extremes to maintain the historical ambiance of the stately structure.

You can see more about the building in the video below:

Since then the Brookshires and Bergfeld have undertaken a similar renovation of the more modern Plaza Tower building adjacent to the People’s Petroleum Building. With their work in renovating these two buildings and their exceptional management skills, they have drawn people back to downtown Tyler. Tenants of the two buildings (myself included) marvel constantly at their gracious administration and their innovative eye for bringing industries together. If you’re anywhere near Tyler, Texas, take the time to come downtown. Walk the square and enjoy a few quiet moments on one of the park benches. Come into the People’s Petroleum Building and enjoy a meal at Jack Ryan’s Steak and Chophouse. Or head over to the Plaza Tower for some coffee at Café 1948. And if it happens to be a Thursday, you can delight in “Tunes on the Square” while grabbing a quick bite from one of the food trucks that come by for lunch.

Downtown Tyler is an amazing mix of history and modernity, married in a way that I’m sure you’ll enjoy experiencing.

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The J.D. Pierson Mystery Series
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