Few can boast a family tree that includes both the founder of a city and the founder of a well-known circus.
Tim Sells always knew he wanted to write. He also knew he wouldn’t have to search for subject material.
“I knew that I had the richest resource material right at my very fingertips because I came from an extremely unusual family,” the 63-year-old says.
Weaving a mostly humorous narrative describing a rich family tapestry, Sells’ new book When Dublin Wasn’t Doublin’ chronicles the beginnings of the City of Dublin, the Sells Brothers’ Circus and the many, in Sells’ words, “magical” and “mystical” characters who made their home on the Sells family farm.
“There was always a circus on the farm,” Sells says. It was not uncommon for fist fights to break out among the boys during family reunions, he recalls. Writing about his aunts and uncles, Sells says, he often laughed so hard he cried.
Sells can trace his ancestry back to his four-times great grandfather, Ludwick Sells, who moved to the area around 1800. His three-times great grandfather, John Sells, founded Dublin in 1810. A man who was worried more about money than fame, John Sells let his surveyor name the town in honor of Dublin, Ireland.
The Sells family farm, located on Riverside Drive just south of Martin Road, was originally granted to Sells’ ancestors John Davis and Ann Simpson Davis for their Revolutionary War service. Sells’ father, Bob, grew up on the farm, the youngest of 15 children. In the 1970s, the family sold the land to the company that developed Friendship Village.
For author Sells, writing the book was a cathartic experience, a way to embrace family eccentricities he wanted to escape in his youth during the 1950s and 60s. As a boy, Sells sought out normalcy in other neighborhood families and was, in a sense, raised by a village. In his stories, he pays homage to these caretakers.
Part of Sells’ book describes his own childhood in Dublin, where he was raised by his father, Bob. Bob was often physically abusive to his wife, Darline. As a child, Sells used to pray that someone would come to his home and intervene.
“When you write about it, it’s very painful,” Sells says.
The more difficult memories of Sells’ childhood are absent from the book. Instead, Sells recalls happier times with his father spent on the Scioto River. His father built a raft, the African Queen, which became a sort of metaphor of love for the young Sells. The hand-welded craft, which Sells compares to a prehistoric pontoon boat, had a couch and a roof.
“It was genius,” he says.
In putting these and other memories into words, Sells was able to embrace his love for his father. His work was therapeutic, helping him come to terms with the good and the bad childhood memories.
“Once I realized how deep my love really was for my dad, then I was free,” he says. “Then I could really, really jump into these stories and make them come alive.”
Sells also delves into his own lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, which he says motivated him to write the book. He wanted to show others like him that their health could be restored.
“Everybody lives with limitations,” he says. “Nobody’s perfect.”
Sells served in the U.S. Army for nearly two years before he was honorably discharged in August of 1973. At 23 years old, he had an attack of mania and was diagnosed as bipolar.
The book’s title actually came from Sells’ hospital stay at Mt. Carmel in Columbus in 1973. Sitting in a psychiatric ward, Sells began speaking with a nun who had arrived to visit with the patients. When Sells acknowledged that she probably hadn’t heard of his hometown of Dublin, the nun said otherwise.
“Everybody knows that Dublin’s doublin’ every day,” Sells quotes her as saying.
He would remember the story years later when he began writing his book in 2010.
A father of two and still married to his wife of 25 years, Debbie, Sells says he has the disorder under control by monitoring his lifestyle. He doesn’t drink alcohol, for example, and he makes sure to get enough rest. In the epilogue of his book, Sells credits his faith in God and the continued support of his wife with keeping him mentally healthy.
Sells’ editor, Don Rose, became involved with Sells’ book in March 2012, when he heard Sells read an excerpt of his manuscript at a Dublin Historical Society meeting. His interest in the narrative led him to assist Sells with research and editing the manuscript.
“I read it from cover to cover,” says Rose, also a Dublin native.
The book ended up receiving funding through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to print 200 copies. Sells purchased 40 additional copies himself. The books are being sold at a variety of retail outlets in Historic Dublin.
Despite Sells’ personal challenges, he says his book is meant to bring a smile to readers’ faces.
“They’re innocent stories. They’re stories you can read to your grandkids,” he says.
Sarah Sole is a contributing writer. Feedback welcome at email@example.com.