Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

July 1, 2013

40-year Anniversary

Filed under: Family — Janice @ 10:32 pm

Yesterday, June 30, 2013, was the 40th anniversary of the death of my grandfather. He was the first grandparent death I ever experienced and I was only 14. I think most people have their grandfathers in their lives a little longer.

I discussed his death with my mother a week or so ago as the date was approaching and we had one of those “oh I remember it well” moments like in the song where our memories weren’t matching up. She recalled my grandparents’ neighbor calling us that morning. No, I said, he drove over, don’t you remember? And his name was Gallan. No, Mom, it was Mr. Galvan, I remember that. Of course, I see MY memory as flawless and as absolutely the truth! A few days later I compared notes with my sister and she seemed to remember even more details. Of course, we are the only 3 people that experienced it or would even have an interest in recalling those minor details. But then one of us feels the need to share…

Just to orient you, this is Mamma and Pappa Williams. I wish I had a picture of him in his trucker’s uniform.


Pappa Williams was a truck driver, driving an Amarillo to Denver route for Red Ball Freight twice a week. They had a mandatory retirement age of 65, so in January of 1973 he turned 65 and had to retire. They had a nice home, not in the country, but not in town either. Sort of in a neighborhood out in the country. Mamma liked to putter and had a “flower room” with all of her jungle of plants. She also crocheted and embroidered. She had her favorite TV shows and a nice routine in her daily life. Pappa didn’t seem to have anything outside of his work. He would mow the lawn and he enjoyed family visits. He had a garage with tools, but I don’t recall him ever working on an engine or building anything. My point is that he didn’t know what to do with himself as a retired man. So he died. Seriously, he lived five months and just died of boredom or heartbreak or something. Okay, emphysema was certainly a contributing factor. Maybe even alcohol, I was to learn 35 years later.

This picture is really a lot more like I remember him. It is surprising how few pictures I have of him!


So on this summer Sunday morning my family was all at home, as usual. Maybe we were going to be going to church and this was early, I don’t remember. In fact, in my memory, it was a Saturday, but looking up the date, it wasn’t. We heard a car coming around the house and pulling up at the back door. In the usual frantic manner of our family, there was lots of “Someone is in the driveway! Who in the world would come in the morning? Daddy, you go see who it is, we’re not home!!” Meanwhile, we are surreptitiously peeking around the curtain. “Hey, it’s Mr. Galvan, that’s weird.” We knew Mr. and Mrs. Galvan, the older neighbors of our grandparents, but they didn’t come to the house to visit. We (mother, my sister, and I) were hiding under the bed (only figuratively at this point) and sent Daddy out on the back porch to talk to Mr. Galvan. I only remember Mother coming into the bedroom not long after to tell us that Mr. Galvan had come to tell us that Pappa was dead and we needed to get to their house as soon as possible. Looking back, my view was that Mr. Galvan drove over as a courtesy, but my sister recalls the phone being out of service. It was out of service a lot back in the dark ages, so she is probably right.

Mother and Daddy left immediately to go to my grandmother’s; she lived only about 3 miles from us. My sister could drive at this point so we lagged behind to get dressed and, I guess, give Daddy a chance to assess the situation over there.

Mother recalls that someone did call Pappa’s physician, the good Dr. Low who was the doctor for all of our family. He and his wife were sweet people and they attended our church. He came and pronounced Pappa dead and said Daddy could call the funeral home then. Mother says that was the first time she had ever seen Daddy be indecisive. Of course, he was in shock.

My sister and I got to the house before the funeral directors did. Mom “made us” go back to the bedroom and see Pappa dead in his bed. Mackie remembers this with horror and says Mother has apologized for “making her” go and view the body. I don’t recall it being such a horrible thing in that he was dead, but seeing your grandfather in his undershirt in his bed anytime is pretty horrifying. I do remember Mother saying, “See, he looks like he’s just sleeping,” and my thought was, “No, he looks dead.” Of course, I don’t know and didn’t know what dead looks like.

I don’t remember much of the rest of that day. I’m sure the visitors and food started arriving soon. Since Pappa was relatively young and still had a great many coworkers that were friends, they all brought food and visited I think. We had lots of family members from the area that came. All the neighbors brought food and I think Mamma and Pappa still attended church and so the church family probably also brought food. I remember there was plenty of food available and the counters and table in the kitchen were loaded.

I guess my cousins from Austin, Daddy’s sister and her family, came up immediately. I remember lots and lots of people that I didn’t know expressing their sympathy and saying, “You lost a good grandfather,” and the like and, this will sound mean, but I remember thinking, “Really?” Okay, maybe the expression “Really?” wasn’t foremost in my mind because we weren’t saying that at that point in time, but I kind of wanted to compare notes and question these people about how they came to that conclusion.

Pappa was a nice man and I have some very fond memories of him as a grandfather. If we were at their house when he came home from a run, he always had something for us. Usually it was a stick of Juicy Fruit or Spearmint gum (Wrigley’s, of course). If we were really lucky it was a whole pack of gum. Sometimes we might get a Kennedy half-dollar. He let us ride on the riding lawn mower with him (we didn’t have wonderful inventions like that at our house). And he let us smoke his cigarettes. Now that’s a good grandfather.

Some of not-so-nice memories of him include his pouring a glass of water into my face to wake me up when I slept on a palette on their living room floor on vacation. And when he and Mamma picked me up from school when I was sick and I couldn’t call my mother because we didn’t have a phone. Instead of driving to her house to tell her I was sick and needed to come home, they just came to town to get me … and then ran their errands. Going to the courthouse to get their car tags was one errand I recall. He also liked to tease and bully. “Better eat those carrots, it’ll put roses in your cheeks” with variations on what I needed to eat and what result would come from it (I never understood why I would want hair on my chest). Since I’ve done my genealogy I have learned a lot about Pappa’s family and the atmosphere he was raised in. There wasn’t a lot of affection in his family, so I will accept that giving a piece of chewing gum to a granddaughter may have been his only way of showing affection and teasing may have been his only way of having interaction. He did not have any good role models when it came to family.

The week of Pappa’s funeral was the week I bought the first record album that I ever bought on my own. Once my cousin Wyndy was in town from Austin (Wyndy is a boy’s name in our family, by the way), our cousin Kent, who was one of the coolest teenagers I’ve ever known, took Wyndy and my sister and me into town to get away from all the sadness for a bit. That was really a fun time in the midst of a confusing funeral week. Even though we lived a few miles from Amarillo and I had lived there as a kid and we bought groceries there often, this was my first introduction to the Amarillo that was fun for teenagers! We made the drag and we went to Stanley’s drive-in, which is (was) straight out of American Graffiti. Kent showed us the sights. Somehow we also ended up at Montgomery Wards. I’m always telling kids about my childhood when grocery stores sold albums, but department stores sold albums back then, too. Imagine Penney’s or Kohl’s having albums today. But Wards had a stereo department and they had records and I bought Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player by Elton John because the song Daniel that had been a big hit through the school year (along with Crocodile Rock). That album became one of the most influential albums of my life.

At some point in this time span that truly was short, but we seemed to pack a lot into it, we went shopping with Mom and got new clothes for the funeral. This was my first experience with the thought, “Do we have to wear black?” I think Mackie, at just about 17, was well aware of etiquette and fashion and knew that you didn’t and this was a great opportunity for her to get something cute. Because she did.

I don’t have a lot of memory of the funeral itself. I remember it was at Paramount Baptist and he was buried at Llano. I remember playing with my little cousin at the cemetery after the service; she was just 7 at the time. My oldest cousin Mike and his wife Sue did not make it up for the funeral. They were expecting their first child and she was born less than 3 weeks later and they named her Andi after my grandfather.


As I thought about writing this, because of the anniversary, I planned on writing about Pappa and his life, but I never quite got that far tonight. It became, as usual, all about me. By the way, I lost that grandfather at age 14 and didn’t have another grandparent die until 20 years later. One lived to be 91, one to 97, and one to 100. Dying young has not been an issue in my family for the most part.

Thanks for rambling along with me on this one. I don’t know how real memoirists do it. I feel guilty for writing that my grandfather threw water in my face. How do “real” writers write the true stories of people that might be alive to read it?

One last picture, the traditional 4 generations with Pappa and his mother Mattie, my dad and me.

1 Comment »

  1. I could fill in some memories that you didn’t include, but won’t because they might not coincide with yours. In this article I read from time to time “How to Get Along with Your Grown Children”, it says to let you have your own memories. (However wrong they may be! with a small world HA!)

    Comment by pat — July 2, 2013 @ 7:22 pm

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