Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

January 23, 2013

My Procrastination Project

Filed under: Family,Genealogy,Writing — Janice @ 11:02 pm

I have been working on a project for too many years now and I’m sick of procrastinating. Maybe if I lay out some of it here it will get me going until I am done. I want to be done. It is a great story. A great project.

Almost THREE years ago … and it really does embarrass me that I’ve delayed on this thing this long … a man called me from the Abilene sheriff’s department. He wanted to know what information I had about an uncle that was sheriff of Taylor County. I was no help at all to him. Other than knowing that he WAS the sheriff at one time, I couldn’t even supply him with dates. But then he told me that he did have the “information about the gunfight in Kansas.” Well, I didn’t know anything about a gunfight in Kansas, so he sent me an article from the New York Times about my uncle killing a man in a gunfight in 1897 in Wichita, Kansas. Yes. It was in the New York Times. He also sent me two pictures of this uncle. Here’s the one that is hanging in the sheriff’s office in Taylor County to this day;


Don’t get into a gunfight with this man. He’ll shoot you down.

Since I talked to that guy, I have dug out the story and believe me, the story has everything: it has trains, a wedding, arson, fleeing criminals, a CIRCUS, dying testimony, wrongful arrest, a lynch mob, and … GET THIS… a GHOST! All of that in one story. But I don’t want to tell a story with exaggeration (except maybe the ghost part). I want to tell the factual story and I keep digging deeper and deeper and deeper. Every time I start to write I think, but WHEN did that circus start? What were circuses like in 1897? What clothes did people wear? Where were the train stations? and on and on and on and on. I can’t stop researching.

This is one of the best stories I know in our family. Okay, maybe not THE best, but it is the most documented story I know about the family. I have not only found it in the New York Times, I have found it in the San Francisco newspaper and newspapers all across the country. The Fort Worth paper had huge articles about it. It really captured people’s attention because a Federal Marshall (my uncle – he wasn’t a sheriff at the time) killed a circus owner and that would be like someone killing the head of Google today . No something more shady than Google. But something that popular. The circus was THE entertainment of that period.

So anyway, that’s on my mind and I keep getting caught up in the internet instead of crafting the story and footnoting it. I even tried to go back to the old tricks of high school essays this week with a thesis statement. “This article will factually lay out the story of John Valentine Cunningham in a clear and understandable, yet interesting, story, with clear details and facts and sources.” Next step will be the outline.

Another interesting fact to leave you with about ol’ J.V. Cunningham before I go to bed and dream of circuses and ghosts and gunfights… He was 5 feet 4 inches tall. All that stuff about the long lanky Texas sheriffs is just in the movies. The REAL Texas sheriffs … at least this one … made you look up to them metaphorically.

January 12, 2013

My House

Filed under: Blast From The Past,Childhood Memories — Janice @ 1:33 am


If I were to count up the nights that I spent in each of the houses I have lived in my life, the house I live in now would probably be on top. And that just boggles my mind. I mean, I’ve only lived here for almost 14 years and I feel like I’ve hardly gotten started. Now THIS house, the one in the picture, has been the one that has always had the record and always will have when I think about homes that made an impression on me. This was the house I grew up in.

The house was originally built in 1902 in Amarillo and was owned by the first postmaster of Amarillo. Someday I need to do some research about him. We (I say “we” as if I had anything to do with it)… Daddy and Mother bought it in 1964 when the part of town it was in was being cleared. They moved it to the country and sat it on a bare piece of plowed field. We (again with the we!) fixed it up and lived there until 1969 when we moved to Colorado. But we came back to it in 1971 and I lived there until I moved to the dorm at college in 1977. Dorm life didn’t suit me so I came home and lived at home through 1978 before moving in with a friend in town. So I guess my house here in Austin has already beaten out the Canyon house for length of time living there.

I took this picture in 1978 when I was in college and taking a photography course. I not only took it, I developed it.

I have lots of stories about this house. And I should tell stories about film and developing film since that is a lost art.

January 9, 2013

My First “Real” Job

Filed under: Childhood Memories,Food — Janice @ 12:55 am

I was reminded tonight of my first “real” job out in the world when I saw that the idea man of McDonald’s passed away Monday. Among other things, Fred L. Turner invented the Egg McMuffin and introduced breakfast to McDonalds. The obituary said that happened in 1975. In Canyon, Texas, I am quite certain it didn’t happen until the fall of 1976 when I was working there.

I don’t remember exactly when I started working for McDonald’s, but it was somewhere right at the beginning of my senior year of high school. I can be one of those “We got a Hershey bar for a nickel” kind of people because I remember some of the prices on our menu at the time. The soft drinks came in 3 sizes — all probably smaller than the smallest sizes today. Small was 25 cents, medium (which was PLENTY and was my usual choice of size) was 35 cents, and the large was 45 cents. Seriously, the large was probably 12 ounces and there may not be a small that small anymore. I think the only diet soft drink we offered was diet 7-Up (or maybe Sprite). I am not sure there WERE any diet drinks at this point in the world. I know for a fact that there was no Diet Coke (and how did we live without it??? haha – I’ve just about given it up completely now). We had Coke and Dr. Pepper and the diet 7-Up and maybe a root beer and an orange drink. And that’s it. And get this – When you ordered a drink, we actually got it for you. We got the cup, put the ice and the drink into it and put a lid on it, too.  I don’t think they do that anywhere anymore except in the drive-through.

Our little hamburgers (which should not even be called hamburgers and weren’t up to real hamburger standards then either) were 35 cents and a cheeseburger was 45 cents (I think). Big Macs may have been a whopping 75 cents at the time. We served quarter pounders, too, so they were somewhere in between. Small fries were 25 cents, I think, and large were 45.

Great prices, for sure, until I remember what I was making. Really I don’t remember what I was making, but something less than 2 dollars an hour, I think. I do remember when the town of Hereford was opening its first McDonald’s and we trained their employees. Their employees were making a nickel more than we were while they were training. Yep, I still am not happy about that!

Beyond the hamburgers, fries, and drinks, we had the fish filet (the memory of their taste is wonderful — the real deal never lives up to it anymore) and the apple and the cherry pie. There were shakes, too, strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla. And I think that was it, pretty much. McDonald’s was built on the consistency of a limited menu and we certainly had a consistent limited menu. Then this guy, this Turner fellow, had to get all forward thinking and innovative.

We did start serving breakfast while I was there. I never worked a breakfast shift, so I didn’t have to deal with the eggs and pancakes and Egg McMuffins. I do remember it made it a bit nicer when you worked a day shift, though, because the store was already open and operating when you came to work. And it did make more jobs for more people there in our little town. Lots of the “older” workers (they were probably 19 or 20) took the morning shifts because they didn’t have to be at high school at 8:30.

I worked at McDonald’s for about 8 months at the most. I tried quitting after I’d worked there just a few weeks because they had me on the schedule every single night. I did not know an employee could ask for a change. The managers were very good managers and they didn’t want me to quit and were happy to adjust the schedule and let me work as many or as few shifts as I wanted to. They thought I wanted to work every night because I had put on the application that I was available every night. So they kept me on, but finally the fun and activities (oh and studying I guess maybe) forced me to quit in the spring.

Occasionally McDonald’s runs commercials about how many people started their working careers there. I am very glad I started working there and got a good experience and some good training in work ethic. I certainly made a lot of good friends with my co-workers and even some of my customers that are still friends today. I don’t eat at McDonald’s generally now, but I know they usually have the same high standards we had back then and are always good for a clean bathroom break when I’m traveling and a no-surprises burger. I can’t say they are fast like they were in my day, but I’ll blame that on the number of people in the world, not on McDonald’s.

Mackie and Janice work at McDonalds 1977

Miracle upon miracles, I was able to quickly find a photo I was looking for (without getting lost looking at a million others).

This was in the days before we had a camera with us every waking moment, so this is the one and only picture that exists of my sister, Mackie, and me in our McDonald’s uniforms. Yes, they were polyester and constructed in a way to make even the most attractive teenage girls look bulky and awkward.

January 6, 2013

Last Christmas

Filed under: At home,Family,Food,Normal Life — Janice @ 11:12 pm


And I say “Last Christmas” because it was last Christmas and this will be my last post about Christmas.
It was a good one. A very good one. Here we are the weekend after Christmas standing in front of my sister’s tree on our whirlwind tour of Dallas. My mother spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with us for the very first time (without it being the bigger family all here) and we had a great time. A great turkey and dressing lunch (if I do say so myself as the head cook) and naps every day. We watched Smokey and the Bandit because Mark got it as a Christmas president from his boss and we discovered that, no, that movie hasn’t exactly held up well, but we enjoyed seeing young handsome Burt Reynolds and very cute, young, and adorable Sally Field. Their parts held up well on the celluloid.

And now Christmas is just a memory except that I still have a nicely lit tree in my living room. I’m reluctant to let it go! I like it! And I still need to do a put-off-every-year chore of discarding some of the Christmas stuff. We’ve accumulated a lot of Christmas ornamentation that has no sentimental value to us and we don’t have room to use it. We put out just about the right amount of decorations this year, so I want to do my best to box up the rest and take it to Goodwill or the Salvation Army and let someone else enjoy it. I thought that would get done this weekend, but the weekend went oh so fast, as usual.

Bye bye Frosty

Filed under: At home — Janice @ 12:44 am


It is almost time for us to say goodbye to Frosty the Drummer Boy Snowman for another year. This is a picture I snapped the first night I came home from work and discovered there were LIGHTS on my house for the first time in years and years.

Frosty showed up last year at our house. Two years ago I saw a Christmas card at work someone had received from someone in the music industry. On the front was a cartoon of a snowman made out of drums. It was rather cute and I told Mark about it, thinking we could draw our own cartoon and make it a Christmas card. But he had a bigger idea. He said, “I should gather up some old drums and make a snowman out of them.” I agreed that that was a fine idea and, as I do, I quickly forgot about it.

Then last year I came home and discovered this great piece of artwork not only created, but lit from the inside so it was a great decoration in the day and a spectacular decoration at night! If you can’t tell, he is made from three drums. He has arms that are made from drum brushes and he does have a little nose that sticks out from a drumstick. His eyes and facial features are made from the felt washers drummers use under their cymbals on the stands and his buttons are stickers that they put on drums to deaden the sound (I think that’s what they are for). And he has the obligatory scarf and cute little porkpie hat, too. He’s adorable.

What really makes it even more of a good story though…  Last year Mark took a terrific picture

BREAK – this will teach me to get off track. I thought I would go FIND that terrific picture. Surely it exists somewhere in my computer, not just on the prints I sent out with Christmas cards. That was probably an hour ago. I discovered a whole file of pictures that I didn’t know existed. Lots that are there are familiar, but lots aren’t. I either didn’t know I owned them or I hadn’t seen them in years! Lots are Mark’s pictures, too, and they are all together in no particular order and with no identifying file names. Odd.

Then Mark comes home from work and life interrupts for a while. So where was I?…

Okay, Mark took a great picture of the snowman last year and posted it on Facebook. Everyone thought it was adorable and it got shared a lot. Well, along comes THIS year and as soon as Thanksgiving passes, a DJ on Sirius radio who lives in Austin and is an acquaintance of mine posts this snowman on his Facebook and says Merry Christmas. I commented, “Hey, Dallas, did you  know that this is MY house and my snowman?” No, he had no idea. A few days later, a drummer friend of Mark’s and mine posts it on her page. Again, I ask if she knew that this was ours. No, she had no idea either.

Mark begins to get shares of the drummer snowman from drummers all over the place, passing it along. He sees that one time the picture had been shared 1200 times. He hears from someone that somebody in the band KISS has it as their profile picture. This is really what going viral means, I guess.

On Christmas Eve we had a knock at the door and a neighbor I hadn’t met before brought me a Christmas card that had been delivered to their house. She said she liked our snowman and would have to bring her husband to see it because he was a drummer. We start a nice conversation about drummers and the neighborhood and she mentions that a friend in Missouri and a friend in Arkansas had sent her a picture of a snowman “like this one.” I told her that it probably WAS this one. She was stunned. How could pictures she was getting from friends in other parts of the country actually be from a yard 3 doors down? I told her to look at it closely and see if my office window was behind the snowman in that picture. When she left she said she was coming right back with a camera to take picture to send to her friends in Missouri and Arkansas.

Never did find the picture in my files, but I did find it again where friends had shared it:


Now he’ll live on a shelf in the garage for another 10 months or so. I like that he gave us a reason to decorate outside! Maybe a whole drummer family is on the way…

January 4, 2013

Musical Deaths in 2012

Filed under: Music,My Job,Radio stuff,Taphophilia — Janice @ 12:03 am

When I went through my diary for 2012 I made note of which celebrities made it into the diary. Sure, I made note of ALL of them in my Obit Club on Facebook and emailed about them with my friends. If I were still in radio I would have been spinning the songs from the people that were musical. But only a few were famous enough to be remembered ALL the way until I went to bed and thought about them that night. I  may have missed one, but the celebrities that were famous enough for my diary in 2012 were:  Whitney Houston, Davy Jones, Dick Clark, Kitty Wells, and Nora Ephron.  A disc jockey/TV personality, 3 musicians/singers, and a writer.

I saw a good video today from the New York Times that had the musical deaths of 2012 and short clips of their music. It’s here for you. Short commercial at the beginning. Etta James is the very first one. Mark worked with her a couple of times over the last few years. This week he was framing up some pictures he took of her and also a cool poster he took down from a telephone pole in Dallas from a concert. It looks like a poster from the 1950s, but it was a concert in the 1990s or so. When he worked with her at the Paramount Theater he had her autograph it for him. He is framing it up for display now. It’s a good one.

Mark’s been framing a lot of the pictures of artists he has worked with and had the opportunity to photograph. For Christmas he gave a photo of B.B. King to one nephew and a photo of Tony Bennett to the other. It’s nice to be able to tell them each good stories about how nice these legends are in person and what a joy it is to work with them, around them, for them. I suppose Mark has lots of pictures in his computer of artists that were jerks to him, but they never make it to print and certainly don’t get framed.

Post Script: When I think of musical deaths, I think of two more recent ones. I was in my current job as a contractor when Michael Jackson died. I was in a small office and my boss was working across the hall in her office. I had seen some new flashes about Michael Jackson being in the hospital, but certainly didn’t expect it to be The End. Suddenly, my boss shouts from her office, loud enough for us all, up and down the hall, to hear, “Holy Shit, Michael Jackson is dead.” There was still some speculation that it wasn’t true, but confirmation wasn’t long in coming on that one. The other memory was in the same job, but just this year when Whitney Houston died. She died on a weekend and I don’t remember how I heard, probably like everyone, from the computer (and my ever-ready Obit Club), and there were tributes on TV and news stories about her all weekend long. On Monday afternoon – afternoon—at work we were at our cubicles all working away (new building, new arrangement) and a co-worker that is still living in a technological void pipes up with “Whitney Houston is dead!” We all said, Yes, we knew. And added under our breath that we had the Internet, a TV, and friends.

January 2, 2013

Sick House

Filed under: At home — Janice @ 11:15 pm

First, after I wrote about reading yesterday, I had a comment about whether or not I would quit a book that is boring. Yes, yes, yes. That was a New Year’s Resolution sometime back about 15 to 20 years ago (I remember the bedroom I was reading in at the time). If I get to page 100 and am not enjoying the book and am not looking forward to reading it each time, then I put it away and go on to another one … well, unless someone has told me I MUST read it and give it time, etc. etc. That’s kind of how I felt about the first 2 Girl with the Hornet’s Nest (or whatever those Scandinavian books were called). They seemed awfully slow and had way too many characters for a lot of the book and then there was a turning point where it suddenly got good. But they were too gruesome for me and I never went on to the third one of the series.

But here we are January 2 and my household is in a typical place for this time of the year. We are sick. Mark has been suffering from cedar fever for weeks now and I’ve probably not been sympathetic enough. Of course, it is his own fault because he may complain, but he powers through and doesn’t take to the bed and take a sick day like any normal person would.

Now I’m suffering and I am feeling miserable. I think this hits at this time of year partly because of all of the going and activity of Christmas. Last weekend (was that just 5 days ago?) we were on the go and visiting lots of friends in Dallas. Too much going, too little sleep. And then right back to work on Monday. And all that travel and visiting was on the heels of a week of Christmas activity that was fun and relaxing, because we were home, but still there was cooking and excitement and fudge.

Mark had to stay at work late today because he had a migraine and had to wait until he could see again before he could drive home. So he’s “napping” if you can still call it a nap at 11 p.m. Since neither one of us has had dinner, I guess it is a nap.

Neither one of us, obviously, is a good nurse. We need someone to make us some soup and find the medications we need. One time we were watching the TV show on HBO called Big Love. It is about a Mormon man married to 3 wives. Every time we watched it the discussion would come up about whether we could EVER stand to have more wives (or husbands!) in a marriage than one. Of course, the answer (usually) was no. We were both sick one time and watching it (it was probably in January) and that night I said that I was thinking I might be all in favor of another wife if she could take care of us when we were sick.  Right now I’d settle for someone to microwave me a bowl of tomato soup.

January 1, 2013

New Year Books

Filed under: At home,Austin,Reading — Janice @ 11:28 pm


My nephew asked me over Christmas how many books I read in a year.

“12?” I guessed. “50?” I have no idea, really.

I am not a voracious reader. I wish I were. I wish I were like my brother-in-law with a book nearby at all hours of the day and night, while watching TV, while eating lunch, while stuck in traffic. Mark reads a lot, too. He always has a book with him and reads through his lunchtime. That’s something that became a sacred ritual to him when he worked a hot, sweaty job in a knife shop and the best part of his day was when he was able to eat lunch in an air conditioned restaurant and indulge in an hour of reading. Now that he has progressed to working in a hot, sweaty drum warehouse, he still treasures that time with his book. My mother and sister are both big readers. My sister gives me stacks of books she’s bought and read and I know that is just a portion since she has them on her Kindle and from the library, too. I don’t know how she does it.

I don’t think I am a slow reader. I took the SRA tests in school like everyone did and we had those little devices that forced you to read faster and faster by showing just a few words at a time and projecting them on a screen and you had to keep up and then be tested over the content for your reading comprehension. There is no doubt I CAN read fast, but whether I do or not is a different question. And, I’m sure, I waste a lot of my reading on the Internet. I’m reading news, blogs, articles, and funny things and can’t count that toward the number of books I’ve read.

I wish I kept better track of the books I read. I try to do it each year. Every diary I have has names of books in January and February, but then I get forgetful and don’t put their names down. This year I did take note of reading the Bill Bryson book “A Walk in the Woods.” Truly the best book I read all year long. And it is one of those books that I even hate to tell you the subject because you might go “Oh, that doesn’t interest me.” That’s what I had said for years. I saw that book’s title on lots of best-of-the-year lists and didn’t think it was for me. I’m so glad I finally got to it.

Lately I’ve read 2 and almost 3 books loaned to my be my friend Lu. The Film Club was excellent. I like the nonfiction books that read like a novel. And Comfort Me with Apples.  Another nonfiction. Now I am reading Little Bee. It is fiction and at first the subject didn’t interest me (a Nigerian refugee), but now I can’t wait to read tonight. Lu has great taste in books.

I read an article this week about a man who read a book a week for a year in 2012. I don’t even want to commit to a book a week in 2013 because I don’t want to feel rushed. If I like a book and it takes me a month to read it, there is no problem in that. I read at night before I go to bed and sometimes it is only a few pages before I get sleepy and have to stop for the night. I don’t want to read a comic book and count it as a book just for the joy of attaining a big number.

And I don’t think I stand a chance on getting to all the “best books” of 2012 or of even a week.  This guy, Largeheartedboy, has so many lists of the best that you’d never finish the books on one of them, much less all. And whose to say someone’s list is better than anyone else’s? Unless they have read ALL the books published and have tastes very similar to mine, I don’t know if I can trust their list.

The picture above is from flickr.com, a picture posted by MyEyesSee of a wall of shelves at Larry McMurtry’s bookstore in Archer City. I’ve never been to his bookstore, or even Archer City, and that is a plan I want to make for this year. And I want to read Duane’s Depressed, another of his books with the characters from The Last Picture Show. I keep hearing of good books, reading about good books, ordering good books, and I’ll never get to them all. I have another 5 or so coming next week from an order I placed late in the night the other night. And the pile beside my bed just keeps getting bigger.

December 2, 2012

The Texas State Cemetery

Filed under: Austin,Family — Janice @ 11:51 pm

Today was a beautiful day to be at the Texas State Cemetery. I didn’t take many pictures of the scenery as I was there and the pictures don’t do the fall colors justice anyway.


I took my sister there. It was her first visit. It was the first time that I finally remember to look up and find the location of a cousin of mine that is buried there. Minerva Fannin was the daughter of James Fannin, the Texas hero you studied in seventh grade in Texas history class who died in the massacre at Goliad. His wife had died before he did and his daughters were in care of the McKinney family (the family that McKinney Falls near Austin is named after). Minerva was a mentally disabled child and eventually she was sent to the Texas State Lunatic Asylum in Austin (now the State Hospital) to live. She died there, but she was buried in the State Cemetery. This is my sister next to her grave. She is buried right up on Republic Hill near Stephen F. Austin and directly next to Barbara Jordan (which is odd since there was so long between their deaths). What is odd is that most of the graves face east, but this grave faces west. This is my sister beside the grave.


There are many more stories and pictures I need to put here. We’ve been on a wonderful vacation and I’ve decorated the house for Christmas. The “holidailies” are approaching so maybe that will get me motivated to at least post these short little notes often.

November 27, 2012

So Much To Be Thankful For

Filed under: Travel — Janice @ 12:12 am

We got home from our Thanksgiving trip on Saturday and we had had a wonderful little 3-night vacation. I won’t go into it all now because it is late and I am tired and there was just too much to tell. Instead, I’ll post a picture and hope it begins to tell the story. This is from the Caverns of Sonora. I had maybe vaguely heard of the caverns before I happened upon them as I was planning this trip. They happened to be close to where I thought we might spend the night on Wednesday, the night before Thanksgiving, and then I noticed they were even open on Thanksgiving Day! What a find! So this is where we spent the first part of our Thanksgiving. We walked about 2 miles within these deep dark caves full of stalactites, stalagmites, and helictites – a term I had never even heard, but now I love it! It is similar to the others except it follows no rules! Unlike the stalactites that form as the water drips from the cavern ceiling, the helictites push out from the walls and then may grow up or in a pretzel shape. They may grow off of the side of a stalagmite. They are very rare, but there are millions in these caverns so we learned a lot about them from Steve, our guide.

So here is me and Mark looking scared and looking like we are in a very narrow passageway – neither of which is true:


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