Janice Williams Loves Austin And sometimes I write about it.

April 27, 2015

Massive Bluebonnets

Filed under: Austin,Bluebonnets — Janice @ 12:25 am

I had a wonderful wedding anniversary on Friday. When we married in 1993, we planned the time of the wedding to be bluebonnet season so we could spend our honeymoon driving down country roads full of bluebonnets. Many years since then we have had an annual bluebonnet trip to celebrate our anniversary. When we moved to Austin and lived right among the bluebonnets, we began slacking a little on getting out for a real trip. We still tried to make a day trip of it, but we even missed out on that from time to time. This year, I really thought that the bluebonnets would all be gone by our anniversary. In town on the banks of MoPac and I –35 they have already gone to seed and gotten weedy.

But my sweet husband found a great mass of bluebonnets for us to visit on our little one-day road trip on Friday. I had never heard of the place he took me and he said he only heard of it within the last couple of weeks. It is Mule Shoe Bend, a recreational area from the Lower Colorado River Authority. It is somewhere north of Spicewood. I have looked at a map since we’ve been home, but I’d still need a guide to get me back out there again. Mark as going to surprise me so we headed out highway 71. I thought we were going for barbecue, and I was right but it wasn’t the first stop. Along about Spicewood he turned north and went through the country a long long way. The bluebonnets alongside the road were beautiful through here and that was a good dose of flowers already. I didn’t know we were heading for more.

When we got to the gate of the LCRA recreational area for Muleshoe Bend, the park ranger said “Are you here for the bluebonnets?” That was my first indication that there was something  GOOD up ahead! She let us in 2 for 1 since the bluebonnets were beginning to get a bit weedy and go to seed, but  they were still fabulous! Roadsides are great, pastures of bluebonnets are great, but to see rolling hills  just covered in bluebonnets and to also be on the shores of Lake Travis… it was amazing. And so many sweet birds and butterflies and bees. That was the only wildlife we saw, but I expect if you were there in the evening you’d  spot some deer and more down that way. I am not a camper (but I sometimes think I would like it), but there were primitive campsites all through the park. I can imagine it would be awesome to wake up to fields of bluebonnets and the rising sun over the lake.

Mark is the best photographer ever. Here are a few of his shots from our Friday trip.





March 30, 2015

Cemeteries in Comanche County

Filed under: Cemeteries,Family,Genealogy,Travel — Janice @ 11:05 pm

I spent the weekend in the cemetery and now I am just dead tired.

Doesn’t work quite as well as the “And boy are my arms tired” joke, but I’m trying.


Saturday was the annual Newburg Cemetery Association meeting. I had never even heard of the association or knew they had annual meetings until last year. I don’t know how I was so uninformed about my favorite cemetery in the world, but now I know so I will attend the meetings. It isn’t just a dry meeting. It is a lively meeting of family interested in the welfare of our favorite cemetery and then there is a really nice potluck lunch with the group.

It is also a “Decoration Day,” as we call them in the South. I did not take any flowers for my family graves this year and I should  have. I usually take flowers in August when I go to the Cunningham reunion. All our flowers were pretty well faded so they do need a replacement soon.

I have 8 direct ancestors buried in the cemetery… my great-grandparents (Ed and Henrietta Hallford) and her parents my great-great-grandparent (Bill and Mildred Cunningham) and his parents (Capt. James and Susannah Cunningham) and then great-great-grandparents from another branch,  Joe and Trissia Moore. There is also 3 great-aunts and their husbands, several great-great-aunts and uncles, and so many cousin I would never be able to count. I know I’ve been to 4 funerals in that cemetery, including my very first one when I was 6 (for Grandma Hallford).  [Full disclosure: the picture of the cemetery is not from this year, it is from 2010. I didn’t take a good scene-setting picture this time.]

I got there early and went to the Albin Cemetery first and took more pictures there. It is just down the road and I have at least 4 direct ancestors there. It was a pretty day. I like this picture of the Albin Cemetery in panorama:

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I love the rock walls on these old cemeteries… can you imagine how much time and energy that took?

Now I am home and I’ve been wasting time researching some of the graves I saw (well, the people in them).

There’s just not enough hours in the day for the cemetery visits and research time I need.

March 26, 2015

Tulips for the baby

Filed under: Family — Janice @ 8:39 pm

I bought myself some tulips today. But they really are for my new niece, EJ. I couldn’t resist the tulips.

I have always had a love of tulips. Tulips were easier to grow in Amarillo where I grew up and we always had them in the garden and as a little girl I remember vividly going out each morning, counting the tulips, and coming back  to tell Mother how many tulips were blooming. I felt like that was my job.

When my sister married a man from Holland, tulips became even more sentimental to us all. We all love the country and the people we know there. My new niece is slightly more than one-fourth Dutch since her grandfather is solidly Dutch, but her grandmother is at least a tiny portion Dutch. I know the mother’s side of her family is Italian, but I don’t know much more. Once she can hold a pencil, little EJ and I will start work on genealogy together.

March 23, 2015

7 pound lifechanger

Filed under: Family — Janice @ 10:38 pm


This little doll is going to change my life from this day forward:


This little angel is my great-niece (or some would say grand-niece). She is the son of my nephew. My sister’s granddaughter. My mother’s great-granddaughter.

I’m as proud as if I gave birth myself.

I can’t wait to see more pictures of this adorable little babe. She has been in the NICU through the day, but she is fine now and ready to conquer the world. She gets to go home with Mommy and Daddy on Wednesday.

I cannot fathom what my life would have been like if I had a baby at 25. But these two are going to be those parents that are easygoing and fun and have the house all the neighbor kids come to.

I had some incredible great-aunts:  Aunt Det, Ollie, Myra, Lena, Aunt Edna, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Gertrude, Aunt B, Aunt Mildred, and Aunt Leola. Each one has a special place and at least one indelible memory. I remember most of them as being fun to be around and easy to enjoy. I hope I can provide that for my little baby EJ.

March 22, 2015

Springtime Gardening

Filed under: At home,Garden — Janice @ 7:59 pm

Spring arrived Friday, though it was damp and cold for Austin through Friday and Saturday, too. But today (Sunday) was bright and shining and we had blue sky and at least 80 degrees, I think. I used to be a great gardener. I need to find that enthusiasm and energy again for gardening (and housekeeping and writing and working….). Today I did get outside and do a FEW things so I could say I worked outside and accomplished something.

We have big live oak trees in our neighborhood. I’m glad the builders preserved so many of them for our yards when they built our houses in the 80s. I can just picture what a forest this section must have been at one time. But live oaks drop their leaves in spring when the new growth comes in. That is why they are called live oaks, they are never “dead” in the wintertime. But when the leaves fall, they are really a chore. Our back roof is covered in piles of leaves that need to be pushed down to the ground and cleaned up. No telling what kind of mildew and rot might build up under them up there.

I took a broom and swept my entryway first today. My sister wrote the other day that she was channeling our Papa Hallford and had swept her walk and sidewalk (she also has live oaks) and that there was a great deal of satisfaction in sweeping. I agree with that and every time I DO sweep I think I will do it more often in the future. That rarely happens. Today I swept the porch. Not spotless because more leaves were falling as I swept, but I got a handle on it. I swept leaves off of the flagstone rocks in our garden. Usually by now there would be bluebonnet plants all through the flagstones and we would let them go through their cycle before cleaning out that area. This year the bluebonnets are nonexistent! We don’t  know what happened, but they aren’t there so I swept the rocks and even pulled down a few spiderworts that were growing there because I have plenty IN the garden and don’t need them coming up where I’d like to walk.

I filled up our trash can with leaves from the driveway and walkway and then called it a day. I picked up dead branches and trimmed off some yellow leaves on plants. I trimmed back the Carolina jasmine that takes over as soon as  spring arrives. I didn’t haul rocks or mow or dig or do anything extremely strenuous, but it was enough. I came in sweating and had to cool off and clean up before I could continue my day.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll do a little bit more.  Now is the time  that everything is pretty and green and blooming. The rain has been coming frequently and the hot sun isn’t baking anything for the moment. I want to enjoy this spring while I can.

March 17, 2015

A Fresh New Start

Filed under: At home,Austin,Bluebonnets,Cemeteries,Family,Food — Janice @ 11:29 pm

I guess the best way to return to a habit and get the ball rolling on this blog again is just to start.

And keep going. We’ll see if I can manage that.

I truly don’t know why I don’t. I write all the time, all over the place. This blog doesn’t have to be any more polished than the emails I write (since the same people will read it). So I will try.

I just had a beautiful fresh start to a New Year for myself with the big celebration for my 56th birthday (oops, I had a typo and put 65 first, can 65 ONLY be 9 years away?). It was a GREAT birthday. I have probably complained here in past years about how my birthday falls during Spring Break and, worse, during South By Southwest. South by Southwest is the Austin music conference/festival that is a fine event, but it keeps my husband, Mark, away from me much too much. But, every 6 years my birthday falls on the Sunday BEFORE SXSW and Mark can free up some time to celebrate my day.

It’s hard to believe it has been 6 years since we had a great lunch at El Chile on the east side and drove around observing the blooming mountain laurel and fruit trees and then visited the Texas State Cemetery. That was my first visit to the cemetery, even though we had lived here almost a decade by then. It was amazing and I’ve visited it many times since then. I am happily married to the only man in the world that would understand that a trip to a cemetery for a 50th birthday would be the best present.

This year Mark offered me a road trip to a Hill Country town or anything I wanted. I thought long and hard and decided a brunch at the 1886 Café in the Driskill Hotel and a trip to the Ransom Center would be my choice. Mark had some concerns about being downtown during SXSW, but we forged ahead and talked the café into letting us have a reservation even though they don’t take reservations  during SXSW or for brunch.

The Driskill is a beautiful hotel. It is Austin’s oldest and most opulent hotel, built in 1886. The lobby is big and marble with pillars and grand staircases and dark wood paneling.  We hadn’t  been there 3 minutes when I spotted Billy Crystal coming down the staircase. That’s the kind of magic that happens there.

With the ColonelHere we pose with Colonel Driskill. I was hoping for some orbs in the picture since he haunts the place, but no such luck. I was sniffing, trying to smell his cigar, but I didn’t get that either.

We enjoyed the cheese soup (amazing!) and I had quiche while Mark had steak and eggs. I also indulged in a bloody Mary.  It was fun to people watch, wondering if we looked like out-of-towners to them.


We took a walk around the Driskill and then walked down 6th Street a little. I honestly don’t know  if Mark and I have EVER walked down 6th Street together. It is Austin’s Bourbon Street…something the city is known for, but nasty, dangerous, and a place the locals don’t go. In the daytime it is not so dirty or scary. There were lots of people out and the streets were closed so there was lots of room. We had fun pointing to buildings and remembering…. “This WAS Joe’s Generic Bar. This was Steamboat. This was where I played for this…. This is where I used to go ….” It has changed tremendously since I worked down the street when we moved here 16 years ago.

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There was no shortage of people watching on 6th Street. With St. Patrick’s Day coming up, we even saw leprechauns. We steered clear so I don’t know what they were soliciting. I have a feeling they weren’t going to lead us to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

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On to the Harry Ransom Center. It is a museum where my cousin works, yet I have never been to it. I wanted to go just to see where it was and what it was like. I didn’t need to spend hours there. It is a very nice small museum, known for its traveling exhibits, I suppose. But it does have a Gutenberg Bible on display, which is AWE-some in the truest sense of the word. And the first photograph ever made, in 1824, I think. Mark looked at the piece of metal with dark shapes on it, hardly distinguishable as a landscape outside a window at all. Mark commented, “Well, it isn’t even a very good photograph…. kind of grainy.” We laughed. It was the kind of exhibit that makes me want to go read more about the invention of photography.

There was also a big exhibit going on about Alice in Wonderland. A lot of people were there to see it and it was a beautiful display with LOTS about the book and the whole history of Alice. Somehow, I grew up without ever knowing much about Alice in Wonderland. I knew about her, but I don’t know if I actually ever read the book. I think I saw a cartoon. I think I once had a ceramic figurine of her. But since Mark and I didn’t have a real connection with Alice in Wonderland, we took the quick view through that exhibit.

I was happy and satisfied and content to go home to open birthday cards that had come through the week (I always save them until the day) and maybe get in a good nap. Before we got all the way home, Mark took a swing through a rehab facility by our house. Each spring there are fields of bluebonnets around the center so he wanted to check to see if any were blooming. Neither one of us have seen a bluebonnet by the highways yet. Lo and behold, they were beginning to bloom. There is no piece of nature that makes me as happy as the bluebonnet does. We stopped to do the Texas thing and take pictures in the bluebonnets. We will be back when they are more abundant.



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Now Mark is deep into his long days/nights of working during South By Southwest and I am a SXSW widow, home alone overnight. But the birthday is over and I don’t have to think about it falling during SXSW when I don’t get any attention. It was a happy and fun birthday and I’m grateful to my sweet husband and to all who sent the cards and presents and called and texted and Facebooked and emailed. There was no shortage of love.

February 8, 2015

My Aunt Billie’s Birthday

Filed under: Childhood Memories,Family,Genealogy,Travel — Janice @ 4:34 pm

Several years ago I wrote about my Aunt Dorothy for her birthday instead of giving a gift. In January we celebrated my Aunt Billie’s 90th birthday and I decided to do it again. Writing about Aunt Billie is a little more challenging because she was always the most elusive aunt, the one I didn’t know as well. Aunt Billie and her family lived in Tyler when I was a child and then moved to Fort Smith, Arkansas before I was a teenager. We would see their family on the rare occasion that they came on a vacation to see us or we went to see them (it did happen a few times) or at family events somewhere in the middle, like Eastland, Texas, or Eldorado, Oklahoma.

Aunt Billie acknowledging the throngs of well-wishers at her 90th in January in Fort Smith:

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I never had the ability to just drop in on Aunt Billie. I have crashed all the other aunt’s homes to eat, shower, sleep, visit, or just take a break from the road, but never at Aunt Billie’s. We haven’t had much of a correspondence over the years either, but that would be because I didn’t write her. She is definitely a letter writer and there’s no way a correspondence would wither from her end.

If I wanted to help you envision my Aunt Billie, I would have you think of Lady Bird Johnson. It’s not that they really look alike, but I somehow got them intertwined when I was a kid and still see some of Billie in Lady Bird and vice versa. Lady Bird’s dark hair and her sweet laughing face are only part of it. They really do share an accent. That part is critical for you to hear in your mind to hear Aunt Billie. She has a very different accent from the rest of the family. I guess we are all West Texas and she is very East Texas. It’s not a lazy Southern talk, sometimes she talks very fast, but then there will be a long languid vowel just before the sentence finds its conclusion. “So-I-said-I’d-be-there-on-Sat-ur-daaaaaaaay?” There’s always that lilting upward inflection at the end, too. Not “uptalk” like the teen girls in America, but a gentle inquisition that seems to be asking politely, “Do I need to slow down for ya’ll to understaaaaand meeee?”

What do I know about Aunt Billie? Whenever I ask that question about a relative or ancestor, the glaring omissions of what I don’t know starts jumping out at me rather than the part I do. But I’ll try to stick with the facts as I know them.

Aunt Billie was the second child of my grandparents. Aunt Dorothy was only about 18 months old when Aunt Billie was born so my grandmother had her hands full at only 22 years old. Billie was born in Newburg, Texas, the same place her father and her grandmother had been born. She was born in 1925 and the family had lived in that neighborhood for 70 years, stretching back to the times of Indian raids and depredations.

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She grew up in Grosvenor (north of Brownwood) where her father, Arla Hallford, was the superintendent of the school there. She had 2 younger sisters, my mother, Patsy, and the baby, Lou Helen. There are great adventures to tell of the family living in Grosvenor. One frightening story was when the four daughters were left at home when their parents chaperoned a school bus full of kids going to the Fort Worth Stock Show. They were bundled up in their bed when a man entered their house and they could see him by the firelight. He caught sight of them and asked, “Has that bus already gone?” or some other question, made up on the spot. The girls nodded in fright and he left. When the family returned and authorities were notified, they brought several men from the community into the lights of a car for the girls to try to identify who it had been, but it was none of these men. And then there was the time the family was all almost washed away when the new dam that formed Lake Brownwood—and stood between them and their home in Grosvenor as they returned from Brownwood—collapsed during a deluge of rain.

The family moved to Quanah when Aunt Billie was in high school. Her dad was no longer her school superintendent; he had gone to work for the State Welfare Office. She graduated from high school in Quanah and was very active, as she would be all her life, in the First Baptist Church.

Aunt Billie went all the way to Kingsville to attend Texas A&I College. It was a long way from Quanah, but Aunt Billie had developed a close relationship with the pastor and he and his wife were moving to Kingsville and encouraged her to come with them and go to school. My mother remembers the adventure of getting to visit her there (while Mother was still in high school) and passing kids at the Baptist Student Union and have them say, “Hi Billie.” She had never known that she looked that much like her sister.

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Aunt Billie had office jobs before she married. She worked at the Western Union office and at the National Farm Loan Association in Quanah as assistant manager to Mr. Silas Mitchel. Then she took the job of secretary to the Vice President and General Manager Quin Baker of the Quanah, Acme, and Pacific Railroad. She stepped into that job when her older sister Dorothy had had before she married. I’m sure Mr. Baker knew quality workers when he found them.

Aunt Billie had many jobs through the years, but her main job was always mother to her four kids, my cousins Hank, Patsy Lee, Jo, and Becky. We have always marveled at their large family and how they would pile in the car and go on their vacations without a fuss or a fight (it seemed to us anyway). Still to this day this is the closest family you’ve ever seen. It seems like there is a birthday in their family at least once a week and a family celebration at someone’s home.

Aunt Billie is the only sister of the Hallford family that has traveled the world so extensively. She visited Israel, The Philippines, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Germany, and other countries in Europe. Sometimes she was there visiting her children who lived there. Jo and her husband Dru were missionaries in Israel for a while. Hank and his family were in Germany while he was in the Army. Many of her trips were related to Aunt Billie’s church work or her desire to know more about the Bible and expand her education. Of all the children in the Hallford family, Aunt Billie is the most like Papa Hallford in her desire to be a constant student. She makes the effort to not just read, but to study and absorb and seek out people to discuss topics with. There’s no doubt she could step into a Sunday School room, a Bible study, or even the pulpit and be ready to go at a moment’s notice.

Aunt Billie has her quirks, there’s no doubt about it. But I love that she is perfectly content with who she is. We should all be so confident and self-assured. While MOST in our family have a need to look “proper” to the outside world, Aunt Billie does things her own way and you can take it or leave it. One time she and I shared a motel room on our way to the Cunningham reunion. Aunt Billie brought her own sheets, pillow, and blankets with her and made her own bed on the couch of the hotel room because she didn’t trust sleeping on the hotel sheets. She also had her house shoes and wouldn’t cross the room and the carpet with bare feet. I was amused, too, because her “luggage” was grocery sacks because they were convenient for her. That was 20 years ago and I find myself traveling with grocery sacks more and more. I have learned a lot from my Aunt Billie.

Aunt Billie is a writer. That’s kind of a thing in this family. I have a story she wrote many years ago about “The Church Pan.” It’s a story you can relate to if you ever took foods to the church for funerals or Wednesday night prayer meeting (… I would assume. I can’t say I’ve done it.). She accidentally took home a church pan along with her own and then failed to get it back to the church in a timely manner. As the time stretches further, her guilt grows and she is certain the church brotherhood is going to ask her to come before the church to confess her sin of coveting and stealing the church pan. She has a way of making you laugh and feel the guilt she felt, all at the same time.

Aunt Billie became a widow young. She married Uncle Glendon when they were in their 20s. They had a church wedding after church on a Sunday at the First Baptist in Quanah. He had been a bombardier in World War II and was shot down over Germany and was held in a German POW camp for over a year when he was just 21 years old. Aunt Billie hadn’t met him at that point. He came home, they fell in love, and started their life together. He sold car parts, like Delco batteries, to parts stores and auto dealerships. They lived all over Texas… Abilene, Corsicana, Roame, Emhouse, Crowell, Tyler, and then they finally settled for good in Fort Smith Arkansas. Glendon died when he was only 61 and is buried in the National Cemetery in Fort Smith. Aunt Billie has been an active and self-sufficient single woman for almost 30 years now.

Aunt Billie and Uncle Glendon and the first 6 of their 12 grandchildren:


Aunt Billie has a very close and special relationship with God. While I was there for her birthday, I heard a great story that illustrates that. Her daughter Jo had come to visit her for an afternoon. Before she left Aunt Billie got her purse and said she was “convicted by God” to give Jo some money. Jo said she didn’t need any, but Aunt Billie pulled out a checkbook and wrote a check for $2500 and was insistent that Jo take it. Jo complied and took it, but said she didn’t need it and wouldn’t be cashing it. When Jo got home, it wasn’t long until her husband had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. He made a full recovery, thank goodness. Their out-of-pocket portion of the hospital stay was $2500. Jo hadn’t known that she would need that money soon.

I’ve always loved Aunt Billie’s personal library and her ability to catalogue and file her books and papers and notes. If you bring up a subject, she can pull files and sources and be ready for a discussion in minutes. Her cataloging goes beyond her intellectual pursuits. She has also saved every family letter and photo she has ever received. A few years back she divided her stash and returned the letters and photos to those who sent them. I inherited the ones that my mother got back from her. There were letters from me when I was a kid, my high school and college graduation announcements, photos. She had even created a scrapbook of the school pictures of me and my sister. All in all, she may have had more of my school pictures than I did!

One wonderful discovery in her files showed up in time for her birthday celebration. Her daughter Becky found a song Aunt Billie had written to accompany a poem her father, my Papa Hallford, had written for her many years before. It was a complete piece of sheet music with words and music. Her creativity still surprises me. I knew she played piano, but didn’t know how much she did with her music. I learned she had majored in music in college.

Aunt Billie, like her sisters, is a great cook. I didn’t get to enjoy as many meals at her house as I did the others, but I have seen what wonderful cooks her daughters are and I know where they got it from.

Aunt Billie has been a staunch supporter of me and my genealogy efforts through the years. She has always supplied the information I’ve requested and has passed along photos and books and anything I’ve needed, asked for, or that she thought would be helpful. She has come to lots of the Cunningham reunions (even though Comanche is a very long way from Fort Smith) and I appreciate her children for being willing to jump in the car with her at a moment’s notice to go to a reunion.

Tenacity, faith, humor, creativity. Aunt Billie got a big portion of great traits in our family. I love that she is still living in her home, doing what she has always done, and sees no reason to change anything now.


The four sisters:  Lou Helen (holding Nathaniel), Dorothy, Billie, and (my mother) Patsy.

old box from Mackies house scanned 9 10 2011 001 sisters with Nathaniel tight crop

January 1, 2015

My New Year – 2015

Filed under: At home,Writing — Janice @ 11:14 pm

It is January 1, 2015. I guess I didn’t do so well on the Holidailies this year, but, hey, I did better than I would have if there were no Holidailies. It at least gets me motivated for a little while.

That is sort of how the New Year and New Year’s Resolutions are. I’m trying NOT to make any real New Year’s Resolutions, but it is so hard not to hear myself in my head saying things like, “I’m going to start…” It just comes with the territory when December starts slipping away. I wish I would have that sense of newness and change and growth with each new month, or week, or even DAY! As it is, the year will likely slip by before I have a chance to write another novel, complete another genealogy of a different family, lose x number of pounds, or climb Mt. Everest. (Those last 2 are of equal difficulty.)

I am excited to have my diary in hand for 2015:


I have had some great difficulty over the years finding the right diary. I had found a great diary at Border’s Books and used that style (really chunky and thick with a big spiral bind) for several years until, boom, Border’s closes up shop. I hunted and hunted and finally found the diary online, but it is made in England, apparently not sold in the US and it was a little spendy for me to have it shipped from the UK.

Two years ago we were in a bookstore in Alpine and Mark found me the perfect diary. I had already discovered and loved Moleskine journals, but didn’t know they made a diary with full pages for each day and with real dates in it, too (not a generic Jan. 1 for any year). It was a great diary. Last year I had to hunt a bit before I realized they were on Amazon and ordered one about a week into the New Year. This year I am prepared and diary (and accompanying notebook for the purse for my brilliant ideas) is in hand. Purple this year. Last year, red. Two years ago, green.

I like the continuity of size and shape. My mother has kept diaries FOREVER and for the most part they are the exact same style for the last 30 years. It is quite a sight to see them in her bookshelf. We refer to them when we are trying to remember what we did on a certain Christmas or where we might have gone on a vacation. They are handy. Mother has threatened to burn them all and we’ve talked her out of it. I know there are entries that would sound like Little House on the Prairie to my nephews and their future children, so I hope they are preserved. I doubt if mine have enough of interest to anyone but me, but it is a part of my nightly ritual to document my day in my diary and I rarely forget to do it anymore.

I will go write on page 1 tonight, with good penmanship and thoughtful quotes, as I always do. We won’t be a week into the New Year before it becomes an unreadable scrawl and I write things like “Worked. Okay day. Going to bed early.” and call it complete.

Happy New Year! I resolve to write in my online blog every day…  haha, No! No resolutions about that for me here.

December 20, 2014

Miracle Story

Filed under: Family — Janice @ 6:19 am

2006 12 Georgetown Daddy Christmas 038

This picture was made 8 years ago today at my parents’ house in Krugerville, Texas. It was 5 days after my dad had died at a hospital in Dallas and the day after he was buried in Amarillo and the family had returned to their home. There’s an amazing story here.

I read once you should write the stories that you tell often. This is one of those stories. I tell it and retell it as often as I can. It is maybe the most amazing event I have witnessed for myself. So I am telling it once again…

Dad died on a Friday and we had his funeral at their church near Denton on the following Monday. The burial was to be the next morning near Amarillo and near where our farm had been for close to 30 years. The weather on the day of the funeral was lovely. A bright, sunny, warm December day. But an ice storm was on its way to Amarillo and flights we had scheduled for the afternoon were canceled due to the forecasted bad weather. So all of our family members had to immediately change our plans and drive to Amarillo and arrived there late that evening, knowing we would be waking up to ice and having to be at a “graveside” service at 10 a.m. (fortunately there was a building at the cemetery for services).

Mark was first up and surveyed the scene and it was grim. It took a LOT of scraping and warming and salt sprinkling to just get our cars moving and out of the parking lot in the morning. It was a beautiful service, but we didn’t wait for the burial. We left it in the hands of our funeral directors and we jumped back in the cars and headed home. The worst of the ice storm was still going on and the sooner we could get further south, the better. My nephews were just teenagers at the time so Mark (my husband) and my sister were driving the two cars and we were on the road. We were all completely exhausted: my mother, sister, her husband, the two nephews, and me and Mark. It had been an intense 6-weeks of operations and setbacks and short sleep for everyone, culminating in this emotional time and very little rest with all the travel.

We arrived back at Mom and Dad’s home that evening. My younger nephew was still in high school and he had already missed two of the last days before Christmas break because of the funeral, so he and his parents needed to get on back to their home in Coppell so he could go to school the next day. My older nephew, Brandt, was a freshman at Baylor and Baylor was out for the semester so he didn’t have that obligation. He asked if he could stay with us at my mother’s house and help Uncle Mark.

Once Mark and I had arrived after Daddy died, Mark had taken on the task of cleaning Daddy’s two garages. It gave him something to do through all the visitation and waiting. Dad’s garages were a mess. One garage did have room for the car and was just off the house. It was full of lots of his childhood antiques, a bunch of household goods bought in bulk, and “necessary” car repair items. I say “necessary” because Mark found (and threw away) a great supply of things like “inner tube repair kits.” Many of the things on the shelf haven’t been used by a shade tree mechanic in 30 years.

The BIG garage had a lot more stuff in it. Dad inherited a lot of things from his uncle when his uncle had to go into a nursing home. He had most of that in a pile, unsorted, in the garage. Like the inner tube kit, there was nothing of value, but Dad might have had a little bit of a hoarder in him. My sister and mother will read this and say, “Oh, you think? (snort).” He had lots of tools and parts and a big riding lawnmower and trunks and tennis rackets and roller skates and on and on. If it had been in his barns and garage in Amarillo before they moved to Krugerville, it had made the trip and was now in this garage. With additions.

Dad had retired from his job as a land surveyor and civil engineer for a gas company in 1990. When he cleaned out his office, he brought home filing cabinets and boxes and piled them in the corner of the Amarillo garage. When they moved to Krugerville in 1994 they were all moved down and put in a corner. For 12 years, more and more things were piled into that corner and the books related to surveying and various maps of gas pipelines in the Panhandle were forgotten.

We arrived back at Krugerville in the evening. Younger nephew and his parents drove on home to Coppell in the DFW Metroplex. My mother went straight to bed, she was worn out. I was still awake, but so tired I just laid on the couch and watched TV. But Mark, being the energetic man he is, decided he could continue his garage project and get it closer to being finished. Brandt, the 19-year-old nephew, had stuck around to help (and hang with his cool uncle) and he went to the garage with him.

They hadn’t been out there very long at all when they came back into the house bursting with excitement. Brandt’s eyes were as big as saucers and Mark was saying, “You are NOT going to believe what we found!” I was hoping for a big stash of money or Apple stock certificates, of course, but what they found was really more valuable than that.

Brandt claims that he went out and joined Mark and, without any real idea of how he was going to help or what he was going to do, he noticed that there was a two-drawer file cabinet with lots of things on and around it in a corner. He decided to investigate and he cleared it enough to pull out a drawer. The drawer was packed tight with books about surveying and math and also had files and envelopes and papers that all appeared very businesslike. Brandt saw a leather folder, the kind that holds a legal pad, and pulled it out of the drawer. It was dusty and had obviously been in a file in a garage since Daddy brought it all home.

Brandt opened the folder and there was a legal pad inside, the first page completely filled in with my Dad’s distinctive tiny printing. The first line read, “This is a letter to my grandson, Brandt. When you read this, in 20 years or so…” And so it began. It was a letter begun in about January of 1988, a month or two after Brandt was born. At that time, Dad’s company was not expanding much and Dad had a lot of time on his hands in his office. It seems that he decided to give some advice to his grandson(s) while he waited for retirement. The letter went on with a little bit of the history of Daddy and where he came from and how he got to where he was. It had advice for a young man heading out in the world. The letter was abandoned at some point and then picked up again in 1989 or 1990 and included mentions of the next grandson Connor and a trip the whole family had taken together. It was the kind of letter that anyone would dream of having from their grandparent.

Brandt and Mark were totally stunned and then I was, as well. The picture I inserted at the top of this post is from the next day when Brandt was reading it aloud to us all. My mother and sister found out about it the next day when we were all awake and together.

To this day we still have some of Dad’s papers and books and things in storage because Mother moved out of that house a few months later. The possibility exists, I suppose, for there to be another treasure like this one in there somewhere. But I doubt it. I believe Dad led Brandt straight to that letter to make sure it was found while it was important and it could give two young men some guidance in their lives. It easily could have stayed in that file folder and possibly never have been found—sold to a junk dealer at an auction or just dumped into the garbage because the books and methods of surveying had made everything there obsolete.

We have all been thinking about my Dad this week. Having a death in the family is hard at any time, but there is (it seems) an added dimension when the death is at Christmastime. The two are now tied together and his memory is with us in lots of different ways in the weeks before Christmas. Both boys have married and will have their wives with us for Christmas. I’m sure they both know the story, but it will probably be retold next week and they’ll learn more of the stories that we tell about Daddy. I love that Daddy’s story and discoveries about his life didn’t end with his death.

Brandt and Connor in Dad’s Air Force uniforms. It was hard for us to fathom that Dad had ever been that slim.

2006 12 Georgetown Daddy Christmas 045 s

December 10, 2014


Filed under: At home,Childhood Memories,Food — Janice @ 11:09 pm

Amazon knows me all too well. I have an email touting all the latest kitchen equipment. No, I am not much of a cook, but I am drawn to the kitchen gadgets. I recently did order a “tiny pie making kit” with little tiny pie pans made of silicone (or is it silicon?). Plastic. It is practically plastic, but it doesn’t melt. I have, so far, not made a tiny pie, but I am eagerly anticipating feeling the pie-making urge come upon me so I can test out my new tiny pie pans.

I suppose Amazon also kept track of the juicer I bought a few months ago. I thought I would give that juicing fad a try and see if I could become incredibly healthy AND slim by drinking delicious green concoctions. I really did like the juice, but the process and the clean up became a drag. I am proud of myself that I did not just put the juicer on a shelf or in the back of a cabinet to sit. I bundled it up and gave it to someone else to try.

Well, now that I think about it, I also have been keeping an eye on immersible blenders on Amazon, too. I was watching the prices and yearning for one, but ended up buying one cheap in a big box store one day. It was really neat to have for the four or five pots of soup I made before it fell to pieces in my hands.

I look back on the appliances that my mother had as I was growing up and it is a little bit different than what I use today. At work, the subject of “percolators” came up. Most of the “kids” I work with had no idea what that meant at all. I grew up with a percolator preparing my parents’ coffee every morning. I loved the sound of the steam gurgling and struggling and then heating enough to push that gush of water up through the glass piece on the top to percolate down through the coffee nestled in the metal basket around the tube up the middle. The percolating coffee was a sweet sound to wake up to and the smell meant “home.”  We were always warned about that glass top, to be careful with it. You could get a replacement if it broke, but that would mean a trip to town and no coffee until it was replaced. I think Mom mostly handled the coffee pot and that delicate piece, but I do remember shaking out the grounds from that metal basket into the trash can. My folks switched to a Mr. Coffee after I left home, I think, but that must ahave been invented in the late 70s because I never owned a percolator. They were old-fashioned by the time I lived on my own.

Mother had a Sunbeam mixer on the countertop. I have a mixer of some type on my countertop, too. Mine is used mostly for cookies, though I always THINK I am going to use the bread hooks more than I do. Mom’s didn’t have the lock down feature mine has to keep the beaters from riding up on the dough, but hers had the nifty knob to slide back and forth to change where the bowl was in relation to the beaters. On mine the beaters move around the bowl, the bowl doesn’t move around the beaters. I miss how we could scrape down the sides of Mom’s mixer as we mixed. My current one is built so that you have to turn the mixer off before you can really get in to scrape the bowl sides. I’m sure less fingers go into the cake batter this way. That was a warning we always heard from Mother, to never reach into the bowl if you dropped your spatula or something. I seem to remember a scary tale of my aunt getting caught in the beaters. But she still has 10 fingers so maybe it was just a good fable to warn us.

We had the typical pop-up toaster from time-to-time in my life, but mostly we had the slide in broiler-type toaster. I would love to have one of those again. There was nothing better than a batch of Texas toast, slathered with butter on both sides and toasted good in that broiler, on top and then turned over. Yum. And cinnamon-sugar toast, or just sugar toast, was perfect from that broiler. And cheese toast (we called it grilled cheese, but I think that is something different to most people). Or maybe these were all just better from Mom’s toaster because they were prepared by Mom. In my kitchen I have a toaster oven that is fancy enough to bake in it, it says. I have never ever baked something in it. I toast. And maybe I melt some cheese on something. But I haven’t had cinnamon-sugar toast in years. Sigh.

We never had a microwave when I was growing up. I had my first one when I was already out on my own. We managed to get by. I think I could get by without a microwave again, but my poor husband would starve.

Oh, and crock pots! Those were invented somewhere along in the 70s and I’m sure Mom’s first one must have been harvest gold, like our kitchen, or avocado, the other ubiquitous color of the 70s. For those that don’t remember, except for a few VERY modern pink and blue stoves and refrigerators in the 50s and then the classy copper color that showed up in the nicest homes in the 60s, harvest gold and avocado were the first colors for appliances. We bought a harvest gold stove when we moved from Colorado back to Texas and we thought we were really uptown.

I can’t remember anything Mom made in a crock pot back in those days, but I would miss mine a lot if I didn’t have them now (I have a “regular” one and a big BIG one).

When we moved from Colorado back to Texas and had ordered the stove, but didn’t have it yet, we had a kitchen with appliances, but no stove for a period of time. I don’t know how long it was, probably not more than a week, but I remember the ingenuity my mother used to cook our meals. I felt like it was “Little House on the Prairie” to not have a stove and oven, but Mom did quite a job. She had an electric frying pan, so really that was suitable for most of the things she would have cooked on the stove. We had the toaster oven, too, and we had a little mini-coffeepot that could easily boil water. We used it to boil the water to make tea (we always drank iced tea with dinner) and we boiled eggs in it, too.

Amazon may succeed in selling me a new immersible blender and maybe even a new coffee pot in this holiday season. Now that I’ve gotten all nostalgic, I may have to see if they sell percolators and toaster ovens.

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