In genealogy, you start with what you know, working backwards in time from your most recent ancestors. That’s what I’m doing with the migrating Williams Family. We know Mom and Dad met and married in El Paso, but before that, the family headed by Jess C. Williams aka Popsy resided in Fabens, Texas. Elizabeth [Mom] was ten, Louise was eight, and Jerry was only two when Popsy purchased the Fabens Waterworks in 1931. (1) They lived there until 1939, the year Mom graduated from high school, a period roughly commensurate with the Depression.
Fabens lies between El Paso and Sierra Blanca, so Uncle Jerry and I stopped there on our way to see cousin Tom D. I snapped this picture as we drove into town; I’ve already written about football in Fabens here. (2)
Jerry said that when they first moved to town, they lived in a downtown hotel (no longer standing) while a former army barracks right next to the water tower was renovated to serve as their residence. He called it “The Blimp.” The building never looked that good when they lived there, Jerry observed, as he peered over the side fence. (3)
There was no front fence at the time and he remembered students at the Mexican school coming over during recess to play with him in the front yard. The town history, cited above, provides some detail on the separate primary school for non-English speaking students.
Eventually, a more traditional family home was built across the street from the water tower, although they lived there only a short time before moving on to El Paso. (4)
The school, housing elementary through high school grades, was only another two hundred yards away. It no longer serves as a classroom building but it still belongs to the school district (5):
Here is Mom’s seventh grade class pictured outside the building. She had a habit of labeling herself but I do think we could have picked her out (6).
Yes, it was a small class but that didn’t lessen our pride when we looked at Mom’s clippings – valedictorian, best-all around girl, and tennis doubles champion. (7) Tennis — really?
High school graduation was marked by a series of celebratory events. The town and the school may have been small, but they did things up big with local parties and out-of-town adventures. (8)
Looking back, Jerry realizes now that they were poor. But there was always enough to share. He remembers Mopsy feeding hobos who came up from the depot. This, of course, reminds me of Mom – and her habit of feeding folks who happened by the house in the course of duty. She loved to tell the story of offering “warm cake” to the grocery delivery boy one Saturday; he hesitated and then said, “Ma’am, I don’t believe I’ve ever had worm cake.”
In the same vein, Jerry shared a story Mopsy relished telling over the years about an incident at the water tower that stood over their home. (9)
One day, a neighbor’s small daughter climbed halfway up the ladder after escaping supervision. Her father stood at the bottom and gently cajoled her down, “come on, baby, come on down to Daddy, come on, honey, come to Daddy,” and when she got close enough, he snatched her off the ladder and promptly paddled her bottom quite soundly. I never heard Mopsy tell that story in person, but I can imagine it as if I had.
One of the stories I do remember Mopsy telling was about Mom. She heard suspicious sounds coming from her own bedroom, and she called, “Elizabeth, what are you getting?” And Elizabeth answered, “Down.”
But I digress.
We ran into a long-time employee of the water district, and while he knew the name of the man to whom Popsy sold the enterprise, he did not know the name Jess Williams. We got him straightened out while we were there. (10)
One last Fabens sight – the Methodist church they attended (imagine it without the tower; Jerry says it was added later), and where Mopsy played the piano. (11)
The piano? I did not know that.
One other significant but known fact — Willie Shoemaker, world famous jockey, grew up in Fabens and Jerry pointed out the street on which his family lived. I can’t speak for my sisters, but I grew up feeling like I practically knew the guy. (Like I feel about Henry Mancini and Mike Ditka, both of whom came from Aliquippa.)
Fabens – home of the Wildcats and Willie Shoemaker. (12)
And, at least for a while, the Williams family.
UPDATE: I found a few snapshots taken in the shadow of the water tower after this post was published. Moral of the Story: Go through all your folders before posting. Here are two pictures of Uncle Jerry – one, as an 11 year old, with a 10-point buck, and one with a black cat; original pictures in his possession. The hunting picture is labelled Fall 1940, indicating that the family stayed in Fabens for at least a year after Popsy sold the waterworks in 1939. Note the Longhorn t-shirt, no doubt a gift brought home by Mom. (13)
(1) Women’s Missionary Society of the First Baptist Church, Fabens, Texas, compilers, “History of Fabens, Texas,” unpublished manuscript, circa 1973, Williams-Manning Notebook, Julia Mae (Ellison) Jenkins, compiler; privately held by Tom D. Ellison, [address for private use,] Sierra Blanca, Texas. At least a portion of this history has been published online at the Fabens Independent School District’s website at:
http://fms.fabensisd.schoolfusion.us/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=154289&am…, accessed 22 November 2010.
(2) Welcome to Fabens sign, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner, [address for private use], Baltimore, Maryland.
(3) Jerry Williams in Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(4) Private home in Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(5) Fabens Independent School District Annex Building in Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(6) Seventh Grade Class, 1934, Fabens, Texas, from Elizabeth Williams’ “School Memories” collection, circa 1934-1939; privately held by Malissa Ruffner, [address for private use], Baltimore, Maryland.
(7) “Top Ranking Fabens High Students,” undated 1939 clipping from unidentified newspaper, from Elizabeth Williams’ “School Memories” collection.
(8) “Senior Kid Day” and “Fabens Social News,” both undated 1939 clippings from unidentified newspaper, from Elizabeth Williams’ “School Memories” collection.
(9) Fabens Water Tower, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(10) Jerry Williams and unidentified water authority employee, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(11) First United Methodist Church, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(12) Fabens Water Tower, Fabens, Texas, 6 October 2010, privately held by Malissa Ruffner.
(13) Jerry L. Williams with buck, Fabens, Texas, Fall 1940 and Jerry with cat, circa late 1930s, privately held by Jerry L. Williams, [address for private use], El Paso, Texas; scanned by Malissa Ruffner 8 October 2010.