Portrait: Marie WilliamsHer memories flow clear and pure

By Candace Ord Manroe

The Granbury Tablet, March 15, 1984

Marie Williams answers the door quickly, giving an enthusiastic welcome before disappearing to complete a phone conversation.

In that short time, a fast impression crystallizes. Williams — known to her friends and neighbors simply as Marie — is a woman of great energy, a friendly, ebullient personality, and a quick mind. She is medium height, trim, and wears a contemporary but not trendy hairstyle and equally stylish clothing suitable for a middle-aged woman. She has few wrinkles.

The logical conclusion is that Williams is a woman in her sixties, but in years only; her mental alacrity and spirit are timeless.

The impression is correct but the facts all wrong.

Sallie Marie Raifsnider Williams was born in Granbury in 1901. She says so proudly, not a bit ashamed of outnumbering some of her peers in age.

She laughs, in fact upon hearing the inevitable comment — and skepticism — about her age. “The only problem I have with my age, says the 83-year-old, “is my eyesight. Reading is my hobby and I have trouble with it now.”

There is more than one surprise about Williams. She has an unusual ability to take events and persons from the past and plunk them down in the present, with none of the foggy, faraway air that usually goes with reminiscing. As a storyteller, she brings the past to life.

“I was born and reared here and never did move,” she begins. Her grandfather Harvey Martin, on her mother’s side, was a Granbury justice of the peace and moved his family here from Illinois in 1874. Her father’s family, the Raifsniders, came to the Lipan area from Michigan; Williams’ grandfather built a little cottage on land which came to be called the Star Ranch.

Before pursuing her story, Williams pauses, uncomfortable. “I’m not a person who likes her picture in the paper or honors on the walls. Any awards I’ve received are stored away in my cedar chest,” she laughs. “I’ll be glad to talk to you about anybody else. I love discussing history. I guess that’s what you call being a gossip…

Williams began school in Granbury at the age of eight. She graduated from Granbury High School in 1920 and still has a picture of the old school building and her high school diploma — an opulent document of green suede on the outside and pink satin inside. Only two of her classmates remain in Granbury, she notes, and one is ill.

Still unconvinced that she should be telling her life story, Williams warns, “I don’t want anything flowery written about me. I really don’t.” Then, respectful of time, she begins pulling facts and figures long-stored in her mind with the speed and accuracy of a computer.

“I went to work for Southwestern Bell in 1920 and remained there until 1928. I married W.P. “Pres” Williams in 1923. In 1932 I went to work at the Famous Dry Goods Store on the west side of the square for ‘Uncle Mike’ Lewin.” Uncle Mike was Jewish, which was a distinction in itself for Granbury during the 1920s.

Williams worked for Uncle Mike until 1934, when she established her own dry goods store on the north side of the square.

“We paid $50 a month in rent for the building — can you believe that? During the Depression, we rented out our own house and lived above the store.

“The Depression years were terrible, terrible. From 1937 to 1944, we took in script — IOU’s signed by the government — from the teachers so they could buy clothes. If we knew the teacher, we often cashed their script because they needed cash.

“At that time, you could buy a chambray (denim) shirt for 69 cents -now the material alone runs probably $10 per yard. Overalls sold for 98 cents a pair, socks, three pair for a dollar. We paid our employees $1.50 and hired girls from school to work after school and holidays. Even at these prices, we were able to make a profit.

“We started out with only two employees, by the second year had three, and by the third had seven. During Christmas, by Christmas Eve the shelves were completely cleared off — nothing left. We had a lot of fun. We were the first merchants in town to use florescent lights. Koma Cherry’s brother, Don, sold them to us. We had no air conditioning, but we did get gas in ’36, so we had heat after that. There were no coffee breaks or holidays. We worked six solid days each week, sunup to sundown.

“Pres was a barber. I was the dry goods person. He finally agreed to help me start our own dry goods business. We kept it until 1945 when we sold to E.G. “Pig” Williams.

While we had the store, we bought three farms. We retired to one of them and after that, became roaming gypsies. We traveled every where we could, until Pres died in 1979.”

Williams has been a member of the Granbury Baptist Church since 1914. For 37 years, she has been active in every capacity of the Woman’s Wednesday Club. She is a charter member of the local American Legion Auxiliary, which formed in 1934. She was named Woman of the Year by the Granbury Junior Women’s Club, though the year has slipped her mind.

“I’ve got so much to do, I just don’t have time to die,” she says with a laugh, but earnestly.

Williams remembers Captain Jim Doyle, one of Granbury’s Civi1 War heroes, and she was acquainted with the less-beloved John Kristensen, who organized the “utopian” commune of Kristenstad in the present vicinity of Pecan Plantation.

“Cap’n Doyle was a jolly good fellow,” recalls Williams. “He loved the picture shows. Those were the days of silent pictures. We used to go to the movies a lot. Captain Doyle always sat on the front row. Whenever they would play Dixie, he would throw up his hat and give that Rebel hoot.”

It was Doyle, she reminds, who was selected to ride to Tennessee to retrieve the body of General Hiram Granbury and bring it back to his namesake town for a reburial.

“He had no idea where to find the exact spot or how to know if the body was actually Gen. Granbury’s. But somehow he found the grave and on the uniform, he saw a button that said Waco Rifleman. That’s how he knew the body was really Gen. Granbury’s.

“Captain Doyle was concerned about what to do with the body when he got it back to Hood County. He decided to visit his good friend K.M. Van Zandt in Fort Worth. They had served together in the war and Van Zandt owned the First National Bank in Fort Worth.

“He asked Van Zandt if he would do him a favor. Van Zandt said sure, thinking he just wanted to borrow some money. Instead, he left Gen. Granbury’s body with Van Zandt, in a bank vault, for two weeks, till he could return to Granbury and find out what to do with the body.”

Turning to the exact page of the picture of the funeral procession in the Hood County history book, Williams points out her uncle’s house in the photograph.

“I love these history books. I love keeping them out. It keeps the information in my mind — new in my mind,” she insists.

Williams’ memories of Kristensen are less favorable. “He always carried a briefcase, was crippled and was an outstanding lawyer. But he circulated brochures about this new community he was starting that even a child wouldn’t believe.

“Nobody from around here believed them. It was people from New York, Wisconsin, Tennessee and North Carolina — from far away -who came by the square and asked us where Kristenstad was. We didn’t know what they were talking about, and they would pull out their brochures and show us.

“One man came from Wisconsin with cows and equipment for making cheese. Another came from out-of state with camera equipment for setting up a photography service. Another had a brick-block industry. The old man himself (Kristensen) operated the post office and did all the notarizing. He was all-powerful. He was government. They traded most of their services, but he even printed a form of money, which he personally signed. They had a lot of things there but they didn’t have a dry goods store. They came to us.

“He would come by and buy the very cheapest clothes for the boys. Then he would take the children by my husband’s barber shop and tell him to ‘clip ’em short as you can.’

“He frauded and starved those people. Then all of sudden, he moved out. Everybody heard he had died and was buried, but it still remains a mystery story. It’s been said that he faked his burial to get rid of all the people after him; tailgating him.”

Williams’ memories flow as clear and pure as the seven natural springs she says were once within the Granbury city limits. “We used to go swimming and picnicing at these springs. At Doyle Springs, there was a waterfall. These were grand times on the old Brazos River.

“I got all of my athletic skills without ever entering a gym. We went swinging on grapevines over the river, and jumping from the tops of barns without ever worrying about getting hurt. Those times were so free and wonderful. We learned how to swim by getting in the water, no instructions. We learned how to get out of quicksand the same way. Experience is the best teacher in the world.”

Williams recalls all the children drinking out of the same cup at school — and the water coming from a well. She remembers seeing her first car -a big, six-passenger Rio owned by Judge Estes.

She remembers the pleasant sounds of school bells and gin whistles. “Back when there were seven or eight cotton gins here, the sound of the gin whistle meant prosperity.

Everybody was singing and happy.”

The school bell signaled fun. “I used to cry when I would have to miss school. The only medal I ever received in school wasn’t for knowledge but for perfect attendance.”

Williams’ memories of the past are mainly fond, but they do not discolor her perception of the present — and future.

“We really are living in a golden age now, don’t you think? I read the papers about the young people in our schools. We are really producing great young people, so intelligent. I don’t want to die and miss seeing what these people will accomplish.”

Page by Jo Ann Hopper