So Christmas came late for me and my mom, sister, nieces and nephews. But despite COVID and other life issues, we all managed to gather for a full day of fun this past weekend in Lufkin, Texas. If you've never been there is so much to do! Check out the Lufkin Convention & Visitor's Bureau for all the fun you can have in this cute town.
We met first for lunch and gift exchanging (in the pics above you'll see a fantastically cute gift my sis made for me... perfect for a writer!) After that, we headed to the Ellen Trout Zoo where we saw lions... no tigers or bears, but a rhino, lots of peacocks and two gorgeous bald eagles.
Our final stop was the Naranjo Museum of Natural History.I was almost afraid we would have to abandon the hubby there because he was a kid in a candy store exploring his educational roots (he majored in anthropology, paleontology and zoology!) The museum was really well done because they provided both advanced information as well as more basic text for children and those without a Phd.
Then on Sunday, we had a huge surprise that was the icing on the cake for my "final" Christmas weekend of this holiday season... we had snow! Now, this might not seem a huge deal to some, but I grew up in a part of Texas that rarely had snow and even when we moved here to East Texas, that sort of weather has been rare. It was a lovely event that was perfect for a lazy Sunday where we could all just veg out in front of the fireplace, then venture out in short bursts to enjoy the beautiful white landscape.
In about 2010 the hubby and I began the sometimes fun, sometimes exhausting, oftentimes ill-planned, converting of our old storage building into what we now affectionately call “The Bunkhouse.” It took quite a while to get it fixed up right, but when we did we discovered how much we LOVED being in there.
That began our almost weekly forays into “stay-cationing.” We would take the pup(s) (then it was just the little corgi, but now we have a second bigger dog) and would spend the night in The Bunkhouse over the weekends. We would tune out most of the world, light up our Amazon Firestick to stream movies and series. A lot of those were mysteries and I thought I’d share a few of my absolute favorites with you.
We caught a few episodes of this even before the Bunkhouse, watching it on PBS. Then when we began streaming I discovered they were ALL available on the Acorn Channel, so we went back to the beginning and watched them from the start. These are fascinating because they take place in war-time England so you get a fascinating mix of the history of that time combined with the mystery. And the relationship between the main character Foyle and his driver/assistant Samantha Stewart is so much fun. Their tenuous relationship grows through the seasons until he becomes almost like a father to her. I highly recommend checking it out.
The great thing about Midsomer Murders is that it’s a long-running series that you can stream for free (with commercials) from IBDb. Barnaby is a Detective Chief Inspector in the cozy county of Midsomer where they seem to always have some interesting murder investigation. These are fun episodes with lots of little quirky twists and turns along with a cast of suspects. Grab the popcorn and start binging this one today.
If you’re interested in something really different, check out this Russian mini-series. Set during WWII, this one is part war movie and part mystery, with undertones of intrique and romance throughout. You won’t know who the good guys and the bad guys are until the very end. Yes, this one is actually in Russian with English subtitles, but highly entertaining. There’s only one season available now, but a second has been produced and I’m just sitting on pins and needles waiting for it to become available on Amazon.
This is a brand-new favorite the hubby and I found just a month or so ago. It only has one season (so far) but it recently got picked up by PureFlix for the second season. The coolest thing? It was produced in connection with the church my husband and his sons attended when they were young. There is a strong Christian theme to these episodes, but the mystery is there too and it takes place in Texas! What more could you ask for?
I had the basic mystery story set in my mind for The Case of The Texas Ranger even before I decided it would feature an old Texas Ranger. Sometimes inspiration takes us by surprise!
Most of us from the Lone Star state grew up revering the prestige of the great Texas Rangers. My husband worked with some of them during his time as an arson and fraud investigator early in his career. I got the idea for Templeton Gorham partly from watching the Netflix movie The Highwaymen starring Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson (if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.) The movie chronicles the tracking down of Bonnie and Clyde in the late thirties.
After watching the movie, I was interested to know more about Frank Hamer, the ranger credited with their killing, so I found a book called Texas Ranger: The Epic Life of Frank Hamer, The Man who Killed Bonnie and Clyde. The book was a fascinating study of the man from his youth to his death. What was most interesting to me was the fact that Hamer was known for his protection of blacks against lynching. The book is full of tales of his efforts to stand between violent mobs and prisoners in his custody. Later, he also fought continuously against the KKK and their rackets to control cities and counties.
In the early 1900s, Hamer befriended a young son of an ex-slave and sharecropper. Mance Lipscomb went on later in life to become a renowned blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, but he often talked about his early life following him around Navasota, Texas. He spoke highly of Hamer saying, “He wad’n no piece a man, he was a whole man.” The character Alonzo was inspired by Mance Lipscomb.
Be sure to preorder the upcoming The Case of the Texas Ranger and head over to my Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page to enter the GIVEAWAY!
The upcoming JD Pierson mystery, The Case of the Texas Ranger starts with a tragedy in East Texas when a school building explodes in the small town of New London, about 25 miles west of Tyler, Texas.
The story of the New London School explosion is true, though the characters I’ve created in reference to the terrible tragedy are all fictional. The school district of New London was one of the wealthiest, even though the Depression was raging. The oil boom in that part of Texas boosted local revenue, and in 1932, the school was built at a cost of $1 million or about $18 million today.
Despite urgings from the architects, the school district decided to install gas heaters in the building instead of a boiler. Then, in 1937, the district terminated its natural gas contract and decided to tap directly into Parade Gas Company’s residue gas lines. This wasn’t unusual in the area, and because the gas was considered to be a byproduct that was simply flared off by the company, they simply overlooked the practice.
On that fateful day, a Thursday, students in grades first through fourth had left the school early. Reports differ, but there were approximately 500 students at the school when an instructor turned on an electric sander, thereby sparking the explosion. Witnesses reported that the walls bulged and the roof lifted up before falling back down.
Help poured into East Texas from all around, and Tyler’s own Mother Francis Hospital did indeed open their doors early to treat the injured children and adults. Of the 500 or so persons in the building, only about 130 walked away without serious injury. Estimates of the dead go as high as 319.
The story of the New London catastrophe was reported all over the world, and one of those reporters was a very young Walter Cronkite. This was one of his first assignments, and he later is quoted as saying, “I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it.”
The cause of the catastrophe was found to be a leak in the connection to the gas pipeline that allowed the fuel to build up throughout the building without notice since it was odorless and colorless. Later, and in part because of this tragedy, an additive was put in natural gas so that leaks could be discovered quicker. If you’re ever in East Texas, there is a little museum dedicated to the tragedy. I’m told that until not long ago, one of the children who survived the event served as a docent and gave her own first-person accounts of the experience. You can also see their website which includes some haunting personal accountings from the time. http://nlsd.net/Museum.htm
Be sure to preorder the upcoming The Case of the Texas Ranger and head over to my Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page to enter the GIVEAWAY!
Howdy! The Case of the Texas Ranger is still getting its final round of edits, but here is an “unedited” teaser for you. Enjoy then be sure to preorder your copy do you get it as soon as it releases in a few weeks.
The house was mostly dark, though there was a light in a small building off to the left of the main house. J.D. turned to me, “You’ll find Temp’s man, Alonzo, living in that little house there. He can help us get Temp up to bed.”
“Judas Priest, J.D.,” he growled as he got out of the car on his own, “I’m not on death’s door,” yet as he tried to make his way up the stairs to the front door of his home he stumbled and Dad had to lend him his shoulder.
I rushed towards the smaller house to find the person called Alonzo, but before I could get there I saw a dark man hurrying into his overshirt as he leaped off the little porch towards us, “The ranger done got hisself drunk again?”
I shook my head as I fell into step with him, “No he’s gotten himself shot.”
“Well, that done woulda been my next guess.”
“Does he get shot often?”
“Often ‘nough, Miss…”
“Oh, my name is Pierson. I presume you’re Mr. Alonzo?”
“Yes’m. Just Alonzo.”
“And I’m Jenny.”
“Nice to meet you, Miss Jenny.”
I tipped my head in greeting and he offered me a crooked smile. I noticed he walked stiffly as if he had at some point suffered a back injury. Still, when he got to his employer, he tucked his arm under Gorham’s and took his weight, grunting as he helped him into the house.
My dad dropped back, letting the two of them go ahead and up the stairs. We stood side-by-side, our faced tipped up to watch. They disappeared into a room at the head of the stairs, while we continued to stare at the open door where they’d gone.
I winked one eye closed when I heard a series of growled expletives, then smiled when I felt Dolly come to stand beside me, her body leaning into my leg.
“Jenny, why are you and Dolly here?” Dad asked, suddenly sounding concerned.
“You checked out of your hotel,” I noted.
He grunted and nodded, then turned and went towards an anteroom to the left of the staircase, “I wanted to see Temp… I needed to see him. And when he invited me to stay here. Seemed the thing to do.”
After a few seconds I followed after him, not much surprised when I saw him pouring himself a drink. He swallowed it down quickly while I glared at him down my nose.
“I’m drinking again.”
It was a stupid thing to say, as if it were some revelation that surprised him more than me. I wrinkled my nose, sniffed, then took a seat, back ramrod stiff, “I can see that.”
Dolly moved to the center of the room, her dark eyes studying Dad intently for several moments before flicking in my direction to stare me down. I had the impression she was concerned, torn between the two of us. As if she sensed our dual unrest and wanted to make it better, but couldn’t. I leaned down and rubbed my fingers together, coaxing her back to my side. She peered over at him again, then lifted her fluffy backside off the floor and trotted to me.
I scooped her up into my lap, both of us glancing over when we heard the clink of glass and saw Dad pouring himself another. “You know, when I came here I thought maybe I’d kill him myself.”
You can preorder The Case of the Texas Ranger today! Just click HERE!
Although I plot my cozies, sometimes the unexpected happens. So imagine my surprise when a little corgi made her way into the upcoming JD Pierson mystery! The Case of the Texas Ranger is coming this summer, but here’s a quick snippet for you to enjoy:
The last thing I expected to find when I arrived at the little Sears Roebuck model home that was my father’s was a puppy. But that’s just what was waiting for me, the little mutt seeking refuge from the rain out on our front porch.
The furball was huddled into up tight against the door frame and cowered a little when I approached. Bending over, I put my hand out to let the poor thing sniff me, then scratched her ear when she leaned closer.
“Where did you come from?” I asked, picking the creature up and carefully looking for injuries but finding none. “You’re a sweet girl, aren’t you?” I said, though noted she was dirty and a little smelly. But considering I myself was pretty much the same, I decided cradling her against my dress wasn’t such a big deal.
“Are you hungry?” I asked, then unlocked the door and stepped inside. I kicked off my dirty shoes and hooked my hat onto the rack, then padded towards the kitchen to look for something to feed my little visitor.
After I dried her off with a towel, I placed her on the floor, then pulled out some cold cuts for her to enjoy. It took her all of thirty seconds to finish those off, then she slurped at a saucer of milk with equal gusto. The pooches’ legs were short, almost squatty, and she had enormous ears that stuck straight out from her head. Her coat was black, white, and brown, or at least I thought it was under the layer of mud still coating her.
“I think you need a bath next,” I told her, standing up from the kitchen table. One glance down at myself reminded me that I needed one too. I reached for the pup, tucking her comfortably under one arm and started for the bathroom.
“Gee whiz!” I exclaimed when the front door opened unexpectedly, my father bursting inside. I’d been so intent on my little four-legged visitor that I hadn’t noticed the cab pulling up to the house.
He stomped his muddy feet on the floor mat, before fixing me with a wide grin and exclaiming, “H’lo there, Jenny Dee!” then he dropped his bag as he stripped out of his wet overcoat and tossed his hat onto the rack. I stood there in silence, hugging the pup to me, unsure what to say. I suddenly felt vulnerable, horrors of my day steamrolling into me and threatening to knock me to the floor. My father looked at me again, then his smile fell off his face and he rushed forward, panic in his expression, “Is that blood on your dress? Are you injured?”
I was absolutely horrified when a little sob threatened to make its way up my throat. Blinking against the tears I pushed past him towards the bathroom, “I need to get this little pup cleaned up,” I said in a rush, dashing out of his line of sight.
You can preorder The Case of the Texas Ranger today! Just click HERE!
One of the things the hubby and I do almost daily is listen to episodes of Old-Time Radio. Usually, in the evenings just before going to sleep, we pile into bed with our two furbabies and listen to one episode before dozing off into the arms of Morpheus (Did you know that shutting off electronics and avoiding looking at phone and tablet screens before bed can help you get better sleep? Looking at bright screens messes up our Circadian Clocks and makes sleep more difficult. So shut off the television, tablet and phone and get yourself a better night’s sleep!)
Since most of us are stuck at home looking for things to occupy our time, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorites and snazzy old fashioned radio episodes. First up… Jack Webb.
Jack Webb is best known for his part in creating and staring in the long-running Dragnet television and radio series. But he also had some other interesting roles.
We’ll start with Dragnet with an episode entitled “The Big Thank You.” In this one, seven months after her release from prison, a confessed murderess loses contact with her parole officer and it’s up to Sergeant Friday and his partner Ben to find out what happened to her. I hope you’ll enjoy this intriguing episode in the Dragnet police drama.
From 1946 to 1947 Jack Webb also stared in Pat Novak, For Hire. Pat isn’t an investigator, but is instead a boat operator in San Francisco and does odd jobs for cash. In the episode “Rita Malloy” his boat gets stolen and when it turns up a man is dead and the police, of course, think “Patsy” is the one responsible.
I’ll be frank, I can only take the Pat Novak, For Hire episodes in small doses. Webb’s dry and cliché humor is a little over-done. But my favorite thing about this series is the character Jocko, a drunken ex-doctor who Pat usually enlists to help him get out of trouble. So give it a listen and see what you think of the show.
The last “Jack” tale I have for you is a really strange departure for the Jack Webb we know from Dragnet. “The Ring of Thoth” is a story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and adapted for the series Escape. It starts in the Louvre where an Egyptologist becomes trapped inside overnight. He awakens to find an attendant opening the case of one of the mummies. The attendant, played by Jack Webb, has a strange almost ephemeral voice and spins a tale that is both tragic and somewhat spooky. Take a listen and tell me if you anticipated the twist at the end.
Most of us know the author Raymond Chandler’s character Phillip Marlowe from old movies, especially The Big Sleep. When I think of Marlow I always see Humphrey Bogart’s face, even when I’m listening to the radio programs of The Adventures of Phillip Marlowe. But if I see Bogart’s face, I hear Gerald Mohr’s voice. The funny thing about the radio series is that in almost every one, Marlowe at some point gets struck on the head and knocked out cold! In “Baton Sinister” Marlowe is paid to deliver a tapestry, but it gets stolen before he can arrange to get it to his client.
And speaking of Bogart, probably one of his most famous films is The Maltese Falcon where he plays Sam Spade created by Author Dashiell Hammett. Raymond Chandler’s character Philip Marlowe was strongly influenced by Hammett’s Spade character. But the radio version of Spade has the delightful Lorraine Tuttle playing the part of Effie and her voice and banter with Spade make the series so much more fun. Check out “The Sugar Kane Caper” and tell me what you think of Effie and Sam, played by Howard Duff.
I’ve included two other favorite radio episodes for your listening pleasure. First, “The Veldt” an X-Minus-One sci-fi program that fans of Star Trek: TNG will enjoy (the Holodeck gone wild.) And last a Gunsmoke episode called “Good Girl-Bad Company.” My favorite thing about Gunsmoke is the cast of characters. Whether its Miss Kitty played by Georgia Ellis, Parley Baer’s Chester or Howard McNear as Doc, each of the parts brings something to the soundwaves that make the series unbeatable.
So check out the playlist and discover the excitement and power of Old-Time Radio. And then comment below or send me an email to let me know what you thought of these.
Looking for books and a fun giveaway? Check out the Snazzy, Knobby, Keen Dish page by clicking the image below!
When Jenny Dee Pierson’s heels clack against the terrazzo halls to the office she shares with her father, she’s walking through what was once called The Peoples National Bank Building.
The summer of 1929 saw industry and manufacturing cutting back on production, signaling the coming economic collapse. Workers were laid off or lost their jobs. The unemployed didn’t purchase as much, and so production declined further. A vicious cycle ensued. Thousands of banks began to fail between 1929 and 1933, but even before that, they’d begun overextending credit on speculation. The hard times got harder.
Still, with deprivation of 35% unemployment nationwide, rampant hunger and want, some of East Texas managed to stave off the coming disaster, at least for a while. Black gold in the East Texas oilfields was the reason. The Peoples National Bank Building became a center of that oil-rich prosperity.
In 1932 local Tyler attorney Samuel A. Lindsey commissioned and assisted in financing the construction of a fabulous art-deco style building. At the time of its construction, it was one of the tallest skyscrapers west of the Mississippi River. Opening its doors in November 1932, it was fully leased by 1933. And in 1934 oil magnate H.L Hunt located the offices of Hunt Oil Company in one suite of the building. Through the Depression and on until the 1950s, the building remained a prime location for offices in downtown Tyler.
Eventually, time took its toll on the building. Construction moved away from the downtown area and vacancies ran high. By the year 2000, the building was considered to be mostly unoccupied. And then three Tyler businessmen began what this humble writer believes to be a remarkable transformation. Tim and Garnett Brookshire,along with Andy Bergfeld, acquired the building, naming it the People’s Petroleum Building. They undertook an extensive renovation project to bring this spectacular Tyler landmark back to its former glory, going to extremes to maintain the historical ambiance of the stately structure.
You can see more about the building in the video below:
Since then the Brookshires and Bergfeld have undertaken a similar renovation of the more modern Plaza Tower building adjacent to the People’s Petroleum Building. With their work in renovating these two buildings and their exceptional management skills, they have drawn people back to downtown Tyler. Tenants of the two buildings (myself included) marvel constantly at their gracious administration and their innovative eye for bringing industries together. If you’re anywhere near Tyler, Texas, take the time to come downtown. Walk the square and enjoy a few quiet moments on one of the park benches. Come into the People’s Petroleum Building and enjoy a meal at Jack Ryan’s Steak and Chophouse. Or head over to the Plaza Tower for some coffee at Café 1948. And if it happens to be a Thursday, you can delight in “Tunes on the Square” while grabbing a quick bite from one of the food trucks that come by for lunch.
Downtown Tyler is an amazing mix of history and modernity, married in a way that I’m sure you’ll enjoy experiencing.
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