Leona May Purcell Lewis

She was known by many names. Leona, Nonie, Aunt Nonie, Maw-Maw, which turned into Maw-Maw Nonie to Kenny and me somewhere along the way.

She had a nickname that her Daddy called her by. She and I spent a lifetime of me asking her what it was and her telling me I’d never find out. In her later years I was talking to one of her sisters and posed a question in such a way that she blurted out the name.

When I got back to her, I called her by that name. She was surprised that I’d found out. I almost wished I hadn’t. Because that stopped our game that we’d played for all those years. I won’t disclose it here either.

She grew up in Bastrop County, near the little community of High Grove, which wasn’t far from the small town of Red Rock. That was pretty well mid ways between Bastrop and Lockhart.

She was one of 5 girls and 3 boys born into a farming family. Her Dad also ran the blacksmith shop in that area.

By the time I came along her Dad had been dead a few years. Her mother continued to live on the old home place until the last few years of her life when she moved over with one of her daughters in Luling. I went down with Maw-Maw several times when I was younger to spend time at the old Purcell Place. I was always fascinated with the blacksmith shop. It had pretty well been left untouched just like Papa had left it.

Back in the day when she was growing up, there were a lot of pecan trees down in that country. There was a group of ol boys from Burnet County that would go down to help thrash and pickup pecans. Two of them were Lewis boys. Gordon and Theron. They were cousins. They each picked out a Purcell girl and eventually married them and brought them back to Burnet County where they lived out the rest of their lives. Gordon and Mandy lived in Spicewood and Marble Falls, while Theron and Leona spent the rest of their time in Smithwick. They lived in the Lewis Family home that we called the “big house”. My great grandparents, Frank and Florence had raised a large family in that house.

There were short spans of time when they lived in Bertram and Blanco County finding work there.
But for the most part farming, ranching and carpentry kept them in Smithwick.

Theron had previously married a Pleasant Valley gal, Ruby Linebarger. Cecil Lewis was born of that marriage. It ended in divorce when he was a very small boy.

I don’t have the exact date of the marriage of Theron and Leona at hand, but it was in the early 30s. She stepped right in to raise the young Cecil and became a mother to him.

She had a baby in 1948, naming her Karen Sue. She only survived for a few days. It was the only chance she had at motherhood. That made the arrival of Kenny in 1950 and then me in 1952 maybe that much more important to her. We helped to fill a hole left in her heart from losing her baby.

She was a doting grandmother if there ever was one. She would tell of me and her sleeping together out on the old sleeping porch at the big house in Smithwick. Kenny and Paw-Paw Theron would sleep down at the other end of the porch. Every night she would have to tell me the same story of what happened when I was born up at the Allen Clinic Hospital in Burnet. She would describe in detail about how they sat in the waiting room, trying to keep Kenny corralled. He was running around hiding behind doors and pretending to shoot rabbits. I think she told that same exact story at least a thousand times. I wish she was here to tell it just once more.

She and Theron came down to Jollyville to stay with Kenny and me while Cecil and Bonnie Gay were in Colorado deer hunting in October 1958. I was in the first grade. After we went to school that one morning Paw-Paw had a massive heart attack and was pronounced died there at our house. It think our other grandmother Ruby came and picked us up from school.

The authorities in Colorado were notified and we able to located Cecil and Bonnie to tell them the horrible news. They immediately drove back.

After the funeral Nonie was lost, as could have been expected. She stayed with us for awhile and went and stayed with her sister, Mandy in Marble Falls.

The loss of the love of her life at an early age, she wasn’t yet 50, caused her to even more bring Kenny and me in tighter to her.

She sewed incessantly. She made all of our shirts. She always kept busy cooking, sewing, knitting, crocheting or reading. She read a lot. She knew a lot about what was happening around the world. She read the Bible too. She was a lifelong member of the Church of Christ.

I spent many Sunday mornings sitting right beside her on that pew. She always knew to have a stick or 2 of Juicy Fruit gum ready, because I’d be asking for it.

She decided after a few months that she needed to move on with her life and she needed to support herself. There was little choice. She got hired on at the Mathis Factory in Marble Falls, helping to do assembly work. She loved the work and the people she worked with.

In the meantime she needed a place to live. She could never go back to the “big house”, and stay. It was too much for her to take care of, but the memories kept her away even more.

The “little house”, up on the road was sitting vacant. Cec went in and put a bathroom in it and made it livable for her. It had been where we had lived a few years befote. Before we had moved down to Jollyville in 1956.

It was never a great place but it became her home for the next 20 or so years. We would come up and take care of the place, the livestock and other farming and ranching needs almost every weekend until we moved back permanently in 1965. Friday afternoon when we would arrive she would have the cupboards full of everything that Kenny and I could ever want to eat. There was always a big plate of her icebox cookies with plenty of milk to wash them down.

The Mathis Factory closed. She had to find new employment. There was a new Winn’s Store being built, so she applied there and was hired. She ran the Sewing Notions Department for several years, up into the late 70s at least. By that time she had paid into Social Security enough to start drawing a check. It didn’t take much for her to live. She actually put money into savings and lived comfortably throughout her years of living alone.

She loved her job at Winn’s. If anyone in the county had a sewing question they knew to go to her.

I knew if I had a question about anything, I’d go to her. She was a truly remarkable woman.

It occurred to me one day that I had told her as a young boy that when I got big I would build her a new house. And we would paint it pink. I always felt badly that she lived in the little ramshackled house by the side of the road. She didn’t complain, but she deserved better.

One day I loaded her up and took her over to a 7 acre plot of ground that I had been given by Cec when I was still in high school. It was up on top of a ridge looking down on Bonnie and Cecil’s house and out over a field and creek to the little house, that had been her home for 20 years.

I said, “Madeline and I have decided to build you a new house right here”.
We were standing in the middle of what would become the location of the new home that she would live in the rest of her life. The home that she lived in until she set down in her easy chair one evening and leaned back and went to sleep and never woke up again.

We were living in Austin so Cec took charge of building the house. He had built a few houses on the place for others and had assembled a good team of workers from the area. Everyone pitched in to help build Nonie a new house. It wasn’t a huge house but was adequate for her. It sits on a 2000 sf slab, that includes the wrap around porch and a carport.

I tried to buy the best materials possible. I wanted it to be her dream home and be the nicest thing she could imagine. When we started we expected for it to take awhile. We were building it out of pocket. Somehow the money for it just keep rolling in and in just a few short months it was moving in time.

I’ve never seen anyone prouder of a new home. Of course we were all proud for her. A community wide house warming was given and folks came in droves to see the new house.

Kenny and I, with our wives were at the Travis County Expo Center in March of 97 for the kick off of the Fair and a Rodeo when we got a call that she was found sitting there peacefully in her easy chair, deceased.

While her passing was a shock, it had been a great life for her. She was just two months from her 88th birthday.

She had accomplished a lot and brought much love to our family. So her work on this earth was done. It was time for her to go be with her Savior Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nonie with all five of our sons, down at the lake.
Sisters – Leona Purcell Lewis and Amanda Purcell Lewis

I can remember Mandy driving that old Red & White 1959 Chevy Station Wagon. Those two sisters were always so close. They had a special connection and loved each other dearly.

Below is another story I called Travels with Nonie. Some of the best family trips that Madeline and I ever took with our kids, included our Nonie.

Travels With Nonie

One thought on “Leona May Purcell Lewis

  1. A very touching story, Ronnie, and your Grandmother really ‘comes to life’ for me by reading it. She reminds me so very much of my Dad’s mother (Gran), Ruby Waggoner Sanders. Gran married Grandad (W.E. Sanders of Bastrop) when his wife had died, leaving a young daughter and 2 sons. After Gran and Grandad married, together they had 3 more sons, of which my Dad (A. A. Sanders) was the baby. She loved her stepchildren that she acquired coming into the marriage, just as much as she loved her own three sons……She never learned to drive, but worked tirelessly at their farm just at the edge/outskirts of town proper, right on Piney Creek. She grew all her own vegetables, took care of the animals, and was a fabulous cook….Also, had chickens in a large pen, so we had Fried Chicken alot on Sunday afternoons. I can tell from your stories that you all appreciated your Grandmother during her lifetime, and I so regret that I did not understand entirely the wonderful woman my Gran was, until after she was gone….I somehow never reflected upon what a strong, cheerful, hardworking lady she truly was….The callowness of youth, I suppose. Thanks for sharing as it brings many memories to me of my Gran – Best from Suzanne Sanders


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