The Women That Shaped Me

I grew up with more women than men surrounding me, at least in my family.

My Mother, Bonnie Gay Boultinghouse Lewis

Bonnie Gay would have been 89 this year. She grew up poor, in a very large family. She was the 8th out of 11 children. Her father died when she 9 years old. She married at 15, had her first child at 17. She waited until she was 19 to have her 2nd child, that was me.

She only lived in Smithwick and Jollyville her whole life. She was a friend to many and an enemy to no one or nothing. She was a deadly shot with a Winchester 30/30, lever action rifle with open sights.

She wasn’t very big, maybe 5’2″ tall. She is the only thing that Cecil Lewis was afraid of, including beasts, crazy people and the IRS. I don’t remember her being afraid of anything either. Bugs, spiders and snakes didn’t cause her to jump. There were only 2 foods that she wouldn’t eat. Celery, I can’t imagine why, but she detested the taste of it. The other was tea. She didn’t like it sweet or otherwise. She would taste it when she sweetened it and would shudder, but knew when it had the right amount of sugar in it. She always made it sweet for me and another pitcher of unsweetened for Kenny and Cec.

Few women cut up and packaged more venison than Bonnie Gay. She had the hacking it with the edge of a saucer (as in a cup and saucer) to tenderize it and then soaking that deer meat in milk down to a science. Her gravy wasn’t white gravy. She browned the flour just slightly, to give it the Bonnie Gay flair. She did cut corners a little on one thing. She loved canned biscuits. I never begrudged her on that. It was one of the only easy things in her life.

She washed out and saved every milk carton. That’s how she packaged and froze catfish. Fill them mostly up with fish, but leaving just enough room for water to completely surround the fish.

I remember her as being cold natured, but had the warmest heart. She never complained, but she didn’t let anyone run over her.

She drove fast, but carefully. I’m not sure, but I doubt she ever got a speeding ticket or had a serious wreck.

She was the perfect mother for 2 wild boys, but she adapted to become the perfect mother to her nieces, Joy and Jan that she raised as her own from from a young ages of 4 and less than a year, when her sister was tragically killed in an automobile accident within months of me leaving home after high school.

She only had one job outside of the home. That was at the Marble Falls Post Office, not long before she died. The did janitorial work there. She loved going there every day. It really gave her purpose. She didn’t want to have nowhere to turn if she was left alone, since her husband hadn’t done a very good job of taking care of his health. But as things happen, she went before him. She was only 57.

While Bonnie Gay was not a regular church goer, she had a faith within her. At her funeral, the preacher seemed critical of the fact that she hadn’t been faithful in attending church. I’m sure he had a point, but it was a clumsy way for him to say it. I thought she deserved higher praise than she received that day. I think she got it from all, except for the person delivering her eulogy.

I didn’t set in judgement of her, but I kind of did of the preacher.

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 ole 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.

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 30’s. 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 before. 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 70’s 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 a month and half 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.

Travels with Nonie

By the time Maw-Maw Nonie got to retirement age, she had traveled very little. I’m trying to remember, but a trip to California in 1955 and another trip with our family in the mid 60’s to Arkansas for a vacation was probably the only time she left Texas up to that point in her life.

She did go up to visit Kenny and Karen when he was stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky. in the early 70’s. I think that was her first plane ride.

When she retired and had plenty of free time on her hands, Madeline and I started including her on a lot of our trips. We traveled a lot back in the 80’s.

I remember taking her to Mackinaw Island, Michigan with us. Another time we went to Mt. Washington, NH and then made a big swing back through the Northeast.

She was a great traveler. Seems like there were other trips as well.

We were set to take a cruise out of Miami one summer. It was our whole family, Matt and Carrie were already married. Mike and Katherine were dating and would marry before long, so she was included too. We all were so pumped up. Nonie was really excited to take her first cruise.

We flew to Houston that morning, on our way to Miami. After a long layover in Houston we were told that our cruise was cancelled and we’d be returned to Austin. The ship we were suppose to sail on had been sent to rescue another cruise liner that was stranded in the Caribbean somewhere due to a fire onboard.

We were all upset, but what could we do? Carnival Cruise Lines gave us deeply discounted and upgraded rooms on a cruise later, maybe the next week. Whenever it was, it was the only time we all could go. Nonie had her High Grove Reunion going on at the same time. She went there every year and it was important to her to go. It seemed to her that all attendees were dying off much to quickly.

The rest of us went on the cruise. The next summer rolled around and the same exact group were going to Vegas. I reluctantly asked her, figuring her Church of Christ roots may not allow her to enjoy everything that Las Vegas was.

She went and I couldn’t have been more wrong. She enjoyed every second of that adventure. The walking was going to be too much for her so we arranged for her a wheel chair. We could roll her up to a slot machine with a bucket full of quarters and she would sit there for hours.

She always spoke fondly of that trip. Of course she was always grateful for every opportunity she had to go places. Like I said earlier, she was a great traveler.

This is a picture of Nonie and all of our Boys (I don’t know how we would have managed if not for her coming to stay with us at the arrival of the new babies as they kept on coming)

Grandma – Nancy Ella Martin Boultinghouse

A story Gene Turney wrote about playing dominos caused me to remember where my love of dominos goes back to. About the only person I ever played with was Grandma Nancy. We would sit for hours playing.

Now I play dominos on my iPhone and probably do so almost every day. Each time I play it makes me think of Grandma Nancy.

Much of my younger life I had the good fortune of Grandma Nancy living close by. By the early 60’s she had given up working and had bought a little trailer house that she moved in next to us when we lived at Jollyville. When we left there to head back to Smithwick, so did she and the trailer house.

My nights spent sitting with her playing dominos were many. Other constants in my visits were reading The Grit Newspaper. She always had The Grit laying around.

She worked for several years in the kitchen at the State Hospital in the 40’s and 50’s, to support her 3 youngest daughters after they left Smithwick which was soon after the War ended. Her second son, Doug had saved his money while he was in the military and bought the Old Boultinghouse Place from her. At least the down payment. He may have gotten money on the GI Bill to buy it. She watched her money closely, and as little as land brought, the money didn’t last long, would be my guess.

Her time at the State School wasn’t long enough to have any sort of a pension. So the only money she received was Social Security checks and what her many children could afford to send her. So to say life was simple and meager for her would be an understatement.

Probably The Grit subscription was something one of the kids gave her each year as a gift. They would have known she enjoyed it.

But she had a love of mail ordering. It’s seems like there was a steady stream of little packages that arrived in the mailbox. Mostly stuff she ordered from Spencer’s Gifts. It seems like there was another similar catalog that she always had laying around and would order from.

Nothing cost much out of those little catalogs. It was trinkets and jewelry type stuff. Mostly junk. But she loved it all.

Of course we would order stuff from those little books that I wanted. I would find some money and head to her little trailer so she could help me fill out the order form. (Wouldn’t she go crazy now with the click, click’s on Amazon)

As many things as I ordered from there, the only thing that I really remember was a calculator. Now this wasn’t an electronic calculator. This was clearly a decade before those came along. It was an aluminum rectangular device with a series of slots with little pointers that slid up and down. With a little stylus, you would slide each pointer to correspond with the numbers you were working with. I guess it was a gloried abacas. It was fairly complicated but Grandma and I played with it until we leaned to add and subtract using it. Something tells me doing it on a piece of paper or in my head would have worked better.

Grannie – Ruby Lee Linebarger Lewis Waggoner

Ruby Waggoner was my dad’s mother. She grew up in the Pleasant Valley community, just east of Marble Falls. She was one of the four Linebarger Girls.

She and my grandfather had divorced when Cecil was very young. He was raised by his dad, Theron and a host of aunts, uncles and his grandparents, and his stepmother Leona.

After she and my grandfather divorced, she moved to Austin and lived there the rest of her life. As a young child we would visit her and her then husband John Waggoner on their place south of Austin on Onion Creek. She was a hard worker that could and did work along side of any man doing farming.

After a marriage of several years, they divorced in the late 1950’s. She hadn’t worked outside of the farm, but found employment at Winn’s 5 and Dime store in the Twin Oaks Shopping Center on Oltorf Street in south Austin.

She enjoyed working there but times were hard, as the pay was little. She had a rented house on South 5th St., not far from her work.

She found a better paying job at the Austin State School on 35th St. and found a house to buy up in the 5500 block, just off of Burnet Road. That was in the early 1960’s. She worked hard on that place. As a family we went in to help her paint and fix up that house. It wasn’t much in the beginning but with a lot of hard work it was made into a nice home for her for the next 30 plus years.

Ruby Lee, Grannie Ruby or Grannie was a big part of our life going up. We visited her often. She was one funny old gal that laughed a lot and made the rest of us laugh. Any time after I was grown and had projects around north Austin, I’d stop by even if for just a few minutes.

The Fire

One day she and I made a plan for me to pick her up for a visit to Smithwick. I going that way and knew I had to go back in a couple of days and could bring her back home. She was no longer able to drive, her eyesight was pretty well gone. She was well into her eighties by then. This was a good chance for her to spend a couple of days with Bonnie & Cecil.

This happened in 1985. I had a project laying a wastewater line up the middle of Shoal Creek in North Austin. This wasn’t far from where Grannie lived, so about mid afternoon I left the crew working and drove down and picked her up. As we left her house I told her we would drive back by my job to check on things before we headed to Smithwick. She always liked to go with to see all the big machines work. She was very mechanically minded and truly understood how things worked. She had grown up on a farm. She and her second husband had farmed a piece of ground along Onion Creek just south of Austin.

When we left her house, drove up a ways and turned on the street to go by the project, I could see emergency vehicles everywhere. The jobsite was right beside channel 24, the ABC affiliate’s studio. The news cameras where running, gathering a good story for the evening news. As I got closer I could see that a big excavator had caught fire. I could see the operator standing out from it and he appeared to be doing okay, so I just drove on past and headed for Smithwick.

About 15 miles down the road Grannie Ruby said “Ron, I thought you said we were going by your job”. To which I said “We did”. Nothing else was said for several minutes, when she said “Ron, that was your job where that machine was a blazing wasn’t it”. I said, “Yes Grannie it was”.

Sometime later, with concern, she said “Ron, don’t you think you should have stopped to make sure everyone was alright”. All I said was “it didn’t look like anyone was hurt and I didn’t figure I needed to be one the 6:00 news”.

After dropping her off, she told my parents she didn’t really know about me. She thought maybe I should have been at least a little more concerned about things.

They called me to tell me what she said. I told them to watch the 24 news to get the full story. As it turned out a hydraulic oil line burst next to the exhaust manifold and that was the end of that 100,000 lb hunk of iron. And no one was injured. It was insured and I got more for the machine than it was probably worth.

Grannie Ruby Loved To Laugh

As an adult running around Austin in the construction business if I was close to her neighborhood I would drop in. That is if I had time to kill. There were no short visits with her. She had a lot to say. Only thing that would stop most of the talking was when the Price is Right came on. How anyone could live in a house that was so hot or a TV turned up so loud was beyond me.

I was sitting there with her the day the Challenger blew up. I never will forget watching that with her. We set and watched it for hours.

She was always an independent person, spending many years without a husband. She had learned to be cautious in life, living in the city. There were hucksters always coming to the door trying to play a con on an old woman.

She was very cautious and diligent about keeping her doors locked. One day I went by to see her and she wasn’t there. I figured she had just gone off the the grocery store so I decided to wait. My pickup was parked along the street as was many other vehicles on any given day.

Another thing I must tell you is that she was a fairly rotund woman. That will be important to the following story.

I little later when she opened the front door and I was sitting on her couch watching TV. She was startled. She knew I didn’t have a key, so how had I made entry?

I told her to put her purse down a come with me into the kitchen and I’d show her how I’d gotten in. I then had her get down in the floor. She was so ready to see how, I could have gotten her to climb up on top of the refrigerator.

I said “get down here and look at the crack under the back door”. She got lower and lower. Finally she was laying completely down in the floor peering at the smallest of cracks.

I had also gotten down in the floor with her. With my head next to hers I said “okay now look at that window screen up above the kitchen sink…… I took a screw driver a reached in through the little hole in the screen a flipped the little latch on it, then I climbed right in”.

She had always considered that the window was too small and too high for someone to crawl through, so she always always left that window open. Nothing she would ever do anywhere else in the house.

She started to laugh, because I had gotten her down in the floor. The more she laughed the more helpless she became. The more helpless she became, the more she laughed.

I couldn’t get her up. It became a ridiculous scene. I think I even became worried that I would have to call for help to get her up. Finally I suggested that she turn around, with my help dragging her she crawled to the living room, where I helped her finally get up on the couch.

She shut that little window after that and nailed it. I don’t think it was ever opened again.

The Garage Sale

I have always enjoyed playing a practical joke on people, but no one as much as my Grannie Ruby. She was always humorous and would easily laugh at herself. With a project down in Houston going on Madeline and I had temporarily left Austin, sometimes returning on the weekends. This one weekend when we were in my sister-in-law Karen told me that Grannie Ruby was having a garage sale and that she was also going to be taking stuff over to put in it.

Early the next morning, when I figured she had moved everything out and had it all tagged and ready, I called her up and when she answered, I disguised my voice and said I was Sgt. Joe Smith with the Austin Police Dept. I explained to her that there was a new city ordinance that didn’t allow garage sales without a permit and a fee being paid. I told her I just driven down her street and saw that she was in violation and she had to get everything picked up out of that yard and back in the house in the next 30 minutes before I made another round. If she didn’t comply, I’d handcuff her and she would be hauled off to jail.

A few minutes later as she was dragging everything back inside, Karen drove up and ask her what was happening. Upon telling of the courtesy call she had received, Karen assured her that there was no such ordinance and someone was playing a joke on her. Then Karen recalled telling me about the yard sale. A few minutes later my phone was ringing with an old woman on the other end that was laughing so hard she could barely talk.

Later when Madeline found out about what I’d done she wasn’t very pleased at all with me. I told her I wouldn’t do it again.

The Pecan X-Ray

My Grannie Ruby was always a target for my practical jokes. Sometime in the late 70’s I stopped by her house for a visit. She was just coming inside from picking up pecans. She had several pecan trees in her front and back yards. Every year she would be out there slaving away picking up these pecans. The trees she had kept her supplied with enough pecans to use throughout the year.

She told me with disappointment that she felt that year was not going to provide her many pecans. She had cracked several already and a large percentage were bad. Bugs or disease had taken a toll on her pecan crop. She didn’t know whether it was even going to be worth going through them, with there being so few good ones.

That’s when I told her of a new service that was be offered for the first time. There was a place in South Austin you could mail your pecan to and they would x-Ray them and send you the good ones back. She thought that was a pretty good idea. At least it would save a lot of time. She wanted the address.

Rather than offering to take them (which I regretted that I had slipped up on) I wrote down the address of my office in south Austin. I was hoping she would mail them to me, and then I’d just send back a couple of pecans with a polite note giving her my regrets that only 2 pecans were all that we found that were good.

She set there for a few minutes then looked over her glasses to say, “Ron, that’s the address where your office is isn’t it and you are playing a trick on me”.

At that point I couldn’t keep a straight face. The jig was up.

After that, every year she would call to tell me she had the pecans ready to go to the x-rayer. It was a source of fun to laugh about for the next 20 or 25 years.

Grannie Ruby and the Phone call

One time around midnight Grannie Ruby received a phone call. The person on the other end told her he was with the phone company and there was an indication that some was wrong in her phone that was causing a problem at the switchboard.

He explain that some times that would happen and it need immediate attention and with her help it could be remedied. Would she be willing to help? Being the good and helpful person she prided herself in being, she was happy to help.

The fellow ask if her phone cord ran down to a little box by the baseboard. “Well yes”, she replied. Of course all phones did in those days.

Next the caller says. “Good, what happens is when the installers put the phones in they get lazy and instead of cutting the wires off they’ll wad up all the extra and sooner or later it will start to short out. So here’s what I need you to do. Just take the cord and give it a little tug”. To which she did.

“Oh, perfect the warning light went off. Looks like it’s all fixed. Oh wait, it’s back on. It’s more serious than I thought. That must mean it’s really tangled up in there. Here’s what I need you to do. Since it’s being stubborn I need you to just lay the phone down and grab the wire with both hand and pull just as hard as you can.”

She followed his instructions exactly. Next thing she knew she was standing there holding the wires she’d just completely jerked out of the wall.

Realizing what she has just done she imagined that it is was a burglar that pulled that trick on her so he could break in and rob her and she wouldn’t be able to call for the cops.

She told that she laid there all night afraid to even close her eyes.

The next day she went next door to call the phone company to come repair her broken phone wire.

They told her they had been getting a lots of those calls lately. It was the prank that was going around at that time.

Planting Time

Each Spring that rolls around we get a reminder of Grannie Ruby and her green thumb. The fall before she passed away she was at our house in Bertram. I had bought bluebonnet seeds and had scratched up the earth all along our long driveway. She carefully and slowly walked the full length sowing those seed, then came back up the other side. Our whole family walked every step with her. She was in her mid 90’s by that time. Each year since, we have a beautiful blue border along each side of our driveway.

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