Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Leora demanded that we not call her 'Grandma'

Pictured in  the above photo is Robin Michelle Banks (her granddaughter); Tarsha Banks,  great-granddaughter  (daughter of Nanette Banks). When this picture was taken in 1980 Leora was at a patient at Arnold's Nursing Home. Below are Leora and Mose's children. Not pictured are Mose and Israel. No photos of them are available.

Gertrude "Gert" Fowler Smith
Leora (Leola) Powell was born on Thursday, June 7, 1900 to Pearl and Ollie Powell in Bastrop County Texas. She was the sister to five sisters and brothers. At age 14 she married 18-year-old Mose (Mozell) Fowler, October 10, 1914. 

One year later she gave birth to Israel "Mugger" Fowler. She had more children: Imogene, Johnny Mose, Raymond, Gertrude, Isiah and Mike. During a genealogical search I was surprised to learn that she had given birth to a stillborn boy in 1938, the year I was born.

Leora did not want her grandchildren and great grandchildren to "Grandma." She said it sounded like we were calling her a cow. We called her "Big Mama" or "Mama." She once told me that as a young girl she loved to dance. Of course dancing was actually square dancing.

Imogene "Gene" Fowler Gray

Leora had no formal education; only a couple years of elementary school. She could neither read nor write, but some people who knew her did not know her secret. To earn money she took in laundry in her home, worked as a housekeeper in private homes, and as a maid in a number of Austin's larger hotels. Her children were teenagers when she began working outside her home.

Mike Fowler

When she took in laundry at her home, she did it the old fashion way: without a washing machine and electric iron. She used a washing board and a big black kettle that she built a fire under, filling it with water. She washed the laundry by hand to remove spots, and then put the items in the hot soapy water in the kettle. She made her own soap, using lye and some other mixture. It was not the kind of soap we could bath with. Leora separated the whites from the colors. She used a stick or broom handle to stir the laundry as if she were cooking a huge pot of stew. She transferred the laundry to a tub of cold rinse water.

To brighten  the white clothes, she used "bluing," a blue liquid that she poured into the rinse water. The laundry was clipped to wire clothes lines with clothespins. She ironed outside in the summer; inside in the winter. Her ironing board was a long board that was heavily padded, and held up with a chair at each end. She used a couple of irons that she heated on a two burner hot plate, fueled by "coal oil."

Raymond "Shorty" Fowler
Some weekends "Big Mama" took my sister Marie and me to see our great-grandmother Pearl Powell, who lived in Bastrop. She was a fragile looking with brown skin, a few of her front teeth were missing. We liked going there because we always got a nickel or dime before we left. Her small house sat on the side of the highway, and we had to walk down a small hill to get to her house. Sometimes she came to Austin to visit us.

Johnny Mose "Cluck" Fowler
Leora was originally baptized at Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the family's mother church; however, she was smitten by the "holy ghost" in the 1950s, when Pastors Grant and Williams bought the holy ghost to Austin. Church was initially held in a tent. It was an endless celebration to capture souls.  Rev. Grant eventually raised money enough to build a one room church. Every night excited sisters and brothers shouted, sang and rocked the small room to no end, as they talked in "tongues", loudly praising the Lord.

Even when Leora was not at church the spirit followed her. When the holy ghost hit her, whether at home, at work or downtown--she shouted and talked in that strange, unintelligible language. We had no idea of what she was saying, but I am sure the Lord understood her. Leora loved church so much she never missed a service. She attended every night, including all day on Sundays.

Leora was one of McKinley Heights Church of God in Chris faithfuls. She was a member of the church for more than 36 years. Women at the church addressed each other as "Sister"; males addressed each other as "Brother."

When Leora had a heart attack, and subsequently hospitalized, the doctor informed us that she would not live through the night. She has been in the hospital for about a week. The doctor suggested we call all out of state relatives if they wanted to see her alive. Maybe they could get here before she died, the doctor said. We called her grandchildren in Ohio. We told them she was in a coma, and they need to hurry and get to Austin. We put the phone to her ear, hoping she could hear their voices. She tried to respond but she could not speak.

My sister Marie, our mother Gertrude, and I were at her bedside, when the doctor told us to talk to her.  My sister and I talked and talked. Nothing happened. However, when we called her "Sister Sterling" we thought she tried to respond. We continued calling her "Sister Sterling." By mid-morning or noon, she was coming out the coma. The doctor could not explain it. Marie and I propped her up in a chair to feed her and to change her sheets whenever she wet them. She  finally gained strength. The doctor kept her in the hospital a while longer to make sure she was well enough to go home.

A couple of days later while lying in her hospital bed, Leora looked at a picture on the wall and said, "Pretty picture." To me it was a stock painting that you find in all hospitals. And then she looked at something in a corner of the room. She smiled, shaking her head from side to side. Whatever or whoever she saw, she was saying "No" to it. Marie and I looked at each other. We saw nothing. We heard nothing.

She was released from the hospital, and went to live with Gertrude. She fully gained her full strength and was able to go shopping but not alone.  She was beginning to regain her independence. Something happened because Gertrude ended up putting Leora in a nursing home, where her health began to deteriorate. She had no love for the nursing home. She was not happy. That's where she died.

Upon her death October 11, 1982, Leora left behind to mourn one surviving daughter Gertrude Fowler Smith, two sons Johnny Mose Fowler of Austin, and Mike Fowler of Los Angeles, 13 grand-children, a host of friends and relatives. She is preceded in death by her husbands Charles Sterling and Mose Fowler, two sons Israel (Isiah) Fowler of Washington, D.C., and Raymond Fowler of Lorain, Ohio.

Leora Fowler Sterling was funeralized at McKinley Heights Church of God in Christ, Saturday, October16, 1982, 2:30pm, Rev. R. A. Grant, officiated. Internment was at Evergreen Cemetery.

Replica funeral program

In Loving Memory of

Mrs. Leora Fowler

McKinley Heights Church of God In Christ

Saturday, October 16, 1982


Leora Fowler was born June 7, 1900 in Bastrop, Texas to Mrs. and Mrs. Dee Clark. She was a resident of Austin, Texas for 59 years. She was a member of the McKinley Heights Church of God In Christ for at least 30 years.

She departed this life at Arnold's Nursing Home on October 11, 1981. She leaves to mourn her pass a daughter, Mrs. Gertrude Smith of Austin, Texas; two son, Mr. Mose Fowler, and Mr. Mike Fowler of Los Angeles, CA., 13 grandchildren and a host of great-grandchildren, other relatives and friends.

Order of Service


Song                                                         McKinley Heights Choir

Scripture                                                 Rev. Kenneth B. Burdett


Song                                                         McKinley Heights Choir

Resolutions and Obituary                     Mrs. Gertrude Hancock

Cards and Telegrams                             Mrs. Margie Ware

Eulogy Rev. R. A. Grant


Casket Bearers

Deacons of McKinley Heights Church of God In Christ


The family wishes to thank their many friends for all gestures of kindness, thoughtfulness and prayers during the passing of their loved one.

Officiating                                         Rev. R.A. Grant

Internment                                       Evergreen Cemetery

This photo was taken when Leora visited Mike in California. Pictured are Ann and Mary (left); Leora (middle) ; Mike and Raymond (right).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Seeing this picture of Big Mama brought back memories when I lived with her. Thanks Mom for posting her picture, whenever I think of her I can click on your blog to see her again.