Sunday, December 15, 2013

Her Window in Time

Our family lost a most beloved member yesterday. Nell Rose was an absolutely essential part of our lives, and yet she stood apart. Her story is sort of grafted on to ours - through blood, through experience, through memories.

We thought of her as a young aunt, though in truth, she was our second cousin. She was born four days before the 1929 Stock Market Crash. Her mother died when she was 3, her father a couple of years later. Five-year-old Nell went to live with my grandparents, who had four almost-grown daughters of their own, including my mother. Mother always said that she thought of Nell as her first child because as a teenage she often took charge of the little girl. Nell was our go-to person for the "real" family stories. Of course, she saw things from a small child's perspective, but often, that's the truest viewpoint.

She was a survivor. She had polio when she was 11 - pre-vaccine, when the diagnosis meant either death or being crippled for life - and spent a couple of weeks in an isolation ward at Grady Hospital. She also survived cancer later in life. She was an independent working girl, who worked for Ma Bell (back when there was only one telephone company) from the age of 19 until retirement. Nell staked her independence flag by first transferring from Atlanta to Savannah and then on to Orlando and knew how to live life on her on terms.

Which was why we all landed on her doorstep at one time or another during our teenage years. It was the perfect summer set-up for a pre-driving teen. Nell had an apartment with a pool ('nuff said), plus she worked all day. She trusted us, and it wouldn't have occurred to us to do any damage or cause trouble, anyway. All we did was sleep late, go to the pool, clean up after ourselves, and wait for her to get home in the afternoons. She hated to iron and couldn't sew, so I kept the ironing under control and even made her several dresses for work. Our parents supplemented her income for doing this. We ate out a lot. As I said, one sweet arrangement for a teenager.

Nell was an avid reader and crossword puzzler. She loved Frank Sinatra and Johnny Carson  (once, we taped movie magazine pictures of them to the inside of the toilet lid, just to get a laugh out of her). She was a Braves fan. She made great deviled eggs. She gave me my first legal alcoholic drink (a Brandy Alexander).

There's so much more to say, but all of that will have to play itself out as the days and years go by. This wonderful woman helped shape my life in more ways than I can count. Her story is unique in our family. She was her own separate generation, wedged between my mother and her sisters and those of us who were their children. That uniqueness of voice and experience was the gift she gave to me. And love. Always love.

If it's true that people live on through good memories, our Nell will live forever. Rest in ever-lasting peace, rise in glory, and enjoy seeing your mama and daddy, Bully Bartow sisters, and maybe even Frank Sinatra, dear Nell.

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