In memory of Nell


Nell died. First cousin. Uncle Kent’s fourth child (of seven), the older of two daughters. The red head.She was four years older than me, four grades. Rarified air to me. Yet, she always treated me almost like an equal.

When we’d be picking cotton, I loved to hear her and Wynell (Aunt Lessie’s daughter) gossip about who liked who and who was going with who and who wanted to go with who, etc.

I hadn’t been exposed to much music except church music and all-day singing-type music, not to what Grandma sneeringly called, them old orchestras.

Nell was listening to Gene Nobles of WLAC, and to such songs as “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well  and “Celery Stalks  at Midnight,” and that kind of racy stuff.

She wound up working for Pan-Am in Miami, back when Pan-Am was PAN-AM. Her sister, Virginia Dale (Ginny) went to work for an advertising agency in Miami. They bought a house in a quiet neighborhood and lived happily there with a wide circle of friends. Neither ever married.

Back home, in the split-up of property, they got the old house that great-uncle Harvey built, and they’d spend several weeks there every year. Oh, they enjoyed playing the part of eccentric, bossy old maids.

A well was drilled on their place for oil. Turned out to be dry as dust, but  they enjoyed playing the part of rich oil people. Some folks actually took them seriously.

Ginny was healthy as old Maud, Uncle Kent’s horse, until she broke an ankle that never really got well; so for a while, before Nell came down with all kinds of stomach and colon problems, and before the Big A really clamped down, Nell would drive and Ginny would navigate, telling her where to turn.

Ginny says no services are planned for now, but sometime later, in the springtime, maybe when the young turkeys are chasing grasshoppers in the George hay field across the road, they’ll sprinkle her ashes over the family graveyard, where her parents and brothers lie.

The George field was  named  after our great-grandfather who was amongst the first to be  buried in the Sanders Cemetery.

Speaking of which, sister Donna handles the fund that takes care of the graveyard, which is a problem sometimes: She had a very nice sign made to hang there by the road: “Sanders Cemetery, Established in 18…something. “ Some idiots  tore it down and made off with it.

Cousin Birdie brought  some nice azaleas to be planted there. I planted them. Some idiots, maybe the same ones, actually pulled them up and took them away. There’s a new granite sign there now. We’ll see.

Baptists and Methodists weren’t religious enough for Grandpa Sanders, so he built his own tabernacle right by the cemetery. It was a fully enclosed building, with walls  and doors and windows…but it had a sawdust floor. Services were held there two Sunday nights a month.  Different preacher each time. Looking back on it, most of them seemed to be of the Holiness type. I heard a little shouting and talking in tongues there. Nearly scared me to death.

All of us younguns, including Nell, were involved in a little kids program one night. While “Bringing in the Sheaves” was being played, we went across the pulpit, one after the other, holding a bundle of fodder, stopping  long enough to recite a bible verse. Mean old Wynell punched me in the butt when I was a little slow when my time came.

And there was the time when the preacher said something like, “Stand up for Jesus,” or something, and Uncle Kelley, who had been sleeping peacefully, jumped up: “What’s wrong:?”

And the time the woman preacher paused and said, “Before we go any fudder,” and a tiny voice that could be heard all over the building said, “Fudder?” It was mine. Nell was there.  Today the only sign that a building was ever there is a slight indentation in the ground where one wall stood.

We gathered here back in the summer. We all went out to eat. Everybody was talking and remembering…except Nell. Very quiet, nibbled at her food.

I hope she remembered  the cotton picking and the hay hauling and the time she organized a big hay ride, a bunch of town kids and all…and I had to drive the mules. Thanks a lot!

It’s a long way from Frontier Country to Miami, in many ways. She’ll be coming home for good one of these days.

Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality, columnist, author and raconteur of note.


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