She's that kind of friend, small in stature, larger than life, whose spirit indeed cannot be quenched. For those of us who have been lucky enough to be friends with Nellie (and who in five connecting counties would that be?) our minds cannot race fast enough to describe this woman, mother, grandmother, great grandmother. Her birthday, coming at the advent of spring, seems a fitting time for me to give it a whirl.
I remember both the first and last times I laid my eyes on Nellie Loreen Skinner. I was a brand new teacher giving a brief introduction to both myself and my philosophy of teaching at the first PTO meeting in 1975. Scared, unsure of myself, I recalled my college speech teacher's advice to find one sympathetic eye and speak to that person. My sympathetic eyes belonged, of course, to Nellie. She nodded and seemed to embrace the words I said with her whole heart. I would often later learn she actually accepted the whole scope of her world in that same, "eager to know you" style. Nellie was a people person. The last time I saw her she walked by me on her daughter's arm, leaving a party in late October. Her warm smile and unmistakably low voice whispered, "Bye, Lovey," as she patted my shoulder, walked behind me, down the steps, and out of my world forever.
But oh, the time in between 1975 and 2015... those unbelievable forty years full of the giggliest and the teariest of times. That's what Nellie is all about. She had the best laugh, the most excruciatingly funny comments, the stylish-est dance moves, and the biggest smile ever known. I had the utmost honor of teaching her three daughters, and several of her grandchildren. Together, Nellie and I joined our friends to travel the back roads, explore the maybe's of life. She never met a dare she wouldn't take (sometimes that wasn't good, but oh, sometimes it was!) I found myself doing things I wouldn't have done in my normal life... She not only encouraged a bolder way of living, she instigated it instinctively. Nellie was a combination of people, some soft and loving, some nurturing and motherly, some out of this world daring and sexy, and some best described by that connotation coined in Project Runway... "fierce." I loved her father with his unbeatable winsome humor, and Nellie was so much like him. Nellie was a handy-woman, able to fix a furnace, decorate a baby nursery, stir up heavenly baked beans and soft deviled eggs fit for the gods. She could convey that special essence of dance in every movement she made, especially if she did decide to take a turn on the dance floor. From the moment she lifted her hands... before her feet began to move, she danced.
With Nellie, we experienced great, unmistakable tragedy. Her oldest daughter died in a auto accident, leaving four beautiful young children. I'd never experienced that kind of grief in its raw agony. All of us suspect, and some sadly know for sure, that loss brings the kind of change of soul that has no complete recovery. However, because Nellie loved her remaining daughters and grandchildren so much, she did force herself to heal. I will ever remember her answer to that recurring question after life's worst events: "How are you doing?" Nellie always responded, "Better." And she was.
Play the piano? Why, yes, she could... any song, any melody... embellished with the grandest of chords and laughter. Brew a cup of tea? Of course, she could... and did. To find someone capable and willing to hear the outpouring of hearts, murmured over a hot cup of sweet tea... priceless above all attributes. Nellie cared. I could tell her the same hurts over and over and not feel silly for not having recovered. She was a "Yes, let's roll!" person instead of a, "Oh.... maybe you'd better not." If you've had one of those in your life, you are lucky. Just as we all were.
Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren called her Ma. My son loved her. My friends loved her. My mother loved her. I love her. Nellie's life, raising three daughters alone, working several jobs, losing a daughter, mothering so many... it is just hard to explain this woman. She invited frivolous frolic, often throwing open her doors to parties, moon-watching, and often attending events and parties in our community. I have watched in nothing short of awe as she challenged/encouraged others to do things never thought possible. As with so many strong people, she had her set of behaviors that often just didn't fit into the average swing of things. Those of us who love her simply shook our heads and said, "That's Nellie." We accepted no flack from anyone about it. Some things we understood. Some things...? we figured we would get the answers some day.
Age and poetry lend themselves to help me as I consider the events, people, actions of my life. Metaphors, symbols, connective visions leap un-beckoned into my heart and memory. The more I have known and loved, the more jumbled run the images all pushing into my heart to be acknowledged in this post. Red kitchen, vintage convertible, risque rhymes, sharp tongue and soft heart, babies rocking, and people charming... I cannot write them all down today, but I hope I've said enough to honor this beautiful, generous, amazing friend of mine. I love her daughters and family, and I've lost a treasure of my heart. Today, her birthday, the first day of spring, anniversary of a grand kidnapping birthday party I organized for her in what seems like another life, the day of much celebration... it's a good time to say what my heart is feeling. Nellie, I love you. I know you knew that... You called us Darling... and we felt so loved. Enjoy your birthday in Heaven, Dear One.
Photo from Facebook file. October 2013...
Whimsy and Hugs!