Annie Chambers Keeler - Oct. 2003

By Candace Fulton
The story is a delightful one, how on a March morning in 1906, cousin Cora was sent to
deliver a sackof dried peaches to her Aunt Nannie, who was expecting a baby any day.

It seems the baby arrived before the peaches. And almost a century later the cousin (Cora Chambers Wheeler) can still remember the tiny 3-pound infant nestled in a padded shoebox. The baby, Annie Velaria Chambers Keeler, is my great aunt, my late grandmother Lillie Mills' youngest sister.
And today we're celebrating Aunt Annie's 96th birthday. You should know ( because the Chamberses are all real sticklers for fact) Aunt Annie's actual birthday isn't until Wednesday. But today's close enough and a great day for a party.

Lots of people know my Aunt Annie and I never write a column mentioning my Chambers ancestors that I don't get several calls from readers who remember my Uncles OB, Weldon and Walter or my grandmother, Annie or any of the other four sisters. And if they knew of one in the old stomping grounds of May or Crosscut, they generally know of the whole bunch.

The Chambers were educators ( mathematicians and grammarians and basketball coaches with ramrod straight postures and good lop-sided grins). The nine Chamberses ( Aunt Annie and her eight siblings) made up what we now refer to at the family reunions as  "the first generation"  A majority of their 22 children also became teachers, principals and such and even in my generation there's a smattering of teachers in the mix.

In hindsight, Annie's tiny size at birth tells of another true personality trait and another Chambers standard (a hard-line resolve). At 17, she married the love of her life, and though I can¹t find anywhere in our family history book, "A Chambers' Century," where it says Annie eloped, the book's editor ( Annie's oldest daughter, Laverne Kilgore) did record this 1999 conversation.

Laverne asked, "Did you tell anyone at home you were getting married?"

Annie said, "No."

Laverne then asked, "Did you go home that night?"

Annie answered "no" again.

"Had you told anyone you were not coming home?" Laverne questioned.

"No," Annie responded.

"What happened?" Laverne asked.

"Papa came looking for us," Annie answered.

Annie said her papa wasn't mad really and anyway it was already too late. And we know, of course, Grandpa Chambers shouldn't have worried. Annie and Alton's marriage was long, happy and productive.

A life 96 years long offers an ample share of trials and tribulations. But Annie has handled whatever she was faced with. In 1935, a burst appendix and a bout with peritonitis kept Aunt Annie ( then a mother with three little girls and a husband trying to farm for a living) in the hospital for three months. In 1977, after a 54-year marriage, she buried her beloved Alton.

Now Annie's the last one left of the "first generation" and we cling to the tradition of family and model in life she is to us all. Her life's a testimony to a precious and fleeting lifestyle that seems to elude so many of us, but that she's been able to grasp in simple faith and pure grace.

A few months ago at another relative's funeral, Annie's granddaughter Risa Crews and I remarked at Annie's remarkable style and composure.

"I'd like to think I'd be doing that well when I'm my grandmother's age," Risa sighed. "But since I'm not even doing that well now, it seems a lot to hope for."

It's a truth ( a real Chambers truth.)