By Candace Cooksey Fulton
I promised my cousin Nell that one of these days I'd show up on her doorstep and we'd really visit.
She promised me she'd tell me about her grandfather, my great, great Grandfather and the multitude of Chambers kin right here in these parts that we both shared and claim. I found out at Nell Chambers Mercer's funeral on Saturday, that due to my delay in coming for a visit, I'd missed out on some of the tastiest finger sandwiches likely served in Brown County and quite possibly this state's capitol. Plus,and I didn't need convincing of this, I've also missed forever one of the most delightful visits one could expect to have anywhere.
Nell was one of those distant cousins I'd heard stories about all my life. She would have been my grandmother's first cousin, but 14 years my grandmother's junior. Nell's 91st birthday was Feb. 3, so give or take a few months, she was 41 years my senior.
About 20 years ago I worked with a past-her-prime writer for the AP who strongly admonished any reporter, anywhere, any time who would use the word "spry" to describe an alert and energetic senior citizen. My promise to Marie leaves me a good descriptive word short of a way to describe Nell.
When we first met last spring and established our kinship, I knew immediately I'd found a delightful friend and she wasted no time in assuring me I'd also found a fan. In my business, that's a double bargain.
Nell had a wonderful laugh, a good ear for listening, a quick and lively response in any kind of conversation, and, oh, such a fine, long and lovely memory. I remembered my mother and Aunt Mildred talking about how when Nell's father, the state representative W.R. "Bill" Chambers, went to Austin, Nell had kept the Austin apartment for him and what great fun it was to visit them.
When the elections were going on last fall I could always expect to see Nell and her sister Lizette at the Democratic party meetings or campaign speeches I'd go to cover. The first such meeting, that I happened to be covering for the paper, one of us boasted the kinship to the other and just as I was acting so thrilled they'd claim me, Nell voiced a concern that I might not claim them. From then on we practically raced to see who could claim who first
And new in town, there were plenty of kinfolk I didn't know. Nell and Lizette always graciously introduced me, and explained the connection if either party required one.
I was from Grigg's bunch, they'd say. The other newly found kin might be from Wade's, or Paul's bunch. Names I knew only as those of my great grandfather's brothers, but who, after coming face-to-face with their descendants, became a little more real.
Nell Chambers Mercer gardened, painted, crocheted, loved to fish and though she claimed "it was only a game," she played a mean game of 42. (I've heard.) When she was 15 and her little brother "Tooder," just seven years old, fell out of the wagon and broke his neck, Nell carried his
body to the porch and ran for the doctor while their mother waited and prayed.
She was 32, keeping the apartment for her father in Austin, when Lizette got word to her that there had been a message from the War Department. Wallace, one of their two brothers fighting in New Guinea, had been killed in action. Nell had to break the news to her father.
In all, Nell and Lizette buried five brothers and one sister, their parents and each one has had to bury a husband as well.
On Saturday, the funeral procession that carried Nell to the cemetery was long and slow. All my life I've heard of Wolf Valley (knew where it was and how to get there) but Saturday was the first time I'd ever actually gone. It's a lovely, peaceful place and at the service's conclusion I walked around to look for the markers of the names I've heard so often.
Once again, Nell had made the graceful and pleasant introduction of past to present. The thought comforts me now that when we get to the other side, she'll be there to do it all again.
And there, I'm sure, the finger sandwiches will be truly heavenly. Goodbye Nell Chambers Mercer. It was so very good to know you.
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