I first met Nellie B. when Tarzan sent me to the airport to pick her up. She was flying from Tennessee to meet his new wife--me. I was standing right at the gate where the passengers unloaded (pre 9/11) and watched as each person unloaded from the airplane. Not one black woman got off. Only one person escaped my "perusal." It was a woman who whizzed past me in a wheelchair not even looking left or right like she was looking for someone. My mother-in-law was not in a wheelchair.

The last person got off the airplane and I timidly stepped up to the girl at the door and asked if there was anyone else on the plane. She went down the breezeway and checked--no one left on the airplane.

I started to cry. My first meeting with my mother-in-law and I lost her.

I rushed to the baggage claim area while dialing Tarzan's sister on the phone to see if she actually got on the airplane. She got all excited and said, "You lost my Mama?" I told her I would call her back and called Tarzan to confess that I had lost her. Just then I saw a little black lady with a white cap on standing and casually waiting for her luggage. With Tarzan on the phone, I hesitantly walked up to her and asked her if she was Nelie B. She gave me her big friendly smile and said "yeeaaaa, how youuu baaaeebeee" with a heavy southern drawl. I was instantly in love. Then I heard Tarzan screaming in the phone, "Did you find her?"

I came to my senses and told him she was the lady in the wheelchair. Then handed her the phone so he could talk to her. Tarzan was still hyperventilating so he yelled at his mom, "Why didn't you tell me you were in a wheelchair?" She just calmly told him, "Weeellll, they awfered me a wheeelchaeeer and Iiii couldn't see aneee reeeeasun ta wawlk if Iiii didn't half ta."

We hugged and were fast friend from that moment on. We lovingly referred to Tarzan as a heathen, we shopped together, had a pedicure together, cooked together, laughed together and all the while she was worried that she would get in our way. She couldn’t have been more wrong. We loved having her with us.

We got her to visit us one more time and tried our best to get her to stay with us. We almost had her convinced and then Thanksgiving came around and we called back home where the whole family in Tennessee had gathered. She heard all the commotion with the grandchildren and great grandchildren and said she wanted to go home.

About two years later her health began to fail. We visited her in January this year and we were shocked to see how ill she was, but at that time, they were still getting her up and letting her sit in a chair off and on during the day. In March, Tarzan went back to see her and she was completely bedridden. We decided to get her to move in with us and made the plan to pick her up in June. We remodeled her room to make it more friendly to a bedbound person and then went to get her. When we arrived in June, we knew she would not survive a 3-day car trip to our house so we gave up on the idea of ever having her live with us. I arranged to have hospice come in and care for her on a daily basis. They were awesome and really relieved some of the burden from the family.

Now, she is gone. We went back to Tennessee for the week of the funeral. It was such a wonderful week. Everyone was so kind to me, personally. I had the privilege of helping get her ready for burial. This brings me to the fun story from the funeral…

There were five of us at the funeral home,
Bettie, her daughter,


Asta, her granddaughter

and Wasyta, her granddaughter

Von, Bettie’s friend


and me. We went to the funeral home to fix Nellie’s hair. Asta is a beautician. We were all standing around the body, Asta was curling her hair, Von and I were holding her hands while Wasyta painted her nails and Bettie was just looking on in dismay. Suddenly, there was a huge explosion in the room, the noise was really loud and sparks flew everywhere. Then one of the lights went out. Asta jumped and ran out of the room, Wasyta backed up against the wall with her eyes wide as silver dollars and Von and I stood there shaking and looking around, neither of us wanted to drop her hands because it would ruin her nail polish. Bettie recovered first and started to laugh. Asta came back in the room and said “I’m sorry Grandmama, I didn’t mean to burn you.” Wasyta said, “What are we doing that you don’t like Grandmama, do you want a different color of nail polish?” We all agreed that if Nellie B. was around, she would want us to know and she would want us to be happy. After that, the mood lightened up and we all had a good time getting her ready for the funeral. She would have wanted it that way.

If anyone loved life, it was Nellie B. She was quick to laugh and said what was on her mind. I will really miss her and my only regret is that she didn’t come into my life sooner.

3 comments

Condolences to your family.
BTW....did you change the nail color?

Your mother-in-law sounded like such a great lady. I am sure she will be missed. How frustrating about your air-conditioning. Good for you for complaining to the manager. And good for him for taking care of the problem.

What great memories!! She sounds amazing.. So did you change the nail color?