Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name Nobody came…
That Beatles lyric came to mind when I stumbled upon this October 12, 1951 obituary in The Nashville Tennessean:
Nellie surely would have been displeased to see that age guesstimate in print. In truth, she was 73 years, 5 months and 21 days old.
The obituary insulted Nellie once more by calling into question (1) her employment history, (2) the impression she made on her co-workers, and (3) the veracity of the one friend the deceased could rely on to bring her to the attention of authorities:
Built with slave labor and opened in 1869, the five-story Maxwell House was Nashville’s grandest hotel, accommodating seven U.S. presidents over the years, including Theodore Roosevelt, who proclaimed the coffee there “good to the last drop,” inspiring both the brand name and its advertising slogan.
If Nellie did indeed work at Maxwell House, she would have been quietly taking notes, which absolves her clueless co-workers. Stenography was the occupation attributed to her in more than a dozen Nashville city directories between 1907 and 1930.
Too bad the woman who discovered her “friend” dead of a heart attack hadn’t learned from Nellie how to take notes. Or maybe the two weren’t all that close. The obit sadly concludes:
Nellie, in fact, was born March 21, 1878, in Tennessee. And she had a family. Her father was a Maryland butcher who married a Tennessee girl, raised two daughters and, at the end of his life, relied on Nellie. The two were living in a Nashville boarding house when he died in July 1920. Nellie was 42 years old.
It was another decade before she found herself a husband. At 52, she married Peter Obenchain, 60, a widower with four adult children. The couple settled down on 8th Avenue in Nashville. Nellie put away her steno pad, while Peter worked as a master mechanic and, in 1944, as a doorman at the Princess Theatre.
After 17 years of marriage, Peter died. In contrast to Nellie’s, his obituary in the Tennessean touted his married daughter in Maryland, bragged about his three sons — one in California, two in Tennessee — and crowed about his four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Nellie put her husband to rest in Mt. Olivet Cemetery and lived another four years on her own.
Was Peter’s funeral the last time Nellie saw her step-children and their spouses, her step-grandchildren, her step-great-grandchildren? Did her younger sister, Laura, married to a schoolteacher, with a son and daughter, come from Maryland to offer their condolences?
That’s 20 survivors. Her family. Mrs. Pyburn, the friend who found Nellie dead, had never heard of any of them.
On the day after Nellie’s obituary appeared in the Tennessean, the paper announced her funeral arrangements. No survivors, it insists. And ominously adds: “Friends will serve as pallbearers.”