Marie Wilkerson Nelson


On 23 May 2015, my great-aunt Marie Lawrence Wilkerson Nelson died.  She was my grandmother Helon’s younger sister.

I remember calling her “Ahnt” Marie one time.  She scolded me something fierce and informed me that she was my “ant” Marie.  Apparently my quarter Yankee blood was showing.  After that I had my “ahnts” and my “ants”.  I still giggle about this.


Aunt Marie was also the person who taught me a trick for remembering phone numbers — putting them to music or at least a good beat.  We then danced around Grandmom and Granddad’s den while singing Papa and Nana’s phone number.  To this day I will sing that phone number in my head and want to do a dance.


My family is a sports loving family.  By that I mean we prefer to sit in seats and observe rather than participate, but Marie loved playing golf.   Every so often someone would remind her that although she was probably the best golfer in the family, her sister Helon was the one with the hole-in-one.

Once at a Duke football game way back in the 1970s, we were quite bored.  (Duke football then was very hit or miss — mostly miss.)  Then the student who was the mascot walked thru the stands.  This was when you could actually see the person’s face, before they started donning those huge heads and such. Marie elbowed me in the side and whispered that the mascot was a handsome devil.  (She wasn’t a quiet whisperer.)  Shortly after that a streaker ran across the field and she half-heartedly covered my eyes.  She was laughing too hard to cover them completely.


Marie’s obituary:

COLUMBIA— On a beautiful evening, May 23, 2015, Marie Wilkerson Nelson went to be with her Lord Jesus Christ. She was born January 10, 1928, in Durham, North Carolina. Marie was the daughter of the late Joseph Lawrence and Nellie Clark Wilkerson and the wife of the late Al Watson Nelson for 58 years. She was a charter member of St Andrews Presbyterian Church, a member of the Christian Women’s Club, and volunteered with Meals on Wheels. Marie was an excellent seamstress, making clothes and beautiful quilts. Marie and Al loved to travel and especially enjoyed cruises. She was an avid golfer and bridge player for many years. Marie worked part time at JB Whites and was known at Gold Gym as ‘grooving granny’.

She is survived by her three daughters, Linda Nelson Davis (Robbie) of Columbia, Susan Nelson Dox (Allan) of Irmo, and Cathy Nelson Raddatz of Irmo; six grandchildren, Kelly Sawyer (Todd), Steven Davis (Erica), Adam Dox (Courtney), Justin Dox, Rachel Barclay (Web), Caitlin Raddatz; four great granddaughters, Ella Davis, Eleese Sawyer, Addy Lane Dox, and Sadie Dox; sister-in-law, Zada Lee Nelson; nephew, Bill Kirkland (Ann); nieces, Pam Nelson Wheeler (Doug) and Peggy Nelson. Marie was predeceased by her sister, Helon Wilkerson Kirkland and cousins.


take care of your kidneys

I have looked at hundreds of death certificates the past few years.  All of them were issued after the death of a family member.  Some have been close relatives, many have been distant cousins.  I expected to see that the majority of deaths were due to heart attacks or stroke.  I was wrong.

Kidney disease has been far and away the biggest killer in the family.

When I was pregnant with my second child, my dad made an offhand comment about his mother having some sort of kidney disease.  I mentioned it to my OB/G and to my cousin who was also pregnant.  My daughter did not have anything wrong with her kidneys.  My cousin’s daughter did.  Since then I have wondered if the disease was actually genetic or just randomly happened.  If it was genetic, what side of the family was it coming from.

My father’s side is riddled with it.  There is a high incidence on his mother’s side, but his father’s side was riddled with it.  My great-great grandfather Leonidas Kirkland died from uremic convulsions (now known as uremic encephalopathy) as a result of Chronic Bright’s Disease.   His sister Mattie June died of uremic coma due to hydronephrosis.  She had been operated on in June of 1899 at Johns Hopkins.  His brother Arthur died of polycystic kidney disease.  His daughter Mildred died of polycystic kidney disease.  My great-grandmother Gussie lost her sister Vertie to uremia due to chronic nephritis.  My great-great-grandmother Emma Clark died of Chronic Bright’s Disease.

When you see all the greats and great-greats, you have a tendency to think of this as being in the distant past.  It isn’t.  A horrible bout with kidney stones reminded me that some things are part of the human experience.  Medical advances can repair or treat, but that doesn’t necessarily prevent something happening to your kidneys or heart or any other part of the body.

“I want a piece of cake.”

My dad enjoys his food and clearly has since birth.  Grandmom wrote in his baby book that his first sentence was “I want a piece of cake.”  My great-grandmother – Ida Gates Hamlin – made the most amazing biscuits.  I can still remember how they smelled and tasted.  She also made a great pound cake.  No matter how I try to top her recipe with one of my own, hers remains everyone’s favorite.

Here are two of my favorite cake recipes.


from the kitchen of Ida Rebecca Gates Hamlin:

Pound Cake

Cream together 2 sticks butter, ½ cup shortening and 3 cups sugar. Add 1-teaspoon vanilla and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Add 6 medium eggs, beating in one at a time. Sift together 3 times: 3 cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon baking powder. Stir in 1-cup milk divided into thirds alternating with flour so you end with milk. Bake in a well-greased and floured large tube pan at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 20 minutes. Let cake stand in pan for 10 minutes before inverting.



from the kitchen of Nellie Russell Clark Wilkerson:

Carrot Cake

1 cup Wesson Oil
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
2 1/2 tablespoons hot water
Beat this together.
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
a little salt
Sift this together and add to first mixture.
Next add
1 cup grated carrot
1 cup nuts (optional)
Whites of 3 eggs.  Beat and fold in lightly.
Bake 350 degrees – 55 minutes
Grease tube pan – line with wax paper..
Place on rack to cool.


100 Things about William Alexander “Buck” Kirkland


1.  William Alexander Kirkland was born on 14 March 1913.

2.  He was born in Durham, North Carolina.

3/4.  His parents were Laurance Davies Kirkland and Susie Augusta Coley Kirkland.

5/6.  He had 2 older siblings:  Laurance Davies “Sonny” Kirkland Jr and Mary Rebecca “Mimi” Kirkland.


7.  He was the only one of the three Kirkland siblings born at the “new” Watts Hospital.  (His son and granddaughter were also born at Watts Hospital.)

8.  My uncle Sonny said my grandfather was the one who dubbed him Sonny and Mary Mimi.  (Mary’s friends called her Mary Kirk)

9.  Granddad’s nickname was Buck.

10.  He grew up at the house at 516 Holloway Street.


11.  His grandmother Mary Margaret Mock Coley lived with the family when he was growing up.

12.  For a time, so did a cousin — Margaret Brock.

13/14.  Granddad graduated from Durham High School in 1930.

15.  Granddad and I were the same height when we graduated high school.

16.  Granddad had beautiful handwriting.   Mom and I always ooh and aah over it.  His great-granddaughter Coley has similar handwriting.

17/18.  Granddad had dark brown hair and blue eyes.

19/20.  Granddad went to Davidson College and graduated in 1934.

21.  Dean Rusk was a senior when my grandfather came in as a freshman.

22.  Granddad was a member of Davidson’s ROTC.

23.  His senior year he was a member of Scabbard & Blade, a military fraternity.


24.  He went to a military training camp either during his time at Davidson or just after graduation (mentioned in a letter written by Sonny to their mother.)

25.  Granddad was a member of Pi Kappa Alpha.

26.  Granddad was on the PanHellenic Council.

27/28/29/30.  Granddad played basketball for his fraternity.  In 1933  his team won the Davidson inter-fraternity basketball championship.  He played forward (must’ve been a very short team).  He scored 4 of the team’s 36 points.

31.  Granddad had to wear a silly beanie his freshman year.  So glad Davidson did away with that!  LOL  Anyway, tradition was that the freshmen would burn their beanies.  Not Granddad.  He kept his.  Dad has it displayed on a bookshelf.

32.  One of his college friends was Dallas “Dal” Wehner


33.  He was ELECTED football manager for the 1933 season.

34.  He served on the Athletic Council his senior year.

35.  He was the secretary-class treasurer of his senior class.

36.  His thoughts on education at Davidson College:  “The first four years are the hardest.”  I do believe that everyone who goes to Davidson would wholeheartedly agree with this.

37. A Miss Laura Lyon of Durham was his date to a formal dance that was sponsored by the PanHellenic Council.

38.  Joe Bryant once sat on Granddad’s glasses.  Miraculously they did not break, but the lenses fell out of the frames.  Granddad put the lenses back in like it was no big deal.

39. Granddad, Joe Drake and John Hunter apparently were caught in an embarrassing situation at a shindig in Charlotte.  The Davidsonian made no mention of what they did, but did suggest that people to ask them about why their faces were question mark red.  Hmmmmm….

Buck and Helon-2

40. Granddad was one of three appointed to “investigate prices and select a tailor” for the making of the senior blazers.

41/42.  Granddad was ranked 43rd in his class.  He maintained an 85 or higher thru at least the first half of his senior year.

43.  Granddad was a member of the Davidson ROTC unit that won the R.O.T.C Cup in 1933, defeating 17 other schools.

44.  His R.O.T.C. rank at the time was 2nd Lieutenant of Company C.

45/46.  Granddad married Helon Clark Wilkerson on August 27, 1938.


47.  They lived at J-2-B University Apartments.

48.  Granddad was Sec-Treas of the Durham Merchants Assoc for over 25 years.  He was honored for his 25 years with the DMA with dinner, a check and a car.

49.  In 1940, he earned $2,700 as the Sec-Treas of the Durham Merchants Association


50.  In 1940, his son Bill was born (my dad!)

51.  His address in 1940 was 1104 Englewood Ave.

52/53/54.  He was 5’7, 160 pounds and had a ruddy complexion when he registered for the draft.

55.  In 1960 he was executive v-pres and treasurer of the Durham Merchant’s Assoc.

56.  In 1966 his granddaughter was born.  (ME!)

57.  In 1969 his grandson was born.  (Kirk!)

58.  He and my uncle Al had some joke about chimps.  Wish I knew the beginnings.  They would laugh about the various calendars and pictures and cards they would find.

59.  Granddad was left-handed.

Buck and Helon-3

60/61/62.  Granddad had a cement goldfish pond in his backyard.  Kirk and I gave him one of those pop-eyed goldfish.  Granddad named it Count Pulaski.

63.  Granddad liked irises.  Mom has the “descendents” of some of his purple irises in her yard.

64.  Granddad was a smoker.  Don’t ask me what he smoked.  I just remember that he did.  Of course everyone in Durham did.


65.  Granddad drank a lot of Tab or at least kept a bunch in the bottom of the pantry.

66.  I swear all his polo style shirts had penguins on them.

67.  He liked to laugh.  He had an infectious laugh.

68/69.  Granddad took daily walks around the neighborhood.  He talked to everyone he ran into, sometimes for extended periods of time.  Not sure that you could count his walks as exercise.

Buck-44 with Luther H. Hodges ncgov

70/71.  My grandparents had a black poodle named Charlie who was really smart.  He would “write letters” to me and my brother on every telephone pole he passed.  Of course Granddad would “read” the letters to us as we couldn’t read poodle.

72.  He once told me the only thing he could cook was a steak and it was luck if the steak turned out edible.

73.  During the winter he would bring his goldfish indoors from the goldfish pond.  I can remember them being in his bathtub one time because his fish tank had a crack in it.

74.  Ed Swindell was one of his good friends.  Mr. and Mrs. Swindell lived across the street from my grandparents when I was growing up.

75.  Granddad played golf.  Not that I remember him ever playing.  I just remember my dad, my brother and my aunt Marie playing.

76.  Granddad told me to call Uncle Sonny “Senior Citizen” when he turned 65.  Sonny was not amused in the least.  Sonny had some stern words for me.  Granddad just laughed and laughed.

77.  Granddad had me convinced for a time that the Lazy Susan was named after my cousin Susan.  (Uncle Al had me believing that black-eyes Susans were also named after her.)

78.  Granddad raised chickens.  I’m still a bit confused as to where he kept them in town.

79.  Granddad had a little farm outside of town.

80.  Sonny once told me that the only deer Granddad ever bagged was one that he accidentally hit with his car.


81.  Granddad once commented that he knew business was good, because he had two suits.

82.  He jokingly called my brother Billy Buck.

83.  Grandmom and Mom took me shopping one time, and of course I had to try on all the clothes and show everyone what I had gotten.  Granddad sang, “Here she comes…  Miss America….” as I walked into the den to “model”.

84.  Granddad’s favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.”

85.  He was a member of Trinity Avenue Presbyterian Church .

86.  He was a member of the George Watts Sunday School Class and  attended Sunday School regularly.

87.  He was a history major at Davidson

88.  He earned a letter sweater for being the football manager (I didn’t get one though.  Hmmph)

89.  He was a member of Omicron Delta Kappa or ODK or “the Circle”, which is a national leadership honor society.  It is considered to be one of the highest collegiate honors to be a member of the ODK…  up there with membership as a Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Beta Kappa (Sonny was a Phi Beta Kappa)


90.   Enthusiastic member of the Lions Club.

91. He loved investing in the stock market (which could explain his stockpile of Tab if he owned stock in that company).

92.  He loved his poker games with his longtime friends.  (Kirk now has his poker chips.  His great-grandchildren play War with his cards).

93.  He hatched chicken eggs in his house.  IN HIS HOUSE!

94.  He had to remove potatoes from the tub in order to bathe his grandchildren.  (My grandparents had 2 bathrooms and thus two tubs, but clearly either Kirk or I wanted to use his tub.  Grandchildren!)

95.  At church he was known for his enthusiastic singing.  (His son and grandchildren will bust out in song for no apparent reason, so this trait has definitely been passed along.  Just ask my children.  They will beg you to not get me started.)

96.  He was frugal.

97.  He was unpretentious.

98.  When Granddad laughed, he would rear back with his arms across his chest.

99.   Granddad died on 14 April 1978.  Kirk, two friends and I were watching M.A.S.H. when the phone call came.

100.  His life had touched so many others that there was standing room only for his funeral.


William Jennings Russell


If you have been wondering who that man is over on the side, his name is William Jennings Russell.  Russell Street in Fayetteville, North Carolina is named after his family.  North Carolina’s colonial government had purchased land from his great-grandfather’s estate for the town that has become Fayetteville.

William Jennings Russell was born in 1814 in Cumberland County, North Carolina to William Russell who was the son of John Russell.  John Russell was a … Tory; and his father was Capt John Russell, commander of the HMS Scorpion, which explains John’s loyalty to Great Britain.

William Jennings Russell was married twice.  His second wife was Margaret Mahaldy Clark.  Together they had four children:  Charles Henry, Emma Delilah, John Benton and Leonidas Campbell.

In the 1840s and 50s, he built boats.  One of the ones he built was a steamer named the John Dawson.  In the 1860s, there wasn’t as much call for his boat building skills, but he continued finding work as a carpenter and then switched his focus to railroad cars.

Margaret died in 1868.  William died several years later in 1871.  Charles and Emma were their surviving children.  They went to live with one of Margaret’s sisters and her husband.  Margaret is buried at Cross Creek Cemetery in Fayetteville.  Most likely William is also, but his grave is unmarked.


Oh, Uncle Erskine….

Erskine Laflonzy Gates - 1


Uncle Erskine was a trial.  Nana would get a look of exasperation on her face whenever she talked about him.  Most in the family simply shake their heads and say something like “That’s just how Erskine was.”

Erskine Laflonzy Gates (yes, Laflonzy! and no, I have no idea where that name comes from) was born to Irene Huntington Harris and John Henry Gates on 7 December 1907.  He married Allie Lee Hancock of Wadesboro, NC.

Uncle Erskine was the great-uncle who would give you a five dollar bill for a present.  Didn’t matter what your age, $5 was the gift.  Of course, if you were male, he probably wouldn’t give you anything.  You should be taking care of yourself.  When he told my younger brother that, I had to work hard not to laugh.  I think Kirk was maybe 13.

But in Uncle Erskin’s defense, he was pulled out of school when he was all of 12 years old.  His mother had been working in the tobacco barn and fallen thru the floor or something and sustained injuries.  As the “man of the house”, Erskine was the one put in charge.  At twelve.  Can you imagine?

When I was in college, I was visiting Papa and Nana one weekend when Uncle Erskine stopped by.  He pulled me aside as I was leaving and gave me a sack with a jar in it and a $5 bill.  The $5 was so I could treat myself to something.  The jar was filled with moonshine.  I’m guessing he thought that is what all college students would be drinking in the 1980s.

My youngest was born in 1999.  Uncle Erskine was still around and ornery.  We had a five generations photo taken.  Five generations.  My oldest didn’t like the fact that her great-great-great uncle smoked and so told him that if he didn’t want to die, he should stop.  Uncle Erskine told her that he had been smoking since he was about 10 and he didn’t ever plan on stopping.

My mom and uncles have related many stories about Uncle Erskine and his gas station and little store.  I may have to have Mom or Uncle Bill share some of those, but there is one that my uncle Al shared once as he was fixing breakfast for me.  Uncle Al told me that Uncle Erskine didn’t really trust banks, so he would stash money here and there.  Sometimes he would forget where he had put it.  Once while Uncle Al was visiting with Uncle Erskine, he said Erskine got all agitated and took off.  Seems Uncle Erskine had sold someone his old wood stove and didn’t realize until a short time later that he had stashed upwards of $2,000 in the belly of the stove.

That’s just how Uncle Erskine was.

Nellie Russell Clark

523795_10151518215507524_1485757310_nNellie Russell Clark was born 5 October 1895 in Manchester, Cumberland County, North Carolina to Emma Delilah Russell and John McFagden Clark.  She was the youngest of six children.  Her oldest sister Frances Reid Clark, known as “Fannie” to many and as “Sissie” to her siblings, was also her school teacher.

She married Joseph Lawrence Wilkerson of Durham, North Carolina.  In December of 1915, their daughter Helon Clark Wilkerson was born.  Just over 12 years later in January of 1928, their daughter Marie Lawrence Wilkerson was born.

Nellie died on 10 January 1966 — months before I was born.  She is buried at Maplewood Cemetery in Durham, North Carolina.

285631_10151757855262524_834426837_nNellie was quite deft with a needle.  My parents have a quilt square that was pieced by her and then embroidered with the names of my grandparents and possibly the date the quilt was completed.  She also made the wedding gown worn by my grandmother Helon and then my aunt Marie.  As you can see from Marie’s wedding portrait, the gown was beautiful.


She almost most likely made the baptismal gown worn here by her daughter Helon.  Her great granddaughter Rachel was the last to wear it.  I thought Caitlin had worn it, but she told me earlier today, she hadn’t.  Nellie’s mother-in-law, Mittie Herndon Wilkerson, was a dressmaker, so she could have helped with the baptismal gown.

373932_10150685326727524_1141051994_nI think it very telling that when I ask different family members about my great grandmother Nellie, they all get the same soft smile on their faces before they answer and tell that she was just the nicest person, a gentle person, a good person.

Dad called her Big Mama.  I always thought it was because she was his mother’s mother.  Makes sense, right?   Anyway, he tells me she would greet him by saying, “Hey, Big Bill.”  He would reply, “Hey, Big Mama.”  Of course then Dad and I get a bit silly and repeat the “Heys” a few times.

Little Traditions

nana-windowWhenever we would leave Papa’s and Nana’s, we would do the big goodbye in the driveway. Hugs, kisses, Papa cutting us a bloom from either the green or the sweetheart rose.

After pulling out of the driveway, we would look back at the kitchen window.  Nana would be there waving.


Family History

We moved a few times while I was growing up:  Durham, NC to Lenoir, NC to Pulaski, VA to Greensburg, IN to Kennebunk, ME to Charlottesville, VA.    Durham was always home base.  Durham was where both sets of grandparents lived, where my great grandmother lived, where my great uncle Sonny lived, where my great-great uncles Norman, Erskin and Clyde lived.  Durham was where we all returned to either in the summer or Christmas or both.  My uncles and aunts and cousin would be there.  Durham was loud and cozy, full of energy and love.

Durham was home.

In 1976, my great great uncles Norman and Clyde died.  In 1977, my great-grandmother died.  In 1978, my grandfather Buck died.  Durham was full of holes.

But my great aunt Mimi gave me a gift.  She gave me a copy of the family tree that she and her mother had worked on.  Well, mostly her mother.  She told me a story about how her great-grandmother  Susie had met and fallen in love with a dashing young man name Henry.  She pointed to other names and explained they had donated land so that the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill would have a place to be built.

For the past 37 years, I have added hundreds of names to the family tree.  But the names and dates have more meaning when stories can be added.  Family history may seem pointless to many, but knowing something about all those who came before me and what they did and how they affected their community is priceless.