Nellie 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.
Nellie 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.
I 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.