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Nell Vern

Nell Vern was herself. She knew what she liked. Red lipstick. Sequins. Bling. Fast cars and fur coats. Gold spray paint. (It worked equally well on her VCR and tennis shoes). She styled her own hair and did her own nails her whole life. I never knew her true hair color. She was 91 and still wearing false eyelashes, high heals and black leather pants. You don’t know anyone else like Nell Vern.

She was the easiest person to Christmas presents for. Whatever fancy, sparkly thing I could find, she would gush lavishly over it. And she loved the glittery wrapping at least as much as the present, if not more.

Her orange A-frame house held a fantasy world of fake fruit and mirrors and thick goblets, a round bed with a princess mosquito-net covering and almost no food. I never saw her cook even once. She taught me to play Spite and Malice. And Hand and Foot. And Tripoly. She once let my brother and me shoot a revolver in her back yard (before my mom got ahold of us and took us straight home).

Every story about her husbands ended with a twinkle in her eye as she said, "Well, he was good lookin' and a good dancer." She hated waiting and disliked not getting her way even more. She had an uncanny ability to hear selectively and then make you wonder what you had said in the first place.

The last couple of years were my favorite with Na-Na Nelly. It was a subtle change. She was still Nell Vern, but with a few added perks… She was generous, thoughtful, thankful, and forgiving. Every visit, she would stick a $20 bill in my pocket for gas and give my young children a handful of suckers she'd stolen from the bank and a few beautiful pictures she'd cut out of magazines she thought they'd like. She couldn't look at my children without saying, "They're so beautiful." She somehow found a way to connect with them at 91—more than 80 years their senior.

Her life taught me to appreciate the fun things. I do miss her.

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