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Saturday 23 February 2019
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Nell Anderson: Pooler Icon, Granny Nell

Story by JEFF WHITTEN

Photos by NATALIE MCALISTER

First, a little from the public record, because not everyone gets a
day officially named in their honor, but Nell Anderson did. It
happened more than a dozen years ago when then-Mayor Buddy Carter read
a proclamation at City Hall making July 30, 2002 “Nell Anderson Day”
in the city of Pooler.

That’s pretty high cotton, no matter who you are.

Nell, now 86, and also known by many as Granny Nell, keeps a
memento of that day, a yellowing newspaper clipping with a photo of
Carter – now a U.S. Congressman – handing her a framed copy of the
proclamation read at the city council meeting in honor of her
retirement. The official Nell Anderson Day is long gone, of course,
that particular 24-hour period all but lost except perhaps in dusty
newspaper archives, city council minutes, rarely searched corners of
the internet and the wandering recesses of memory. But Nell, bless
her, is still very much here, still a vital part of the Pooler Senior
Citizens Center where she spends time at least two, sometimes three
times a week because the place means so much to her, still drives her
almost-brand-new Dodge Journey from the house to the center where
she’s seen and done so much.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes,” Nell said. “I’ve been through every
director that Pooler ever had for senior citizens. We’ve had good ones
and bad ones, but we’ve got the best one now.”

That best one would be Susan Edwards, whom Nell clearly thinks
the world of.

“She’s just so good to everybody. She loves old people, and
you’ve got to, to work in a place like this,” Nell said, then runs
through a list of the foibles of her generation. and sums it up
thusly: “Some people,” she said. “Ain’t got nothing to do but (bleep)
and complain.”

Funny thing is, when Nell says that, it doesn’t sound mean. It
just sounds like Nell. And if you spend enough time and ask enough
questions, you meet the Nell who wouldn’t know politically correct if
it came up and introduced itself.

“Nell is the nicest person you could ever want to meet, but she
will say what she is going to say,” said her friend, Mary Facen.
“She’s going to tell you what she thinks, and she doesn’t care if you
like it or not.”

Indeed. For example, Nell has strong feelings about the way the
elderly are treated in the U.S., sees a society that’s lost something
it once had. Something important.

“The young people today have no respect for older people
anymore,” Nell said, as a conversation turned to changes in society
over the years. “Most of them don’t, not all of them, but most of
them. The parents spared the rod and spoiled the child, that’s what
happened. I gave mine spankings when they needed it, and don’t regret
it. I did what I thought was right, but back then, anybody who was six
months older than us, we had respect for. It was mister or missus, yes
m’am, no m’am. Now it’s ‘yeah,’ ‘no,’ ‘what,’ ‘where,’ there’s really
no respect for anybody.”

And then there are all these personal possessions. Our society
seems awash in everything from smart phones to $100 jogging shoes, but
there was a time when people had few luxuries. Nell knows this
firsthand.

“They’re so used to having things, they don’t think they have
anything. We seniors can look around, we know how lucky they are,”
said Nell, who doesn’t have an email address and doesn’t want one. “I
don’t even know how to turn on a computer, and I’ve no desire to
learn. No desire to mess with internet stuff like that Facebook. I
don’t want to learn any more than I already know. I know enough.”

Instead, Nell’s old school. She likes the novels of Debbie
Macumber and Luanne Rice and is currently re-reading the Wagons West
series by Dana Fuller Ross.

“I like the history in it,” Nell said. “It’s good. There’s a lot
of action in it and you don’t get bored.”

Nell is also an avid angler and loves to fish, and her favorite
meal is fried fish with grits and hushpuppies, but she’s also fond of
fried chicken. None of that baked fish or chicken for Nell, please.
Besides, Nell’s lived a long life eating fried food. Why change now?

Being 86, Nell’s seen a lot, lived through a lot. Ask her if
there’s anybody from that past she’d like to meet and maybe talk to,
and she doesn’t have to think long.

“Kennedy,” she said, referring to President John F. Kennedy. “I
don’t know why. I thought he was good looking, and I just liked him.”

Nell also likes Rep. Carter, votes for him every time he runs for
something. “I think he’s a good Christian man. You can’t say that
about all of them.”

She’s also likes country music – liked Garth Brooks until he made
a lot of money and retired – and is a fan of TV shows such as “Family
Feud,” “Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke” and old western movies, and some cooking
shows. Nell also swims in the pool, puts up vegetables for family
members, goes to church and spends quality time in her recliner when
she gets a chance.

“It sleeps good,” she said, talking about the recliner.

Nell retired from her job as the Senior Center driver in 2003,
and for a while she led her fellow senior citizens in aerobics. “We’d
do line dances, and we’d do the warmups and the cool downs,” Nell
said, but hip replacement surgery in 2013 ended that, so Nell trained
her replacements and now comes mainly to socialize with friends and
help keep the place moving forward. She does that mostly through her
work as president of the Senior Booster Club, which does fundraisers
like its annual Bake Sale around Thanksgiving to help pay for extras
for the club while also covering dues for some members who can’t
afford it.

It’s a big, happy, senior family.

“We seniors are from the old school,” Nell said. “We love one
another and are good to one another, and I think all of us who come
here respect one another. Sometimes you’d like to bop some of them one
or two times, but you can’t do that either. Pooler won’t let you.”

Pooler also won’t allow penny pokeno games, which were shut down
years back because the powers that be thought that was gambling. This
according to Nell, who used to enjoy penny pokeno and now likes bingo,
though you get the feeling she believes a penny or two pot would spice
things up a bit. As for when pokeno stopped, well, that was that.

“They raided us,” Nell said. “So we quit playing. It wasn’t no
fun without the pennies.”

And here’s a thought: Nell should be considered an expert witness
on seniors, being one herself. But she knows them too because even
before she was a senior citizen herself she worked as the center’s
aid, transportation and travel coordinator — which apparently meant
mostly she drove them places for the city of Pooler.

Her take?

“It takes a person with a lot of patience to work with seniors,”
she said. “We’ve got some good seniors here. We’ve also got some that
are nuts, too. I’m telling you, they’re about two French fries off of
a happy meal.”

Care to name names?

“Noooo.”

It only seems like Granny Nell has lived in Pooler forever. She
actually came here in 1949, a 21-year-old who started life in Dublin
and then moved with her family to Savannah, where her father worked in
the shipyard during World War II. Nell doesn’t have fond memories of
those times in Savannah, or if she does she keeps them to herself.

Her memories of Pooler as it was when she found it are golden.

“There were no paved streets. The only paved road was Highway 80,”
Nell said. “Everybody knew everybody.”

Back then, Nell lived on South Skinner Avenue. “The whole square
there – there’s houses on it now –  was nothing but a pecan orchard
back then. We used to plant cantaloupes and watermelons, then sit out
to watch people drive by, slow down, stop … and get out to get them
a watermelon.”

But Pooler did have a movie theater, and a grocery store — a Red
and White, says Nell — and a filling station. She had kids and a
family and all that but around 1987 while working in a fried chicken
place Nell got a call from an aunt who said she might want to look
into a job with the city driving a van for senior citizens. Nell said
why not.

“I never drove a van but thought I could drive it, and I started
part time.”

It was more than a job, it was an adventure. “I took seniors
everywhere,” Nell said. “Orlando, South Carolina, Myrtle Beach,
Dollywood. We used to travel a lot, they sure loved to go.”

And they still do. “We need to get out and be together,” she
added. “Old people don’t need to be sitting at home all the time.”

No chance of that with Nell. “I can’t go as much as I used to, but I
still go on certain things,” she said.

But not on Mondays. Mondays are for Canasta at Nell’s. The game
follows a supper and it’s become a ritual for the five senior women
who attend — among them Mary Facen, who moved south with her husband
Henry after spending a career as a social worker in New York.

It seems safe to say that Mary is taken with Nell, who introduced
herself to Mary by saying nobody liked her because of her penchant for
telling it the way she thinks it needs to be told.

“She’s a mess, such a card, but she’s also very honest about what
she’s feeling and she’s going to say it,” said Mary, who also noted
that Nell is protective of her friends, and they of her. “It’s a big
family here, and she’s a big part of it.”

Someone once said someday everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,
or something like that, or so the story goes.

Nell’s fame may not be as widespread, but it’s been more lasting
than 15 minutes. Perhaps it springs from her service as a kind of
village grandmother when Pooler was still just a small town with big
ideas. All those nights and weekends she spent at concession stands at
the rec department gym started her on the road to being called Granny
Nell. Which fits so perfect it’s perfect.

“I was over there so long that all the kids coming up called me
Granny Nell,” she said. “And I’m still Granny Nell to some. Of course
now they’re on the fire department and they come and do our blood
pressure checks and they’ve got kids of their own. And they’re still
calling me Granny Nell.”

That’s ok with her. Remember the old motto, or perhaps it’s not
so old, that proclaimed something like “everything is cooler in
Pooler.” Nell said that’s true. Everything is cooler in Pooler.

“Yep. I like Pooler. When I first moved here it was like a
neighborhood. It was a small group of us, no more than maybe 400 or
500 maybe, and in no time at all you knew everybody here,” she said.

These days Pooler’s grown a lot, but the Senior Center remains a
neighborhood all its own. After all, age is a common bond, a
sisterhood and brotherhood that binds people together into family. “We
all know everybody here, and we just enjoy being together,” Nell said.




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