On May 6, 1956, a newspaper printed these words: " The death of Mrs. Allie W. White, 80, the former Nellie May Rudd, a long time and highly respected resident of Bennington [VT] who was a charter member and past president of the American Legion Auxiliary, occurred at Warner Nursing Home Sunday."
It's hard to say how many people noted the obituary, or the name of the woman mentioned. She was an old woman, after all, who died in a nursing home--one of millions each day. They didn't know the true story behind this simple sentence: " Mr. White and three children are deceased."
The former Nellie May Rudd interests me because she is my great-great grandmother, a woman who shares my birthday of May 16th, almost 100 years to the day. She was born in 1875; I was born in 1974.
Also, Mrs. Allie W. White kept a family Bible, a treasure that has been passed down from my grandfather, the oldest child of her oldest living son, to his widow, my grandmother. These days it sets on the shelf of the only living male on my father's side of the family.
Through her own scrawling cursive, I learned the heart of the former Nellie May Rudd. She outlived her husband, who died at the early age of 58, and all three of her sons. By her own accounts, she was present at each death.
She sat beside the bed of her youngest son George H. White for 26 days and watched helplessly as he starved to death from a "paralyzed throat". A young boy at school had jumped on the eight-year-old's back and "dislocated [George's] spine." The result sounded like a mother's worst nightmare. She had to watch as her young son die slowly and painfully.
This would be only the first death she recorded in the family Bible.
The second was that of her second born--Ernest Warren White. Sometimes, it is hard to read Nellie's writing, but she seems to say that "we were all with Ernest at the last." He was shot in the stomach and liver at work on Dec. 8th, died on Dec. 10th, and was finally laid to rest on Dec. 12th.
Though Nellie only hints at the cause of the shooting, family lore has always suggested that Ernest (at age 26) was shot by a jealous husband. Since philanderers seem especially prevalent on those branches of the family, it is possible to assume that Ernest found himself "fooling about" with the wrong woman.
In any case, Nellie found herself once again at the death of bed of one of her sons.
The next death she endured was that of her husband. There is only one picture of Nellie and Allie White that I know. It used to hang in our living room when I was growing up. They were a handsome pair. Allie looked classic, aristocratic, possessing that rare form of male elegance. Nellie was more sturdy in appearance, no less handsome, a classic image of a formidable New England woman at the turn of the century.
Allie was a school janitor who suffered some sort of "shock," according to his obituary. My great-grandfather Rudd found him and took him home. Within an hour, Allie White--a man of rare integrity--was dead.
One has to wonder what Nellie thought. When she turned back the covers on her cold bed at night, only one of her three sons remaining, what were her hopes for the future.
At the end of thirteen years, Rudd Lyman White, my great-grandfather, would be dead from a heart attack, "a bad heart attack," as Nellie wrote.
Her choice of words were these: "I was up all night with him & he died Sunday at 7:30 am. I was alone."
She does not give much of her thoughts and feelings. The Bible only records the events in her occasionally awkward scrawl. Still, one cannot help but be moved by her simple choice of words: "I was alone."
She would be laid to rest fifteen years later, having outlived all of the most important men in her life. The former Nellie May Rudd whose own obituary recorded her as Mrs. Allie White had been stronger than the White she married and the Whites she bore.
With a strength and forbearance that could only be matched by Mary, my great-great grandmother watched each of her sons struggle for life, sat by each of their agonizing deathbeds, undoubtedly clutched their limp, lifeless hands and prayed for them. Did she do so with typical New England stoicism? Did she cry and shout and plead? Mostly likely, she kept a silent vigil, her heart swelling with a grief and pain that she would never voice.
We live and we die, and until we die, we cry and continue to live.
Mrs. Allie White died May 6, 1956. She died ten days short of her own birthday on May 16th.
Thanks to her family Bible, I have met one of the strongest hearts I will ever know, a birthday kindred, my beautiful great-great grandmother who might've gone to bed one cold, lonely night and imagined a woman who would read her words, who would appreciate her heart, who would share that same blood, and who would someday dream of Mrs. Allie White and know her finally as Nellie May Rudd White.