NAIL, Frances Clark
Frances Clark Nail left this world December 18, 2013, after standing her ground with humor and strength against lung cancer. Born January 29, 1924, in Memphis, Texas, Frances was the youngest child of Catherine (Kate) Key Ayers Clark and Frederick Vivien Clark. She was predeceased by her parents and siblings, Freddy, who died in childhood, John, Lois Clark Carter, and Bobbye Clark Beavers. They called her Tootsie. Her father was a pharmacist and owned a drugstore on the town square, for a while. Frances knew the Great Depression, dust storms, mad dogs and bootleggers in Memphis, and the happiness of a noisy family of huggers and kissers, and daring childhood adventures. She grew up to become a yeller dawg Democrat, a newspaper addict, an artist and a writer.
The family moved to Lubbock, where Frances met Paul Conrad Nail the summer they were both seventeen. Frances studied journalism and art at Texas Tech, and would have earned a degree if she could have passed French 101. She worked at Lubbock Army Airfield during World War II. After the war Paul finished his engineering degree, and they married and moved to Houston in 1948.
Frances and Paul had two daughters. Frances led the Brownie troops, drove the carpools, sewed the costumes and kept things interesting. She formed many fast friendships and threw a decades-long string of legendary neighborhood Christmas Eve parties. She also served as president of the TSPE ladies' auxiliary, holding many a tea party-complete with a silver tea service-for engineers' wives. Through it all, Frances continued to develop as an artist. She studied with the major Houston artists of the '60s and earned a degree from the Houston Museum of Fine Art, now the Glassell School of Art. She was active in arts organizations and her work appeared in many juried shows and gallery exhibitions. During the Houston years the family had a beach house on the west end of Galveston Island. There were countless walks on the beach, shark's teeth, pots of gumbo, and winter weekends holed up listening to Leonard Cohen and reading, reading, reading.
In 1979 Frances and Paul moved to the Lakeway house that Paul designed, with a grand view of Lake Travis from a world-class front porch. Paul died young in 1985. Always the teller of family tales, at age 70 Frances became a writer. She published four books of autobiographical and personal essays and was often invited to read at book clubs and library events. Many fans came to know her Texas twang from readings and interviews on John Aielli's Eklektikos program on KUT-FM. A highlight of the era was the production of a play based on her work. Austin's late diva Karen Kuykendall portrayed Frances in the one-woman play "I'm Not the Woman I Was," bringing all the poignancy and humor that Frances had achieved in the writing. In 2006 Frances moved to the Posada del Rey condo in downtown Austin that she and Paul had purchased in 1981. She loved it there and relished being "where the action is."
Frances is survived by daughters Leslie Nail and Katy Nail, Katy's husband, Jim Swift, Katy's daughter, Carrie Rodriguez (her only grandchild, adored and duly cherished), and Carrie's partner, Luke Jacobs. Nieces and nephews, some already departed, were much loved and appreciated. She treasured her many friends and the great times they shared. She taught us how to sit quietly and absorb the beauty of the moment, or maybe the whole afternoon-a Mahalia Jackson Christmas hymn, crows cawing in the distance, or the view from the window of the study where you should probably be working on something. And she always knew what was funny. So grateful for all the wisdom and fun, we will miss her.
We'd like to thank the caregivers who helped us more than we can say: Beulah Harris, Mary Bailey, Karen Majeski, and other Right at Home staff, as well as Hospice of the Hills, with a special thank you to Kathleen. And much appreciation to Dr. David Pohl. A memorial service is being planned, date to be announced. Arrangements by Solace ECO Friendly Funeral Services, Austin TX. In lieu of flowers, please donate to AGE of Central Texas or the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from Dec. 28 to Dec. 30, 2013.