Nickole Brown

About Fanny

a.k.a. Frances Lee Cox

Frances Lee Cox was born Frances Lee Harris of Bowling Green, Kentucky, to her parents, Topa and Monk.  She was called “Fanny” her whole life and died on December 5, 2004, in Deerfield Beach, Florida.  She wouldn’t care for anyone to know her age, but it’s safe to say that she lived long enough to marry Monroe Jackson Cox and have seven children by him: Barry Lynn; Monroe Cox, Jr., “Butch”; LaTonna Siers, “Toni”; Gary Dean; Candies LaRayne, “Candy”; my mother, Lesi Annette, “Lisa”; her baby, Tony J., was born only four years before me and is the closest thing I’ll ever know to a big brother.  There’s a multitude of grandchildren and great-grandchildren I won’t list here, but I dedicated this biography of her, in part, to the memory of my cousin, Eric Cox, who died tragically and too young.

Fanny was survived by her sister and best friend, Betty Sue Crawley, as well as her brothers Billy and Stevie Harris. On Saturday, December 18, 2004, a celebration of her life was held at Pleasant Grove Baptist, one of many churches in Kentucky built by her late husband in the 1960s.  A simple marker with her name and a bluebird carved in stone can be found in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville.

About writing this book, a note from Nickole:

It’s not truth I’m after, but authenticity.  If I botched a story, I apologize—I didn’t mean to tell anyone’s truth but my own.  And if you knew Fanny and I told a story different than you know it, you know and I know Fanny told her stories over and again, each time changing the details just a bit.  Maybe you weren’t there on the same day; maybe she changed the truth, just for me.   

What I can vouch for is that the prose pieces in this book—almost every poem with a title that begin with “Fanny Says”—are word-for-word.  I didn’t write those poems: I simply wrote them down, as she said them, mostly during that time when she was bedridden and had nothing left but talk.  She knew I was writing it all down, and sometimes, would ask me to repeat it back, just to make sure I didn’t mess anything up.  I can’t say I’d ever been so happy and so sad at the same time in all my life. Generally, I would listen all night, and about four in the morning, she would say, “Well, we might as well go to bed now, Koey. I think we’ve talked just about everybody. . . . Unless you think there’s somebody we ain’t covered?”

In terms of “research”—if you can call it that—I can name the artifacts I used to bring me to her.  When I lost her, my inheritance consisted of a Prada bag—her favorite—in bubble-gum pink, and in it, I’ve saved the following: a pair of her terrycloth house slippers; a mess of her hair rollers and clips; one of her plastic cigarette filters and a gold lamé cigarette case; a scrap of paper with her practiced signature; a few orphaned chandelier crystals; an empty bottle of her nerve pills; an empty bottle of her hair color; a few stray bullets; and a pamphlet from Jefferson County Family Court leftover from the day I took her there to file an Emergency Protective Order against her husband, my grandfather. This is it—all I have of my grandmother I can hold—so I used held these fragments in my hand every day that I wrote these poems. There are photos too, but not many, as my family never was one for pictures.

Most importantly, there are my notebooks—a whole drawer of them dated back to 1992—full of her stories, as I always did write down just about everything Fanny said. My memory is unreliable and moody, so I needed every bit of what I had to get back to her.

What I couldn’t trace back for certain I filled in with my own skewed, muddied, and beloved memories. I wrote this book because I don’t want to forget her, and because I want all those kids that came along after she was gone to know.  (Little ones in my family, put your fingers to your wrist.  You feel that? Your pulse might be all you need to remember; it’s her blood running through your veins.) And I suppose I want the reader to keep her alive, too. I hope at least the reader will laugh at Fanny’s cock-eyed stories, maybe even live for a spell in Fanny’s particular kind of world, or maybe even remember their own grandmother, which is why I’ve set up “The Bingo Hall” page on this website.  Most importantly, I want folks who have never met anything like my grandmother in their whole life, to somehow gather up some of what Fanny had, and if need be, pick herself up from a difficult situation and walk straight past, as Fanny taught me to do, with her head held high.

Interview with Nickole Brown about Fanny Says {PDF}