Nickole Brown

Photos of Fanny

Captions by Nickole Brown


Topa and Monk had seven children, the first four all girls. The oldest is Evelyn; she’s holding Betty Sue, who was just a baby here. June is sitting on the end end of this little seat made out of branches softened and bent into the shape of a bench. Fanny is in the middle, scowling hard and pinching her own leg.  
Everyone I know has a nostalgic photo of their grandmother like this—hair up in Betty Grable curls, lashes and lips painted in by the studio. When I asked Fanny about this one, she said she had it made because Monroe said he wanted to picture to show all his friends in Indianapolis when he was working there. Note Fanny’s locket: this would be the very one she flushed down the toilet after he called her and he fell asleep while she was talking on the phone. The locket cost him two weeks’ pay.

Fanny and Monroe, with his signature cleft chin and crisp, white shirt.  When I found this picture and showed it to Fanny, she said, Damn if my belly wants just as flat as a flitter back then. Skinny Fanny ain’t so skinny no more.  
From the fur-trimmed dress and silver doorknob and silver tea set, it’s safe to say this was taken after Fanny and my grandfather came into their money. The stork on the cake suggests this was probably a baby shower, but I’m not sure. What strikes me is the look on her face—so tired, so softly dark. This photo surfaced some time after we’d lost Fanny; so I couldn’t ask her about it, but even if she were here, I don’t know if I would.


This Christmas was years before I was born, but all my life she still decorated the tree the same way—with as much tinsel as the branches could hold. Mama says this was when Monroe was in his Johnny Cash man-in-black stage, and there’s another photo in this series that shows Fanny and her sister Betty Sue wore the exact same outfit that day.  
Of Fanny’s many Cadillacs, this one I remember best. Here it is, spotless, parked in her carport in Deerfield Beach, Florida.  



In the background is me with a ribbon in my hair, studying balloons I guess. I think it was Uncle Tony’s birthday. Now, the real question is who’s getting ready to get that cake in their face. Jesus, did we always have some fun.  
Monroe working a rooftop. You can tell it’s Florida from the orange trees in the foreground.


Quintessential Fanny, fresh Pepsi in hand.  
​Fanny’s youngest, my Uncle Tony, leans in on Fanny here.  What I love best is that in her left hand is a cigarette dolled up with a white filter, and then there’s her right hand, right across me, over my heart. When I look at this photo, I swear I can still feel it there.