"The Gentle Nannie"
"They ever loved the gentle sister, Nannie, above all the rest."
These words were written by a genteel Christian lady of the 1890's to her prospective son-in-law, a gospel preacher of the Texas frontier who had been left a widower with two small children some three years previously. He was now seeking the hand of "the gentle Nannie" to become his wife and the mother of his motherless little son and daughter. Nannie's family did not approve. She was a shy and tender-hearted girl, by common consent the favorite of all the nine brothers and four sisters who composed her remarkable close-knit family. They were unanimous in feeling that the match was wholly unsuitable. For one thing, her suitor was nearly eleven years her senior; he had been already married and widowed; two small children of that first marriage would complicate matters. This man was largely without formal education (Nannie had been 'honor student in her graduating class at college), constantly on the road in his preaching tours, and so fiercely dedicated to his calling that no woman on earth could ever hope to hold first place in his heart. She would have only hardship, sacrifice, long days and weeks of loneliness and privation. Nannie's family felt certain she would break under the strain, and would fill an early grave, even before her life was well begun.
But gentle Nannie had a mind of her own. Beneath that mild and fragile facade was a will of iron. She had given her heart, wholly and forever, to this strong man; no matter how fierce the opposition of her family, or how deep the agony of her own soul at going contrary to their wishes, she would not turn back. And a few weeks before the wedding her mother wrote to the prospective groom, welcoming him into the family, and begging him to "let bygones be bygones" and for the sake of the family's favorite, let all past unpleasantness be forgotten. She explained to him the family's concern for Nannie, and why they had been opposed to the match — "they ever loved the gentle sister, Nannie, above all the rest."
The wedding did take place, and for nearly forty-five years Nannie shared the joys and sorrow, the toils and terrors, the hard work and suffering of a pioneer preacher's wife. "For better, for worse; in sickness and in health; in joy or in sorrow" she walked beside her mate, neither faltering not failing in the heavy duties laid upon her. Six children of her own were added to the little boy and girl whom another had borne, but whom she loved as deeply and truly as if she herself had given them life. The grief she felt when the golden haired little boy died could not possibly have been greater had he been her own flesh and blood. But helping to lighten her sorrow was her family's complete acceptance of her husband. They came to know him and respect him for the fight he was making for the truth of the gospel. The church in Texas was in the anguished throes of an irreparable division — the Christian Church was emerging as a new denomination, sweeping nearly ninety percent of the baptized believers in Texas into her embrace. Against this onrushing tide Nannie's husband fought with every weapon at his command — debates, gospel meetings. articles in the religious press, tracts, pamphlets, and books. For months at a time he would be away from home on preaching tours, leaving the entire management (and often most of the support) of his growing family on the shoulders of his wife. She accepted the responsibility with joy and enthusiasm. The one thing above all others that had won her heart during the days of courtship was this man's total dedication to Christ. She felt that in sharing his work, lessening as she could the burden upon him, she was not only serving her husband, she was also truly serving her Christ. Her religion and her marriage were so closely intertwined that it might have been hard to tell where the one ended and the other began.
But the marriage did end. In 1941 her husband laid his armor down, falling short of his "four score" years by less than a month. And Nannie was left to walk alone. More than twenty years of life were yet to be her lot, years of aching loneliness for her departed husband, but years rich in service for her Lord. With an intensity of purpose that almost defies description she set herself the task of writing letters to preachers and churches all over the world urging them to send "Ancient Landmarks" and later "Truth In Love" (gospel papers edited by one of her sons) to non Christians in their communities. She had learned to use a typewriter when well past sixty years of age, and her writing was often slow and laborious; but her daily quota of letters (twenty per week) was fulfilled in spite of sickness, travel, or any other obstacle. Literally thousands of such letters have gone into the mails these past few years. She believed (and daily prayed) that perhaps there would be some soul in heaven because of her work who might not have been there otherwise. That would be reward enough!
The years marched by with ceaseless tread. Her children grew up, married, and began to raise families of their own. Grandchildren and then great-grandchildren brightened her days as the sun of her life began to dip toward the horizon. Her health remained good, and the inner strength of an indomitable will kept her active and vigorous long after a less resolute character would have "retired". For her there could be no "retirement"; the word simply had no meaning as it related to her life. She could as easily "retire" from Christianity as to retire from her work!
But man is mortal, and must keep "that appointment with death". On September 23, 1961, in the Shannon Hospital at San Angelo, Texas, after an illness of one week, and only four months short of her ninetieth birthday, "the gentle Nannie" closed her eyes in the final sleep. The very next day, Sunday, September 24, her funeral service was conducted from the Westside Church of Christ in Cleburne, Texas, with H. Osby Weaver of Dallas speaking. Under the bright blue skies of a perfect fall day, amid the scenes of her childhood, her body was laid to rest. In death she shares a common stone with the one with whom she shared her life. The dual inscription on it reads: "Jefferson Davis Tant, 1861-1941" and "Nannie Yater Tant, 1872-1961".