Whenever Jesse LaVercombe met acquaintances of his mother's, they'd always say they'd heard all about him.
"And I'd say, 'I know you have,'" LaVercombe said. "She did the embarrassing mom-type things that I think everyone experiences, but with her they were amped up to a point that was unusual."
The exchanges embodied two of Elissa Cottle's most prominent characteristics. She spoke her mind with little concern about others' reactions. And her children were always her highest priority.
"Her big thing in life was being a loving parent," said her other son, Lucas Schumacher of Minneapolis.
Cottle died Oct. 29 of lung cancer at her home in Stillwater. She was 62.
She was born in Minneapolis, studied journalism at the University of Iowa and received a master's degree in creative writing from Hamline University. She taught creative writing classes and wrote for a number of newspapers and magazines.
She worked hard on community projects: supporting Planned Parenthood, organizing National Nights Out in Stillwater, helping establish the Zephyr Theatre in Stillwater, where she was the literary arts coordinator. Her first book of poetry, "The Receiving Quilt," was published just weeks before she died, and in those final days she gave private readings for students, friends and family.
"She was one of the most determined people I've ever met," said Patricia Francisco, a teacher at Hamline University. Because Cottle was small and quiet, "you could mistake her for someone who was not a force of nature — but she was a force of nature."
Francisco remembers an outdoor reading the Zephyr planned in summer 2020. They set up chairs and a stage — and then, on the afternoon of the event, it rained. But she insisted the show go on.
Francisco has a photo of Cottle "sitting in the middle of the empty parking lot, surrounded by empty chairs with the rain pouring down, holding an umbrella," Francisco said.
Cottle struggled with bipolar disorder and rheumatoid arthritis and was often in pain. But but she didn't let her ailments keep her from working toward her goals.
"She was pretty fearless," said LaVercombe, who lies in Toronto. "She felt comfortable everywhere."
Sometimes her sons found her quirky confidence a bit embarrassing, they said affectionately. Schumacher remembers attending an event where the movie and TV actor Jason Segel appeared in person. Cottle stood before the audience and said she'd like to have Segel perform at the Zephyr.
"This is an example of her being herself," Schumacher said. "She would never worry about what was proper — she would always just say what she thought."
But her most striking trait was her deep devotion to her sons. She celebrated their achievements, went to bat for them when needed, loved to just hang out with them. Her last wish was that when she died her two sons, and nobody else, would be with her.
And so they were, holding her hands. "It felt like a miraculous thing, really meaningful for me and Lucas," LaVercombe said.
"Were one to commission / a biographer on her behalf / it would be noted that she often finds herself / counting to three: / Two sons and herself, a joyful three," she wrote in a poem called "The Understudies."
Besides Schumacher and LaVercombe, survivors include her father, Richard Cottle of St. Paul, a special nephew, Richie Cottle, and his mother, Yanling Cottle, of Minneapolis. Services have been held.