Saturday, January 29, 2011

Aunt Stella

My aunt Stella Wood recently passed away at the remarkable age of 106. I received a copy of the eulogy delivered by her daughter-in-law. I found it delightful and unexpectedly humorous.

Anyway, from my childhood I recall Aunt Stella as acutely intelligent with a regrettably sharp eye for funny business. Despite her churchly ways, she had an uncanny sense of when boys might be acting like boys. I liked her in a distant sort of way.

I am posting it here with only some small deletions of little interest to most readers. I had originally thought to delete some of the religious invocations near the end of the eulogy, but decided they should stay in because her religion was central to defining her life. And we're talking the old-time religion of the Southern Baptists, not some watered-down Protestant sect.

Stella Florence Edmison Wood
October 16, 1904 to January 10, 2011

I am Taunya Wood the only remaining daughter-in-law of Stella, and the family member...that knew her the shortest period of time, just 34 years. Even though I didn’t meet Stella until she was 73 years old, which for most of us will be in our elderly years, it was for Stella part of her middle-aged years.

Stella was born on October 16, 1904 near Harmony, Illinois to John Robert and Laura Edmison. She had two younger brothers, Arthur and Krekel, both who died before Stella but both lived into their 90’s. She lived in the Harmony area on a farm until she was in 8th grade and the family moved to Mt. Vernon, Illinois. Other than a brief period after she married, in which she lived in West Virginia, she spent her entire life in Mt. Vernon. After the family moved into Mt. Vernon she attended Mt. Vernon High School where she graduated. She worked after high school in the Ham Bank until it was closed.

She began dating Kenneth Glee Wood in high school and married him in 1928. He was the only love of her live for 35 years and remained that until the end as she had several marriage proposals after his death but turned them all down as she didn’t want to take care of any old men. Stella was active in the Mt. Vernon’s Women’s Club, the Daughter’s of the American Revolution or DAR, and the Mission Group at Logan Street Baptist Church, and the Sunday School program at Logan Street Baptist Church.

If I had to summarize Stella’s personality in just a phrase it would be a “family and people person.” She loved to talk and could talk to anyone. Even in the nursing home Stella was matched with a deaf lady as her roommate because Stella talked continually disturbing others. She was a great story teller and loved to tell stories of her past. She also loved to tell anyone who would listen but particularly her grandchildren about every object in her home, where it came from and who was to get it upon her passing. I was able to attend one of her Women’s Club Meetings and as she worked the room of her friends she was able to greet and speak to all. She would regularly go to “the old folks home” to visit those she knew. She would spend time with each person and then gracefully make an exit.

Family was very important to Stella...She had two sons, Richard and Robert and a baby girl Lorita who died shortly after birth. Stella parented her children with much wisdom and matched their wits with an equal amount of stubbornness. Richard recalls the time he decided to run away from home because he was mad at his mom. He was about 5 years old when he made this major decision. His mom didn’t argue but went to the kitchen made a sandwich, tied it up in a bandana on a pole and helped him out of the house sending him on his way down the street. Richard said he walked to the end of the block, decided he had made a bad decision, turned around, and walked back home.

Bob has a similar story of his mom’s persistence and parenting techniques. Bob was about 12 years old and had been told by his mom to put the screens on the window and he had not done the task but was lying on the bed instead. Stella took her flyswatter and used it on Bob’s backside. After a good swat or two the end of the flyswatter flew out the window. She turned around walked outside to get the end of it, put it back on came back and proceeded to continue her discipline on Bob. The end flew off again and out the window. She again walked outside picking it up but by the time she returned Bob was hysterical with laughter and Stella wisely turned and walked away.

Stella maintained her parenting authority over her sons until the last years of her life. Somewhere about the age of 99 or 100, Richard came to visit his mother during the summer and was wearing walking shorts showing his legs. Stella took one look at him and told him those shorts had to go as they did not look good on him and he needed to wear his pants. Richard hasn’t worn a pair of walking shorts since then.

Stella was a modern working mom before working mothers were in vogue. She began working with Glee in the L.S. Wood Printing shop about 1946 when she would have been 42 yrs old and continued working after Glee passed away in 1963. In 1975 when she turned 71 yrs old, Bob persuaded her it was time to give up working at the shop and retire. Stella continued to let him know for at least 3 months that this was a major mistake before she finally accepted retirement.

The longevity of Stella’s life gave her much insight into many of the changes that life brought in the 20th and 21st century. Stella started her life with a horse and buggy. She married Glee whose love for travel was embedded into the family life...she traveled by car with Glee and her sons and usually other family members or friends to all 48 continuous states, Mexico and Canada. Glee usually gave her notice about noon that the family would leave the next morning to go on some road trip he had planned. Stella was always ready to go. In 1975, Stella flew on an airplane for the first time to London to visit all of Europe and Turkey. In her late 70’s and early 80’s she traveled to Alaska and Hawaii so that she could say she had been in 50 states.

I also remember she received her first microwave when she was in her early 80’s. She didn’t really think she needed one but agreed to accept the gift. Several years later this microwave went out and she insisted it be replaced as she couldn’t cook without it. We tried to get Stella into the computer world but at 100 years old she never could get the hang of email. She much preferred to use her old Royal typewriter to type her weekly letters to those she corresponded with. The Royal typewriter gave out because we could no longer find the typewriter tape to fit it.

Stella loved to drive her car. She drove to the airport in St. Louis and to state conventions in Chicago until into her mid 80’s. She was the local driver for all of her lady friends around Mt. Vernon and would do a pick up for church or Woman’s Club Meetings. At the age of 92, after calls from the local law enforcement about several fender benders, Bob finally called Richard and said, “We have to take Mother’s car away.” Even at the age of 102 she was still complaining about her freedom being taken away when the boys took away her car.

Stella moved in with her parents in the late 1960’s as they needed help with their care. She continued living in their small house at 1708 Logan Street until the age of 90. She took care of the house, gardened in the back, and mowed the yard with a push rotating motor, no gasoline and washed her clothes with a wringer washer and hung them on the line to dry. Finally she decided the yard work was too much and she sold the house and moved into an apartment. She lived at the Tanglewood Apartments where she met a group of other widowed ladies and they started a Skipbo group that played cards several times a week. At the age of 99, Stella finally agreed even the apartment was too much and decided to move to assisted living at Greentree. She enjoyed her almost 5 years there. She lived at Greentree until 104 when her health and mind would no longer allow her independent living and she moved into Countryside Manor.

Stella loved being a grandmother to her grandchildren and great grandchildren. I was not around when the older grandchildren were young, but my daughter spent many hours playing games such as checkers, Chinese checkers, Uno and SkipBo with her grandmother. She was very proud of the many things her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren accomplished throughout their lives and would proudly tell anyone who wanted to listen...The family owes a special tribute to her granddaughter Leesa who has for the past several years been Stella’s advocate and caregiver both emotionally and physically...

Stella was a very strong willed person with a gentle heart for people. Bob remembers a story about when Stella and Glee would have a disagreement and Glee would turn up at his parents’ house alone and his parent’s would know that he and Stella would have had a spat. Glee would walk out and Stella would be doing the talking. She had no problem telling people what she thought if given the opportunity. Recently, a young lady was visiting with Stella and complaining about problems with her boyfriend. Stella’s word of advice was to the point and filled with the wisdom of her age. She simply replied, “Honey, if you hitch your wagon to a jackass, don’t be surprised if you step in manure.” How true, how true!

For all of the spunkiness that Stella exhibited the most important trait and the one she would want to be remembered for is her faith in Jesus Christ...Stella taught Sunday School at Logan Street Baptist Church for 58 years. During those years she taught a Junior High Class, a High School Class and an adult ladies class. She also played the piano for these classes and was asked to be organist at one time at Logan Street but turned that down because she didn’t feel she could commit to it regularly due to the family traveling. I had the privilege of hearing Stella teach her senior adult ladies, most who were at least 20 years younger than Stella. She was a well studied Biblical scholar who could deliver a well planned lesson and apply it to today. She spent hours preparing for her class each week.

At about the age of 94 she gave up teaching because it made her nervous to have to study so much because she couldn’t remember as much as in the past so she had to study more and write everything she said down. I also recall Stella reading her Bible every single day of her life until her eyesight gave out. She gave her tithe to the church every month for as long as she handled her finances.

Most important of all she lived her life as an example of faith and loved people without judgment for who they were or where they had been. She feed the hungry and gave to the poor. She believed in missions and worked through her church to be a part of that. Stella grew up Methodist but after she and Glee married they joined Logan Street Baptist church. Her dedication to church is certainly a marvel that few people can claim these days, but that is not what impressed me most about Stella. It was her deep and profound Biblical understandings and her attempt to live them out. Stella had read the scriptures, thought about them, talked about them and applied them, to influence the lives of the people she encountered. She was not pushy with her faith, but she was solid in what she believed, and she knew why she believed it. She had encountered God in her life and she would share it when asked. My favorite story is the one she told about the birth of Richard. It apparently was a very tough and long birth. She was very weak and as time would later tell, Richard had been born with a hole in his heart, so he was not the strongest of babies. She says that as she lay in bed after the delivery she looked up and on each of the post of the bed there were 4 angels surrounding the bed. They assured her that everything would be alright. When she told the story she would say, “And I saw those angels just like I see you now.” I’ve never doubted the existence of angels since.

One of Stella’s favorite biblical subjects was heaven. She had read all of the scriptures and knew about the mansions of gold but she believed with all her heart that upon her death that she would be met by Glee and her mother and others that she knew here on earth. They would be there to lead her to Jesus. Once she got to see Jesus she believed she would no longer need to recognize her earthly loved ones because the glory that would surround the presence of God would be such that nothing else would matter. Stella had strongly prayed for about 5 years that God would take her home. Last Monday He answered that prayer and the celebration began for Stella. We are grateful O God, for the 106 plus years we knew Stella on this earth and for the many people whose lives were, and have been changed because of her influence and her profound study and understanding of scriptures. Help us to understand what Stella understood, that finding our way into Your presence is the only thing that matters. We celebrate with Stella knowing that today she is surrounded with thousands of angels as she stands in the presence of the Almighty God!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing a life well lived, Doug.