Note from the Author: While I spend time in this series reflecting on how Emily’s grandmothers and great grandmothers influenced her love of style and adventure, I would be remiss if I did not feature some of the additional facets of Emily’s character and how these strong women helped shape her.
Stella Isabelle Wilson Groves
A woman of Faith, Courage, Compassion, Poise
Stella Groves is my mother’s mother. She was born to good Christian parents –humble, small-town people — raised during the depression to become thrifty, self-reliant, reserved, dependable. The only daughter in a house of boys, she was dearly loved. She had a big heart.
Grandma Groves raised seven children. Her husband died young. Her youngest child (my mother) was only 13 when my grandmother was widowed. She lived to be 96, long enough that she was a widow far longer than she was married.
Grandma Groves often took care of sick family members. One Halloween night, Grandma Groves stayed with her sister in law who was not well enough to attend the community Halloween party. While she and my aunt were home alone, my grandfather and uncle went back to the old two-story farm house. They left the children in the capable hands of other family members at the Halloween party. They climbed up the tree by the old farm house and tied empty shotgun shells to the family cat’s paws then set the cat inside the upstairs window. The noise of the cat would surely chase the two women out of the house and to the Halloween party or scare them to death. Instead, my little grandmother, less than half the size of my aunt, took a lantern and said she was going to go and “meet the noise whatever it was” (there was no electricity in the little house) and went upstairs to find out what was causing the terrible, frightening noise.
My mother uses this story to remind us that we must face whatever challenges we have “head on” just as Grandma Groves faced that horrible noise. I am not sure how my grandfather fared after Grandma Groves found the cat with the shells tied to its paws. She might have been small but she was feisty.
Grandma Groves dared to change her religion in a small, deeply Southern Baptist community in the 1950’s. Compassionately she invited two missionaries into her home on a hot summer day because she knew they needed a drink of water to cool off. No one else in the community would ever have considered inviting them in. She uprooted from her small southern Illinois town, leaving the only home she had ever known. She moved west with three young (unmarried) daughters.
Grandma Groves’ compassion for others showed in her daily activities. When the Spanish Flu came through her Western community, she took care of everyone in her immediate family and surrounding community. Her girls say that she had the flu much of the time. My mother says she never was quite the same after that, never quite recovering from the impact of the flu. But she never stopped because there were people to care for. She worked every day and came home every evening to take care of the sick.
Growing up I never considered Grandma Groves the adventurous type. However, uprooting young adult women and moving midlife, certainly qualifies her as adventurous. I am sure that she received a great deal of push back from members of her family for even thinking to make such a move. Her siblings lived in her same hometown. She had adult, married children who lived close by. I am sure there were strong opinions, maybe some of those opinion’s remained unspoken but they were still hard not to feel. Nonetheless she left and those three girls would never live in that small southern Illinois town again.
Regarding fashion, Grandma Groves was a seamstress. She sewed clothes not as a profession but out of necessity. She became very good at it. Some of my mother’s best, most fashionable dresses were made by her mother. My mother can talk about the details of all of her dresses, even their color to this day 60+ years later. Some of those hats she still owns.
My Grandma Groves got so good at sewing, she made my mother’s white satin, hoop skirt, multi-taffeta slip wedding dress. This was no ordinary dress. The story is that Grandma Groves broke many a sewing needle making this dress, the fabric was so thick and the skirt was so full.
Grandma Groves was always neat and tidy not only outwardly but also inwardly. Personal challenges were handled with dignity. She personified dignity and proper decorum. “Get your fascinator on” was the phrase my mother always quoted. Don’t ask me what it means. But I always knew when my mother used that phrase I needed to get myself together for whatever was next and do it quickly and efficiently. It did not matter what else was going on, I needed to tuck it all in and do what needed to be done with grace and poise.
Grandma Groves did not originate the ideology “get up, dress up, show up” but she might as well have. You bucked up and did what needed to be done. She personified proprietary. She was always perfectly groomed and quaffed—inside and out. Emily will tell you that was something that was passed on from generation to generation. When the other kids were wearing pajamas to school (for something other than “pajama day”), Emily was dressing up for class. There was never an excuse to present something other than your best self.
My personal memories of my Grandma Groves are oddly contentions. As I reflect on these memories, I realize the importance of that relationship and how essential it was to raising Emily.
I argued with my grandmother, not how you would think the kind of poised, put together woman, I described would behave. Grandma Groves was a tiny little woman of 4’10” but she could be aggressive. She would get after me. I am sure, I deserved it. Most pre-teenagers do. She stayed with us long enough while my father was in Vietnam that our relationship made an impression on me. She had plenty of grandchildren. But, she did not have many other grand children that she would pester quite like me. It frustrated me for a very long time. I figured she didn’t like me. She adored my siblings, which made it all the more frustrating.
Little did I know that Emily was going to have a strong personality from six weeks old. In fact, as time went on, we joked that Emily was born out of birth order. She always wanted to be in charge. She would have been “the mom” at five years old if I had let her.
It was a very good thing that Grandma Groves and I tugged at each other. She gave me an essential bit of training and preparation for raising Emily. My mom was the youngest of seven children. She was the peacemaker. She never caused a ripple. Grandma Groves was that fierce relationship I needed to train and groom Emily’s intense side. In combination with the Prussian (which we will talk about later), it has served her well.
Emily continues to face particularly difficult challenges that require poise and courage. As is her style, when Emily receives some particularly difficult news, she reacts for a few minutes or for a short time. Then she pulls herself together, and gets to the business at hand. I have seen her do it time and time again.
On the few occasions that I have had to coach her through a difficult time, mostly when she was younger, she has only needed a few extra minutes to be reminded how we do things. She knows, head on with grace and poise. As I write this, Emily once again has been hit with a significant, complicated challenge. The news came suddenly, and she was alone. Finding a solution will require all of the skills she has developed over the years, and she will need the traits of all the women that are her heritage. But she will come out on the other side stronger and these women will rally around her and support her just as they have done me over and over.
Now that Grandma Groves has passed on, I have felt her near many times. She is much easier on me now and is often near just when I need her most. We laugh a lot. I miss her.
You can read more about this series here.