The first great tragedy Stella had to suffer in her life was the lose of her brother Willie. Willie was 19 years old when he died of pneumonia, about 1920. Penicillin would not be discovered for another eight years. It would not be readily available until 1945. Willie had gone to a local gym to play basketball. He left the gym with a wet head making his immune system weak and susceptible to disease. Willie had everything to look forward to in life. He was engaged to be married to his sweetheart. He left many hearts broken the day he left this earth. The remainder of Stella's life she would talk fondly of her brother. One of those rules my grandmother Stella lived by would be "let bygones be bygones". She didn't talk much about tragedies of the past. The people who had gone by were exactly that. We should live for the here and now, she would say. I like to believe all that is true, but I like to throw in the rule that we should remember the past lest we repeat it. I want to remember the past. I want to not repeat the lessons others have learned before me.
Stella finished high school in Ashton. She and her parents had moved to a farm closer to Mellette. Garrett was share cropping now. Stella was looking forward to finding a job. Northwestern Bell had opened a new phone office in Mellette and they were looking for phone operators. She took the job. She also took a boyfriend, Louis. Louis was a Mellete boy, very handsome, a wild child. Stella's parents didn't approve of this character she had connected to. Louis' mother and father were divorced. His mother had moved to Minnesota, and his father had taken a new wife. He was being raised by the village who were keeping an eye on him for their own sake as much as for him. The Arthur's took him in on occassion. The Howard's on the east end of town looked after him some too. Louis was good with animals, the farmers liked to hire him to help with weeding of the herds. He got involved in some of the local cattle drives too. He was a teenager. He could look after himself. It was the late twenties early thirties. He could run some moonshine around the county, he was good at evading the sheriff. He made good money doing that. He was determined not to work with his brothers who wanted to take over their father's butcher shop. He would take on his own adventure. He decided electrician. He didn't mind high spots. He went out on the trucks to fix high wires all over the country. It made him good money. He wanted to make an honest women out of Stella, make her parents like him, and he mostly wanted a farm. He wanted a farm with his own horses more then anything in the whole wind world.
One night he went on a moonshine run. Everything was typical the pickup went smooth. He did the drop off successfully, but the sheriff saw him. Louis jumped in the car and high tailed it to the Howard's barn. He lost the sheriff long enough to store the car in the barn. He casually walked from the barn, but the sheriff saw him. The sheriff and him were now on foot. Louis dashed to the phone building where Stella was working. He was hoping the sheriff hadn't seen him.
"Stella hide me. The sheriff is chasing me . . . He just saw me leaving my drop." he said.
Quick thinking Stella told Louis to hide under her petticoat, he did. The Sheriff entered the building.
" Stella have you seen that young O'Donnell boy in here?"
"Why no officer, not in here." Stella said innocently, grabbing the next call to the party line.
The officer after scanning the room left knowing he could have a talk with boy later.
Louis was right where he wanted to be, wrapped up in the legs of the girl he knew he was going to marry some day.
"When are you done?" said Louis from beneath the skirt.
"Shh, he might come back", hushed Stella. She knew he wouldn't but Louis needed to be put in his place.
Louis and Stella did make a date of it that night, and in the spring of 1935 they were pregnant with my mother. They were not yet married, since Stella's parents didn't exactly approve of Louis. Plus that Louis' family life was complicated. Stella and Louis grabbed a couple of friends for witnesses and headed to the next county in Faulkton SD. They got hitched in May 1935, and Coral arrived in October 1935.
The first eleven years of their married life they lived in a small house on the north side of Mellette. They both worked as hard as they could to earn enough money to buy a farm. They ate food that the neighbors would give them. They raised chickens and ate eggs sometimes three times a day. Louis' new wife turned out to mellow his father. That helped. Louis' father Mike ran the grocery store, and Olive his new wife was more than happy to watch Coral when they needed time to themselves. Stella had her work cut out for her. Louis was ambitious, but also reckless. He still wanted to run moonshine. She had to put an end to that. It did end one night when Louis came home with gun shots all along the car. Louis also liked to drink the stuff way too much as well. Stella decided that the one piece of amunition she had against this wicked evil of alcohol was his reputation. Louis wanted people to like him, it was very important to him. She was vocal to all of Louis' friends whenever he would get out of hand with the alcohol. Eventually, Louis did grow up. The ambition won. In 1946, Stella and Louis bought their farm. They moved to the farm with their two daughters. My mother became the boy of the family since Louis needed help. They worked hard. Eventually Louis bought a couple of real nice quarter horses with blood lines to boot. He was not a rodeo person. He was a horse show kind of person. He took his Chico, & Billy to the horse shows and won many ribbons. Stella's man was a prim and proper cowboy. The hat, the jacket, and the well polished boots.
It was a good life, with good friends. Louis pondered the corn crop, and Stella focused on raising her girls to be proper ladies, proper pioneer ladies just like her mother had done with her. Coral was a tom-boy, and Joy was her little girl. Joy helped her with the house and the farm yard, and Coral was out in the fields helping her Dad.
Before Stella and Louis could blink their eyes their girls were grown up. Coral wanted to go to school in Kansas City, Joy wanted to move to Minneapolis. Another turn and their girls were both married with children of their own living their own lives.
More next time . . .