Stella died yesterday. She was 87 years old and Stella Dyll Desruisseaux had been my mother-in-law and friend for almost 31 years.
I didn't meet Stella until three days before I married Paul in July of 1977. Stella and Phil lived (as they did their entire lives) in Fall River, MA and flying to California was a big deal. Stella didn't enjoy airline travel but she had been to California once before when Paul first moved to San Francisco, and in the early 1970's she took an adventurous trip to Poland, the land of her ancestors. She was nervous about flying but she wasn't about to miss the wedding of her only son. I think it was the last airplane trip she took.
I imagine that we were both a little nervous when we met for the first time. We were about to embark on a mandatory lifelong relationship and we didn't know much about each other. Stella was friendly right away and by the time our initial visit was over, we had clicked. I knew I had made the grade in her eyes when she put her arm around me and said, "Maggie, you're a hot ticket!"
Paul and I made many visits to Fall River, and when we moved to Bethesda, MD in 1982 Stella and Phil drove down to visit us, too. Initial visits to Maryland involved touring around Washington, DC and one memorably stressful visit dedicated to home repairs and wallpapering the kitchen. I always loved that wallpaper, but I doubt that any of us would ever have attempted a group project like that again.
Once Nora arrived near Christmas in 1984 she became the focus and delight of both her grandparents. I can still see Stella, who chose to be known by the polish endearment of "Babciu" once Nora arrived, rocking back and forth with Nora snuggled on her chest. I think she would gladly have held her all day if asked. As Nora grew up Stella and Phil loved to take her for walks, especially for a swing in the neighborhood park. Stella's signature farewell to Nora always involved a hug and a kiss and a stealthy hand off of a little cash for Nora to buy herself a special treat. It was a sneaky ritual they both loved.
Stella also loved to play games with Nora. I remember the two of them sitting at the kitchen table in their bathrobes playing fish and poker. Nora was stunned when she realized that her Babciu wasn't letting her win, and most of her pennies ended up on Stella's side of the table. I had to laugh because I had had the same experience the first Thanksgiving I spent with Paul's family. Stella and all her sisters lured me into their regular post-feast poker game. Stella, Jane, Marie and Jennie were all deceptively sweet-looking card sharks who showed no mercy for the newcomer. Stella was always loveable, but when it came to cards even her dear little granddaughter had to fend for herself.
Stella's lifelong passion was The Boston Red Sox. She read about them, listened to them on the radio and watched as many games as possible on TV. She loved them, at times she was disgusted with them ("You bums," she'd call out) and no one was more excited when they finally won the World Series in 2004. The local paper even did a story about her devotion to the team accompanied by a cute picture of Stella with a Red Sox cap perched on top of the fresh hairstyle she got once a week at her local beauty parlor. Stella was a true fan.
We are leaving today to fly back to Massachusetts for Stella's funeral. It is a difficulty journey to make but it is important to honor her in the midst of all those who love her. Wife, mother, friend, Babciu... Stella was a wonderful woman. She was most definitely a "hot ticket."