Stella Francis Spears Mitchell|
Stella loved to laugh, and we loved to make her laugh. It was lucky for all of us that she was such a good audience. Naturally, when we were growing up, we thought we were comic geniuses. Also that we were smart, good looking, and excellent in every way. And Stella loved to sing. She sang around the house, she sang in the car, and she sang when she got together with her 7 sisters. She sang if she knew the tune, and if she didn't know the tune she sang harmony. Stella was smart and pretty, but we loved her for her good humor.
Her family moved to Portland, Oregon, from Arkansas when Stella was 4. In the days before mini vans you could fit 6 kids in a car by alternating: one leans forward, one leans back, the next one forward. It works pretty well for the ride to church, but imagine crossing the country that way, before freeways. They moved into a house with a big garden in back; a great place to be during the depression. Stella liked to come home from school and, with an apple from the back yard, settle down with a good book. Lucky girl.
Stella did well in school. With the help of her Aunt Stella, she and her siblings were able to go to college. One after the other, they used money from Aunt Stella, and then paid back the money by giving it to the younger children to pay for their college.
After finishing college at the end of World War II she moved to Seattle. While she was working for the Seattle Housing Authority Stella met returning vet Bob Mitchell. Lucky guy. They married and had three perfect children. While Bob taught and went to graduate school, Stella raised the children. She canned vegetables, wove rugs, sewed clothes for the children, and may have written Bob's dissertation. We aren't sure, but he never denied it.
Bob got a job in Nigeria in 1959, and the family moved to Lagos. Stella made a home for all the Mitchells in West Africa for the next 18 years. While teaching grade school, she arranged the road trips, studied Yoruba, played golf, ate avocados, tolerated pet monkeys, and laughed at her children's jokes. Often we heard her say, as though telling us something we didn't know: "it's gonna be a hot one!" For heaven's sake, it was Africa. One memorable summer she planned a grand tour of Europe in a VW beetle. Fortunately she had learned the forward and back car seating technique on the trip from Arkansas to Portland, so there was plenty of room in the car. Her children were particularly perfect during that trip.
After the children grew up and moved out, she and Bob continued living abroad, in Liberia and later in Bangladesh. They returned to the US to live in Alaska, Seattle and, after Bob retired, in Arizona. Shortly before Bob's death in 2003 they moved back to Seattle.
Stella suffered from Alzheimer's disease, just like most of her siblings. Beginning in the 1990's her memory began to fail. She faded slowly, over a period of more than 15 years. Her mind failed, but she was still charming and cheerful even when she couldn't talk or recognize her children. Eventually Stella stopped using words, but she still told jokes and sang harmony when she heard somebody playing an old tune. She couldn't remember a punch line but, let's face it, she couldn't remember a punch line when she had all her wits about her. Stella had Alzheimer's for so long, and she handled it with such grace, it seemed to us that she would live forever.
But on February 12 this year Stella passed away, and we are so sad to lose her.
Remembrances may be made to The Seattle Public Library.
Published in The Seattle Times on Mar. 10, 2013