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Sunday, March 9, 2014

52 Ancestors #10: Edith Rosetta Stefani, A Twentieth Century Woman

     Friday was my grandmother, Edith Rosetta Stefani Kells,'s birthday so I thought the next post should be for her. Edith was born on 7 March 1895 in Issaquah, Washington.  Her father, Frank Stefani, had come from Sporminore in the Italian Alps and her mother, Angelina Tinetti was from Torre Canavese in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy. Frank wouldn't speak Italian or let her mother speak it, though, because he felt they were Americans now.  So she grew up in an American speaking household. Edith was the third child and oldest daughter in a family of seven children. Two of her brothers died very young which must have been upsetting to her. 

     Her parents were hard working, struggling Italian immigrants. To supplement the food supply her father often went hunting for small animals and frogs. The children had doubts about the frog legs because they jumped about in the skillet. They sometimes had only "black soup", a scorched flour and water mixture which they greatly disliked but ate because they were hungry. Later they ate plenty of fruit from their own trees plus milk and eggs from their own cow and chickens. They also raised a pig for meat.

     As a little girl Edith knew there really was a Santa Claus because once she peeked and saw a hand hanging a Jumping Jack from the tree.  Later she found out it was the hired man! On Christmas Eve the children put out their shoes beside the door for Father Christmas to fill with nuts. If they had been bad they were supposed to find coal instead, but no one ever did.

     Frank Stefani owned a saloon and eventually a laundry. All the children worked in the laundry with Edith and her sisters doing the washing and ironing there. About the time Edith was in High School, Frank was able to buy a small Chicken Farm.  This became the site for family gatherings for years.

    When Edith was due to graduate from Eighth Grade she was the only one who passed the State Boards. She went to one year of High School but then left due to the need to earn money to help out at home.  She went to Secretarial College in Seattle. This was unusual at the time but Edith wanted skills for a career. She found jobs as a Secretary in business offices in Seattle.  She would take the ferry to Seattle on Sunday evening and return to Issaquah Friday evening. On the ferry she met Lucas Kells, a young man who also went to Seattle all week and came back to Issaquah on the weekend. Luke wooed her and on 15 Aug 1916 they were married. On 19 May 1917, their first son, Lyman Francis, was born.  He was named Lyman for Luke's brother and uncle, both Lyman. Francis was for her father, Francesco, and both the brothers who died who also had Francis in their names. On May 7, 1920 twins were born. She didn't know she was having twins until she had the first and discovered there was another one! They weren't prepared for this and it caused some stress. She later felt that she had ignored Lyman because of all the attention the twins had required. The twins were Margaret Edith and Milton Carlisle. Margaret for Luke's oldest sister, Edith for Edith herself, Milton for the poet and Carlisle for Luke(it was his middle name). On 27 Sep 1922, Doris Muriel Kells arrived. I don't think she was named for anyone, they just liked the names!

     Edith raised the children, took care of the house and all the things a woman was supposed to do. She helped the kids in their schooling and other activities such as scouting, Campfire Girls and music. All four children loved music especially singing, Margaret played the piano as well. In the summer they would go to their cabin on the Olympic Peninsula at Brownsville. Luke would come on the weekends. Some summers they would go with Luke to visit his sister and other family in Minnesota. Almost every Sunday the family would drive to Issaquah to visit Edith's family on the farm. During the Depression money was tight. Luke would sometimes take goods for his services instead of money because his clients couldn't pay cash.  Edith didn't like that! Edith tried to make sure her children had what she had lacked and longed for in her childhood.

     The kids all went to the University of Washington and lived at home but by WW II things changed.  Lyman and Milton went to New York and participated in the Manhattan Project as Physicists. Margaret married Jack Peterson and went to Boston while he went to Harvard Business School as part of being in the Army Quartermaster Corps. Meanwhile, Luke had Parkinson's Disease and it became progressively worse. Edith tried to take care of his herself at home but it got to a point she couldn't manage. He would not know her anymore and get violent. So he went to Washington State Hospital at Fort Steilacom and died there on  6 Oct 1946.

     Edith was a widow at 51 years. So she dusted off her secretarial skills and took a job as an Elementary School Secretary at the nearby school of Madrona. Here her kids had gone to grade school. She held that job for 18 years before retiring. She moved to the North End in Seattle and devoted her time to taking care of the yard and garden, making Christmas cookies, and visiting her grandchildren and her and Luke's family around the country. She and her sisters, Mary and Dell, and their sister in law, Peechie, were very close.  They visited on the phone almost daily and got together often. I lived with her, my mother and my sister from 1960 to 1966. From 11 years to 17 years in my case, not my best years. We often rubbed each other wrong. But she also taught me to play Solitaire (I still play by what I call "my grandmother's rules" and other people call "cheating"!) and Gin Rummy and Pinochile.

     Edith aged gradually but eventually needed a wheel chair.  She was still able to knit, embroider and play cards though. During the last year she was able to see all her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren as well as close members of her own Stefani family. This is what mattered most to her because family love and activity had been her life-long concentration and happiness. Edith died on 21 Nov 1982. She was cremated and her ashes lie beside her husband at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle. She told her children that she had lived a good life of 87 years and was ready to leave. Here is the poem I wrote for her shortly after she died.

          My Grandmother's Eyes

          My Grandmother's eyes
          in the old school photos
          so solemn,
          from hard work and sorrow.

          My Grandmother's eyes
          in a moment of love,
          so soft,
          unaccustomed to softness.

          My Grandmother's eyes
          in her last years of life,
          so weary,
          in pain closed forever.

          My Grandmother's eyes
          in my own daughter's face,
          so eager,
          my Grandmother's eyes
          live forever.

1 comment:

  1. One correction - she worked as a secretary at McGilvra Elementary School in the Madison Park neighborhood, not Madrona school. McGilvra was still not too far from her home in the Madrona neighborhood, but wasn't just down the street! When we moved north to the Lakeview/Wedgewood neighborhood, she had to take a bus downtown, then another bus to McGilvra.