Stella Dabbs, on her own

On December 27, 1943,  at six in the morning, Eugene called to Stella,  “Stella! Stella!, Billy just called.  He said he’s married.”
  There was a long pause before Stella was heard calling down from the second floor.  “Whom did he marry?”
 “I don’t know,” Eugene responded.  “I didn’t ask.”
 Stella immediately began calling around the community to find out if anyone was missing a daughter, per chance.  Just so as not to raise any suspicion, Lynda Corbett Dabbs recalls, both Billy and Lynda had dates with different people the night they married each other.  After their dates they met and eloped to Wysacky where they woke up a Justice of the Peace who performed the service.  Lynda had one semester left to finish her college degree, but Billy was on Christmas leave from the Navy and wanted to get married.   After she insisted that they wait she began to have second thoughts.  He was just so good looking and he might meet someone else while she was sitting at home waiting.
When Stella finally connected up with the Corbetts and realized that Lynda Corbett was the bride, she felt the family had an obligation to have a reception for the two newly-weds.  The family went into high gear, recalls Louise, and began squeezing orange after orange for orange-juice and calling neighbors to invite them to the house for an afternoon reception.  Lynda was absolutely exhausted, having not slept at all the night before and then standing in a receiving line that afternoon.  Stella slipped her wedding ring on Lynda’s hand when they first arrived.  She thought a new bride should at least be wearing a wedding ring.  Years later Lynda would treat herself to the diamond that she had always wanted and Billy would pay for it.  It was a good investment.
The next day Eugene Dabbs, Jr., told his wife, Stella, he thought he’d take the bus into Columbia to the Veterans Hospital.  A very heavy man now, Dabbs had been plagued with heart problems for several years and it was not unusual for him to catch the bus that went right in front of their house on Highway 378 and go to the Veterans Hospital in Columbia for a few days to get things checked-out.  He had been in the hospital before Christmas, evidently checking himself in and out at will, and had returned home for the holidays. His last stay would be only for two days.  A friend reported going to visit him and having a casual chat.  He appeared to be upbeat and improving.  He turned to leave and when he got to the door and turn around to say good-bye, Eugene Dabbs, Jr., was dead.
Stella, always a no-nonsense woman to begin with, was even more focused and on-task now.  As she moved around the house to make funeral plans, she went into the kitchen to tell Lovella Ceasar who had cooked for the family for years that Mr. Dabbs was dead.  Lovellla let out a shriek and began wailing.  “Get a hold of yourself, Lou,” Stella snapped, and then gave her a shake.  “If I can handle this, you can too.”
And thus began Stella’s life as a widow.  She was  48 years old having just lost a son in the war with two sons still fighting overseas, one daughter in college and two younger boys  at home helping to support a struggling farm.  For the next forty-one years of her life she would remain at Whitfield becoming every bit the matriarch of her children and their families.  She became a legend in her own time with daughters-in-law struggling to maintain their own independence and families while their husbands felt obligated to respond to their mother’s frequent demands.  Grandchildren placed her on a pedestal and heeded her advice.   Unaware of the difficult times in her life, they saw her only as a grand lady of significant importance in whose fine home manners, education and good public appearances were highly valued.  She favored her grandsons and lectured to her granddaughters the importance of finding good husbands – doctors and lawyers were highly recommended.  “It’s just as easy to marry rich as it is to marry poor, so marry rich,” she would say.  Doctors and lawyers are numbered throughout the family today, and she would be surprised to know that many of those doctors and lawyers are her  grand and great-granddaughters.
An invitation to dinner was an event.  There were certain protocols that were expected.  As always, manners were of the utmost importance.  She maintained that manners would take you a long way, which proved to pay off for most of her grandchildren.  You were never allowed to address her as “grandma,” but only “Grandmother.”  Dinner was announced with the ringing of a bell.  No one sat down before Grandmother did. Gentlemen always pulled out the seat for the lady on either side of him.  Elbows were never seen on a table.  Everyone sat up straight – no slumping allowed.  Children were to be seen, but rarely heard unless they were having a private dinner with Grandmother in which case, there were deep philosophical discussions with her on how to be successful in life.  “Keep your reputations spotless until you turn 21 and then you can do anything you want and no one will believe you did it.”  She became known for numerous quotes that she shared frequently with wit and charm:
“It ain’t my baby, so I ain’t gonna rock it.”
“What’s the difference between a gum-chewing girl and a cud chewing cow?  The difference?  Oh, I see now.  It’s the intelligent look on the face of the cow.”  I have never chewed gum in my life because of that quote.
“You can get along on your good looks until you’re 30 and then probably get along on a good personality between 30-60, but after 60, the old lady needs cash.”
And when the conversation became too depressing or disheartening she’d  simply say with a gentle laugh, “Let’s just go sit on the porch and sing.”
Her beautiful camellias, gardenias, and azaleas from her gardens were ever present as floral centerpieces leaving distinctive aromas that became associated with “Grandmother’s house.”  A year before she died as she sat in bed suffering from dementia, when she’d hear the doorbell ring she’d  frequently ask if someone had put out fresh flowers for the guests.  Once as I sat by her bed telling her that a few people would like to speak to her, she sat up straight and leaned over to prompt me, “Now look animated, my dear.  Look animated.”
Never at a loss for a quick comeback,  and always very private about physical ailments and aches and pains, Stella didn’t have much time for doctors and even less time to listen to people’s personal complaints.  “Don’t tell me about the labor, just show me the baby,” was her standard response to grandchildren showing off new babies.  She stopped counting or even trying to remember names.  On a visit with my four month old child in 1976 she greeted us as we came in the front door, smiled and patted the baby on the head and then called Blossom, who was back in the kitchen cooking the meal.  Blossom, come see this cute child,” she smiled and then added.  “Please put a door between us and him until after lunch,” which Blossom did.  Lunch was served and we neither saw nor heard our baby again until we got ready to leave.  Many times since then in the process of raising our family, my husband and I have called out to our fictitious maid in the kitchen, “Blossom – oh Blossom – come quickly and put a door between us and this child.”
One evening during her last year of life Stella was taken to the emergency room after a series of small pin strokes during the night.  As they were admitting her to the hospital, the nurse asked her daughter, Louise, if Mrs. Dabbs had false teeth.  Louise was startled.  “I don’t know,” she replied.  The nurse leaned over and spoke loudly, “Mrs. Dabbs!  Mrs. Dabbs!  DO YOU HAVE FALSE TEETH?”
 Stella opened her eyes slowly and glowered at the nurse.  “If ignorance is bliss, what fool wants to know?” 
Eugene W. Dabbs, Jr., and Stella had six children.  The five surviving children each had four surviving children (8 males and 12 females).   This family would be the most prolific extension of the Dabbs Family in both numbers and characters and having fun.  This is a fun family. When they are together, they are telling stories and laughing, and at the head of the table in spirit is their grandfather, Eugene W. Dabbs, Jr.  I believe that this is the very special gift that he gave the family and it is regretful that he did not live long enough to see and enjoy his grandchildren, whom he would have adored; so many little girls he would have built  fires for  in the middle of the night when they got cold.  There are many family reunions, parties, weddings and yes, even funerals, he would have loved.   Then at the other end of the table sits Grandmother, with a critical eye and slight upturn of the edge of her mouth in a cautious smile.   She is still guardian of social etiquette and the standard bearer for great expectations.   For as EW Dabbs, Sr.,   said, “Blood will tell, my son. Blood will tell.”
Everyone of the descendents in this family in their own and unique way could easily have a book written about their lives and the many stories they have to tell.