I think that we are often spectators when it concerns the lives of our ancestors if indeed we are spectators at all. As children we may have heard a certain ancestor discussed around a Sunday dinner or in a brief passing conversation. Now in my mid-fifties I have found myself wondering about her; about my maternal great grandmother. Who was Estella Pride? How did she feel when she became Estella Pride Kernen at 28 years old? It was then and there that I realized by knowing her I would better know myself.
This was the way I originally learned about my maternal great grandmother, Estella Pride. I began to know her out of a cursory curiosity and slowly began to know her as my great grandmother. I began to know this woman who was Estella Pride. This was the woman who was to become Estella Pride Kernen. This was the woman who was to become part of me; who would always be a part of who I am. I found myself thinking about how my great grandmother must have felt as she traveled on a train from Morgantown, West Virginia to become the wife of an Iowa farmer, Carl Kernen.
How Estella Pride must have felt as a young woman who was relocating her life to become a bride, to live a life which she had no knowledge of. How it would have felt to be put on a train headed for rural Iowa which carried her, her piano, her trousseau, to a place she had never been. To a place she had never known.
Nowadays we women are taught, we are encouraged, to be strong and independent. We are taught to follow our dreams. This was not the case many decades ago. Women of that generation were expected to marry an acceptable man. They were expected to do the expected things, at the expected time, in an expected way. There was a family, there was society telling a young woman who she was and who she was to become: a married woman, a mother, a companion and a support for her spouse. There were never those options to gain an education or to have a career the way women are given those choices today.
Estella Pride may have been a bit of an anomaly in that she was several years older than the man she married. According to my grandmother, her mother, Estella, was quite secretive and sensitive about the age difference between she and her husband, Carl Kernen. So much so that it was said she did not divulge the fact of her being older until she was on her deathbed.
Estella Pride was an educated woman from a proper family. It wasn’t that my great grandfather wasn’t her equal. He was just different than her. Carl Kernen was from a different part of the country and had a different past. I have not discovered how and when my great grandmother and great grandfather had met. Was this marriage arranged for them in some way? If so, how must this have felt?
I know Estella Pride only from the time she was an elderly woman and I was a young girl. My great grandmother must have been in her early 90’s at the time. I remember how I sat in her lap when we visited her in “the old folks home.” They say that smell, the olfactory sense, is the most primitive of the 5 senses. I believe this is true. I remember Estella smelled of baby powder and Noxzema. She was a formal, proper lady. She referred to me as Julia. She was a tall woman and not one of those women who shrank away, who diminished and gradually faded away in her old age.
These are the things I have learned about Estella Pride, my great grandmother. A woman’s worth is not dictated by societal standards nor is it dictated by well-meaning family. If it is who you are or who you aspire to be, it is perfectly acceptable to be a regal, formal lady; to embody class and dignity. Estella was immaculate in both her dress and her mannerisms. She seemed to command certain behaviors, a sense of respectability, a sense of decorum. I do not think these things are often even thought of today. For me, however, when I reflect on these things my thoughts always return to my great grandmother, Estella Pride.