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Estella – A Star

May 6, 2023

Another Way for week of April 28, 2023

Estella – A Star

My would-have-been mother-in-law was a truly beautiful woman with a lovely smile and spirit. I know her only in photos but I heard a recent story about Estella that I want to share here.


During World War 2, before she got married, Estella had a summer job as a nanny for two small girls working in the home of a diplomat in Washington, D.C.  During the summer they vacationed in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts where many other elites of Washington enjoyed summer vacations.

The girls adored Estella apparently, which my husband’s family found out many years later through an unusual phone call. My brother-in-law was at home when no one else was—others hadn’t gotten off work yet or were out doing errands. When Nolan answered the phone, the caller asked if a woman named Estella Hottinger Davis lived there.

Nolan paused. Estella had died April 14, 1973 at the very young age of 56. He told the caller of the situation and then the caller paused. The woman then said that Estella had been her and her sister’s nanny during the war and they had grown so attached to Estella—even more so than to their mother apparently—that they wanted to get in touch with Estella or her family. Their mother had forbidden them to get in touch with Estella but the mother had died recently and they decided to hire a private detective to try and track Estella down.

Nolan remembers chatting a bit more with the daughter who called but eventually the phone call came to a close.

That story tells me much about the personality and spirit of the mother-in-law I didn’t have. My husband Stuart and his brothers mourned their loss for many years. Stuart would break down from time to time if I asked a lot of questions about his mother, which told me how much he loved her and regretted some of the things he had done as a teenager. I regretted that I never knew her.

Estella suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis. After she had her first two sons and had experienced less pain and disability while she had been pregnant with her second son, Nolan, a doctor told her to go ahead and try to have another baby because it could help her again from the pain of that type of arthritis. And so my husband Stuart was born. Unfortunately, the pains returned and the family dealt with the situation the best they could. She persevered. Estella was especially saddened when she could no longer go their Lutheran church with the family, which was very important to her.

Hershal and Estella on their front porch.

Eventually Estella died from bleeding ulcers because of all the aspirin, Darvon, and cortisone she had to take just to get through the day. This was long before other modern pain relievers were created. 

Estella had four sisters who were all close and who assisted Estella’s family through many years of pain and disability. The sisters would take turns visiting Estella, helping cook, clean, and do summer canning from the family’s bountiful and well-cared for garden. The older boys soon learned to be excellent cooks themselves. My father-in-law Hershel’s garden was so well known in Bridgewater where the family lived that the local newspaper featured him several times working his garden.

Hershal, oldest son Richard, and Estella

We gave our youngest daughter the middle name of Estella which she is very proud to have. The name in Latin means “Star.” My daughters and I have all been touched by the strength and faith of this grandma and mother-in-law we were never privileged to know personally. I’m a little surprised, but shouldn’t be, to find myself wiping tears away even now. I hope to meet her someday.


Comments? Or your own story? Something you found out only recently? We’d love to hear!

Share here or write to me privately at Another Way, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834, or email

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of ten books, most recently Memoir of an Unimagined Career. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication

  1. I find it interesting that your husband may have been conceived partly to relieve the pain of his mother’s arthritis. There are many different directions one could go with this bit of information . 😀

    Estella has a kind face–and obviously had a kind heart–if the women she cared for took such pains to contact her so many years later.

    A great story, Melodie. That it’s part of your heritage makes it all the more poignant.

    • Thank you for your warm reflections here. Yes, that is the story at least, that the doctor encouraged her to have another baby.

      I like the heart shape of her hairline in the first picture I posted, truly a heart of gold–amid her pain. You also seem to have a heart of gold and lovely spirit. Have a good Sunday!

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