"STELLA!" is the ear-piercing and heartrending proclamation of Brando's Stanley Kowalski. While an image of Brando standing in the rain and wailing may be the one that leaps to the forefront of most people's minds upon hearing "STELLA!", it is not mine. Rather, upon mention of the name Stella I think first - as I have since I was a but a small boy - of my sister Kara.
For reasons neither has ever explained to me, when Kara and Jill played field hockey together at W-H a lifetime ago, the girls on the team developed the habit of attaching "little old Jewish lady" nicknames to one another. I know not whether everybody had one for I cannot recall three decades later whether Jill had such a nom de play. Kara - who was an award-winning goaltender on what were year in/year out excellent teams - became "Stella". I do not know if the assignment of the aliases was done in part to confuse the opposition (by calling your teammate by her canasta name as opposed to her given name) but even if that was the plan, it would have made little sense to envelop Kara in it. She was the goalie after all. Even I, who spent at least six years watching more field hockey than any one human being should be forced to endure without learning most of the rules, knew from watching that goalies are not permitted to roam the field. Hence, it was pretty damn easy for the opposition to learn were Kara was. Unfortunately for them, an overwhelming percentage of the time she was between them and a goal.
The name whose origin arose from the lined playing area of the field hockey field eventually consumed Kara's day-to-day. For Jill and I, Kara morphed into Stella - and eventually "Stel" a lifetime ago and has remained there ever since. Hell, on my cell phone Kara's cell number is saved as "Stel Cell".
Kara, Jill and I are the final three of the six Kenny children. It seemed to me as a boy that Mom/Dad really had two sets of three kids, given that the age gap between Kelly and Kara is greater than it is between Kara and me. Kara, Jill and I were born within four years of one another, which meant that as kids we had a significant number of shared experiences. We three were sent together to W-H, which was "Dad's school", to begin the 1977-78 school year as a 9th grader, 7th grader and 5th grader respectively. All three of us graduated from W-H - in '81, '83 and '85 respectively and along the way did enough in our little high school world to ensure that two and a half decades after the last one of us walked the hallways as a student, our names remain engraved on more than a handful of awards and plaques.
I have never met a soul during the entirety of my life who does not become a fan of Stel's immediately after meeting her for the first time. As kids, Jill and I used to joke that Kara had to have been the milkman's kid. Jill and I channeled a fair number of the darkest elements of our old man's personality and could each be a complete son of a bitch with whom to deal. Kara was always such a benevolent soul, so willing to take the time to look for the good inside of all with whom she came into contact that Jill and I used to joke that there was no way the three of us could have been related by blood - she was simply too good a person.
As the tailenders of the Kenny crew, we shared some not so great times together as well, for such are the vagaries of life. Our father died on the 31st of May in 1981, approximately a week or so before Kara's high school graduation. A number of her friends had parties. Kara played hostess at a repast. Less than three months after the death of the old man she was off - to the College of Notre Dame in Belmont, California - to begin life as a college freshman alone and 3000 miles away from home. I had significant issues coming to grips with the old man's death as a high school freshman living at home. How she navigated those tumultuous waters as an 18 y/o kid living alone and across the continent from the only home she had ever known has long been one of life's great mysteries to me.
Today is Stel's birthday. I hope that she has an extraordinary day. She deserves it. Always has, always will.
STELLA! HAPPY BIRTHDAY & MUCH LOVE!