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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ode to Esther

I remember looking out my window when I was about 13 yrs. old and seeing my neighbor Esther outside with a hammer and cement blocks, doing some project on her driveway, cussing a blue streak.

Seeing a woman doing anything with tools in 60's was unusual. For some reason, even though I was just 13, I wanted to remember the moment.

She was my idol.

You would never catch my mother near a hammer or cement blocks. (Not that she wasn't a tough lady...and determined!) After all, she was the wife of a lifer Air Force man and raised my brother and I (mostly alone) while my Dad was away somewhere on his job. But hammers and cement blocks? Not even close.

Most of the other neighborhood women were like Beaver Cleaver's mother and would also never touch the man's world of tools, either. They would shake their head and wonder what Esther was up to now.

Us kids? We loved her and usually there would be a bunch of us hanging out where she was, just watching her do it.

Esther was a strong Finnish woman whose mission was to keep her house super-clean and orderly. Second only to raising her family. Her daughter Janet was one of my best friends.

Her husband, Cletus worked midnights and most of us kids only saw him around 3 or 4 p.m. when he'd wake up from sleeping after working a midnight shift. You'd see him on his back porch in his bright white T-shirt (no doubt bleached to death by Esther!). He was a round, rolly-polly French man, mild and quiet (which was the ultimate opposite of Esther's loud and demonstrative manner). He worked long hours across town, so you would rarely see him fix things or do projects. That was left for Esther, who performed these tasks better than any man in our neighborhood.

Esther's voice boomed out at you even if you were talking right beside her. Her loud, exclamative statements always ended in a question or a chuckle.

Once, she called me on the phone and boomed: "Can you come over right away?" "I cannot get Janet to start wearing a God-Damned bra. Her boobs are too big now and she won't hear of it!" (As far as Janet was concerned, adolescence descended on her like a curse.) As much as Esther was determined, Janet was equally stubborn. Esther continued: "Don't tell her I called you, OK?". She clicked down the phone, hanging up before I could reply.

I did eventually talk Janet into at least trying on a "training bra" (as they called them then). (What the hell were we training our boobs to do back then, anyway?....Maybe to get them ready for a few years later, when we were told to burn our bras?) I remember after talking Janet into wearing that first bra, and we left for school and Esther gave me a sly wink of thanks. I believe I became her favorite kid in the neighborhood after that.

Esther and I had the same birthday (September 5th) , which always made me feel special.

Whenever I was bored and couldn't find her daughter to play with (or anyone else to hang out with in the neighborhood) all I needed to do was watch Esther's yard and you would spot movement. If she wasn't painting a fence or fixing a screen door, she'd be back by the burning barrels or out hanging clothes on the clothesline. I don't recall the woman ever sitting down.

Her kitchen always smelled terrific. She'd either have something baking, oozing with cinnamon or you'd smell the scent of a hearty, meaty soup simmering on the stove to greet you as you entered her house.

She was diagnosed with cancer when I was in my 30's. She faced that head-on, without flinching or feeling sorry for herself. The last time I saw her, she was bald (from the chemo) with the exception of two long hairs. She chuckled, saying "Isn't my hair pretty? and did a swooping "comb-over" for me with the comb running through her two last, long hairs. We hugged a long time, giggling. It was the last thing she said to me.

To this day, whenever I do a task involving pounding, fixing, hauling, sawing or clamping around the house, I smile inside and say: "This one is for you, Esther!" As a woman, I know I can do them because she blazed the possibility (in my mind) for me to do them when I was only 13.
Training bras?
Training THAT was the most important thing Esther did for all of the girls in our neighborhood.

1 comment:

Aria said...

I'm a little in love with Esther now myself! Thanks for introducing me to this wonderful vibrant woman!

and btw, my aunt has the same b-day...

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I retired in June 2008 and started my blog in November 2008. I worked at several jobs as a Registered Nurse prior to retirement. I LOVE being retired! Blogging has offered me a whole new venue to start writing again and to share new hobbies such as gardening, birdwatching and sharing my nature photography. If you like my blog, PLEASE click on "follow this blog". Having a lot of followers reading my blog gives me incentive to continue to do photography and to continue to write. I also LOVE comments, so I encourage you to leave me a comment after you read my posts. Thanks everyone, for taking the time to read me!!

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