Mama Esther

When I was a kid, our extended family always went over to Mama Esther’s house on Christmas Eve. She was my great-grandmother, the matriarch of the Flippo side of my family, which has always been quite definitive for me and how I think about family.  It was a huge crowd, with eight fully formed branches. There’s a big family cookbook that was made sometime in the 90’s, and my copy of it is something like a manual for southern cooking. It’s great food with a lot of soul, but if you only eat food out of it, you’re health insurance rates are going to go up. It’ll probably kill you, but you’ll die happy. It’s old school and kind of awesome, like most of my family is.

In the front of the book, before the recipes, there are pages and pages of family stories. I love reading these, and really can’t help but get a little choked up reading them sometimes. Alternatively, some of them really crack me up, like the story of my uncles burying a mule. (Seriously, I’m going to have to post that one sometime. It needs to be on the internet.)

The parts about Mama Esther are some of the parts that really choke me up sometimes. By the time I knew her, she was the ancient, respected matriarch—I remember her as an almost otherworldly presence, due to be treated with the utmost reverence. I remember that well, the sense of her aura, the respect that she was so freely given by everyone in the family when we were around her. When I read these old stories, all of that makes so much sense.

This is the era I remember Mama Esther in. I don't have a picture of her, but this is my Grandmother. Mama Esther was her mom. (I'm in the yellow shirt, and then Hovie, Paige, and Heather are left to right.)

Mama Esther was born in December 1911, and she married young (16), which meant she only had a ninth grade education. In October of 1944, she gave birth to her eighth child. Two months later her Father died, and then in February 1945, her husband died in an industrial accident.  She was 33 years old.

That’s right. At 33 years old (my age), she became a widow with eight children. By all accounts, she dug in with an unbelievable amount of grit and determination. She eventually became a nurse, but that doesn’t even start to describe how hard she worked to make it. In our family there is a long and deep current of persistence/stubbornness that I think is all traced to that part of Mama Esther. The woman just didn’t give up, and that ethic is worked down deep into the bones of her descendants.  One of her daughters wrote later, “We are named Flippos, but whatever standards and values we may have in the way of courage, strength, or work ethic —as well as some of our faults—are all Mama Esther.”

Reading these stories is incredibly challenging to me. (Seriously, I have trouble when Kelly leaves me with the girls for a couple of days, and she pulled off the single mom role with EIGHT kids at home?) I can’t help but be proud of that heritage. It brings out the best in me, and challenges me to become more than I am. She was an incredible woman.

Near the end of her life she was in the hospital, having had a series of strokes. Her family got a call early in the morning, and were told that she had fallen out of bed. when they got to the hospital and asked her what happened, she is said to have replied, “See, you can do anything when you put your mind into it. It nearly took me all night to get out of that bed.”

Yeah, that’s the kind of spirit I want to have. Never give up.

7 thoughts on “Mama Esther”

  1. great story Stevie! Thx for sharing. I had my 3 girls last weekend while Ash was outta town. I hear you! Mothers are incredible and just have something we fathers don’t. Love those girls!

  2. Great comment cuz! Brings tears to my eyes when reading…tears of joy as I remember how blessed we are to have had her in our lives!

  3. I love it when people cherish where they come from. What a neat book your family has to remember many of those stories. We have video of “Mrs. Ruby,” my Great-Granny Bills, telling stories about her childhood and life. I was honored to grow up going to church with her my whole childhood. Before leaving for HULA in 2002, I visited her in the nursing home. She told me, “Maybe you will meet your intended there.” That semester I met Greg. Funny how wisdom speaks sometimes. 🙂 She passed away that next year, one week from turning 100.

  4. No kidding, Shane. Anytime a dad gets left with kids for a few days, they should go to the top of the prayer list.

  5. Yeah, every time I look through that cookbook, I’m really moved by a lot of the stories in it—such powerful legacy.

  6. Megan, I think one of my greatest blessings was that when I was a kid, Mom and Dad went with a “divide and conquer” approach to us at church. Michael sat between them, and down the pew I sat between Grandmother and Granddaddy (or sometimes vice versa). Extremely formative.