Best Gardener I've Known

Ester Shouse
I have to tell you about my life-long gardener friend who just passed on to the great garden in the sky last week. Long-time readers of this blog may remember when I posted about Ester Shouse back in November of 2008, after her house burned. Lots of readers sent gifts to Ester and her family, for which I am eternally grateful.

All that remained of Ester's house in 2008

Ester and her husband, Roy, were neighbors when I was growing up. My parents ran a rural grocery store and the Shouses were customers. More than that, they were friends. I remember when nearly all of their 9 children were born and I went to school with nearly all of them except for the youngest. The 5 boys and I swam and fished together. Roy took me hunting and fishing many times, always treating me like one of his own. They were always like the family I wanted to be a part of.

All that was left of hundreds of jars of canning, 2008.

Ester's was the kind of home where I always knew I was welcome, any time of the day or night. I didn't have brothers or sisters, so being treated like part of the family was a real joy for me. I knew if I stopped by for a visit, even well after dinnertime, there would be something cooking on the stove in the kitchen and someone would likely offer me some. That's how I was first introduced to hot peppers. (I dedicated my new book, Make Your Own Hot Sauce, to Ester, for introducing me to hot peppers all those years ago).

Ester's sons built a new house for Ester in 2009.

One night, when I was in my early 20s, around 9 or 10 p.m., I stopped by the house. One of the boys offered me a bowl of chili and I accepted. Ester didn't know I wasn't used to eating hot foods, but as my face turned bright red, she started laughing. "I should have warned you I always put hot peppers in my chili," she said. But I kept eating and the next time I ate chili at Ester's house, I knew what to expect. Over time I came to love hot food and started growing hot peppers for my own use.

There are several more shelves like these, all filled with 2012 canning.
Ester was remarkable in so many ways. She and her daughter, Ellen, came to visit every summer for the past several years at my home in the Ozarks. We'd sit on the porch and talk gardening and gossip about people we knew. It was there, sitting on my Herb Shop porch that I learned just how much gardening Ester actually did. I'd always known her as an outstanding gardener and had seen her garden many, many times, but over the time of our visits I learned that she planted 500 cabbage plants each spring and nearly all of that went into jars of sauerkraut. She told me how many potatoes she planted (two 100 pound sacks, as I recall). Five hundred onion plants, pounds and pounds of bean and corn seed. And the kids would come home and help her can and freeze what she grew.

One very small section of Ester's summer canning this year.

Ester died this past week, at age 83. She had 3 heart attacks, being taken by ambulance twice, helicopter once, to the hospital in Kansas City from her home in Rockville, MO. She came home a couple of times in the past several weeks to recuperate. Between her second and third heart attack, just 2 weeks ago while she was home "resting," with the help of 2 of her sons, Ester canned 123 quarts of pinto beans!

She was like a second mother to me, someone who always accepted me no matter what crazy thing I did. My own mother died in 1987, and so Ester became ever more important to me. We were friends, but more like family and I am so grateful to have known this amazing woman and courageous gardener.


Sandy Parrill said...

What a wonderful story. She will be missed but you were blessed by knowing her.

Herbal Sage Tea Blog said...

Wonderful story about your friend , thanks for sharing. I have family much like Ester.. Working went supposed to be resting, all in the name of providing for the family. Blessing to you during this time of sadness .

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Well, this is a fitting tribute to your friend, who was a REMARKABLE woman. Her canning shelves are beautiful and filled with love.

Your garden looks great too, dear Jim.

You are a good, good friend.



Bonnie K said...

She sounds like a real class act. Thank you for sharing her life.

FlowerLady Lorraine said...

What a loving tribute to Esther, and what an inspiration she is.

Sorry for your loss.


Lindy said...

What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful friend. Her family will cherish the memories you wrote so lovingly.

LM said...

Thanks so much for telling us about her, and for turning our thoughts toward our own dear, personally known best gardeners, in my case my grandma and mother. My teen daughter, at her request, will soon be heading to my mother's home several states away as gardening season picks up, because she wants to learn from our best gardener too. :)

ElderberryWine4u said...

So sorry to hear of Ester's passing, Jim. What was her favorite flower? Maybe you could plant it in a special spot in your garden to remember her by. Peace and comfort to you and her family!

Carol said...

A beautiful tribute to an amazing woman♥ Those who touch our souls so deeply are always with us. It is the blessing of true love.

cj said...

Wonderful tribute to your friend. I have such vivid memories of those shelves of canning efforts in my family and among friends in the small town I grew up in. I also remember when a can of something blew up in the garage storage unit. Not a pretty sight!

summersundays-jw said...

Loved your story about Ester. She's much like so many women I've known in my life. Jan

fiftyfinally said...

A lovely tribute indeed.
The picture of the shelf of canning after the fire reminded me of the year my parents had to deal with the after effects of a flooded basement in the '60s. Thankfully it was in March so the majority of the crop got eaten already...but I will never forget the mound of food that was thrown into the compost pile. I remember my father building a permanent compost bin around the mountain of spoiled food from bins and jars. It's still in use today... The compost bin is larger than my mothers shed. And there are two dams on the river now.

Carla said...

A lovely tribute to your garden friend. What a legacy she has left her family, perhaps one of them will write a book about her life. I can't imagine growing that many plants and then having to can all of it. Amazing woman.