|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.|
|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.