DIALOGUE: Esther Marion.....

Esther Marion in her youth....
One day, I was talking to my husband (deceased) about my maternal grandmother Esther Marion Baxter-Webster. His reaction at hearing her story for the first time made me realize that I have probably  never shared this particular information about her with anyone outside my immediate maternal family; and that, her narrative needs be told and even explored as content for my work.

Esther Marion with 3 of her 4 children. l to r:
Esther (my Mom), Dale, and baby Curt 

Esther Marion, "Grandmother" to me, was perhaps my closes confidant for the first part of my life. Introverted and chubby, I was an awkward child. Spending time indoors with her was my preferred safe haven. It provided us with a lot of time to foster creativity and collaborate on craft projects. A true Martha Stewart before the brand was even considered, Esther cooked, sewed, cleaned, and crafted with genuine originality flair and dare I say -- genius...

My mixed media paper: "Grandmother's Dress"

She had a lot of time to hone her skills because she was disabled. The story goes that sometime in her early twenties, Esther was afflicted with a mysterious illness that left her bedridden and hospitalized for more than a year. When she finally emerged from the hospital "they" said she would probably never walk again. This part of her story I had always known.

What I did not know was what followed afterwards... Taping oral histories with my Mother just before she past away in the summer of 2012, I learned just how incredible my grandmother's journey truly was...

Esther around the time she began her family
Imagine a vibrant young woman in the early 1940's sentenced to life in a wheelchair without any chance of parole and with none of the modern conveniences of today. By this time she was married and a mother of four children. My mother said Esther was determined that the prognosis she was given would not be the final word on her life. She was not going to be bed bound. So, with help from a friend of my great-great Aunt Dodie
(who helped raise Esther) wheels were attached to a wooden table, and a new chapter in her life was born. Grandmother would sort of throw her body onto the table and use her legs to push herself around.

I am not sure how many months - years she got around like this. All I know is that by the time I can remember, some fifteen years later, Esther walked on her own in a bent over position. Which is the way she walked for the rest of her life.

My husband seemed curious about how she managed... Looking back now it seems nothing short of amazing. She perched on a favorite step stool to cook, on a sofa with a low coffee table or in bed to sew or craft, and with foot raised in a skip like motion to walk and do housework. ...Make no mistake about it, she managed very well. She tackled every task with deliberate precision and accomplishment. She moved pretty fast too.

Once my sister sought to out run her. Making smart comments before running upstairs to the second floor of our two story house, thinking Grandmother could not catch her. To this day, my memory about what happened next is a bit foggy. All I know is within seconds Grandmother too was at the top of the steps with my sister in hand and bent over being popped with a belt. From that point onward I don't believe we ever underestimated her ability to do anything she choose to do.

I think this is the thing that now amazes me most. Neither I nor my sister or cousin, who perhaps spent the most amount of time with her, can ever remember a time when she complained about or even mentioned her handicap. I am sure she must have had private struggles and challenges in her everyday life. Yet she never voiced them - at least not to us. Today, I look back at the character and fortitude it must have taken to live in the manner in which she did, and I am proud. From her I feel a sense of determination in my own spirit that this same DNA is in me, helping me face whatever challenges I need to deal with.

In the midst of her life challenges, Grandmother still found time to crochet, teach me how to blend colors, recycle old garments into magical new lives, and cook creative children's fare including her one-eye-purple-people-eaters (pan fried toast with a hollowed out center that contained a fried egg). She left me with a sense of creative fortitude... She seemed to meditate always as she worked on this or that. Now I too understand the peace working creatively with hand and heart.

In my eyes, my grandmother's story is a life that deserves celebration. I think it speaks for the lives of many women who breath through their own personal challenges to sow seeds into someone else... So stay tuned I feel a series coming on!
 Esther Marion with her daughters l to r: Ruth, Esther M (my mother), Esther Marion, and Norma
This acknowledgement is a bit late, but none the less genuine: To the incredible daughters, granddaughters, great-granddaughters and great-great granddaughters (she would have loved to have known) -- HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY! You have sprang from the loins of tenacious authenticity and strength. I hope you (we) all will wear our heritage well... I am determined. ♥

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