Totally atypical of the date, midnight January 1, 1995 sported a 62-degree temperature with the lightest hint of mist. We had just celebrated a 10:30 p.m., Mass on New Year’s Eve, timed to end at precisely midnight when we broke out with Auld Lang Syne complete with hugs, kisses and well-wishing between all the congregants.
Then we eased out the Governor Nicholls side door onto what later became One Slave Square when the Tomb Of The Unknown Slave was constructed in 2004.
Scattered around the area were the homemade 3-foot round tables of St. Augustine Church hall (onetime 1859 school) where the folks chose their preferred seats. At a glance, one might think we were rich people out for a food-studded soirée. As a matter of fact, we were very rich with the boundless riches of our Father’s kingdom.
Having worshiped and given God thanks, praise and glory, we, his children, were out to play. The soulful Christmas album of Johnny Adams was wafted out to us through the propped-open door. Two long tables graced the rectory side of the driveway carrying pots of the favorite recipes of a slew of cooks, highlighted on the street end by a huge pot of gumbo, the specialty of Esther Green. “Not every good looker is a good cooker,” they say, but Esther could burn any day of the week. Her cooking was part of the magic that added more joy to the festive soirée. With breads, mouthwatering gumbo, macaroni/cheese, chicken drummets, fish, salad and potato salad, the tables were loaded with culinary magic emitting a bewitching aroma.
As we leaned back and chatted contentedly, most of the celebrants did not even wear a sweater or jacket. Occasional passers-by puzzled momentarily over the apparition, but were quickly invited to join in the extended family revelry. Thus, our Faith Family celebration of the New Year became a quasi-neighborhood event.
Ready for any event like the New Year soirée, Esther’s gumbo pot was always at hand around her house at 1027 Treme Street just a couple of blocks away from St. Augustine Church. To visit her was to be overwhelmed with hospitality and offers of food. That same culinary talent earned her catering jobs for special events among the well-to-do white folks. Ever generous, Esther shared her culinary nuggets with those eager to learn how to make hors d’oeuvres, finger sandwiches and such. “She taught my daughter Tyra,” says Sandra Gordon, “who asked about her techniques.”
Together with Esther’s willingness to share her culinary talents, there was a palpable magic to life with matriarchs in a neighborhood like Tremé where folks were not rich, yet shared the spiritual, social and family riches of the ages and sages. There was no way that anyone could convince us that we were deprived children.
Esther’s congeniality and generosity stemmed from her Barnum family roots in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Her 80-year romance with the New Orleans Fauberg Tremé neighborhood began at the age of 7 when her family moved there. It was there that she reared her family of Greens: Robert C. Green, III, Sheila G. Salvant (Henry, Sr.), Dale G. Delpit, Kathleen G. Ezieme, Yolanda G. Kendrick, Myra A. Bennett; 11 grandchildren; 33 great-grandchildren; 2 great-great-grandchildren. On any visit with Esther, there were always some of the children around.
Esther used to pull rank on me, reminding me that she was a year and about three months older than I. But the last time I visited her, Alzheimer’s disease had made its initial attacks on her brain, wiping out some of her awareness. She finally succumbed on September 18, 2016, just under 3 months shy of her 88th birthday.
Most of the 700 seats of venerable 175-year-old St. Augustine Church were filled on September 24 when we celebrated Esther’s homegoing. I saluted her with the patented Gospel/Jazz Mass of St. Augustine Church, but was taken aback when we exited the church to the dirge music of Da Truth brass band who accompanied the funeral cortège with Esther’s body in a horse-drawn glass hearse to Esther’s home at 1027 Treme Street. Her body was briefly laid on her front porch before being transferred to a motorized hearse that took her to Mount Olivet Cemetery.
One of the fifteen or so true matriarchs of Fauberg Tremé, Esther wore her biblical and social mantle with gratitude, respect, pride and love. Way back in the day, the most important demographical division of a city was the neighborhood, with neighbors, especially matriarchs, looking out for children as part of the fabled extended family. The eldest among us remember how neighbors cared for us. With her social and culinary talents, Esther lived this billing of the narrative to the full.
Rev. Jerome LeDoux, SVD
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)