Obituary: Remembering Esterline Washington of Aunt Ester’s Barbeque Ribs n Things

Esterline Washington, of Aunt Ester’s Barbeque Ribs n Things, passed away Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, about 3 p.m. She is survived by one niece, Lorrain Darnes Smith, and her fourth cousins, Fatima Banoo Sheikh, aka: Y. Reagan, of San Francisco, and Travis Dell Herron, of Williams, CA. She is preceded by her God-daughter, Anna Jean Herron, their mother.

Ester and Matthew

She was married to Matthew Washington until his death in 1999. They were married some 45 years. She said of Matthew, “I brought my man with me. I didn’t take nobody’s when I got here.” Referring to moving to Humboldt County in 1964 from San Francisco where she had met Matthew who was a few years younger than Ester. 

Nicknamed “Dimple,” she became a celebrity in Humboldt County known for her fantastically delicious, 5-napkin, juice-slurping, lip-smacking Bar-b-que Ribs, either beef or pork, that came with your choice of home-cooked southern style beans, fresh homemade coleslaw, her famous warm potato salad, frying-pan baked corn bread and sweet potato pie. All for just $25.00. It was always a welcomed feast. 

She sold these ‘plates’ on the 4th of July in downtown Eureka or at the Humboldt County Fair in Ferndale. She catered events such as Martin Luther King Day at Trinidad Town Hall and she sold “plates: right out of her kitchen on an invitation only basis. She would send out a phone call, “how many plates you want?” We’d say, 5, no 10. We’ll find folks. 

Now that she has passed, we can share some of her secrets. She cooked the ribs first over a wood fire. Then she simmered them for hours until the meat was nearly falling off the bone. We will preserve her seasoning secrets out of respect. 

Aunt Ester would want it mentioned that her good friend Mary Goodman was her close companion until Ms. Mary passed in 2003. Matthew and Mary, Ester said, would do all the set up and clean up for her catering business. When she lost them, it was a great loss. 

When Aunt Ester arrived anywhere, it was an event. Crowds parted. A place was made ready for her. She was our “Mother,” all be it informal or not, we loved her as if she was our “Mother.” Humboldt County will miss her, “She was quite a lady;” “Such sweetness;” “She was so cool. One of a kind;” “I called her my aunt, and she loved it;” “She was a character.”

She was a larger-than-life kind of character. She wore Ms. Patti Labelle outfits complete with a feathered wide-brimmed hat, multiple necklaces and bracelets, rings on every finger including her thumbs, purposefully mismatched ear rings, high-heeled shoes and red lipstick. She said, in her Tyler, Texas drawl, “I am a child of the King, and I dress the part.” She was beautiful. She said of her fame, “I’m cute, people like me ‘cuz I’m cute….” Yes, she was.

Aunt Ester became a celebrity also because of her love for people. She and Matthew never had their own children, but they informally “adopted” more children, young adults, the elderly and everyone else they met than we could possibly mention here or even know of. It is out of respect to all of her “adopted” family that we reach out to the community to let them know of her passing. She was 87 according to her paperwork, but her blood family reports she was 93. 

She loved her Bible and read it every day, pretty much all day. She would pray for everyone. And those prayers counted in the Courts of Heaven! Fatima Sheikh said, “She was a Prayer Warrior.” Ester’s prayers made “stuff happen.” If she prayed for you, you know what I mean. If not, you’ll have to interview those of us who were blessed with Aunt Ester’s prayers. There is no doubt, she was right with God and we will see her again in the ‘Earth Made New.’ 

Before she started her own business in her backyard, she had worked as a nursing assistant at the original General Hospital, when it was still in the Sempervirens building that Humboldt County now uses on Harris between H and I streets. She also worked locally at St. Joseph Hospital and Mad River Community Hospital. 

Mrs. Shirley Powell, long-time friend and co-worker of Ester’s, reports “Dimple had worked in San Francisco and had become an expert at assisting Orthopedic doctors with traction patients.” Ms. Shirley said, “ we would laugh for hours at what we had done....one day Dimple put her hands on her hips and looked at the nurse manager and she said, ‘you turkey.’” Ms. Shirley is still laughing about that. 

Esterline Washington was a member of local chapter of the NAACP. Ms. Shirley did most of the cooking for these fund-raising events, but Aunt Ester would sell a lot of tickets. You may have bought some. 

She was the “Mother” to the Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir started in 1993 formed from the members of the Arcata Interfaith Fellowship co-founded by Nathan Smith and Caleb Rosado. Nearly countless community members have spent time contributing to the beautiful soulful Southern-Gospel styled music ever since. And Aunt Ester was always at the main events. She was especially recognized each year at the Mother’s Day Prayer Breakfast until she was unable to attend just a few years ago. 

Please come, share your stories and photos of Aunt Ester. Her Life Celebration will be held at First Baptist Church of Eureka at 422 Del Norte St. at the corner of E Street, on Saturday afternoon, March 23, at 1 p.m. 

The memorial service and reception will be hosted by the First Baptist Church of Eureka and by her many adopted family members. An Aunt Ester’s BBQ Ribs and Things dinner will be served. Please come and enjoy this time of celebration. Please bring any of Ester’s friends or family with you. The AIG Choir will sing. If you were ever a member of the Choir, please come.

For more information, please contact Pastor Cassie at the First Baptist Church at (707) 443-0406. 

























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