DEATHS

Essie Mae Young, Liberty City landmark, dies at 100

 

ebrecher@miamiherald.com

Essie Mae Young was a living landmark in the heart of Liberty City.

So many relatives live a stone’s throw from her tidy cottage on Northwest 20th Avenue that the area is more family compound than city neighborhood.

Barely an hour went by when someone wasn’t stopping to visit, or to bring Aunt Essie something she needed. At the age of 100, she lived, dusted, mopped and scoured proudly, insistently alone.

“I can see a little, I can walk a little, I can hear a little, I can clean a lot,’’ she used to say.

On Feb. 1, Essie Mae Young was making oxtails in her kitchen, about the same pea-green hue as the uniform she wore for nearly 30 years when she changed sheets and scrubbed toilets at a Morningside-area motel.

She needed an onion, so her niece, Queen Esther Monks, went across Northwest 68th Street to her own house, to fetch one. Moments later, Young fell and broke her hip. She’d apparently been sitting on the edge of her bed and slipped off.

Surgery on Feb. 2 went fine, but on Monday, Young died in her room at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Monks, 84, thinks she must have known she’d never be independent again, in which case there wasn’t much reason to go on.

A longtime member of Antioch Baptist Church who kept tithing even after she could no longer physically attend, “she talked to the Good Lord every day,’’ Monks said.

Sometimes she’d ask “why did God keep her so long,’’ added Monks’ daughter Sharlotte Thompson-Shaw.

Born Essie Mae Richardson in Union Spring, Ala., on March 27, 1912, Young was one of nine siblings raised in the segregated South.

She had a fifth-grade education, and as a child worked delivering water. She married construction worker Samuel Young in 1940, and had two children.

She outlived both her husband — who helped build Jackson Memorial — and her son.

After World War II, the family settled in Miami. Essie Mae did housework in a private home until 1956, when she and Monks got jobs at the Biscayne Arms Motel, NE 52nd Street and Biscayne Boulevard.

They made $80 a week, said Monks, a bit more with tips from the New York/New Jersey snowbirds who stayed there.

“Twelve rooms, 21 apartments,’’ Monks recalled.

Both women retired in the early 1980s, finally making $100 a week.

“Aunt Essie’s’’ spotless little house was open to all: relatives dealing with life’s ups and downs who needed a place to stay. School kids wanting snacks after school. Just about anyone who sought advice and a sympathetic ear.

“We looked up to her,’’ said Monk’s granddaughter, Cassandra Thompson. “She was so sweet, nice and humble. We could go to her for anything. She just loved the company.’’

Young neither smoked nor drank nor gossiped, but “she knew everybody’s business,’’ said her granddaughter, Shaneka Straughter. “Everybody had their own special relationship with her.’’

“She kept secrets,’’ added grand-nephew Tyrone Nesbitt.

When she wasn’t cleaning, she watched “Divorce Court,” “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune,” “and talked to the TV,’’ said grand-nephew Marcellas Preston, on whom she prevailed for the occasional Wendy’s “double stack’’ burger and baked potato.

Alexander Lewis, a nephew in from California for the funeral Saturday, said his aunt thought of his phone calls as bouquets.

“When I called, she would say, ‘I’m getting my flowers while I’m living,’’’ Lewis said.

Young is survived by her daughter, Sandra Dell Young, and sister Bessie Saunders, both of Miami, brothers Thomas Smith of Orlando and Louis Smith of New York.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at New Way Fellowship Baptist Church, 16800 NW 22nd Ave., Miami Gardens. Young requested cremation.

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