ST. PETERSBURG — Essie Pickett has lived a long life surrounded by friends and family. To celebrate Pickett’s 99th birthday, four generations of her family came together for a dinner and reception at the Marriott Hotel.
“We had a full-course birthday dinner for her,” Ann Ingram, one of Pickett’s daughters, said. “It was almost semi-formal, but not completely, everybody was dressed like they were going to church.”
Pickett was born July 16, 1916, in Vienna, Ga., to the late James and Roxy Dixon. Growing up, she had 10 siblings and was the eldest of the daughters.
“Her mother passed away at a very early age, leaving a lot of responsibility on her as the oldest daughter,” Ingram said.
Pickett’s father was a sharecropper and as such, Pickett had many extra chores on the farm, including picking cotton, peanuts and watermelons. She helped out on the farm both before and after school, but still attended high school fulltime.
“The fun part of the work was doing what all children do best, busting the watermelon and eating the heart out of them,” Ingram said.
Pickett married young and moved to St. Petersburg with her husband. She was married twice and has four children, seven grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren.
“She was a devoted wife and mother, remaining a housewife until the children became of school age. During this time she put to use all of the skills she learned while on the farm, which led to her passion for cooking,” Ingram said.
Pickett helped with family finances by being a domestic worker for most of her life, helping others with tasks such as cooking and cleaning.
“We were reminiscing on her birthday and talked about how even when she would come home from work, she always found the time to play games with us,” Ingram said. “Because she played outside with her children, other children would come to join in and play also. We called her Ma’ Dear and so did all the other kids, and it has stuck with her to this day. We and all the other kids still call her Ma’ Dear.”
Throughout her life, Pickett retained her passion for cooking and eventually attended a cooking school. “She just likes to cook, that’s her thing,” Ingram said. “She’s an excellent cook. And she sometimes now even cooks.”
According to Ingram, pastries are her mother’s specialty.
Pickett also loves to travel. “She’s been on cruises to the Bahamas and she’s been to Germany,” Ingram said. “We’ve been to Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland, to Kentucky—we’ve been to a lot of different states to take her on vacation. She travels with her children to visit her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren.”
Reflecting on the difference between life today and life as she knew it growing up, Pickett told Ingram that children today are much more wasteful.
“She told us how she used to milk the cow and churn the butter, and in the 40s how she stood in line to get rations [of] butter and sugar,” Ingram said. “She also stood in line to get stockings and socks.”
Both of Pickett’s husbands are deceased, but she lives with one of her daughters here and spends most of her time cooking and reading newspapers. Ingram said that her mother is in very good health for her age.
“She’s deaf, but otherwise she has no major health concerns,” Ingram said.
According to Ingram, Pickett has healthy eating habits, which may have contributed to her long life, but added that she still enjoys desserts, her favorite being sweet potato pie.
Ingram related a question to her mother about her advice for a long and healthy life.
“Trusting in God. Hard work has never hurt anyone. Living a clean life and not burning candles on both ends,” Pickett replied.