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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Learning social values as a youth

Esser remembers the influence of "Mash," his mother's sister, who married his father in 1935 and effectively raised Esser. She played a big role in teaching Esser that dignity did not require wealth and encouraged him to study the life of his ancestor by marriage, Thomas Jefferson. As he did so, he drifted away from his family's Republican Party loyalty.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with George Esser, June-August 1990. Interview L-0035. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

FRANCES WEAVER:
Had Mash waited this long to say yes, or were they married before 1935?
GEORGE ESSER:
They were married. He took that job and about a week later, it was unusual, my father said, "I've got to go to Middlesboro," which was an old coal town that really has a fascinating history—it's a town in Kentucky right across Cumberland Gap—"on Saturday and let's all go." So we went down and we went to the old hotel and had lunch, and after lunch, he drove up in front of the Episcopal Church. My father got out and went in. He came back out and the rector turned to have been in theological school with my grandfather. So he opened the door to the car and looked back at Cary and me and said, "How would you like to have a mother?" Well, I burst into tears, and all of a sudden they were worried. And I said, "No, I was doing it because I was just happy about it." So we went in and there was an old lady who was witness and they were married.
FRANCES WEAVER:
Well, how nice, George.
GEORGE ESSER:
But that was twelve years after she came to take care of us and raise us. So I didn't have what you would call a traditional background in that sense. But I was very, very—I mean, I admired my father and respected him. And I think I was probably as close to him as anybody was, except Mash. But there's no question about the fact that Mash was the person who probably had the greatest impact on me, to whom I was really closest, I realize even more as time goes on. Now, she didn't understand when I later—the first time I voted for Truman it was a real family crisis. [Laughter] But she didn't understand everything I did, but exactly she had a lot of responsibility for helping have a respect for everybody, an understanding that people need an opportunity. That you can get up your dignity although you have no money. That equity and fair play and justice are important. She didn't understand very much about law but she understood about fair play. She was just great in that way, and I'm sure that that is one of things that had great impact.
FRANCES WEAVER:
She was also aware of her Jefferson heritage?
GEORGE ESSER:
And she was always, I mean, it was in her line it came down, and she would always say, "You don't live on that. You live up to it."
FRANCES WEAVER:
Well, that's an enormous influence on a young person.
GEORGE ESSER:
Knowing that, what I read about Jefferson had a real impact on me, too. I don't say I have ever been a great scholar. There's some things I read intensively, but I don't, my son, John, is a much better scholar than I am. I'm not a very good scholar. I tend to read too fast to be a good scholar. But anyhow, I early understood that Jefferson really stood for things that the Roosevelt administration stood for more than the Republicans.