Short in stature, but tough as a boot
Flo Reese is a well-known face around town. You may see her at the grocery store, the bank, at church, shopping at one of the Dollar Stores or sitting in the stands at a Bulldog football game. She’s 84 years old, and has no intention of slowing down any time soon.
Born in 1932 “just a little bit out of Clayton” to Elijah and Bessie Moore Allison, she was the next to the youngest of six brothers and one sister. They grew up learning the value of hard work. They kept their own room, mowed yards, and put wood on the porch for the fireplace. “When we got in from school, Mother gave us a snack, we changed our clothes and did chores,” recalls Flo. “There was no such thing as sitting and watching TV.” Her daddy was a sharecropper, and when she was little she carried water to the field. As she got older, she had to start working in the fields—picking cotton, corn, tomatoes…whatever crop was planted.
Flo started school in Fairplay, but when the building was condemned, she rode the bus to Beckville. She played basketball and did the pole vault in high school, but had to quit after the 11th grade and go to work. Even though she was short in stature, she was tough as a boot. “I would fight if anybody bothered me. I’d be like Joe Lewis and come out fightin’. I’d back off quick, but they better not hem me up!”
Her first real job was at the country club in Carthage, working as a cook for Dan Sisk. Having learned to cook from her mother, Flo knew how to prepare some pretty tasty dishes. “I never will forget Mrs. Sisk helped with the cooking and she never did season nothing worth nothing. She went into the hospital and left all the cooking to me, so I seasoned the food like I did at home and there was never any food left. When she came back, people told her how much better the food was and she asked me what I did. I told her I just seasoned it so it would taste good! I remember one week cooking a hundred pounds of meal for dressing. That was a lot of dressing!”
Flo moved to Carthage in 1965, got married and had her daughter, Karen. After 11 years, she divorced and never remarried. “I got my diploma there…I didn’t need another husband,” Flo remarked. She worked at Walmart in Henderson and eventually transferred to the store in Carthage. Her parents and siblings are all deceased. “My mother died in 1974 and my father died in 1983. I lost two brothers in 13 days. One was just sick, and the other one’s house caught on fire. He must have swallowed the blaze because he never got over it.”
After leaving Walmart, Flo began private sitting. “I remember Barbara Cole’s daddy. When I first started going there, he wouldn’t say anything, but I’d start cutting up with him and he’d talk to me. One time he went in the hospital and Barbara called to tell me he wouldn’t talk to anybody. When I got there, I said, ‘What are you doing laid up here in this bed’ and he hollered back at me. Barbara told me I should have been there all along!”
She sat with Mrs. Lelma Boatman for 11 years and later did private home work for others, including Mary Dennard. “Any time she called me, I’d go help her out. She was a sweet lady.” Flo had to have surgery and the doctor said it’s time to stop working, but that didn’t slow her down too much. She just shifted gears. She loves football and is always in the stands watching the Carthage Bulldogs play, even the out of town games. She also loves the Dallas Cowboys and says, “I don’t care if they win or lose…they’re our boys!”
Flo spends a good deal of her time now making arts and crafts projects--wreaths, flower arrangements, angels, baby quilts and knick-knacks of all kinds. She also helps out with the grandkids and great grandkids. “The grandkids are never a problem. I just tell them they’ve got to do right. When they were little, all they wanted was something from Pizza Hut. I ate so much pizza, I tell you the truth, I don’t eat it now.”
Another pastime of Flo’s is cooking. She does a lot of canning—tomato relish, jellies and all kinds of vegetables, but her favorite is making fried pies. “I make my pastry from scratch,” she says. “I roll it out and cut it in circles, put it between wax paper and refrigerate it overnight. Early the next morning I’ll cook the filling and then fry ‘em up. The secret to good fried pies is the pastry—flour, shortening, ice cold water and roll it out real thin. I make about 50 at a time and sell them for $2 a pie.”
Flo lives in the Senior Citizen Apartments and it’s easy to distinguish her place from the others—it’s the one covered with beautiful plants. Of all her creative skills with crafts and cooking, she also has a green thumb. She can take a small cutting of a plant and in no time, has it flowing over her entire porch. She gets up early and waters every morning and every evening. “There are four or five ladies that have flowers, but I have more than anybody. I’ve got the prettiest yard around!”
She listens to KGAS every day so she can keep up with what’s going on. Swap Shop is a favorite. “I called Mr. Jerry one day and told him if that woman hadn’t sold those clothes in a year’s time, she needed to give them to the people in the nursing home. Karen heard me on the radio and told me I should be ashamed of myself, but I was just telling the truth. I miss Ovid Evans. He would come on every day and I knew him when he used to work for the highway department.”
One of Flo’s fondest memories of her church activities is traveling to Alabama and standing on the steps of Dr. Martin Luther King’s house. She says her driver’s license lasts until 2022, so she guesses she’ll keep driving until they expire or somebody takes them from her. Like most people her age, she’s got high blood pressure, diabetes, allergies and arthritis. Sometimes she eats things she’s not supposed to, but her theory is, “You might as well die full as die hungry.” Her best advice is “try to treat people right and love the Lord.”