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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Singing (10/31/05)

TITLE: The Passing of Sister Esther Flannery
By Benjamin Stephens


Sister Esther Flannery had a voice that reminded my dad of a lovesick bull moose in a Montana winter. Many a guest at the church at the corner of Willow and Birch had their constitutions readjusted by the not-so-subtle dissonant chords of Sister Flannery.

Her hymnal was always opened and she rarely had to hear the hymn number twice. Her voice had no volume control and the complexities of harmony held little interest for Sister Flannery.

I remember the first time our little family arrived late and found the only available pew was right in front of Sister Flannery. “Please turn to hymn number seventy-five,” the song leader instructed.

Bertha Jensen played a beautiful introduction as Guy Spencer tossed his hands around in hopes that we could all stay on track. Suddenly, my senses had been assaulted and small hands reacted involuntarily to cover sensitive ears. My mother, bless her heart, was mortified by my outward display of such uncivilized behavior.

Sister Flannery, apparently oblivious to my social ineptitude, continued to sing in her unusual exuberant manner. It may be noteworthy to report that Mr. Flannery was never in a service with his ‘April Flower’. I always attributed it to the embarrassment he may have felt when he too, heard his bride sing for the first time.

After all these years, I have thought often about Sister Flannery. Her voice was a bit like a raging bull pawing a chalkboard with a rogue banshee riding side saddle which was the nicest description that had ever passed through my cerebral cortex until recently.

Last June, Sister Flannery glimpsed that gossamer fabric between the life she had always lived and the world that waited - she chose to walk on.

It was a lovely funeral - such beautiful flowers. Young Carley Kniss sang “I’ll Fly Away” in a way that made us all want to take flight and leave this earthly woe behind. I heard the delicate harmonies of those around me as they blended in a fashion I couldn’t recall hearing in my years at our small town church.

Ivan Flannery sat near the front as the preacher spoke words of comfort and hope. Then he said, “Sister Flannery always had a voice that demanded that God pay attention.”

To this day, I am not sure if the preacher was poking fun or if he had some Divine leading, but his words broke an iceberg. The audience chuckled in ready acceptance of his valid description of the recently departed.

Ivan’s shoulders began to shake. In that moment, none of us were certain if we had offended him to the point of a breakdown. We didn’t have to wait long to find out.

Ivan Flannery walked up on the stage and smiled knowingly at our little congregation, “Thank you for coming today,” he began. “I’ve a bit of a confession to make. I know that Esther’s singing caused some of you no small bit of pain, I’m afraid I may be to blame for that.”

The audience look at each other in confusion.

“You see, back in World War II my ears were permanently damaged at Omaha Beach. Being young and in love, I tried not to let on to Esther when we tied the knot, but I just couldn’t hear her very well. Going to church was difficult because I couldn’t hear the preacher and I sure couldn’t hear the music. Well, Esther figured things out without my needing to explain things, so she began talking more loudly and when she would sing, she tried to make sure I could hear. When folks turned to look, I somehow thought they were looking at me, so I decided to stay at home.

“Esther loved me enough to come home to share the sermon then sing a hymn or two that had touched her. A few years ago, I had surgery that gave me back some of my hearing. I began to realize why folks stared at me all those years ago. It seems my bride did not sing very well - and she did so at the top of her lungs. So, there you have it, the blame lies squarely with me.

“However, I’m certain that at this very moment her joyful noise is sounding better than ever.”

In that moment I’d walked a mile in the shoes of a loving wife and came away with new ears - one better suited to appreciating all manner of noise, both joyful and sublime.

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This article has been read 949 times
Member Comments
Member Date
janet rubin11/07/05
This was sweet... and funny.
Karen Jimmy11/07/05
I enjoyed this anecdote, and i like dthe title- that's what drew me in to read it. it immediately gave me a picture of a sweet elderly lady with a good heart, and i wanted to read about her! beautiful message. thanks!
Marilyn Schnepp 11/07/05
So sweet, so interesting and the words were put together in such a way as to hold my attention. Thank you for sharing. Lovely story.
Helga Doermer11/07/05
I love the description of sister Flannery's singing voice. :-)
This is a beautifully written piece with a lovely message.
Amy Michelle Wiley 11/07/05
I really enjoyed this! Well written.
Linda Watson Owen11/08/05
What a wonderfully delightful tale! It really was the end to an experience I just had last evening at a community sing. I sang next to your Esther in the volunteer choir. Bless her heart!
Cassie Memmer11/08/05
I think I too knew your Esther! LOL! I loved your story, well done!
Jesus Puppy 11/08/05
Well worded and well writen.. Having the vocals of a frog in a bucket, i can relate to the story well.
terri tiffany11/09/05
This was so cute! I rally enjoyed every word as it flowed like a well sung song. :)
Brandi Roberts11/09/05
I loved your descriptions and the story line. It was very cute and very out of the box!
Jan Ackerson 11/09/05
Your first sentence really set the tone for a charming story.
Debbie Sickler11/09/05
I loved the part at the funeral. It reminded me of my great uncle's funeral where everyone shared stories about his pranks and laughed. Great job, but I did notice that you mentioned her name seven times in as many paragraphs-it was slightly distracting, but overall a very well written and enjoyable story!
Anita Neuman11/09/05
What a fun read! Delightful!!!
Pat Guy 11/09/05
I liked the part where she 'chose to walk on.' When I first started to read this a few days ago I thought,'Oh this must be Ben's - I'll come back to it!' And I'm so glad I did. Absolutely great! and I loved it!
Shannon Redmon11/10/05
What a great story! Well written!
Debbie OConnor11/11/05
Great job! This was funny, fun and packed a nice message about appearances sometimes being deceptive.
Julianne Jones11/11/05
Great story! Your descriptions are unforgettable: "Her voice was a bit like a raging bull pawing a chalkboard with a rogue banshee riding side saddle". I think what I loved most was that Esther showed her love (to God and her husband) without caring what anyone else thought. Well done.