DADE CITY — Ethel Mexicotte was the ultimate Southern lady.
Never had dinner on the table late. Never drank, smoked or uttered curse words. Never left the house in less than perfect makeup and panty hose.
"We'd go off somewhere and I'd say, 'Mama, I look like a bum and you're all dressed up!' " said her daughter Mary Lee Capparelli.
Mrs. Mexicotte spent her life in the country. Her father was a logger at an old sawmill in Lacoochee, and her mother died when she was a baby.
She married Clarence McKendree young and started a family. On 25 acres in Dade City, they raised their own sugarcane and made syrup. They butchered beef, made butter and picked worms off oranges in the grove.
Mrs. Mexicotte got her hands dirty, too.
"Oh, yes, ma'am," said her daughter. "And when she first got married, she had an old wringer washing machine that she had to use."
She wasn't raised with religion, but she made sure her children were. They didn't have a television, but she let the kids go to a neighbor's each week to watch Bonanza.
They went to church every Sunday and Wednesday, read the Bible together and gathered around the piano to sing hymns — Mrs. Mexicotte's favorite was How Great Thou Art. Her husband would sit in his chair and tap his foot while she sang.
Though prim and proper, she could be feisty. When her husband spun his plate around the dinner table to tease her, she'd fire back at him.
"Would you stop that!"
He'd turn around with a huge smile and wink at his kids.
"He was just full of the devil with her," Capparelli said. "They were so similar. I don't even remember them arguing loud or yelling."
After her first husband died, she remarried a sweet-natured woodworker named Elmer Mexicotte. In her spare time, she sewed more than 250 quilts and shared helpful home hints with her women's club. She once sewed elastic around the top and bottom of a canvas tube to store extra grocery sacks.
She hosted meetings at church, studying the Bible to connect with other women.
"The meetings are such an inspiration, and you get a special blessing from them," she told the St. Petersburg Times in 1994. "You study the books of the Bible and learn things you never knew were there, and you become closer to God."
After she fell at home recently, she told her family that she was at peace and ready to go. She died Friday at 87.
Her family decided to play an upbeat song at her funeral, something they knew she'd appreciate.
When We All Get to Heaven.
Stephanie Hayes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8857.