She was, is still, one of my all time favorite characters who played a part in my life.
Betty was Pam’s mom, of one my closest friends from childhood. We lived in different worlds, my friend and I. I lived in the city. Pam lived in the country. I traveled to the country every weekend. with my father and siblings. At first we knew no one in the country setting. There were enough of us to play together and dad kept us busy with the chores of setting up camp, and tearing down camp, every weekend. Eventually though dad and us kids started to explore the world around us. Dad would drive off to town for groceries or liquid sustenance. Us kids would walk up the lane and gradually began to be noticed by the kids around us.
I met Pam first, then, gradually met her entire family. Including her mom Betty. The weekends soon enough evolved into me sitting with Pam on a Saturday night watching Hee Haw, or Dolly Parton, or some other show while we babysat her little brother. While Betty and her husband were out Pam and I would sit for hours, weekend after weekend, comparing our lives. We would talk about life in the bigger sense, the things we imagined would happen when we ‘grew up’. Sometimes Betty would be there and we might end up going outside on the porch, or sitting with Betty playing games. I don’t know what game we were playing when one of us spilled pickle juice all over the hundreds of little cardboard pieces. I don’t remember anything about that other than spilled pickle juice sitting at the table in Betty’s kitchen while playing a game.
Betty smoked cigarettes. Betty drank beer. Betty cussed. And Betty made me feel safe and happy. She made me laugh even when she was cussing because she was just naturally using those words and adding color to the world. Betty didn’t hide anything from us. If she was mad she was mad. If she was disgusted she might not talk to us, preferring to remain quiet instead of saying something she didn’t want to say to us kids. If she was happy, we were all happy. Though truth be told, she made me happy no matter what. She was honest with us, but never cruel. She made me feel wanted and like I belonged.
She was the first adult I ever showed my “writings” to. One cold night we were sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, the little brother was asleep. I can still see Betty sitting on the couch, smoking, with her legs curled up under her. She held my notebook on her lap. She slowly read through that notebook, page by page. She was drinking coffee. She looked up once and said “I really like this”. She tapped the page. “This one”.
I will never forget her tapping that page. Me getting up to see which one she meant. I know I still have the notebook, I saved everything I ever wrote. But I don’t need to go looking for it. It was the blue, cotton covered, notebook. White, wide ruled notebook paper. Blue ink. It said “It may be covered up, but it’s still there”. And I had doodled something and then scratched over it with my pen. She looked me in the eye and said “I understand”.
And I believed then, and now, that she did. Though I doubt anyone else ever did, or ever will.
One day Pam asked me to spend the night. For some reason my father said no, then went to bed. It was dark, but not very late. Betty didn’t understand why I couldn’t spend the night. She knew we weren’t doing anything. It was a cold, cold night. There was a thick and new blanket of snow on the ground. No one was going anywhere or doing anything. Betty walked with Pam down the lane in the dark, in the snow, to ask my dad if I could spend the night. She made me get him up. Normally, as parents, we don’t care to have someone question our decisions. But dad said yes, and when I came home the next day, he didn’t even give me that “don’t ever let that happen again” kind of look or talk. I think Betty caring enough to come and see if I could spend time with a friend made some kind of impression on him.
I remember walking back up the lane in the tracks Betty and Pam had made on the way down. The snow looked blue in some areas because of the moonlight and tree shadows. I think at that moment I loved Betty. If I could paint, that snowy night on the lane would be the first scene I would paint. It’s that vivid in my memory.
Betty was her own force. She didn’t take crap from anyone and only gave it if it was deserved. Some people may have called her “rough around the edges”. I would disagree. I think her edges were very well defined. She was loyal. She was hardworking. She didn’t lie. She didn’t play at being someone she wasn’t. She didn’t need to.
I liked Betty exactly as she was.
And I think she liked me too.
She was a very good woman.
I loved the truth of her.
I miss her.