Tuesday, November 09, 2004


All of my aunts were great, but one of them was truly special. Betty and I were kindred spirits when I was a young girl. She was my mother’s youngest sister, and never had any children of her own. She treated me more like a sister or girlfriend than she did a child, however. She was seventeen years older, but when I was a teenager the difference did not seem great.

We had such marvelous times together. I lived in town, but Betty lived in the country, in an old farmhouse, with barns and fields. I spent a great deal of time at her home, because I loved it out there. The kitchen was definitely a farm kitchen, with a big sink attached to the wall and a Hoosier cabinet that was basically her only work surface. It still had the flour sifter attached, and she used it. Many years later, she was to have a state-of-the-art kitchen, straight out of a magazine. There was a formal dining room, and a living room with her ever-present piano, burgundy horsehair furniture, and deco tables with blue mirrored glass tops. I always loved those tables.

Her house was full of huge cats, and she was a total nut, much worse than I am, about each of those felines. They were her life, and a good share of the time, she refused to go somewhere if she could not account for all of them.

There are so many rich memories, it is difficult to know where to start. As a very young girl, I can remember a wedding reception at my grandmother’s house when another aunt was married. She was a widow with two girls, and eventually met a wonderful man to marry and be with through the birth of two sons, until he made her a widow again. I remember Betty playing the piano at the reception, as did my father. Betty had taken lessons while young, and could play beautifully – music such as Rhapsody in Blue. It was a very happy time, and I still can feel the atmosphere of that day.

When one of my cousins was married, I was a bridesmaid. Betty helped my mom get me dressed. I was growing up, and my companion was always there to partake in my exposure to the treasured moments of life. She became my Godmother when I joined the church where my grandmother and parents had become members.

While I was hanging out with Betty, she took me roller skating, along with some young boys who helped her on the farm with her chickens, and with other chores. This became a regular pastime, and led to skating at roller rinks in Buffalo when my own children were older. Betty, the boys and I would play penny ante poker on long winter evenings, snug and cozy in her farmhouse.

Toward the end of my senior year in high school, I started dating a man who was Betty’s husband Stanley’s nephew. We would all go to dances together, along with Stanley’s brother and his wife. This could be regular ballroom dancing, polkas at the Happy Landing, or square dances at one of the nearby schools. I loved dancing, and every evening that we went out together as a group added to my wonderful experiences of the joys to be had with dance and music.

After graduating from high school, while I was working at the local variety store, I still spent much time at Betty’s house. At one point we had a terrible snowstorm, the worst that I can remember in that area. The snow was as high as the electric wires, and most roads in a huge area were closed for weeks. At one point, while I was near the stores in town, I saw a cousin, her husband and other relatives in town with a truck to get groceries and supplies, including a tank of kerosene. That cousin lived up the road from Betty. I asked if I could hitch a ride with them out to the farms. The roads had been plowed to an area near the cousin’s house, so we had to roll that kerosene tank up the bank, with great difficulty, to the top of the snow at the electric wires, and then roll it to their house. I then carried groceries across the top of the snow, down the road to Betty, and snuggled into her farmhouse with her. She had tunneled down through the snow to get to her chickens in the barn. That was a vision straight out of a book about snowstorms on the prairie.

One of the evenings while I was there, she and I bundled up, took flashlights, and walked along the roads, electric wires at our feet, up her road to a corner, turned and walked along another road, turned that corner and walked further, to Stanley’s brother’s house. We spent time with the brother and his wife. I guess it was something to do when you can’t drive anywhere.

When I eventually went to New York City to live and work, I don’t know who was more broken-hearted at parting, Betty or me. She insisted that I call her collect all of the time. Her phone bill must have been enormous. She looked forward to my visits when I would try to get to the area for a weekend. She knew all of my secrets, and I believe that my mother was always a bit jealous of our relationship. My mother was so busy with all of my brothers and sisters, she didn’t have time to give me a lot of individual attention. But that was alright, most of the time, because I was doing my own thing.

When I married my ex-husband, Betty gave me a gift for me, not for a house – a silver fox stole, with my initials embroidered inside. It was gorgeous. I could not believe that she would give me such a wonderful thing. I was still living in New York City, but eventually moved back to the Finger Lakes Area, although I lived an hour or so away from Betty then. I did not see her very often. My ex-husband did not want me to hang out with Betty. He said she was always trying to convince me that I was crazy. This was not true. She had her own issues, and had been seeing a psychiatrist while I was young. This basically had to do with being an alcoholic, I assume. She had told me she was an alcoholic, but I never saw her take a drink in my whole life, therefore she must have been a recovering alcoholic. She even took me with her to meet her doctor. I can’t remember for sure, but I think that was because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to do after high school. He just told her he would talk to me, but she was there in the office at the same time and it didn’t have anything to do with being crazy.

I was busy having babies and taking care of a house. I also had fairly serious health issues at the time, so life just sort of rolled on. Betty moved to New Jersey. She and Stanley had parted, and both had remarried. Then, I rarely saw her. My grandmother died in 1963, when my third child was a month old. I saw Betty at the funeral.

Much later, after my divorce, I suppose I could have taken pains to go to New Jersey to visit her. I was always traveling all over the country, by myself, or taking a teenage daughter with me, but for some reason it never really occurred to me to include Betty’s home as a stop along the way.

We wrote to each other, eventually, and exchanged Christmas cards. We always had our cats in common, when I finally reached the point when I would include a cat in my life. I called her at times, and she asked me to visit. I told her that I would try to get to New Jersey.

My sister, Dottie, is the one that visited her every year. I don’t even have an excuse at this point for not doing so. She brought me great photos of Betty, so that I could see her as a senior citizen.

In December 2001, Dottie called me here in California to tell me that Betty had died of cancer, alone, with no family near. Dottie and her husband had been to visit her in October, but Betty never let her know that she had cancer and was not going to live much longer.

I will most likely never forgive myself for being so selfish in my own life that I did not take the time to go see my special aunt, my friend. The last time I saw her was in December 1963, when my grandmother was buried.


  • At 6:54 PM, November 13, 2004, Blogger gammamoma said…

    Finally found your website again, your email didn't show which one your's was. Yes very similar. Just cherish whatever memories you have. It's so rare to have a relationship like that.


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