Caught in an invisible envelope between the anniversary of my late wife’s death (February 12) and her birthday (March 13), I am firmly in the grip of nostalgia. Aside from the more intimate memories, there are things such as her voice, her laugh, and countless little mannerisms. Betty was a natural redhead with a temper to match. I remember telling our two boys many times: “You know your mother. She has to vent.” She would react to things quickly, and then the moment would be forgotten. Me, I have to stew over perceived slights and wrongs, which means I hold onto them longer.
Betty was shy around strangers, which made the social events required of my work literally hell for her. But she soldiered on and did her part. We soon got a reputation as the last to arrive at a gathering and the first to leave. She had one great redeeming quality (from my perspective), she could roll up her sleeves and dive into the innards of a washing machine or a toaster or virtually any household appliance to make repairs…something I wouldn’t even attempt. It was a testimony to her skill that when she died, our washing machine was an old Montgomery Ward model for which they no longer made replacement parts. The matching dryer died while she was in the hospital, but I am still using the washer. When it goes bad, I’ll just shoot it in the head and get a replacement.
My wife never looked more attractive, more alive than when she carried our two sons. Pregnancy did something to her—for her—that nothing else in life did. She shone…she glowed. She was so alive. She was also quite often nauseous. When we went grocery shopping she would stand in the soap department, where she could tolerate the aromas, and send me to other sections of the store to fetch items on her list.
Betty’s red hair, as I’ve said, was natural. The strands were like fine, glittering copper wires catching the sunlight and reflecting it back. She did not indulge herself lavishly, but she did enjoy going to the hairdresser occasionally. She had a favorite whom she reluctantly abandoned because the woman continually asked what she used to tint her hair. Betty could never convince her she did not—and never had—used dyes or tints.
She was a good sport. Always tolerant of my inability to do anything constructive with my hands, she was willing to pitch in to help. When I couldn’t get the plug out of the swamp cooler on the roof, she obligingly sucked on the end of a hose to start the water draining…and ended up with a mouthful of a foul, sediment laden soup from the bottom of the cooler. When I ineptly tried to fix a leaky faucet and lost a wad of bubblegum down the pipe (please don’t ask), she hovered over the pipe ready to snatch the gum as I cleverly lifted it on a cushion of water. Well, I screwed the goose on that one, too. She ended up with another dousing. At least this time it was clean water. To this day, if you draw from the cold water tap in that house, it is flavored by a piece of used bubblegum.
As I was sitting in the parking lot of a big box store the other day waiting for a friend and observing passersby, I began to notice that the way some of them walked reminded me of one of my sons or this friend or that acquaintance. Then it came to me that while I recalled so many things about Betty, I couldn’t remember her walk.
And that made me sad.
Next week: I’ll be over my bout of nostalgia, so maybe we’ll get back to some of the scenery in THE BISTI BUSINESS.
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