Friday, December 26, 2008

Betty & Walter

Betty was the oldest of the five girls in Momma's family. She was an x-ray technician when I was very young, then moved into administration and something to do with insurance for a private hospital for children. Work was always a big part of who she was. She was a career woman in an era when everyone was a stay-at-home mom.

She married Walter when I was in first grade. I remember because everyone came to school--the Catholic church next door to school to be exact. It was a big deal to see my aunts and uncles all dressed up. Some of my older cousins got to skip class to attend the ceremony.

Walter is a postcard from the late 40s and early 50s. He smoked a pipe, sported thick glasses, and always wore a white shirt, short-sleeved or long depending on the season, pleated pants, wingtips, and a skinny tie. He was a higher up in the county tax commissioner's office--a career bureaucrat. He had a amazing train track set-up with mountains, bodies of water, small towns, and farms. When we were very young, he would sometimes put on his conductor cap and run the trains for us. He also fed the ducks and other water birds that hung out at a city pond in the park behind their house.

Betty and Walter never had children. As the oldest girl in single-parent family with eight kids, Betty probably had her fill of raising children well before she married. Betty was the typical oldest sister--a bit bossy and quick to point out to her siblings the error of their ways. She was also the one everybody ran to anytime they needed anything. She always helped, and rarely said a word about it--to anyone.

Betty and Walter often hosted potluck picnics, especially around Memorial Day or Labor Day. These were much more sedate than the big Fourth of July blow-outs, but similar in that the aunts and some of my uncles would sit at card tables in the shade playing bridge. It was not unusual to have as many as three tables going at one of these family picnics. From time to time they'd call out for one of us to come sit in for them while they took a break from the game. Most of the cousins know the fundamentals of bridge.

These bridge games were often loud and boisterous, especially as time went on. None of the aunts was ever wrong about anything. Consequently, arguments would break out about proper bidding, what somebody should have done, and the best way to play the hand. The language would be enough on occasion to make a sailor blush. Everybody smoked. Given that the get together was associated with a holiday, alcohol flowed freely, too.

Betty was an avid supporter of University of Kentucky basketball and football. She was thrilled to have nieces and nephews with UK degrees. She praised us for our accomplishments and was quick to offer support to anyone that was struggling for whatever reason. She bought more interview, funeral, and wedding suits for various cousins than you could count.

I don't recall Betty or Walter ever saying a word about me being gay. They knew. Everyone did. My partner and I hosted the annual Fourth of July blow-out at our house for several years. They always came, and they always treated my partner like he was one of the family. Actions speak louder than words. They died, fairly close together, of cancer and were very well cared for--by my cousins--up to the very end.

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