I’m A “Bet-Nee” Wanna-Bee
A friend of mine is writing a book. It is a labor of love that she has been mulling over in her head now for the better part of 10-years. It also happens to be a fascinating story that is very near and dear to our hearts. She’s finally at a point in her life, where she has the time to focus and can sit down and write. A couple of weeks ago she asked me to go to Pearl River with her to interview a woman I know for her book.
At just over four feet tall and weighing in at about 105 lbs. Betty, is an absolute powerhouse. Her hair is short and a soft golden, auburn color. Her eyes are a sparkling blue. Her smile is slight but constant. At lunch, Betty is all go; non-stop chatter, breaking her beat only long enough to take a sip of her Pinot Grigio with ice. It takes her one-hour to drink one glass of wine and you can count on her drinking at least two, probably three. At 82, Betty is single. She likes her coffee “dark like her men” and is looking for “a rich man, with a bad cough and one foot in the grave.” I sat across from Betty, studying her, marveling at her quick wit and sharp memory.
She talked about her childhood and the various jobs she held at the Industrial Home (orphanage) that she grew up in, during the 1930s, in Ireland. Catholic nuns ran these homes with little love and no money and while thousands of girls, ages five and older were accepted into them, Betty’s case was unique. She was the only infant to be admitted into her “home”.
“I was the pet you know. They (the nuns) called me “Bet-Nee.” She told us proudly. “The other girls knew I was the pet so when they wanted something, like to wear long socks or play in the field, they would send me up to ask for it.”
After 3 1/2 hours of being mesmerized by Betty, I finally asked for the check. Upon its arrival and without hesitation, Betty grabbed it from the waiter. Slightly shocked, I watched in awe as my friend, who was sitting next to Betty, tried to wrestle the paper out of the tiny woman’s, tiny hand, unsuccessfully. (“She’s really strong!” my friend later told me.) Betty did not give up the check. My friend and I are a bit old school, and there is no way we would let an 82-year old woman pay for lunch so before she could get to her wallet, I handed the waiter my credit card along with a “look” that required no verbal explanation. He was off and Betty was pissed.
She admonished me, profusely.
I have no desire to upset an 82-year-old woman, so when she insisted we come back to her house for a minute before heading home, there was no back talk. We obliged. Once inside, she took us into a spare room and showed us a beautiful portrait of her parents that she has hanging on the wall. Her mother died shortly after she was born. Her father was too poor to care for her and with the help of his sister, brought Betty and her sister to the Industrial Home. After a few minutes of chatting, Betty disappeared into the hallway. A moment later she popped back into the bedroom carrying a short, pale blue, wool, winter coat.
“Here.” she said gently and handed me the coat, “I never wear it. It should fit you.”
I was stunned. I didn’t know what to do. Puzzled, I looked deep into Betty’s sparkling blue eyes for clarity and in that instant, she gave me, a “look” that required no verbal explanation. I was humbled.
I took the coat from Betty and thanked her, profusely.
My lesson was learned. Old school or not, I would not disrespect this gesture. I would not say “no” to Betty twice in one day or perhaps, ever again.
In short, Betty’s story about growing up in the Industrial Home was indeed a heartbreaking one to hear but she is not broken and there is no bitterness in her words. “We did the best we could with what we had.” she said. Her attitude is remarkable and so is she. And I can only hope and pray to be like her, one day.
So yeah, I’m a “Bet-Nee“ Wanna-Bee.