It occurred to me today that I have shared many stories about my time with Old Man, and one or two stories about his son, but I have not written about his wife, “Betty.”
I was not as close with her as I was with him. She was pretty tough to like much less love. I know that sounds harsh and judgmental, but unfortunately it was true. She was a hurting wounded woman, who was locked in a self-imposed prison of regret, complicated with early signs of dementia and incurable cancer. There was not one part of her life she did not talk about regretting. From her childhood, marriage, parenting and old age, she regretted them all.
Betty stood 4’ 10’’ tall, and was of German descent. She was a firecracker, and had no problem sharing what was on her mind, yet most of the time her mind was in a state of confusion. In retrospect the family should have had her checked for dementia, maybe having a diagnosis would have helped them in dealing with her outbursts. Maybe, but we will never know.
So, between her emotional wounds, the undocumented signs of dementia, and a dying husband, she was cranky most of the time, yet in a strange way I understood. I am not sure why, I just did.
The only time she was truly calm and engaging was when she shared her knowledge about flowers. That woman knew flowers, and I tried to talk to her about them every chance I could.
3 years ago Betty told me that her favorite flower was the Iris. She had a catalog that specialized in new strains of the Iris bulbs, and she had ordered some. She was waiting for them to come in the mail. She showed me which ones she had ordered. She was so excited.
I remember the day they arrived. Old Man and I were sitting in the man cave drinking coffee when she opened the door and started telling us all about them. She was like a kid at Christmas.
She shared where she wanted them planted. In fact, she had me step out of the man cave several times so she could show me “the perfect spot.” Old Man was patient for a bit, but within a few minutes his patience ran out. He did not like her coming in the man cave, and he had told her that on several different occasions, mostly because she repeated herself frequently. He had a hard time dealing with her memory loss.
Finally, he looked up and asked her how she was going to plant the bulbs. Her health was poor; she had fallen several times when she tried to work in her yard.
Just that quick her joy was gone. Her shoulders slumped down; anger gripped her face as she stomped to the door to go back into the house. While she was opening the door she turned and cussed Old Man and I out. I just sat there. I didn’t take it personal, how could I? Needless to say, I was frustrated with Old Man. I looked at him and asked him why he couldn’t be happy for her. He shrugged his shoulders, called her an idiot, and changed the conversation. I didn’t say a word, but within a few minutes I left.
As I walked home I thought about her physical limitations. I thought about how uncaring Old Man was, and decided that she needed her joy back.
A week later I delivered them, four large planter boxes for their back deck, the deck that came off the sliding glass door. They were tall enough that she did not have to bend over to tend to her flowers, and yet strong enough, because they were lag bolted to the frame, that if she fell into them, neither her or they would fall off the deck. Plus, they doubled as a handrail; something the deck was missing.
I hoped she would consent to using them, instead of trying to walk on the uneven ground, but old patterns are hard to break. She was so upset that no one would share in her excitement for the bulbs, and assist her in planting them in the ground that she refused to use the planter boxes for her bulbs. Instead she left the bulbs in their box and placed them in her back closet.
While their granddaughter and I were cleaning out the house and setting up for the estate sale, last year, we found that box. As I picked it up I could still see the excitement on her face, and the joy in her voice. I asked if I could have the bulbs. I wanted to take them home and plant them.
Within a few months the Iris bulbs bloomed. Before they opened up the buds were beautiful. One plant had a dark blue bud, and the other had a dark purple bud. Yet, when the buds opened they were the ugliest flowers I had ever seen. They looked nothing like the pictures in the catalogue that I had seen.
As I stood in my yard looking at the flowers it occurred to me that the flowers were representational of her. From the outside she looked inviting. She looked like one of those grandmas everyone wanted. In truth, though, once she opened up and let you in, she was tough to love. She was as unpredictable as the bloom on those iris bulbs.
As I sat on the front porch drinking my coffee, admiring the flowers and remembering that story I kind of missed her. I realized that because of my relationship with her, I learned to see, really see the beauty of a flower, or the beauty of a moment. Whether she knew it or not, she taught me that.
She taught me, through her own life experience, to not let bitterness become like a beaver dam in the soul. I would like to say that before she moved, out of state, I was able to tell her how much she met to me, but that did not happen. Once Old Man had passed away she emotionally died as well. The last 4 weeks she was here, in Oregon, all contact had to be suspended, and I never spoke with her again, and within two months of moving out of state she was gone.
There was no memorial service for her in this state. If there were I think my eulogy would have been this: “She was a survivor. She loved deeply, though she didn’t always let that show, and passionately. She endured many harsh things in life, and still managed to live as full of a life as she could. That living was evident in the beauty she saw in flowers, and shared with me.”
I will miss her. I will miss her quick tongue, her fleeting dry sense of humor, and even the way she used to fight with Old Man.
Even with that, I have often wondered, over the last year since her death, what her life might have been like if she had been able to escape the prison she was living in.
I think she would have been inviting, engaging and the kind of grandmother everyone wanted to be around. It is so sad that she did not see her self-imposed prison. If she had maybe she would have realized she held the key. She could have released herself at any time.
She has been added as one of those people who “blessed my life by coming alongside of me and guiding me on my mountain journey.” Not so much through her counsel, but through her living. I hope she truly is resting in peace. Lord knows, she did not find peace here.
(This essay, and all others listed under the “Over 50 and a Little Crazy” banner, are authored solely by Ms. Misty Thomas: http://gravatar.com/mistythomas51)