Sunday, March 12, 2006


The month of March stands out a bit for me. It is the month in which VS performed her most important functions: birth, marriage and death.

Not many people know anything about her story- even I don't know that much. Since it bothers me to think that any life could possibly slip by unnoticed, I feel compelled to tell what I know.

Rather than attempt to calculate the year of her birth, I will honor her lifelong dedication to its concealment. Suffice it to say that she was born in a bygone era, the only child of a fairly poor family. Her mother had immigrated from Ireland at age 19. Her father was a handsome, quiet, talented man who never did figure out how to make a living. Her Irish mother earned the family money by hoofing it to a camera factory before dawn each morning.

VS used to tell of a cabin, on a tranquil lake in upstate NY, that her father had built. He even custom-built the kitchen to accomodate his tiny Irish wife, whose factory job funded his craft. This cabin was a mecca for people wanting to escape the city, and VS spoke of her resentment of all the people taking advantage of her parents' generosity. VS felt cheated.

VS entertained herself as a child and teen by going to movies. Apparently she was quite addicted, and even desired a career in film or dancing. She must have looked the part, since she was voted "most beautiful girl" by her high school senior class.

She met her future husband, PeeWee, in marching band. Years later she confided that she should have married Dick Packer, who turned out to be not only successful, but loyal to the woman who did choose him.

VS was still a teen when she married PeeWee. He performed a brief stint in the Navy, where he narrowly escaped death when a cable on an aircraft carrier snapped. His buddies were not as fortunate, and he surely was affected by the tragedy.

Back home, the couple bought a little house from PeeWee's stepfather, and they never moved from that house. VS gave birth to a girl, then a boy a year later. VS's mother, who lived nearby, helped with the housework and children. (VS's father had left his wife to marry the woman next door.) PeeWee ended up with a decent job at IBM. Both VS and PeeWee were smart, but neither came from educated families, and college was never considered.

Twelve years later, VS suddenly became pregnant again. VS bragged that she only gained 12 pounds during that pregnancy, and people didn't even know she was pregnant. Was she unhappy about it? We'll never know.

That baby had to be incubated for a while, but did survive. VS's Irish mother took a liking to the baby and gave her her first bath. VS decided, when that child entered school, to get a job. It had been many years since she had worked outside of the home.

She landed a job in a hospital, as a ward clerk, on the 3pm to 11pm shift. The child, named Betty, was not happy about this, since it meant she'd rarely see her mother and she'd be stuck with PeeWee. Betty had discovered by listening in on a phone conversation that PeeWee was cheating on her beautiful mother. Betty kept the secret, but despised PeeWee.

VS loved working at the hospital even though, during her first few years, she had a sadistic boss. On her days off she'd indulge in her favorite delights: shopping, museum-hopping and attending NYC Ballet performances.

Long before its popularity, VS was a health food devotee. (Betty can vividly recall the foul-tasting tofu hot dogs she was forced to ingest during health food's infancy.) VS kept herself in shape with aerobics and lots of walking, and never strayed from her high school weight of 115 pounds.

Eventually, though, she had to acknowledge that her home life was in trouble due to PeeWee's extramarital activities. They separated briefly, but she did not thrive on her own. When PeeWee came running back, having realized that his girlfriend was a nutcase, VS took him in, along with his promise that he'd change his ways.

Well, you can guess the outcome. PeeWee never changed, and VS suffered greatly, torturing herself by spying on PeeWee's clandestine adventures, sometimes even confronting the "other woman".

Then one day VS was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She died eleven months later, in her month of March, days before she would have had to endure another celebration of the anniversary of her marriage, and shortly before she'd have had to reluctantly add one more year to her age.


garnet david said...

This is beautiful and heartrendering. It is rich with detail.

March is notably ambivalant in its weather. But apparently it offered more cold than hope for VS.

taikochan said...

Dear Betty,
Thank you so much for such a beautiful snapshot of a woman's life. You clear prose is, as always, a pleasure to read. This post makes me remember the rich stories -- happy and sad -- every person we meet has behind them.

Betty said...

March did offer her hope until the end. I have to remember that.

Betty said...

It was hard for me to put this together, because she rarely talked about her life. But as you said, every person has a unique story, and I had to try to tell hers. Thank you for appreciating it.

Shankari said...

What impressed most was the fact that you were so detached in your tremendous attachment for her and so humble in the pride in her life- up and downs as there are!

And that snapshot perspective of the child Betty on a cheating husband!

Thank you for sharing it this March- the womans month!

Betty said...

Your appreciation means a lot. Thank you!

Sideways Chica said...

Beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time. Sometimes when I read your posts, I feel as if I am looking into a mirror on the past.

Ciao bella...and thank goodness those Tofu hotdogs have gotten a wee bit better through the years. Next time I have one, I will think of VS and Betty.


Sideways Chica said...

I have to say dear Betty that I am a little comments back, and no new post. I know that my life is hectic (to say the least) ARGHHH! I assume yours is also - but, if you get the chance, let me know that you are okay. You are now in my radar frequency, and once this happens, it's a permanent situation.

Ciao bella...

Betty said...

Thank you for worrying about me. That was VS's job, and I've missed being worried about during the years since she died. I'm OK- just recovering from a very high stress week at work, and trying to catch up after focusing so much on that. One odd thing about my blog is my policy to never mention my job in any way. One of the reasons for that is to see if I can forge an identity away from work, for the first time in my adult life. Anyway, your concern is very welcome and appreciated.

Many hugs,

The Complimenting Commenter said...

What an amazing story. I could feel the emotions through her life. I hope that the lessons that she lived will help others. Thanks for sharing.

Priyamvada_K said...

Dear Betty,
I want to say something, but don't quite know what or how to say it. Makes me wish VS had a better life. She comes across as a sunny, courageous person.

Thank you for sharing. Hugs to you, and a salute to VS and her spirit.


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