Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Betsy

My mother turns 88 today (Tuesday, the 18th). As we all know, this is no small accomplishment, although in other ways it is not an accomplishment at all, but instead a result of breathing longer than the next person. But it feels like an accomplishment, when looking up from 56.

She is an accomplished fine artist--so that's an accomplishment that counts. She once, for a number of years, played gut-bucket bass with our family band--another. She raised three kids through the 40s, 50s, and those difficult 60s. A major accomplishment. She was art director for Lord and Taylor in NYC during WWII, one of very few women to break through the glass ceiling way back when. She helped me build a go-cart when I was 12. She gave me a spider monkey for my 13th birthday (Franklin, I called him; the name of my first literary agent it would turn out a decade later). She organized massive neighborhood arts fairs, when dozens of kids got to do a number of art projects just so they could be artists for a few hours--all on her nickel. But maybe her biggest claim to fame was serving in the traditional role of the time (and it was a different time) as wife to a drunk.

We lost my father 18 months ago. We actually didn't lose him, he died, but that's the expression, and I'm sticking with it. He would go on, after getting sober several times, to manage AA worldwide for 15 years--quite the turnaround. But the only reason he made it that far was because of Betsy; her patience; her determination that the alcohol wasn't going to take down our family. She pulled an intervention (unknown at the time) and offered him a choice of the sanitarium for life, or one last try at AA. He died at 90 a thriving member of the community, and a great dad.

She's "pushing 90" and it's an uphill push. She broke her back in three places in February but is able to get around and went to the Sun Valley Symphony with us last night. She has a terrific a spirit and glint to her eye when she smiles. Who knows what the years ahead offer (any of us, for that matter) but the years behind her are good ones. As my dad used to say: "Don't project."

But this is her day. And for the first day in probably a year or two, I won't write. I won't work. My wife and I will cook dinner for 20. I'll get the old red farm truck working (it's been idle for a year while we were in China) and we'll take a moment to reflect and remember one of the great ladies. The Betsy.



  1. Ridley, how lovely. Your mom sounds like a real pistol. Now I know where you got your sense of adventure and your indomitable spirit. The Happiest of Birthdays to The Betsy.

  2. hope the day turned out just the way you planned it.
    all the best to you mother and many happy returns!


  3. Wow! Wonderful tribute to an obviously magnificent woman. Thank you for sharing her, Ridley. Please include my birthday wishes for her, too.

  4. Outstanding tribute. I'll bet your Mom blushed and said not to make a big fuss.

  5. Too bad not everyone has a Betsy in their life.