Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Farewell Betty Boop

Published January 2005

I met Betty Boop twice when I was a child. The first time when I was two years old and sick with the measles and then on my tenth birthday. She came to California from New Jersey on those two occasions to check me out and see how I was growing up. I think for those two visits I regarded her with caution. When she returned for my high school graduation in 1981, I drove her around town in my bright green VW bus and we got to know each other a lot better. It was easy to love her because she loved me so much. Betty Boop wasn’t a cupie doll cartoon, she was my grandmother.

Born Elizabeth Mary Shaw, she passed away last week at the age of 87. She gave birth to four children and lost four children before they were born and one in the military when he was 23 years old. After JD and I were married, Betty Boop made annual trips to see us for several years in a row. She was there for the birth of her namesake, our firstborn daughter, Shannon “Elizabeth”. My Gram knew much heart ache and loss in her life, but that never stopped her generosity or compassion for others. She was the life of the party and a stinker pot when she wanted to be one – but her smile and sense of humor were contagious. She was my grandmother one minute and my friend always. She was the one who told me a lot about my father who died before I was born. She answered the questions I had and told me frequently that I was “just like her Tommy”.

I lost contact with her several years ago for reasons I recently only understood to be early dementia. I thought I had said or done something to offend her. She simply started to slip away. When JD, the kids and I took a trip East last year to see her, I remembered seeing how small she looked but when she embraced me – we both started to cry which for me was her recognition of our relationship. We did puzzles and played “I Spy with my Little Eye” and she held onto my hand like she did before she fell ill. My Aunt Carol, my hero, took care of her for as long as I could remember and she was faithful to her to the end this last week. I hope I can be the best of my Aunt Carol. I hope I can be as funny and silly as Betty Boop when I am in my 80’s. I hope I can take all the good from that side of the family and carry on with it. I hate the farewells. She hated them too.

My grandmother had raised her kids in a small Jersey shore town. She single-handedly ran a luncheonette on Main street where the high school kids hung out. She worked all her life. Her last job was as “Coffee Lady” at 7-11. She listened to people and she enjoyed meeting new people. I had a few adventures with Betty Boop in San Francisco and Las Vegas. She and I had some laughs in Atlantic City too. She loved to travel when she could and she frequently flew south every winter to be with my Aunts Mary and Peggy. I love to tease her Jersey accent and she loved to tease me right back. There were simple things she loved. She loved the tabloids and made us drive her to the store every Wednesday to pick up her “papers”. She loved her animals and her “stories” (soap operas). Her papers and her stories were fodder for her fun imagination.
I have wonderful memories of her. I have few regrets. I wish I had been a better cook when she was still healthy enough to visit us. She never got to see how savvy I became in the kitchen. I wish I told her how much she meant to my life. I know she knew it. I hope I can be the kind of grandmother she was. It would be the perfect tribute to her.

My last memory of her face is at the window of her retirement home. She was watching us walk to the parking lot. I ran around and blew her kisses and looked at her long and hard. She smiled. We didn’t want it to end. She hated the goodbyes. I hated them too. We made spectacles of ourselves at the airport gates all those years before. She kept waving even when I finally turned around and grabbed my kids for support.

I hate to say farewell to my Betty Boop, but I must. My plane leaves in the morning. I’ll be there to tuck you in at your viewing. Goodbye my dear sweet Gram. Thank you for being my grandma. I love you. Say hello to “your Tommy” for me and know that I am praying for you both.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at familyfare@sbcglobal.net

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