I was a young woman in my early twenties when my husband Mike and I arrived at 8519 Anacortes Street in Houston, Texas. I had two little girls and many hopes and dreams for myself and my family as we moved our belongings from an apartment to our first home, a sweet nineteen fifties house on a huge tree filled lot at the end of the street. Even as we were still carrying our things inside we met our neighbors, most of whom were a bit older than I was with children who were in middle school and high school. I was literally the new kid on the block and the ladies who lived on either side of me would become my mentors, my fonts of wisdom and my very dear friends.
Once I had unpacked my worldly goods and created a livable environment inside the house I noticed that the ladies who lived on either side of me, Carol Hall and Betty Turner, would gather under the shade of the trees each afternoon to sit together relaxing for a time on their lawn chairs. Both ladies had large very active families that they headed with such skill and grace. I was already admiring them from afar and so one afternoon when I saw them lounging in their usual spot I gathered a chair of my own and joined them. To my delight they enthusiastically welcomed me to their little circle, a spot that I would grow to treasure.
Both of the women were sweet and kind and filled with a kind of folk wisdom that I needed as I nervously guided my own family from toddler days to teen times to young adults. I literally grew up in their care like a little sister always wanting to tag along and one day be just like them. Betty was always the calm optimistic anchor of our little group. She had a ready smile that was so genuine that it lit up even the darkest days. There was a twinkle in her eye and just enough mischief in her laugh to set me aright whenever I got a bit too serious about life. Her folksy wisdom and generous heart made her a favorite in our neighborhood. Virtually everyone had a story of how Betty had become like a mother or grandmother to them. Kids who were not her own called her MawMaw and everyone loved her just as she had loved them.
Betty was one of the most talented people I have ever known. Her culinary skills were legendary and with her bigger than life personality I always thought that she would have been a star if she had hosted her own cooking show. She made baking and preparing a feast for a huge crowd look easy and she had an eye for recipes that were mouth watering. Anytime she served a ham she would save the bone for me because she knew that I liked flavoring dried beans with the leftover scraps. On special occasions she would send over a cake or a batch of cookies, delights that we devoured all to quickly.
Betty’s five children grew and left home to begin their own adult lives but they often gathered together in their former home with their spouses and their children who became like extended family to me. I knew that I might knock at Betty’s door any time of the day or night and be welcomed with open arms. There was no problem of mine that Betty was not willing to help solve even as she cared for an aging mother and a husband with multiple health issues. Somehow Betty seemed to be blessed with boundless energy and a joy for life that was unflagging.
After almost thirty five years Mike and I decided to move from the home where we had raised our children and celebrated every major milestone of our lives. I announced our intention to leave our little nest with a somewhat heavy heart because I really could not imagine what it would be like to no longer have the luxury of sitting with Betty and Carol under the trees. I wondered who would keep me sane and laughing the way Betty always did.
The next fifteen years seemed to fly past at warp speed. I was busy being a Dean of Faculty at the school where I worked and I was now the one with married children and grandchildren who kept me happily busy. My mother came to live with me just as Betty’s had done with her. Whenever I became frustrated with all of my responsibilities I thought of Betty and the calmness that always seemed to emanate from her. I saw her smile and heard her laugh and followed her example.
Eventually I retired from work. By then Betty’s husband had died as had Carol. Betty moved from Anacortes Street to east Texas. I sent her Christmas cards, talked with her on the phone now and again and followed her on Facebook. Eventually Mike and I would camp in our trailer near her home and get to visit her in person. We would sit with her for half a day laughing and munching on goodies that she had made.
Somehow I never wanted to leave Betty’s presence because each time we visited I left feeling calm and so loved. After my mother died Betty even told me that she would now be my mother. I should have told her that in many ways she had been playing that role unofficially throughout my adult journey. Her impact on me was immeasurable.
Mike and I had planned to visit Betty again last spring. Covid-19 came and our plans had to change. I hoped that the danger of the pandemic would pass and we would once again be sitting around her dining table admiring the crafts she had made, listening to her stories and just enjoying being with her. Sadly Betty was diagnosed with advanced cancer several weeks ago and life was upended for her and her family and everyone who knew her. She died last week feeling closer than ever to God and knowing that her pain would soon be over and she would be in the arms of her Lord and savior.
A world without Betty Turner in it is hard to imagine. She gave so freely and so lovingly to every single person who came her way. She made each of us feel special. She provided the best advice without ever being preachy. She was the essence of joy. I will miss her but she is forever in my heart. My tears are filled with happy memories that will never fade. I smile as I think of her.
Enjoy your time with God, Betty. Say hello to Carol and Dave and all the folks who are no doubt celebrating with you under a big shade tree. You have earned a very special place in heaven. You were always my angel on earth and now I ask that you save a spot for me until I get to join you again one day.