I’m joining The Novel Bakers with *Bettyville: A Memoir by
In the Northeast part of Missouri, where the big rivers run, angels are prayed for, and Wal-Martians battle for bargains, there is a little town called Paris where you can find George and Betty—lifelong allies, conspirators, sharers of jokes and grudges, occasional warriors, mother and son.
Beneath the comic banter they share lies undying love, loyalty, and occasionally the desire to throttle each other. They have been through it all. Now they are facing…a little more. The juncture that every son or daughter understands, that reversal of roles that rarely goes smoothly as parent grows older and child struggles, heart in hand, to hold on to what once was.
Betty photo source: George Hodgman
The mother George remembers as the beautiful blonde, flooring the accelerator of the family’s battered Impala, has lost her driver’s license. Suddenly this ever-independent woman—killer bee at the bridge table, perfectionist at the piano—actually needs the help she would rather die than ask for.
Young George with dog, Toto, “perhaps the worst-behaved animal in the history of the state of Missouri” photo source: George Hodgman
George, now “fiftysomething-ish,” bruised from big-time Manhattan where he has lost his job—has returned to Missouri for Betty’s ninety-first birthday at the height of the hottest summer in years. The roses in the yard are in danger. As is Betty.
Despite his doubts (“I am a care inflictor…I am the Joan Crawford of eldercare”) and near-lethal cooking skills, George tries to take over, mounting epic expeditions for comfortable but stylish shoes, coming to understand the battle his determined mother is waging against a world determined to overlook the no longer young.
Despite their closeness, there is so much that this mother and son have never spoken of and now this seems to matter, maybe more than ever. Betty, who speaks her mind but cannot always reveal her heart, has never really accepted the fact that her son is gay. George has never outgrown the feeling that he has disappointed her. For so long, these two people—united but still silent about too many things—have struggled with words. They will never not be people who lead different kinds of lives. But they try their best to make things right. Betty sees her son’s sadness and tries to reach out. George is inspired by his mother’s unfailing bravery. As they redefine the home they find themselves sharing once more, a new chapter of their story is written.
Tender and heartfelt, I found lots of laugh out loud moments in this memoir and story of a son returning home to care from his feisty mother in her twilight years…“Just a typical American family, torn between love and homicide, but united in our way.” George’s wields his wit and sense of humor as a coping mechanism, that had me dog-earing pages with favorite quotes and humorous anecdotes, especially those about Betty’s wardrobe and the “War of Shoes”:
“It is ridiculous to be a fiftyish man who cannot handle a ninety-year-old with narrow feet.”
“She is wearing the jeans she will never take off and a blouse with wrinkles she cannot see. For many days this pairing has been her choice. I have given up trying to control her clothes. God grant me the serenity to accept the clothes I cannot change.”
“I do my best to make sure that when she looks in the mirror, there is someone who is familiar though sometimes nothing else is. When dealing with older women, a trip to a hairdresser and two Bloody Marys goes further than any prescription drug.”
“I buy mountains of fresh fruit, still — like ice cream — a luxury for a woman raised in the country during the Depression. Even after decades of relative prosperity, a bowl of fresh strawberries remains a thing of beauty to her, a wonderful surprise. She spies them with the delight of an excited girl.”
While I found and dog-eared some 20+ quotes, I found Novel Baking a challenge, between Betty and her tendency to never turn things off, “leading to exploding percolators and smoky puffs from toasters”, and George, burning tuna casseroles made with potato chips. :)
“A day that begins with four coffees, two cinnamon rolls, and several trips to the refrigerator for caramel praline ice cream is likely to lead a person into risky emotional territory.”
“As I come out of the store, I see Betty’s face through the windshield, the very image of stubbornness. I wish I were on drugs. Yesterday at the meat counter when they asked what I needed, I whispered to myself. ‘Xanax. And a little crack on a bagel.’ ”
Cinnamon rolls seemed to be a shared coping mechanism for George and Betty:
“This indulgence is needed by neither one of us at 701 Sherwood. I envision my future as that of a person who will have to be cut out of a couch.”
Cinnamon-Pecan Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze, recipe courtesy of Southern Living
1 cup chopped pecans
1 (16-oz.) package hot roll mix, (I used Pillsbury)
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350°. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted and fragrant, stirring halfway through.
Prepare hot roll dough as directed on back of package; let dough stand 5 minutes. Roll dough into a 15- x 10-inch rectangle; spread with softened butter. Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon; sprinkle over butter. Sprinkle pecans over brown sugar mixture. Roll up tightly, starting at one long end; cut into 12 slices. Place rolls, cut sides down, in a lightly greased 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 13- x 9-inch pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and a cloth towel; let rise in a warm place (85°), free from drafts, 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
Preheat oven to 375°. Uncover rolls, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until center rolls are golden brown and done. Let cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes.
Cream Cheese Glaze
1 (3-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
Beat first 2 ingredients at medium speed with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended. Stir in vanilla and 1 Tbsp. milk. Add remaining 1 Tbsp. milk, 1 tsp. at a time, stirring until icing is smooth and creamy. Spread or drizzle over warm rolls.
You can find a printable recipe, here.
“I think I have survived because of Betty, more than anyone. I will never stop remembering my mother’s strength, her struggle to remember words, to hang on to the world. I will always hear her at the piano, an old woman practicing, still trying to get it right, to find the right notes. I will see her walking, haltingly, in the dark, doing her best to find her way. We have sometimes struggled with words, but I am Betty’s boy. There are so many things I will carry when I leave Bettyville with my old suitcase.”
Visit Novel Bakers, Jain and Michael Lee, for their review of Bettyville:
*Thanks to Viking Books and Michael Lee West for providing copies of Bettyville for our review.
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