The Novel Bakers Present Bettyville: A Memoir

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I’m joining The Novel Bakers with *Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman

A witty, tender memoir of a son’s journey home to care for his irascible mother—a tale of secrets, silences, and enduring love.

 Bettyville:

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.”

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“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. :)

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“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.”

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“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.’ ”

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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.”

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Cinnamon-Pecan Rolls with Cream Cheese Glaze, recipe courtesy of Southern Living

Ingredients

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

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Directions

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.”

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Visit Novel Bakers, Jain and Michael Lee, for their review of Bettyville:

a quiet life

Rattlebridge Farm

*Thanks to Viking Books and Michael Lee West for providing copies of Bettyville for our review.

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Thank you for your visit, also sharing at:

 Metamorphosis Monday,

The Scoop,  Inspire Me Tuesday,

Wow Us Wednesdays,

 Foodie Friday and Everything Else Link Party

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  35 comments for “The Novel Bakers Present Bettyville: A Memoir

  1. R. Dickinson
    March 10, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Thanks Mary! Sounds like my kind of read. Wish I could play hooky and read it today!

  2. Ellen Stillabower
    March 10, 2015 at 6:37 am

    Thanks Mary. I will be reading this one. We are all on our way to being Betty and I have a very narrow foot too!!! I’m 70 and fully intend to go out like a Betty. I can also sympathize with the son as he tries to take care of Betty. We must remember that eventually we all become our parents. Thanks also for the Cinnamon roll recipe. I’ll make it AFTER Lent when I can eat my sweets again!! That’s another thing, what is it with the elderly and sweets?? They seem to just crave them. My 96 year young Aunt Trudy lives on them and I think she should have all she wants. You make it to 96 and you should get what you desire!!!

    • March 10, 2015 at 6:46 am

      Ellen, you make me laugh, just please don’t insist on wearing your worn out slippery sandals on your narrow feet :) Good for Aunt Trudy, you should definitely eat what you want, especially if you’re in your 90s!

  3. Laura Heywood
    March 10, 2015 at 6:41 am

    I can’t wait to read this! Please share the white China pattern in your post.

    • March 10, 2015 at 6:47 am

      Hi Laura, It’s Paula Deen Whitaker, from Target several years ago :)

  4. March 10, 2015 at 7:10 am

    Thanks Mary for sharing! Sounds like a heart warming story, surely to find its way to my night stand! Need to try those cinnamon pecan rolls! Enjoy your day!🌴🌞

  5. March 10, 2015 at 7:13 am

    WHAT an awesome review! With a story I could have written after caring for my dying mom…and the fears that one day my 3 sons will have to do same for me. Scary.
    Downloading this one right now while saving ur cinnamon roll recipe to my file. Never thought about using the hot roll mix. Great shortcut!
    See? I’ve learned something today even while being a total lazy bum on a Caribbean beach!! Tks for that!

    • March 10, 2015 at 7:31 am

      Thanks Janey, enjoy your time in the Caribbean! It’s rainy and dreary here, I’m envious :)

  6. March 10, 2015 at 7:31 am

    Hi Mary, “Xanax. And a little crack on a bagel.” As a daughter to a difficult 91 year old independent stubborn mother I totally get it and laughed out loud sitting here. This sounds like it would be such an interesting read but while I am living some of it I think I’ll just enjoy those delicious cinnamon buns! Love those! And I would love to talk to George!! An understanding listener and some buns–the best therapy! Linda

    • March 10, 2015 at 7:45 am

      Hi Linda, It sounds like you need a whole pan of cinnamon rolls and an Rx or two for Caregiver Stress Syndrome :)

    • Melodie Strickland
      March 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm

      Linda,

      I can relate as I took care of my mom in my early 50’s when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. My heart goes out to you.

      Melodie (from Spotsylvania, Virginia)

  7. March 10, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Now this is a book I know I can love!….I love this series!….and never knew of the hot roll mix as I quickly zoom by this aisle, looking away, not being tempted….but this recipe is a must make for my little group of ladies….this post started my day with a great laugh!…thanks Mary!

  8. Becky Reavis-Ring
    March 10, 2015 at 8:02 am

    I can’t wait to read this book. You article/blog is so well done.

  9. March 10, 2015 at 8:15 am

    It was have been both heart wrenching and humorous to read this novel baker book, Mary. I had never heard of it before your review, but I’d like to read it now. Thanks for your synopsis of Bettyville and now I want a cinnamon roll!

  10. Terry
    March 10, 2015 at 9:38 am

    It’s a foggy morning, here in Milwaukee. It would be a perfect morning for the rolls, a cup of coffee and a good book! As usual, your posts inspire me!!

  11. March 10, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Before I got through your whole post I emailed my son the link. He is a gay man, we DO get along very well, and I am so reading this book and suggested hemight like it too. Your review had me LOLing:) I cared for my Mom for 5 years in our home before she died and we left SO many things unsaid and I regret it to this day. I never knew abiut the roll mix! I will be getting some of that too. Thanks for sharing this, Mary.

  12. March 10, 2015 at 10:31 am

    Mary, thanks for sharing your review of Bettyville. I smiled at the Betty’s diet. My mom seemed to survive on ice cream with chocolate sauce, chocolates, chocolate pudding, and chocolate milk. I often told my sister, it would be death by chocolate. We just let her enjoy the foods she wanted. Mother lived to celebrate her 99th birthday. I think she deserved as much chocolate as she wanted. ;-)
    Not certain I want to read the book. It’s like been there, done that.

  13. March 10, 2015 at 11:13 am

    omg, what are the odds we both zeroed in on strawberries and the same bloody mary comment! cracks me up girl! this is so fun, if it had been December i would have had a carton of eggnog too! we are indeed the novel bakers, seeking food in every line!

    your pics are always stunning…

    i LOVE your cinnamon rolls, what a delish morn to start our day bettys way!

    fun fun fun girl, i love how you captured the moments!

  14. Susan
    March 10, 2015 at 11:18 am

    I’ve just added this book to my Amazon cart and can’t wait to read it! Just the little bit I’ve read here, lets me know this is my kind of book.

  15. Katherine G
    March 10, 2015 at 11:22 am

    What a pleasure reading your visual book review – the book sounds hilarious!

  16. Rattlebridge Farm--Foodie Friday & Everything Else
    March 10, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Mary, your review makes me want to re-read Bettyville–and to make more cinnamon rolls! Don’t they make a house smell divine? It’s worth making them just for the aroma! I love how you made the rolls in a cast iron skillet, and the photo of the icing as it spills onto the plate is so enticing. I never thought to use a roll mix–what a “novel” idea! I’ve had such trouble with the concussion that I could, initially, only make rolls from a can, but they were so hard, Bandwidth took pity on me and dashed to the grocery. I’m going to show him your recipe. It’s always a joy to see your NB posts, as your creativity is inspirational. You make the world a better place. I wish I could join you for bloody Marys on the porch.

  17. March 10, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Loved this post!! I wish I could have gotten the book in time!

  18. Melissa G
    March 10, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Hi Mary! Wonderful post for anyone who has cared for an irascible loved one. I was reading the recipe and noted the 1 cup of powdered sugar, milk and vanilla in the cinnamon roll recipe. Sounds like a glaze other than the cream cheese icing recipe that follows? Think I will make this for my husband’s work group next week! Delicious and quick.

    • March 10, 2015 at 1:45 pm

      Thanks for letting me know and for your eagle eye Melissa! I made the changes, the original recipe had just a powdered sugar glaze and I used a cream cheese one and forgot to delete the other glaze ingredients. I made the changes to the printable too, I hope everyone enjoys! The more glaze the better :)

  19. March 10, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    Well done! although the story sounds like a heart tugger, I enjoy witty and pithy writing…I shudder at the thought that my son and I might someday be Betty and George… This title is now on my to read list!
    May I share this link in our BookWorms Group on Facebook?

    • March 10, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Sonia, Share away!

      • March 11, 2015 at 2:18 pm

        Thank you! sharing now…

  20. March 10, 2015 at 3:54 pm

    What a treat to have the Novel Bakers entertaining during this week of endless rain…Poor George, oh how I can relate…My MIL was stubborn, feisty, and full of backhanded comments until the end of her 98 years this Christmas. A glass of wine or 3 was always on her mind and then we were always afraid she would topple right over [and often did] We all miss her like crazy~ family is a complicated thing, and one often needs the help of a warm cinnamon roll or a plump juicy strawberry to dull the pain from biting one’s tongue :) Thanks for sharing this important tale of love and family Mary, as always, you make me want to run to the store to buy the book, cook something wonderful, become a better photographer, and most of all, curl up and read~
    Jenna

  21. Diana
    March 10, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    This is such an upbeat post for a situation that can be rife with the gamut of emotions. I do think that it takes a bit of “spunk” to stick around and maintain at least some of one’s identity. Having cared for an irascible loved one and the humor you have communicated is so important for everyone involved. The photos are amazing, as usual, and I can smell the cinnamon rolls. Thanks for sharing!

  22. March 10, 2015 at 5:11 pm

    Oh those rolls look mighty good Mary! That little dough boy is a bad influence:@)

  23. Cynthia Raines
    March 10, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    Wow – a double hitter and “must do” for both. Looking forward to baking and reading. Will put it on a must read book list for this summer. Thanks Mary!

  24. terristeffes
    March 10, 2015 at 9:34 pm

    Loved your post. Will definitely be buying that book: I am a Missouri native and love books about home. How does one join the Novella Bakers? Sounds right up my alley!

  25. March 10, 2015 at 10:40 pm

    The rolls look yummy – the book sounds like dealing with some of the elderly I have known! Makes you wonder what you will be like when you get that age!

  26. Melodie Strickland
    March 11, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Mary,

    Where can I find a copy of Bettyville? I went through what George is going through around 15 years ago when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 86 and lived until she was 91. At that time, there weren’t any support groups for Alzheimer’s. So much has changed since then as I have known people whose spouses have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s as well as parents. It is so heart wrenching.

    Melodie

  27. March 19, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Like some of the others said, living through it leaves a wound, and I am not ready to go there yet. I’ll put it o my someday list! Thanks for your beautiful pics, you and ML are so good at this!

Thank you for your comments~ they make my day ♥

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