Many of us have that one distinguished relative who becomes legend in our family trees for a variety of reasons. There are the uncles who could drink the entire neighbourhood under the table, the grandmother who knit 250 pairs of mittens for a local school or the cousin who travels the world for 10 years and builds an orphanage in Africa.
I have my Aunt Betty Crocker. Not THE Betty Crocker, famous for her cookbooks and recipes. My Aunt Betty is famous for raising a dozen children by herself when my Uncle Bill finally succumbed to disease he acquired in World War 11. At least that’s the story I heard while growing up.
I remember visiting them in Petty Harbour (NFLD) as a child, and Uncle Bill taking me out in his dory for a spin around the pond. Uncle Bill had one leg; the other was sawed off when gangrene ate away at it. I was always in awe of his mobility back then and a little afraid of the loose pant leg that sometimes flapped around his stump when it became untied.
Visiting my cousins was always a treat. Even though they lived in a small house and there was so many of them that I could never get their names straight, it was a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon growing up.
But then Uncle Bill passed, we all got older, Aunt Betty moved to a different house in a different town and all of our lives changed. It would be years before I saw Aunt Betty and my cousins again after I left Newfoundland in my early 20’s.
However, in these past few years I’ve made it a point to get to know my Aunt Betty better and I see a different woman than the one I knew as a child.
My Aunt Betty will be 85 on Boxing Day. She is smart, aware, mobile and funny. She’s battled breast cancer (she had one breast removed to prove it), and a myriad of other ailments including osteoarthritis – the disease that caused a major hump on my Grandmother’s back.
She was widowed at an early age with a dozen kids of varying ages and I can only imagine her struggles through the years. Today, all living children treat her as a Queen and parlay around her whenever she’s in need. She’s become the “child” in their family and it’s easy to see why they all favour her.
Aunt Betty loves clothes and jewellery. Anything that glitters and shines attracts her eye. She has lovely white hair and amazing deep blue eyes (blue eyes are a trademark of the Mills’ clan). She has a matching dog and cat. For real! A black and white dog and a black and white cat! Both animals have unusual markings.
I saw her a few weeks ago and marveled again at her crystal-clear memory after all these years. I loved reminiscing about the past, about growing up and talking about her pets.
Then she laid the bombshell news on me. Aunt Betty had a male friend. They have been together for 40 years, and although they share a house, they each have their own rooms. He is 10 years younger than she is.
I have never met this man, nor heard of him before, but Aunt Betty just chatted away about him as though he were a topic of discussion between us for years. He was always out when I visited or busy somewhere else in the house, so we never met.
I glanced across the table to my cousin Mary to see if Aunt Betty’s male friend was a “real” friend or not. She is almost 85 and this news came from nowhere, so I was suspicious, but my cousin didn’t flinch.
Aunt Betty, being as smart and astute as she is, took me into her room to show me some photo albums, but none had pictures of her friend. She did show me his room, where the cat’s basket sits at the foot of his bed. The matching dog sleeps in Aunt Betty’s room.
I guess she thought it was time I knew about her friend and that he was one of the reasons for her happiness. After all she said, she couldn’t have raised all those children by herself and he does drive her to town when she needs to shop. “He’s a good man,” she said.
And he’s a lucky man, too. Hanging out with the lovely Betty Crocker these past forty years.