BETTY, VIRGINIA, LESEY
Editor’s Note: March is Women’s History Month. Marianne Wood writes about three women of influence from her childhood neighborhood.
By MARIANNE WOOD
Though life on the street I grew up on in the 1960s was far from perfect, the families living there had each other’s backs in many ways. Discipline was one of them. If you broke a rule at one house, there was a good chance you’d hear about it at home. Soon. Religious practice in the homes ran the gamut: Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics and one abstainer. But the code of conduct, “mind your manners,” was enforced equally by all.
One of the neighborhood moms, Betty Bedford, still has that twinkle she had when we were young. She brought it with her to my mom’s life celebration in 2018 wanting to recollect with us the great joy we all had when we met to swim, gather for our annual New Year’s Day party, or carpool during a regular school week. She was one of the moms who crocheted booties for the next round of babies while watching over the kids in our pool, and she was one of the moms who prayed. She is the mom of my friend, Fredda, who helped me through an early dark patch when I was hurt by a neighbor babysitter. I was four. I warned you the neighborhood was imperfect. Both prayed me through that and much more. I am not in tatters due to their vigilance and care.
Virginia’s children were just a bit older, so we saw her less, but knew her well from the New Year’s party and from some shenanigans her son, Bobby, just older than my brother Dick, performed one year as we scooped out the tadpoles and much more in preparation for another year of swimming in our back yard pool.
That particular year, a full grown frog emerged as we dragged bucket after bucket of gunk up the sloping sides of the pool to dump over the back fence. I’ll never forget marching behind Bobby across the yard between us to the White’s living room where we found his mother, Virginia, reading a book. The look on her face when her son presented her with the very lively frog that day jumps easily out of my memory. Always neat as a pin and delightfully friendly, I have dreamed at night of going into her home as often as my own because I think I am looking for her. The memory of her presence comforts me.
Virginia’s Aunt Lesey not only lived in town, but across the street from our church. I loved watching her and her husband, Caro, walk across the red brick street hand in hand so much that I created an illustration of them with our steepled church in the background for one of my Christmas cards. I knew her from church but also because she attended that January 1st party that was part of our neighborhood glue. I got closer to her when her granddaughter, Alicia, and I become pen pals. Later, after another difficult time, I went to live with Lesey. Caro had recently passed. Both hurting, we were a good fit.
Lesey lived in a very modest but lovingly furnished and greatly appreciated salt box home her husband had built for them not many years into their marriage. There I had a room with an eastern exposure—one that I love and from which, similarly, I am writing now. The sparsely furnished room featured a dark wood spindle bed and a dresser. A black and white tiled bathroom was next door. It was all the accommodation I needed for that time of recovery. But mostly, I needed her.
During the year and one half that I lived with Lesey I got to know her well though we gave each other space and freedom. She had her friends over to play “Skip Bo,” and I vividly recall that she served chili and Eskimo Pies. I thought that was strange for an elderly woman, but cute, too! She also cooked a delicious treat called “Forgotten Cookies” quite often and made garlic bread out of hotdog buns.
I began dating my future husband while living with Lesey. In fact our first real date together was to an Easter time service—perhaps Maundy Thursday—for I recall it was in the evening. With her beautiful white hair, regal carriage, and genial manner, we had a chaperone everyone would trust. As our love bloomed, so did her red roses in the garden out back. Dressed in her trademark blue, we reserved a special seat up front for her at our September wedding. I treasure the photo of her there, smiling.
Lesey’s delightful love of people and life in general still swells within me as I catch a bit of her in her niece, Jan Woodward, or in a bit of calligraphy that reminds me of her distinctive hand. What cheer! And what a dear.
Marianne Wood works as an editorial assistant and researcher for Bill Wright and teaches art education at Hardin-Simmons University