I have talked a lot about my mother, who died when I was only 35 years old but my mother, for the 30 years since then, has been my precious next-door neighbor, Bettye. I feel sure my actual mother had something to do with our moving to that particular Siesta Key house in 1987. Bettye recalls the first time she saw any of her noisy, new neighbors who were just moving in and it happened to be Edward, in his stroller at the age of two, being pushed by a babysitter while I worked to get our new home in order. She remembers his easy smile and chubby cheeks. That is the moment the love affair began with all of us Crouses and dear Bettye.
Our time spent living next door to Bettye has been like a fairly tale. We had to cut a hole in the hedge so we wouldn’t have to travel all the way around to get to each other. When William was born, Bettye pretended she was my Mom, so that she and my Dad could come right into my hospital room. Bettye is exactly who Jay and I wanted to be with us to share in the birth of our newest baby boy. She is the type person who just makes you feel like you are the best thing around. She loves on people unsparingly and is an encourager from the get go. I would never doubt her love for me and for Madison, who cuts her hair, and for Calvin, who helps her in the yard and pretty much anyone else who crosses her path. William got lucky. Bettye and her gentle yet strong husband, Bill, agreed to be his godparents. When Bill became ill with cancer, I would make a plate for them at dinnertime and one of our boys would run it next door. After Bettye’s girls sang their dad song after song, straight from a hymnal, around his bed, he peacefully went to heaven. We kept sending Bettye a bite of dinner now and then. She laughs that one night, when one of the boys passed a warm plate over her threshold, he said, “You know, Bettye, I think we’re keeping you alive.”
When Jay said he wanted to move to Charleston to do ministry work, I immediately thought, I can’t leave Bettye. She was the person I leaned on, I talked to and complained to and cried to when I needed it. There was more than one time I harrumphed next door to just get away from the noise, the mess, the testosterone! I would sit on her cheerful blue sofa and she in her comfy chair, most likely in her nightie, with her knitting in her lap. We talked about everything from social issues and politics (often from different sides of the aisle) to knitting patterns.
Last Thanksgiving, Jay, the boys and I made the difficult decision to put our house on the market. We have adored that house. So perfect for our family and all the visitors we’ve had over the years. I still didn’t want to leave Bettye though. And to be honest, Bettye was kind of mad at Jay for taking me away. But we kept moving forward. I started the massive job of cleaning out the house (attics, closets, drawers – at least 30 belts the boys wore – probably one time each). I was in town for about three months and I was loving unrestricted time with friends and with my dear neighbor who you would never guess is 88 years old, while she scoots all over town in a cool, vintage, diesel(!), aquamarine Mercedes. On occasion, I even joined her when she went to “knitting” – where she, surrounded by a glorious rainbow of yarns, sits for several hours, multiple days a week, trading stories, recipes and curses over slipped stitches with her hilarious buddies.
In early February, I was getting in my car when my phone rang. It was Bettye’s daughter, the one who lives in town. She said, “Mom had a rough night. I am on my way. Will you please go and check on her.” I was next door in 10 seconds. Bettye was sick, very, very sick. She had not slept and was weak and feeling awful. Her daughter and I got her to the hospital. The doctor gave us the news that she was a lot worse than she looked and if she hadn’t gotten to the hospital right then, she might not have made it. Which she did, thanks be to God. He wasn’t willing to let Bettye go either.
PART II will be posted soon, which will include a favorite of Bettye's recipes!