By Lorry Myers
Eighty-seven years ago, my mother, Bette, was born into a family full of stories. Her mother, Ella, was a divorced woman, who ran off with her sister’s husband. Ella’s wealthy father disowned her after that, so Bette lived estranged from her grandparents all the days of her life. Bette’s father, Ed, was a traveling livestock auctioneer who married five times, twice to my grandmother. Bette’s seven siblings were made up of “yours, mine and ours” as Ed married three other women before Ella took him back.
Those are my mother’s childhood stories many have never heard.
My mother was a child of divorce when divorce was an unspeakable thing. She lost herself in books but never forgot the fighting and her father’s drinking and her mother crying through the thin walls because she couldn’t pay the rent.
Bette doesn’t tell these stories either.
She attended high school in Mexico, Mo, where everyone knew Centralia was the archrival. One night, my mother rode the pep bus to a game between the two teams and met a Centralia player who turned out to be the love of her life.
Bette’s eyes still shine when she tells this story.
Walter fell for Bette’s dark curls and her shy smile, and my mother loved the way my father looked at her. They married in my grandmother’s living room, Bette in a green velvet dress my father swore matched her eyes.
I love that story.
My parents made their home in Centralia and within ten years, they had six children and a drafty, two-story house to care for. During those years, heating bills were high and times were tight and my mother grieved the loss of two babies.
Those stories Bette keeps to herself.
My mother went to work when her youngest child started kindergarten. The extra income went for braces and glasses and shoes for six children. Bette was a store clerk in a local department store, a manager at the gas utility office, and retired early from the nuclear plant in Fulton.
Those years went by in a hurry.
Bette became a mother in her teens and a grandmother in her forties. Her six children gave her eleven grandchildren and that kept my parents busy after retirement. They owned a place on the lake and traveled where they wanted, always hurrying back to the places they grew up, content to watch their family grow.
Those are some of my mother’s best stories.
After my father was diagnosed with cancer, he lived only eight months. The time we had left was spent saying prayers and saying goodbye. For their 60th wedding anniversary, Dad gave Mom a necklace engraved with the words, “I will always be with you”. Days later, he was gone.
That’s a story you won’t hear Bette tell.
Even now at the beginning of her 87th year, the stories my mother offers are not about her turbulent childhood. She will not remind you that she is a widow and learning to live with that loss. Don’t look for Bette to tell “poor me” stories or “its not fair” stories.
For the complete article, please see this week’s edition of the Centralia Fireside Guard.