Memoir - a slice of life, a story from your life.
Driving Miss Betty
by Lorraine Kaul
Miss Betty was a close neighbor in the community where I grew up known as Donnelley Hollow located in Southern West Virginia. Miss Betty was a bright, insightful, and loving unmarried mother of three beautiful, smart and respectful children. Each had a different father. Miss Betty lived with her older Aunt Dela, a sales-clerk who provided financial support for the family.
Donnelly Hollow had its share of poor ignorant, quick to judge bigots. Their callous gossip was vindictive and mean. They often professed to be well-meaning in dictating what's righteous and what's not. Children who were born to unwed mothers were often called “bastards”. Miss Betty’s kids were surreptitiously called Miss Betty’s bastards; rarely using their name, unless they were present; qualifying, with statements like, “I meant no harm.”
I moved far from my mother’s neighborhood to escape their venom. On one occasion, I returned to spend a week with my mom. Near the end of that trip, I visited Miss Betty’s family. After lots of reminiscing, laughter, and sharing some beans and cornbread, Miss Betty, pulled me aside and confided in me her misery and shame and feelings of entrapment in her current life circumstance.
It was out of character for her to share her feelings. She was always strong and somewhat guarded around most people. She told me about the big mouthed neighbors, describing the gossipmongers as mean bitches cold as a cast iron toilet. She could be very funny, even when expressing serious matters. Then she said, It’s rough here raising kids around here, but they’re not bringing me down. I still have a dream and it might just come true; you never know.”
With a sheepish grin, she asked me to guess her dream. After a couple of guesses, she finally revealed that her dream was to get her driver's license. She had recently passed the written test and obtained her driver's permit. She said,” I'm halfway there.” She wanted the ability to leave the hollow and find a job to support her kids. She said, “I do not want to raise my kids on welfare, depend on Aunt Dela or be the aim of tall tales and gossip.”
Miss Betty was also worried about her kids being harmed. She saw the driver’s license as her way out. She said, with her colorful conviction, even a blind squirrel finds an acorn now and then. There were significant obstacles to achieving that dream. She had no car, didn’t know anyone with a car, and never learned to drive. She was terrified to get in the car with the police officer who would offer the test. She was in stiff competition with that blind squirrel she just mentioned.
Impressed with her initiative of getting that permit with no idea of second steps in mind, I felt compelled to help. I finally, proposed to take the driver’s test in her place. The word fraud or consequences did not register in my impetuous mind. She was desperate enough to trust me and did. At twenty-four bold and bright, with a maturational age of fifteen, I felt thrilled and ready for this venture! My plan was in motion. Betty was forty so I would definitely need to look older, and I needed a disguise. There were no photos on driver's licenses in 1974. I could become Miss Betty for the day.
I secured a silvery blond teased-up wig, high-heeled shoes, a tight red dress, and an arsenal of make-up. To lighten the pressure, I sang a little jingle, a little bit of lipstick a little bit of paint, makes a woman what she ain't.
We laughed, as I stuffed an oversized bra to enhance my womanly appearance. Glasses! Miss Betty wore glasses. I’d need them to drive. My wire-rimmed hippy sunglasses with the pink lenses would work just fine.
After discussing the plan and securing my garb, we were off to the Department of Motor Vehicles for the test. I went in alone and was directed to wait outside in my car for the instructor. Suddenly I became aware of the butterflies in my stomach. My confidence was waning, my hands were trembling a bit. When a uniformed police officer came up and got in the car, the butterflies turned into swinging monkeys. I was nauseous. When the officer looked me square in my eyes and said, "You don't look forty,” I did some self-talk to regain my composure. Recovering from my instant fear and shock, I sat up, looked him square in the eye, and shot back in my most assertive tone, “I better not look forty, I’m a model. I’m paid not to look forty.”
The test began and ended. It was done – “If only that officer would quit ogling my ass,” I thought as I walked away. As I mentioned to Miss Betty as we started for home, “My ass was the only thing that was real in the whole ordeal.” That comment took the edge off as we laughed to tears and sighed in relief. I sang the chorus to We Shall Overcome. Miss Betty joined in.
Much time has passed. Miss Betty’s dream became her reality. She secured a job, bought a car, went to school, and later built her career as a Dental Assistant. I learned that Betty's bastards also acquired degrees and joined the world of professionals. All that was needed was a little brass and a break.
The Pot Luck Camping and Choral Society
by Pat Nickles
The Pot Luck Camping and Choral Society has its origins in the Wednesday night pot luck dinners held by the Natural and Mathematical Sciences (NAMS) department at Stockton State College in New Jersey. The college was established in 1970 and the first NAMS faculty were mostly young and from outside New Jersey. Some were married with young families. Others were single. The Wednesday night pot luck was established to bring the young families together and to give the single folks a family meal once a week.
Our family became part of the pot luck group in 1975 when my husband joined the college faculty. Two rules were established for the dinners. They were always on Wednesday and they always started at six o’clock, if you were late you got to eat whatever was left over. The meal was never coordinated, one night we had nothing but desserts and beer. My children explained the dinners to my extended family in these words. “You came to dinner, you brought a pot and if you were lucky… there was something there that you liked to eat”.
We took turns hosting the meal. There were maybe thirty or forty people who were involved. Some attended regularly and some attended on occasion. Whenever there was a visiting faculty member on campus they were brought to the pot luck to give them a little local color.
When the children were still preschoolers four or five of the pot luck families would head down to Cape Hatteras for an annual camping trip as soon as the college semester ended in late May. It was great because there was little competition for the tent sites before mid-June when all of the public schools let out. As our children got older and people in the group started taking jobs outside the college community we no longer had the luxury of heading south to camp while the public schools were still in session. We needed to come up with a camping plan that could be worked around jobs with less flexibility and children in public schools. We as a group decided to start holding an annual camping trip on Memorial Day Weekend.
The first Memorial Day Weekend camping trip was in 1979, and we have held one every Memorial Day Weekend since. There are approximately ten families who are regularly involved in the trip and the number of campers is usually between thirty and forty. Each year a different family is responsible for finding a centrally located campground and seeing to it that all of the sites are secured.
Securing ten campsites for Memorial Day weekend can be a very competitive process. In the early years you needed to go to the park 30 days prior to the weekend, sleep there or in a nearby motel and get in line to make the reservations at 7 am the next morning. Telephone reservations were not taken until all persons who were in line at the park secured their desired sites.
Currently, camping reservations are done through an internet process and securing sites has become much easier. The responsible family just visits the park, finds favorable sites and e-mails the group the location and chosen site numbers in the order of preference. Each family then logs onto the reservations website and secures their campsite.
Some years the group had difficulty securing enough campsites that were all in close proximity to each other because the State parks discourage groups unless they are with a reputable organization. Thus the name the Pot Luck Camping and Choral Society was born to give our loosely knit group some semblance of organization and respectability. There was a lot of singing around the campfire back then. Now by the time the dinner dishes are washed and dried and campfire is lit the old folks are ready to go off to bed.
In the forty plus years we have been attending these gatherings much has changed in our lives and the lives of the other families. The children have grown and established careers. Some have married and have children of their own. The adults have moved, changed jobs or retired. We dearly miss those friends who have passed over the years.
The three generations of campers, affectionately known as G1’s G2’s and G3’s have grown up and grown old together. The G2’s have known each other since they were toddlers and the G3’s have known each other since they were born. The female offspring have brought their husbands and children into the group. The male offspring visit the encampment when they can.
Tent camping in the woods in late May when the nights are still cool and rain is a constant threat with thirty or forty of your closest friends is not for everyone. We have had folks who have tried but couldn't last the weekend. Others have found that the wordless routines of the group have become so cemented over the years that they felt they were infiltrating an intimate space.
For me it has been heartwarming to be part of a group that has been cohesive for so many years. Everyone knows when the weekend will be and makes their other plans around that date. My daughter and her husband were married on a Memorial Day Weekend. Those not in our immediate family camped for the weekend ten miles from the wedding site. On the big day they changed into wedding attire in their tents and surprised the other campers at the park by parading to their cars dressed to the nines. We have all formed strong bonds in this group and in many ways we are as close as family.
From Our Members
Re: Jane Jacobs
FYI, there is an excellent documentary on Jane Jacobs called Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2016), possibly available on Hulu, Vimeo, and Amazon Prime.
Dorcas International to Honor Sister Mary Reilly & the Late Deborah Thompson
Founders of Dorcas Place Adult & Family Learning Center
Celebration being held for what would be Dorcas Place’s 40th anniversary
As part of its centennial celebrations, Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island will proudly pay tribute to the Founders of Dorcas Place Adult & Family Learning Center—Sister Mary Reilly and the late Deborah Thompson on Thursday, May 5, 2022 from 5:30-7:30 PM at the Botanical Center at Roger Williams Park in Providence.
Dorcas Place Adult & Family Learning Center, founded in 1981 is one of the two renowned organizations that merged in 2013 to create what is now Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. The other organization, International Institute of Rhode Island was founded in 1921. The legacy of both organizations remains at the core of the mission and everyday work of Dorcas International.
“It is truly an honor to be able to pay tribute to Sister Mary Reilly and the late Deborah Thompson—true visionaries—at this event,” noted Kathy Cloutier, Dorcas International’s Executive Director. “It’s important we honor our roots as we celebrate our centennial, and carry our legacy forward into the next century of service to our community,” Cloutier continued.
40th Anniversary Tribute to Sister Mary Reilly & the late Deborah Thompson
Thursday, May 5, 2022
5:30 – 7:30 PM
Botanical Center at Roger Williams Park
Notable individuals in attendance to include: Sister Mary Reilly, Lt. Governor Sabina Matos (confirmed as of 4/25/22) For more information about this event and the culminating Centennial Celebration being held 5:30 PM on June 23, 2022 at the WaterFire Arts Center, please visit: diiri.org/centennial. To learn more about Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island’s work and services, please visit diiri.org.
Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island strives to create a welcoming environment for all, working to empower the most vulnerable among us for the past 100 years. We meet our clients where they are by providing innovative wraparound programs and services helping those seeking to overcome educational, cultural, economic, and language barriers. A non-profit 501(c)(3), Dorcas International offers adult education, language learning, job training, citizenship and immigration services, refugee resettlement, translation and interpreting, clothing and household needs, and more.