“Mark, get out of the street!” the woman’s voice shouted a few houses down from my home on Minaker Drive, after 4-year-old Mark Russell zipped from his house and out into the street — yet again — without first looking to see if there were no cars. The voice didn’t stop there, “God, if that was my kid, I swear…” trailing off to the point where you just knew if Mark was that woman’s kid, things would definitely be different, and for the better.
The woman’s name was Betty Tuck, and I was too young back then to know her as well as I would have loved to know her now.
She lived with her husband Jim and their two cute sons, Mike and Danny. Mike was a Ron Howard-esque redhead — a boy-next-door type, who was my brother Tom’s age. Danny — who reminded me more of Kurt Russell — was a little older.
I remember a conversation Betty Tuck had with my mother back in the early 70’s, where her sons had had their girlfriends over for dinner at the Tuck house. Danny’s girlfriend apparently put a bee in Betty’s bonnet by not offering to help with the after-dinner dishes, while Mike’s girlfriend leaped right up and helped. I’m not sure how Betty’s sons’ relationships with their young ladies progressed after that, but I — being quite impressionable — learned just by listening to Betty’s mini-rant, how small, albeit thoughtful and gracious gestures can score you points with a boyfriend’s mom.
One time my mother was discussing with Betty Tuck about having a neighbor lady named Barbara babysit my little brother Brian. “Oh, are you kidding?” Betty Tuck snorted. Not holding much stock in the mutual neighbor’s childcare capabilities, she continued with, “I wouldn’t let Barbara watch a mule!”
I remember giggling to myself at the visual of Barbara diapering a mule. Betty Tuck was a bit of a character who spoke from the heart, minced no words, and made you laugh in the interim.
Jim Tuck was a nice and earnest man, but I don’t remember much about him. It was Betty Tuck who clearly ruled the roost. Opinionated and strong, I cannot help but think that this colorful neighbor lady had an impact and helped to somehow shape me — intriguing me enough from afar, to where I realized at a young age how much more interesting being a sassy, bold and outspoken woman was, than being a subservient wallflower who feared rocking any boat.
A little before 1970 I remember being at a baby shower for a little girl that Betty and Jim had adopted. I wasn’t sure about how Baby Robin had come into the Tuck family, but I thought it was great that Betty Tuck finally had a daughter. Although I wasn’t a real “kid person,” I do remember that Robin was one of the most beautiful babies I had ever laid eyes upon.
I was especially charmed when Betty opened a gift for Robin that was basically underwear for babies that were fresh out of diapers, in which Robin — who had been pretty shy and subdued throughout the event — cried out, “Pretty panties!” The room erupted in laughter, and (providing we hadn’t already) we fell immediately in love with this child, and were all so happy that the Tuck family had this new and wonderful little addition.
But the Betty Tuck moment that both rattles me and warms me to the core more than most of my life experiences in my 52 years was on a summer day in 1973. My father had died in a truck accident in April earlier that year. My family was vulnerable and shaken. I was 12. My little brother Brian was 2.
Some kids were playing in the street, as kids do. Brian and I were nearby, not in the street, but in front of our house, just observing all the activity. Minaker Drive had a center median that separated lanes of traffic.
In the midst of kid play, a 4-year-old neighbor boy named James ran out from that median into the path of an oncoming car; when the car struck him, he rolled up onto the hood, then down into the street. The car was probably moving about 20 miles per hour, but that didn’t take away from the impact. James lied in the street, unconscious.
Major commotion and panic ensued. My mother heard all the noise and came running outside. She didn’t see Brian and me; all she saw was a slight view of a little blond boy lying in the street. She immediately thought it was my little brother.
In a flash — but not soon enough — I scooped Brian up in my arms and ran toward my mother, crying, “He’s right here, Mom. I’ve got him….”
The relief not having had time to abort the panic, my mother began to convulse. She was sobbing, hyperventilating and shaking uncontrollably. Out of nowhere Betty Tuck sidled up beside her and enveloped her in her arms. “It’s okay,” Betty consoled her, “Hang on, it’s okay….Brian’s fine….let’s get you out of here.” As Betty guided my mother back to the house, she said over her shoulder, “Oh, she needs a doctor.”
(Of course there was still the matter of James, who was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, and — thank goodness — turned out to be okay, except for a few bruises. His mother was incredibly calm throughout)
But back to my mother, here I was just a kid, attempting to frantically assuage my mother’s deepest fears by practically throwing my brother in her face. But I will never forget the vision of the woman-to-woman support and strength that Betty Tuck exhibited that afternoon.
No doctor was called for my mother, as far as I can remember. All I do remember is how Betty Tuck took my incredibly distraught mother literally under her wing and guided her back into reality and into our house. She was a hero to me that afternoon — a woman that was not afraid to get involved, a mother herself, who could empathize with my mom, while remaining incredibly composed and supportive.
It’s funny, the things you remember as a kid.
I have thought about Betty Tuck often in my life — in times when I, myself, was there for someone who was falling, or when I needed someone to hold me up, and even at times when I have needed a doctor (aka therapist/psychologist) to help me through issues in my own adult life.
Looking back, I guess some people would have automatically labeled Betty Tuck as somewhat of a busybody — always there, no matter what was going on in the neighborhood, either lending her support, maybe some criticism, or just some good old-fashioned neighborly gossip. All I remember is that she was a multi-faceted, honest and virtuous woman. What you saw was what you got. She wasn’t afraid to speak out, or even shout out, if necessary.
Betty Tuck kind of set the standard, at least for me. I loved my mother, but she didn’t quite possess the combination of warmth, confidence and humor that seemed to resonate with Betty. I was very young when I first got a load of Betty, and I can honestly say she has had a lasting impression on me.
Along with the poignant memory of her rescuing my mother that afternoon long ago, if I could take one solid gift from Betty Tuck, it would be this: If you’re going to gossip, gripe or go on a rant, at least make people laugh in the process. This policy has bought me a lot of pardons.
Thank you, Betty Tuck!