I was thirteen when I attended the wedding of my cousin Bettye Sue. She and her old flame Bob had somehow became a couple again after a handful of years, after he had married, had a son named Robbie, then divorced. I was happy for them, especially my cousin, who I felt was so deserving of marital bliss.
After the wedding it was determined that instead of attending the reception, I would head back to Bettye Sue’s sister Dana’s home to babysit Dana’s kids Bonnie and Jody, my brother Brian, and another little girl from the from the wedding. I remember not minding missing out on the festivities for some reason. I was well-ensconced in a whole new chapter of my life where I no longer needed a sitter, and was the perfect age to be a babysitter, myself.
Bettye Sue and I saw very little of each other after that, except an occasional family gathering. I remember one holiday — or maybe it was simply a visit —at Aunt Bernice and Uncle Dan’s, off in a room reading, and Bettye Sue was there, and she came and talked to me. I was about fourteen, and flattered that I still had the ability to make her laugh. It still felt somewhat strange that I was now at the age that I remembered her being, yet her fourteen-year-old self had seemed so much more mature than me. She told me that she and Bob were “trying” to start a family, and I found that somewhat arousing, as I associated “trying” with “sex.”
I also remember her telling me her weight (121 lbs), and being puzzled that I weighed only a few pounds more than her (and was about an inch taller), yet feeling so boxy, boyish and clumsy. On the way home I mentioned this “how can it be?” phenomenon to my mom, and she responded with something about how young women’s bodies change, and how my own body was still at the developmental stage, everything not quite distributed, and not to worry, etc. (Within a couple years I realized she was right.)
Bettye Sue and Bob’s “trying” eventually led to the birth of twin daughters on March 3rd of 1977. I remember for the baby shower beforehand, my mom did something I thought was unusual; she bought Bettye Sue a nice nightie in addition — or in lieu of — something for the babies, as Mom’s theory was that new moms still needed something special to wear for their hospital stay (note this was back in the day when women remained at the hospital 3-5 days after their babies were born). I thought that was very insightful of my mom.
I am sorry to say that — although I saw them as newborns in the hospital — I never really got a chance to see my new little cousins grow up; numerous circumstances — from people moving, to my becoming estranged from my family for a while, then them moving to Oregon, then my moving to San Jose for school at age 20, to just life in general — all became deciding factors in the ties that unraveled within my family. Never being all that close to my immediate family to begin with, aunts, uncles, and cousins all became things of my past.
There was a time around 1983 when my mom was down visiting Antioch and I came from San Jose to meet her and Aunt Berniece, Bettye Sue and Dana. There was a big Bingo tournament in the gym at Antioch High School. I remember Bettye Sue seeming very quiet and reserved, nothing like the cousin I had known long ago.
Also, around 1984 when I was still living in San Jose, when my family came down from Oregon and there was a family gathering of some sort in Antioch at Bettye Sue and Bob’s. A boyfriend and I made the drive from San Jose to see them, and I got a chance to visit the lovely home of Bettye Sue and Bob, meet their little girls Erin and Jacqueline, see my Mom, stepdad Pete, Aunt Bernice and Uncle Dan, and — just for a moment — feel reunited with these people who had helped to shape me. It was an enjoyable evening, and I remember Bettye Sue — in much better spirits from the last time I saw her — saying to Erin, “Do you know what you and Cousin Kelly have in common?” 7-year-old Erin looked puzzled, and Bettye Sue said, “You both have brown eyes,” (which was unusual in a family consisting mostly of blue-eyed people).
That was the last time I would see Bettye Sue for another 27 years.