Remembering Bettye Thomas

There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me. ~ Mary Wortley Montagu, 1727

Bettye Thomas is living the final hours of her long life in hospice with her dear daughter Iris by her side. Soon she will be in perfect peace and everlastingly in the hearts of all those who were touched by her blessed presence.

Bettye’s character was forged in an earlier age when times were hard and filled with great heartbreak. She was a child of the depression and from a family whose parents divorced. She lost a child in infancy and a son at age 19. She has outlived two husbands, her sister and two brothers.

My friend Joe now is her only surviving sibling.

More than anything else Bettye will be remembered as a delightful, passionate and faithful soul who lived her life well and was just a really good human being.

Joe’s unbounded love for his sister has aroused in me my love for my own two sisters and the larger memory of the many extraordinary sisters I’ve known throughout my life.

I’ve been well schooled in sisterhood.

When I was toddler I was a wanderer, inclined to explore forbidden places. If It were not for my older sister, Kathleen, forever venturing out to find me, no telling where I might have ended up.

My sister, Theresa, is a guiding moral light to me and has provided an ever faithful ear to help me navigate through the rocky shoals of my life.

I’ve been blessed to know the “A Team” of sisterhood in the five Hokanson sisters, Connie, Erika, Alicia, Sarah and Johanna, unconditionally available to each other through thick or thin.

Sisters can be our guardians and protector angels sent to love us in times when we can’t love ourselves. 

I read recently of a young Syrian girl found protecting her younger brother trapped under the debris of their collapsed home after devastating earthquakes had destroyed their village. The seven-year-old, called Mariam, and her younger brother, Ilaaf, were trapped in the debris for some 36 hours. They both made it out alive.

How often have our sisters saved us from disasters?

In his memoirs, Joe describes how Bettye was his guardian when growing up and helped him survive their very traumatic childhood.

Until I was two we lived in a house behind my grandfather’s. You had to cross a stream that had a log over it.

Way too frequently my mom would get frightened by noises and she would get the five of us up in the middle of the night to head to my grandfather’s (my dad was seldom home). Bettye was tasked to lead the way with a butcher knife. Navigating this few hundred yards across a stream proved to be quite a task.

I often wonder how my mother handled all of us. Can you imagine having a two-year-old in a house with no running water and a kid in diapers! Yuk. She had to wash our clothes in the stream.

Well, finally she had enough of that and the abuse she took from my alcoholic father. She farmed us all out to aunts and uncles and caught a bus to Mobile.

It was the start of World War Two and jobs at Brookley promised to be good employment. Incredible bravery for this woman to do this! I marvel to this day how she could have taken such dramatic action.

Bettye and I were sent to live with our Aunt Missye. Aunt Missye lived on a rural road out from Atmore. I was two and Bettye was nine. Aunt Missye had four children of her own and was dirt poor like everyone else. Yet, she gladly took us in and fed us.

Much later in life she told me if there was only one egg to be had she made sure I got it. It took maybe two years before Mom was able to reunite us in Mobile in a house in Westlawn.

Bettye was my constant guardian…
Being now, as I am, so near nonbeing, I rapidly recall events and dreams of an earlier time when living was not easy, but supremely filled with goodness and kindness…

Knowing Bettye was like knowing the patron saint of sisterhood.

God speed, Bettye Thomas.

Just a thought…


Copyright © 2023 Patrick J. Moriarty. All Rights Reserved.

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