The Search For Boise Betty: an open letter on connection & unlikely companions
Dear Miss Betty,
Several times I’ve hoped to find you at work in your garden or sharing a kind conversation with the crabby lady no one likes in your senior living community.
11 months have passed since that day at the dealership. The chance that we’ll meet again seems less likely by the day, but I’m not giving up. I harbor the hope that someone you know will read this letter and bring us together for that lunch date we talked about.
The hours before we met were as ordinary as any. Every few pages or so, the coming and going of a stranger would pull me away from the Liz Gilbert novel I’d been reading for the last three months. But I didn’t mind.
A page-turner for writers on writing, “Big Magic” made spending an hour or so at the dealership easy. The rustle of newspapers, coupled with people talking and rooting around for a free outlet, made a white noise perfecting for reading. I wouldn’t be there for a long time, but it would be a good time.
So, three hours later, with no end in sight, I was crowned Queen of Kendall Auto’s waiting room.
As each newcomer settled in, my glance would meet theirs with a smile and the sense they had my blessing to change the channel.
A servant of the people, I even campaigned against the repugnant brown bean juice masquerading as coffee. But one by one, I laughed as the non-believers took a sip and spat it back into the flimsy white styrofoam cup. You can’t save everyone, right?
Heading into the fourth hour, I decided to end my reign on a high note just as the only other customer left the lounge—a total coincidence, of course.
Hungry and growing impatient, I went looking for answers.
As you might expect, I didn’t find any.
Instead, I found you, Miss Betty.
Nestling my way back into the warm spot where the sofa had molded itself to my body, you settled into the cushion next to mine. That's when I took in the sight of your petite frame topped with silver hair and finished with a French-manicure.
You were beautiful.
And with a smile on your face, you glanced over at me as if to say I had your blessing to change the channel.
Just like that, the dealership had crowned a new queen, and I knew I’d found a kindred spirit in you.
At 90-something-years-old, you had a spark in your eyes I hadn’t seen in mine for months. Looking back, I think you sensed that before we started talking. It wasn’t long before I heard myself describing the toll that 11-years of deployments had taken on my spirit and 13-year marriage. If you had sensed that I was slipping away, you handled it with grace and open-mindedness.
That’s when you asked me the only question you would ask over the next two hours. You asked if my husband and I truly loved one another. With the utmost certainty, I told you we did. Then you nodded, took in a deep breath—sort of like the one you take just before you decide to touch the bottom of a pool’s deep-end—and began to share the story of your marriage.
As my impatience with the dealership dissolved, curiosity and admiration grew in its place.
I heard so much of mine and my husband’s story in yours and Dale’s. As you described what it was like to love him and lose him, the texture of your voice grew raspy and broke a little.
So did my heart.
You spoke of the nuances of giving and taking in life and in love. One anecdote after the next, you reshaped what I thought of myself as a woman and a wife. We cried a little and we laughed a lot. It didn’t matter that our time on earth was separated by 60-years. We carried on like old friends, and we even made plans to see one another again.
But just as you already know, it would never happen.
To no surprise, your car was ready before mine. Ridiculous, I know.
Anyway, just before you rose to leave, you reached into your purse and handed me what looked like the strip of paper from inside a fortune cookie. It was your name and number, typed out all official-like! My heart nearly burst. Your sweet daughter had your contact information printed out to give to new friends, and I was one of those lucky people!
And then…I lost it. The tiny paper had vanished somewhere between leaving the lounge and getting to my car later that afternoon.
It breaks my heart to think I might never find you; that you won’t know how grateful I am to have met you.
So, I’ll keep trying to find you, sweet lady. My spark is back, and it started with our talk that day. I can’t thank you enough.
You're a gem, Miss Betty. See you soon?
PS, I finally got around to finishing that book! Maybe it’s a sign our lunch date will happen sooner than we think.
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