Sunday, May 13, 2012

For Betsy on Mother's Day: Thank You, Ma'am

From left, Betsy, me, Catherine Mosely, Bill Quillian, Julie Snowmen at lunch in Lynchburg Friday. Bill just turned 99.
Betsy and her smashing young friend Samantha Smeltser.
Betsy Gehman entered my life a little over 20 years ago. It was some time later before she became my mother. From Day 1, though, she acted like my mother: instructing, consoling, directing, loving, disapproving, encouraging.

I don't know how many times I've said, "Betsy, please don't 'should' on me." Probably as much of any of her real kids; three of them anyway. I can't imagine Pleasant being distracted by anything so mundane as directions from her mother. Pleasant is a free soul.She may have invented the term. Her mama, I would venture, encouraged the growth of that part of Pleasant's soul.

Betsy with Donald O'Connor
I've told you about Betsy before, given you the short form of a biography that is simply fascinating. She's the daughter of Russian Jews from Chicago. Her dad drove a milk truck (and her son is a technology guru, which demonstrates just how far we can come in one person's lifetime).

She was in show business by the time she was 18, singing and touring with a dance band and talent like Donald O'Connor. She was on early live national TV ("Kate Smith Show"), did vocals for some memorable movies ("Singin' in the Rain," a couple of Disney productions), wrote the definitive book on twins (Twins: Twice the Trouble, Twice the Fun), dated some of the most famous people on earth and was friends with many others in that category, worked for a national advertising agency at the time of "Mad Men," raised four memorable kids, was an early leader of the Women's Liberation movement, worked as one of my writers. (I just thought I'd throw that last part in, but it's true.) There's a lot more. A lot more.

These days, on the cusp of her 90th birthday June 6, Betsy is starting a blog. As soon as it's up, I'll give you a link because, Oh, the stories she can tell! And will. Her friend Samantha Smeltser, who is in her early 20s and adores Betsy, is helping to transcribe them to the computer. After that, we're hoping to organize them into a book, which will entertain the hell out of you.
Betsy beside Farley Granger (Shelley Winters top left) on Broadway

Betsy will be working on the book with my friend Rachael Garrity, who is 70. I wish these two had known each other for 50 years or so. They're so much alike it's scary and the average level of intellect, humor and creativity rises substantially every time they enter a room full of people.

This is not about me, but I want to take the opportunity to thank whatever directs things for putting Betsy in my life at a time when I needed her and keeping her there through some difficult episodes (like getting sober, married, divorced, retiring, starting a new business, writing several books, etc.) as a touchstone, a reminder that I'm not completely crazy and as a woman who gives me courage when it is flagging. Betsy is rare and precious and I appreciate her. And, of course, I love her.

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