Four Girls

Four girls.  This is what I remember, and will always remember, dearly.  Four girls.  The staple of three generations that I knew when I was growing up, and was always so fortunate to have around me.  Four girls.  Grandma Julie, Grandma Nettie (from the beautiful name of Natalie), Pauline, and Betty.  Raised in a time when nothing was easy, and often very difficult, the four girls hung together and made life work as best they could.  Their tenacity of making all things possible has been foundational for all of their children, and also their children’s children.

Daughter to grandma Nettie, and granddaughter to grandma Julie, I always thought of aunt Betty as fast moving, and rather progressive.  She was the youngest of three kids, and I am guessing she was probably able to ‘get away’ with much.

Betty, Betty Segura, Betty Lopez, Betty Jenkins.  She is my mom’s sister, she is my Aunt Betty, and she is also my Godmother.

By far the coolest, grooviest, most hip septuagenarian I have even known, I can still hear aunt Betty calling me ‘honey’.  As special as that was, and it was special, I learned in my adult life that honey was a term of endearment that could be used to address anyone, and at any time.  Adults do this sort of thing out of convenience so that they can reduce memorization of multiple name counts to one.  This saves on brain power, but that’s ok, it was still always very special to me.

I remember going to aunt Betty and uncle Butch’s house when I was just a small kid, so I don’t remember where the house was located before they moved to 1548 Workman Mill Road.  Aunt Betty would always have different hair-do’s with far-out color and designs.  She was always oh-so groovy!  I remember once she had gold metallic hair…truly shiny gold hair.  It looked like the hair had literally been shellacked with a heavy dose of liquid gold, so much so that individual strands of hair were not apparent, but rather clumped together like dried paint on a house paintbrush.  It was very 60’s, very groovy, and very hip.  Unless you were Twiggy, the popular 60’s and 70’s model, I don’t think you could pull off having gold metallic hair, but aunt Betty did.  The hairstyle itself was an icon of the time.  Surely a wig, as I believe she had many, the hairstyle was round, close to her head.  I’m sure the design had a bouffant puff in the upper crown area, as that was such the style then.  It also had the curved front sides that came to a point at the cheeks.  Very stylish, very gold, and very shiny.

I also remember the floor-to-ceiling light fixture that aunt Betty had in her house.  I can still picture the long gold pole, tapered on both ends with what looked like a white plastic chair foot-cap on both ends.  The plastic caps were used to hold the pole in place, and to protect the ceiling from being marred as the pole expanded to it’s fitted length by opposing twists of either end.  The grooviest part of this light fixture were the lights themselves.  The pole had I think three lights at different height locations so as to provide light along the vertical fixture.  Each bulb was in a ball-shaped hard plastic housing with swirly cut-outs.  The cut-outs were groovy, the round balls were groovy, the entire floor to ceiling light fixture was groovy.  Over time, it wasn’t cool to have ‘groovy’ anymore so the newly coined reference became ‘modern’.  The term modern itself became outdated over time and was later replaced with ‘contemporary’.  It was still groovy to me.

Aunt Betty was also the first that I can recall to have a metallic silver Christmas tree complete with the slow rotating colored floodlight behind it.  What’s up with that?  Groove, groove, groove, groove, groove!  The floodlight itself did not rotate, but a disc, located at the glowing end spun slowly allowing the four colored filters on the disc to shine on the tree.  There was something kind of ‘sterile’ about the whole thing, after all, it was a Christmas tree, but to me the coolness factor and it’s groovy novelty overrode the traditional purpose of having a Christmas tree in the first place.  Surely there was discussion of that tree during our family’s drive home.

It is interesting what one remembers in life, and when memories come into play.  I remember when my aunt Betty got her first black Mercury Cougar.  I believe she had  two of them, but not at the same time.  Her first one was cool enough, and I remember clearly what it looked like.  The interior was also black, but it did not have cloth seating.  Not sure if leather was used in cars during the early 70’s, so I am guessing the seats were the standard hot, non-breathable vinyl as most all cars were back then.  She was ‘hip’ in that black Cougar, and I think she knew it.  I remember when she got her second Cougar, also black, and Mercury had changed the hood ornament design to that of a cougar head profile (instead of a cougar on the prowl).  Man, did I think that was cool!  My aunt Betty knew how much I had liked cars and car design back then, and I would often fixate on specific design features, such as that newly designed hood ornament on her shiny new black car.  This led me to order a shiny silver ‘Cougar pendant’ from a third party that I absolutely wore, proudly, because I thought it was so cool!  Turned out that wearing this pendant around one’s neck went hand-in-hand with donning a big-collared, long sleeved polyester shirt, unbuttoned at half-length.  At this time of my life, I was still too young for that overall look, but I did like the grooviness of it all.  I’m sure I saw the magazine ad in my Motor Trend magazine.  I wonder if that pendant is still around, stashed somewhere with any of my belongings that may still be at mom and dad’s house.

    Yes, the car was as long as it looks in this picture.

The super cool hood ornament.  

Aunt Betty drove her black Cougar kind of like a maniac.  Not in a bad, maniacal way, but in a fast way.  She just drove fast.  Getting from point A to point B was clearly something she didn’t want to waste time doing.  As a kid, I just thought it was cool.  As an adult, I understand the action behind a time crunch.  After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.

I remember details, such as the manner in which aunt Betty parked her car when she came for a visit.  There was no ‘neat’ parking job in the street, or even ‘neat’ parking in our driveway.  Aunt Betty parked as if her stay was going to be quick and temporary, whether it actually was or not.  This is just how she parked.  Imagine this…turning onto a street and approaching the second house from the end on your left.  Instead of simply ‘turning left’ into the driveway, you steer your car as if making a U-turn and instead pull in at an angle at the lower portion of the driveway.  Your car is now half-in, and half-out of the street and it’s front right tire is slightly riding the grass adjacent to the driveway.  This parking design came to be known as ‘park like aunt Betty’.  The reference is something that has simply become part of my own phraseology and whether I mimic the parking job, or I see that someone else has done the same, I still make reference to ‘parking like aunt Betty’ today.

I think aunt Betty was in love with Tom Jones, because I remember her talking about him and his music often.  Not sure if she was in love with his music, or his looks, as most women swooned over him in the 60’s and 70’s.  I’m guessing there are still some old Tom Jones vinyl records located somewhere in her house.  She’s a Lady.

Aunt Betty and her family were the first people that I knew to own a video game.  Pong was all there was, and all the cousins played it for hours on their wooden cabinet T.V.  At that time, no one thought anything of the fact that our controllers were tethered by a cable, and that there was nothing else to do while playing the game but move a plastic dial on your individual controller.  The plastic dial controlled the ‘paddle’, which was nothing more than a half-inch rectangle located at both sides of the screen.  Our electronic paddles would move with the turn of the dial, with the goal to match the location of the square ‘ball’ that tirelessly moved from end to end of the television screen.  The longer the ball stayed in play, the faster it moved.  There was no strategy involved in playing the game other than trying to keep the square ball in play, so playing the game involved fast reflex and hand-eye coordination.  It was a whole lotta fun.

I remember our family spending a lot of time at aunt Betty’s house.  It was clear that she was ‘the entertainer’ and that she loved the company of others.  Often our weekend nights would find the television show, Laugh-In playing on their T.V. set, and we’d all watch it.  Interesting how I just thought of ‘set’ to be included along with T.V.  There were no monitors then, it was called a T.V. screen, and they were more than just T.V.’s.  They were T.V. sets that became combo music and T.V.  And so the T.V. set cabinetry got bigger with it’s built-in record player and speakers.  Monstrosities as they were I think most, if not all households had them.  They were big and ugly, and they were iconic of 70’s furniture design.

I don’t know or remember the maker of Tigress perfume, but that company won the liking of my aunt Betty.  I remember going to her house one day and Tigress perfume was the topic with my mom, sister, and all-girl cousins.  How odd I thought, such a discussion, just about a perfume.  They probably all sprayed some on and I think I got a headache, as the scent had now become an overpowering smell to me.  I remember the cylindrical glass bottle with it’s short-napped velour flat lid.  It was black, and adorned with gold tiger stripes.  I think it may have even had a gold hassle hanging off the lip of the lid.  I liked the design of the Tigress bottle, but I didn’t much care for the scent.  I thought it was rather ‘stuffy’ smelling.  Stuffy, as in closed-up-and-need-some-air stuffy.  Although I did not care for the scent of Tigress then, it became a scent that I have always lovingly associated with my aunt, and it has been engrained in my mind forever.

I remember going to aunt Betty’s house in the summer with Gib so that we could ‘earn some money’ by pulling weeds and cleaning the weeds out of the flower area that was adjacent to the driveway.  That was a lot of work, and at that time, I really hated physical labor.  I didn’t want to do anything that was going to make me sweat, but we did it anyway.  I do remember that Gib was better at the task than I was.  One summer, or before the summer actually, aunt Betty and uncle John decided to have a swimming pool built in their backyard.  That project was a MESS, I remember.  I remember all the massive piles of dirt and how tight the tractor barely fit going through the gate located on the side of the house.  But Gib and I were there as much as we could so we could see the swimming pool progress, and pull weeds to earn money.  The whole construction aspect of that pool was rather fascinating.  After the pool’s completion, we were swimming at the house all the time, and we loved it!  Sometimes the three of us would go…me, Gib, and Kath.  Aunt Betty’s girls were always so fun to be around.  There was something special about the time we frequently spent with them.  I just remember a lot of laughter and fun teasing.  Everyone was a good sport about it, until they weren’t.  But that didn’t matter, we always had a blast regardless.

I don’t remember when my parents decided we’d get St. Augustine grass from aunt Betty, but we did.  Aunt Betty’s lawn was always so green, soft, and dense.  I guess mom and dad were ‘sold’ over her beautiful lawn.  Come to find out that after many transplanting efforts of St. Augustine starters that aunt Betty pulled out of her own lawn, the St. Augustine is only soft and dense if you water it…regularly.  If that grass wasn’t watered regularly, and with an abundance of water, then it became rather course and not at all comfortable to walk on barefoot.  Not only that, but the grass was also super thick which was a total drag when it needed to be cut, which was often!  I’m thinking now that unless one is committed to watering one’s lawn frequently, then St. Augustine isn’t the right choice.  But maybe all of that doesn’t matter to kids.  After all, we didn’t mind running-around, barefoot on asphalt and concrete.  Over time, we too had full-on St. Augustine for our lawn.

We also got our bamboo plants from aunt Betty.  When they were first planted, and for many years they looked great.  Reggie, my cat, loved to play jungle in them.  But after many years the bamboo continued to grow tall, and very dense.  I think the plant became a nuisance for my parents to have in the yard because it was so invasive however the bamboo is still there.  I did however always like it’s look.  

I remember being involved with decorating aunt Betty’s house for the Halloween parties, and wow, I thought those party’s were SO much fun!  I don’t know how many people were invited each year, but I know it was many!  I would help decorate the house to make it ‘creepy’.  One year I got the idea to string fishing line from the ceiling so that as you walked down the very dark hallway, lit only with either a red light bulb, or black light, you would feel slight brushes of ‘something’ against your face.  It reminded me of traveling through a hallway of spiderwebs because no matter how hard you tried to remove the webs from your face, there were always more.  I figure there are many pictures somewhere of those events.  I don’t remember what costumes everyone wore, but for some reason I think that aunt Betty and uncle John were Fred and Wilma Flintstone one year.  I could be wrong, but even if I am, I can picture my aunt in the Wilma getup right now, posing with her always VERY BIG cheeser.

My family would often spend Thanksgiving at aunt Betty’s house.  Her house always smelled so good with the food spread particular to the holiday.  Grandma Nettie was always there, and when Grandpa Al was still alive, he would be there wearing his colored coveralls.  I remember the orange coveralls, the light tan coveralls, and the blue coveralls.  I could never understand that getup.  I suppose from a what-do-I-wear-today perspective, it worked out great because it was essentially a onesie.  But no one else that I knew owned a ‘pair’, or wore that kind of outfit, ever.  He was a very kind, funny, and good man.  I always admired grandpa, because he was the only grandpa I ever had.  One of the most memorable characteristics that I remember about grandpa Al, aside from his AWESOME miniature train set (not a characteristic) that was housed in a flip-down partition from the wall of their bedroom and his affinity for AWFUL Polka music that he would always invariably play, was his foul mouth.  He didn’t have the ‘typical’ foul mouth one would expect in someone who would cuss, grandpa pretty much couldn’t talk about anything without first prefacing his statement with ‘gawd-damn’.  EVERYTHING was ‘gawd-damn’…everything!  He could be telling the mildest of stories and he would pepper the thing with ‘gawd-damn’ with what seemed like every breath.  His language wasn’t even filtered for the grandkids, it was simply who he was, and nothing else mattered.  He was a good husband to grandma and a good father to my mom and to aunt Betty, as I believe he was the only stable father figure the two girls, and uncle Henry ever had.  Aunt Betty no doubt learned a lot from her mother while she was growing up because grandma always ‘did’, and grandma didn’t wait for grass to grow underneath her feet.  She was a mover, and a shaker, and I always saw that go-getter quality in my godmother as well.

Memories have a way of weaving into one another.  They ground us, and they keep us connected.  Memories are the physiological snapshot of the world in which we live.  They are our past, and when used well, they help to shape our future.  There is so much that I remember about aunt Betty, and all of my memories are happy.  I hold these memories dear to my heart as she played a large part in my childhood upbringing.

Growing up, I recognized four girls who were strong women in the development of their own lives.  Grandma Julie, Grandma Nettie, Mom, and Aunt Betty, and they were always around.  I’m glad aunt Betty continued past one, past two, and past three, until she and uncle Butch themselves had four girls: Lydia, Laurie, Elaine, and Sandy.  Four girls.  There is significance in that number that I have never realized until this writing.

The song, A Prayer, by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion, was played at the conclusion of aunt Betty’s service.  It was perfect in every imaginable way, and it was beautiful.  This, I will remember forever.

Four girls.