When I was a child I knew a sweet southern lady. We called her Cousin Betty Lou (my grandmother’s cousin). Betty Lou and her mother drove the neighborhood in an old black Buick.
We all attended the same Southern Baptist Church so I saw the mother and daughter often — always smelling of talc powder, with heavily rouged cheeks and red lipstick. They were almost identical, at least in my child’s eyes, but I can still remember the comfort of Cousin Betty Lou and her mother’s smothering hugs and flowery, yet sincere compliments that went something like this.
“Well, hello dear, now don’t you look sweet in that little pink dress? Did your Momma make it for you? How are your Daddy and Grandma?”
Pink and sweet, yes, that’s the way it was with Cousin Betty Lou. In her presence, I felt like a little princess; it was wonderful!
My childhood years rolled by and I found myself, as an adult, with two elementary age sons. I remember a special Christmas at our church when it was my turn to help with the children’s play and planning their Christmas party. The play was a great success, the music, the angels, the baby Jesus — all were presented with the real passion of the season; sincere passion by the sweet voices of cherub singers, the children of our church.
Then it was time for the Christmas party — such excitement.
“Let’s go bowling. No, let’s go skating,” little voices chimed.
“Will we draw names for gifts?”
Oh, so many questions, sparkling eyes and rosy cheeks. As I pondered a meaningful way for the children to celebrate the Christmas party, it all clicked — Cousin Betty Lou! Her mother had died years earlier and Cousin Betty Lou lived alone as an invalid in her lovely, old Victorian home.
I explained to the children that we would visit someone really special for their Christmas party. We would take food and drinks, party plates and decorations for a sweet old lady who lived alone, with no one to help her celebrate the Birth of Jesus.
I must admit that the children seemed a little uncertain about this idea, but then we would be taking the church van and the kids always enjoyed a road trip, even if it was only across town.
I made the call to Cousin Betty Lou and as always she was overjoyed to hear my voice, inquired as to my family, and said that I sounded so-o-o sweet over the telephone – her usual kindhearted, sincere conversation. Then I explained about the children’s party and she absolutely abounded with happiness.
“Oh, my dear, are you sure? Do the children really want to come to my house?”
“Yes, Cousin Betty Lou,” I assured her with a full heart. “And we just can’t wait!”
A few days later, I pulled the blue church van into Cousin Betty Lou’s driveway. She met us at the door, sitting in her wheelchair, with her sunny, sweet smile and mile-long charm. The kids all ran inside her snug kitchen and we quickly unloaded the van and started the party.
We ate and sang and sang and ate with Cousin Betty Lou’s throaty voice joining us, while we munched cookies and juice, getting hugs and giving hugs; it was wonderful!
The next Sunday, as I arrived at church, I was met by excited little faces asking many questions, and all of the questions were about Cousin Betty Lou! Had I talked to her today? When could we go back to her house?
I promised we would go back and we did several times over the next couple of years. Each time she made us feel as if we were the most important people in her life — just as she had done for my grandmother, my mother, and me.
Christmas with Cousin Betty Lou Calvert — what could be better?
Note: This column was originally published in Mississippi Magazine, December 2012. Anne McKee is a writer and storyteller. See her website: www.annemckee.net.