I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent the first nine years of my life there. Both of my parents worked, so for as long as I can remember, we had a nanny. I have vague recollections of a few nannies when I was very young, but when I was around five years old, we hired Betty.
Betty is as down home Kentucky as you can get. She grew up on a farm with nine siblings, of which she was the youngest. She never went beyond 8th grade in school, and she has only been to a handful of states in her life - never via plane. She lives in a very small railroad apartment near the Louisville airport, and prior to coming to work for my parents, she cleaned houses and was working at minimum wage. Yet as a child, I looked up to her more than anyone.
Betty was always up for having fun. She made us laugh, talked in silly voices, built forts with us, and took us on nature hikes. She played dress up, let us apply makeup to her face, and was an active participant in making up songs and dances. Betty was also infamous - our family has "Betty stories" that we still retell, including the time that she made us fried shrimp, but left the shrimp shells on. She also spent over an hour ironing a pleat out of one of my mom's skirts, ruining it in the process. When we would retell these stories, no one would laugh more than Betty.
|Betty, my sister and I - 1987|
God, how I tortured Betty. I am embarrassed to admit some of the things I used to do to her, but please keep in mind I was a kid! I used to get out a blank map of the United States and ask her to point out states, and laugh at her when she didn't know the answer (I know, I hate this memory). I went on a kick when I would slap her butt out of nowhere and giggle hyseterically (she giggled too). On the times she stayed overnight, I would insist that she sleep in my bed and tell me stories of growing up on a farm. When I reflect on it, she really was my best friend. You can't find a person like this through references or a nanny agency. It was only through luck, or fate, that she came into our lives.
The year I was nine turned out to be a hard year for me. My parents got divorced, complete with a nasty custody trial, which Betty was brought into. Ultimately, we moved with my mom to Cincinnati, two hours from Louisville, while my dad moved to New Jersey. Custody arrangements were enforced, and my mom remarried. Yeah, that year sucked.
I still remember we were in a McDonalds outside of Cape Cod when my mom broke the news to me that we would be moving away, and I burst into tears. At the front of my mind was Betty. How could I live without her? At that time in my life, she was my constant, my rock, my playmate, my everything. My mom asked Betty if she would move to Cincinnati, which we all knew was an unlikely scenario. Betty had a husband and a family, and she was true Kentucky. She ended up coming up for three nights a week for about a year. And she slept in my bed with me each night, where she told me stories until I fell asleep.
Years passed, and I got older and Betty was no longer the center of my world. In fact, I almost half forgot about her during my high school years. We saw her every couple of years, and enjoyed our visits, but it was almost awkward. I wasn't the person that she knew anymore, and I didn't know how to be with her. Long were the days when I would want to go on nature walks or have a grown adult put me to sleep. But her presence always made me feel good, and we still said "I love you" at the end of each meeting and phone call.
The last time I saw Betty was the day after my 21st birthday. Yeah, I know. My mom wanted to surprise me for my birthday. I don't think my mom realized that the 21st birthday is a rite of passage and it was inevitable that I would be very, very, very hungover the next day. In reality, that turned out to be an understatement. I somehow mustered the energy to go to brunch with Betty, force food down, and then promptly went back to bed right when I got home. I woke in the afternoon to say goodbye, but to this day I still harbor guilt about not spending more time with her that day. Since then, we have spoken on the phone once or twice a year. Her life hasn't gotten any easier. She is in her sixties and still working at a factory. Her husband had a stroke and requires her constant care, and she has survived breast cancer. But, she is as joyful as ever every time I talk to her on the phone.
I'm a big "no regrets" type of person, and I live my life accordingly. I think that's why I am such a big traveler - I never want to regret not seeing the world. And why I am currently staying at home with my kids - I never want to regret missing their babyhood. For the past few years, I have feared regret over not seeing Betty again. But with our family living out of town, there always seemed to be other visits and vacations that took priority, and a visit to Betty always fell to the wayside. Before I knew it, over ten years passed since I last saw her face to face.
So this weekend, I am making it happen. Tomorrow morning Braden and I are flying to Louisville, where I am renting a car and going directly to Betty's house, where we will spend the morning together. If we have time, we may drive by my old house and take pictures. I can't wait to see her, and I can't wait for her to meet Braden. In a weird way, things have come full circle.
So much has changed from my days in Kentucky. I have traveled the world. I've gone to college and law school. I've gotten married and had children. I've become part of an upper middle class elite, where people wait in line on preschool application day and drink lattes and have personal trainers. Yet in a world of investment bankers and corporate lawyers, Betty is refreshing. And real. To this day, I can't say I respect anyone more.
So at the end of the day, I guess none of those nannies ever had a chance with me. I won't ever find anyone else like her.