Ode to Betty


I knew it was going to happen one day. But it was a day I was dreading. And that day has come.

People often ask me how I do it all. After reeling internally from the fact that I don’t think I am doing it all at all, I usually say something like “with lots of help.” But Betty is more than someone who helps me do laundry; she’s my inspiration, my role model, and my rock.

I was never any good at doing laundry, and actually hated it with a vengeance. So 21 years ago, right after my father died and I knew I was going to have to work even harder than I had been, I decided to hire someone to help me do laundry. As a single parent/working mom soon to be married, I thought it was a good investment in time, sanity, and balance. Little did I know how much Betty would bring to our lives.

She was already retired when I hired her. But as much as I hated doing laundry, she loved it. Ironing especially! Before Betty, I was a constant wrinkled mess. After Betty, I was pressed, starched, and neat as a pin (for the first 10 minutes of my day, anyway, until I spilled something on myself…).

She was so amazing to me that I actually wrote a book with her called Betty’s Book of Laundry Secrets. She actually does have a secret, which you will have to buy the book to discover. I did it as a labor of love as much as anything. I wanted to record for permanent record how she folded sheets and got out stains and ironed shirts. We would sit and have coffee (black) while I videotaped her telling me how she does it, along with stories of her childhood. After all, there are not many people left in America who first learned to do laundry outside using a pot of water boiling over a wood fire.

Betty is Pennsylvania “Dutch,” which means she works hard, doesn’t share too many feelings or talk too much, and doesn’t give up until a job is done—a woman after my own heart! Long after other people would have given up, she keeps going. She’s kept going through multiple personal tragedies, broken bones, hurricane damage to her home, my dog stealing her lunch. She’s the kind of person that would work all day at my house and then go home for a three-mile walk—when she was younger, like, in her 70s. She also kept me going through multiple personal tragedies and work challenges that are beyond the imagination of many people.

At my old house she didn’t like the distance from the laundry room to the clothesline outside, so she would climb out the window onto a step she rigged up from a turned-over garbage can on a skid. So when I built my new house, I built a laundry room to Betty’s exacting standards, which primarily includes the ability to hang clothes out to dry. I built a special covered laundry-drying porch, which she uses every week unless it’s pouring rain. Freezing weather is no deterrent. And I bought new washers and dryers because, according to Betty, the eco ones weren’t fast and strong enough.

She’s done much more for me than I can recount in a blog post. Including bringing me a dozen fresh Faschnachts every Fat Tuesday direct from the Trexlertown Fire Hall, where they fry up more than 75,000 of them each year. She stopped bringing pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving last year, along with pumpkin roll at Christmas. But I have the recipes (her pumpkin pie recipe is in the laundry book), and now it’s up to my girls and me to continue the tradition. But the most important thing she has done for me is to show me what it means to be strong, resilient, and determined. She showed me how important it is to finish a job well done, no matter how many times you have to redo it. Betty and me, we got along.

She’s leaving me voluntarily, healthy and alive—for which I’m incredibly grateful. Winter’s coming, and she wants to quit while she’s ahead. After all, on her next birthday she’ll be 88.

Betty, I love you. And I’m going to miss you like crazy.



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15 Responses to Ode to Betty

  1. Nikki Lindqvist December 16, 2013 at 8:41 am #

    WOW! She sounds like the kind of woman they just don’t make many of anymore. What a lovely tribute to her you’ve made. And it’s easy to imagine there are a million stories behind these thoughts you’ve written here. Nice. And best wishes to her in her REAL retirement!

  2. maria (farm country kitchen) December 16, 2013 at 8:44 am #

    Thanks Nikki, I cried like a baby when she left!

  3. Nikki Lindqvist December 16, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    Who wouldn’t?!? And who could ever replace her?!?

  4. Cary B December 16, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    So sweet. So relieved she just left, but didn’t LEAVE, you. Beautiful woman. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Maria Luci December 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    Lovely! Wish I knew Betty myself. Good luck to both of you! Hope she enjoys her retirement 🙂

  6. Alice Green December 16, 2013 at 12:29 pm #

    Well, I have to really admire Betty!! I worked over 40 yrs. and on the day I turned 65 I retired…and found my real reason for being put on earth, to be retired! I love retirement I guess as much as Betty loves laundry. What a great relationship you two have had and will always have, a friendship of a lifetime. Congratulations to both of you for being there for each other, there’s nothing better in life than a true friend! (Maybe even better than retirement!)

  7. Donna in Delaware December 16, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    I’m crying too Maria, for you and her!! Almost the last of a dying breed! I miss her, and I don’t even know her! You’ll be ok in time. We’ll try to find you someone as close as possible. Imitated, but never duplicated!

  8. kerry surface December 16, 2013 at 1:27 pm #

    what a beautiful story! i hope you find someone else. when my 3 kids were very young, i had a housekeeper who cleaned and kept the kids if i needed her to. i tried to make appointments the day she was there and she loved it. when my daughter started kindergarten, (small town, walked to school) the housekeeper wanted to walk her and the other 2 and our dog tagged along. she was fabulous and part of the family. after 5 years we moved out of state and boy did i miss her!! my house was always spotless as well. i could never replace that!!

  9. Hillary Kwiatek December 16, 2013 at 2:48 pm #

    Wow! She sounds amazing, and now I’m going to check Rodale’s backlist for her laundry book!

    I hope she enjoys her second retirement.

  10. Beth Adair December 16, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    Love it!!! I laughed out loud about the dog stealing her lunch:). It’s not over, you’re still gonna hear from Betty when you or one of your kids has a birthday. Later on too she’ll be able to remind you of something you or someone else did or said over the past years she’s been there. :))

  11. Liz December 16, 2013 at 5:05 pm #

    What a lovely tribute! And as someone who’s laundry challenged myself, I’ll have to get your book. Sorry your losing such an important part of your family, but glad Betty is still here. XXOO

  12. Eileen December 17, 2013 at 2:19 am #

    Beautiful Ode to Betty

  13. Tracy Herz December 18, 2013 at 2:24 am #

    Maria, I just want to say that I have my own Betty and her name is Nancy Black. It is beyond love what I feel for this woman who has helped our family function from Day One sitting on boxes and seen me through three tiny children, and her horse sense makes a mockery of my education. Her mistakes are the best work of others. Nancy never ironed. I don’t allow ironing. :))Tracy Herz

  14. Catherine December 19, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    Kudos to you, Betty. You sound just like my grandmother and her sisters. “Wonder Woman” isn’t just a title for a television show. Enjoy your well deserved retirement.

  15. Susan December 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    What a wonderful tribute to Betty. Now, I will order the book!

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