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.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com