I am terrified of getting old.
I fear becoming vulnerable mentally and physically. I’m afraid of not being able to look after myself, of my mind and memory dissolving and unraveling, putting me out of control of my life. I’m afraid that at times I’ll be lucid enough to know I’m failing. I’m petrified of becoming dependant on — at the mercy of — others.
In Bettyville: A Memoir, author George Hodgman leaves New York and returns to his family home in Missouri to care for his 90-year-old mother, Betty. As mother and son, Betty and George are a lot alike. Throughout their lives they’re both just trying to “get it right.” Betty did her best to raise a son she knows is gay but whose lifestyle she can’t accept. Commitment-phobic George does his best to care for an emotionally remote mother who is wonderfully cantankerous, independent, and fiercely unsentimental.
The book is about aging with grace, about allowing yourself to be vulnerable, about preserving dignity despite memory loss and the body’s tragicomic fall. It’s about the distances between close family members, about the two people who supplied your DNA, yet fear acknowledging who you really are, and about how silences suppress the truth. It’s about allowing yourself to be cared for, to be taken care of. What’s beautiful about this book is the tenderness, respect, understanding, and forgiveness with which George treats his mother. We should all be so lucky to have someone like him at our side when our decline steepens.
Betty Baker Hodgman died just this past Sunday, July 26th, 2015. She was 93 years old.
I read this book twice back-to-back. It’s worth your time.
June and July, 2015
I discovered this first book of six in The Cousins’ War series Googling what to read while waiting for George R. R. Martin to complete the next instalment in The Game of Thrones series. Recommended on this list by Vox, I feel like The White Queen is much more a historical novel than a fantasy novel. True, Elizabeth Woodville — descendant of water goddess Melusina — can cast spells to control weather and injure her foes, though this magical element is a tiny part of the book.
The White Queen tells Elizabeth’s Woodville’s story: an unlikely widow marries a king in secret and, after the secret wedding is revealed, various factions in England play tug-of-war with the throne for the following 300 pages. The allegiances dissolve and reform so fast that you need a pen and paper to keep tally. I learned early on in reading this book not to count on any loyalty from anyone and found this the most disappointing aspect of the book. There are few — if any — characters to root for.
To say the Plantagenets, the Yorks, and the Tudors lacked imagination in naming their children is an understatement. There are so many Edwards, Richards, Elizabeths, Henrys, and Georges that you need an org chart and an alive/dead/in exile scorecard to keep track of who is who and where they are.
There are five more books in this series, covering different real-life players in a true life 15th Century England game of thrones, though they’re not for me.
June — July, 2015
when Jane comes out, we hug, but Betty draws back. Her family, the Bakers, did not hug socially, and she is not a woman who cares much for such. Nor is she often sentimental. Inside a silver locket she has worn for years, a gift from my father, are the stock photographs of strangers it came with.
Bettyville: A Memoir by George Hodgman
On the second read of Bettyville. Fantastic book.