June 28, 2011
The photo was taken the day of my sister's baptism. That's my godfather Fred on the left, my grandmother (my father's mother) next to him, Betty McGlashan (Karen's godmother) in the middle, my mother holding Karen and my grandfather at the right.
The fat kid with the Shirley Temple curls in the middle is me.
Betty died last week, at age 94. She was probably my mother's oldest, best friend.
I'm not sure when exactly my mother met Betty and her husband Ralph. They lived in an apartment building across the street from our flat. My parents moved into the flat when my mother was pregnant with me. I don't know if Betty and Ralph already lived there and the two women were pregnant together, or whether they met sometime after my birth. I know at least that they were good friends by the time I and Betty's son Pat were 3 years old.
Throughout our childhood, Pat and I were friendly enemies. I don't remember peaceful moments this photo hints at; I remember being sent off to play in a back room and Pat teasing me unmercifully for being fat, for running weirdly, and just for whatever he could think of. I last saw him at my mother's 70th birthday party, shortly before he died of a cancer that nobody knew he had (he died just days after his diagnosis). We got along well at that event, all finally forgiven.
Betty's youngest son was several years younger than Karen -- I'm not sure exactly when, but I think there was probably 10 years between Pat and Doug (there was 4-1/2 between Karen and myself). I don't know exactly when Betty and her family moved south of San Francisco into a lovely home near Betty's beloved Stanford University, but they remained close to our family.
In time the marriage dissolved and Betty remained in the home with the two boys and we lost contact with Ralph. Betty got her teaching credential and became a high school history and English teacher in Palo Alto. During the difficult early days following her divorce, I remember my father doing a lot of funny things to keep her spirits up. He and Betty always got along very well and I remember that he liked taking strange things that had lost their address when going through the mail he worked and he would send them to Betty to get a laugh out of her (things like Chinese newspapers).
In time, the friendship settled into yearly Christmas letters, interspersed with rare visits.
My mother has said repeatedly -- something I have heard all of my life -- that Betty was one of the most intelligent people she ever met. She lived in awe of Betty's brain.
The last time we saw Betty was in 2004. I took my mother to Washington go to with myself and my friend Diane to see the Skagitt Valley tulips. I stayed with Diane, my mother stayed with Betty and drove to the tulip fields with her and her son, Doug.
As she grew older she became more confused and ultimately ended her life in a nursing home near Doug and his family (wife Lisee and daughter Caterina).
Her funeral will be held next week in Menlo Park, near Stanford University. Her ashes will be scattered in the Sierras, which have always been a part of her family, since it was C.F. McGlashan (I'm not sure the relationship--cousin? great uncle?--who wrote the definitive history of the Donner Party, published in 1940 (“Though first published over 60 years ago, McGlashan’s notable book on the Donner party has been in constant demand" ... “The author’s account is still the best available on that famous expedition.”)
Betty gave me "the talk" about college before I headed off to Berkeley. Neither of my parents--nor anyone else in my family--had gone to college and my mother wanted Betty to give me some guidelines for helping me settle into the Berkeley campus. She was so convinced I was going to pledge a sorority (she had been a proud member of Gamma Phi Beta) and gave me all sorts of guidelines about sorority life. I still remember her telling me that I would be called to "Pan Hell." (I don't remember exactly what that stood for...Pan Hellenic, I guess)
I think she never really forgave me for NOT being interested in the whole Greek life. But she told me something that I think of frequently these days when we are getting together with the Pinata Group, that in college I would meet the friends I would have for the rest of my life.
She definitely was right about that!
Betty was one of those "forces of nature" that you just assumed would be there forever and it seems strange to think that she is gone.
here with her son Doug and my mother