Betty Part I

9 Jan

Betty Isabelle Hoy Bailey was my mother. It is hard to write about my mother not because she is gone but because we did not have the best of relationships. For that reason I’ll leave my interactions with her to another day.

Mildred, Betty, Laura, Hal & Johnny

Mildred, Betty, Laura, Hal & Johnny

Betty was the oldest of the five children born to Clem and Ester Belle Plattenburger Hoy. She was an “early” baby as Clem and Ester had only been married five months before. She had a birth defect that was the source of ridicule and shame as she grew up. She had only partial fingers and toes. She was left handed because all of the fingers were fused on her right hand just after the knuckle but before the first joint. She would not have been able to hold a pencil. This is only important because at the time most left handed students were forced to write with their right hands. On her left hand she had her index finger and partial buds for the remaining fingers. On both hands she had her thumbs.

Betty's baby pictures w/ hands hidden and w/Aunts Hattie and Helen

Betty’s baby pictures w/ hands hidden and w/Aunts Hattie and Helen

She also had one big toe but none on the other foot and toe nails that came out at odd angles on buds. She had had a number of surgeries on her feet before the age of five. They were an issue all of her life.

She was highly insulted when someone applied the term “disabled.” She never wanted to let her hands dictate what she did. She sewed, knitted, shot a shot gun, cooked and put her own hooks on her fishing pole. Arthritis in that sole index finger slowed her down but never stopped her. My father said that she decided not to learn to bowl with only one finger and thumb but she said it was to give my brother and I time alone with our father. The only other issue that came up in my memory was my very formal first wedding. Wearing white gloves was appropriate at the time. She considered buying some to carry. I said that was foolish and that if I didn’t wear gloves, she should either. End of discussion.

She lived with her Aunt Helen and Uncle Leo Bailey after she graduated from high school

Betty in high school

Betty in high school

and worked for Dr L B Hussey, one of three doctors in Savanna. He was the “baby” doctor having delivered most babies born in the county. She and LB and his wife Bernice maintained a friendship throughout his practice. Some time in the early 60’s he asked her to speak to a family who’s baby had been born without fingers on one hand. It was very hard for her but she did it because he asked.

Uncle Leo’s brother, Lyle stopped by to visit a number of Betty on Indian Headtimes before he asked Betty for a date. He was much older (26 to her 19) and was considered quite a ladies man. Leo said that the relationship would be short – she wouldn’t “swing” and Lyle would move on. They dated for six weeks before he proposed. Some of those dates indulged Lyle’s passion for fishing. They often went for an evening picnic boat ride up the Mississippi River or one of its sloughs. Lyle didn’t have a lot of extra money because he supported his mother Katie. He also did not have a car or a driver’s license so the boat was a major form of transportation. Betty was not a good swimmer and was never really comfortable in the boat but there she was.

The wedding had been planned for the fall of 1939. Lyle bought a new suit. They had their engagement announced in the paper.



November 11, 1939 brought a blizzard. Lyle’s brother, Hugh had been out on the river; he didn’t return home. Leo and Lyle found him on an island two days later. Katie asked Lyle to take that new suit to the funeral home so Hugh could be buried in it. I don’t think Betty ever forgave Katie for that.

Lyle and Betty married in the spring of 1940 two days before his 27th birthday. Her aunt and uncle became her brother and sister in law!

Wedding Announcement

Wedding Announcement

Lyle had told everyone that the wedding would be on his birthday but they did a quick change to two days early to avoid the cost of hosting drinks at a local bar to celebrate their wedding.  He did not have money to buy a new suit because they were still paying for Hugh’s funeral. They honeymooned in Minnesota on another uncle’s farm and returned to live with Katie before getting their own apartment.

My brother, Gary was born in October, 1942 so there were no early babies for Betty. Lyle had registered for the draft in October, 1940 but didn’t enlist in the Navy Sea Bees (construction corps) until Gary was over a year old. Betty moved into an apartment on Third Street with her sister Mickie and Mickie’s step son Marvin Ray. The two boys were about the same age so the sisters could help each other with both husbands in the service. Lyle was stationed in Richmond, Virginia so Betty packed her small suitcase and boarded a train with Gary. She said he was old enough to know Daddy was in uniform so he called every man in uniform “Daddy.” She was mortified but the soldiers helped a great deal in making that long trip. Once she arrived in Richmond she found a job as an apartment manager in exchange for rent in a less than fashionable area. She would always shutter when she talked about the cockroaches and the woman who got drunk and passed out in the tub of the shared bath. Most hair raising for her was the day that someone left the gate open while Gary was playing in the front yard. He quickly escaped but was easy for her to track. He was the only little boy with snow white hair in a sea of black. When Lyle was sent oversea, she returned to Savanna and the apartment with her sister.

Gary with Clem and Ester

Gary with Clem and Ester

After the war ended Lyle and Betty bought the house at 252 Clay Street in Savanna six months before I was born. The house had sat empty for a number of years and needed lots of work but was affordable. I’m not sure how much they paid for the house, but the mortgage plus interest came to just over $6,000. As children of the Depression, they did not want to have anything on credit until they made the last payment to the Savanna Building and Loan. That was not easy because Lyle was still supporting his mother who liked have charge accounts all over town. Lyle and his brother later built a small house for his mother at the edge of their lot. Betty and her mother-in-law did not see eye to eye on boundaries and raising children. Katie considered it her right to walk in whenever she wanted and tell Betty what she was doing wrong frequently. Lyle stayed out of it. I’m sure that Katie was part of the reason they built the summer cottage south of town when I was 18 months old.

Betty had stopped working when she married and only went back to work when I was in fifth grade. She worked as an aid at the hospital for a short time and then became a cafeteria cook

Lunch Lady

Lunch Lady

at Lincoln Grade School shortly after they started the hot lunch program. Later she became the cafeteria supervisor when the grade schools combined. She continued to do so until my father retired in 1971. She made lots of friends and was well known as the Lunch Lady. It was the only time I knew her to have an identity outside of being Mrs. Lyle Bailey.

After they retired, my parents bought a 1970 Dodge van he outfitted for camping. They put 150,000 miles cris-crossing the country between Illinois, Minnesota, Florida and my home in Oregon and Washington. She liked having the van because she said fish and relative both had a smell after 4 days. They would visit, wander off to explore and then visit some more. The travel ended as Lyle’s emphysema advanced. During the last five years of his life, she spent all of her energy trying to keep him alive.

Betty did not date during the twenty plus years of her widowhood. A friend of Lyle’s had asked her to go to dinner about six month’s after my father’s death. She called me to tell me how scandalized she was. She declared my father a saint (only because he usually gave in to her) and that there would never be another man like Lyle. With him gone it was hard for her to find another reason to live. Having grand children helped fill that void.

Selling the house on Clay Street was very hard for her. Gary and I discussed buying the house but decided against it. He was certain Betty would not move if we did so and she needed to move off the hill. She moved into an apartment near the end of Fourth Street. The apartment had a nice layout and easy walking distance to Hardee’s where she met girlfriends for daily coffee and gossip but she was never happy there. She said she could hear sounds from the other apartments and that she had a nosy neighbor. She moved from there to an assisted living apartment in East Savanna. She had a small patio and could raise tomato plants just outside her door. She prided herself on not socializing with her neighbors but could easily report on who had a boyfriend, who got free meals on wheels, who paid the least rent (she paid the max) and when someone got new furniture. She lived there until she had to go to a nursing home in Clinton, Iowa where she remained until her death September 18, 2009.

At her funeral a number of friends and relatives told me how important Betty, the Lunch Lady, was to their childhood.

Last Lunch Lady

Last Lunch Lady

That was a good tribute to her life.


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