Mother in laws……

My mother in law died in 2005.  I had known her for 20 years.  I have to say that Elizabeth Jane Bartels was one of the most loving and NORMAL beings I have ever met.  (We also shared the same name. Mine: Jane-Elizabeth Bartels. How about that?)

Most of us can rightfully complain about our mother in laws.  The first one I had was a pure bitch.  She would dive under the table to pick up the fork of her son, and I guess she expected me to do the same.  He sure did. 

But that agony lasted only 12 years…and then later I met my ‘forever’ husband.  That first attempt was only practice with damaged goods…

Betty Bartels was a complex woman: she was a mother of four, very involved in her Catholic church, in fact she became a ‘lay nun’ later in life when the kids left home.  (Some of them didn’t, they just moved across the street.)

She also was a nurse, a head nurse who was also incapable of showing up on time for work.  They apparently realized her value enough to call for her before her shift so she would (mostly) be on time.  Her son, my darling husband, has some of these same traits.

Betty was an early speaker on Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Apparently she nursed a patient (Pearl’s husband)  and developed a keen scientific knowledge about this devestating diease. She wrote numerous papers on her experience with tthe disease and was well received in the broader medical community.   She became a speaker at different medical conventions, travelling to Israel, Europe, the Middle East,  and reading papers from her research.

There was nothing puffed up, or artificial with this woman.  She was cheerful and loving and in no way would you know from her actions that she was such a knowledgeable person.  She was humility personified. 

But she also was a lot of fun. 

Betty had a very different approach to housework:  She thought that it just had to be done repeatedly, so why do it in the first place?  I found this, after a mother who had a large house and everything done to perfection, to be disconcerting.  But Betty had more heart than any woman I knew.  She also had interest in many subjects and seemingly unending energy.

I remember sitting in her house in Miami, with my new husband, her (favorite!) son, and someone asked how did a barometer work?  This was before the internet, or possibly before we knew of the internet.  Betty disappeared, and came back with an encylopedia and read  chapter and verse about barometers.  I was so impressed that my new motherinlaw was  interested in something  so different. And that she would find the answer.

She had many, many friends, and she never forgot birthdays…she never forgot mine.  She would send me clothes and presents, and one year she sent a very old locomotive and train tracks and the rest of these cars….She did this for our new son, but of course he couldn’t have played with it. He was too young and then we forgot about it.  It’s stored in the basement in a container, and someday, my son, now 23….will come home from the Navy and we will get it out and set it up.  It’s not a small venture, either, with large cars, heavy as hell, and a track that is complex.

When  I went to Miami, Betty would take this poor, white-skinned woman to the beach immediately.  She would feed me and sit with me and talk for hours.  She won my heart easily enough, but Betty was that kind of person. 

I remember sitting on a beach in the sun, and not having a hat.  She whipped off the one she was wearing and put it on my head.  She replaced hers with a aluminum foil pie tin, tying it with a scarf on her head.  What is not to love about a woman who does this??

I remember an early visit.  Pearl, her Orthodox Jewish friend, (older  than God), Betty and I went to hai lai.  This was something I had never heard about, and it seemed to be two men hitting a ball back and forth in a glass cage.  I can’t exactly remember the details, but I thought I was going to be very bored all afternoon.  That’s until they introduced me to Cuban coffee. 

It came in tiny paper cups, and I thought:  “this isn’t going to satisfy a hummingbird.”  I drank about three cups.  I became that hummingbird!  I remember the older women around us cheering for their favorite players and the hooting and hollering from these very respectable Jewish and Catholic ladies, ours included, and I remember being amazed.

They were having so much fun.  Sure, they were betting money, and probably losing money, but they were having fun to an extend I would never have believed.  It took me hours to come down from that Cuban coffee.  Never again.

I forgot one of the most ‘telling’ memories about Betty, and rereading this, I thought I would add a memory:

Remember, Betty Bartels was very involved in the Catholic church.  She ran bazaars, a Catholic thrift store, many other things, plus she ran with the nuns until she became a lay nun herself.  One of her first visits to us in Atlanta went like this: her husband, who was a quiet man and my husband disappeared one evening.  Betty and I decided to go to dinner without them.  On the way there, we saw their big van…in the parking lot of a strip joint.  It was called back then (no longer around, thankfully….)  “The Purple Onion”.  Neither Betty nor I had ever been in a strip joint before, but she wanted to go in and ‘surprise’ her husband of 45 years.  We thought it would be a BIG joke.  Betty turned the mirror around in the car to put on lipstick, and I realized this saintly woman had no idea, period, what we were going to see.  We went in….and the men (black) were so surprised at seeing these white women who obviously were LOST….well, they didn’t even charge us the entry fee.  LOL!  We saw what was going on the stage, poles, almost nudity and all, and at the same time her husband and my new husband saw US!  The look on my Father In Law’s face I will never forget.  Both of them got up and stood there in shock.  Betty and I left, laughing our heads off.  We were running for our car like school girls, almost breathless with laughter.

My father in law was a very sweet and dignified man.  A big 6’4″ man with the heart of a gentle giant.  I remember when I was getting married to his son, he couldn’t think of anything to get me pre-wedding, so he got me a subscription to “Brides Magazine”.  LOL!  We found a copy (hence the idea) in his truck.  He loved Oprah.  But more of him in another posting.

The summer before she died in the fall of 2005, we were planning, over the phone, a long trip to Amish country in Pennsylvania or Ohio.  Betty had a large van, a boat of a car, that could carry comfortably 8 people at least.  We were going to spend a couple of weeks on the road, just site seeing.

That fall, she got leukemia.  She didn’t last long, probably refused medical treatments to keep her here longer.  In the end she couldn’t speak and I remember talking to her over the phone, and her daughters saying she was nodding her head and tears pouring down her face.  Tears on both ends of the line.

Betty was cremated in her nun’s habit.  She looked different, and I wouldn’t have recognized her, but it wasn’t the habit.  It was because this plump, adorable woman, with beautiful black curly hair was now this tiny, tiny woman, sunk into the coffin.  That wasn’t my Betty in there. 

No mother in law is perfect, but Betty Bartels was pretty near.  It’s been 6 years now and I really miss her.  She was like a loving mother (though a messy one) to me, and certainly a friend.  I just wish I had more time, or taken the time to be with this woman. 

She was that good.

Lady Nyo

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6 Responses to “Mother in laws……”

  1. Margie Says:

    Aw Jane – a beautiful rememberance of a woman who must have been quite remarkable! I hope someday, someone would remember MY pie plate hat (if I ever made one)! You were a lucky woman indeed!


  2. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Margie!

    She was….she was the essence of kindness. and I know you are of the same stuff.

    I got your card with the recipes! Thank you, darling…I’m working on some recipes to send back with my recipe box before me. I love this little tradition we have going between us.

    Margie, you would have loved Betty. She was a lot of fun.

    Thank you, sweetie, for reading and your lovely comment.



  3. Steve E Says:

    LADY, I GOT IT! I have to mow the grass every 2 week, so why mow it in the first place? (I LIKE your MIL–grin!!

    And I L O V E D this line (edited):

    Cuban coffee……. It came in tiny paper cups, and I thought: “this isn’t going to satisfy a hummingbird.” I drank about three cups. I became that hummingbird!

    HAHAHA! So funny, I am GLAD you have a sense of humor.


  4. ladynyo Says:

    Oh Steve, you would have LOVED her…she was a scream. And that woman had no problems eating…she was a Terrible Cook…but she knew the best restaurants! and she always picked up the bill. LOL!

    I miss her so much. She was such an individual. When we got together (which was pretty rare, me being in Atlanta and she 12 hours away in Miami) I felt like I was visiting an old and trusted, loved friend.

    I have to rewrite that entry, because I forgot the most important story yet! I will ….read it again in about a few minutes….I don’t know HOW I could have forgotten this story.

    Thanks, Steve, for reading and your lovely comment. If I have any sense of humor it’s because Betty encouraged it.



  5. katiewritesagain Says:

    I am so happy that you have warm, wondeful memories of this important woman. We all lose the ones we love sooner or later and we need to remember them, as you have, with love and gratitude that they were in our lives.


  6. ladynyo Says:

    Hey Katie!

    Yes, she was a wonderful woman…just wish I had been closer to her, geographically. She was a woman to learn from and love.

    She can never be replaced.

    Thanks, Katie for reading and your comment.



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