Saturday, October 31, 2009

Betty Begonia

Halloween was unseasonably warm in Boston, temp up to 73: what some might even call Indian Summer. Though the purists, of whom I'm one, insist on Indian Summer being a November day following a hard frost, and most important, leave you feeling dazed by the reprieve. What the day mainly was, was windy. Mobs of leaves skittering madly across the roads, driven this way and that like dancers in some madcap street musical. Wind goes with Halloween, gives it a manic energy that jibes with mischief, disguise, and the cusp of change—including a nearly full silvery moon (now covered by clouds) and the end of Daylight Savings Time. So fall back, ye minions of November. We grant October one more hour, even if it is a rainy Novemberish one.

My mom (Match, rhymes with Dotch) loved Halloween. She grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts in the zany twenties, must have seen a lot of jack o' lanterns on crisp fall nights and kids in home-made costumes running by the big yellow boarding house on Pleasant Street, where her mom, Ida, served kosher for students of the two local colleges (including the student who later introduced Betty to his cousin Emil, my dad).

I don't remember how involved Betty was in our Halloweens as kids, but in her old age she always rose to the occasion when the day came around. In her eighties and nineties, living in the eccentric-friendly town of Point Reyes Station, California, she would dress up in elaborate thrown-together costumes: as a bearded cowboy, with a cardboard horse on a broomstick; or as an ancient black-toothed crone ("I'm an ooooooooold lady!"); or as a bag lady, wearing brown shopping bags from head to toe. Not just in costume, but in character, in accent and spiel ("Howdy, podner! You-all seen any rustlers heah-abouts?") All for the entertainment of her fellow Walnut Place residents at the Halloween party, or for the children who would come trooping over during the day, making short work of her famous chocolate chip cookies. She was a born entertainer, going back at least to her job as a camp counselor in the thirties (there's a picture of her in a canoe with long Indian-princess hair) before she married Emil. She almost lived to see her 97th Halloween a year ago; she died on the 28th, an ooooooold lady.  A few months before, I wrote a poem for her, an extended limerick called "Betty Begonia and the Cowboys." 

A cowgirl named Betty Begonia

Had a ranch near Point Reyes, Califonia.

She raised goats and llamas,

Wore sheepskin pajamas,

And liked feta cheese with bologna.


One day, with a whoop and a holler,

Three cowboys rode down for a swaller—

Root beer and macaroons

At Murphy’s Saloon—

Which cost them their last silver dollar.


Well, without any prospects or money,

One cowboy said, “Boys, this ain’t funny.

We need some employment

To buy some enjoyment,

Like cinnamon crackers with honey!”


Then they heard that Ms. Betty Begonia

Had a goat who’d come down with pneumonia.

And the cowboys said, “Hey,

As of right now, today,

We are goat doctors from Arizonia!”


So they saddled their horses and rode

To Ms. Betty Begonia’s abode,

Where they rang her doorbell….

From inside came a yell:

”Come on in for some pie a la mode!”


“So…you say you’re three vets out of Phoenix,”

Betty said as she reached for some Kleenex

To nose-wipe her goat.

“Yes, ma’am! Ear, nose, and throat! 

With degrees in advanced calistheenics!”


Said the cowboys. “I see,” Betty frowned

As she looked the three dudes up and down.

“Your tale sounds a bit tall

But I’ll hire you all

If you help my goat Gertie rebound.”


So the cowboys unpacked their guitars

And that night, ‘neath a sky full of stars,

They sang a sweet medley

Of tunes that were deadly

To pneumonias, sore throats, and catarrhs.


And sure enough, next morning, Gertie

Was bright-eyed, rambunctious, and flirty.

She leapt and cavorted,

And was eagerly courted

By a number of rams, maybe thirty.


So Betty made good on her promise

And she hired Jim, Ringo, and Thomas

To handyman positions

And at times as physicians

Serenading her goats and her llamas.


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