Dale Fehringer

Copyright 2016 by Dale Fehringer


Photo of Betty.

The past few months have been hard for all of us. A divisive election and difficult times ahead will present challenges to all of us. If you need some inspiration to help you carry on, Betty’s story might provide it.

Betty said she should have known it was time for new tennis balls on the feet of her walker. The metal legs were scraping the sidewalks and the neighborhood dogs were barking when she walked the streets. So she asked a volunteer to replace the tennis balls, and now her walker glides with barely a peep. Betty is happier and so are the neighborhood dogs.

That’s the kind of positive attitude she has. Betty is in her 80s (though she claims to be 39), and she has been given a lot to bear. She has a weak heart, bad hip, aching knees, one blind eye, and she requires a walker to get around. She has been on a walker for 14 years, and her knees and hips cause her a great deal of pain. But she doesn’t sit and mope about her troubles; instead, she goes to a regular schedule of neighborhood centers, playing the piano and visiting with the other seniors – all with a cheery attitude. She’s very inspirational.

Her struggles started early. Born in November of 1929, one month after the start of the Great Depression, Betty didn’t have much as a girl. She was an only child, born to poor New York City parents, and she came to realize as a girl that her mother didn’t want her. She gets misty-eyed when she tells that her mother once lifted her shirt and showed Betty the scars of the cesarean section from when Betty was born. “I used to have a nice body before you,” she told Betty. That was hard to deal with, and Betty hid from her mother a lot as a girl. But she carried on, loved her father, and left New York as soon as possible, travelling across the country to make a new home in San Francisco. She fell in love and married a man who abused her, so she left him, took her daughter to live in a tiny apartment, and found a job as a receptionist in an Army hospital. That was a lonely patch, but Betty got through it and spent her spare time learning to play the piano for comfort. She has been playing it ever since.

Eventually, Betty met Paul, a kind but struggling man with a daughter of his own, and they fell in love and married. Betty worked full-time and raised the girls. Paul had a heart attack and Betty took care of him until he passed away when Betty was in her 70s. The stress of caring for Paul caused Betty to have a stroke, which is how she wound up on a walker.

Throughout Paul’s illness Betty carried on working full-time, played the piano at local concerts, and even found time to take up belly dancing. She and friends would occasionally demonstrate their belly dancing skills at restaurants, which she loved doing (but which Paul didn’t particularly enjoy). But she did it anyhow. She’s always been a bit of a rebel.

Her apartment was flooded last year when a plumbing pipe in the unit above her burst and water poured into her kitchen and living room. The carpets, walls, and fixtures were ruined, and Betty had to move into a nearby motel for several weeks while repairs were made. She could have given up then and moved into a nursing home. Instead, she bravely carried on, dealing with repair people, insurance companies, landlords, and motels. When repairs were finished, she went out and bought new furniture and rugs for her apartment and moved back in.

Now, in her 80’s each day requires a good deal of effort to work through her pain, get dressed, fix breakfast, and leave her apartment. But it’s important to Betty and she wouldn’t think of not doing it. Last year she faced another severe illness and her doctor talked to her about moving to a care facility. Betty wouldn’t hear of it. “I don’t want to give up yet,” was how she put it. So she took her medicine, got better, and signed up with Next Village, a group that helps keep seniors in their homes. They send volunteers to Betty’s one-bedroom San Francisco apartment to shop and clean for Betty. She loves it, and so do the volunteers.

Betty is back at her regular schedule of piano-playing and lunches at neighborhood centers. When volunteers pick her up, she is always dressed up with make-up, lipstick, and a sunny disposition. She spends her spare time thinking of others, not herself. The day after the tragic warehouse fire in Oakland, for example, she went to a neighborhood center, sat down at the piano, and played “Amazing Grace" as a tribute to the people that lost their lives. Her friend, Kenny, got out his saxophone and joined in. Everyone at the center sang along.

Betty comes from a different generation; one that went through a lot. She survived a depression, a world war, an abusive relationship, a divorce, loss of a spouse, and illness. She’s tough, which we will all need to be to get through the next few years. But Betty is proof that it can be done, and she’s a wonderful example for the rest of us to follow.

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