Betty Osborne is a proud New Yorker (Brooklyn born and raised in LI and VT, now living in Upstate NY). NY is lucky to have her as its daughter. She is the kind of citizen that would make any nation or people proud. Happy to serve her own and those unknown. Service like this is not found today. People serve to serve their own type. Her's is a type that is So-American and yet today, So Un-American.
As the nation slips from being once great to almost of no consequence in a world where war and bombs are obsolete - people like Betty are the people we should strive to be like. Born to comfort perhaps, but no vast amount of money by any stretch - Betty is an American story of American ingenuity and American savvy. She made her life what it is. She persevered to be who she wanted to be and who she felt would be a good example for her kids and theirs.
Such stories are wonderful to read about but not stories that happen in a society divorced from support for its citizens. I am sure Betty was thrilled to have her parents offer her support as she went back to school as an adult with kids. A support network that made it possible for her to be a part of the American workforce and dream dreams that only the able can. It did not happen just because of the family, but also because the system supported such people.
Today we worry more about those that abuse the system but forget the stories like Betty that have given back to society and the system in ways that the Romney's and the Ryan's of the world have never. Ryan took from the system the social security benefits that he enjoyed beacuse of his father. But today he wants the future generations to not have that cushion to fall on when in times of need. Every aspect of life is fraught with abuse. That is part and parcel of everything the world is made up of. Every tree has a bad apple. Every religion has extremisits.
Betty was a single woman (divorcee) starting age 34. Married only for 13 years. Left with two kids. Did that make her a broken dream? Nope. She accepted the help of her parents, lived with them for 4 years as she went off to school to equip herself for this new chapter of her life. She took the help of tuition and aid to help her realize her dream. Found a job. Worked hard and made life happen once again.
Her two kids have gone on to get degrees from such colleges as Stonybrook College, University of Pennsylvania, a law degree from NYU and Masters in International Development and Public Policy from Princeton. Not shabby for kids raised by a divorced single mother? Actually how many of us could say we know many families where 2 children have between them so many degrees? Not many!
Can Betty take credit for her kids education? She would never. But yes, Betty should be given credit for giving her kids an upbringing that made them dream, made them think, made them question, make them grab opportunities and made them equal citizens of the world.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone then that her son now runs a business that has him traveling between the US and Guatamela and residing with his two kids and wife in CT. Her daughter lives currently in New Delhi, India where her husband is headling operations for Deloitte and Touche and one of her daughters goes to school in Delhi and is ready to start college next year and the other daughter is doing her bachelors degree at Smith in Northampton.
I share this today, with photographs from dinner last night, as I see in Betty the American Idol. An American who dreamt, who made life happen, who was generous, kind, caring, responsible, resourceful and charitable. Betty enjoyed the benefits of a system that protects its citizens and gives them opportunities and Betty has worked hard to ensure the same for all. Within her own family and outside. Betty headed Head Start for Washington County starting 1972 and retired 1999. In her years it grew from 12 people to a staff of 105. By the time she left it served around 400 families. Had 5 centers and a day care and more... She also trained other Head Start programs .... and now retired she still travels evaluating and doing consuting and training for other states Head Start programs.
When asked if she had any regrets by her daughter, at dinner on her 80th birthday recently - after meandering into a general conversation about her life she told her daughter she had none. There were sad moments, things that she would not do again - but it did not mean that she had regrets. She has not reached the age of 80 pissing and moaning about stuff she should not have done. She has dealt with diversity and cared for her parents to death, her mother-in-law until she passed and her friends as well. These realities of life that gave her strength.
If Betty could become this amazing pillar of strength and support and charity - so can many other men and women coming of age today in America. How we vote in times of crises is even more telling and important. We can be afraid and vote clouded by the bigotry that comes beautifully wrapped in the garb of religion. We can be fooled into believing that a man worth many millions made his life divorced from a system that gave him support. Or we can be honest and find in Betty's story and life the magic of the American Dream.
A dream that is ONLY POSSIBLE when we allow people to dream and not be handicapped by trying circumstances. We should support a President that wants to give every American the ability to get medical care even if penniless. Is that not something worthy to celebrate? How is it that in the 21st century we are the only nation where this is being debated and challenged. All civilzed nations have already fought that battle and gone to the next. Why should be fight a President that is anxious to correct our failing education system when we have hard-facts telling us we have failed as a nation in education. From being the best, we are in the lowest in the world. Do we need wait longer? If we keep the Betty's in our lives in our mind and in our scope - we will not allow others to fool us into believing that the average person can dream a dream and make it real alone.
It takes a village and a family and a society and then an individual - all coming together to make dreams into realities. Tea Parties are beautiful as a game. They are wonderful to comprehend, indulge in and celebrate when we are toddlers. Afterwards, time for party passes and it is time for action.
As I salute Betty, I hope others will find such amazing women in their own midst. Who struggled but with pride and great hope to take and give back. Who fought prejudice and bigotry and passed many road blocks but never with fear but knowing they lived in America where at leats on paper, all are equal.
At dinner last night Charlie and I shared the table with Betty and her dear friend Michelle Gerka. Also once a director of Head Start and one Betty says was perhaps the smartest. Michelle's story is no different from Betty. Surely she is 20 years Betty's junior but her life's challenges have been similar even if different in substance.
As we celebrated Betty and her 80th year, I found myself celebrating smart women and smart minds. A rarity in our America of 21st century. I know we have many young boys and girls with brilliant minds being born in the US daily. But to bring those minds to the path where they will shine best will take great work, great sweat, perseverance, patience and commitment. Do we have it in us? Of course we do. Betty did.... She is not immortal, but she was determined and she was kind. We too can become that and we too can have others sing our praises at 80. But what we do today will matter.
Next was a bowl of soup. A recipe that equals in magic, calories and taste the best ever tomato-soup that one can find at Mrs. London's in Saratoga Springs. That alone could have been dinner... but Betty is NOT LAZY in fact she enjoys adding challenges every minute that she lives.. and so we had another course ahead of us.. in fact two more..
For the main course, she again kept everything vegetarian. This dinner she was indulging wholly the vegetarian that is me. Thanks Betty! We had at the table a spoon bread (a recipe from her grandmother that called for butter the size of an egg) served along with maple syrup. Betty tells me her grandma and mom would have this on nights when they did not eat meat. It was like a souffle and wonderful. I enjoyed it minus maple syrup. Charlie loved it with the syrup. To each his own. Another American birthright. The eggplant caponata that Betty made was as good as the best I have eaten. Just as wonderful as the one made under the tutelage of Mario Batali by his team of chefs. From her own garden and made with care and with the help of Michelle who chopped all the vegetables just as finely as needed to ensure nothing was either too mushy or too crunchy. A rice and peanut salad delighted and charmed through its flavor and texture. It is also a dish that Betty shared recipe for with the caterer that catered her daughters wedding. She had set aside a generous bowl of it for us to savor whilst the remainder tub-full she had made was being taken to a wedding in our community today. 80 for sure, but far from 80 in energy, spirit and hunger to work. If this was not enough food to sate our hunger or tire a cook out, Betty had to outdo herself and out-sate us by having on the plate a nice crispy, savory and comforting Mac and Cheese.
Dinner was savored for each delicious bite and the conversations that kept us understanding the complexities and blessings and challenges of life. At Betty's table one is circumspect but never boring. Playful but not raunchy. Inspiring and aspirational but not conservative. To conserve is to be small minded and miserly with what one has. Betty has the liberated largesse of the deeply generous and charitable. How could she then ever be conservative. She is a person of high moral and great mind. At her table the world is one small family and people of all kinds equal citizens.
The sweetness of thoughts exchanged found great partnership in the dessert Betty presented. Her mom's famous plum cake which by accident did not make it into the book, but one that gives me pleasure beyond most desserts. I singlehandedly ate half of the cake last night and Betty very kindly sent us home with another whole cake.
Betty at 80 is the epitome of all that every American ought to be from birth until last breath. She has the vigor and strength of an 8 year old, the reflectively masterful savvy of an 80 year old and the charity and tolerant acceptance of a person who has lived a life with eyes wide open.