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Elizabeth Wherley, 1920-2011

It seemed like every other month, my aunt Betsy (“Bebby”) would complain of some new ailment, real or imagined, that she was certain was going to well and truly kill her this time. Yet she outlived her sisters by a longshot, and the end came quickly, much like my grandfather’s — sudden stroke, then coma, then death soon thereafter. Genetic odds are that if I die naturally, that’s what I’m getting.

Though Betsy could complain like an old woman, she remained very crucially a child at heart, always trying to sneak a handful of candy, or hit up the latest sales at the mall. I once remarked that if I had to choose my dream parents, she’d be my mother. The two vacations I spent solo with her, in 1987 and 1990, remain among my fondest memories, full of trips to the Florida theme parks, drop-offs at the AMC (AMC was the newest, coolest thing back then, to me anyway), and fun gifts — upon my requesting a T-shirt on clearance that said “Who is Darkman?” she hesitated only briefly, asking, “That’s not onea them racial things, is it?”

When we went grocery shopping together, she’d tear open the ice-cream bar packages and start eating while she shopped, assuring me that it was okay, they let you do that…only to come to the checkstand where she’d very sheepishly and quietly say, “Ah’m already eatin’ one…Ah hope that’s okay…” (She had the most classical Southern accent in the family)

I never knew her husband Kenneth, which means he must have died before I was born, or shortly thereafter, and which also means she outlived him by some 36 years. She also outlived cancer, quitting smoking, alcohol (quit a few times), car crashes, and  numerous ailments she seemed to somehow take joy in expressing her suffering with. In Kenneth’s absence, she and her sister Mary (“Sis”) became inseparable…”Sis and Bebby” being mostly a collective noun in my childhood mind, one frequently involving trips to Long John Silver’s and chocolate cakes. Bebby loved the chocolate as much as anyone, probably more. “D’you buy me some more candy?” she used to ask, every time.

Two family Christmases spent in Florida were also great times, one being at a big house on the beach, the year I got the Masters of the Universe Eternia playset, possibly the biggest action figure base ever. Also Castle Grayskull – she was the one who found that for me. Cousin Arthur was still in diapers, and Sis was getting delusional into alcoholic fogs…it wasn’t long before her sober mind resembled the same.

She long lamented that her daughter Mary (above) wasn’t married yet, so I know how much joy she got when that wedding finally happened. When last I saw her at my cousin Ming’s wedding, I knew it would likely be the last time…she first had to be reminded who I was, but the recognition was still there, even as the familiar joyous cackling and wheezy laugh barely rose above a whisper any more. I could tell it did her heart good to see that I had found someone, and she likely mentally attributed it in part to my short haircut.

I wish I could say I believed she’s with Ken and Sis and my grandmother now. But what I can say is she did good, and is no longer in pain, free to be remembered as she was at her best.

I didn’t keep in touch as often as I should have. But I will miss her very much.

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