birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.


We called her that, Betty or M’am-Maw Betty. Not just M’am-Maw, that was for my father’s mother. Not Nannie, that was my mom’s adopted mother. For my mom’s birth mother, we said her name, Betty. As did Mom. 

She smoked. Kept her hair dyed black. She bitched a lot. She was a single mother back when that was even harder than it is now. Mother of two girls from two different fathers. Mother of a dead boy with a water head, a product of a rape by someone she knew. Perhaps a date rape. I doubt the rapist was prosecuted. I doubt he suffered any consequence. Pregnant and unmarried, Betty was considered a loose woman, damaged goods. No one considered the circumstances. 

I suspect she took up with men too quickly. I suspect that she was too eager to find some sort of legitimacy from them to pick the “right” guy. When Betty told my mother’s birth father that she was pregnant, he said his girlfriend was too and that was too many damn pregnant women for him. He left.  

When my mom was just a baby, Betty asked her friend, Mozelle, (my Nannie) to keep Mom and her older half-sister while she worked, made some money. A couple of years later, when she remarried (this time a great guy), she took them back. She contracted TB and was put in a sanitarium. Her girls, my mom and aunt, ran away from their foster family because they starved them and locked them in closets. 

Once again Betty turned to Mozelle, asked her to watch her girls. When Mozelle said only if you let me adopt them, Betty relented. But when she recovered, she wanted them back. My mom’s sister returned to her, helped her raise the boys she had. Mom didn’t; Mozelle was her Mama and became my Nannie. Betty never forgave Mom that.  
That’s why we called her Betty.