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Ode to Betty

Betty Marmo passed on last week. More than likely, you don’t know Betty. She was one of those people with whom your life intersects regularly but who you never really know. Like the guy who hands you The Express every morning as you rush towards the metro or the lady who knows your coffee order by heart at the shop right around the corner from your office, the security guards in your building.

I knew Betty because she worked at Suburban Cleaners on S. Washington Street in Alexandria for more than 20 years. Thin as a rail, wiry graying black hair always tightly pulled back in a ponytail, smoked like a chimney, deep brown eyes that crinkled with total merriment every time she laughed. Betty was from either from New Jersey or the Bronx. I don’t know for sure. When she was annoyed, that deep accent really came out.

I would see her maybe once a week as I dropped off or picked up clothes for dry cleaning. Always friendly, warm and welcoming. A quick hello, a discussion of the weather — normally that was the sum total of our conversations. She was a familiar face and it was always nice to see her.

Upon her death, I learned that Betty lived day to day at a hotel along Route 1. She had no burial insurance or other means to be put to rest. Customers of the cleaners have been leaving cash donations in her honor and to help her surviving brother, Marty.

How many people do we intersect with each day who we never know and never will? What are their lives like? What do they have to deal with especially if they are of modest means? How blind are we to the needs of others? And, would it really take all that much to pay attention to see what we can do to help?

There’s that quote some people have in their email signature: “Be kind to all you meet, because everyone is fighting some kind of battle. — Unknown.” Somehow that saying has much more meaning to me now.

I hope with all my heart that Betty is at peace, wherever and whatever that might be for her.

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