She’s So FLUFFI: Happy Birthday Bette Costello!

Mom as child
My wonderful, sweet-faced Mom, Edna Elizabeth “Bette” Costello. Not sure why she didn’t use the traditional spelling of Betty with a “Y” (but neither did I with FLUFFI.)

It is fitting that Edna Elizabeth Costello, a.k.a. “Bette”, be featured in our Fabulous Ladies series. First and foremost, she’s my Mom!  And second, today is her birthday.  She didn’t know that I was  writing this.  In fact, she still doesn’t quite understand what a “FLUFFI” is and while her willingness to adapt to an internet world is impressive, she still hasn’t found the www.fluffius.com website.  But she gets a pass, because for my 51 years on this earth, she has been an anchor, a support, an inspiration and a friend.

What makes Bette Costello fabulous? So many things come to mind, but what has always touched my heart deeply is how at age 37, when she received a phone call that changed the course of her life forever, she rose to the challenge and became everything her two daughters, ages 15 and 10, needed to survive the crushing blow.

The middle child of three, she idolized her glamorous big sister Joan and doted on the mischievous baby, Bobby.

The Hartsell kids bundled up for  a sledding adventure, with their Mother (never called Mom), Edna looking through the window.
The Hartsell kids bundled up for a sledding adventure, with their Mother (never called Mom), Edna looking through the window.

Her world-class worrying skills were honed waiting for Joan to come home from dates, watching the clock because curfew violations were not well received by Robert Lee Hartsell, whose military background spilled over into his expectations for his children.  (White glove inspections also led to world-class cleaning skills that made our childhood home an eat-off-the-floor, vacuum lines intact showplace at all times.)  And Bobby?  He lived to torture his sister’s propensity for fearing the worst by playing near train tracks – and when a suitor came to call, Bobby was known to bang on the bathroom door the entire time Bette was getting ready for her date, just to “get on her wild nerves” (just one of the Bette-isms that make her fabulous.)

She had her share of admirers, with that hour-glass figure and pretty blue eyes, but it wasn’t until a tall, dark and movie-star handsome Italian man was assigned to be her partner in the wedding of her friend Vivian and Frank Romano that she fell so hard her desire to not upset the apple cart was overshadowed by her need to be at Salvatore Costello’s side. It was the 50’s, and a good Presbyterian girl like Bette shouldn’t even entertain the idea of falling in love with a Catholic – and no church would marry them.  Also scandalous was that Sal was 15 years older than Bette, loved fast cars and was an avowed confirmed bachelor.  They broke up a few times, succumbing to family disapproval, but that Thanksgiving in 1955 he showed up at her family’s dry cleaning business and declared, “We have to get married.”

On a rainy day in December, they set off for Elkton, Maryland for a simple, civil wedding ceremony.

No church, no hoopla or dancing – but they bravely followed love and sealed the deal.  One of the greatest gifts Sal and Bette gave their kids was their obvious infatuation with each other – a romance that only grew stronger with the passing years. 

Va-va-voom!  One of our favorite stories growing up was when Sal took Bette to see the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, turned to her and said, "You should be *sigh*
Va-va-voom! One of our favorite stories growing up was when Sal took Bette to see the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City, turned to her and said, “You should be up there on the stage. You’re prettier than them all.” *sigh* How could she help but fall?

 

I can still smell the scent of Brut and my Dad’s clean shaven face as he would whistle when Mom came out of the bedroom, all decked out for a night on the town.  Their date nights were legendary, as we kids were happily shipped off to the grandparents, and even on that fateful day he called just to say, “I love you.”

That’s why the phone call, just a few hours later seemed to be a cruel April Fool’s joke. But it wasn’t; after just recently given a clean bill of health, Sal’s heart fatally gave out, and all of a sudden, the woman who was used to evening gowns and cocktail umbrellas had to learn to fend for herself and raise her two devastated daughters, ages 10 and 15.  The timing was uncannily made worse by occurring just two weeks after her beloved father passed away from emphysema.

Would she crumble, overwhelmed by the grief? Thinking only of my sister, Shirlee, and me – she dug deep.  The evening gowns were replaced with the manufacturing gloves of a factory worker…her hands nightly ravaged by the hot plastic.  When the Atlantic City casinos opened, it was a form of salvation that allowed Bette to return to daytime work without a netted hat – and to ensure that her girls never did without.

We were well-dressed, given new cars when turning 17 and weddings (much sooner for Shirlee than me.) She put me through college and  bought (and paid off, mind you) her own home.  Never treating herself, she made sure that birthdays and Christmases were present-filled…and as we went off to pursue our lives, loving hand-written notes were a regular occurrence. I have saved these letters, chuckling at her warnings about germs and the inclusion of recipes that were her signature masterpieces (and my epic fails).

I have no doubt that my Mom's prayers played a big part in May 2, 2003 ever happening.  Doesn't she make a glamorous Mother of the Bride?
I have no doubt that my Mom’s prayers played a big part in May 2, 2003 ever happening. Doesn’t she make a glamorous Mother-of-the Bride?

For the lonely years as I watched my friends marry, Mom would pray (kneeling by her bed just as her own Mother was known to do) that God would bring me someone to share my life with. At age 39, when those prayers were finally answered, she threw herself into joy of the occasion and opened her arms and her heart to my husband, Duane.

The hardest part of following our dream to move to Florida was knowing that I couldn’t just plan an impromptu visit to meet for Sunday lunch at Harrison’s Restaurant in Mullica Hill (our halfway meeting place) or to wander around the local K-mart (for some reason, we always had so much fun doing that. And finally I was able to buy her anything she remotely expressed an interest in, despite her protests, but ultimate glee.)

Her response to our move was her blessing:  Life is short.  Follow your dream.  Enjoy every precious moment you have with your husband.

Three of us in Cape May
One of our many happy outings, this taken after a day of whale watching in Cape May.

We are an extended family – Shirlee and Tony, their grown children, Deena and David, Duane and me (and Shasta, for whom she always buys treats, though she detests dog hair) that genuinely loves and enjoys each other.

A family birthday dinner for Mom from a few years' back - Tony, Deena, me, Duane and Mom.  Where's David?  We think he had to work that day.
A family birthday dinner for Mom from a few years’ back – Tony, Deena, me, Duane and Mom. Where’s David? We think he had to work that day.

 

There he is!  We Costello girls have accepted the fact that Mom smiles wider when in the presence of David, her brother Bobby or her nephew Johnny.
There he is! We Costello girls have accepted the fact that Mom smiles wider when in the presence of David, her brother Bobby or her nephew Johnny.

We devour her homemade ricotta cookies, which are now a featured item on the menu at Deena’s Bliss Organic Ice Cream in Cape May.  We feed her addiction to Amish love stories  (she keeps a list of the titles she’s already read) and think that in a former life she must have lived among “her people” in Lancaster.  To this day, she never has a hair out of place, looks so much younger than her years and always smells of fresh laundry and perfume.  She weighs less than she did when she and Sal were dating, and avidly watches Court TV and Nancy Grace.

Bette wearing her Nancy Grace apron.  For years, she insisted that I looked like her.  I forgive you, Mom.
Bette wearing her Nancy Grace apron. For years, she insisted that I looked like her. I forgive you, Mom.

The people she greets at her latest job, handing out flyers for the optometrist at the Mays Landing BJ’s, comment on her sweet and friendly manner, and on a regular basis, her former co-workers from Harrah’s stop in, so happy to see their friend Bette.

My Mom has lived a life that makes her family proud. I know Sal looks down over his child bride and also smiles with pride, as does her Mother and Father.  I know the words she will hear (and hopefully for not a very long time to come) will be, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

But the words that matter the most right now are those we should not hesitate to speak while we can, and that is why I write this tribute to my beautiful Mom today.

I (gratefully) did not inherit the name Edna (thank you Shirlee, for coming first) but I hope that I can emulate her fortitude in tough times, her knack for making good decisions when faced with a choice, the selflessness to put others first, her ability to tell a good story and overall beauty.

My house will never be as clean as hers, my cookies will not taste the same and my figure will likely never be as svelte, but in the things that matter most, her legacy shines on.

Happy birthday, Mommy! (Even WAY into adulthood, we’ve called her “Mommy.”)

You are fabulous, loved…and the FLUFFIest of them all.

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27 thoughts on “She’s So FLUFFI: Happy Birthday Bette Costello!

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  2. Loved re-reading this over-the-top tribute. It is well deserved over & over. I really believe since Bette did not have any boys she “adopted” the first-born of every other person in our family and dotes on them from her brother on down. Hope this celebration is a beautiful one. Love, AJ

  3. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETTE!
    RE-READING THE TRIBUTE BRENDA WROTE BROUGHT TEARS TO MY EYES.
    WISHING YOU A PERFECT DAY…IN EVERY WAY AND A VERY BLESSED BIRTHDAY YEAR AHEAD!
    MUCH LOVE,
    RENEE

  4. Been, enjoyed re-reading the tribute and all the comments bout sis. It’s nice you keep memories of our lives for future family members use to see us as we were. Love ya!😚

  5. Brenda,This is a beautiful tribute to a woman who is beautiful in every way. Love and happy birthday to her. Jerry and Nat

  6. It’s Sunday morning, and I just finished reading your tribute to your Mom. It brought tears to my eyes. First, let me just say you are such a gifted writer! Even if someone didn’t know your Mom, they certainly would feel like they did after reading about her through your eyes.
    Twenty years ago, this past July, divine intervention put you and I together as next-door neighbors. it wasn’t too long after that, that Steve and I had the great pleasure of meeting Bette. I felt an instant connection. One of the reasons is that she reminded me of my Mom. Words like resilient, wise, caring, and funny come to mind. I always enjoyed our conversations when we saw each other over the years. She will always have a special place in my heart. If you’re reading this, Bette, Steve and I wish you a very happy and healthy birthday year!

  7. Brenda…you are indeed an amazing writer. You had me in tears between the smiles and giggles. My Aunt Bette is one of the loveliest, strongest, sweetest and loving women I have ever met. I only wish we could spend more time together. Aunt Bette married my Godfather, who in turn was one of the most handsome, loving, strongest and loving man…(besides my daddy, his little Brother, Joe). Your parents had such a loving relationship and there was always so much love in the home and family…Shirlee and You have carried on that tradition as well…Hugs and Kisses to Aunt Bette on her special day. Love you All.

  8. Brenda, what a beautiful tribute. I, too, had tears in my eyes reading this. I remember going to your Mom’s house to visit Shirlee. In the basement was an area that was puzzling. Come to find out, that was where you were allowed to spray hairspray on your hair. The area was surrounded by a shower curtain, I think. I still remember going downstairs in the basement the day of Shirlees’ wedding to do our hair. I recently was in BJ’s in Mays Landing and saw this beautiful woman when I walked in and thought she looked familiar. At first it didn’t occur to me that it was your Mom, but as I walked around the store, I remembered Shirlee mentioning that she worked at BJ’s. I took my purchases out to the car and turned around and went back in to the store. I walked up to her and asked her if she was Mrs. Costello. She looked alittle taken back, but sure enough it was here. It was so great to see her after all these years. Not only does she look the same as I remember her, but she is still the sweetest! I hope she gets to visit you in Florida, she wasn’t too sure that she would fly by herself when I asked her. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  9. Bren, that was really beautiful. Your writing abilities only get better as the years go by. Betty is the most kindhearted person anyone will ever meet in their travels through life much like mom but don’t get on the bad side of her as she’s very much like dad, gentle and quiet but don’t rile him. I love her and want many more years of love from her in return.

    1. Yay! Oh, Uncle Bob, you are priceless. I could have written an entire piece on your teasing abilities…and how much Mommy adores you.

  10. What a magnificent tribute to your “Mommy” and my sister.I sure hope that she reads this cause I know she will shed a few tears. She is much loved by all.
    We periodically receive her ricotta cookies or biscotti for me and short bread for Kim and we sure appreciate each and every bite.
    Have a beautiful day and enjoy dinner out Bette.
    Love to you over and over for another year.

  11. A fitting tribute, Brenda.
    And dear Bette, deepest heart bows for the miles you’ve walked & the battles you’ve endured. So admire how you met what unexpectedly came your way with a well of fortitude and an uncommon grace and dignity. Happy, happy birthday!

  12. Brenda Enjoyed reading the tribute of your mom. It brought tears, all were so true and well said. I do remember all. I recall when brother Sal was in the wedding He asked if I knew Bette Hartsell. Yes I do, we were in school together. I still Love Bette we are part of each other. She gave me two great and beautiful Nieces with beautiful familys. Love to all Aunt Rosie.

  13. Yay for Aunt Bette! Her sense of humor always gets me! Cracks me up!
    Today, I asked dad (aka Bobby) why he spelled her name with a Y. He replied, “I dont know, I always did!”
    That made me chuckle as well…
    Happy birthday!!!!

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