Wright Words: Elderly woman sends message to the world: 'Everything happens for a reason'

Published: Tuesday, July 9 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Jason Wright and Betty Pelletier enjoy a chance encounter outside Wright's office in Woodstock, Va.

Oakli Wright

WOODSTOCK, Va. — It was a hot, muggy Monday afternoon in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. The humid hours and minutes felt like fat dominos, too heavy to gather momentum and topple over onto one another. It was the kind of afternoon that just gives up and waits for dusk to arrive with a fan and an extra lemonade.

I stepped outside my office on Main Street in Woodstock for a thick walk to our small-town post office. It was time to clear my lousy head after punching through several lousy drafts of a lousy column that now sits in my digital trashcan.

I took the long way, despite the heat, and extended the stroll by several blocks. I watched cars and other pedestrians pass by, waved at a few strangers and wondered what I was missing.

Then, when I returned to my building — a quaint movie theater from another era — I met a remarkable woman who rewrote my afternoon, this very column, and maybe, just maybe, my outlook on life.

Betty Pelletier, 89, of Woodstock, Va., was sitting alone on a bench outside my office eating a snack when I sat down next to her to say, "Hello." I learned she was returning home from a doctor’s appointment and an errand at the opposite end of Main Street. She’d walked from one end of town to the other and back again.

I’d barely taken a seat when she said confidently, “Everything happens for a reason.”

During the early moments of our 90-minute visit, I convinced myself that spending the time with the sweet woman would be good for her. But by the time we said, "Goodbye," I realized it hadn’t been good for her — it had been good for me.

After the usual pleasantries, I learned that Pelletier moved to the area four years ago from Arlington, Va. The Florida native had been in northern Virginia for most of her adult life, working as a secretary and typist in Washington, D.C. Four years ago she moved to Woodstock to care for her former husband, a man she hadn’t associated with in years. “There was no one else,” she said. “And everyone deserves to be cared for.”

Sadly, soon after she uprooted and planted herself in town, the man developed Alzheimer’s and was checked into a long-term care facility. The arrangement was no longer necessary, but here she was to stay.

I turned to face her. “You know, Betty, not many people would do that.”

“Oh, I don’t know. Everything happens for a reason.”

Pelletier spoke fondly of the man who still lives, but because of illness does not know her. She talked of his career driving tour buses, including a longtime gig driving the legendary Smokey Robinson. The two men became friends, and though her former husband wouldn’t remember, she suspects Robinson would. The warm memory brought a smile to her face and mine.

My new friend shared with me the second love of her life and a long-distance relationship that survived the odds. Though he no longer lives, her memories of him are as crisp as the days they unfolded. They have two children she wishes she saw more often and two grandchildren she loves dearly.

Once, as she told a particular story, I interrupted her to clarify a point. "Well, if you'd just let me finish," she quipped.

Later during our conversation, two elderly women approached asking if we knew where a nearby beauty salon was located. My friend, not content to simply point and give directions, stood immediately and asked me to watch her things. “I’ll be right back.” She led the older of the two women by the arm, tenderly supporting her as they moved down the sidewalk. The side-by-side sight of the three women was almost poetic.

Pelletier returned five minutes later and picked up right where she’d left off.

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