George Hodgman was a veteran magazine and book editor who worked at Simon & Schuster, Vanity Fair, and Talk magazine. He was a Facebook friend that I interacted a lot with and we had many friends in common. I say “had” because George just died. The circumstances, at this point, are not known. Not by me.
His writing appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Interview, W, and Harper’s Bazaar, among other publications. He lived in New York City and Paris, Missouri where he moved to take care of his mother before her passing. He chronicled it in his best-selling memoir Bettyville.
My last PM exchange with George was his admiration of painting of mine and a request for pricing. The sale didn’t happen but it was flattering he liked my work at all. He was an immensely talented writer.
The New York Times said of his Bettyville,
“A remarkable, laugh-out-loud book . . . Rarely has the subject of elder care produced such droll human comedy, or a heroine quite on the mettlesome order of Betty Baker Hodgman. For as much as the book works on several levels (as a meditation on belonging, as a story of growing up gay and the psychic cost of silence, as metaphor for recovery), it is the strong-willed Betty who shines through.”
My old friend, author of End of Your Life Book Club and editor, Will Schwalbe said,
“Bettyville is a beautifully crafted memoir, rich with humor and wisdom. George Hodgman has created an unforgettable book about mothers and sons, and about the challenges that come with growing older and growing up.”
Fellow author and friend, Kevin Sessums writes today…
“After the sadness burns off – or seeps in to join the other sadnesses of my life buried down beneath the language that laps at its shore to keep me from drowning in it – that is what I will remember most. The sweetness. George Hodgman was a sweet man. I will miss this sweet man the rest of my life.”
His website tells his story better than I can. Better than anyone could…
“In the Northeast part of Missouri, where the big rivers run, angels are prayed for, and Wal-Martians battle for bargains, there is a little town called Paris where you can find George and Betty—lifelong allies, conspirators, sharers of jokes and grudges, occasional warriors, mother and son.
Beneath the comic banter they share lies undying love, loyalty, and occasionally the desire to throttle each other. They have been through it all. Now they are facing… a little more. The juncture that every son or daughter understands, that reversal of roles that rarely goes smoothly as parent grows older and child struggles, heart in hand, to hold on to what once was.
George—’fiftysomething-ish,‘ bruised from big-time Manhattan where he has lost his job—has returned to Missouri for Betty’s ninety-first birthday at the height of the hottest summer in years. The roses in the yard are in danger. As is Betty. The mother George remembers as the beautiful blonde, flooring the accelerator of the family’s battered Impala, has lost her driver’s license. Suddenly this ever-independent woman—killer bee at the bridge table, perfectionist at the piano—actually needs the help she would rather die than ask for.
Despite his doubts (“I am a care inflictor…I am the Joan Crawford of eldercare”) and near-lethal cooking skills, George tries to take over, stirring up and burning tuna casseroles made with potato chips, mounting epic expeditions for comfortable but stylish shoes, coming to understand the battle his determined mother is waging against a world determined to overlook the no longer young. The question underlying everything? Will George lure Betty into assisted living? When hell freezes over. He can’t bear to force her from the home they both treasure where the trees his father planted shelter Betty on her shaky trips around the yard.
But, along with camaraderie and these hard new concerns, this time they share triggers memories and sometimes old regrets. Despite their closeness, there is so much that this mother and son have never spoken of and now this seems to matter, maybe more than ever. Betty, who speaks her mind but cannot always reveal her heart, has never really accepted the fact that her son is gay. George has never outgrown the feeling that he has disappointed her. For so long, these two people—united but still silent about too many things—have struggled with words. They will never not be people who lead different kinds of lives. But they try their best to make things right. Betty sees her son’s sadness and tries to reach out. George is inspired by his mother’s unfailing bravery. As they redefine the home they find themselves sharing once more, a new chapter of their story is written. As they pass through George and Betty’s bittersweet hours and days, readers will find themselves moved by two imperfect but extraordinary people and what is finally the most human of stories, a tale of caring and kindness sparked by humor and touched by grace.”