A continuing tale of life in the boonies

No. 323

Betty Mros…a paragon of virtue

FARMINGTON – For anyone stumped by the word "paragon" and ready to jump down my throat in defense of Betty Mros -- relax. It means "a model of excellence" and octogenarian Betty, whose life ended recently with a fall from a ladder, was an extremely virtuous person.

In 21st century America, greed is good, because it oils the wheels of Wall Street; pride is trumpeted on bumper sticks, in connection with school honor rolls; envy is an essential ingredient of consumerism, which drives 80 percent of the country’s economy; and gluttony, in most cases, is at the root of the morbidly obese epidemic.

In bygone days, greed, pride, envy and gluttony were four of the seven deadly sins, and these were counteracted by the seven heavenly virtues as proposed by a 5th century poet. Betty, one of the old school, had these virtues in spades.

Take charity, for instance. Betty Mros was one of the local hospital’s volunteer auxilians for many years, and had it not been for her untimely demise, she would have been charitably helping this past week with the Lights of Love celebration.

Then comes diligence –- the virtue of hard work, and when it came to the advancement of the community, few were more diligent than Betty Mros. When Farmington’s reputation was at a lowish ebb in the 1980s, for example, the Nute Ridge Half Marathon brought in athletes from up and down the East Coast, and Betty, who was in charge of the after-race food and drink, did an astonishing job in putting the town on the runners’ hospitality map and reversing misguided impressions of Farmington.

She had other heavenly virtues, too, such as kindness and charity, but I will remember her best for her temperance, and its subcategories of prudence, tolerance, forgiveness, forbearance and mercy. Let me give a couple of examples:

Back in 1985, when I served as the town’s parks and recreation director, there was a bit more retail activity on Main Street than there is today, and as Hay Day approached, I planned a competition for kids, which consisted of placing items in eight or nine shop windows -- with each cunningly placed article something which that store did not sell. For instance, in among the goods in Osgood’s Drug Store window was a golf tee which kids had to spot, and among the wares in Barratt’s 5 & 10 window, was a foreign coin.

Youngsters had to write in the mystery objects on their entry forms during the week leading up to Hay Day, and he or she who got the most right was the winner.

Back then, on North Main Street, was Betty Mros’s Nearly New Shoppe which had nice dresses with flowery patterns in the window. I decided to place my toughest object on one of her delightful floral frocks, whose pattern camouflaged it perfectly -- and explained to Betty, in confidence, that this mystery item was a geological sample. Actually, that wasn’t quite true.

A few days before I embarked on the contest, I had encountered on the street a large lady called Sue Thornton. She was an amiable person, and we were on good terms as this column had once wished her well when she had fallen through a porch. We chatted, and she explained that she had just undergone a gallstone operation and displayed the painful stone that a surgeon had removed. It looked a little like a geological sample, and Sue graciously allowed me to borrow it for a week or so, after I explained my intention and swore her to secrecy.

Betty will never find out, I thought, but I had underestimated Sue’s affinity to the extraction, and that week she cruised up and down past Betty’s Nearly New Shoppe bestowing fond, sidelong glances on the mystery item. "That’s my gallstone," she would say to kids with contest entry forms, and the news didn’t take long to reach Betty’s ears.

"Honestly!" said Betty, who could pack more meaning into that one word than anyone I knew. Thank goodness for her heavenly virtue of restraint or temperance. For the sake of small children, and Hay Day and, ultimately, the town of Farmington, Betty allowed Sue’s gallstone to remain in situ on that lovely dress until the mystery object contest was over and a winner named.

The following year’s Hay Day featured The Long John Silver Agon, in which 20 local people dressed as pirates, replete with eye patches, plumber’s plunger peg legs, crutches, and stuffed parrots on their shoulder, raced down Main Street, walked planks, struggled through rigging, knocked back tots of rum in Dumontski’s Bar, rolled cannon balls, and eventually dug for treasure in what is now Manny Krasner’s sunken office lawn.

The race was started in authentic style by a World War II vet, Ellsworth Hancock, who had a small cannon that he packed with a disturbing amount of black powder before igniting the fuse with his cheroot. The explosive din was such that several Long John Silvers teetered dangerously on their peg legs.

Ellsworth, who sometimes dressed in a fringed, buckskin jacket and a Davy Crockett hat, had a love affair with black powder and kept worrying stocks of it in his Central Apartments home. Persuaded by authorities that the whole block could go up, if there were ever a fire, Ellsworth –- whom some folks said had a brother also called Ellsworth –- then bowed to concerns, and stored his tins of black powder in an aging truck, out back.

Anyway, after his 1986 contribution to Hay Day, Ellsworth may have been a little dismayed that he had no role to play in 1987, even though, had he been asked, he could have started off the participants in the Great Gabby Hayes Gold Rush with another cannon blast.

You can’t keep a good cannoneer down, though, and periodically, throughout the morning of Hay Day 1987, a thunderous explosion would rip  through the air, causing Betty Mros, dressed in a grass skirt at the Hay Day booth, to lift slightly off the ground, each time.

"Where the heck is that coming from?" she asked me.

"I’m pretty sure it’s Ellsworth," I said, and headed off to look behind the nearby Central Block. Yup. There was Mr. Hancock with his veteran's ballcap on, watching with satisfaction as the last wisps of blue smoke from his cannon dispersed on the breeze. He was enjoying a small cigar.

"Hey, could I have a shot, Ellsworth?" I asked.

"I guess so," he responded generously, reaching for a can of black powder. My hopes of setting off another explosion were promptly dashed, though.

"Honestly!" said Betty Mros, who had popped round the corner to see what on earth was keeping me, and had taken in the scene in a flash.

Her heavenly virtue of forbearance, beyond that single, powerful word of reproach, was disarming, we all laughed, and Ellsworth’s cannon remained silent for the rest of the day.

He was buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in 1997 and is still remembered. Betty was laid to rest there last week, and she will be sorely missed by the whole town for years to come.

John Nolan photo

Betty Mros, dressed in her Hay Day attire of 1987, makes sure Ellsworth Hancock is a happy, but retired, cannoneer.



Dec. 9, 2012

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