Disclaimer: All characters from Remember Wenn belong to Rupert Holmes and Howard Meltzer Productions. I am not making any money off of them. I just love the show and enjoy writing about them. All original characters (Anne Marie and Joey and Frank Roberts) are my creations. By the way, It's A Wonderful Life also doesn't belong to me and I am borrowing the plot without permission. Enjoy!
IT'S A BETTY WENNDERFUL LIFE
The ringing of the telephone near her head brought a groggy Betty Comstock out of a deep sleep early one summer morning. Bringing it slowly to her ear, she whispered quietly "Hello?"
Her brother-in-law's agitated voice on the other end made Betty sit up and swing her legs over the side of the bed as she immediately became fully awake.
"Slow down, Tom." She whispered urgently glancing over at the sleeping form of her husband next to her on the bed. "Hold on for a minute, I'm going to go downstairs so we can talk. Hold on." Betty said again as her feet slid into a pair of slippers in the dark and she reached for her robe.
A minute later, she was curled up on the sofa in the living room holding the main extension to her ear. "Now start again, Tom, what's wrong with Sarah?"
As he explained, Betty listened intently occasionally asking a question or two to clarify things.
"So she's in the hospital now? And the doctor's sure that its Polio?" She listened for a few more minutes then asked "What can I do to help Tom?"
"I have to run it by Victor, but I'm sure that we can take the kids for a few weeks. Call me tomorrow when you know more. Okay. Goodbye." Betty hung up the telephone and burying her face against the back of the sofa began to cry.
She must have dozed off, because the next thing she was aware of was the early morning sun shining in her eyes and the clatter from upstairs that told her that her brood was awake and ready to face the day. Glancing at the mantel clock, Betty jumped up as she realized that she and Victor had to be at the Station in a little over half an hour. Racing up the stairs, she almost ran down Vicki in the upstairs hall.
"Hi Mommy. How come you're not dressed yet?" The seven year old asked as she headed for the bathroom.
"Mommy's running a little behind this morning. Are your brother and sister up?"
"Yes, Mommy." Vicki called out, her voice muffled by the washcloth she was rubbing over it.
Betty disappeared into the master bedroom and pulled a dress out of the closet as Victor came back in from their bathroom knotting his blue and gold striped tie around his neck.
"Good morning, Betty. Where were you so early? You were gone when I woke up."
Pulling on a slip before answering Betty simply replied, "I had a call from Tom early this morning, Sarah's in the hospital. They think its Polio."
"Is she going to be all right?" He answered coming up behind Betty and putting his arms around her.
"I guess so, but he asked if we could take the kids for a few weeks, at least until Sarah gets out of the hospital. They've been checked over and show no signs of it." Betty said turning her head to look up at her tall husband.
"Would you be able to handle it? Having five kids in the house, I mean." Victor clarified. "Our own three are a handful and your sister's kids are still quite young, I believe."
"Vicki's a big girl now and a lot of help with her brother and sister." Betty said quickly running a brush through her dark brown hair. "And Tom said it would only be for a few weeks just until Sarah gets out of the hospital and starts doing her exercises."
"Well, its up to you of course," Victor said as they started downstairs to the kitchen.
"Good, I'll tell Tom that its all right then and make arrangements for him to bring the kids."
"What kids, Mommy?" Victoria asked curiously as she finished setting out the cereal bowls and spoons around the table.
"Your cousins Anne Marie and Joey are coming to stay with us for a few weeks. Aunt Sarah's sick and Uncle Tom needs to be with her." Betty told the children pouring fresh orange juice and supervising the pouring of cereal and milk into bowls.
"Goody!" Cried out Vicki in delight. "I haven't seen Anne Marie since last Christmas. When are they coming, Mommy?"
"I don't know yet, sweetie. I have to talk to your Uncle Tom again first." Betty replied. "Now hurry up and finish, we need to get to the Station."
As soon as the last drops of milk and cereal were scooped up from the bottoms of three bowls, three young bodies slipped from the table and ran to get their knapsacks and sweaters.
A section of the Green Room had long ago been converted into a play area for the kids and set up with a diminutive table and chairs and a toy chest full of toys. Whenever the kids came to work with their parents, they knew to stay in that area and not go wandering about the station too much.
Betty herded her trio into the Green Room as she raced down the hall into the Writer's Room to grab the first scripts for the morning. Whipping back around the corner again, she almost collided with Mackie.
"Sorry, Mackie, running late today. Here's your script."
The short man caught the pile of pages Betty tossed at him and said, "It's all right, Betty, Hilary and Jeff are still on with Bedside Manor," before he realized he was speaking to empty air as she had already continued down the hall.
The rest of the day flew by so fast that it was late afternoon before Betty had a minute to call her brother-in-law again. Luckily, she caught him at home and they made arrangements for her father to bring the children in on the train that weekend.
The next day, Betty spent the morning at home cleaning and getting the guest room ready for Anne Marie and Joey. She and Vicki changed the sheets on the twin beds and vacuumed and dusted.
Frank Roberts was in his fifties, but still stood tall and lean as he waited outside the front door of his older daughter's home. He had Joey in his arms and Anne Marie was standing quietly by his side. "Ring the bell again, Anne Marie." He said to the little girl and she obediently reached up and pushed the button a second time. A few seconds later, the front door flew open and his oldest granddaughter was standing there a big smile on her face.
"Grandpa, you're here!" Victoria exclaimed joyfully as she reached out to give him a big hug. "Hi Anne Marie, hi Joey. Come on in."
As they trooped inside, Betty appeared in the hallway with Victor right behind her. She immediately reached for little Joey and took him from her father's arms. "Hi, Dad. How was the trip."
"The trip was fine, Betty, your mother sends her love of course and wishes she could have come too."
"I know she's probably busy with Sarah. How's she doing?"
Frank gave his daughter a look that indicated they would discuss it later when "little pitchers" weren't underfoot and replied "The cab driver left a pile of suitcases out on the front steps if someone wouldn't mind showing me where to put them."
Victor stepped forward saying, "Follow me, Frank. I'll show you the way upstairs to the guest room. The two men each grabbed some of the luggage, and headed up the stairs. Betty then sent the children out in the back yard to play first admonishing Vicki to keep an eye on the little ones.
"M-o-o-m" the seven year old said in exasperation. "Don't I always keep an eye on the kids."
"I was referring to your cousins, Victoria, they are new here and not familiar with our house yet."
"We'll be careful, I promise." The little girl replied then ran after her siblings and cousins.
Shaking her head and sighing, Betty hurried upstairs to join her father and husband.
Anne Marie and Joey settled into the Comstock family routine fairly quickly as they spent their days playing with their cousins and the other children of the WENN staff. Hannah Foley was Vicki's best friend and she took Anne Marie under her wing as well and the three girls played with their dolls and colored and drew pictures. The two oldest girls also read to the younger kids sometimes.
One afternoon, a few weeks after her niece and nephew had arrived, Betty peeked into the Green Room and couldn't help but smile at the sight of her oldest child reading aloud to all of the other children, who were listening enraptured to the tale of Henry Huggins and his dog Ribsy by Beverly Cleary. All nine little faces were tilted upward in rapt concentration as Vicki read aloud changing her voice a little for each different character.
Still smiling, Betty ducked back out again and backed into Mackie who had just stepped out of the Studio. "Sorry, Mackie, I didn't see you there."
"Obviously not since you rear ended me. What's going on in the Green Room?" The little man asked with a flick of his thumb towards the louvered doors.
"Vicki has all of the kids in there and she's reading to them. She almost sounds like an actress the way she can change her voice to convey different characters in the story."
"That girl of yours is real good with those kids, Hannah too."
"She sure is." Betty told him preening a little like any mother does when her young are being praised. "She's a big help to me."
As the weeks wore on however, Betty couldn't help but start to worry when her brother–in-law showed no signs of being ready to take his children back. Sarah had been home from the hospital for nearly a month now and everything seemed to be going well with her recovery.
Now it was Thanksgiving week and Anne Marie and Joey were asking when they could see their mother again.
"I don't know, Anne Marie," Betty told her little niece on Thanksgiving Day as she opened the oven door to baste the large plump turkey that was just starting to turn golden brown across the top. "Your Daddy didn't say anything when he called the other day. We'll just have to wait and see."
"But me and Joey want to go home. We're tired of being here." Anne Marie told her aunt with the typical petulance of a five year old who wants things to go her way.
"Victoria!" Betty called out in frustration to her daughter.
"Yes, Mommy." The girl replied from the dining room where she was putting the best lace tablecloth on the table prior to setting it for dinner.
"Will you please take Anne Marie into the other room and let her help you set the table she's getting underfoot in here." Betty couldn't help the exasperation in her voice.
"Come on, Anne Marie, help me put the silverware around." Vicki said coming into the steamy kitchen and taking her young cousin by the hand.
Somehow, they managed to get through Thanksgiving Day without too many mishaps and things settled down again. Just in time too, because suddenly Betty and Victor had bigger problems to worry about.
It was just a few days into December, the day before Betty and Victor's eighth wedding anniversary to be exact, when all of the trouble started.
Saturday was going along at its usual pace and Betty was in the Office going over some of the account ledgers with her husband when the telephone rang.
Absently reaching out a hand, Betty scooped up the receiver and said "Yes, Gertie." Suddenly, she sat straight up in her chair and said "Put him right through, Gertie."
Placing a hand over the mouthpiece, she whispered to Victor "its Cyrus Bennington of Bennington Appliances. Hello, Mr. Bennington. How are you doing today."
Victor leaned over so that he could hear what the current sponsor of This Girl's Kinfolk had to say. A moment later, both Comstock's jaws dropped in amazement at what they heard. Betty slowly placed the receiver back in its cradle and plopped down into the chair across from Victor.
"I can't believe it." She said limply. "I simply can't believe it. He's dropping us for a television program. Bennington Appliances has sponsored This Girl's Kinfolk for nearly seven years. He's paid up through the end of the year but they won't be renewing come January."
"Betty, I was sitting right here, I heard the entire conversation." Victor replied from his place behind the desk.
"I'm sorry, Victor, of course you did. Its just that this is the fifth sponsor this year we've lost to television. We have to do something."
"Well, what would you suggest, honey" Victor asked calmly. "Television is becoming more and more prevalent, its no longer just a novelty item for the rich. Everyone is getting into the act."
"I don't know. We'll have to look around and find a new sponsor for the show. I'd hate to take it off the air after all these years." Betty replied leaning back into the chair suddenly weary to the core. "You know, Victor, sometimes I just get so tired of trying to keep things afloat."
"Come here, Betty." Victor told his wife, reaching out a hand to her. Betty came around the desk and slid quietly onto her husband's lap, leaning her head against his shoulder. Victor wrapped his arms around his wife and they sat there silently for several minutes.
After lunch, Victor spent some time going over their sponsor list and making some telephone calls to see if there was anyone else who might be able to take over the sponsorship of This Girl's Kinfolk but wasn't able to come up with a single name. Shaking his head, he went in search of his wife to break the bad news.
As soon as he entered the Writer's Room, Betty could tell he didn't have good news for her.
"I'm sorry, Betty" Victor told her. "I couldn't find a single company willing to sponsor the show. It looks like you've got the next four weeks to wrap things up and write a big finale."
"Damn it, Victor! Excuse my expression, but its just not fair. This was always my favorite program." Betty exclaimed slapping her hand down against the desk in anger.
"There's nothing we can do, Betty. We can't run a radio show without a sponsor. We can't afford it"
"I know, I know." His wife replied sighing loudly. "Speaking of money, I had a strange call from a Mr. Warner at the Alleghany First National Bank this morning. He said something about a mortgage payment due in January?"
"Oh no," Victor clapped his left hand to his forehead. "I completely forgot, there's a balloon payment due January first."
"Exactly how much money are we talking about here, Victor?" Betty asked fearfully.
"Seven hundred and fifty dollars."
"Seven hundred and fifty dollars," Betty repeated slowly. "It might as well be seven hundred and fifty million. We stand about as much chance of getting it. You do realize, don't you, that the balance in our checking account is less than fifty dollars."
"We'll figure out something, Betty we always do."
"How long have you known about this payment anyway?" Betty asked.
"I was first made aware of the pending payment early in September." He replied evenly.
"You've known about this for over three months and didn't see fit to even mention it to me. Victor, if we don't make that payment, we could lose the house. We scrimped and saved for over six years to buy a house and now we might lose it because you forgot!" Now Betty was practically screaming at her tall husband. "Do I have to take care of remembering everything in this family!"
He started to put a hand on her shoulder, but Betty just twisted away and said "Just leave me alone for a while, Victor, please just leave me alone."
Nodding, He turned around and left the room. As he turned the corner, he ran smack into Mackie, Gertie and Maple all wearing identical concerned expressions.
"Victor, is everything all right? We heard shouting." Gertie asked solicitously putting a hand on his arm.
"I suppose that you might as well be the first to hear, Bennington furniture isn't renewing their sponsorship of This Girl's Kinfolk after the end of the year."
"Not renewing." Mackie echoed in amazement.
"Have we been doing something wrong, Vic?" Maple asked a second later.
"No, its nothing infelicitous that we have done. They have simply decided to employ a more popular medium for their advertising, namely a television program."
"Ah geez," Mackie said, "This television thing is getting to be real competition."
"Like fleas fighting for a spot on a dog's tail." Maple agreed pithily.
"I couldn't have put it better, Maple." Victor told the voluptuous redhead who was leaning against the wall in front of him. "This is the fifth sponsor we've lost to television this year, and it won't be as easy to replace them as it used to be.
"What can we do, Victor." Gertie asked seriously.
"Yeh, just let us know how we can help." Mackie seconded and Maple nodded agreement.
"Thank you all, but just keep this under your hat for now. I'll tell the rest of the group later." Victor told the trio before going back into his office.
Over the next few days, he and Betty made up, but Victor still walked softly around her and cautioned the rest of the actors and staff to do the same.
December slowly moved its way towards Christmas but for once, it didn't seem quite so merry. Betty, who had always been the biggest Christmas fanatic of them all, just didn't seem to be interested this year.
The day before Christmas, Victor bundled the five children up in the station wagon, and they headed out to the spot at the edge of Webster Park where a troop of Boy Scouts always sold Christmas trees. After wandering around for close to an hour, the six of them finally selected the perfect tree, and after paying the scout behind the cashbox, headed home with the tree tied to the top of the car.
Betty was still at the station, when they arrived home, so Victor suggested that wouldn't it be a wonderful surprise to have the tree all set up and decorated by the time she got home. The children agreed and hauling the boxes of ornaments down from the attic, they all set to work.
Meanwhile, at the radio station, Betty was having an absolutely miserable afternoon. Nothing was going right and the atmosphere certainly wasn't very Christmasy. Hilary and Jeff were at each other's throats more than ever before and three times, Betty had been forced to referee an escalating argument between them. Eugenia had gone home sick with a touch of the flu, so Maple was having to improvise holiday music for all the afternoon shows, as well as try to do her share of the acting. The last straw finally came when Betty exited Studio A after filling in on Rance Shiloh only to find Mr. Eldredge and Gertie on their hands and knees in the Green Room frantically sifting through piles of ripped and crumpled papers.
"What's going on here? Gertie? Mr. Eldredge?" Betty asked with increasing trepidation as to what the answer might be.
"We're looking for something, of course." Tom Eldredge told her looking as if she should have been able to figure that out for herself.
"Well, yes, I can see that. But what are you looking for? Maybe I can help."
"Well, actually, Betty" Gertie said looking furtively at the younger woman out of the corner of her eye. "We seemed to have lost the scripts for tonight's special. We think they might be in this basket that's supposed to go down to the incinerator."
"Please tell me you didn't say what I think you just said." Betty replied in a deadly calm voice as she swallowed hard and clenched her fists together. "How could you have dumped the scripts into the incinerator basket. What was it even doing in here. You know it belongs in the back hallway by the storeroom." Betty dropped to her knees beside Gertie and began pawing frantically through the piles of papers.
"Don't worry, Betty, we'll find them." Mr. Eldredge told her calmly.
"Oh shut up, you senile old man! Why we even keep you on here anymore is beyond me!" Betty hollered at him giving him a push out of the way as she sorted through the ripped up and crumpled pieces of paper. "Where is it! I don't have time to redo the whole program because some stupid old man lost the scripts."
"Betty, calm down" Gerie told the angry woman. "It'll be all right. Maple still has her script with all the music cues marked. If necessary, we can do the show from that one."
Suddenly, Betty jumped up and headed towards the door tossing a few final angry words back over her shoulder, as she pushed through the swinging doors. "Fine. Do whatever the hell you want. I just don't care anymore. Do the show or don't do the show, I just don't care."
Betty was late getting home that night, and as a result, wasn't in the best of moods when she wearily walked through the front door shortly after ten o'clock.
The first thing she noticed, wasn't the brightly lit up tree or the way the red and white plastic Santa Claus garland was draped around the stair railing. Dropping her black wool coat over the newel post at the bottom of the staircase, all she said was "What are you kids still doing up."
Turning to Victor who was perched on the kitchen step ladder draping gold tinsel around the top part of the tree, she continued "You know the children are always in bed by eight-thirty, and here it is way after ten."
"Its Christmas Eve, Betty." Her husband replied mildly. "I let them stay up to help decorate the house, not to mention celebrate Vicki's birthday. Especially since you haven't exactly been interested in such things lately."
"Mommy, could you look at my story. I need help with some of the words." The eight year old birthday girl asked as she came up to her mother and hugged her around the waist.
"Well, somebody's had to take care of business at the station and as usual, it seems to be me. I haven't had time for Christmas or birthday parties because I've been trying to save our livelihood." Betty started to reply heatedly then stopped as she spied the hurt look on her oldest daughter's face. "We'll talk about this later, Victor. All right everyone upstairs, its time to be getting ready for bed."
Looking at the children scattered around the room, Betty asked "Where's Barbara?"
"She's upstairs in bed already." Victor told his wife as he climbed down from the step ladder and picked his way through the crowded living room to stand in front of his wife. "When we got home after getting the tree, I noticed that she was sniffling and her nose was runny, so I put her to bed early."
"Great" Betty muttered. "Just what I need, a sick child to look after. Like I don't have enough to do."
"Mommy," Vicki tugged on her mother's arm. "Please look at my story, and don't forget you promised to listen to Ricky sing his Christmas song for the radio show tomorrow."
As if on cue, six year old Ricky opened his mouth and began singing in a loud if slightly off key treble "Jingle Bells Jingle Bells, Jingle all the way…"
"Can you at least tell me how to spell 'reindeer', Mommy?" Vicki asked as she stuck a sheaf of paper under her mother's nose.
"ENOUGH ALREADY!" Betty's shout brought complete and sudden silence across the room. "I've spent the last ten hours today working my butt off at a radio station that's slowly going down the tubes and when I come home, I would like a little piece and quiet. Instead, I'm inundated with stories and songs and a sick baby. Not to mention a pair of somebody else's children who appear to be becoming permanent residents in this house."
"Betty!" Victor exclaimed in a shocked voice. "I know we've had some problems lately, but there is no need to talk this way to our children." He reached out for her, but she spun around and ran up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs, Betty went into the front bedroom that the two girls shared and in the darkness saw her youngest child sitting straight up in bed.
"How are you feeling, babydoll?" Betty asked gently caressing the silky smooth brown hair away from the little girls cheek. It felt cool to her touch so at least Barbara didn't appear to have a fever.
"Are you mad, Mommy. I heard yelling." The five year old said as she cuddled against her mother.
"Mommy's just real tired tonight. Here blow." Betty replied holding a kleenex up to her daughter's runny nose.
"Mommy, can you fix my baby?" Barbara asked holding out a battered rag doll in one hand and several strands of brown yarn that had obviously come unglued from the dolls head in the other. "Glue her hair back on, please."
Betty took the items and turning her body so that Barbara couldn't see, pretended to glue the strands of yarn back as she secretly tucked them into her skirt pocket. "Here we are, she's all better now. Why don't you and your baby lay back and go to sleep." Betty told her daughter gently as she eased the little body back down onto the bed and carefully tucked the covers up under her chin. Leaning over, she brushed a kiss across her youngest daughter's forehead and got up from the bed. "Night-night angel."
"Night, Mommy." Came a little voice, already sounding drowsy, from the bed as Betty backed across the bedroom.
Coming back down the stairs, Betty found her husband and the four children still standing silently in the middle of the living room. Vicki had tears streaming down her face as she clutched the crumpled pages of her story in her left hand. Suddenly, Betty couldn't stand it anymore and grabbing her coat, she headed for the front door.
Racing out of the house so fast, that she didn't even button her coat, Betty jumped into the family's 1946 Pontiac and drove away, leaving a stunned Victor standing in the doorway looking after her.
The snow was falling faster and heavier now, and several times Betty found herself fishtailing a little as she sped down the road. In her agitated state, she wasn't paying much attention to where she was heading, simply driving around Pittsburgh turning corners at random.
Suddenly, there was a large dark blur on the road in front of her. Instinctively, Betty swerved jerking the steering wheel to the left and found the car slipping out of control.
The next thing Betty Comstock was aware of, she had crashed headlong into a tree. The back of her head ached as she climbed out of the car on wobbly legs to inspect the damage. Leaning over, she saw that the entire front grille as well as the left headlight were completely smashed and Betty couldn't help the feeling of despair that suddenly washed over her.
"Great," She muttered out loud, shivering in the chill wind that was blowing off the nearby river. "Just great, something else that we can't afford to pay for."
Looking around to see where she was, Betty realized that she wasn't too far from the little park where she and Victor had first gone walking one night back in the spring of 1940. She didn't remember the name of it, but it was right at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela Rivers, which were the life's blood of Steel Town.
Burrowing deeper into her heavy wool coat now damp with falling snow, Betty trudged through the slushy streets until she reached the tiny park nestled at the junction of the two mighty rivers.
As she stood there gazing into the inky black waters of the Monongahela River, the rushing water almost seemed to beckon to her.
"Maybe I should just take the plunge," Betty thought miserably to herself just as she felt the gentle touch of a hand upon her arm.
Whirling around, Betty found herself face to face with the tiniest old woman that she had ever seen.
"Committing suicide isn't the answer my child." The old lady said to Betty's astonishment.
"How did you…"She started to say.
"How did I know what you were thinking." The other woman replied pleasantly. "Because I'm an angel dear, and I've been sent here to save your life."
"You're here to save my life. That's rich. Who are you really." Betty said sarcastically as she turned around to get a better look at the woman standing next to her. "About the only way you could save my life right now would be if you had a checkbook with an unlimited bank account attached to it. I don't suppose you happen to have one of those hiding in your coat pocket." She finished waving a hand at the shapeless gray coat the woman wore.
To Betty's surprise, the petite woman laughed merrily. "My name is Clara and no, I'm not here to give you money, but I am here to help you."
"Oh please," Betty told her disagreeably. "Given the way my life has been going lately, I almost think it would have been better if I'd never been born at all. Then I wouldn't have any of these problems."
"All right." The other woman stated. "If that's your wish, so be it. Elizabeth Comstock, you were never born." She finished then snapped her fingers twice.
End of Part One…