An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #3


Betty Anne May, Age 80
Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

“That man could turn me on by touching my little fingernail.”

When I married my first husband, I married to be married forever. And because he was a womanizer and a weekend alcoholic, that changed that whole theory.


The son of a bitch.

I remember the day—this was years after we divorced—my daughter called me and says, “I know you don’t care, but Clyde had a heart attack and died when he was out jogging.” And honest to God, I thought, “Son of a bitch, I’ll never be able to run him over.”

He was so bad. Bad about his own kids. He’s not even worth talking about.


I met Bill at Domino’s, a nightclub. The owner took me over to introduce him. What can I say? I knew I loved him the minute we talked.

We left the bar, and I said, you know, “I’m separated, and I have four kids, and I won’t go to bed with you tonight.”

And he said, “Who asked you?”

And I said, “You will.”

And he did.

And I didn’t.

But we sat in the car and necked until I thought our skin was going to fall off.

I came home that night. And the next day, I told Ruth, my neighbor lady friend. I said, “I found him.” I said, “He’s a combination of”—I don’t know if you know who these are— “Alexander King”—he’s a writer—“Jack Parr”—the host on a talk show—“and Captain Kangaroo.” And that’s what I got. That was Bill.

I don’t know if you have this, for your freezer, the food sales-man—there were guys that went into homes and sold people food plans. You order, reorder to fill it. Well, he was in that. And the first time he showed me the pitch that he gave to people, I was enchanted. I just thought, “I’ll buy one now!” He could sell snow to Eskimos.

My oldest girl couldn’t stand it, because I was bringing him into the house. She was thirteen at the time and she says, “I don’t want you to marry him. I want it to stay the way it is. You, me, and the kids.”

And I said, “Okay. If I can’t have any friends, then you can’t have any boyfriends.” So that closed up. I said, “First of all, I don’t care whether any of you like him or not. You will respect him. I’m marrying him for me. Not for you.”


I was about thirty-three or thirty-four. We didn’t get married until ’62. We saw each other every day from our second date until the day we got married. And he was my husband of twenty-four years. I was so blessed. He adored me and I adored him. It was just a mutual admiration society.

He was built like a gorilla. I mean, he was really built like a silverback gorilla. He wore a size 52 coat. Let me tell you, he was a big man. He wasn’t tall. He’s just six feet, but he was big. And he was just so cute. He was just so cute.

Love to me was being a responsible person. To someone and for someone. Bill was a rock. He was like a father, a brother, a lover, a friend, a pal, a buddy, and would do anything for me. It was always very safe and very secure. And I needed the emotional security that Bill could give me. I didn’t care about finances.

I used to tell him, I said, “Look, I don’t need your goddamn money. I didn’t marry you for your money. I married you to love me. That’s it. I don’t care about all this other stuff.” Because he was always wanting to buy… if there was an appliance out in the market, I had it. He was so good.
Bill was steady. But he was never boring. No, no. He was too intelligent to be boring. He was Italian-Irish. I’m Italian-Russian. And we could argue about how to boil an egg. Our house was always in an uproar. We fought about everything—except important stuff. Never fought about money or anything like that.

He died of cancer.


Four months after he died, I was sitting in a bar. I used to always sit by myself at the table. Because even when I was fifty-something, I was pretty hot. I wanted to select who sat down next to me. And that’s how I found Edward. He came over and asked me to dance. And then I invited him to my table. That was the beginning of it. I said, “I like your face. I’m going to take you home with me.”

Ed had been married for twenty-five years and he had stayed with his wife—I forget… Daisy? Daisy—until all the kids were grown up. They had a house out in Palm Springs. He said he was sitting in the Jacuzzi and some guy on the radio said, “Is this the way you want to live the rest of your life?” And he got up out of the Jacuzzi and took his clothes and left! (laughs) Which I thought was great!

Oh, he was crappy dressed. I had to redo him. My husband had some beautiful clothes, which I gave to him. My daughter-in-law said, “Doesn’t that feel strange seeing Bill’s clothes on Ed?” I said, “No, you’re wearing one of his Hawaiian shirts. That doesn’t feel strange to me.” It’s a piece of material! It’s just a fabric. That’s all it is. It’s not the man.

I know my kids were just horrified. Four months after Bill died, I’m out honking around in bars. And I wasn’t… I guess I was. When I told them that Ed had this ’67 Ford truck, they were convinced that I was either going to get killed or robbed.

And then after we’d been going together about three weeks, he says, “Would you like to go on a fishing trip?”

Yes! (laughs)

When we left, I’m going down the freeway and I’m thinking, “What the hell am I doing? I’ve only known this man for three weeks and I’m going off to Idaho and Utah in this horrible truck I wouldn’t let anybody catch me dead in.” But he was so different and he was so… he was more poetic than Bill. When he was fourteen years old, he was a wrangler. He’d say things like, “You never heard anything until you’ve heard a cougar scream at night.” Or he’d say, “Watch a snowflake kiss the ground.” What am I going to do but fall in love?

Bill was my knight. But Edward was the man. He was a cowboy. I would say that he was the most exciting. When we made our trip to Utah, I found a postcard and it said, “When I grow up, I want to be…” and I checked off cowboy. Mailed one to each of my four kids.

They were horrified that I was doing this. I had been an executive’s wife, with the cocktails, and all that shit-ery that goes on with that, and now I’m with this guy that only owns a truck and the clothes on his back. And they just know that he’s going to do me in. I said, “Look, I’m fifty-seven years old. I’m not some eighteen-year-old kid. I know what the hell I’m doing!” Really, how can you be upset about a man that’s making me so happy? They eventually fell in love with him just like I did.

I had to make some adjustments in my thinking because first of all, he was a mechanic. He was a handyman. So his hands were always grubby-looking and I used to say, “You can’t touch me until you go scrub your hands.” I would make him go scrub his hands with a brush. And I’m an organizer, so I had to get him organized. His truck—the dash looked like… he was a redneck! He was born in Idaho and it was just crap everywhere.

Bill was such a fuss-ass. The biggest fuss-ass in the world. The mailman would come by and drop off the bills and Bill would meet him across the street and give him the bills all paid up! (laughs) That’s the way he was. Oh, yes, I never had to pick up anything after Bill. Never—except cardigan sweaters. He had an aversion to putting his cardigan sweaters away. But his closet—we had this huge walk-in closet. His side was always… shoes were here, this was there. He was just so. He’d wiped the tub down. Wiped the bowl off in the sink. Wiped the shower walls. He was absolutely meticulous about everything.

And Ed just was an absolute slob. Which is why I needed to make sure that I could live with it. Like, what if I couldn’t change it? So then I thought, “Well, okay, if I’m going to do this, let’s face it: It’s going to be your money that does everything. Are you going to resent it after a while? You’re going to have to handle it in such a way that he doesn’t feel like he’s being kept, like a gigolo.”

I said, “Here’s what we’re going to do. I’ve got the money, and you’ve got the time. We’re going to fix up the old Ford truck. And I’m going to sell the house and the Continental. And we’re going to hit the road. And become gypsies.”

Which is exactly what we did.

We did that for nine years. We became prospectors, panning for gold. We did swap meets, we sold solar panels, we went to school. We got drunk and danced every weekend. It was just an incredible life.

I was just hot for his body. He was glorious. (laughs) I mean he really was glorious. He had a big head of hair. Salt and pep- per. He looked like the Marlboro man. And he was about six foot two. And he kept me laughing all the time. What was he? My boy toy? (laughs) No. No, no, he was a love.


When I got the face-lift, I’ll never forget… I’ll never know how I ever did that.

I go to see the doctor and he says, “Well, first of all, I want to know why you want one.” I said, “Look at my face. Now, look at my body. My body is forty years younger than my face,” because I had a real tight body. And I said, “I want this to go with this.” And I had a face-lift! And put my boobs in perspective—put them up where they belong. And man, I was in seventh heaven.

But that was one miserable week. And he just lived with me on that. He just stayed by my side and cuddled me and coddled me and, you know, nursed, nurtured me. He was a rock.

When we started selling solar, we went to the school at ARCO, Atlantic Richfield. They have a school for teaching about selling solar panels and stuff. We had to go to school for a week from nine to five. And he was just so bright. Very smart, very, very, very, very smart. Not smart—intelligent. He absorbed everything. I could remember nothing. He was the serious one.

We would travel and it was just marvelous. We spent a summer in Idaho, north of Boise, swap-meeting on the weekends, playing golf during the week. Oh, it was the greatest deal in the world. We just had a great time.

I’ve got some albums of what we did. This is just a smackeroo of what… Okay, here’s the old truck. We sanded and painted it. I hand-painted this with sponge brushes.

We were on that road in Juneau.

There’s a picture of him. He’s such a sweetie. Eddie played the banjo.

This is panning for gold. We never found enough to pay for the books that told us where to find it. This was in ’87? ’86?

Here we are congratulating ourselves at happy hour. Ed had to have happy hour. I don’t care what we were doing at fifteen minutes to five o’clock, it all had to halt.

This place I call Popcorn Ridge, up in Idaho. The only people we saw in three months were two forest ranger ladies and one old man and his grandson coming to get wood. I ran around in a baby doll nightgown and Ed ran around naked! It was just a wonderful life.


Being three months on the side of a mountain with somebody twenty-four/seven, you better get along. When you live in a truck… I mean, we’d go to bed and one turn over, the other turn over. That’s the way it was. Because the bed was only so wide.

The people that knew me when I was with Bill, they would say, “I can’t even imagine you out there on the ground in a tent. I can’t even believe that you would do this,” because I was with wigs and false fingernails, five-inch heels—I had the whole shebang. And the people that I met when I was with Ed said, “I can’t imagine you being at a cocktail party, doing the executive life.” But you can’t call it a different lifestyle. It was two different meetings of soul and body and mind.

I suppose it’s like, it’s like having a good bowl of chili and then having another bowl of chili with jalapeños in it! (laughs) Yes. One is sturdy and filling and you feel good when you get to eat it and blah blah blah blah blah. But then you take the one with jalapeños. It sort of sets you up on your heels a little bit. Yeah, oh, yeah. There would never be anybody who could live up to those two men. Never. Never ever, ever, ever. I just know how to pick them.

I was so lucky. You cannot believe how lucky I was. Yes, yes. With Ed, it was always exciting. Because Ed was just… that man could turn me on by touching my little fingernail.

We didn’t have to be married. He did one time admit that it kind of got to him. I really worked hard so he wouldn’t feel like a gigolo. I never gave him a credit card. I never put his name on my checking account. But when we bought the trailer park, I put his name on it.

The kids were having a fit. I said, “Hey, I’ve been with him for ten years. I’ve taken him off the job market. He has got to have something for his time.” I mean, fair is fair.

And we were together twelve years. When he died, it was because he had a heart attack. I went down and emptied the trash and came back. I looked in the kitchen and called, and when I went to the bathroom, I couldn’t get the door open. He’d been sitting on the toilet. He fell over and hit the tub. And then his feet went out and that was keeping the door shut.

It was a crying, shrieking time. I tried never to sleep in our bed again. I couldn’t sleep in it. I had to sleep on the couch for the next two years. The thought of him not being there with me—I couldn’t handle it. It was just too, too wrong.

Two months after Ed died, I was going to go crazy. I needed something to tend to, because all I had was that stupid trailer park. I went into the animal shelter and got me a cat! She’s the only one who put her front paws through the cage. We were meant for each other.

I’ve been living in this motor home since 1999, traveling throughout the United States. My solar panels that I have on the roof give me independence. I don’t have to go into an RV park. From January to September, I stayed in eighty-four different Wal-Marts. Prior to that, I was staying at truck stops.

I only have a cell phone, I don’t have a computer. I don’t want any e-mails, jokes and stuff, junk mail, junk calls. I don’t want any of that. I don’t need it anymore.

People are always trying to set me up. Well, I see the husbands around here. (snores)

The kids will say, “Don’t you get lonesome?”

I say no. Personally, I find my own company more entertaining than most people I meet.

I’ve had a varied life and a good life. Another piece of ass isn’t worth the problems! No way, no way! No, no, no, no, no, no, no. I love my privacy.

I get into bed at night and I got my electric blanket on, and I’m snuggled down here, and I got my book right in front of me, and I’m reading and I’m at peace. I’m at peace with the world. I don’t want to accommodate or do anything for anybody. I only want to take care of me, my cat, and my motor home. I like it.


Rumpus original art by Lucas Adams.


Excerpted from US: Americans Talk About Love edited by John Bowe, published in February by Faber & Faber, Inc., an affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2010 by John Bowe. All rights reserved. Click here to purchase.

Read “An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #1.”

Read “An Oral History of Love in Contemporary America: Selections from Us #2.”

John Bowe has contributed to the New Yorker, the New York Times Sunday Magazine, GQ, The American Prospect, PRI’s This American Life, and McSweeney’s. He was co-editor of Gig: Americans Talk About Their Jobs, the co-screenwriter of the film Basquiat, and the author of the book Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy. More from this author →