Read My Lips

My sister, Patty, was five years younger than I. I say “was” because Patty died in March 2010. She never got to see the stories in The Home for the Friendless published along with the family photographs and the glossary called Betty’s History Lessons. I had printed all the pieces that included her and had them bound so she could read them while she was still well enough to do so. Without the help of my brother, Bob, and my sister, Patty, there would be no book.

I had placed a long distance call to my sister in June, 2007, so we could discuss the details of her favorite story. It was about a trick that Bobby and I had played on her, but not to be mean;  to make her feel better. I’m not sure she ever believed that, but it was the truth. On the day of the phone conversation, Patty was trying to give me the real details of this event that had made her cry her eyes out when she was only ten. While telling the story from her point of view, she coughed so frequently that she couldn’t finish a sentence. I urged to her to stop and we’d continue another time, but she wouldn’t give up. Finally, I insisted that she get her husband on the phone and she did. He said that they had an appointment with the doctor to see why she couldn’t get over that stubborn cough.

The stubborn cough turned out to be throat cancer and her larynx had to be removed.

For the next three years Patty wrote notes as fast as she used to talk. Her husband bought 9×6 lined yellow tablets by the package. When she was really excited, she tried to mouth the words as she gestured wildly, fingers pointing and hands flailing the air. It was truly funny and it made us all laugh hard including Patty though we couldn’t hear her. We were a close family and one of our own was in bad shape, so we got used to dark humor. 

When Patty was in the hospital she had to learn to communicate with note-writing. She once wrote this note to me: “I should learn sign language because no matter WHAT I need help with, I have to write it down.” I wrote back that everyone else would need to learn it, too, but she was laughing silently again, and I didn’t get the joke. So she wrote me this note: “Stop writing. YOU CAN TALK.” So I created a card just for her. She loved it and so did the nurses. Thank goodness I made a copy because the nurses liked it so much that she gave them the original. The card is here.

You might notice that I drew the cartoon of my sister then cut it out and pasted it on top of a picture from a catalogue for down comforters. I also added a few lines on top of parts of the magazine image to tie the whole thing together. You can’t read the note on her tablet, but she could. Since my sis couldn’t talk after turning on her call light for a nurse, she got used to writing, “I have to pee.”  


In memory of Patricia Ann Reffel 1935 – 2010

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  • oscar case

    Nice account and I’m sorry to hear about your sister. Very clever cartoon, too.

    • admin

      Oscar, thanks so much for the nice comments. I finished reading your book, “Blood and Blazes in Upamona.” I felt like a real cowgirl in new territory. Haven’t read a western in a long time. It’s quite a tale of family rivalries, love, hate, war, and tough, mean guys, and plenty of good guys to even the score. I read your profile and I think you and I started writing late in life.

  • Jewel Sample

    Humor helps to get us through the dark tight life-spots that are hard, sometimes stone hard, but necessary. I am so glad you could do that for your sister. A real gift. Thank you for sharing your art work too. I love your sense of creativity.
    Wishing you all the best!

  • admin

    Thanks Jewel. I re-ordered your book, “Flying Hugs and Kisses,” and it should be here any day now. Not only is your story helpful for families who have lost an infant to SIDS but the illustrations are first rate. Perfect for parents and children.

    • Jewel Sample

      smmmaaacckk-a-roo (cyber-kiss) on the cheek to ya Betty. Thank you so much for thinking of me and your kind words.

  • Christina Turner

    Hi Betty, I just read the story about your sister Patty! Amazing what fond memories we have of family. You were lucky yours was a close family. Mine wasnt but I still have memories of when we were growing up and some of them make me laugh and others make me cry. Grew up poor and had little but we managed. I am still hoping our library will order your books! I think it is good for people to remember what it was like when we were poor and had only family to hold us together especially in days when we all have so much! God bless you! Will you write another book?

  • cynthia hamilton

    Aunt Betty,
    I love “Read my Lips;” so true it was.
    It started to make me cry but then I started laughing. Granny was one of a kind. She used to write really big When she got mad at Gramps. You definetely knew when she was ticked off! Anyway, I enjoyed this very much. Thank you.
    Your niece, Cynthia

  • admin

    Cindy, I didn’t know that my sister WROTE BIG when she was mad. It only makes sense because how else would anyone know? I want you to share more stories with me about her being mad, or sad, or glad, and how she expressed it in her notes. I’m serious about this. I was with her only once for three days during that three years that she communicated with her pencil and tablet. You kids must have all kinds of stories about my sister during that time. I need to hear them. I’m SO glad that you read this story.

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  • Robyn Engel

    Having read your book, I’m really sorry to learn of Patty’s death. I loved the scenes wherein you and Bobby (or just you) are playing pranks on Patty. You were a sweet, mischievious crew.

  • Zaynab

    Hi Betty: The story was great and the unique illustration made it even better. I think my favorite part was that your family kept the humor alive even when your beloved sister was dying. Her difficulties in communicating and the incredible pain that you all must have felt in not being able to hear her voice again didn’t cripple you. You all were able to see what you call dark humor in it. Must have been all that Love…
    In peace