Elizabeth Knox’s home was on the north side of Music Street, diagonally across from Ruth Brown’s house. Betty Knox was one of the dozen or so dowagers who populated the Music Street of my youth. She was Scottish, small and spare. She used to leave bouquets at the edge of Music Street, for anyone who wanted to take them. There aren’t many people alive today who knew her. Everett Whiting, my stepfather, did, and he once told me a story about Betty, and what happened to her, unexpectedly, one Tuesday in November.
Betty’s little place is not much more than a cottage. There is a tiny little entry porch at the front door, which last Christmas was festooned with strings of all-purple lights. They were still up, and still on, the other night, three months after the holidays.
There is a large, flat, raised lawn in front of the house. A sunken driveway goes up to the garage, which is set onto the left side of the house. The left side of the driveway, once her carefully tended garden, is a tangle of brush and young trees. Bittersweet links all that grows here. Its thousands of feet of evil tendrils turn the area into a jungley copse.
On the right of the driveway, to the right of the front door and just into the yard is a very large bush. The plant is testament to the gardening tastes and sentiments of another era. It’s a beauty bush. Kolkwitzia amabilis. The plant comes originally from central China, but was unknown to western horticulture until 1901, when E. H. ‘Chinese’ Wilson sent plants to Veitch Nurseries, in Exeter (GB). No one knew what the flowers really looked like until the new specimens finally bloomed nine years later. When it blooms, it becomes a marvelous mass of arching branches, covered with pink and lilac, tinged white. The buds are darker than the flowers Once word of its beauty spread throughout the gardening world, it became a major favorite, hugely popular between the two World Wars. In 1923 The Royal Horticultural Society gave the plant an Award of Merit.
When the flowers are seen from closer up, other beauty emerges.
To return to Everett’s election day story about Betty. She came to vote at the Town Hall, one Tuesday in November, unaware that there was a new rule at the polls. The town had grown past the point where everyone knew everybody, and a decree had been issued, instructing the workers checking people in to have each voter speak their name, in order receive their ballots.
So Betty was asked to speak her name out loud. She sputtered a little, in her quiet and shy way, and asked why, since the person already knew who she was. She was told of the new policy. And she didn’t like it much, either.
She drew her small self up as tall as she could, glared at the poll worker, and slowly, carefully, and distinctly, loudly enunciated her name, fully pronouncing every nuance of every syllable, even articulating the normally silent “K”.
“E LIZ A BETH K NOX”