A Life: Elizabeth Mary (Monica) Mason, 1922 — 2013; ‘She Was So Loyal It Was Unbelievable’
This photograph shows Betty and Charles in 2006 in Alfred, Maine.
This photograph shows Betty's senior photo at Hanover High.
Hanover — Charles Mason was 15 when he and his parents moved into a house on Lyme Road during the mid-1930s. Living next door was a family that included 13-year old Elizabeth “Betty” Monica.
Charles recalls that she first noticed him when he made a trip to the woodshed while wearing a red sweater. They were together for pretty much the rest of their lives.
It started out as friendship, however. There was a big field in front of the families’ houses, large enough for the area kids to play baseball in summer and skate on ice slicks in winter. The boy and girl shared haying and other farm chores from time to time and clowned around once liberated from such labor.
“We had a little bit of an incident once where she charged after me into the bed of a truck and broke off one of her front teeth,” Charles recalled.
Charles could never completely break away from Betty, however, not even after he was stationed in Washington, D.C., as an Army Air Corps radio operator.
“I ran into some pretty good-looking women down there and had to decide which way I was going to go,” he said with a chuckle. “But I’d gotten to like Betty and we’d had some dates in my 1928 Chevrolet. Common sense told me my best bet was right up there on Lyme Road.”
Betty and Charles were married for 70 years prior to her death on Oct. 8, 2013, at age 90.
Betty Mason endured numerous moves between her husband’s duty stations, raised three children, beat back breast cancer, helped her relatives operate a turkey farm and was a passionate sports fan.
“I can remember walking into the house once and she had a game on the TV and two others on different transistor radios,” said her daughter, Judy Cote. “She was ESPN before it existed.”
Betty Mason loved Dartmouth, baseball’s New York Yankees, football’s Dallas Cowboys and ice hockey’s Montreal Canadiens. Perhaps they gave her fixed points in her life, for she and Charles were often on the move. While working as a Bell Telephone operator in Hanover, she accepted his proposal of marriage at an East Thetford square dance in 1942 and the ceremony was June 12, 1943, at Hanover’s St. Denis Catholic Church.
After a 10-month stay in Asheville, N.C., the young couple separated when Charles was assigned to a weather squadron in India, enduring 40-day ship voyages on either end of his year-and-a-half posting that ended in November 1945. Betty wrote him almost every day.
“There would be four or five letters during the week,” Charles recalled. “She was so loyal it was unbelievable. There was already a stack of mail waiting for me when we got to Bombay.”
Upon his return from the war, Charles joined his bride at her parents’ house in Hanover, working at a garage in town and later taking over a store and hot dog stand across Lyme Road from where Richmond Middle School now stands. Betty ran the operation, which included a license to sell beer, with her mother and while minding her first two children, Ken and Judy. Their father had moved on to a job with the state of New Hampshire, helping to oversee and repair bridges, then labored as a mason’s assistant.
Charles re-enlisted in the army in 1950 and the family moved to Pennsylvania. If they thought that was a haul from Hanover, the next posting was even farther away: the Philippine Islands. Charles went first, working on a base and earning rank so he could gain authorization to bring his family across the Pacific Ocean. When that day came, Betty and her two youngsters undertook a trip of nearly a month that included a train ride across the U.S. and a sea voyage on a military supply ship.
“For a woman to undertake those travel arrangements then was brave,” said Judy Cote, who was then on the verge of starting school. “But my mother kept us all calm. She never got overwrought about anything and was very good in those kind of situations.”
In the early 1950s, the Philippines still looked very much like a combat zone, Ken Mason recalled. He was 7 when the family began its year-and-a-half stay on an army base there.
“The whole place was littered with war wreckage,” he said. “There were burned-out Japanese tanks around and sunken destroyers out at the beach. I would go under the house with the hose and use the water pressure to bore into the ground and bullets would come up out of the mud.” The Mason parents had to keep their wits about them in such surroundings. Ken remembers coming in from a bike ride and moments later his father racing out into the road after spotting a python where his son had just been pedaling. The first “house girl” was fired for relieving herself in the front yard, meaning the family no longer enjoyed her habit of buffing the floors to a high gloss with the milk of freshly split cocoanuts.
There was talk of nearby headhunting tribesmen and lurking Japanese soldiers who had fled to the jungles upon their country’s surrender at the war’s end. The New York Times reported that such former enemy combatants killed about 30 island inhabitants in the years after 1945. One surrendered in 1950, two others were shot dead in 1954 and 1972 and the last known survivor, a lieutenant, emerged in 1974.
Upon the family’s return to the U.S., there were stops in California and Washington before orders in 1956 to report to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula. Charles and Betty jammed the two kids and as many belongings as would fit into their Oldsmobile Delta 88, a black-and-red, four-door sedan, hooked on a 2-wheeled trailer carrying a washer and dryer and embarked on a two-week odyssey across North America.
“That was a sad departure and I think I cried until Juneau, but my parents always made the trips an adventure,” Judy Cote said. “It was always about what you’re going to be seeing and doing and the new foods you’d eat. It was never about how we don’t have a motel or that you’d wash up in a gas station restroom.”
After narrowly avoiding a multi-car accident in Montana and enduring flat tires on the trailer and a tooth-rattling ride over the dirt-and-tar roads that passed for Alaska’s highway system, the Masons stayed in The Last Frontier for three years. The region didn’t attain statehood until 1959.
Judy Cote remembers the Alaska stay for its lack of television and minimal radio reception, but also recalls the movie theater, gym and bowling alley on Wildwood Army Base. Betty often prowled the latter, showing that her athletic abilities hadn’t diminished since high school. She bowled in multiple leagues, earning the nickname “Fireball Mason” with her ladies squad, the Alley Cats.
The Masons, now with younger daughter Teresa also in tow, made the journey home in reverse when Judy was in fifth grade, this time heading for Hanover, where son Charlie was born. They moved in with Betty’s father on Lyme Road for a year before settling down for a seven-year stay in Lunenburg, Mass., near Fort Devens. Able to establish a few roots, the family lived in a house on Hickory Hills Lake, where hunting, fishing and camping were frequent enjoyments.
“I remember we had our trunks from Kenai in that little house and we’d eat dinner off them at first,” Judy Cote said. “Then my mom visited second-hand stores to buy furniture and make it livable. But we got a sense that a building wasn’t a home. It was wherever my parents and brother and sister were together.”
Betty underwent a mastectomy during breast cancer treatment in 1965 and battled mild lymphedema. Nonetheless, she played basketball in the driveway and competed in family badminton matches. Facing an upcoming deployment to either Japan or Germany, Charles retired in 1967, not wanting to put his family through another move. Judy, herself a successful prep athlete, had just graduated and was headed to Keene State, while Teresa and Charlie were in elementary school.
The Masons moved back to Hanover two years later. Charles briefly worked for an electronics company and then served 17 years as a White River Junction post office clerk. He, Betty and the two younger children moved into her father’s house on Lyme Road. Charles and Betty helped his parents with their Lebanon turkey farm, especially in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. Between 500 and 1,000 pounds worth of birds had to be slaughtered, plucked and prepared for sale. It could be a grim business, but with Betty at the center of her extended family, the labor was offset by laughter.
“When she and my aunts got together, it was a riot,” Ken said. “No one was safe from teasing and there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.”
Teresa graduated from Hanover High in 1977 and Charlie in 1978. Their parents sold the Lyme Road property near the U.S. Army’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory and moved to Enfield’s Wilson Trailer Park in the early 1980s.
In retirement, Charles golfed and fly-fished and Betty became involved in Grafton County Senior Center activities, helping with its walking club and providing transportation to and from shopping and medical appointments. She and her husband took a 3-month RV trip to Alaska and enjoyed attending Dartmouth sports games, a passion that dated back to Betty’s youth in Hanover. The couple were longtime Big Green men’s hockey season ticket holders.
Betty’s life wound down at a local health care facility, where she spent her final three years. A diabetic, she lost her vision despite laser surgery and with it went her beloved pastime of reading. She also suffered from dementia, but Charles hovered close through it all, often referring to his wife as “my beautiful bride.”
“It was truly amazing to watch their symbiotic relationship,” Judy Cote said. “He just doted on her and made sure she was clean and took her to the dentist and the hairdresser. He poured his heart into everything he could do for her.”
Charles Mason is now part of a Newport senior living community and his studio apartment is filled with photos and others reminders of his marriage and family.
“When you’ve grown to love somebody through 70 years, you don’t necessarily have to entertain each other,” he said. “We’d talk but there were plenty of times we didn’t. I was the luckiest man in the world.”
Tris Wykes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3227.