It isn’t fair that my name and picture appears in this space every Sunday. Most of the people who have played a role in helping me achieve my dream of being a writer have never seen their name in print or have no digital footprint.
Today, I’m honored to be able to write about Elizabeth Borzillo, someone you won’t find on the Internet or the pages of a newspaper. It didn’t mean she didn’t live or her life lacked meaning. Borzillo dedicated her life to family and Norristown was her world.
I know Elizabeth Borzillo as “Aunt Betty.” Technically, she is not my aunt but my great aunt. She lived on the 300 block of East Main Street with her sister, Ida, and next door to her brother (my grandfather), my grandmother, mother, and two aunts.
Betty never drove a car, married or had children. Instead, she spent her life by her sister Ida’s side. Ida was diagnosed with polio at a young age and only given a few years to live. Defying all odds, Ida lived a full life, running a beauty shop out of her home on Main Street. She passed away peacefully two months shy of her 98th birthday six years ago.
Betty worked at Logrip’s rug factory on Main Street and my mother, Alesia, and her two sisters, Alexandra and Rebecca, had a close relationship with their next-door-neighbor aunts growing up.
When they got older, Aunt Ida and Aunt Betty eventually moved to Plymouth Towne apartments. It’s where most of my memories of them begin. They are the aunts who you never remember being young, but suspended in senior-citizenhood, never aging.
Aunt Betty worked at the Sandy Hill Genuardi’s deli counter for almost four decades. Her curly red hair sticking out under her Genuardi’s hat, she was always smiling. She was a ball of energy who ran circles around workers half her age.
You may have an Aunt Betty. You’re not quite sure how old she is but know it would be rude to ask. She’s healthier than everyone you know. Probably because she walks everywhere and never stops moving.
On Saturdays or early dismissal from school, my mother would take my brother and I to pick up Aunt Ida and Aunt Betty and run errands. For some kids, this would be torture. Wedged in the backseat between a great-aunt and a wet-willy giving brother while my mother makes stops at Kmart or Bradlees. But my mother’s love of her aunts rubbed off on my brother and I.
Aunt Betty would reach in her purse, fold up a certain denomination bill, and slide it into my hand. She did this, without fail, every time I saw her.
You may have an Aunt Betty. She’s the fun aunt. The one who gives you money without your parents knowing and then watches you zip to the toy aisle to grab the Barbie you’ve been eyeing.
After the shopping was finished, we would get something to eat. Aunt Betty loved Chik-Fil-A or Burger King. The senior coffee. The French fries. She wasn’t a high maintenance lady. She got the most enjoyment from being with her family and hearing us tell her what we were doing. But a close second was opening up her purse and filling it with piles of napkins, straws, and sugar packets before we left the restaurant.
You may have an Aunt Betty. She’s the aunt who is preparing for the Armageddon where Sweet & Low and coffee stirrers will be our salvation or at least a form of currency.
After Genuardi’s closed the Sandy Hill location, Aunt Betty officially retired. She spent the next few years helping her dear friend, Eve Mashett, owner of Eve’s Lunch, doing what she does best. Sweeping. And she cut a lot of tomatoes. I got married and had my own home, and when I visited Aunt Ida and Aunt Betty, she never let me leave without a bag full of paper products. Until don’t live with your parents anymore you never fully realize how much you need paper towels and toilet paper. All. The. Time. Luckily, Aunt Betty still folded up another form of paper and slipped it in my hand.
When Aunt Ida passed, Aunt Betty lived with my Aunt Alexandra and Uncle Richard. She remained an avid sweeper, walker, and Action News viewer.
Last week, Aunt Betty passed away two months shy of her 99th birthday.
I can only hope you have or had an Aunt Betty. Because she was a part of my life, she shares this space with me not only today, but whenever I write. Her selfless life with the ultimate sisterly love. Her dedication to family. Her generous spirit. They all left an indelible mark on me.
It will last longer than a roll of paper towels and much longer than the ink from newsprint.