Since I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a writer.
Betty Hager always wanted to be a writer. She did other things along the way, including raising three sons, before writing a novel and several musicals for children. Hager and her husband, Martin, live in Calabasas.
I grew up in a little Bayou town in Alabama called Bayou La Batre, which means Fort on the Bayou. A bayou is very similar to a river, but it has a very slow-moving current. If you cup the water in your hand, you’re going to have sort of a brownish look.
My dad, who we called Papa in those days, had a marine hardware business, and we lived right across the oyster shell road from his shop, which was on the bayou. The shrimpers and fishermen would come up with their boats and get their marine hardware supplies before going out into the gulf.
I remember it as a good childhood. I had older parents, 40 and 48 when I was born. I felt very loved, because I was the youngest of eight children. We had the sort of parents who made us feel we were very fortunate. We had good self-esteem.
My mother loved to read. She was self-educated, and she had me reading Dickens at an early age and Shakespeare a little bit later. There was a little log cabin library in town that she helped organize and establish, as a matter of fact.
I graduated from college in ’45 and I was a train hostess for a while. To be a train hostess with the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad, one had to have a college degree. There were about 12 of us, and we lived in St. Louis. We traveled to Chicago, New Orleans and Mobile and did very much the same thing as an airline stewardess.
The chief hostess was very “Old South,” snobbish maybe, as I look back on it. We had to be ladylike, and we had to be a certain sort of person. Once I remember kissing a conductor, an old guy, who handed me a piece of gum, when I was getting ready. I reached over and kissed him on the forehead, and she dressed me down for that.
I remember standing between the two cars and putting my head out the window and the wind blowing and the wah, wah, from the diesel horn. I remember the stars in the sky at night, before I go and crawl into my bunk to sleep. And the junction of the Mississippi River and the Ohio at Cairo and that expanse of the river and the beauty and the vastness of the land.
It was a wonderful feeling. Passenger trains were going out, airline service was taking over, but there was a romance, and still is, to the sound of a train.
Since I was 8 years old, I wanted to be a writer. The local paper had a children’s page in which children’s work was published. And I would send little stories in, and mine would be published. I went to the University of Alabama with that in mind, majored in English.
I wrote during college but after that, I didn’t even keep a journal. I continued to read, but I didn’t continue to write. My reason, my excuse is, that women in those days were expected to marry and have children. That was in the ‘40s. I just had a very maternal feeling from the time I was very little. I wanted children, I wanted to be married, and I’m sure I wanted sex.
We were much more cloistered, more virginal and we were anxious to get married and have children, and I don’t regret that. And, in fact, I don’t regret not having a career then, but I wish I could have had it sooner.
I’m learning how to write screenplays now, and I’m loving it. I’m 65, and I have a little problem, not being contemporary. I’m just not able to write graphic sex, and I don’t like violence. Maybe that’s not good. My workshop leader teases me about this, and says, “Come on now, Betty, you have to put a little violence in this.”
It was a great feeling, having finally published a book, even greater than the musicals, although I love writing those little plays. And now I feel like I’m in heaven writing screenplays. If ever one’s produced, I can’t think of anything that would thrill me more.