I didn’t think I’d be writing another one of these so soon.
Again, this will be more of a remembrance of Betty than anything, and again, I start this more than a little ashamed that I have so few recent memories of her. Of the three women that initially married into the Clarke clan, she’s the one I got to know the best. My Aunt Grace lived so far away in California with my Uncle Ron that I never really knew her (and that’s a shame as I’ve never heard a negative comment whatsoever about her), and Aunt Joan always seemed overshadowed by the larger than life personality of my Uncle Floyd (Hell, Floyd outshone virtually everyone around him, so that’s no slight to Joan). Betty, on the other hand, seemed a little different…
What I’ll always remember the most about Aunt Betty are two qualities…
The first is, I don’t think I ever saw the woman without a smile on her face. I know we frequently hear about those people who just light up when they smile, but Betty really did. There’s a quote that really applies to my Aunt Betty: “I’ve never seen a smiling face that was not beautiful.” That was Betty. I remember her smiling face when I was that little kid coming over to visit my cousins (and grudgingly eat a bowl of that soup that I claimed I never wanted, but really did). And I remember her smiling face at my wedding. And I remember later, even when she was pretty much tied to a chair with an oxygen tank beside her, her seeing me and smiling.
I’m sure there were many times when she wasn’t smiling, when she wasn’t happy. But I can’t remember a single time.
The second thing I remember is, her calmness. Weird thing to remember, huh? I guess, but it’s true. Here was a woman that had six daughters in a modest-sized house, and, at least to my very young (at the time) eyes, lots of house guests. Now, I gotta say, Aunt Betty was not the best in the world when it came to having a spotless house. God no. So, in this whirlwind of kids, guests, and all the normal chaos of a large family in the 1960s and 70s, I have a picture of Aunt Betty forever etched in my head, sitting in a chair, cigarette inevitably in hand, just as calm and content as can be.
Some may look at that as lazing, or disengaged or whatever. But, to me, it was someone comfortable with who they were and if you didn’t like it, well, tough shit for you! I talked about what I’ve taken from my memories of my Uncle Merle. This is one of the things I took from Aunt Betty…people need to love you for who you are, not who they want or expect you to be. My Aunt Betty wasn’t perfect. I don’t think any of us can claim that title. But she was someone I simply loved. I loved her for who she was.
When I found out, I got a message back from one of Merle and Betty’s daughters. She said, “The suffering for both has ended. I am sure they are both dancing and singing with all the family that has gone before.” I’ve said before that I’m not one for religion, but when I read this, I found myself not only hoping, but praying it was true.
I can see it quite clearly. Uncle Ron and Aunt Grace, likely holding hands, Ron likely still telling people he suffers from CRS (Can’t Remember Shit), Aunt Joan likely frowning, yet still laughing at some outrageously dirty joke that Uncle Floyd has told (and likely laughed at harder than anyone), and Uncle Al probably egging him on. My Uncle Charlie laughing and calling everyone “buddy” and my father, with his distinctive laugh, his eyes squinted, sharing in the good times with my Uncle Beans. My cousins there, laughing at the jokes, dancing to the music that Uncle Merle’s playing.
And then, just maybe, he puts on Daniel Boone’s Beautiful Sunday in tribute to the family member that joined them at the party this past Sunday.
Goodbye Aunt Betty. You made me smile. And I loved you for who you were. Always will.