Archive for July, 2018

Thank you, Betty Smith Beaumont

July 16, 2018

 

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Can you hear the laugh?

(approximately as read at Betty’s Celebration of Life Party) My name is Michael Smith – no relation – I went to high school with Betty. I sat behind her in homeroom for four years and we were in a couple of the same classes. We were in Drama Workshop together and I worked on some of the plays Betty starred in back in the day. I wouldn’t say we were besties; we shared homeroom, theater and a last name.

Betty was a star. She had an amazing voice and could actually act, I’m sure we have all been to enough high school musicals to know how rare that combo truly is.

Even rarer was Betty’s ability to not act – to just be her red-headed self with whomever she was surrounded by. She didn’t put on airs. I was in awe of this ability – it was high school, when so many of us were nothing but hot air – trying to figure out who we were – and Betty was, well, just Betty.

A quick story: One day in homeroom I was busy not doing homework again. I drew the half a face that I always drew (why half? – because it looked deep? – no – I just could never draw the other side to match) and penned these words next to the drawing: “Cold hearted orb that rules the night, remove the colors from our sight, red is grey and yellow white. And we decide which is right and which is an illusion.”

Betty turned around, looked at the picture, read the words, and asked if I wrote them. Hmmm… I had to think about this for a minute… she seems impressed… and technically it was me who “wrote” those words on the paper… and nobody had ever heard of the Moody Blues anyway… I said yes.

Two days later Betty called me out. She also had an older brother who introduced her to the latest British bands. I was busted. The guilt I felt was overwhelming. I knew at that moment I blew with her. All the plans I had made for our lives together destroyed. Did I mention this was high school? The value of honesty was a lesson Betty helped teach me. I’m sure this is also the moment that probably freed her heart to find her true love – John.

High school went on, “Knights in White Satin” became a number one hit, and in the uncaring cruelty of the alphabet I still sat behind her – embarrassed. At least I didn’t have to look her in the eyes. She starred in more shows and, to my amazement, she still talked to me. In 1973 we graduated.

It wasn’t until the creation of Facebook that we met up again. Betty put up the “WRHS Freakin’ AWESOME Class of ‘73” page for a class reunion – Betty was the Freakin’ AWESOME glue that held that page together. There I realized she was friends with all kinds of people from our class – obviously, the kids who did theater and the kids from Princeton… But also the kids who did sports… and the Future Homemakers of America kids, and the preppy kids and the science kids and the angst ridden poet kids – Everybody! Betty was very democratic (small “d”).

So when I was messaged to join this group online my guilt about trying to woo her with pawned off Moody Blues lyrics came back. There isn’t much I remember about high school, but I remembered this. I couldn’t join unless I came clean so I messaged her with the apology I should have uttered decades ago.  She replied she had no idea what I was talking about.

That’s when I realized Betty had another lesson for me – be in the moment. Don’t dwell on the past – don’t obsess with the future.

My contact with Betty mostly consisted of reading her Facebook posts to our class or the many pictures and posts of her children, their families and Beaumont Technologies (Yes, I did read those papers about plastics). She was a relentless fundraiser for Team Millie. All this and the occasional cheesecake shot of some hunk in a kilt without his shirt on – or even less.

I would send her shots of anything “Beaumont” when my wife and I travelled – streets, hotels, bars – anything. She would talk about going to her book club, going to the lake house, going to see “A Prairie Home Companion.” It was that last bit that gave me one last chance to sit behind her.

She knew my wife and I also enjoyed the weekly radio show and emailed me to see if I was planning on seeing the Tanglewood show live – and did I know it was to be the last show before Garrison Keillor retired? Well, I did now, so of course we were going, and yes, I knew somebody who could get tickets, and sure I’d be happy to get a bunch so we could make a party of it…

The somebody I knew no longer belonged to the BSO so she didn’t have that early ticket access – so I joined. Betty was one of those people you just don’t want to disappoint. With tickets in hand we picnicked with family and friends on the lawn and prepared to enjoy a great show.

Funny thing is I had know idea she had any health issues. At Tanglewood I had mentioned that my wife and I had begun to travel because of a diagnosis that suggested we should do it sooner rather than later. Betty asked a few questions and said something about another disease to look up. We are all getting older and conversations can quickly descend into simply listing the current aches and pains. In the moment, Betty passed me some goat cheese with blueberries and a beer.

In retrospect I’m guessing she had been trying to understand her own disease process and to make sense of it all. Trying to make sense of it all is something I struggle with. You never know how each of us plays a part in the lives of others, but we were there to enjoy tales from Lake Wobegon, and that we did.

After many encores we all headed our separate ways. We vowed to get together again. I butt dialed her a couple days later – we both laughed.

I want to thank Mary Bee for keeping us, people of the Freakin’ Awesome class of ‘73, informed. I know it must have been hard for you to announce your mother’s passing to a bunch of strangers on Facebook. You had a great Mom who played a part in all of our lives.

In the theater there are many sayings – one is “There are no small parts, only small players.” Betty was never a small player. Though Betty only played a small part in my life, she had a profound effect on a quirky high school kid by just being civil and gracious. How profound an effect? I have a cat named Betty and my daughter’s middle name is Elizabeth.

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