Finding Betty

Before I begin, a caveat.

I’m not a historian, and everything I write is subject to the vagaries of memory. And with all the brain cells I have willfully compromised over the course of a long and happy life, I would be surprised if all the dates, details, and chronological order were entirely accurate. But this is the story I remember, and to my mind, this is how it all happened.

I raise this issue because the featured player in this story is one of my readers.

I first became aware of Betty’s existence sometime around 1968 or 69. By then, I was pretty well established as one of the crowd in Canavan Square. The two groups in the square, the rats (me and Peter, et al) and the collegiates (Charlie, Billy, et al) had by now melded into one (semi-collegiate) group that orbited around Rosie’s corner store.

Another group of guys, maybe 2-3 years younger than us, hung out on Buttonwood Street, a block east. Since they also frequented Rosie’s, we got to know each other well, and eventually the age barrier sort of fell away. We all often attended concerts, or just hung around drinking and acting stupid together.

At that time, Betty lived a half block up Mt. Vernon Street from Rosie’s and traveled through the neighborhood with her small group of high school girls. They were young and cute, and we flirted with them and they flirted back.

Betty, Maryann and Susan (to us: The Polish Girls) seemed inseparable and they were often accompanied by Pauline and Jane. They would pass by and say Hi, and head right down the street to the younger guys.

One of those guys was Tommy, Betty’s boyfriend.

Tommy was a good guy, everybody’s friend. He had an unkempt mop of dark curly hair, the thickest glasses imaginable, an abundance of charm, and girls loved him. We used to shake our heads at all the girls who would fall for the homely bastard. But most of us would go to bat for him in a pinch. He was a good guy.

I found out his secret with the girls, eventually. One after another, a series of cuties would undertake to “save” Tommy from himself. He had a taste for the bottle from an early age. But being such a happy, entertaining drunk, the guys on the corner were always happy to see him, and the girls lined up to try to change him into proper boyfriend material. Betty was the latest.

Tommy lived in Quincy, and by summer of 1969, I did too. I got my driver’s license at nineteen, because of the move, and started driving Tommy home nights in my 62 Valiant.

He was always loaded and needed the ride. Usually buzzing a bit myself, we would laugh and joke all the way to his house in Wollaston, and then I’d go another ten minutes to the Point, where I lived.

I heard a lot about Betty from my inebriated passenger. She and her Mom were so invested in this guy that they would sometimes call his house in the morning to be sure he awoke for school. In a just world, his NQHS diploma should have been signed by Betty and her Mom. But he knew they were trying to save him, and he never had a bad thing to say about them that I remember.

Eventually, he started asking me to pick him up at Betty’s house where Betty and I would haul him to the car. Those were some of the earliest conversations she and I had.

At some point, they broke up and The Polish Girls™ began to linger at the corner and talk to us. I chatted Betty up a few times and she was cute and friendly.

Her friend Susan started seeing my friend Steve, and one day I was told by him that “You’re going to see Ryan’s Daughter with us in town. Betty likes you and Susan says you have to go.” I did, and we sat together, and it was fun.

The sequence of events here gets a bit sketchy, but a few weeks later (maybe) it was New Year’s Eve and we were all going to a party at the AAA Recording Studio on Dot Ave, about a block from the corner. Maryann was seeing the in-house guitarist there and we were all invited.

I remember seeing Betty sitting on the floor at the studio surrounded by a group of five or six of our friends, having a drink and telling tales from the trip she took with her family around the country in a borrowed Cadillac convertible when she was 13.

Now, I had only been out of the state twice, both times to Boy Scout Camp in New Hampshire. Neither of my parents put much stock in travel in those days, and any attempt to propose we go somewhere, anywhere, would just start my Dad on his Wonders of South Boston speech. “The beaches! The views! A bus stop on every corner!”

So, I was perhaps a bit more fascinated than most by the stories of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Colorado and California. After a bit, the crowd around us thinned out until it was just the two of us. And when midnight chimed, I believe we kissed for the first time.

After a while, the studio emptied out. I offered her a ride home and she accepted. She asked me up for coffee and by that time, I could have used a cup or two. We sat at her kitchen table while she put a pot on, and we talked about things.

Her Mom appeared in the kitchen doorway, gave me the once over, and asked if we were okay and if we wanted her to make us something to eat.

Here is a woman finding her tipsy youngest daughter, sitting with an equally tipsy strange guy at her kitchen table after 1am and her first thought is “those kids must be hungry.” Nana Jessie was, and continued to be throughout her life, an amazing woman.

We said we were fine, and she said good night, and we sat there for a while drinking coffee and talking about traveling. In 1965, Betty’s Mom had taken her and Pauline to the New York World’s Fair and they had stayed in a motel and toured both the fair and the city.

My little parochial brain was almost unaware that people could even do that sort of thing. We talked about places we would each like to visit, and what the future might hold for all of us. I asked her out for the first time, I believe, and we began to date.

After a short while we were together virtually every night and became “Betty&Jeff” to our friends.

Those days it was the golden time for concerts in Boston. There was “Summerthing” on the common every weekend. We even saw Sha Na Na with Little Anthony and the Imperials for free in Columbia Park.

There seemed to be amazing concerts all the time; at the Orpheum (Ziggy Stardust tour), the Music Hall (The Who (6th row!), the Moody Blues), at Harvard Stadium (Janis) and random weird musicians on Cambridge Common every week.

I saw The Kinks, and Santana with Grand Funk Railroad at the Boston Tea Party, where you could chat with the band between numbers. Since before Woodstock, this had become the Youth Movement and our cathedrals were concert venues.

We all would meet at the corner, divvy up the available weed, mescaline and rum, and move as a group to the subway downtown.

We once even went to Symphony Hall, where elderly men in tuxedos politely led us blitzed-out freaks to our seats for Joe Cocker’s epic “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour.  Those were the days, my friend.

Betty and I also took up skiing at some point, since our friends Joe and Paul and a few others had gone in on a seasonal chalet rental in Jackson NH. We pitched in for a room and then after work, we would drive up for two or more hours every Friday night.

We drove through incredible cold, or blizzards of snow, in crappy old cars, up 95 to 16 to Jackson. We’d get to the place and party until all our friends arrived, then party until 2, and then be on the slopes at 8am.

I miss youth.

Once, I remember the three or four riders in the back of my old telephone van curled up in their sleeping bags during the ride to fend off the cold, while I drove in parka and ski gloves. It was the best, though.

At the next lodge we went in on, Betty & I took the front room because it had its own bathroom. We quickly found out it also had a slate floor and no real heat. One frigid night, we (probably me) turned on the hot shower in desperation for a few hours, just to warm the place up. (utilities were included)

We eventually shut the water off and went to bed. We awoke to find a thick film of ice on every exterior wall, the windows, any metal object and the slate floor. We then bought an electric space heater.

We fell in love with New Hampshire and skied winters and camped summers. To this day, we still try to vacation up near the Kankamagus every summer.

Eventually, after we had been an “item” for a couple of years, we were at somebody’s wedding reception when we were asked, “So when are you two going to get married?”

I remember we looked at each other and we hemmed and hawed.

Finally, I think it was me who said something like, “I don’t know. Maybe next year? Next summer?”

I believe Betty looked at me and said, “Yeah. Sure. I guess.” or something similar.

So that was the proposal. We hadn’t really discussed it, but there it was.

I knew that I loved Betty, but like many guys my age, I had not really been a fan of marrying anyone. That is until we had a brief pregnancy scare several months back. Times being what they were, and we being who we were, the die was cast. We were definitely going to get married.

But during that couple of long, intense weeks, sitting in her room and quietly discussing what we were going to do together, I started to feel that being married to this girl would not be a bad idea at all. She was attractive, smart, practical, ambitious, loyal, stood up for her friends and took no crap from anyone.

I loved her and she somehow loved me back. All the very best times of my young life had pretty much been with her by my side.

Maybe it was the much delayed advent of of maturity, but from then on, I just assumed we would get married someday. I think Betty did, too.

So, after the “proposal”, we started making plans. It was to be St. Mary’s church, then a reception somewhere during the month of August 1974.

Then around November of 1973, I went to the house and found Betty in tears on her bed. Cold feet. She wasn’t sure, yet. She loved me but she wasn’t sure; not yet.

I was crushed. We sat on the bed, sobbing and talking. She wanted to go to Florida with Maryann so that she could get away and take time to think. I had to agree, but I really suspected it was over. I wondered if her friends had torpedoed me for some reason. Now she was leaving with one for a week.

I don’t remember if I drove them to the airport, but I vividly remember an excruciating week later standing at the gate as the return flight disembarked. She saw me, waved and called my name. Then she ran to me and jumped into my arms. It was one of those movie scenes with everyone watching as we hugged and sobbed and kissed.

Maryann said she just talked about me all week.

After we got home and things calmed down, we decided to move the wedding up four months to February of 2014.

We booked St. Mary’s and got the Polish Citizen’s Club for the reception. Betty’s Dad was a club officer and the bartender there, so we got off cheap.

It was to be an open bar, because her Dad had never been to a good wedding that wasn’t. End of discussion.

So, her Polish family, my Irish family and our rowdy friends were all to be treated to an open bar. This ought to be epic.

We sent out invitations.



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