Chapter 30 1968 - Betty

Henry had finally gotten his wish. After years of supporting Richard Nixon as Vice President and in his failed 1960 presidential and 1962 gubernatorial bids, he had pretty much given up that Nixon would ever rise to national prominence again.

When Nixon announced he would once again seek the presidency, Henry was the first to say “I told you so! We have not seen the last of Richard Nixon!”

The tragedy of 1963 was still fresh, and the war in Vietnam occupied many voters' minds. As a fresh start, Nixon was a candidate who would end the war and get our men back home. That’s all we wanted, right?

At fourteen, I wasn’t interested that much, but couldn’t help but see his father’s enthusiasm. But Juliette was wary of it. “Don’t go overboard, you don’t want to be disappointed again.”

Henry was absolutely sure that Nixon would win in November, but his loyalty was torn when Governor Reagan entered the race. When it came to the primary, only Reagan, California’s favorite son, was on the ballot. Henry reluctantly cast his vote for Reagan. Juliette, of course, supported Kennedy.

With Kennedy’s victory, Juliette was certain that he would easily take the national election, whether it was Reagan or Nixon. But when Kennedy was shot, that hope faded, and she found only a condescending support for the new front-runner, Vice President Humphrey.

Henry’s hopes turned when Nixon took the nomination, and he practically danced in the street when in November, Nixon took the White House, even if it was one of the closest elections in history.

I held a bemused detachment to the entire affair. In his second year of high school, he was more interested in making friends, and more importantly, meeting girls. The expectation that Spike would become a good friend again failed to materialize, and Spike kept his distance from I, establishing his own circle of friends.

I first noticed Betty Stone, a freshman at the high school, when she was in the marching band. He admired her from afar for the first few weeks before he finally had the nerve to talk to her in person. The opportunity arose when they were about to take the school bus to a parade competition. She was ahead of him in line and turned, giving him a smile.

The first words out of his mouth were awkward. “Hi. I’m I. I think...” He trailed off.

What a Bozo, he thought. She’s going to think I’m an idiot.

“You think?” was her response. “You mean you don’t know?”

“I mean, I think we’re in band together.” As they stood there in their uniforms, that point should have been fairly obvious. I wasn’t going to win this one no matter how hard he tried.

“The uniform sort of gave it away,” she replied.

“I play the clarinet,” he offered as an explanation why he was holding one.

“Again, that’s somewhat obvious.” She smiled at his discomfort. “I’m Betty. I play the flute.”

“Yeah,” I looked down at his feet and shuffled them a bit. “I know. We’re in band together.” Oh, jeez, I said it again.

The brief encounter was not getting any better. Betty tried to smooth things over. “We’re about to get on the bus. Would you like to sit with me?”

“Uh, sure, OK. You probably think I’m a moron,” I conjectured.

“No, but I do think you’re a little nervous. That’s OK; I don’t bite. Hard, at least,” she gritted her teeth.

As they boarded the bus, some of the other band mates looked at I with awe, some with fear, and some with disdain. No one other than Betty had shown him any sign of friendship.

Betty’s attention was calming I’s nervousness. “Until this year, I hadn’t seen you around here before,” he said.

“We moved into town over the summer,” she indicated. “My father used to live here when he was younger, and when he came back from Vietnam, we moved back here.”

I found a bit of commonality, at least. “My uncle was in Vietnam. He used to write my mother about it, but stopped a couple of years ago. She’s worried about him, but can never seem to get any new information.”

“My mom was very worried during the time he was away,” Betty revealed. “I was only eight when he was sent over there. When he came back, he wasn’t the same. I think he figured a return to his hometown might help.”

The band mates lapsed into silence as Betty looked out the window. The day was overcast and a bit chilly. She moved a little closer to I, and leaned her head on his shoulder. I was in Heaven.

As the bus moved down the road, the bus driver did not realize that the turn ahead was the one he needed to take. The students called out to him that he missed the turn. The road was not wide enough to make a U-Turn, so he continued on until he could make another turn, figuring that he would be able to circle back.

The next road up was a right turn, and the driver took it. As the road narrowed, he knew it was a mistake. The pavement gave out, and he was left on a bumpy dirt road. Ahead lay another right turn, so he took it. The road led into a grove of trees, and the branches brushed along the bus roof as they passed. As they continued through the miniature forest, they finally came upon a small house, where the road seemed to end.

The house was being used as a private school, and many young children were in the area. The bus driver slowed to a stop and got out to survey the situation. It looked like the turnabout ahead was the only possibility of reversing direction.

By this time, the students had gotten off the bus and were watching the driver as he tried to figure out what he was going to do. I and Betty stood next to each other, and Betty reached and grabbed I’s hand. I grasped back, and they were interlocked in a digital embrace.

The driver ordered everyone back on the bus as he decided to make his move. He inched ahead, carefully avoiding the school’s fence. A planter of flowers in the center of the roundabout made the maneuvering particularly tricky, Every once in a while, the bus bumper would strike the brick planter, shaving a bit of masonry from it. Forward – reverse – forward – turn – the small steps were having a successful effect and finally, after thirty minutes, the bus cleared the final obstacle and was back on the road, this time heading in the right direction. The students let out a cheer and Betty leaned over and gave I a big kiss. I kissed back, and then broke off the embrace. Both looked a little embarrassed by their compulsive action, but settled back into their seats, quite happy.

When the bus finally arrived at their destination, the parade was already started, and the band took their place near the end. Because of their tardiness, points were deducted from the overall performance, and they failed to place in the top three.

The excitement of the trip to the parade, and the parade itself, was muted by the results and the quiet drive back home. But for I and Betty, time was passing at its own pace in their private world. Snuggling against the chill of the evening they passed the remaining time in silence.

Arriving back at the school, I gave her another kiss, and headed over to his parent’s car.

“How was your day?” Juliette asked.

“It was OK,” I offered in his own non-committal way. He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell her about Betty, just yet.

“I have some wonderful news!” Juliette was so excited. I actually stopped to pay attention. “My brother Arthur called me today. He’s home from the war! That scoundrel has actually been home for a few months, and he didn’t let me know! He’s bringing his family over for Thanksgiving. Oh, I’ve missed him, I haven’t seen him for so long!”

I barely remembered his uncle; he figured he was probably about five years old the last time he saw him. But his mother’s excitement failed to bubble over to him. He had Betty on his mind.

The days leading up to Thanksgiving were a bustle of activity, with shopping, cleaning and decorating for the holiday. When the day finally arrived, it was almost a letdown, but the smell of cooking turkey brought new warmth to the day’s celebration.

The doorbell rang and Juliette rushed to answer it. Flinging it open, she embraced her brother. “Arthur!” how dare you wait until Thanksgiving before coming to see me. “You’ve always been full of mischief.” Calling to I, she said, “Come here, I, and see your Uncle Arthur!”

I came in the foyer and saw his uncle. He could see the rest of the family somewhat hidden behind him. His mother re-introduced them. “This is your Uncle Arthur! And you aunt Jenny, and come out, girl!” she called to Arthur’s daughter. “This is your cousin Elizabeth!”

I stared at the girl. “Betty?”