Her name was Betty Ruth Flynt but I called her Barf.
You can’t buy good friends like that–ones who will lovingly call you, “Barf.”
I figured since I was not allowed to utter the middle name “Ruth,” that “Barf” was the next best choice as her initials were just asking for it.
Junior High. What can I say?
Betty was my very first friend my own age in Arkansas as an almost 13-year old. Her parents, Al and Wintress , owned Tucker Abstract Co. and my parents, Joe and Dera, owned Opportunity Real Estate. This is back in the day when the population of Bentonville hovered around 6,000-something and most businesses worth their salt were located on or near the town square. I can’t remember all the details of every thriving enterprise from when we hit town in 1974, but I do recall that on one side of the square was the Benton County Courthouse, on another was Overstreets Jewelry where one year I bought my dad an engraved Zippo tape measure for Father’s Day (undoubtedly with his money), another side boasted the original Walton’s 5 & 10 which, at that time, contained something else because Waltons was on its way up and had expanded and moved over to the parking lot next to Phillips Food Center. Near the corner on the final side of the square was Tucker Abstract. My folks’ office was next door to the Post Office facing the same way as Overstreets. Presiding over it all was the Confederate Soldier statue in the middle which, as of last year I believe, is gone.
The circumstances under which I became acquainted with Betty (I didn’t really call her Barf very often; she was stronger than I and liked to slug shoulders) are a little blurry. I imagine the parents stuck us together. And stick we did.
That first summer as I was adjusting to the blast furnace of southern heat and humidity, Betty and I put hundreds, possibly thousands, of miles on our bikes. She always had the latest new thing and Takara Ten Speeds were it. Here’s a beauty of about that era.
Betty’s bike was white with tape around the handlebars. And it was a boy’s model. Nobody rode girl’s bikes. Nobody.
My original ten speed was brown (my mother’s favorite color . . . but that’s for another therapy session) and yep, it was a girl’s. I made Betty ride on the back streets so nobody would see me. Junior High is intense that way. Not really sure how it all played out but somebody somewhere succumbed to pressure and I ended up with a white Takara, boy’s version. And did we ever ride out in public then, zipping in and out of cars, flying through streets and parking lots that Betty had known all her life, singing at the top of our lungs when we thought no one could hear, especially songs from TV commercials like, “I am stuck on Bandaids brand cause Bandaid’s stuck on me!” And yes, I discovered what it’s like to fall onto the bar across the boy’s model. Still makes me wince thinking about it. Worth every inch.
We would hang around a lot at her house on “C” Street during that first summer. She had a much older sister who lived in a different wing that we were very much disinvited to enter so I never really knew her and honestly was pretty afraid of her, mostly because I wondered if she really existed and if that door actually led to some parallel universe or something, not an additional bedroom and bathroom.
So Betty and I watched TV. A lot of it. She was one of the original fans of The Young and the Restless and Ryan’s Hope. I was more a Price is Right and Match Game aficionado myself, though there was a certain appeal to the travails of Erica Kane on All My Children.
Occasionally we would venture to one of the swimming pools up in the Bella Vista community north of town but that required parental transportation and a big time commitment.
Mostly we rode bikes. And watched TV.
After school started and we were 8th graders at Bentonville Middle School, home of the Tiger Cubs, we played in band together but saw each other less and less until one rainy day we ended up needing to wait for her dad to drive us home from the Tucker Abstract office and had to occupy ourselves in their conference room for at least an eternity.
Before the days of cell phones, idle kids found other ways to amuse themselves. Ridiculous time wasters are nothing new; they just haven’t always been electronic. We sat at that conference table, each with a one-hole punch, and punched thousands of holes in paper out of the trash can. And we took it home and stored it in my very hip mirror that had a lid that would unscrew. And so here’s the thing.
I still have that mirror. With the thousand little dots.
I’m not a hoarder. So stop that.
Surprisingly, Walt Disney World was already open for a handful of years before Betty finally talked her parents into a road trip to Florida. In the summer of 1975 I went along. Here we are, awkward and ready to go, one of us with the shag haircut that was popular for ten minutes but in my case was crafted by a stylist with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back. You’ve gotta give credit to Al and Wintress — two junior high girls in the back seat of a car all the way to Florida and back. Kudos. Thanks in retrospect, dear ones!
I think that was also the summer Betty talked me into playing softball with her for the Bank of Bentonville Bears. Boy, was she sorry. And so were the Bears. An athlete I am not. I can walk around the block pretty well but that’s about it. Betty, though, made me feel like I could do it and they probably needed to fill a hole out in left field. Occasionally I would accidentally catch the ball in my glove, eyes closed and all! The trouble came when I stood at the plate with a bat in my hand. Oh my heavens. Pickle Pangle’s little sister Tracy was a red headed ball player probably from the day she was born and did she ever yell at me from the dugout. My career with the Bears was short-lived but Betty still hung out with me. Gotta give her credit. Thanks, friend.
There came a time when, much to my shame, I didn’t treat my friend well. Somebody indicated to me that I was cool. That’s often the death knell for genuine friendships. We both found others to hang around with. During the days the “drift” was happening slowly but surely, Betty was over at my house one day and took a few pictures. Here’s one. The poodle is not possessed . . . just the victim of a Kodak Instamatic with flash cube (Google it, kid).
Years passed. We drifted some more. I moved to the next town down Highway 71, but Betty was faithful and would show up every now and then at the old folks home I had moved into (see previous post, “Under the Dining Room“). It was never quite the same though. Eventually (fast forward through some icky years that I might have forgone had I remained close with Betty) I went across the country to college in 1980 and that was the end. We officially lost touch. Until . . .
With husband, four kids and a dog in tow, I moved back to town in 1997. Betty and I found each other. We didn’t strike up a “see each other every day” relationship but the bond of memory and childhood and teenage strain was intact. I really appreciated her. She had a photography business and did some portraits of my kids for me. I guess she never married but truly I don’t know details of her life.
The evening before my mother’s funeral in 1999 our family held a visitation at the funeral home. Visitations can be harder than funerals because it’s almost like the ones grieving the deepest must host and converse and make sure everyone is comfortable. I don’t plan to have one of those for myself, but thanks anyway. As my dad would say as he so often did with phrases that made no sense and were probably from some 1940s radio show, “If it weren’t for the honor, I’d just as soon walk.” Anyway, my mother’s visitation . . .
I was up front in the funeral parlor near the casket, barely keeping it together, supporting my dad and making sure all who gathered were made to feel welcome and appreciated. Exhausting. Consuming. Horrible. And then during a lull in the action I turned around behind me. There stood Betty. My friend. I’ll never forget that. I feel tears coming just remembering. That, dear ones, is true friendship. She didn’t have to come. We hadn’t been in touch for months and my mother’s death had been sudden and not publicized widely. Betty was attentive enough to notice. And care. And go out of her way. I hope I didn’t suffocate her with the hug I threw around her.
This morning I looked at the calendar and realized it is Betty’s 60th birthday. I have tried valiantly over the last few years to find her with all my Googly might but nothing. If she’s hiding she’s doing a good job. Probably one of her skills is computer genius. And so I apologize, friend Betty, if you see this and are appalled. I mean it to be a tribute to a friendship that was important. You were good to me.
I did find this photo of her at some car dealership where they probably made her pose in front of whatever vehicle she just bought. So ha! Got one of you! You’re still Betty, I see. I’m still me only more.
And so that’s pretty much it. I guess I’ll carry around these Thousand Little Dots for the rest of my life. It’s fun to remember. It’s good to dwell on a friendship. There came many more good friends that first summer in Arkansas . . . Melanie, Sharon, Vickie, Toni, Ilima. But Betty was first.
Happy Birthday, Friend.
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed.
If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.
But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 NLT
P.S. Betty, if you’re reading this, I’ll send you half of those dots in a ziploc if you want me to!!!