Friday, July 4, 2014

July 4, 1906 was a big day in the Betts family

On this day in 1906, my father was born in a white house across Jones Street from the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh. It would have been a big day in that house, which belonged to my grandmother's family.  He was the first child of Mary Atkinson Monie Betts and Joseph Shawen Betts, a Greensboro dentist and horseman, and grandson of Alexander Davis Betts, a Civil War chaplain of the 30th N.C. who had ridden with Jackson and Lee.

Family legend is that John Monie Betts -- his friends called him "Windy" -- got his gentle streak from his grandfather, who ministered to little Methodist churches all across the state of North Carolina and in parts of Southside Virginia. Old A.D. lived with my father's family in Greensboro when he was growing up, and Dad heard tales of that awful war most every day of his youth. My father always said the old parson had taught him many things about life, including the obligations of duty, the power of a kind word and the value of patience.
John "Windy" Betts, future sailor, about 1911

They were lessons that stuck with my father and served him well during the lean years of the Great Depression and the difficult years with a sometimes rebellious son who thought his parents were too old to be raising children. But he was wise enough to make me stay up until the end of that game in 1957 when Carolina won the national championship, and he drove me all over three or four states to go hiking and camping, a feat I appreciated more when I got the same arthritis of the knees that he endured on those outings.  Through it all he had a thoughtful smile and a steady hand. To this day I can't remember hearing him raise his voice, except in delight when Phil Ford threw one in from downtown for the Tar Heels, or spun by some feckless defender to lay it in the bucket.

Somehow we managed to patch things up pretty well when I grew up a little, and the bond between us grew over the years. In the final years of his life, before cancer put him down fast, we went in on an old sailboat together and often cruised the waters of Bugg's Island Lake, one of the largest in our region.  He died at nearly 88 in 1994; had he lived, he would have been 108 today -- and, I expect, he would have a smile on his face and a kind word on his lips.  Happy Birthday, Dad.

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