|The Good Life: All that remains is love|
|June 18, 2015 Lisa Betz|
Donovan Edward Betz, “Donnie” to his friends, was a vibrant character. He lived life in high gear. He worked for Betz Corporation in cement construction all his working days, becoming its owner when I was 16 years old.
Due to the inability to pour concrete on frozen ground, spring was an exciting time. In late winter, dad would come home with great excitement when new jobs for the season came in. I was taught to answer our phone in the evenings with, “Betz Corporation.” Farmers would call to speak with dad about irrigation ditch jobs and they’d shoot the breeze for quite a while. Dad was gifted at conversation, except at home. He had an enjoyable personality and was a great story and joke teller. He was a true entertainer, his stage everyday life.
Dad loved football. I might have been a football fan too if not for the Broncos’ abysmal Super Bowl performances in my formative years. If football was showing on TV, high school, college or pro, it was on, no matter the team. This caused tension in the days of single-television households.
We had few shared interests, making it hard for us to connect with each other. Dad was quiet at home and I was a talkative magpie. We were opposites in many ways but underpinning the relationship was our closeness when I was small.
In those days he was my everything. I remember waiting all day for him to come home in his dirty work clothes when I could run to him squealing in glee. He’d scoop me up and kiss me, rubbing his scratchy whiskers on my cheeks. One of the games we’d play was called “steam roller.” I’d lie on the floor and he’d lay down beside me pretending to roll over me like the equipment used in the construction company. There were sound effects and each time I knew I’d get flattened but I never was. I never tired of that.
Watching him shave in the morning was a fascination of mine and I loved it when he’d gargle with Listerine. I begged to try it but he never would let me until one day he relented with a small, watered down amount. I howled in shock and cried loudly. He felt horrible.
Though my dad found it harder to demonstrate his affection for me as I grew older and drifted into the world of junior high dances, boys, speech, music and theatre, I always knew he loved me because he had played with me when I was little.
The boomerang of life returned to us when he fell ill with cancer. I was 25 years old and living in Kentucky. I was busy with a couple of acting jobs when I learned about the brain stem tumor that doctors thought he’d been born with. It had slowly grown throughout his life until it affected his speech and gait. I came home within a week after he’d had surgery that failed, leaving him wheelchair bound, sporting a droopy smile.
I couldn’t hide my tears when I caught my first glimpse of my father sitting in a wheelchair as I descended the stairs at the Cheyenne airport. The stark reality hit me that my dad was not going to be here to walk me down the aisle or know his grandchildren.
I managed to get control of myself and put on a smile for him.
Throughout the remaining weeks, I sat with him on the porch watching the birds and the squirrels. He lost interest in television, finding it violent and upsetting. He would say repeatedly that the world was a terrible place with so much cruelty.
During those talks, I asked him hard questions about why he had kept himself so busy all my life, avoiding time with mom and me. At the time, I needed those answers. His first response was, “I don’t know,” yet it caused him to think about his life and choices.
He realized he had spent his life neglecting family for work, football, fishing, hunting and golf, activities that kept him busy and apart from us. He tried to make up for this, nearly smothering us with hugs, I love yous and togetherness. Dad did not want us to ever leave his side in those remaining weeks.
Twenty-one years later, none of that seems important anymore. What remains is that he loved me.
One of the memorable conversations I had with dad was during a visit home from college. He had to drive to Cheyenne to pick up a part and I decided to go with him. As we drove the back roads in silence watching the morning sky turn pink, he asked, “What do you like so much about Laramie?”
I thought about it before answering. “I like the people there. They have different ideas and there are neat things to see and do.”
There was a long, long silence before he spoke again.
“I never wanted to be anywhere else,” he said. Everything I need is right here.”
Then, after another long pause he said, “I never thought there was a place more beautiful than home.”