“I thought you might enjoy it … and have something to remember your mother by. I’ll talk to you later. I love you. I love *all* of you, very, very much. Have a merry, merry Christmas. Bye-bye.”
clyp.it/5hwclvrq (Betty Talks to Her Children)
Every Christmas in recent years, I’ve listened to those words over and over, with weepy eyes and wistful heart. They came from the loving, lonely heart of my biological mother about 30 years ago as she put the finishing touches on a cassette tape of holiday music — a gift to her children, who lived far away and almost never made it home to West Virginia for the holidays.
Before Betty died of lung cancer five days before Christmas 1992, Thanksgiving 1990 was the last holiday she and sons Crys and Robin and daughter Terry shared at her home in Huntington — and that had been their first holiday together since the 1960s.
As she had earlier in her life performing with bands and throughout her life while always singing at home, Betty used her remarkable vocal talents to accompany records of Willie Nelson and others on her recorded Christmas gift. Though her voice had aged to that of a near-70-year-old, it still had the clear, on-pitch quality it always had, with a sweet, not overdone vibrato that made it perfect — to me, anyway.
clyp.it/k1kpayo5 (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”)
Weeks after I found my three older full siblings in June 2005, my family and I drove to the Denver area to meet Crys and Terry and their families. It was during the Fourth of July holiday, and we had a memorable reunion, getting to know one another as my sibs embraced the little brother Betty had never been able to bring herself to share the truth about.
At one point during our visit, Crys’s wife Charlene left the living room, saying she had something to share with me. She returned with the Christmas cassette and popped it into the player, and for the first time, I heard my birth mother’s voice — not only her beautiful singing, but her poignant words to her children. As I listened, I had a hard time taking it all in during the moment. I couldn’t believe I was really hearing the voice of the woman who’d given birth to me.
clyp.it/dskvbmec (“The Christmas Song”)
When Betty softly uttered the words “I love you. I love *all* of you, very, very much,” it didn’t hit me at first. Someone else in the room said it — I think it was my wife Kay — but Betty was including me when she emphasized the word “all” in addressing her children. Of course she was.
I am sure of many things about Betty — how much she loved me, why she knew she couldn’t keep me, how painful it was for her from that moment on — and her intent in those eleven words is among them. Although the three children she raised didn’t meet their fourth sibling while she was living, her heart must have told her that somehow, someday, the four of us would be together.
The rest of the closing section of her tape is so Betty, who I’m told had a great sense of humor. She calls herself “Bette Cazadler” — a reference to Bette Midler and to Betty’s last name after marrying her second husband, Ronnie Cazad, in 1971. I’m not sure what her “Terry Baxter Orchestra” reference means, though.
On Feb. 28, Betty’s youngest child will turn 60, and next July 22 would be Betty’s 100th birthday. I hope her fellow angels will be throwing her a gigantic party, because she sure deserves one.
Happy holidays, Betty. Your four kids will always love you.
P.S. The photo is the one my dear friend Katie (Karen) Erickson — a birth mother like Betty who gave up a son for adoption — created two years ago as a sweet gift to me. She combined a photo of Betty from about 30 years ago with one of me from a family pic a few years back to come up with an image I’ll always cherish. Thank you, Karen. You are a true gift.