Farewell to a Neighbor: Betty Becke: 1923-1999
by Sandra O. Martin
We moved to Fairhaven at the end of November, so we were just beginning to take the measure of our new neighborhood when the Christmas tree lit up.
We'd seen some stirrings on the beach and, farther out in Herring Bay, on the swim platform over the weekend. But that much we didn't need to be taught about Fairhaven: The beach and Bay were there and so were we, as well as most of our new neighbors, all days and all weathers. If you've got a beach in your life, who wouldn't use it? After a lifetime in the Midwest - in cities, towns and suburbs - we thought we'd gone to heaven when we moved to the village Fairhaven in 1987.
But nothing prepared us for what we saw that December night when we put out the lights to go to bed.
Illuminating the night was not one Christmas tree but two. One stood shining and steady against the black sky while its twin shimmered on the lambent surface of the black water.
The story we were later to learn cast as much light on our new village as did this wonderful tree. Ed Becke, who we came to know as a patriarch of Fairhaven, had erected and illuminated the first tree some years before to cheer the holidays of a buddy struck by cancer.
Boating a live tree out into Herring Bay, securing it against winter's winds and wiring it for light under sand and water was child's play for Becke, an engineer who was always up to some project or other, many of them similar little civic improvements.
The tree was such a success that it became a tradition, and every year since Becke and his crew have let there be light for neighbors near and far.
That tree has not only thrilled my winters. It's also taught me the true measure of Fairhaven: We're a village of neighbors illuminated by one another's lives and lights. Each neighbor - and I know this because Fairhaveners know one another, visiting at the beach or bridge, on porches, in yards, over clothes lines, at mail boxes, over coffee or shared projects, at community socials, at cookie bakes - shone brilliantly and distinctively.
Today one more of those lights shines only in our memories. Betty Becke, Ed's wife of 55 years, died August 20, one week before her 76th birthday, of cancer. Her daughters Barbara Smith and Nancy Kelly, both Fairhaveners, report that her passing, like her life, was "perfect." A churchful of friends and neighbors bid Betty farewell at St. James Parish on August 24.
Betty's light was bright and gay. She was a glamour girl whose beauty endured - like, to nearly the end, her cascading dark hair - forever a reminder of the spunky chic of girls who became women in the '40s. There she lived in her house on the hill, mother of three grown children and double-digit grandmother, still setting the neighborhood standard for beauty.
Betty believed in style. She dressed elegantly and nostalgically, usually at bargain prices in clothes discovered in her forays on thrift shops. She kept her model's figure, and in the simple, classic cuts she favored, she might have stepped from a '40s' movie. She loved hats and costume jewelry, even some of the flashy masterpieces of the '50s. Because of Betty, our country village had class.
She was a stylist in words as well, speaking with a sparkling wit and shining intelligence. At her funeral, her daughter Nancy read from Mary Bray Pipher's The Shelter of Each Other to open her mother's heart and mind to us. But we all knew by then that Betty's light shone from great depths.
The depths of Betty's goodness had touched us all, as well. Tears in the eyes of one neighbor, Carol Hafford, reminded me after the funeral that she and her husband Jim had been ferried across the Bay for their honeymoon by Betty and Ed. Betty had later thrown the shower for Carol and Jim's first son, Ben.
Since I came to live in Fairhaven a dozen years ago, we've lost our oldest generation, represented by Ed Becke's mother. Now the women of Betty's generation - Henrietta, Natalie, Myrtle - are going, taken by death or impairment. But not before their light has touched and taught many more generations how to live in a village.
Volume VII Number 34
August 26 - September 1, 1999
New Bay Times
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