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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Betty the Bartender

Everything I need to know, I learned waiting tables. Maybe not, but during the five seasons I worked at the Sunset House in Cody, Wyoming, I learned a lot about life, people, and food. (You won't get better fish & chips anywhere else.)

The first year I waited tables, I loved it. I seriously thought it was something I could do the rest of my working career. I loved the customers, the coworkers, the atmosphere - it was exciting and exhilarating. Then there was the second year. I still loved the job, but not so much the people. The customers, yes. Most of the coworkers, yes. There was this sense of negativity, though, that stemmed from certain individuals that caused me to ... well ... hate them. I hated working with them, and seemed to have worse nights when sharing my shift with their presence.

Betty the Bartender was one of these people. The woman was so bitter and so vulgar, I could hardly stand to order my customer's drinks from her. When I came back the second year, she was the one person who didn't even say "welcome back" or "hello" or "what the crap are you doing here?". Nothing. I made the mistake of sharing my disdain towards Betty with someone who apparently befriended her. Word got back to the boss.

You see, the manager of the restaurant happened to be Betty the Bartender's daughter. Julie is still one of my favorite people. The woman put me through school and watched me go from single and irresponsible to married and emotionally unstable. :o) I always tried to work hard to make Julie's life a little easier in that restaurant. She was a lot like me - you never had to question how she was feeling. I knew when to steer clear, and when to tell a joke, and when to just attack her with a hug. She was a great boss, and is a great person. And she was the daughter of Betty the Bartender.

Julie came up to me one night and said, "So I hear you hate my mother." I stammered....I'd been busted. I couldn't really back out of this one. Julie wasn't mad, but told me essentially to deal with it - because Betty was Betty. And there was nothing either one of us could do about it.

Betty was Betty. We actually got along for the most part, Betty and I, after I decided to heed Julie's words. She was still bitter, and was still vulgar, but I didn't have so much of a problem with her. Betty never bridled her tongue, either. One night I showed up to work and her greeting to me was,
"You look like $#!%."
"Thank you, Betty."
"Well really. What the hell happened to you?"
"Nothing, I'm fine. We just - I've been eating tuna for the last two days because that's all we have. I'm sick of tuna, and I'm hungry. But I'm fine."
She pried, and I told her as little as I could get away with. Brent and I were struggling financially and I couldn't afford to buy even a loaf of bread. All we had were cans of tuna, and stale tortilla chips. That had been my lunch and dinner for two days. I was tired, I was hungry, and I was in no mood to hear a life lecture from Betty.

The next night was day three of tuna for me. I showed up to my shift and there was Betty, leaning against the sink in the bar. "Hey Val, there's something for you in the freezer." What now? was what was going through my mind. I lifted the lid to the freezer and there was a plastic grocery bag, filled with items wrapped in butcher paper. Betty had brought me elk steaks. I gasped.
"You brought me elk meat?!"
"Well hell, you need more than tuna."
I smiled. I fought back tears. I hugged her. "Get off me, g**damnit. Just eat the meat."

Betty the Bartender was who she was; but she wasn't heartless. Did she know how to show care and compassion? No. But she certainly felt it. God used her that night to help me. God used Betty the Bartender, and she didn't even know to what extent! We still had our moments from time to time, but I looked at Betty through a different set of eyes after that night. Dare I say, we became buddies. Betty even shared a joke or two with me, and we had some laughs through the window of that bar.

A few years ago, Betty passed away after losing a battle with leukemia. I may not have always liked her, but she found a place in my heart, and certainly in my memory bank. Why she insisted everyone regard her as a crass, rotten person, I'm not sure. Maybe it was easier for her than letting her guard down or becoming vulnerable. What I do know is this - Betty saved my stomach, if only for a night or two. And had she never had Julie, I would've missed out on some of the most memorable five years of my Wyoming life there at the Sunset House.

Betty was Betty - and God used her just the same. Regardless of who we are, or what our plans are, God has something in store for us. He's waiting to show us all of who He is, if we'd just open our eyes to Him! He can provide so much more than a meal, or a friendship. And yet he still provides even those - in times and circumstances we may least expect.

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