by Brian Knapp
Butch and Linda Betts will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in June. In a day and age when divorce has become more the norm than the exception, their enduring relationship stands as a testament to the power of love, faith and compromise.
The world stopped spinning for Butch and Linda Betts on March 21, 1987. It was the first day of spring, and it felt like it: clear skies, temperatures in the low 70s, a pleasant breeze blowing through the Georgia pines. It seemed like any other date on the calendar. Then the phone rang, time stood still and life as they knew it was never the same.
“We got a call that said you need to go to the hospital, and so I took off in the car,” Butch said,
the memories still as fresh as the day they were forged. “We were going down the road as fast as we could go, and it was just like I was hit with a hammer.”
Their middle son had been critically injured in an accidental shooting. Thoughts, questions and prayers flooded their hearts. Jason Betts was 13 years old at the time, his entire life still in front of him. Soon, their worst fears—the worst fears of any parent—were realized. Butch felt a tremor in his spirit.
“The Lord was telling me that he was gone, and I just slowed down to regular speed,” he said. “Then we got to the hospital and we were met outside, and they told us he was dead. When we went into that room where he was, he was laying on a steel table covered up with a sheet, and we held hands and Linda said, ‘This is not going to destroy our marriage.”
“That was beyond me,” Linda said. “I think about that day so much because I remember us praying, and I remember there was nothing I could pray for Jason. I knew that, and that was really God’s Spirit in me prompting me as to how to pray; and we did.
We just joined hands and we prayed. We prayed and asked God to raise us up and bind the Enemy from using it as a weapon against us, because when you are so wounded, that’s when really bad things can happen.”
In the face of unimaginable tragedy and heartache, they turned to their faith, to each other and to two surviving sons who needed them desperately: Shannon, their oldest, and Ryan, their youngest.
“I still have the digital clock next to my bed,” Butch said, “and that first night, I watched every single tick on that thing go by.” Moving on was difficult for all involved, as the bad days often outnumbered the good. Day by day, they put one foot in front of the other as a family. Sadness took its many forms, and they confronted them all.
“The way for us was Butch would have a good day and I’d have a bad day, or vice-versa,” Linda said. “We recognized that in each other and realized that we all show grief differently. It’s manifested differently with each one.”
Nearly 32 years have passed since the Betts endured the death of their son. Not a day goes by when they fail to think of him or the impact he had on their lives, forever comforted by their belief that they will see him again someday. They will mark what would have been Jason Betts’ 46th birthday on Aug. 29.
“I don’t mind talking about Jason at all,” Butch said. “It gives us great joy to know that somebody has remembered our son, because we talk about him every day. When I pray in the morning, I tell the Lord to please tell my son that I love him and I miss him because I can’t talk to him, but [I believe] the Lord will transfer that message for me.”
Made for Each Other
Butch Betts was 19 years old the first time he saw Linda Jackson in 1965, their paths crossing at Simpson’s Supermarket in Decatur. He was working in the produce department when she walked in wearing a pink mohair sweater and a pink plaid skirt. Her neighbor introduced them, and they talked for a time before parting ways. Butch returned to his work. Linda returned home.
“It’s the craziest thing,” she said. “I was 15 years old, and I came home and I told my mother, ‘I’m going to marry that boy one day.’ Of course, that freaked her out.’”
“That evening when I got off, I walked up and went through a checkout list,” Butch said. “One of my co-workers said, ‘Here, I got something for you.’ It was a piece of paper they used to run register slips up on. She handed it to me, and Linda’s phone number was on the back.”
Unbeknownst to either of them, the neighbor had scratched Linda’s number onto the paper and left it for Butch. “I had no idea,” Linda said. The two began dating soon after and continued their relationship after Butch enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He shipped out to Parris Island in South Carolina for basic training before being moved to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina, for infantry training. America was waist-deep in the Vietnam War.
“I got aviation-guaranteed, which you had to take a test for,” Butch said. “I knew I’d be working on aircraft instead of being shot at, but the first thing a Marine learns is how to kill people, so you’re a soldier before you’re anything else. I ended up being a parachute rigger, [rigging] parachutes for fighter jets and such.
I loved doing that, too. When I was at Camp Lejeune, I said, ‘I’m going to call that girl up,’ and so I called her up and asked her if she’d marry me over the phone.”
They married on June 4, 1967. Within a week, they relocated to California, where they lived for two and a half years. Thousands of miles from home, with no friends and no family, it was the first sink-or-swim trial for their marriage. “Nobody was there to help us,” Butch said. “We were either going to make it or fall completely apart, and as you can see, we did make it.” The military took them all over the country, from Mission Viejo, California, to Lakehurst, New Jersey, site of the Hindenburg disaster. Butch was never sent to Vietnam, avoiding deployment by a matter of months. He was discharged on Oct. 18, 1969. The first of their three sons, Shannon, was born a year later.
Butch and Linda Betts settled in Newton County in 1973, the same year son Jason arrived. Third son Ryan was born in 1978. They now have four grandchildren: Abby, 21, Alyssa, 19, Jackson, 15, and Jacob, 11. They feel blessed beyond words.
“It’s great having grand young’uns,” Butch said. “You can just spend money on them all you want, you can get M&Ms and tell them they can have all the M&Ms they want, whether their mom and dad like it or not, and then send them home.”
The Betts will celebrate their 52nd wedding anniversary in June. In a day and age when divorce has become more the norm than the exception, their enduring relationship stands as a testament to the power of love, faith and compromise—three pillars of any successful marriage.
“I believe that it really takes a person being in Christ and Christ being in them to succeed,” Linda said. “I can’t get away from that. That’s who I am. It’s not me going to a church on Sunday; it’s part of me. This all-about-me business, it’s such error. Once you have decided that you are going to marry … Butch and I, let me tell you, I learned how to fish and I’m a darn good fisherman, and he has learned how to go antiquing and enjoy it. It’s about give and take.
“I’ve heard so many women say, ‘I don’t know why I married him. We’re so different.’ That’s why,” she added. “You’re supposed to really balance each other out. That’s what it’s all about. I don’t even want to be all like him and he certainly doesn’t want to be all like me, but those things that are needful and best in us are for that balance.”
Through it all—military service that took them far away from home, the devastating loss of a child and various other unforeseen circumstances life threw at them—Butch and Linda Betts have remained true to each other; and tucked away in his jewelry box is the slip of paper on which Linda Jackson’s name and phone number were written all those many years ago.
“We were even robbed one time, and I found it laying down the street,” Butch said. “I guess the Lord wanted me to have it.”