Rex and Beth, a love story

My uncle Rex Wride was every teenage boy’s idol. He owned a Harley Hog when far fewer Americans rode motorcycles. He was a pilot, and an officer in the Civil Air Patrol. (He tried to join the Air Force, but failed the physical.) He was movie star handsome; a dashing babe magnet who always had a new beauty on his arm. He traveled to Europe and various spots in America.

Sometimes he took my brother or my mother and me along. My first view of southern California is burned indelibly in my heart, mind, and imagination. We crested the San Bernardino Pass, left behind us the snow flecked cold deserts and cruised down to the palm trees and then the white surf and deep blue endless depths of the Pacific Ocean. Relaxing in a roadside stand crunching deep fried giant prawns courtesy of Uncle Rex and sipping freshly squeezed orange juice (not the strange pasteurized concoction they gave us back home in grade school,) changed this country boy’s world view forever. The southern California I saw then will always be the Land of Oz to me because of Uncle Rex.

He owned what we then called a portable radio. Today we might call it a portable hernia maker. Full of electricity sucking vacuum tubes and powered by a battery about the weight of six bricks, the whole unit was more like a mountain climber’s backpack than the microscopic slivers we wear today. But it had no power cord attached and was therefore magic. I admired it. Uncle Rex gave it to me on the spot. My mother protested but Uncle Rex insisted.

Who wouldn’t love an uncle like this? Apparently few, especially of the fair gender.

Why then hadn’t one of these ravishing beauties captured him long ago? I couldn’t figure it out.

Then one day I saw him pushing a hypodermic needle into the skin of his thigh. It made me shudder. But I still couldn’t put the puzzle together.

Pause here while those of you who are old enough can remember, and those who are not can imagine the innocent naïve world of a few decades ago.

Today everybody could instantly see the problem. Drugs. And everybody would be wrong. The shot was not cocaine or heroin. It was insulin, my mother explained to me later. Since he was a boy Rex had endured the kind of diabetes that never lets go of you. It drains your strength, weakens your resistance, and shortens your life.

Rex was determined to not burden a woman with a husband whose years would be few, and problems many. So he never got serious with his beautiful friends.

Enter Beth, lovely, educated, and talented flight hostess for TWA airlines.

Beth’s mother was wrestling with a flat tire by the side of the highway near American Fork Utah when Rex drove by headed the other direction. Being Rex he spun his car around and took over the project. As he pulled off the offending flat and bolted on the spare, their conversation turned to family small talk. The woman mentioned her daughter stationed in Kansas. Rex mentioned his brother,  a soldier in Kansas. They traded addresses and telephone numbers. Rex later met Beth. He pursued her until she caught him I guess, as the old saying goes. He explained to her that he loved her, but refused to be a burden. She refused his refusal. They were married and lived happily ever after.

For six years, and three children.

Then the spoiler clamped down. Diabetes ravaged his body. He died.

It is hard enough to endure the loss of a beloved companion under any circumstances, but to know in advance that your time together will be short raises the commitment to a new level I think.

Beth shouldered the burden of loneliness and of providing for their two boys age four and two and their new born baby girl. She bought a restaurant named Holiday Inn. Work, work, nurture children, sleep a little labor a lot. When the national corporation threatened to sue her if she didn’t change the name. She stared them down with documentation that her restaurant was “Holiday Inn” before their company existed. Knowing her, I wouldn’t be surprised if she also asked if they wanted the publicity of running a widow supporting three children out of business. The big boys backed down. As far as we know Salt Lake City boasts the only Holiday Inn not part of the worldwide chain.

Long hours, little sleep, chutzpah, and faith brought out a previously hidden talent in Beth, a gift for business. The restaurant provided their needs, and enough to spare that she got into home real estate. She also bought land in the mountains and with family help built a retreat for the family and friends. Children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren carry forever the golden memories of stays in the cabin. Generations rise up calling her blessed.

The closing chapters of this part of the love story are mercifully brief. Instead of the Christmas festivities she and her family had planned, she entered the hospital for a few days.

She gathered her growing tribe of loved ones about her and told them as she had over the years, “I love you all. I love to be with you, and I am grateful to know that we will be a family forever.

“But I have spent 57 years living on the memories of six years. I long to be again with my husband, and very soon I will be.”

And thus it is. Last Thursday was a beautiful funeral, an appropriate tribute to a love that will never end.