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Geiger’s Counter: She will probably haunt me

By Walter Geiger

She will probably haunt me for this but I am going to write it anyway so here goes.

I had sung in my church choir for many years when, at a point some time back, I wound up being the tenor soloist. I did not earn that distinction through any sort of talent on my part but because all the other tenors had died.

I don’t read music and memorize songs through repetition and hearing others around me sing my part. At that point, there were no others and I struggled.

After some time, the choir director reported that a new tenor would be joining me. When I arrived at the next practice, she was sitting in the tenor section. A white haired, older woman whom I recognized from the congregation: Betty Strickler.

It turns out she had sung in choirs for many, many years but could no longer sing soprano or alto and, therefore, was becoming a tenor.

She was good at it, too! Betty didn’t sing very loudly but she was right on the notes, rests and key changes and not shy about correcting me when I missed one. And I missed a lot.

Betty was an avid reader of our newspaper and soon her passion for correcting me spread to my writing. She had done editing and proofreading in the past and was damn good at it.

I would get e-mails noting a headline or sentence with the simple question, “What?” Sometimes I would get clippings in the mail with errors underlined in red.

Betty reminded me a lot of Otha Woodcock my sixth grade teacher at Heard Elementary School in Savannah. You had to get through Miss Woodcock’s class to get to the promised land which, for us, was junior high.

Miss Woodcock despised comma faults. If she found a comma fault in your work, she would circle it in red, stop reading and put a scarlet F at the top of the page. I still use very few commas because of her.
One hour perusing what passes for grammar today on Facebook, would, without doubt, kill Miss Woodcock dead. Looking back, she was the best teacher I ever had. Fifty years later, Betty filled her role.

When Buddy the rescue dog came out of the ditch to join us at the office last year, I wrote about him. Betty dropped by the office once or twice a week thereafter with gifts for Buddy: leashes, water bowls and package after package of dog treats.

Betty died April 9 just days after her 90th birthday of cancer that came on quickly. Just a few weeks prior, she called me and asked, “How am I to understand which sport you are talking about in this front page story?” There was a long pause then this, “I guess I could have taken a hint from the picture of the girl playing basketball. My best to Buddy.” Then click, she was gone.

That was the last time I spoke to her.

Last week, it came time for the family to write her obituary. A year prior, Betty had sent me a very precise, concise obituary for herself. With it were these instructions, “Now that I am 89 years old, the end approaches. Can you keep my obit somewhere so nobody can ‘fancy it up’ with a bunch of lovely lies?”

Daughter Jeanie added some details to her writing but we held largely to Betty’s wish.

A memorial service for Betty will be held May 6 at First United Methodist Church. I have been asked to sing a beautiful piece in her memory.

Once again the lone tenor, I will do my best.

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