I’ll always remember the first day we didn’t meet. Symbolic, somehow, and setting the stage for our eventual friendship. Typical in Betty’s world, but novel in mine.
In the spring of 1967 Betty Lambert was teaching English at Simon Fraser University. I was entering my third year there, though really my first year of English, having already tasted and spit out the other faculties.
Twenty Linguistics 111 students sat in the room awaiting our first class. Betty was late. After a specified number of minutes – ten, perhaps – I left.
I don’t know what possessed me. Sure, I knew the rule, that after ten minutes if the teacher was absent you could leave with impunity. I also knew that most first classes were little more than an assignment of texts to buy.
But I was still a model student at that point, not to mention meek, naïve, and helpful. I would be the last to leave a teacherless class.
But no. I was the first. And the only, as it turned out.
Next class, Betty asked me why I had missed the first class. I told her I had waited the regulatory minutes.
She pushed. Betty always knew instinctively when to push.
Couldn’t I have waited? All the others waited. Didn’t it make sense to wait a little longer, under the circumstances?
Somehow I stood my ground, and somehow we established an immediate mutual respect.
I was quitting academia, the only life I had ever known, though I didn’t know it until a few months later when Betty translated it for me. “Really, Mrs. Lambert, I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’ve tried everything from Math to Philosophy to Education, and now English. I’m supposed to be a top student, but I dropped a course because I refused to criticize a poem. My grades are falling….”
“So why don’t you quit?”
Just like that. I was stunned. She was right. Betty always knew the path to the truth.
I wrote a ridiculous final exam. Betty tried to fail me, but the board overruled her and passed me. What did they know? Not as much as she did, not about what was really going on.
I dropped out and became a hippie. Betty was a writer/mother/teacher/home-owner. We became friends, and she my mentor. We talked the good talk for years to come.
Betty told me her title Sqrieux-de-Dieu was a playful twist of Margaret Laurence’s title A Jest of God. Life for Betty was so often cosmic, dramatic, alive, mythical. Never black and white, yet coloured with intense blacks and whites. A real sqrieux de Dieu. Betty wrote a hippie character into the play and so jested me, the jester. And lest there be any doubt, she named him Nelson.
Betty introduced me to her sister Dorothy, whom I eventually married. At the ceremony, just after dawn, by the misty ruins of an ancient mill, Betty, maid-of-honour, signed as witness to the covenant. Signed on the line pointed to by the elderly absent-minded minister, who kept addressing me as Dorothy’s ex. Signed, we soon discovered, as the bride.
So I married her, if briefly. Did that mean anything, Betty, or was it just a slip of the pen? You were the master of meaning. You would know. You were brilliant, wise, larger than life. I miss you.