A moment of silence at the Duck InnSilence. It’s something you don’t hear much at the Duck Inn in Venturia except after closing time, but Thursday night there was a moment of silence for our friend, Becky, with about 50 of us gathered there.
By: Tony Bender, The Dickinson Press
Silence. It’s something you don’t hear much at the Duck Inn in Venturia except after closing time, but Thursday night there was a moment of silence for our friend, Becky, with about 50 of us gathered there. Then came the eulogies and the inevitable toasts that lasted past midnight.
The pool table was covered with photos of better days — ribbons, medals and awards from a 25-year Air Force career. Pictures of the planes she proudly maintained, from the famous Blackbird to the largest plane in the U.S. fleet, the C-5, still hang behind the bar among the potato chips, beef jerky and Duck Inn caps that bear the motto: “Duck Inn, Waddle Out.” A few people wore Duck Inn T-shirts to the hastily arranged memorial.
It was her mother’s idea that the memorial be held at the Duck Inn. She and The Redhead talked, hugged, chuckled and marveled at the F-5 tornado we knew as Becky.
I wondered, as I looked around, if Becky Wolfe could have imagined so many people cared about her. But just as quickly I realized she was there — she had to be there — leaning against a wall with arms crossed smugly, a cigarette in one hand.
She used that cigarette behind the bar the way a conductor uses a baton, waving it dramatically in our faces to make a point, whirling it dismissively, sometimes almost disdainfully, when she disagreed or had just plain had enough of the conversation.
She was tough with a lifetime’s calluses accumulated in 49 short years. She and Donny ran the Duck Inn together, and The Redhead and I often saw them at shift change when Becky was getting off and Donny was taking over. Sometimes she was riding him about something that needed to be fixed while he mumbled under his breath, occasionally staring at her defiantly. “I’ve got the best carpenter in McIntosh County right here, and I can’t get anything fixed around here,” she would complain to us as if we were crazy enough to take sides.
They were married for 15 years, divorced for five and still together. Go figure. Sometimes they would talk about the good times they’d shared, and then it became clear why they were both still there. When Donny and a bunch of volunteers replaced the old sidewalk outside, they scratched, “Don and Becky Kaseman, 2009,” into the wet cement.
But that’s as close as this gets to a fairy tale. Becky was more spice than sugar, and she sure didn’t wear glass slippers.
“She threw a combat boot at my door to get me up for school once,” her stepdaughter, Kari, told us in halting sentences. Becky’s love was the toughest kind of tough love, maybe because she didn’t want Kari or stepson, Chad, making the mistakes she had — the mistakes that get you stuck in a military-style school for incorrigibles. Today, after a dozen years in the Air Force, Chad is a master sergeant, just like Becky was, and Kari says, because of the grit Becky instilled in her, “There’s nothing I’m afraid to try.”
Becky could be as rough as sandpaper and yet she and Donny turned the Duck Inn into a sanctuary, a place as comfortable as your own den. Sometimes there was a crockpot filled with a tasty hot dish she would share. Once in a while one of her dogs would join you on a stool for a beer. We were one big, happy and mildly dysfunctional family.
Becky’s calluses were never so thick we couldn’t see past them to her heart. She worried about folks in the community who needed worrying about; she helped those who needed help with a crusty tenderness that she tried to keep under wraps. But she appreciated beauty just like everyone else. She set up bird feeders outside the front window and attracted yellow, red and blue finches. She loved the pure, clear tones of wind chimes.
Grief is a complicated thing. There’s a certain amount of personal selfishness involved. In Becky’s case, the grief is etched deeper because she died too young fighting to shake an addiction that may well be the only thing that ever got the best of her.
She went down fighting, but that was no surprise. Becky was born with clenched fists. “She was such a mean kid,” her mom said, the way only a mom can say it, half in exasperation and half in awe, and if you’ll excuse the math, half in admiration.
Mean? Yeah. Maybe. But then why do we feel so bad that she’s gone?