Wednesday, March 13, 2013

In Conversation With...Bun Betts

First published in The Oxford Journal on February 27, 2013 by Sara Mattinson.

Bun Betts opens the door of his home in Wentworth and the first thing I see, and admire, is the grandfather clock filling up one corner with golden oak and chimes and shiny pendulums. 
“I made that,” he tells me and this is the first of several surprises I’m in for. 
Like the fact Bun is not short for anything. 
His real name is Charles Wyman Betts and his mother called him Wyman. When he was two years old, he almost died from pneumonia and the nurse at the hospital who revived him called him her little bunny, her bun...and it stuck. 
“Not many people know my right name, not even the people at the mill.”
Bun’s grandfather, Baynard, came to Canada by stowing away on a boat when he was nine years old (you read that right) and eventually settled in the Wentworth Valley with a general store, a wife and six children, one of whom was Bun’s father, Arthur, who later founded the A.T. Betts and Sons Lumber mill . 
The store was gone by the time Bun was born in 1919 but grew up in the house that had been the store with his parents and two brothers. 
“When I got big enough to work, I worked in the mill. So did my older brother – he died quite a while ago. When Dad passed away, I kept on.” 
Bun figures he was around 70 when he sold the mill. 
“I sold it one morning before breakfast,” he smiles. “I wanted to sell it because lumber was going down and the Wood boys from Oxford came out one morning. They said, ‘Do you want to sell your mill?’ and I said, ‘Yep.’ They came back the next day and I worked for them for three years.”
The grandfather clock marks the top of the hour with the Westminster chime. I ask him about his woodworking. 
“I always did it when I had a bit of time. When I stopped milling, I worked at it when I wanted to,” says Bun who has created everything from salt & pepper shakers to wall clocks to cedar chests. “Until it got out of hand, people wanting too much. They wanted china cabinets, big ones, small ones, and buffets.” 
He says he crafted 13 grandfather clocks (they can be found in Ontario, the Valley, Moncton, Shinimicas and on the Island). The one in his living room is beautiful but Bun says, “They got a little better after that. I used a lot of cherrywood, bird’s eye maple, walnut, a lot of fancy woods.”
Let’s be honest: This man has more than skill, he has talent. At 93, Bun hasn’t been doing any wood turning lately; then again, he had to stop skiing when he was ninety.  
After a lifetime of hitting the slopes.
“I suppose I was 12 or 14 when I started skiing,” Bun says. “I had two cousins in Wentworth Station then there were all the kids in the valley that were my age. We’d go up there and ski down one side of the mountain, the side the station was on, and we’d ski on what’s the Beaver today. We had to walk up it, of course.”
It wasn’t a ski hill back then, in the thirties. 
“Oh, no. There were trees here and there and we just skied around them,” Bun says. “People started to come out from Truro and Halifax so they built a little tow and of course I was up there. It was rough going up the hill on the rope tow so I started shovelling snow and filling the holes in.”
And he just kept working. Since the mill was closed during the winter, Bun worked at the ski hill, eventually becoming the master ski sharpener. He also skied as often as he could up until three years ago when he was knocked down in a  parking lot and hurt his knee. He had only one more run in him after that. 
“I got down the hill but when I got to the bottom, I figured I’d better stay there.”
Even though he no longer skiis, he remains a fixture at the lodge which is less than a mile down the road from his home. He continues to work one day a week, fixing and sharpening skiis and snowboards. 
But didn’t I promise more surprises? He’s always had a hankering for the wind in his hair. Bun drives a Honda 1800 Goldwing motorcycle in the summer time. He goes for short trips in good weather. He gestures outside. 
“It’s just sitting in the garage, too cold, too snowy. First of May, I’ll probably get it out.”
But before he discovered motorcycles, he had a Cessna 172 (which he sold when he was eighty). 
“I always wanted to fly and one time I was up to Moncton and went in to see the guys at the flying club,” Bun says. This was in the early 1970’s. “It was easy then because gas was cheap and flying was cheap. Then I had a chance to buy this plane.”
He flew in the evenings because he worked during the day and says, “Sometimes we’d get a weekend that was decent and we’d go over to the Island.”
What he like best about flying was the chance to look around. 
“We’d just fly around here. You see all the lakes and rivers and where they go. Surprise you, the amount of little ponds and things there are around the country when you can see a dozen at a time.”
When I ask him where he found the time to do all of this, he replies, “Well, I don’t know.” 
According to Jean Wood, his companion of nearly a quarter of a century, Bun has made it to the age of 93 without ever being in the hospital.  
“He never drank, he never smoked and he doesn’t worry,” she says. “And you never hear any gossip come out of Bun Bett’s mouth. If he can’t say something good about somebody, he says nothing. His disposition is wonderful,” she adds. 
There is a pause, a silence as we absorb Jean’s words, then Bun says, “You’d think I was somebody, wouldn’t you?”

1 comment:

  1. I always wondered about Bun Betts-- saw his name in the OJ from time to time. Thanks for this profile! Just catching up on old journals I've missed over the last few days. I've got a stack :)