At 88, Betty Stuart is kind and gentle and somehow lighthearted, despite the grief for a son buried so many years ago; grief that sneaks up on her with every breaking news story about the war in Iraq.
She sits easily in a worn arm chair, her feet up on a footstool, at the Harbor home where she's lived since 1971.
A large picture window frames her from behind and looks out on her well-tended garden.
The paint on her walls is faded and peeling. The oval rugs that cover wood floors have seen better days.
A tall shelf filled with plants – geraniums to bromeliads – stands in her living room corner, next to another window.
A tubular grow light hangs above the plants. As she does every year, Stuart will give them to the Brookings-Harbor Garden Club to sell at the annual Christmas bazaar.
The easy stillness of the house – barely broken when a grandfather clock dongs deeply – matches Stuart's own calm.
Once in a while, an almost imperceptible drawl surfaces in Stuart's lilting voice: a remnant of her childhood in a tiny Texas town near Beaumont.
When Stuart's tears come, they come without pretense or announcement.
They come when she talks about Edward Stuart, her son, who died at 22 during his very first battle in the Vietnam War.
It was 1968. Edward had been in Vietnam 26 days.
"He would be nearly 60," Stuart begins as tears wet her eyes behind round, rose-colored glasses.
"Yet I still remember him as being a 20-year-old kid."
Stuart and her husband, Estes Stuart, raised four children on five country acres in Eugene.
Now she has five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
"I've got three wonderful kids," she says. "But you always miss the one that's gone.
"You lose a child and you never get over it."
She didn't like it when Edward enlisted with the Army in 1967. Neither did Estes, who was a mechanic in World War II.
"I thought it was a mistake," Betty says. "But he was a grown man.
"We had no business in Vietnam," she adds. "We have no business in Iraq."
She watches the news, even though she doesn't like it.
"This war mess is ...," she trails off. "I just don't think we should be in it.
"We can't run the world," Betty says. "We're supposed to run our own country. Instead, we've run ourselves into billions of dollars of debt and a generation of dead kids."
For Betty, every one of those dead kids is a link to her own loss.
"Every time I see one of them is killed, that hurts," she says. "Because they're somebody's kid. Every one of them."
Her voice cracks and tears quickly well up again.
"Their parents are hurting. I don't care what they say, they're hurting," she says.
And then the tears are gone, as swiftly as they came, as Betty moves on to other subjects. She talks about her eldest daughter's motorhome adventures across America and her grandson's love affair with Alaska.
Betty likes to garden and fish. She volunteers one day a week at the Chetco Senior Center.
"That keeps you young. "You sit around and count your pulse and you don't do nothing but get sicker," she says with a laugh.
Betty's son was missing in action for several days. His body was found Feb. 16, 1968.
"I was in shock," Betty says. "And my husband completely had to be sedated."
Her world may have shattered, but Betty couldn't afford to let the pieces lie.
After all, she had children to raise.
That may explain how in the wake of her loss, she found strength to continue, if only a moment at a time.
"You just take it day to day."
Copyright © 2004 Western Communications