The following remembrance appeared in the Statesville (NC) Record & Landmark on Monday, May 7. Enjoy!

By Suzy Barile
As a community college English instructor, one of my fervent hopes is to interest students in reading more, for – I assure them – reading will make them become better writers. Often I steer them towards my favorite North Carolina authors: Reynolds Price, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Alex Hailey, Joseph Mitchell, Suzanne Newton, Anne Tyler, Charles Frazier, O. Henry, Ellyn Bache, Gail Godwin, and Statesville’s own Doris Betts, who died this past weekend.

Though I planned to be a journalist when I entered UNC-Chapel Hill in 1973 at the start of my junior year, no one told me that outstanding and well-known writers frequently taught at universities, and that I should check out who was on the faculty before I signed up for any English classes. Without this valuable advice, I missed taking a class with Betts, who – like me – was a newspaper reporter before she became a teacher.

Instead, I was introduced to her work at a reading she gave of her award-winning The River to Pickle Beach. One insightful reviewer described it as “a probing look at life in a small North Carolina town [which] richly evokes the summer of 1968. A moving, sometimes startling portrait of people grappling with change and their need for love … [that] pulses with the reality of the contemporary South.” A wonderful review, but The River to Pickle Beach was so much more than that for me.

As I followed Betts’ main characters Jack and Bebe Sellars through a summer of managing several beach cottages and all that came with it – visits from long-lost Army buddies, the careful handling of a mentally-retarded woman placed in their care, racial inequality, even murders – I was awakened to a life I’d never experienced. Oh sure, I knew about the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, and the national turmoil that followed during the summer of 1968. And I had a mentally-handicapped aunt, although I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the challenges she presented to my grandparents, nor the care she required, until years later when it was too late to matter. Yet in all truthfulness, I was na├»ve.

The summer I met Betts, I was a budding journalist with a desire to remain in the South, but with much to learn. Within the pages of The River to Pickle Beach, she eloquently portrayed feelings of enduring love and compassion, and brought to life a place and time that I needed to know about – and begin to understand. For that insight, for what I took with me as I began my own journey, I will be forever indebted.

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