Welcome to State Of The Union, appearing each month in bluegrass now magazine! This column provides the spouses of professional bluegrass musicians with a forum in which they can share their insights, observations, and experience with fans and other bluegrass spouses.
December 2003: Bette Berline on COMPATIBILITY
After 35 years as the wife of internationally renowned fiddler Byron Berline, Bette Berline is familiar with the highs and lows of marriage to a bluegrass musician.
Familiarity, in this case, has bred respect and admiration. “Anyone could have lived with Byron,” she says. “He is so easy to get along with; he's not demanding, and he lets me do whatever I want. Which probably is why it works!” she adds, laughing.
The couple met at the University of Oklahoma. Bette was a music major, and Byron, an all-state football player in his Kansas hometown, was studying science on a scholarship. “My two interests were music and sports,” Bette says. “I had seen his picture in an article in the school newspaper, holding a violin and a football. I thought, 'Ooh, he'd be interesting to know!'” Three years later, she met the handsome young athlete face-to-face. “We've been together every day since,” she says proudly.
The Berlines were married in 1968 and moved to California a year later. “Right away, we started going to church. The choir director was music director of The Dean Martin Show, and a contractor for recording sessions in L.A. I'm a keyboardist, but I can read and sing anything. He found that valuable, so he started using me.” Bette helped with background singing on numerous recording sessions and TV shows, directed a women's community chorus, and when her daughter Becca started school, got involved in classroom activities. “If you're not employed, and you have free time, you volunteer. You find outlets for your abilities, and you have a sense of self.”
Though Bette obtained her master's degree, she never pursued a career. “Byron doesn't read a note of music!” she chuckles. “And he's the one making a living with it-a very good living. I do a lot for him in his business, but I've never had to have a 9 to 5 job.” Also, the traditional marriage of Bette's parents was a model for her own. “My mother was a homemaker. I raised vegetables and canned them. I made clothes. I didn't just sit around and watch TV; I was actively involved in the maintenance of our family.”
Interestingly, the Berlines were both raised by older parents in traditional households. “Our parents never had a credit card, or bought anything they couldn't pay for, and they didn't smoke or drink. Byron and I are so alike in our values and upbringing. He lets me do what I want to do, but he knows I won't jeopardize our relationship in any way-financially, socially or emotionally.”
Life with a husband who travels so much hasn't always been easy. “After all, I married Byron to be with him. It was hard at first, especially when we didn't settle on a time length for communication right off the bat. Sometimes it would be five days before he'd call! This was 35 years ago. People didn't pick up the phone or e-mail.” After a year and a half, Bette told Byron that the sporadic communication was driving her crazy. He agreed to call every three days, an arrangement that worked beautifully and exists to this day.
“I think when he met me, Byron saw a strength he thought he would need in a mate, if he was gone a lot,” Bette comments. “When musicians are on the road, the person left at home has to run things. The hardest thing for me has been to back off when he returns. But it's never seemed to bother him if I'm bossy!” she adds with a chuckle.
The Berlines' daughter Becca went on to win a softball scholarship to college, with support and involvement from Byron. “Becca started pitching softball when she was nine, and I could catch her for about a year and a half,” Bette explains. “Then Byron had to work out with her. He never minded even though it played havoc with his hands. If he wasn't home, she'd have to throw into the fence, because I could no longer catch her. He was totally involved. Some wives leave their husbands out and don't want to bother them, but to me, that was as much his job as pickin'.”
Eight years ago, the Berlines returned to Oklahoma and opened the Double Stop Fiddle Shop in Guthrie. Bette says she does everything but order the inventory and play the fiddle! “I was really involved in this business at first, but after eight years it's an easy job for me, and it doesn't take a lot of time or effort. It's all turned out better than either of us ever expected. Every idea Byron has turns out beautifully. Everything he does turns to gold.”
Visit the Berlines at www.doublestop.com.
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