Betty Bliven – still in love after over 80 years

Betty Bliven - still in love after over 80 years

by Leta Currie Marshall

Betty Bliven – still in love after over 80 years

Nestled on the sofa in her living room overlooking San Juan Channel, Betty Bliven is surrounded by paintings and photographs of boats and interesting memorabilia from foreign lands. She wears a pendant given her by her daughter Sandra on the occasion of her 88th birthday this year. In the Maine accent that has never left her speech, Betty says she loves the tiny brass sailboat with its green patina because it looks just like the sailboat she and husband Curt lived aboard for ten years when they first retired. Even the rigging is correct. To a sailor, that’s essential.

Elizabeth Dillingham was born April 18, 1920 in Portland, Maine. Upon graduating from high school she moved to New York City and attended Columbia Presbetyrian School of Nursing. After three years of study, Betty earned her starched white cap and stayed on to teach at the School.

During this time, an old friend of her parents occasionally came into the city and would take Betty out to lunch. One day, the gentleman told her that his son, with whom Betty had played as a toddler and who was now in the Navy, would be coming into town to see her and to expect his call. She didn’t really think she’d hear from him, but Curt Bliven was on liberty and did indeed call, and the two began to see a lot of each other. His ship was moored at the far end of Staten Island, and he had to take the ferry, subway, and other means of transportation both ways every time they got together.

From New York Curt’s ship went to Norfolk, Virginia. One day he called to tell Betty she needed to get down there. Because America was now at war, he wasn’t allowed to give her a reason why, but she knew it meant he was about to be shipped out. She took time off work and headed to Norfolk, where Curt told her he was being deployed to the Pacific. That was on a Sunday. The following Wednesday, March 29, 1944, Curt and Betty were married in a whirlwind wedding at Trinity Episcopal Church in Cranford, New Jersey. Somehow most of their immediate family and friends made it to the wedding, including Betty’s best friend, who served as matron of honor. Betty had managed to buy a wedding dress but didn’t have time to shop for shoes, so she was married in white slippers, “and it was fine,” she says.

Curt had visited a travel agent and booked a small cabin up river from New York City, where the newlyweds spent three days getting to know each other better. “We were nervous,” Betty laughs. “I’d never seen him in pajamas.”

After the honeymoon, Curt left for the Pacific, and Betty went back to work. They would not see each other again for over a year.

When Curt’s ship came back to the States and moored in Los Angeles, Betty crossed the country to meet him. She moved in with a friend in Los Angeles, right behind a famous grand hotel, and walked through the hotel lobby every day to work at a nearby hospital. When her friend moved out, she kept the apartment.

Throughout Curt’s 20-year career in the Navy, his family relocated when necessary to be near him. Karen and Peter were born at the Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island, while Curt was stationed there; middle child Sandra was born in Maine while Betty was there taking care of her ailing mother. All three babies were born by Caesarian, then the doctors said, “That’s enough,” but Betty says she would have been happy with even more children.

The Blivens were stationed in Japan for two years, and Curt was gone for 17 out of the 24 months they were there. Their huge family station wagon was shipped out to them, and because Curt was away, Betty had to go retrieve the car at the dock and drive it home on the narrow Japanese streets and roads. It was terrifying, she says, “but I made it!”

Curt’s last assignment with the Navy was at Sand Point in Seattle. Betty worked at Children’s Hospital as head nurse on the teenagers’ ward.

“I spent more time working on that pool table,” she says. “They kept tearing it up.” She retired the day before the hospital moved into its new facility, content not to have to make the move.

Upon his own retirement, Curt had saved up four months’ leave, so he and Betty took the opportunity to travel all over the country to visit family and friends. He went back to school, earning his teaching certificate at the University of Washington, then taught middle school for over ten years before retiring again. Meanwhile he built a boat hull in their garage; after its turning-over party he sold it, and he and Betty bought a 42-foot gaff-rigged schooner, the Windolee. The Blivens lived aboard Windolee in Shilshole Bay for the next ten years. They spent one summer making a shakedown cruise around Vancouver Island, then took their time cruising down the west coast, through the Panama Canal, and up through the Intercoastal Waterway and the east coast, stopping to visit friends along the way. They sold the boat out east, but it has ended up back in this area and last year they attended a reunion for all its past and present owners.

On selling the Windolee, the Blivens came to Lopez Island, staying with their daughter Karen Anderson and her husband Dave until they could find a place of their own. They bought the first house the realtor showed them – it was exactly what they wanted, and they’ve been happy there ever since. Their children are not far away – Sandra lives in Seattle, Peter lives in Sequim, and Karen still lives on Lopez, so Betty is able to spend time with her three children, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She is happy with her house, happy with the husband she has known all her life and been married to for 64 years, and happy with their life together.

“I can’t see anything that could have been better,” she says.

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