Sweet Betsy from Pike

Dear Liza,

Grandpa Nelson gave me my guitar for Christmas in 1978. She was a not-very-expensive Franciscan guitar, and I loved her. I named her Sweet Betsy from Pike after the old Pioneering song, and learned five basic chords right away. I was working at a daycare center and knew how much children loved music.

Betsy was a great addition to my time in the daycare business. If clean-up time was going slowly, I would pull Betsy from her case and the toys would be on their shelves in no time.

The thing is, I wasn’t very good. I didn’t have to be. When your audience is three- and four-year-olds, the bar is pretty low. But I was good enough for that place and time.

Me, struggling with Ike the autoharp, 1989

Years later, when I got my teaching credential and my first job, Betsy proved herself valuable once again. Kinderbloom was a major step up from daycare and my teaching partner, Laurel Sherry-Armstrong, knew a lot more about music than I did. She played lots of instruments, but the one she brought to class was an autoharp. We named it Ike, after Sweet Betsy’s lover. I practiced and improved, and together we taught the kids to sing “I Love you Forever” and had parents smiling through tears at the Mother’s Day tea.

Second grade needed better skills, and when I finally landed in my happy place of third grade, I was ready. Regular classes meant regular class programs, and I was accompanying dozens of singers in front of a big roomful of kids and parents. I had moved up to about ten chords and a few strumming patterns.

Me and Betsy, about 1998

When I retired a few years ago, Betsy got put up. My fingertips got soft. This Summer when I tried to play “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”, I couldn’t make it work.

Betsy and Bridgett Bear this summer

And now we are coming up on Christmas, and I am not ready to go through a quarantined holiday without playing and singing Christmas carols. I got Betsy out and dusted her off, found our folder of Christmas songs and went online to transpose them into keys I can play (with my ten chords). I spent half an hour strumming and re-learning, painfully feeling the strings on my fingertips. Later, I spent another half hour playing and singing a little with Auntie Bridgett, with things coming easier and my fingers feeling stronger.

Auntie Katie playing Betsy last Christmas

I can do this! Christmas carols, here we come!


Grandma Judy

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

One thought on “Sweet Betsy from Pike”

  1. Sweet Betsy crossed the wide prairie with her husband Ike. My dad gave me a uke when I was in college. It was stolen from my dorm room. Guess they didn’t like my playing it at all hours. Fun, fun, fun.


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