Betty Efird, a retired schoolteacher and longtime resident of the Brainerd Community, was born with deformed legs, yet she has lived her life with adventure and purpose, with a positive attitude, and a smile on her face – determined not to let her handicap be a handicap to her.
Those who have known Betty for many years always remember her with a cheery attitude and warm smile. At a large New Year’s Party one year, we played one of those “Introduction” type games where you went around the room introducing yourself with your first name and an adjective describing yourself with the same first letter as your name. When it was Betty’s turn she proclaimed “Bouncing Betty!” For a woman with artificial legs and crutches or even motoring around on her handicap scooter to fit the description as bouncy, it gives you a small glimpse of the personality of this woman.
Betty was born in North Carolina but moved to Florida at a young age with her family, and then attended Columbia Bible College receiving a degree in Bible. In fact, she moved to Chattanooga at age 22 when her college roommate told her of a job opening here. Betty taught Bible in Chattanooga City and Hamilton County Schools for 17 years. She returned to college, attending UTC and received a BS Degree. From there, she began subbing and eventually landed a full-time teaching job at Ringgold Junior High (now Ringgold Middle School) and retired after those 18 years.
Betty recalls that growing up she remembers very little ridicule about her handicap from her young classmates. At age 10, after several attempts by the doctors to correct or straighten her deformed legs, one of her legs was amputated above the knee to see how she could handle an artificial bendable leg. The remaining leg was fitted in a stiff and straight artificial leg and even then, nothing seemed to stop Betty and her ambitions. It was in a swimming class where she was ferociously kicking and splashing that Betty broke her existing leg which led doctors to amputate the second leg. Betty refers to this as a blessing because her real legs had become useless and were “dead weight” and now she was freed to be more agile and mobile.
She developed a strong upper body which allowed her to move around at home without using her artificial legs. She laughs as she recalls one time when she was relatively young and sitting “leg-less” on her front porch swing. A salesman came up to the porch and looked down at her obvious handicap and inquired, “Are you crippled?” She said she felt more humor toward such situations than discomfort. Another funny story she was eager to tell was when she decided to get a new pair of shoes for her artificial legs. She, of course, would want to see what they looked like “on” so she went to the shoe store and sat down. The salesman (and apparently this was his first day on the job) bent down and grabbed her leg (her artificial leg) as he slipped it into the shoe. He obviously noticed the leg was hard and whispered to her, “What kind of disease do you have?” Betty was kind to the man but thought later it would have been funny to have told him some tale of it being a disease called “Petrified-something other” and that if he washed his hands real well that he would be okay. She is amused over the funny stories that have happened to her but welcomes the opportunity to set people’s minds at ease over her handicap. So when kids come up to her and ask “What is wrong with you?” and their parents want to embarassingly whisk them away, Betty is quick to urge them to let them stay and ask their questions.
She says today, kids are much more open about such things than they use to be. They have seen many more handicapped children and such topics have been discussed in classrooms. Nowadays when kids see Betty driving along in the hallway in her handicap scooter, they have little questions about her but are more interested in her scooter and all the knobs and horns that they see.
When Betty was teaching, she was always upfront and open about her handicap. “It was obvious that I had a handicap, so I wanted them to ask questions. I not only wanted them to become comfortable with me but also comfortable with other handicapped people that they would meet.”
When asked if the kids treated her any different because she was handicapped, Betty told another story. In the days when persistent discipline problems could be dealt with by paddling, Betty remembers when two big Junior High boys were constantly giving her trouble and causing multiple disruptions. Betty had never given a paddling to any student and apparently such a reputation was known by the school kids. The boys were warned but did not heed the warning. Betty took the boys to the hallway, along with a witness, and proceeded to dish out three spankings with the paddle. Little did the boys know till it was too late that Betty had developed strong upper body strength due to her handicap. Needless to say, the boys behaved for the remainder of the school year. In fact, years later, it was that “first” boy that she ran into. He gave Betty a big hug as they chuckled over the paddling story and he told her what a good teacher she was.
Teaching middle school kids is like planting seeds for the future. You don’t know then how the kids will turn out and what impact you had on them. But, what a blessing, Betty recalls, when she runs into her classmates now and they remember specific things about the class and how they enjoyed it. That is, to Betty, the best part of being a teacher.
Betty Efird’s Christian faith is interwoven into all aspects of her life. She sees God’s Hands even in how He created her. Psalms 119:71 is her life verse: It is good that I have been afflicted that I might learn thy statues. Betty confesses, “My wings were clipped for a reason. I am very adventuresome and actually impulsive. I think that not being able to do, kept me dependent on Him (God) and then seeing how He can supply everything that I need. The Lord has given me the energy to do what I needed to do.”
There doesn’t seem to be much that Betty won’t do or can’t do because of her handicap. She had always wanted to ride a horse and, with the help of a few friends and a sweet tempered horse, Betty pulled up onto the saddle and took a ride. When she was visiting an old friend in Acapulco, they went to the beach and saw people para-sailing. Betty thought what fun that would be. Before she had time to contemplate it, she had handed over the money and was being strapped into a harness. Two strong Mexican men grabbed Betty under her arms and ran her towards the water as the para-sail took off and up. She did have second thoughts as she was flying through the air and looking down into the ocean water – wondering all those “what-ifs” but the landing was perfect and it was an exciting memory. Hanggliding is next on her list.
Betty likes to travel and has gone on an Alaskan cruise and even to Russia on a mission trip. She is very involved at her church, East Ridge Presbyterian, volunteers at Memorial Hospital’s Patient Entrance Desk, is on Memorial’s Auxiliary Board, goes to a weekly prayer meeting, and visits many shut-ins. Her life of “retirement” is full and busy. She acknowledges that she probably won’t be able to do things “just like everybody else,” but it doesn’t deter her from doing them or at least trying them.