The family of the young man were Christians, and they struggled to forgive and remain at peace with Charlie and with the institution. But the emotional and political tension in the neighborhood erupted. The Black Panthers, US, and other black power organizations threatened the physical plant. Someone received a message that the campus would be burned down. There was a small fire backstage in the auditorium, and no one knew for sure if it was accidental or had been set by arsonists.
Doors to the major buildings were chained and padlocked. Small groups of students gathered in clumps and moved from place to place, discussing, arguing, planning action. At one point I was in the middle of a small but heated crowd and heard some of the strident voices and the violent emotions being expressed. The black students on the campus were under a lot of pressure to stand with their brothers and sisters in the community, yet some of them with a deep faith were determined to be peacemakers rather than revolutionaries. Cathy Meeks was one leader toward reconciliation. I was blessed to run into her again in Nashville some years later, when she had become a published author on the subject. In 1967, she said something like, “I believe I am called to lay down my rights, not fight for them. If I’m to suffer or die, I want it to be for Jesus, not for retaliation or for my civil rights.”
I hurried from that student gathering over to the Youngs’ house and there in the living room lots of folding chairs had been set up and were full of men in suits. TV news people, newspaper reporters, photographers – who knew who they all were? Dr. Young had me run to the study and type a press release. It felt so good to be useful in this crisis, and it felt really good to be near power at a moment like that. I had felt so powerless and without a voice, standing in that crowd of students, and now I had a function.
I think it was Duane Doidge, a friend of Matt’s from Texas who had taught our Sunday School class, who drove us over to McDonalds. It was so much fun ordering fifty Big Macs and fifty orders of fries to take back to the Youngs’ house to feed the news people. They hung around for a couple of days at least, possibly longer, awaiting news of whether Pepperdine would call in the National Guard. Dr. Young won the respect of the community when he rejected the pressure to let them come, stating that we were a part of our neighborhood and would work out our difficulties on our own. I was proud of him for refusing to use force to protect the campus, since the presence of the National Guard would have inflamed and polarized the atmosphere further.
Poor Charlie. He was asked to resign, for his own safety and to defuse at least some of the volatility. We kept in touch with him for several years, visiting him and his wife Kit from time to time. He was never the same. His dedication and love for the students and the institution had been so deep. He must have felt betrayed, though he struggled to forgive and accept what had happened.
I was a sophomore at Morningside High School when this happened, and of course had already been sensitized to the racial tensions in my schools, my city and the country for several years. I found an angry note from a black student on my desk in Biology class one day. For some reason I wanted to engage in dialogue instead of ignoring it. The writer of the note didn’t answer, but another student also hungry for understanding responded. The note read: “BSU is on its job to help Black students get themselves together against racist pigs.”
I wrote, “Hey you! Could you tell me what you mean by together? As long as you call anybody a racist, or a pig, or a nigger, or a kike, or any other label, it’s easy to hate, to shout and to even kill – and it’s impossible to get anywhere in understanding people (which is the only place you start to get freedom, to get a good life). Sure, hating is a lot more fun than not caring at all. But hating is not the answer to anything. Please don’t call me a racist or a pig – and no matter how much bad happens to you, try not to hate back. That brings NOTHING BUT BAD.
I try to meet every single person (no matter what color) as a single person. A white person (that really is acting like a pig) isn’t the spokesman for every white in the world any more than somebody you’d call an Uncle Tom or a separatist or a black racist (that’s what I mean) would be an average black. Some people react to a bad experience, or even a whole lot of them, by saying, “See, that’s the way they all are!” So we’ve both got to watch it. Write back, okay?”
And someone did. “I’ve read this and understand it. It seems to be true. I am Black and proud. When a Black person says ‘together’ or refers to someone as having a ‘together’ mind, we mean the opposite of what you said up here. (She drew an arrow to my words ‘Uncle Tom.’) My definition of ‘together’ is a Black brother or sister or maybe even a white person that is all for their people and they know how things really are for people that are not the same as them. Someone that can really comprehend and not only eat these things that are going on but also digest them and gain something and not be afraid to talk about them, as I would say, to talk heavy.
“I don’t sit here where this seat is, but friends of mine read this and I was curious too! They wouldn’t have written you back, so I am because I think that you have a pretty together mind. I’m a sister, my name is Toni Davis, and I’m a sophomore. I have this class fifth period. I have tried to get into the BSU (Black Student Union) at our school and they asked me if I have ever been in the organization called ‘US’. This organization is now a group of Black racists (as you say), pigs, Black pigs. I call this group pigs because they steal from the Black man. I know you say, ‘Just how do we steal from you guys?’ Well now let me answer that. The white man has already stolen from my people, they have stolen from them 300 years ago, they have demolished the Black man’s good reputation of contributing to the world as well as the white man. Do you know that I am 15 and can’t really tell you anything that would last for 15 minutes about the Black people. This is why I have tried to join the BSU. But they turned me down because they thought I was in the US organization. I was not. But they turned me down. Just like you said, you can’t judge a person by other people. Understand? I’m trying to say that they judged me by the rest of them. They did ask me if I ever associated with the US organization and I replied, ‘Yes.’ I have, but I have only gone to their dances and have attended a few public meetings. I’m going to try and get in again on the next screening, this time I’m going to get them together! On me! I think that you are the kind of white people that need to join the BSU also. Please write me back, ok? What’s your name, grade, I already know your race (white?) and sex, male or female. You sound and write like a girl. Bye! Toni”
We continued our odd, faceless correspondence through a series of notes. We never met, but I felt I had made a tiny breakthrough, a small movement towards racial understanding. In our high school, there was a walk-out of most of the black students one afternoon. We understood that they were expressing the anger of the times, but some of us felt it was a bit inappropriate for these middle class black kids to act as if they had personally experienced the pain of racial prejudice and poverty as others had. (I hadn’t heard the concept of solidarity at that time.) Usually, my overtures toward starting a conversation with black girls at my high school were met with angry mocking and harsh rejection, including the word “honky”.
Life in the city was intense, even though we tried to maintain the illusion of our little Southern enclave on the Pepperdine campus. But there were many wonderful places of escape, both beach and mountains. Every summer the Churches of Christ would hold a week-long vacation/revival event called the Yosemite Encampment. Families would come to play in the national park, but there would also be sermons and children’s classes and the goal was spiritual edification as well as relaxation. That’s where I learned the children’s hymn:
“When He cometh, when He cometh to make up His jewels
All His jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own,
Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning,
They will shine in their beauty, bright gems for His crown.”
Looking back, this was a rather weird image to teach a little child. Yes, it told us that we were lovely, and precious to Jesus, but in what way would it be a good thing to become a part of someone’s crown? At any rate, I could feel the tenderness that was in the teacher’s voice and heart. She gave me an inkling that Jesus felt that way about kids.
Once at Yosemite, I was with the Youngs, and we were playing in the river. There was a shallow part of the river where it was safe for us little kids, and we were splashing around and having a good time. All of a sudden, I lost my footing and went under the water. It was all green, and the water sounded weird in my ears, and I didn’t know how to swim. Helen Young came crashing into the river in her clothes, and grabbed me. She rescued me from drowning. I felt so bad because she had on a watch that was ruined. Someone explained that there was a drop-off where the river got a lot deeper, and I must have stepped off there.
I went with my parents for a Pepperdine retreat weekend to a place called Camp Tanda at Big Bear Lake. We slept in cabins that had a few wooden steps up, and then a wooden floor and walls about three feet tall. From there, the walls and ceiling were all canvas tent. You could tie the wall flaps up like windows all around the cabin. I think they were left over from World War II. Anyhow, at Camp Tanda there were all these cabins in the woods, and then a big building called the Lodge, and next to it a swimming pool and a canopied eating area with lots of tables and benches.
I was in the swimming pool and a family friend named George Hill tried to teach me to swim, but I didn’t trust anybody not to let me drown. Where did I get my fear of drowning? It wasn’t the episode in the river at Yosemite where I almost did drown. It happened before that. Early on in our time in California, we all went out to the beach at Playa Del Rey, and I was having so much fun jumping in the ocean. I was still short enough that I came up to my dad’s waist, I guess, and he was picking me up by the arms and helping me jump over the waves as they rolled in. I loved to feel the power of the water crashing around me. And I wasn’t scared, because my daddy had me.
But suddenly, a wave knocked us both down. He let go of me, and I could feel myself being sucked away from him. I was under water part of the time, and on the crunchy sand with the water rushing away from me part of the time. I had a hard time getting up and getting back to shore. Somebody explained that sometimes at that beach there was this thing called an “undertow” and it meant that it was hard for even an adult to swim back to shore.
Camp Tanda was the first place my parents ever sent me away to. I was scared to be on my own, and I didn’t want to go. Such a misfit child, I had not yet learned the art of approaching a stranger for conversation, and I stayed lonely the whole week. The last night there, our camp counselor let us go into the dormitory kitchen and make popcorn. Someone put way too much butter in the popcorn. I woke up for the first (and thankfully last) time of my life, throwing up. Since I was in a sleeping bag, this was quite gross. I’ve never wanted butter on my popcorn again.
The second time my folks sent me to Camp Tanda, it went better because I knew some of the kids. Marilyn and Sara were there, and Janice Hahn and her cousin, Jackie Stalcup. This time, some of our counselors were college guys that we actually knew from Pepperdine. I had a classic teenage catastrophe when one day, one of the college guys was sitting with us at our lunch table under the canopy, and he said something so funny that I snorted with laughter. Unfortunately, my mouth had been full of milk at that moment, so it came out my nose. Mortification was fast becoming my middle name.
That week at camp, I had the privilege of seeing into Janice’s heart. She was always funny, always up, always “on”. But something had happened to sober her, and she was sitting alone by the campfire. I walked over and sat next to her on the log, and asked her if she was okay. She was having a most unusual tender moment. She trusted me enough to say, “Do you know what it’s like to always be funny, and everybody expects you to be, but when you want to be serious for a minute, nobody understands?” I really didn’t know what it was like, but I was honored that she would share it with me. I had not yet felt the joy of making people laugh.
One of the Pepperdine staff was a leader at that camp. Toward the end of the week, some of us teenagers felt very touched by all the Bible classes and worship services in the midst of nature, and a couple of kids asked to be baptized. They were, and we stood afterward in a circle in the dark, holding onto each other and singing songs and hymns. One of them was “O Happy Day.” The moment was very holy, and that staff guy, Bob Fraley, crashed into this tender time after the baptism by announcing refreshments and breaking us up. This event marked the beginning of a growing awareness of my sensitivities getting stomped on by insensitive people. That trend continued offending me for many, many years.
Camp Tanda was also the location of choice for Pepperdine’s Freshman Orientation. Each fall, my folks and I would go up to take part in that weekend, and all the freshmen were required to wear a bright green beanie with an orange “P” on it. They were supposed to keep on that beanie for awhile after returning to the Los Angeles campus, too, to mark them as freshmen. I think it was a hideous six weeks, at which point they celebrated the beanie’s retirement at a Freshman “Coming Out Party.” Thankfully, by the time I became a Pepperdine freshman, the beanie tradition had been retired.
Jennings Davis, Pepperdine’s Dean of Students, was a tender-hearted Southerner who had transplanted his family to our block, West 79th Street. Each fall, as a special treat during Freshman Orientation, we would all walk down to the lake near Camp Tanda, and stand around together in the moonlight while he recited, in Southern black dialect, James Weldon Johnson’s poem about Creation. (Decades later, I met another person – my favorite boss, Rabbi Davis at the Temple – who knew that poem and quoted from it. He thought it was pretty cool that I recognized it and could tell him the author’s name. He nicknamed himself “De Lawd” from that poem.)
There was the cutest guy named Gordy Howe, a leader at my own personal Freshman Orientation in 1970, who is the only other person I’ve ever met who could recite parts of Stan Freberg’s The United States of America: The Early Years . . . and did! Camp Tanda is also where I had my first and only snow ice cream one winter weekend. I hated it because whoever made it put in way too much maple flavoring.
Another strange nature experience which occurred at Camp Tanda is still engraved in my mind. There was an enormous tree that had a hollowed out place at the base of the trunk, and someone had put a stone there which had been eroded into a bowl-like shape. That’s where a large bull frog liked to sit, and some older guy wanted us to see him. It so happened that while we were watching, a snake decided the frog would make a nice lunch. He stretched his snake jaws wide enough to take the frog’s head entirely into his mouth, and we watched as the air inside the frog made his hind quarters blow up like a balloon. I guess we weren’t afraid of the snake because he was clearly preoccupied, and that fascination with the horrific kept us glued to the scene.
I’m not sure when we first visited Idyllwild. It was sometime during my grammar school years. It didn’t take us long to find a cabin that my parents decided to buy. We met a real estate man named Joe Merrick who helped us find it. He and his wife Marion were so nice to us, they started inviting us over to their house sometimes for dinner. They lived full time in Idyllwild, in semi-retirement. Marion was a painter, and I still have a tiny oil painting of the high desert that we bought from her. They loved to watch the squirrels, and feed the birds. She introduced me to Indian pudding, which she made for our supper one night.
It took us about two and a half hours to drive from L.A. through Riverside and up into the San Jacinto mountains, near the Mt. San Jacinto State Park. On the other side of our mountain was Palm Springs, where all the movie stars went to vacation. On that side of the mountain it was desert, but on our side of the mountain it looked a little bit like I imagined Ireland to be. Lots of rocks and boulders, with lots of green, especially in the spring. The further we drove into the mountains, the more trees there were, until when we got to Idyllwild we were really in the woods.
The cabin was a small A-frame house built on a steep hillside, so the front side of it was high off the ground while the back side of it had a much shorter foundation. There were stairs as long as a whole staircase up to the front door. You entered the kitchen, then to the left was the living room and a sliding glass door out to a balcony. Up some more stairs was an open upstairs loft-style bedroom. It was really all one big room except for the single downstairs bathroom off the kitchen.
There wasn’t a fireplace in that cabin, but Daddy loved fires so much that he had a modern, free-standing black wood-burning stove installed. Downstairs we had the old brown couch that made a bed, that had traveled with them all the way from their first house. My parents had built a one-room house during the War when they were newlyweds and he was stationed in Tullahoma, Tennessee at Camp Forrest. We heard a lot of stories about the adventures they had building and having company in that $500 house. Here's Daddy on his way to Camp Forrest in the snow. I've actually been to see the tiny house and it's still standing!
That enormously heavy old brown couch, a big table and benches, a bookcase and a couple of chairs filled up the living room. Upstairs there was a double bed for Momma and Daddy, and two twin beds under the eaves for Chip and me. If you weren’t careful when you sat up in those twin beds you would bang your head. I absolutely loved the feeling of security I had when all four of us would lie in bed at night and Daddy would play the ancient brown radio by the bed. He loved to listen to music from the Big Band Era. (I called it Lawrence Welk music because that was all I knew at the time.) We would all be lying there in our beds, cozy and safe, and enjoying the music together, and I would experience the closest thing to peace I ever felt as a child.
For the kitchen in the cabin, we had bamboo-handled silverware, beige pottery coffee mugs with brown rims, orange and green plastic plates, and those brightly colored aluminum glasses that everyone seemed to have then. One day Daddy and I shopped at the local hardware store and brought home a white teapot with pink roses that played “Tea for Two” to surprise Momma. Another weekend, he decided that he and I would make a lemon ice box pie, and I was amazed that he knew how to cook something. That was the first time I learned about Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk, and I couldn’t believe anything could be that rich. Another time, Momma made French onion soup, and I said, “I see the onions, but where’s the French?”
It was a Saturday afternoon at that cabin when I began reading my first big grown-up novel, Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell. I sat reading for hours at the table between the kitchen and the living room, while the grownups went somewhere. That was my first experience of the power of erotic literature. I felt shocked and yet stirred at the descriptions of a Roman banquet. It was a good thing that it was the young hero’s first time to be exposed to the atmosphere of an orgy, too, because he and I were feeling the same things. I didn’t want to tell my parents what I had read, because I felt pretty sure they would take the book away from me, and I wanted to finish it, but it felt like a guilty secret. Often in the mountains, I read old copies of the Reader’s Digest.
One time Momma brought a record album from the Pepperdine library. It was Hal Holbrook reading tales from Mark Twain. One in particular made a huge impression on me, and I wish to this day that I could find that recording. It was called “Blue Jay Yarn” and it was the funniest stories I had ever heard. An empty cabin stood in the woods, and a whole crowd of blue jays spent a very long time trying to fill up a hole in the roof of that cabin by dropping nuts, one at a time, through a knot hole. (Of course the joke was that they could never fill that hole because it was the entire cabin below.) Mark Twain was hilarious in his depiction of the personalities of jays.
Once, when we arrived in Idyllwild, the road was so thick with snow that we couldn’t drive all the way to the cabin. And I had on a cast because of a broken foot. Years later, I found out that Marilyn remembered helping pull me up the driveway, sitting on our old German sled. She had come with us on that trip to keep me company. If not for the seasons in the mountains, I wouldn’t have known much about the seasons of the year. When it was spring at our house in L.A., the only way you knew it was that the trees had a combination of the fresh light green leaves and the older, darker green leaves. There was never a fall when all the leaves came off the trees. When I was a kid, it truly “never rained in Southern California,” like the song said. The climate has dramatically changed in the years since then.
The front stairs of the cabin were steep, and once I stumbled at the top and went rolling, falling down all those stairs to the bottom. I was not hurt, and that was amazing, but I sure felt dizzy and embarrassed. One of my favorite things about being at the cabin was getting to make some of the noise I couldn’t make at home. It was so satisfying to take a hammer and wander around the cabin, hammering in all the loose nails that had begun working their way out of the wood. The balcony off the living room had plenty of them for me to pound. Very therapeutic.
Since I had been living in L.A. for a few years now, it was a revelation to me to sit out on that balcony and just be still and listen. Sometimes you could hear mosquitoes buzzing, other times the woodpecker’s drilling would echo through the woods. Next to our cabin was a little canyon coming down from the snow caps way up above, and in the spring, our creek was really loud with snow melt-off running down the mountain. It had some water in it year around. Just at the level of the cabin, maybe 100 feet away, was a small pond that had been hollowed out of a boulder by the waterfall hitting it from above for years. I claimed it as “my” pond. Above it, at the level of the waterfall, there was a hollowed out place where we made a fort of branches and rocks.
If you followed the creek up the mountain on a hike, you found huge slabs of decomposed granite. In the spring, the runoff would cover the rocks in sheets of water, and everywhere would be tiny wildflowers. I loved to go exploring then. I never learned the names, but I can still see the tiny white and yellow and purple flowers. The names of the larger ones I did hear, but I only remember purple lupine, tan yucca and manzanita.
Manzanita was a kind of tree we’d never seen before we came to those mountains. When it was fresh and alive, the bark was a dark red. It peeled back like skin, very thin, and underneath was a bright green wood. It was almost impossible to break a limb that was living, but when manzanita died it became an entirely different creature. Then it was very brittle and spiky and gray, all curly and curving like a bunch of ten-point bucks’ antlers, and you could much more easily break it.
I had a recurring nightmare, where a lady dressed in long white, flowing garments is ahead of me, with her back to me, but she’s beckoning me to follow. She’s moving through a densely packed forest of dead, white manzanita, and the branches part for her and then close again behind her as she passes. She wants me to do the same. I don’t want to follow her, but I feel compelled.
I loved to hike up a dirt road that Daddy called the “fire road”. It had been cleared for the firefighters in case of a forest fire, but they never had one while we owned that cabin. Way up that road was a clearing with a huge boulder that had been split in two. It was way taller than two adults, and you could barely squeeze between the crack and walk through the two pieces of it. I felt like it was “my rock” and I would take visitors up to see it. I loved to get up that high and look out over the whole valley below us, with row after row of blue, soft-focus mountains in the distance. It was a gorgeous place to watch the sunset, or just sit and listen to the wind as it passed your ears. I never heard such a beautiful near-silence, before or since.
I learned about “wildlife” at that cabin. We developed a mouse problem at one point, and put poison and traps out for them. When we would arrive for our monthly weekend visit, Daddy would go in first to see if there were any mice in the toilet. He explained that they would eat the poison, then jump in the toilet because it made them thirsty. When didn’t we close the lid? I don’t know. We also developed an ant problem, and I discovered that ants in that forest smelled like the rosin of pine trees when you crushed them. They were big, brown ants, and they were persistent and hard to get rid of.
Sometimes we would decide to walk downtown on a Saturday afternoon. Downtown Idyllwild had a hardware store, a market, a movie theater and some little shops. Our favorite was called the Grey Squirrel. That’s where I was introduced to the scent of Claire Burke’s “Fontana” which I loved and which is no longer on the market. I bought violet scented perfume there for Grandmommie because she loved violets. Momma bought clothes there from time to time. It was both a gift and clothing shop, and they always had so much to look at that pleased me.
Once, we were taking a walk in the afternoon. There were some visitors with us, and I was still relatively young. Whoever was walking with my parents, they were up ahead of me, and I couldn’t seem to catch up. They were busy talking, and maybe they didn’t even hear me, but I was yelling, “Wait for me! Wait for me!” and actually got scared they would leave me, and angry that they wouldn’t pay attention and slow down. The moment had a nightmarish quality to it. I was in the grip of a stronger fear than would have made sense.
We sometimes took walks at night too, and for some reason I was never scared then. I loved the woods at night. I loved the incredible blankets of stars, so clear and bright like you could never see in the city. I loved the smell of wood smoke from people’s chimneys. I loved the festive feeling of holiday that we were doing something together, that we were sharing a magical experience. It was fun to have hot chocolate with marshmallows when we got back to the house after a chilly hour.
We hardly ever went to the movies as a family, but I’ll never forget the one time I heard Daddy laugh so hard that he cried and had a coughing fit. It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World starred Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett and Shelley Winters and about eight other famous actors, and they defined the word “madcap” in their antics, trying to outrace and outfox one another across the country for some kind of fortune or reward. I just didn’t know my dad had much of a sense of humor until that night when he couldn’t contain himself.
The rides there and back, the two and half hours in the car, I often spent sleeping in the back seat because I got car sick when I was little. But as I grew older, I realized that it was the most time I ever spent with my parents when they weren’t working, sleeping or talking to other people. Sometimes our tensions spilled over into those rides, but sometimes I had fun just being with them.
On some of the drives between L.A. and the mountains, we would pass through orange groves in bloom, and the perfume was the most delightful thing. Once on our way down from the mountains, we visited friends in Riverside, and there were miles and miles of fruit orchards outside their house. I was amazed to learn that they could walk outside their door and pick peaches and apricots. On another weekend we stopped in Pomona at the public library and Momma showed me the Laura Ingalls Wilder collection. Laura Ingalls Wilder was my hero – I read each of her books from the Little House on the Prairie series many times through.
I especially loved Farmer Boy because it explained so many different tasks in just the way Almanzo (later to be Laura’s husband) was learning them, growing up in upstate New York on his parents’ thriving farm. He learned how to make maple syrup from sap he drew off the trees. He learned how to train a yoke of oxen to obey him, and brought logs out of the woods on his own sledge with his own team. I loved to read Laura’s descriptions of food – church potlucks, Christmas dinners, vegetable suppers on the prairie. Those were the days when people worked hard, and burned up all those delicious calories, and I wished I could live then when you could justify all that bounty as fuel for expended effort.
As you may have guessed by now, ours was a family that was in church every time the doors were opened. Weekends in the mountains were no exception. There was a tiny band of Church of Christ people who were meeting on Sunday mornings in a real estate office in Anza, a settlement in the high desert the other way down the mountain. One of the Pepperdine faculty, Wade Ruby, had something to do with that real estate office, so he must have told us the folks in Anza needed encouragement. Dutifully, we drove down there each Sunday and helped them hold a little church service. Sometimes there were more of us visitors than there were of them. The a cappella singing could get pretty rough at times.
Daddy never called what he did preaching. He called it “giving a talk.” He was good at it. He was a thinker, and had some useful ideas about the scriptures we would study. His favorite “talk” which he gave many times throughout my childhood was about a carved stone rosette that had fallen off a cathedral during the many bombings of World War II. He and my mom were visiting as tourists, and they found this broken piece of carved stone lying on the ground. Daddy made a point of walking all around the cathedral to see from whence it might have fallen. He couldn’t spy anything like it anywhere within eyesight. He realized that the workman who carved that rosette had done it for God’s eyes alone. And he encouraged us all to have that kind of integrity in our work and our lives.
After church, sometimes we would be invited to Sunday lunch with an ancient couple we called Brother and Sister Smith. They were wrinkled, skinny, sweet old people who lived there in Anza, out a dirt road in a ramshackle old house. They were like ranchers, only without a ranch. They would make us a big dinner and we would sit and visit with them at the table for a long time afterwards. Here's Bro. Smith with Momma, Daddy and me probably around 1964.o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o
At some point around the time I was becoming a teenager, we sold the first cabin and bought another, which my folks named Traümende – Dream’s End. That name took on a certain bitter quality for me. I came to hate the new place, because now going to the mountains meant more loneliness for me. Chip had left home, first to Heidelberg, then after he married Sharyn, with her to the Peace Corps in Malaysia. Momma and Daddy would sit together on the couch in the evening and look at the fire. I would read, listen to music alone in my room, go for walks alone. Family togetherness in the mountains, such as it had been, was over. Chip and Sharyn are second and third from left, and here they're standing with the other teachers in the school where they taught English as a second language. Sharyn continues teaching ESL today in Santa Monica.
Sometimes I would help Daddy when he was clearing the land around the house. It was his only real exercise each month. He was following the German custom of cleaning up the forest just like you would your own yard. Later on when I lived in Germany as a college student, I was amazed at the tidy, immaculate forest floors. One forest was so incredibly clean it took my breath away. We were waiting for the ferry to Herrenchiemsee, an island near Munich where Mad Ludwig had built a castle. I stepped into the woods by the waiting area and was struck by the silence, the tidiness of the forest floor, and the hundreds of tree trunks that looked like columns holding up the roof of green. I was told it was the job of the older, retired people to do that as they were able.
Back in Idyllwild, the new cabin was so big that it couldn’t properly be called a cabin. It was intended to be their retirement home, I believe. I thought it would be fun to decorate my new room and bathroom, but it wasn’t fun after all because I didn’t like this house. Of course, I was a young teenager, but I thought it sucked. I thought a lot of things sucked. But I didn’t have words for my feelings then. I was just generally miserable, sad and sulky. It was the first time there was enough money that Momma and Daddy said I could choose new stuff instead of using up our oldest stuff. But everything felt cold and impersonal, even getting to buy new things. To this day I still hate lime green and turquoise blue together, because those are the colors we decorated my room with.
I hated the glass-topped dining table that sat on cast iron legs. It was cold and hard and required constant cleaning. The legs didn’t allow the chairs to fit comfortably under the table, and your feet ran into the metal when you sat there. Could it be that I found an object to hate instead of the situation it represented? Sounds like it to me. That table followed me all the way to Nashville when Momma moved here to spend her last days with Alzheimer’s. I gave it away immediately after she died.
Walking into downtown Idyllwild one time, I found a little hippie shop. Feeling the laid-back warmth and seeing the colors and hearing Joni Mitchell playing on the stereo, I felt like me again. I wanted to stay in that atmosphere forever, but Momma and Daddy didn’t feel comfortable there and I was still a child to them, and had to go where they wanted to. One concession Daddy made to my desires as a teenager was buying a tiny portable TV which he let me watch in the downstairs room that was really like a basement. We could pull in maybe one station, and that not very well.
The only show I recall watching down there was Hogan’s Heroes and that’s probably because Daddy came down and watched it with me. He loved Hogan’s Heroes, set in WWII Germany. He loved to laugh at the characters of Colonel Klink and Sergeant Shultz, and possibly also enjoyed the Americans hoodwinking the German officers time and time again, though I’m guessing that because he didn’t say.
On one of the long rides to or from the cabin, Momma had been particularly upset about something and we stopped to let her go into a drugstore to buy whatever it was that she needed. While she was inside, Daddy leaned over the back seat and said to me, “I’m afraid your mother is really crazy.” This was a very unpleasant and disturbing thing to hear – not only that Momma might be crazy, that was bad enough, but that my Daddy, the other half of my supposed security, was afraid of her and confiding in me about it.
The year after Daddy died, Momma allowed me to invite two college boys to go with us on one of our last trips to that second cabin. Mark Weldon and John Kester were friends of mine, and John brought his guitar and we sang by the fire. Kester could play songs by the Association (“Never My Love” and “Cherish”), and all those old folkie favorites of mine, Gordon Lightfoot, Judy Collins, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, etc.
I took John and Mark on a hike up to “my rock” and showed them everything I loved about the mountains. They had brought marijuana and possibly assorted other chemical assistance with them to make the trip more enjoyable, and that freaked me out more than a bit. I believe my mother never caught on that they were high. Kester gave me a very nice compliment at some point. He remarked, “You always look like you’re just naturally stoned,” and Mark assured him, “She is. She is.”