When Sara and I got to be thirteen and Marilyn fourteen, a movement called Campus Evangelism Seminars changed our lives. The Youngs and my parents allowed us to take part in these seminars even though they were intended for college kids. I guess our folks hoped that whatever could influence us for good would help them in our upbringing and our spiritual development. We girls had college-age friends, so we felt like we sort of belonged, like we were “honorary” college students. It was fun to feel like little prodigies, older than our years. Not something to get used to, since your age eventually catches up with you and you’re no longer special in that way.
We went to seminars in Los Angeles and in Santa Barbara, California. One Christmas my parents even let me fly to a Campus Evangelism seminar in Dallas, Texas with Norvel, while the girls drove there with a couple of Texas college girls. The five of us stayed in a hotel room together. Who would have dreamed that Karen Davis and Thelma Harper (Kidd) would grow up to own a chain of bookstores in Nashville, Knoxville and Memphis called Davis-Kidd Booksellers? That was the first time I ever ate baloney sandwiches on white bread. It was all Thelma and Karen could afford, and they shared them with us. (My mom insisted on brown bread, and she never bought baloney – as I’ve mentioned, she was a Prevention subscriber. Momma dabbled in being a health nut before it was cool to be one – just weird.)
At these seminars we first heard the incredible news that Jesus is really alive, not just an historical figure. The teachers at the Dallas seminar asked us whether we had accepted Jesus as our Lord. This went beyond just asking for forgiveness of sins when we were baptized. This meant asking Jesus to take over and be our boss, to be in charge of everything in our lives. They said, “When Christ is too small, not Lord of our whole life, idolatries begin. We are either enslaved to Christ, or to everything else.” I’m not sure what happened at that point in Sara’s or Marilyn’s heart – we didn’t talk about it – but I know that was the day when I asked Jesus to be my Lord. I asked Him to come in and affect everything about my life. And He has.
One night back in L.A., in the apartment of Ann King, the girls’ dorm supervisor, there was a prayer meeting. A Campus Evangelism leader named Jim Bevis was talking to the gathered students. It was dark in the room, to give people a sense of spiritual privacy, and the moonlight was coming through the window blinds. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and I heard Jim say, straight to my heart, “Jesus loves you.” It was as if I had never heard anyone say those words before. Jim said that we can talk to Jesus, that He’s a person, a real live person seated at the right hand of God, that He loves us individually, and He wants to have a relationship with us. He’s not just a man who lived a long time ago.
There were several powerful men in the Campus Evangelism movement that made an impression on me. John Allen Chalk was a rising star in the Churches of Christ, a very sharp lawyer, who gave all that up to risk being a ringleader in this controversial movement. I had no idea how controversial it was until I passed some young people in the hotel hallway in Dallas. They were irritated, complaining, “All this talk about Jesus is fine, but when are we going to talk about The Church?” I was shocked at how much we had already changed from the orthodox, church-centric C-of-C point of view.
So John Allen Chalk brought his intelligence and drive; Prentice Meador brought his passion and gentle sensitivity; and Jennings Davis added a cautious gravity to the leadership. Roy Osborne taught me to never judge a book by its cover, with his Lincolnesque scarecrow frame, his unattractive, craggy face, and his beautiful and challenging heart.
Roy Osborne had a powerful message about racism that stuck with me. “I am almost more concerned about the prejudiced person than the person against whom the prejudice is directed, because the act of prejudice is temporal, but the effect of hate on the hater is eternal.” Jennings Davis said, “You are free when you don’t have to do what you want to do. You are free when you can choose what you don’t want to do, what is best.” Jim Bevis said, “Some equate ‘sober’ with ‘moderate’ and ‘temperate’ with ‘without passion’. God never called a man to moderation and passionless Christianity. Jesus spewed lukewarmness out of his mouth. Holiness is not pale and lifeless…it is abundant life.” These guys were powerful, and they made me want to rise to the challenge, to have a more intentional, more risk-taking, more serious life with God.
This was one of the toughest challenges offered: “It could be that the ‘educated’ Christian’s culture, ‘good taste’ and fastidiousness need to be sacrificed for Christ’s sake in the committed life.” This was probably the time when I began to intentionally spend time with people who were unlike me, to teach myself to be at home in environments that were not comfortable or familiar. I recognized that I had grown up in a very controlled and perfectionistic environment, and that I would have to make a concerted effort to become comfortable in other circumstances. So I did…and God helped me by presenting many unexpected opportunities to learn this particular lesson.
At that seminar in Dallas, I made a musical connection that I pursued for years afterward. One evening a band performed for the seminar attendees, and this was an entirely novel experience for all of us. Churches of Christ had traditionally accepted only one form of music, and that was congregational, a cappella singing. Certainly we were aware that other forms existed, choirs, soloists, even orchestras, but we just didn’t think that God could possibly be pleased with any of those. We felt they were all so “worldly” and tended toward ego and performance. After all, the first century church didn’t have or need these things. The idea of musicians ministering to an audience had never crossed my mind.
So this band was made up of four young guys, long-haired hippies, and they called themselves Lazarus. Their music reminded me of Simon & Garfunkle, Peter Paul and Mary, and other acoustic guitar groups of the day, and they sang covers in addition to their own original material. That night, they sang Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” (Matt had already introduced me to that song as recorded by The Band on the album Music from Big Pink) and the BeeGees’ “Got to Get a Message to You”. I heard a spiritual message, I heard a prophetic voice, and it was incredibly moving and urgent. I’ll tell more about Lazarus when I get more into the music.
Some time in 1967 or ’68, the college students at Pepperdine started meeting for a separate “worship service” which had much in common with a Quaker style of meeting. It was held at the back of the church building in the Fellowship Hall, and it went from 8:00 until 11:00 on Sunday morning. My parents felt I still must punch the time clock at the regular service until 12:00 noon, so I was now putting in four hours of sitting on Sunday mornings, the first three of them very willingly, the last one less so.
Ron Perry, an older guy in our lives, had shared long talks alone with Sara when he was a camp counselor. (I was always dying to follow them and spy on what they were saying to each other, because I couldn’t imagine how she held his attention. No, I never did it.) Now Ron was married to beautiful Nikko Scheifele, a girl with long straight black hair and a gentle way, and they had me and Sara over for Bible studies at their house. We washed each others’ feet one night, after Ron read us the scripture where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and then said, “Blessed are you if you do likewise.” It was scary to actually practice some of the things that the Bible talked about. We had been taught were that they were figurative, metaphorical, so we had never done them before.
Ron and Nikko would pick me up in their VW bug early on Sunday mornings to take me with them to the long back room meeting. Waiting for them to show up was one of the first experiences I had of listening for the voice of God. I practiced being very still and waiting until He said it was time to go outside to meet them, so they wouldn’t have to honk and disturb Momma and Daddy. I got better at it as time went along.
It was a novel and a revolutionary concept, this idea that God actually wanted to speak to us. Kind of scary that He wanted to invade our lives, and not just give us a set of instructions and go away, like I think I had believed before. I had two other very practical experiences that taught me that He wanted me to depend on Him. I had a combination lock on my gym locker, and it would never open unless I first prayed and asked Him to help me. I was responsible for cutting our big yard on a rider mower, which almost never started until I finally remembered to ask for His help. It took me quite awhile to figure out that it was better to start out with praying, instead of waiting until it was my last resort.
Around this time, I had another life changing reading experience in Matt Young’s study. He had a copy of a book I had been hearing the students talk about, They Speak with Other Tongues by John and Elizabeth Sherrill. Not only was “the Jesus Movement” sweeping the nation, but also something called the “Charismatic Movement.” The two often went hand in hand. Across the denominations, including Catholics, high-church Protestants, low-church Baptists and everyone in between, people were leaving their lethargy and inherited religion behind, and having their own personal experiences with God. Jesus was becoming real, like He had to me, and the Holy Spirit was being “poured out,” in the language of the Bible’s book of Joel.
“In the last days, says the Lord, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh. Your young men shall dream dreams, and your old men shall see visions. On my handmaidens too I will pour out of My Spirit…” That “all flesh” promise was being literally fulfilled. It wasn’t just the Assemblies of God and the Church of God of Prophecy and the tangential denominations any more. It was people from Wall Street and academia and doctors and lawyers that were speaking in tongues and getting “slain in the Spirit” (falling down as the power of God moved over their bodies), jumping around and generally acting undignified in their excitement about God.
Later on, I would learn that this phenomenon coincided with the reclaiming of East Jerusalem by the Jewish people, following the 1967 War. That meant the return of the Western Wall of the Temple (the Kotel) to Jewish hands for the first time since the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But at that time, I really wasn’t aware of this incredible milestone, or how it might relate to my life.
So I read this paperback book of Matt’s and it shook my world. I was fourteen years old, and living in the home of two people who were convinced of the rightness of their beliefs, their ways, and their church. It was not a friendly environment in which to explore or experiment in any way. So I told the Lord, “Look, I’m just a kid and I can’t do anything with this information. But I do believe it’s real. So, when it’s my turn to act, would You just tap me on the shoulder and let me know?” I continued going to those radical Bible studies in people’s homes, attending the “alternative” worship services for three hours on Sunday mornings (and then obediently sitting with my parents for a further hour), reading, listening to the college students and Campus Evangelism leaders, and internally questioning and changing.
At some point between the ages of 14 and 17, I was sitting in the Pepperdine library doing a summer job that involved catalog cards. I was working next to another person, I believe a young lady in college, and we were conversing about the Lord, the Holy Spirit, the Church, etc. I said to her, “I’ve come to the conclusion that if this new stuff I’m learning about the Holy Spirit isn’t real, then I’m not interested anymore in the church thing.”
It was a radical statement to make, because I had loved God my whole life and gone to church willingly, even addictively, never having to be forced or cajoled like some parents did their kids. But I had come to the realization that people on their own (most of all me) were incapable of living the way God wanted us to. We needed the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, motivating us, transforming us, moving us, counseling us, strengthening us, inspiring and accomplishing God’s will in our hearts. And I wasn’t willing to turn back to a humanistic religion of personal effort (and constant failure) with an overconcern about external image (other people’s opinions, setting a good example), the way I now felt I had been living all my life.
One thing that really scared my parents about the growing revival among the young people was the associated freedom of affection that flowed along with it. One evening, I was in a Bible study/prayer meeting/house church at Lucille Todd’s. She was the Dean of Students at Pepperdine, along with Jennings Davis, and she was already a little bit suspect as a woman whose husband was not a church attendee, and as a woman professional, and as someone who dabbled in psychology (also high on my parents’ “suspect” list).
When my dad came to collect me at the end of the evening, it so happened that the meeting had just broken up and everybody was hugging everybody else goodnight. I had already become somewhat accustomed to this practice at other meetings. It was a sort of like “passing the peace” and “greeting one another with a holy kiss” combined with the Southern custom of plain old hugging that needed no religious justification.
Well, to my dad’s eyes this crowd of hugging people looked like it was just one step away from an orgy. He was absolutely horrified. He said to me as we drove home, “If this is the kind of thing that goes on at these meetings, you’ll never attend another one!” It took me quite a bit of energy to talk him down. It was hard to convince him that all the hugging was asexual and harmless. I was fourteen or fifteen at the time, and I was desperately hungry for affection. This was my only resource, and I didn’t want to lose it.
During this period – as a young teenager in the late ‘Sixties – I was reading religious writers that were definitely beyond my years. I was reading Dietrich Bonhöffer, the German martyr killed just days before the Americans liberated his camp. He was a teacher in an underground seminary, and had been involved in a plot to assassinate Hitler. I was reading Thomas Merton, a man who had been a member of the Beat Generation and lived as a very carnal heathen, then became a Catholic priest, not just any priest but a Trappist monk, a contemplative in a Kentucky abbey called Gethsemani.
I was reading Malcolm Boyd, an Episcopal priest. Boyd wrote a few words that capture for me what we were all feeling, those of us who were so hungry for God and who were not content with the church of our childhood.
There’s a mystical sense of being involved together
and, just as much to the point,
wanting to be.
Whether one is speaking of fulfillment, salvation, or joy,
no one wants it on a private preserve
shut off from others.
Persons are claiming each other.
Walls are coming down.
A person is a signpost to another.
We are beginning to see that no one makes community;
he accepts community
where it’s at
and as it is.
I still attended the Vermont Avenue church during my first couple of years of college. I had always written notes to Sara and Marilyn to occupy myself during church services, and one Sunday morning I wrote an essay, a long meditation, to Sara. Though I began on a positive note, I immediately switched to the critical, somewhat cynical, and unbelievably brash judgments that only a teenager would dare to voice. I acknowledged that fact. Her parents were illustrious, noble, nationally recognized leaders of our movement. Who was I? Just a kid, and I sort of admitted that too.
“Praise the Lord for our parents and for life.
“We have at some point said that your parents haven’t understood the totality of the call of Jesus. To them, being a Christian is being a member of ‘The Church’, attending services religiously (!), opening their home, yes, but primarily to the Brotherhood, and staying in the beaten path, following the pattern with no apparent or public deviation. My parents have shared all this, but being where they have been and with whom has added several extra layers to the shell. Insight and cynicism, involvement and disillusionment, come hand in hand when you touch the inside edge of the machine. My parents’ ‘missionary effort’ had both a broadening and a narrowing effect on their attitudes.
“(Of course, we don’t know. How can we judge whole lifetimes from this perspective? We work with appearances and very shallow perceptions. My most urgent prayer now is that we may not lose the idealism of commitment with age. I know that can be done; but how very difficult.)
“We judge your parents (how frightening) possibly not to have been called to a daily, vital walk with Jesus. Called once for all by Christ himself, yes, but not by His Body, the church. Mine have felt more of that urgency (now my mother, being alone, has forgotten some of the openness and giving, the expanding and reworking of attitudes, they once had together); but both of them (and especially my father) have always been faced with the rawest side of human nature. When the other missionaries were preaching, talking, living in a semi-otherworldly trance, he was building church buildings, working day to day with money, and people at their worst. Perhaps they both demanded of themselves a more real (?), constant day-to-day commitment (and so of others), and have been so often disappointed with both that now it’s hard to watch the younger generation in their excited ignorance.”
o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o
Because the Youngs were always encouraging our “potential”, they provided Marilyn and Sara and me with some unusual experiences for kids our age. They edited books from time to time, and one of them was a congregational directory of Churches of Christ. It had a picture of each church building, the address and phone number, the number of members, the number of baptisms in the previous year, and other statistics regarding the work of that congregation. Helen decided to pay us girls to proofread the galleys, the first copy from the printer, so we could correct any mistakes before they printed a kazillion of them.
We were sitting on the kingsize bed in the Youngs’ bedroom. I don’t remember what we got paid per hour, but we did have fun analyzing all these congregations across America. We developed a concept of our national “brotherhood” that most kids our age probably didn’t have. As I’ve already confessed, I’m afraid that we girls were already pretty critical and cynical. We mocked the churches that only baptized children from within their own circle, judging them “dead”, and we praised the seeming few congregations that had adult baptisms from outside.
One summer, the Youngs sent us to represent the 20th Century Christian corporation at the Christian Booksellers Convention in Anaheim near Disneyland. Marilyn was 20, Sara and I were 19. Helen drove us out there the first morning, and as she drove she taught the girls the names of the freeways and exits. I realized that morning that my parents never really trained me. They had not intentionally imparted information to me like that. I loved that Helen took her daughters’ abilities and responsibilities so seriously. She needed them to be able to function on L.A.’s freeways, and she believed they were fully capable. I’m sure, on the other hand, that it was a pretty heavy burden they bore, knowing that their parents believed they could do anything they were called on to do. Not too much mercy or tolerance for weakness in that scenario.
When we weren’t manning the 20th Century booth, we wandered around the convention and I was appalled at the merchandising going on. I didn’t know the word “kitsch” at that point, but my aesthetic sense was offended that most of the stuff was cheap and ugly looking, the art was bad, and there was so much commercialism. I wished Jesus would come in there and knock over tables like he had with the money-changers in the Temple. One redeeming part of the experience was a music group performing at the convention called “Brush Arbor.” When they explained their name, I learned about the open-air “gospel meetings” that had taken place across the country during the Great Revival.
Chip started it. Being seven years older than me, Chip was of course into popular music first, and he opened my ears and imagination to the world of radio and records. One thing that delighted me was reciting and singing almost in its entirety the Stan Freberg album, The United States of America: The Early Years. He and I would sing and recite it in the back seat of the car on the way to the mountains. I can still perform pieces of it, especially “Betsy Ross and the Flag” and “Take An Indian to Lunch,” but sadly these days Chip falters and I have to do most of his part along with mine. We also loved some other comedy albums, like the “2000 Year Old Man” routine of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, and the Vaughan Meader takeoff on the Kennedy family which was removed from the market after the assassination.
There was this guy with a goatee who very casually conducted a choir of singers on TV. His name was Mitch Miller and the show was called Sing Along with Mitch. In some ways it was like Lawrence Welk’s show, a bit like a polka fest, but many folk songs were introduced into the larger culture on that show from 1961-64.
I was fascinated with another show, Hootenanny, and was recently astonished to find out that it only lasted one thirteen-week season in 1963. Also astonishing was the discovery that the show had blacklisted Pete Seeger as a Communist. The paranoia of the McCarthy era must have influenced network censors, though it officially ended with McCarthy’s downfall in the previous decade. Folk music has long been appropriately suspect as a fomenter of discontent and protest. It’s hard to imagine some of Seeger’s songs being subversive. “If I Had a Hammer,” “Kisses Sweeter than Wine,” and “On Top of Old Smoky” were sung by his group, the Weavers. Anyhow, Hootenanny also fed many classic folk songs into the mainline American pop culture.
In Germany, Chip bought a Grundig “portable” (though heavy) suitcase-sized reel-to-reel tape recorder, and for several years he taped Casey Kasem’s Top 40 New Year’s Day countdown. That was my first exposure to rock n’ roll. When I got back to L.A. from Germany, in 1964, the Beatles were just beginning to be popular, and I stayed up really late one night at Beth Ross’s house for the special treat of hearing three Beatles’ songs played on the radio back to back. For sure one of them was “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Short, cute, funny Donnie Humphrey at Lockhaven sang Beatles songs with me while we were swinging on the swing set – my first experience of connecting with a guy through music. I was ten!
I started listening to the radio a lot. This became a problem for my parents, because I now began to have my own ideas about what we should listen to on the car radio. The Real Don Steele on KRLA, along with AM stations KHJ and KFWB, became my friends. (I can still sing the jingle, “K-F-W-B, Channel 98!”) Once Daddy was driving and I begged him to turn the radio from the classical station and find something I could enjoy. “Even if you don’t like opera, you have to appreciate the work these people have put into training their voices,” he argued, and I responded, “I think it’s terrible that they did that to their voices!”
Though I tried, I never developed a taste for opera, even though I took a college class in Vocal Literature, and did my best to appreciate the operas we attended as part of the course. I am actually jealous of the passion some people feel for opera. Take for example the moment when Tom Hanks is completely overwhelmed by an aria in the movie Philadelphia. I envy opera aficionados the depth of their enjoyment, but I can’t seem to share it.
Cultural enrichment was something my parents were very intentional about. They were both in plays in high school at Lipscomb. For years as a child, Momma had gone downtown on the streetcar to take piano lessons. Though they were both born in small Tennessee country towns, they had graduated from college, learned to appreciate the “finer things” in life, and had enjoyed the unusual experience of living in Europe for five years.
My dad was ahead of his time in his willingness to bend certain gender barriers. He told my mom, “If you’ll play the piano for me, I’ll be glad to do the dishes after supper.” So this was a deal they kept throughout their marriage. When the women’s movement came along, it was nothing new to me to see a man doing “women’s work”. Mom’s favorite was always Claire de Lune by Debussy, and two other pieces she habitually played back to back, the names of which I never learned. During college, I visited my boyfriend’s home in Stockton, and he played those two, one after another, on the piano. I got excited. “I can’t believe you played those!! My mom always played those two together, like you just did!” Turned out they were on the same page in a book of piano pieces he had. So the mystery was solved.
Both of my parents held the attitude that one should visit museums and attend performances of plays, ballet, opera, symphony orchestra concerts, etc. because that’s what educated people do. I took it a step further and sought to discover what my personal tastes were. Favorite composers, favorite playwrights, favorite dancers – it became a part of my self-expression. I felt sad that even in her seventies, my mom was still attending certain cultural events because she “should”, instead of choosing what she personally loved. Still, I’ll always be grateful for the amazing opportunities my folks made available to me, and the doors they opened to so much enjoyment and satisfaction.
For several years we visited the Old Globe Theater in San Diego one night each summer, where our folks took Chip and me to a Shakespeare play. My best memory of the Old Globe was the year Jon Voight starred as Romeo. It was perfect timing for my romantic teenage soul. He had not been in a movie yet, so when he did appear on the screen I felt as if I had discovered him. In the theater that night, I glanced at my folks to see if they were getting the bawdy humor that Chip and I were laughing at, and I couldn’t be sure they whether they were. Odd to feel more “with it” than my parents. I also saw Macbeth there, and The Taming of the Shrew.
Living in L.A. provided many opportunities that a small town never would, but of course I thought life as I knew it was “normal”. For some years, Daddy took me for my birthday to Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus, since it came to town at about the right time. I loved the circus, partly because I had seen the Disney movie and read the book called Toby Tyler, where a little kid runs away to join the circus. The circus was magical to me. Then one year we met a disabled veteran begging outside the big top. That summer my eyes had changed, and I could see a more grimy behind-the-scenes reality: the strangeness of the circus performers’ migratory lives, the real danger the high wire acts were putting themselves in to thrill the crowd. Something inside me had shifted. It wasn’t as much fun anymore.
We drove out annually to visit the Huntington Library in Pasadena. We tried to go at the right season for the azalea and camellia show, when samples of every variety growing at the Library were brought together on display in a pavilion. The Huntington Library had the originals of Gainsborough’s “Pinky” and “Blue Boy” with which I was familiar because reproductions of them hung in Nannie’s Nashville bedroom. I loved the thoroughness of the Shakespeare garden, which claimed to feature every plant mentioned in his works. The Huntington Library also displayed a copy of the Gutenberg Bible, and lots of other historic documents.
I was entranced with the Japanese Tea House, and the cherry trees in bloom spilling down a small canyon above it. I had seen Marlon Brando in Teahouse of the August Moon, so I appreciated the concept of the teahouse, with the paper Shoji screens, women in kimonos tiptoeing around in those white socks and wooden sandals, and the sacred tea ceremony.
I was fascinated by the tragedy of Henry Huntington’s love story. His wife had been a member of the Eastern elite, and she had refused to move to the Wild West with Henry. So he built her a mansion, filled it with antiques and art from Europe, created magnificent gardens for her, and begged her to come. She again refused. To double the appeal, he did it all again, building a second mansion. But Mrs. Huntington never came to California. All the money from the Huntington-Hartford railways couldn’t buy him happiness.
Momma and Daddy took me to see the ballet Sleeping Beauty at the Shrine Auditorium. Another time they took me there to see Anna Maria Alberghetti in a musical called Carnival. We also attended some opera at the Shrine, and since it was in Italian, I couldn’t follow it, so I dozed on and off. When I would jerk awake, I would get dizzy because the seats at the Shrine are in such a steep slope upwards. I felt like I could fall forward over the people in front of me and crash past the balcony to the orchestra seats below. In my half-doze, I would get scared that if I fell asleep, Momma and Daddy might leave me there.
Mom had given up trying to teach me piano by this time. Since we were at a college, my folks decided to (quite literally) take advantage of the music faculty. I had weekly piano lessons with Dr. Richard Satorius. He was a white-haired bachelor who would always swish mouthwash before each student arrived. (I found this courtesy endearing.) He would sit most patiently through my stumbling and fumbling piano performances. He admitted that I had an unusual problem. I never could get through a piece without at least one error, though I didn’t seem to make the same mistake twice.
I couldn’t explain it to him, but years later I realized that I was constantly on edge from Momma’s endless corrections. (As I practiced, she would holler from the next room every time I made a mistake.) I was so focused on the fear of making a mistake that it made me tense. I could never relax and let the music flow out of my body. That’s why I jerked along so in my playing.
Later I became interested in the organ, with all the stops, providing so many options for different sounds, and most of all, its power. But I simply could not coordinate my hands and feet, though I studied with Dr. Satorius for a year. It was so much easier to sing all the parts which my hands found so difficult to play, so I opted for singing.
I wasn’t the only one who had musical experiences in school and out. Chip took up the clarinet in junior high, and he continued with it in high school and college. He became part of the Los Angeles Junior Police Band, which was an official county institution. He looked so handsome in his navy blue Police Band uniform, I thought. They even wore spats! They were invited to march in the Rose Parade, which was an annual tradition on New Year’s Day in Pasadena. I’m sure we attended at least one concert of theirs because it was at Pepperdine.
That night, after the performance, Chip and our folks and I were walking across the street from the Fine Arts Building to our house and Daddy said, “I heard a blue note – was that you?” I know he thought he was making a joke. “Just kidding,” some people love to say, denying that they inflicted pain intentionally. Even as a little girl, I was supersensitive to the pain of criticism. I hurt for Chip that Daddy had nothing else to say to him after a wonderful performance. What about all the hard work, and the excellence they displayed? It was decades later when I learned that parenting by criticism had been the rule in both our parents’ homes growing up, and that’s all they had to offer us. My dad’s dad and my mother’s mother were both consistent critics who ruled with negative assessments.
When Chip got to college, he performed with the Pepperdine Community Orchestra, and through him I got to know a bit about Hansel Rayner, the conductor. He was a passionate, exuberant musician, and he demanded a lot of himself and his players, as I would learn for myself. When I was in the college choir a decade later, he conducted two performances of Mendelssohn’s St. Paul, an oratorio we performed with his orchestra.
I had sung in the choir at Lockhaven, and now I learned that Airport Junior High had a musical celebrity connection. Its school song was composed by the same guy who wrote “Happy Together,” a member of a popular band called the Turtles. In junior high I joined the Chad & Jeremy fan club because an older girl I sat next to in the Girls’ Glee Club encouraged me to join with her. Kendy Douglas was a live wire. She had me over to her house once, I think it was for her birthday, and we swam in her pool.
Kendy and I loved Chad and Jeremy together (“Yesterday’s Gone,” “Willow Weep for Me,” “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon”) and I also loved Peter & Gordon, but didn’t talk about them with Kendy because she was too loyal to her boys, C&J. Peter & Gordon sang one of my favorites, “Please lock me away…I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay in a world without love.” Gerry & the Pacemakers’ “Don’t let the sun catch you crying…” was another of my favorite songs of the era.
Unbeknownst to the public, Peter & Gordon were involved in a little marketing experiment. The Beatles were so enormously popular that Paul McCartney wanted to find out whether or not his songwriting could stand alone. So he put out a song under a pseudonym that Peter & Gordon recorded, “Woman”. It was a great song, P&G had a hit with it, and McCartney was vindicated. Peter Asher of P&G went on to produce many of James Taylor’s albums.
We had a wonderful choral conductor in junior high. Miss Waldorf was a tall, thin, dignified single lady with sensible shoes, but she had the heart of a romantic and she inspired me greatly. We gave excellent Christmas concerts, and since the school was half Jewish we featured Hanukkah songs as well:
“Oh Hanukkah, O Hanukkah, come light the menorah.
Let’s have a party; we’ll all dance the hora.
Gather ‘round the table, we’ll give you a treat.
Shiny tops to play with and latkes to eat.
And while we are playing, the candles are burning low.
One for each night, they shed a sweet light
To remind us of days long ago.”
In the Christmas/Hanukkah program we performed “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas.” That was the first time I had heard that song, and I really liked it. I was starting to notice the connections between composers and music, and I realized that Meredith Wilson who wrote that song also wrote the musical The Music Man, which I loved when Pepperdine had put it on.
Miss Waldorf encouraged me to sing in a trio with Beth Urban and Shelley Woods, including a medley from the Sound of Music. Beth became my best Christian friend at school. Her family was from a denomination called the “Christian and Missionary Alliance,” a group I’d not heard of before. I went to a missionary dinner with her family once, and learned to cook pineapple meatballs to take as my contribution to the international-themed potluck.
Beth and I used to walk around the junior high campus singing hymns together. Our favorite was “O that will be glory for me…When by His grace I shall look on His face, that will be glory, be glory for me.” Beth’s mom taught at Airport Junior High, and sometimes when I was feeling especially pitiful I would beg them for a ride home. I hated taking the bus. Once, my parents forgot they were supposed to pick me up at the downtown Music Center after we went to a required performance, and Beth’s mom picked us up and let Beth stay at my house with me until my folks showed up.
Shelley Woods was the first Jewish friend with whom I really communicated. She was preparing for her Bat Mitzvah, and in Hebrew School she was just beginning to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust. She was a passionate, intelligent girl and she was so angry and so appalled at what she was learning. She inspired me to feel the same way. She’s the first person I knew who ate matzoh (unleavened bread) during the week following the Passover seder. She actually brought matzoh with her to school and ate them at lunch in the cafeteria. She wasn’t afraid to be different.
Speaking of the cafeteria, what an unusual California space that was. It had a high ceiling, between two and three stories tall, that arched over a huge space, but there were no walls on two sides because the weather was usually good enough to be outdoors. You lined up at a series of windows to get the food.
Each morning around 10:00 AM they had a break in classes called “Nutrition” where you could buy the most incredible cinnamon rolls I’ve ever tasted. I was so weight conscious that I rarely allowed myself the pleasure, but I’ve never found another cinnamon roll as wonderful as those. The cafeteria also made the best chili beans I’ve ever tasted, pinto beans with no meat, spiced just perfectly and comforting and delicious. I learned about the Catholic custom of fasting meat once a week, because the cafeteria always served fish sticks on Friday.
Miss Waldorf gave me a special musical gift which I still cherish. She encouraged us to use our imagination while we listened to orchestral music. She played an album of Moussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as orchestrated by Ravel. This was the first time I realized that a melody could be written by one person and embellished by another. That helped me understand the haunting Victory at Sea, which I knew was composed by Richard Rodgers, my musical hero, but orchestrated by Robert and Russell Bennett.
Anyhow, as she played each movement of Pictures at an Exhibition, she stopped after each selection and asked us to describe what we had envisioned as we listened. She explained that Moussorgsky composed the suite as a response to an art exhibition he had visited. Each piece was his meditation on a painting he had seen. The listening experience opened my musical understanding and my creative energies in a whole new way. Not too much later, Norvel Young sent Matt and Sara and me to a performance of Jascha Heifetz and Gregor Piatigorsky, the best violinist and cellist of their day. It was so much fun to sit next to Sara and encourage her to use her imagination as she listened to the music, and see what she might see.
Miss Waldorf also opened a window on something that disturbed my religious sensibilities. She told us that she had considered becoming a Mormon just so she could have the pleasure of singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I was shocked that someone could be so tenuously connected to their faith that they could switch theologies for the sake of a musical opportunity.