Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Now, let’s yank ourselves back to the timeline. Fourth grade with Mrs. Feldkamp passed without too much trauma, but then came fifth grade and Miss Newman. Miss Newman’s stated personal goal was to see that each of her students was immersed in the waters of baptism before the school year was finished. She had a high respect for the Bible and one of her rules was that no other book should ever rest upon it. She would spot-check our desks periodically to see if there were any infractions.
The principal of Lockhaven was named Mr. McClendon, and his wife, “Mrs. Mac” also taught and worked in the office. Mrs. Mac taught us grammar in the old fashioned way that other kids our age weren’t learning, “parsing” or diagramming sentences. When I went to public school in eighth grade I found out none of my classmates knew as much about grammar as she had taught me.
Mr. Mac taught the old-fashioned way too, and he was especially proud of his eighth graders who could do math problems “in their heads.” He would take the best student around to the younger classes to quiz him in front of us and show him off. I was always scared of getting to eighth grade and being in Mr. Mac’s math class, and I was so relieved that I didn’t have to after all, because I switched schools again for eighth grade.

At Lockhaven Christian School we had chapel every day. That’s where the whole school came together in a church across the playground, and we sang songs and prayed and people would speak to us about God and the Bible. Once Mr. Mac spoke to the student body after we had a prayer. He pointed to a little boy, called his name, and said, “I want you all to be like this boy here. When it’s time to pray, he bows his head and folds his hands, and he shows his reverence for God.” I was afflicted with a long period of self-consciousness after hearing that instruction, hoping that anyone who looked at me while we were praying would think I was doing it right, and would admire my holiness. That self-consciousness was a hard habit to break in later years.
We also had a Bible class every day. I’m really glad I learned so much about God when I was little. It really made me want to get to know Him. I still remember some of the songs we sang at Lockhaven that I’ve never heard anywhere else. Here’s one I bet Sara and Marilyn remembered too:

“I’m so happy, and here’s the reason why:
Jesus took my burdens all away.
Now I’m singing as the days go by:
Jesus took my bur…He took my burdens all away.

Once my heart was heavy with a load of sin.
Jesus took my load, and gave me
wonderful peace within my heart,
and now I’m singing as the days go by:
Jesus took my burdens all away.”
0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

I was now nine years old. Although this really-not-nice teacher named Miss Newman wanted every kid in her class to get baptized before the end of the year, I would not do it. I didn’t want to yield to Miss Newman’s pressure tactics. It was too important and personal a decision for me to do it out of fear or guilt. She tried to scare kids into believing they were facing the fires of hell if they didn’t get baptized. I wanted it to happen when I felt like it was the right time for me. I waited till the summer after sixth grade.

I guess it was around this time that we first heard about “the age of accountability”. We were informed that “the denominations” didn’t do baptism the way God wanted it done. They apparently had their theology all wrong. People who baptized babies didn’t understand that you had to make the decision to follow Jesus for yourself, as an adult. And they were hideously mistaken if they thought that God would send innocent little babies to hell because they hadn’t been baptized yet. See, there was an “age of innocence” and there was an “age of accountability,” and it was supposed that you made the move from one to the other sometime around the age of twelve. I had no idea of the theological, psychological and historical underpinnings of these arguments, I just knew that I wasn’t ready to make that decision yet. Somehow I trusted that God wouldn’t be mad at me if I waited until I knew I felt ready.

I think Miss Newman saw me as one of her less compliant students. Once I did or said something that brought on one of her famous paddlings. She was the only teacher at Lockhaven who had a large wooden paddle in the classroom, and she came halfway back in the classroom to where I was sitting, grabbed me up and smacked my bottom with her paddle. Unfortunately, the paddle broke and the class fell to laughing. I don’t remember being so much shamed by the laughter as I was angry that she hit me. Feeling not very ladylike or feminine, I was embarrassed by the teasing because I had broken her paddle. Miss Newman was not a happy person, and we were all so glad to be finished with her class.

Fifth grade did hold one bright memory. I already had several crushes on college guys. My first crush was on Terry Giboney, when I was about seven or eight, even though I knew that he was already taken by the lady he later married, Susan. This was the first time I had a crush on a boy my own age. Matthew Kauffman was the only non-Christian child at Lockhaven Christian School (as far as we knew). He was Jewish. What moved his parents to enroll him there, I can’t imagine, but there he was and I loved him. He was loud and brash and funny and free and intelligent, although I couldn’t have put that into words at the time, and he seemed to like me too. But we weren’t old enough to be talking about “boyfriends”. That came later, in sixth grade, with Raymond Pate.

In fifth grade, I also began inadvertently collecting friends whose names started with “B”. I’ve had a steady stream of friends with “B” names all my life. Barbara Markovich was such a good buddy at Lockhaven that she came with me on a trip up to our cabin in the mountains. My best friend in junior high was Beth Urban, then came best friend Barbara Rueckert in high school. In college I had two memorable roommates, Betty White and Barbara Henderson. My co-worker and friend in my first real job was Becky Batson. A roommate for a few years in Nashville was Bev Lunsford, and since 1989 my best friend has been Barbara Patt. It may be entirely devoid of meaning, but I find random stuff like that just fascinating.

I missed the first half of sixth grade at Lockhaven because another dramatic, life-changing decision was made by my parents. It was a mere twelve years since they had returned from their missionary stint in Europe. Pepperdine was a growing institution, and Norvel Young felt it would be a prestigious thing for the college to add a Year in Europe program to our offerings, as so many other colleges and universities did. Who would be more natural than my parents to lead the initial year? My folks could speak German (somewhat), Germany was a central location in Europe which would promote ease of student travel, and my dad had experience doing business in Europe, unlike most other Pepperdine faculty members. So although neither of my parents were teachers, they were elected to lead the first Year in Europe program for Pepperdine. My dad would teach European history and economics, and my mom would teach English literature.

I was sitting in the back seat of the car as we were traveling somewhere one night. My dad was driving, and he got my attention when he explained that we were going to move to Germany for four months. He told me that German children were very obedient. They were quiet, and respectful. I would have to change my behavior. My ways would not be acceptable in Germany. I was too loud, too wild, too disobedient, and too vocal in my objections when corrected. Being me just would not work where we were going.

My parents took me with them when we went to the travel agent’s office and discussed our trip. My dad revealed that he had been thinking about turning this into a trip around the world. Why not? It was only debt, and he had a good job and knew he could pay it off within two or three years. (I believe at this time he was making between nine and ten thousand dollars a year. Many years later, I saw a promissory note he wrote to Momma’s mother, who loaned them money to buy the Pink House.) It was a chance of a lifetime, and he decided that we would do it.

It sounded so romantic and very exotic to my nine-year-old ears. And it truly was. We would go to London, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen, on our way to Heidelberg, Germany. There we would live for fourth months. On our way home to America in December, we would come the other way around the world. We would stop in Athens, Cairo, all over Israel, then New Delhi, Bangkok, Tokyo and Honolulu. Amazingly, my parents knew missionaries in almost all of the cities on our trip back home, and we made advance plans to spend time with them in each place.

The summer between fifth and sixth grades, my folks got me a German tutor. I don’t remember who the teacher was, but well I remember how much I hated it! I resisted the effort, didn’t try hard to learn it, and felt like a failure. I didn’t understand what the tutor was trying to teach me. Years later I realized that I had not yet studied the parts of speech in English that she was trying to teach me in German, so of course I couldn’t comprehend her explanations.

From that time on I carried with me a belief that I was bad at languages, which much later I still suffered from when trying to learn Hebrew. Later, I discovered in my thirties that as I became emotionally freer, my German improved, even after all those years of not speaking it. I could converse more easily with German people a decade later than I could while I was studying and living there! What a mystifying and sometimes frustrating wonder are the workings of the human heart and mind.

So it was September, 1963 and I had just turned ten. Somebody gave me a red journal titled Travels Abroad which I wrote in sporadically. There’s a black and white photo of Mom and me standing with all the Nashville relatives at the old airport there, waiting to get on the plane to London. I wrote in my journal that when we went to visit Paul and Marian and the kids at the lake house, they made me sleep with Ronny, while Bonnie Kay slept with Suzanne. I didn’t feel good about that, but I wrote that Ronny was really sweet to me. I also wrote that I had to go in the lake in Suzanne’s swimsuit.
(L>R) Nannie Moore with David Whitesell, Lois Whitesell, Dot Moore (Momma), Bonnie Whitesell, Marian Moore, Bonnie Kay Moore, me. In the middle front are Pamela and Wayne Whitesell.

It also made an impression on me that on the airplane to London, they asked everyone to raise their hand who was from Pepperdine. One guy said, “I’m from Harvard!” and the stewardess said, “That doesn’t count.” And all of us from Pepperdine received special menus. Yes, folks, in 1963 you were given a printed menu prior to dining with real silver and china on overseas flights. Compare that to today’s “bistro bags”!
Daddy joined us in London, but then he would be making a different trip. Norvel sent him to Ethiopia on his way to Heidelberg, trying to make a connection for the school with Emperor Haile Selassie. (He must have succeeded to some degree, because one of the Emperor’s daughters later attended Pepperdine as a student. She was a gorgeous and gentle girl.) Daddy gave me some Ethiopian coins to begin my collection when we met him again in Heidelberg.

Momma and I caught up with Daddy, the Pepperdine students and Howard and Maxine White in London. The Whites had known my parents back at Lipscomb in Nashville many years before, but I didn’t realize that at the time. In fact, I learned later that another Pepperdine faculty wife, Ann Frasier, and Maxine had been friends at Lipscomb as college girls. The Whites had two boys, Ashley and Elliott, and the boys were reading a book about the explorer Thor Heyerdahl and his craft, Kon Tiki, when I met them. They were younger than me, not to mention male, and we were all somewhat shy, so we didn’t really click.

We had a really bad time in the hotel room when we got to London. Momma threw a fit and told Daddy she hated our hotel, and if this was the way the whole trip was going to be, she didn’t know what she would do. I was so hurt for Daddy. He couldn’t fix anything. He didn’t know what to do when Momma got upset like that, and I didn’t know what to do to make things any better. My personal of that hotel is my first Schweppe’s Bitter Lemon. It was a shock at first but then I decided I liked it. Also it was the first time I had seen TV that was not American. We didn’t have one in our room; I had to go down to the lobby and watch it in a kind of parlor. The BBC seemed strange, and I missed my familiar shows.

London was exciting. We went through the Tower and saw the crown jewels. We went to the British Museum, the Tate Gallery, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, Westminter Abbey (I wrote in my travel book that it was “a little dark and dingy”. I noted also that Dickens and Mary Queen of Scots were buried there.) We drove in a tour bus past the house where Charles Dickens lived. I had read A Christmas Carol in the thick pink clothbound collection of Christmas stories and poems that I still own. (I was always trying to talk my family into establishing some sort of Christmas tradition, like reading aloud together on Christmas Eve, but they weren’t having any of it.)

The next day we took a day trip up to Windsor Castle and Hampton Court. Sunday we went to the Wembley Station Church of Christ, taking my first trip on the Underground. After lunch, we went to the British Museum, and I wrote, “There are in the Museum:
1. The Magna Carta
2. The 500 clay Biblical tablets
3. Famous handwritings
4. Ancient books and manuscripts”

The next day, Monday, we went to Warwick Castle, Stratford-on-Avon, and Anne Hathaway’s cottage. I loved finally getting to see what a real thatched roof was like. I was impressed, everywhere we went, that all the suits of armor were so small. I was already an Anglophile at that young age. I didn’t know C. S. Lewis yet, but Robin Hood had a regular series on TV, and knights in shining armor were in my heart for sure, along with Peter Pan and lots of English fairy tales. I started a European charm bracelet, and for London Daddy bought me a silver “Bobby’s cap”. I was anticipating seeing Piccadilly Circus, and so disappointed to learn it was a traffic roundabout and not a real circus.

More strangeness. I wrote, “We went to a little place on the big street near the hotel and had breakfast. The rolls were hard, the butter sweet, and the marmalade bitter, but it was a typical Continental breakfast. I finally got used to it in Heidelberg.” Did you know that in 1963, two out of every ten English people lived in London? That’s what I wrote in my Travels Abroad journal.

Amsterdam didn’t make much of an impression on that visit, although I do still have a wooden shoe we must have bought there. I got a little silver “wooden shoe” for the charm bracelet. After we got settled in our hotel room, Momma and I went out walking, and I desperately wanted to buy some flowers from a street vendor. She, of course, insisted that would be a waste of money, because we would only be there a day or two. I thought she was just mean and terribly unromantic to deny me those flowers. We did take a canal ride and I noted that “there are four hundred bridges in Amsterdam.” What a statistician I was at ten! The next day I enjoyed the diamond cutting factory, and seeing the Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum.
In Copenhagen, I saw Hans Christian Andersen’s "Little Mermaid" statue in the harbor, and that was the charm I bought for my bracelet. We were taken to Elsinore where the story of Hamlet was set, and the concept of the Roman vomitorium was explained by the guide. (The hall there was equipped with such a room off to the side.) Feasting to such excess that you had to vomit, and then going back for more, seemed pretty nutty to me, but apparently it was considered the duty of an appreciative guest. Apparently we missed running into Lyndon Johnson (there on a state visit) at one of our tourist stops. I naively wrote that we could have eaten lunch with him, but were too late.

From Copenhagen we flew to Frankfurt, and there Daddy rented a car and drove us to Heidelberg. In my journal I wrote that Daddy brought me a monkey rug from Ethiopia. It was exotic, but it stunk, and I think we finally disposed of it. We would be living for the next four months in a small hotel a block off the Hauptstraβe (main street) called the Goldene Rose. It was on a little side street called St. Annagasse. (I learned that Straβe meant street and Gasse meant side street or alleyway.) Momma and Daddy had their own room in a small hallway on the opposite side of the hotel from the majority of the students. Across the hall from them were two college students, George “The Captain” Cooper, and a nerd named Craig Athon. We three got to be friends.

To get to my hotel room, you continued down the hall, turned left, and there was my door on the left, next to the night clerk’s room. I found out later on that he got drunk occasionally, and those nights were somewhat scary, to hear him stumbling and banging down the hallway on the way to his room. I had never been around a drunk person before. Yes, I was just ten years old and living in a hotel, pretty much by myself. My room had its own sink, a small table and chair, and a bed. There was a tall, double window that opened into the room. Outside the window, a wide ledge served as my icebox. The view out my window was not exactly attractive. It was the internal courtyard of the hotel, and all you could see was other people’s windows.

The room was heated by its own little radiator which stood under the window. The traditional bedclothes were called a “Decke” which was an overstuffed featherbed encased in a sheet-like bag, something like a giant pillowcase, the German version of a what we now call a duvet. You stuffed the Decke inside the case and buttoned it in. The Decke led to a great deal of discomfort for me. The radiator would go on and off during the night. Since the fall weather quickly turned into a cold winter, I either froze or sweated, alternating, throughout the night. The Decke would get too hot, then I would throw it off and freeze, then put it back on, then the radiator would come on and the process would start all over again.

One night, Craig Athon was asked to baby-sit me, and he took me to the A&W restaurant where we had all eaten before. They had hamburgers there, not totally like American but close enough. Daddy had given him money to pay for dinner. As the two of us walked along the street in the dark, I felt really old to be out alone with a college guy like that. (My self-image was decidedly not that of a child with a babysitter.) We heard music on a radio or maybe coming from a record shop, some folk singers singing “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” As we crossed a street heading back to the Goldene Rose Hotel, a car nearly hit me, and Craig grabbed me and pulled me back. It felt really good to be rescued.

Another night, Chip was visiting, and George and Craig and Chip and I sat up late in their room, talking. There may have been another guy or two there as well. They called it a “bull session.” I felt so grown up to be allowed to participate. And I really was holding my own, doing more than just listening. Years later, I mentioned the memory to Chip and asked him what on earth I had been like at ten. Why would he give me St. Exupery’s The Little Prince for my birthday at the age of ten? Now I realized it was a philosophy book, not a children’s book. “You were a philosopher,” he said.
o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o
It’s July 17, 2005. Charles Osgood announced this morning on Sunday Morning that today is the fiftieth anniversary of the grand opening of the Disneyland theme park, so I was two when it opened. I could measure Disneyland’s history less egocentrically and say the first time I visited it, the park was three years old.

I called Chip today to check a couple of dates, and asked him if he had anything to add to this collection of fragments. He said, “You’re the only person I know who’s ever quoted me to myself. I could hardly say anything you wouldn’t remember. When I was twenty, you would say, ‘You told me when I was ten…’. It was amazing.”

I responded, “Well, that’s because you didn’t talk to me a lot. I admired you so much, it was easy to remember everything you said to me.” I asked him if my recollection was true about his gift of The Little Prince for my tenth birthday, and his calling me a philosopher. He confirmed it.
o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o
It’s revealing to look in my little red Travels Abroad journal and see what mattered to me as a ten year old. I don’t remember some of the names in the directory, which I carefully filled in so I could write people back at home from Germany. But I had been careful to get Mrs. Helen Pepperdine’s address before we left. That meant that old Mr. Pepperdine, the founder of the college had already died by the time I was ten. They lived at 1614 Wellington Road, and it was a gracious, old fashioned house. It reminded me of a home from another era, one that would have been approved by Emily Post. I can still see the upstairs hallway, the kitchen where Mrs. Pepperdine did so much baking, and the side room off the living room where Mr. Pepperdine’s hospital bed was when he was dying. We went to visit at least once when he was in that bed. There was a bluish light coming through a half-round window in that room, and he was so frail and weak. Above are pictures of George and Helen Pepperdine.

Now that we were settled in to the Goldene Rose Hotel, I was informed that I would be attending a German school. Did the teachers speak English? Not many of them, or anyway not that they were letting on. Did any of the students speak English? Yes, a few did. Two girls, Leslie and Lynn Haskins, were the daughters of the DubbleBubble manufacturing company representative for Germany. There was Madeline Wells and Cathy Leigh. A couple of the German students also spoke “ein bischen Englisch.” Other than that, I was up a creek when it came to communication.

The first day we visited the school, called the Englisches Institut, made a big impression on me. Momma and Daddy were taking me to enroll me and meet the Director, Herr Geske. We got me registered, and we were just in time to hear a brief concert by some of the kids. They gathered on a staircase and sang a couple of songs, in German of course. I was amazed at the purity of their voices, and their incredible diction. They were so good! I wished I could sing in a group like that. They were almost as good as the Vienna Choir Boys I had seen on Walt Disney’s Sunday night TV show.

Daddy had mercy on me and accompanied me to school each morning for the first week. I wrote that it cost “ten cents” – I don’t know if that was really ten cents or maybe ten pfennigs. We went on the trolley or street car (Straβenbahn) from the Hauptstraβe and there was one change, I believe, where I had to remember to get off and catch another trolley. When he felt relatively sure I wouldn’t get lost, I was on my own. So I went to class early each morning in the dark, and we stayed until five p.m. when it was turning dark in the evening. It was a long school day, especially since I didn’t comprehend much at all of what was being taught.

The first week when I went to the cafeteria for lunch, I was eating by myself and suddenly realized the whole room had gone quiet. Then I figured out that everybody was staring at me. What was going on? Somebody saw that I was confused and explained to me that everyone was laughing at the way I ate, using my fork in my right hand. The European way was to keep your knife in your right hand, and use your left hand to hold the food with the backside of the fork up to your mouth. This was much more efficient than the eternal picking up and laying down of utensils that the American way required, and I fell into that habit for several years.

Once in class, I was happily reading some English book I had brought with me to class, when again I realized that the atmosphere in the classroom had changed and I looked up. The teacher was standing at my desk and screaming at me in German. I truly didn’t understand what he was saying or what was wrong, but I figured it out that the teacher thought I should have been paying attention to class. It was pointless – I didn’t get most of what was being said, so I just read a lot. It was probably Herr Fischer, the math teacher. I wrote in my journal that he was “really mean.”

Of all the classes I had, the one I was able to do was “Diktation” where the teacher would speak German sentences relatively slowly and the class was supposed to write them down. This was an exercise in penmanship and spelling. I did pretty well at this, because my ear and spelling were both good, and I enjoyed learning the more square style of German penmanship, not rounded like the Parker method. This was the age when I began to be interested in calligraphy.

I made one good German girlfriend, Marion, who spoke a little English and was very merciful and kind to me. I didn’t like the two American sisters very much; they were too wild for me. They were already starting to be sexually active, telling me the facts of life one day in the bathroom (Unfortunate way to find out!) and having boys over for makeout parties when their parents weren’t home. I guess they were ten and twelve or so. They did keep me in DubbleBubble, though, and for that I was grateful They said they had a case of the bubblegum about four feet square at home.

After school, I would stop by the building where Pepperdine was holding its classes. It was called Amerika Haus, and was owned by an organization which offered lectures and other cultural events in English. It had an English library, even a children’s section. I would check out books all the time, as had been my habit at Pepperdine, and they were my companions through the long evenings in my hotel room. After my stop-off there, I would head back to the hotel and everyone would have supper together in the hotel dining room, the same place we shared breakfast in the morning. On Friday nights, it was a tradition that we would visit various other restaurants together, to get a broader experience of German and European cuisine.

Besides my library books, my other friend in my hotel room was a little radio. The Armed Forces Radio Network broadcast all over Europe, and I had the benefit of their English news, music and special programs. The broadcasters knew that American children across Europe needed English-speaking entertainment, so in the early evening they had story time. I could appreciate the old folks’ tales about the days before TV when everyone gathered around the radio, since for those four months the radio was my lifeline and companion.

Where were my parents? I had long since learned to entertain myself, so I’m not sure what they did in the evenings. I know they rarely shared them with me. We had a family story about their previous German period, how they left Chip one night in a hotel room and went out, only to return to find he had climbed out the window, and down a two-story pile of rubble, in order to play with some children he saw outside. My dad’s brother reported, after my parents were both dead, that when Chip was a baby, he and his wife would find Chip crawling in the driveway between their apartment and my parents’. He said this happened more than once, and shook his head. So I discovered that neglect was a pattern that was never named or addressed, but deeply felt by me.

German schools were different from American schools in many ways. When we entered the classroom, it was really cold! The windows were kept wide open, even in winter. Later I realized that perhaps one reason for that custom was the odor…all those kids, and no deodorant. The American habit of masking natural body odor had not yet caught on in Germany. Or maybe they couldn’t afford it. Anyhow, it was cold in the classroom, and discipline was rigid. When the teacher entered the room, all the kids rose, clicked their heels together and said in unison, “Guten Morgen, Herr Professor Schmidt” or whatever his name might be.

When it was time for what we called P.E. in the States, we didn’t put on the typical American gym clothes of shorts and shirts. Instead, we had to buy black leotards and body suits at the department store, and we looked like gymnasts or dancers in them. I didn’t like my chubby body being so exposed, but everybody had to wear the same thing. And in Biologie, the kids were more advanced than in my grade in America, and were already using microscopes and doing experiments and learning about Mendel and genetics.

For each class, you had to buy a separate little notebook. They were standardized and you could buy them at any stationery store. They were called a “Heft” and were really just a paper booklet stapled together. I learned about German precision and care, exemplified by the fact that they also sold thin little plastic slipcovers for your Hefts so they wouldn’t get messed up, torn, wrinkled or wet. I liked the graph paper Hefts the best. I started enjoying going into the German stationery stores just to look around and relish all the different kinds of paper and pens and pencils. My fascination with office supplies continues to this day.

So the weeks and months passed. I would write air letters, blue paper that was prepaid for Air Mail overseas postage and marked with where to fold and seal it so it was just one piece of paper. I learned to write very small so as to get as much as possible into an air letter. I got some letters from the grandmothers in Nashville and from my friends in L.A., but never enough. This was the first time mail was precious to me, and I appreciated so much being remembered by my friends in California. I really was afraid they would forget me and I wouldn’t have any friends at all when I got back.

In October we went to visit a German family, the Rudy Walzebrücks, in Stuttgart. The whole family spoke English, so I had a better time than usual. There were cute little blond girls, younger than me. We all helped fix lunch, and there was a giant pot of boiled potatoes that I helped to mash. It felt like a genuinely happy family, and I was enjoying being around them.

I was supposed to be taking a nap in the top bunk of the girls’ bedroom, but I had found a LIFE magazine in English so of course I was reading it instead. It had the most horrible article, a supposedly true account of a woman who had been stabbed in her own home, in the morning after her family had left for work and school. She had run to the neighbors, looking for someone to help her, but no one came outside, and she finally died. This article came complete with photographs, in that harsh, graphic photo-journalistic tradition, and it was more than I could handle. I was deeply scared by those images, for a long time. I couldn’t talk to my parents about this kind of thing. They just didn’t know how to do or say anything that might be comforting.

We had a fun trip to Switzerland. Momma and Daddy and Chip and I took a road trip with Snookie (Sara) Smith in a little light blue VW bug we borrowed from the White family. You counted four adults, so I’m sure you’re concerned about where I had to sit. My place was in the pocket behind the back seat, under the little oval window. I thought that was fun! In Interlochen we ate our first fondue. It seemed to me that Chip felt nervous and under pressure because Daddy wanted to be sure that we went to the same restaurant that Chip had visited when he worked for Russell and Doris Squires’ touring group. We went to Lucerne, where a swan followed me across the covered bridge on the lake. We saw the famous wounded lion carved into the stone wall over a pond there. We stayed in a fancy hotel in Bern, and I loved the luxuriousness, but I felt lonely in our room because everybody went out one evening and left me to read and go to sleep before they got back.

Now it was November, and our time in Germany would be over in just a month. My parents had gone out for the evening, to an opera. Daddy had given me a special treat, since I would be home alone for a long evening. He had bought a little plastic cup and bowl with some kind of cartoon character on them, and with them he brought me a box of corn pops and a bottle of milk. You could set a bottle of milk on the ledge outside my window and it would either freeze or stay cold enough to keep, so he thought I would enjoy having some cereal before I went to sleep. (Also in my Travels Abroad journal was a pressed flower from a violet plant that Daddy had bought me. It seems he had pity on my lonely state from time to time.)

I was sitting at my little desk, reading and listening to the Armed Forces Radio Network, when there came a sudden break-in announcement. I felt such shock when the speaker said, “President Kennedy has been shot. The President is dead in Dallas.” I had loved the Kennedys. I loved their youth and attractiveness. I loved seeing the LIFE Magazine photo spreads, black and whites of Jackie and Jack on the beach at Hyannisport, their children, the President in his rocking chair, John-John playing under his desk, all that stuff. It was the Cold War, life was scary, we did “drop and cover” drills at school and we thought the possibility of atomic bombs and invasion through Cuba was very scary. And now the whole world was shaking, and the President was dead. Anything could happen.

I was just a little girl. I needed grownups. I hurried down to the dining room to see if any students were down there. They were. Everybody was gathering there to listen to the radio together. That helped some, but I still wanted my Mommy and Daddy to hurry home. The Whites arrived back from the opera, explaining that some official at the theater had interrupted the performance to tell the Americans what had happened. He had released them to leave if they so desired. But my parents had not come back with the Whites.
When my mother and dad finally appeared in the doorway of the restaurant, an hour or two later, I ran up to them and probably grabbed them, though I can’t recall.

I said, “Why didn’t you come home when the Whites did?”

“We decided to stay and see the rest of the performance,” they said. “There wasn’t anything we could do about it, so we stayed until the opera was over.”

“But I needed you!” I cried. (Or did I really say it out loud? Was it my heart that was crying, with my mouth remaining silent? I can’t say for sure.)

I wanted to explain to them what a huge thing this was to me, how shaken I felt. My world felt like it was crumbling. But I was a child, we didn’t talk much anyhow, and we certainly never discussed emotions, so there’s no telling what I actually was able to verbalize, nor what they were able to understand. The end result was that I felt my parents were scoffing at my drama.

“Don’t be silly! What are you so upset about? There’s nothing we can do about it. It doesn’t concern us.”

Even though I was only ten years old, I had a growing consciousness of world events, of political changes, of the threat of war, of the impact of this moment on the world, and my concerns were highly dramatic, while their tendency was to block out anything that they felt didn’t directly affect their lives. I didn’t understand that at the time. I just felt alone, and I felt I was being mocked.

I went to my little room, and lay in bed most of that night tossing and turning, unable to sleep. It was so painful, knowing I could not go to them for comfort. I felt the world was scarier than it had been before that night. And at that, my world had never felt safe to me.

The next day continued to be hard. Once we showed up at school, the officials told the American kids they were permitted to return home. So I got on the streetcar to go back to the hotel. I kept watching as the scenery passed by the windows, and it didn’t look familiar. I finally figured out that in my haste or confusion, I had gotten on the wrong streetcar. It didn’t stop for a long, long time, and when I finally was able to get off and I tried to figure out how to get back home, I had to walk a long way. It was a gray day, with a biting wind, in late November, and I cried as I walked into the wind. I took refuge at Amerika Haus, checked out some more library books, and made my way back to the Goldene Rose.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More about the Youngs’ house, where I spent more of my waking hours than in my own home. (I only have this one picture, but I was delighted to find it! The house was torn down some years back when the campus was sold.) The big white house, its porches and its yards were like a playground for us kids. We ran all over the house, as well as all over the Pepperdine campus, making up stories to act out, and imagining all kinds of things. For awhile, the drama department stored their costumes in the attic off Marilyn’s room, and we played dress-up in those. One time some other Pepperdine faculty children were at the house with us, and on the huge front porch we acted out a play from a book. I had fallen in love with Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, and since those girls were always putting on plays, I instigated these.

One story I remember trying to make into a play was “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep”, a Rudyard Kipling tale about a little orphaned boy who is severely mistreated. I related to his pain so deeply that I wanted to act out his drama. Marilyn and Sara, not having read the story nor having experienced the same pain, could hardly have been expected to catch on, but I tried directing them anyway.

Besides the two attics, the house had a full basement, and that meant a whole lot of scary, dark, mostly empty, cold rooms. Chip thinks there were fourteen rooms -- I was too scared to go in all of them and count. He says there was a nine-pin bowling alley in one of the basement rooms. He also recalls that there was a wireless set from World War II, and a real Edison-style wax recorder that actually worked when he first saw it.

For awhile there were different college guys living in the Youngs’ basement. One was named John Carothers. He was studying to be a doctor, and was the son of some friends of the Youngs and my parents in Nashville. (His dad, Lip Carothers, was an executive for American Airlines, so of course for many years I felt that American was the airline of choice.) John was very interested in Sara. He told her he was going to wait until she was grown up enough, and then he would marry her.

Sara always seemed to have that effect on certain young men, and I think Marilyn, being fourteen months older, was understandably jealous of that. I know I was -- I was always wishing I could overhear what they were talking about so maybe I could catch on to how Sara attracted them and then held their attention. I never learned how to flirt, and she was such a natural at it.

Marilyn and I used to sit and talk in the dark, when I would spend the night. Even as early as ten years old, we dreamed about how wonderful it would be to someday have a man to talk to, to share heart to heart with. Marilyn couldn’t have imagined, when we were young, what a wonderful man God was saving for her to love. And she would have been more than horrified to hear how long her wait would be! She was forty when she married Stephen, after a few bad relationships, followed by ten celibate years of declaring to everyone that God was going to bring her a strong Christian husband.

Back to that basement. When we got to be pre-teens, we used the biggest basement room as our meeting place for a group we formed called the “Associated Girls for Pepperdine”. (This was an adjunct organization to its parent, Associated Women for Pepperdine, which had been founded by Helen Young and for which she and my mom both served terms as President.) The members were Marilyn, Sara, Susan Teague, me, and Honorary Member Weldon Blackwell. (Weldon was a boy, but he really wanted to join so we let him.) Since there were usually just four girls (sometimes Beth Ross would also join us but not often), we had just enough officer positions to go around, so we would rotate being President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer.

We had regular weekly meetings during which we tried to observe Roberts’ Rules of Order (except that we weren’t exactly sure what they were). One year we even had a booth at the Gift Fair, the AWP’s annual fundraiser, where we sold what we had baked together in Helen’s kitchen. It was the late ‘Sixties, so we also sold candles we had made as well, and we had incense burning and Judy Collins music playing, and I think it made some of the older ladies quite nervous. We raised $80 for the Pepperdine Scholarship Fund, which we presented formally to Norvel. Somewhere there’s a publicity picture of the presentation of that check. Helen always did her part to make the Gift Fair successful by buying things that were still unsold when it ended. We girls always laughed about the horrible homemade treasures in the “Gift Fair” closet which Helen would then attempt to give away as gifts throughout the year. We became cultural snobs at an early age, but I claim the title as the worst in that regard.

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The front entrance was rather grand. The big, heavy carved wooden front door, which opened onto the formal living room, was used mostly when company came to visit. From the driveway, there was a walk, and you could come up the stairs from that side or from the side yard to a center landing where the stairs met, then turn and climb more stairs to the front door. The porch had two large arches, one on either side of the doorway, and was as spacious as a large room. All of the stairs and porches were a reddish colored tile, not shiny with glaze but a matte-finish clay tile.

From the driveway, we would usually come into the house through the side door, to the family room, or the back door which led through a hallway to the kitchen. Those doors were hardly ever locked. Either way, you had to climb a flight of stairs. The steps to the kitchen went straight up to the door, but the stairs to the family room led first to a wide side porch, which rounded the corner to become the front porch. That side porch and entrance was built back when people drove horses pulling a buggy or carriage. Tthe driveway next to the family room door was covered with a wide archway that would keep you from getting wet if it rained.

If you came up the stairs to the family room, you might be tempted to be a little dramatic or playful and walk out on one of the two wide, white ledges on the outside of the stairs. Sara often did that. Also, when we were a little older, she like to come and go from the family room to the porch through a long window instead of using the door. The door to the family room had glass panes, so you could peek in and see if it looked like anyone was home.

In the family room was Helen’s desk, near the side door, where she could often be found of a morning helping the girls make last-minute adjustments to their homework. There were also a couch, a TV and a stereo. We spent many, many hours there listening to music, playing records on that turntable. One of my happy memories of the family room was signing and addressing Christmas cards. All the kids, Emily, Matt, Marilyn, Sara and I were sitting with index cards in boxes and complaining about how many there were to do, and of course there was Christmas music playing on the stereo. Here's the picture of the kids that was inside that Christmas card. When she was little, they used to call Sara by her full name, Sara Helen.

It could be that the reader has never seen a record player or stereo system. It’s what we used back then to listen to music, before cassettes and CD players and MP3s and iPods. When record albums had been used much, they would develop scratches. I became a fanatic about cleaning the dust off them before I played them, trying to keep finger prints off, and always putting them up correctly in their slipcovers. But even then my ears were bothered by the scratches and distortions. I told myself there was a crackling fire in an imaginary fireplace, and that helped some.

From the family room, you could go down a dark hall to the right, to Norvel and Helen’s bedroom and bath, or straight ahead to the living room, or to the left to the study. The study connected the family room to the living room. It faced the front of the house and had big glass French doors (those doors that come in pairs and open together) which led to the front porch. Those doors were always locked. The study was where Mrs. Young’s secretary would work at a huge desk. There was a leather-covered bench built into the wall, with a dark wooden back that hid behind it a fold-down bed. Once Marilyn was sick with measles and was allowed to sleep there so her mom could keep an eye on her.

When we were little, people used manual and electric typewriters instead of computers. There was an IBM Selectric on that desk where we could type. A Selectric typewriter had little balls that you could change to make the type look different. Even then I thought it was cool that you could have a choice of fonts. (Years later I would become a font addict.) My dad must have thought it was cool too, because he had a typewriter that was cursive and he used it for all his correspondence, which he proudly typed himself. I remember using carbon paper to make copies, and I thought Whiteout was a wonderful thing until I learned how to use the correction tape in the Selectric! I never did learn to type without errors.

A dark wood-paneled hallway ran between the family room and Helen and Norvel’s bedroom. There was a walk-in closet on the right side of that hallway that was filled to the ceiling with overflowing bookcases. That closet had a window too. I loved that cramped, stuffed closet. One of my favorite books that lived there was the thick, blue cloth-covered Etiquette by Emily Post. I loved to look at the old black and white photographs of how life used to be in the days of elegance and propriety. (I didn’t realize it had only been a few years since all this grandeur had been promoted as the standard for the upper middle class way of life.) I would read with amazement Mrs. Post’s long lists of all the requirements for a properly outfitted home. I guessed it was important to familiarize yourself with Mrs. Post’s Etiquette if you didn’t want to embarrass yourself in company.

Also in that closet was a complete set of the little magazine we called “Power”, but officially known as Power for Today, bound in black. The Youngs founded this periodical back when most all their friends were single or newlyweds and had lots of time and energy to volunteer their help. It was Norvel’s vision that Christianity was demonstrably relevant to modern culture and must be shown to be so. He and Helen edited this devotional magazine, and a small monthly magazine called 20th Century Christian. Who would have guessed at its founding that my dad’s youngest brother, and now my cousin Carol, would carry that business into the 21st century? I’ve been trained to think all my life, when special God-moments happen, “Oh, that would make a great Power article!” But I’ve not written for the publication, because I left the denomination early and the readership would not consider me a kosher contributor. The Youngs’ daughter Emily and her husband, Steven Lemley, are co-editors today.

There was an old-fashioned white-tiled bathroom, and then came the bedroom. The Youngs had a king-size bed. I think they must have bought one of the earliest electric adjustable beds, where you could push a button and make the head or foot of the bed rise. Dr. Young (as I always called Norvel) loved to be in his pajamas as often as possible, sitting in that bed with the head and feet raised so it was more like a lounge chair. He would read the paper, write articles, watch TV, eat pretzels or pistachio nuts, and welcome all of us to gather in his and Helen’s bedroom.

As I got a little bit older I grew amazed that they were so willing, since I wasn’t their child, to let me be there with them in their pajamas, but they never acted embarrassed or uncomfortable. If you knocked on a door, or called out to find out who was home, Helen would call, “Come!” with such a warm, energetic voice that she always made me feel welcome.

This delightful sense of being welcomed and accepted was threatened when my mother told me, “The Youngs won’t tell you when you’re not wanted.” She knew that Helen was so ruled by her desire to be generous and gracious that it would be hard for her to tell the truth and ask me to go home. But I couldn’t bear the thought that this acceptance I so desperately desired was not to be trusted. So I rejected her wisdom as mere bitterness or jealousy. Years later, I came to understand how I hurt my mother, and added to her already strong self-rejection, by comparing her with Helen. I repented to her, but it was too late to undo the damage I had done.

Over the Youngs’ bed hung a big painting of the prophet Samuel as a little boy, kneeling and talking to God. As Helen explained, that was when Samuel was living with the priest Eli and learning how to serve God. One night he heard God speak to him. Eli coached Samuel to answer when God called to him, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant hears.”

There was a dressing room off the bedroom for Helen and another large closet for Norvel. I always thought Helen’s dressing room was glamorous because she had lots of beautiful clothes and she used more makeup than my mom did. It was always pretty messy in there, because she was always in a hurry to get on to the next thing. That messiness was a shock to me, because my mother was very careful about everything being in its proper place, but Helen seemed delightfully unaware of such restrictions.

From the side door, it was a straight shot through the family room, through the living room, and into the guest wing with two bedrooms and a bathroom between them. The big blue guestroom was very elegant and had a double bed and a blue velvet covered window seat, and the beige bedroom had twin beds and rich drapes. That’s where Grandmother Mattox would stay when she visited. Here she is with daughter Helen Young and a popular singer and actor of the day, Pat Boone.

One Christmas, Mrs. Mattox was visiting. She was the first person I had ever known who was so old, and she was losing her eyesight. It made me feel a bit strange to be around her because of my unfamiliarity with blindness, but I found she was easy to talk to, very awake and aware. She liked to listen to the news and discuss current events. We were all helping to decorate the Christmas tree. She was sitting in a chair and unpacking glass ornaments from a box when one broke and cut her finger. She was bleeding, and someone ran to get a bandage. Sara said, “Grandmother, doesn’t it hurt?” and she said, “No, dear, when you get as old as I am, little accidents don’t hurt as much.” I found that piece of information fascinating.

The living room was a long room, with dark wood paneling and a fireplace at one end with green tiles around it. Every year I was impressed with how tall the Youngs’ Christmas tree was. It touched the ceiling of the living room, and that was a high ceiling, maybe fifteen feet. One Christmas when we were little, Santa Claus brought each girl a doll called a “Patty Play Pal”. The dolls were almost as tall as we were, and we were so excited to have them. In the living room there were gas heaters built into the walls, and one of us (I don’t remember which) got our Patty Play Pal too close to the heater and burned her hair. What a smell!

Nearly every little girl in the ‘Sixties seemed to have a Barbie doll. I had one, and I had a blue plastic case to keep her and her clothes in. I didn’t have many store bought clothes for her, but my grandmother Whitesell had a sister, Aunt Bess, who loved to sew. She would tailor exquisite doll clothes to fit Barbie and mail them to me. They were works of art, especially the white satin wedding dress. One summer while I was visiting in Nashville, Aunt Bess let me sew with her and we picked out fabric and made a tiny eight-patch quilt to fit Barbie’s bed. I still have the little quilt, though Barbie is long gone.

Back at the Youngs’ house, the way you turned on the lights in this house was with push buttons, instead of light switches. I’ve never seen another house wired like that. From the living room you could also enter the Music Room, which had some formal chairs, an embroidered day bed, and a grand piano with the lid elegantly up. The Young girls took piano lessons for awhile, and the three of us would try to impress each other with what we could play, but I was always the best until Janice Hahn started going to school with us in seventh grade. Janice outshone me on the piano and won Marilyn’s admiration.

But before that, here’s a mental video I have of the Music Room. We girls were sitting around the room in stiff formal wooden chairs, and Emily (Sara and Marilyn’s older sister) was teaching us deportment. We were to sit with our knees together, legs pointing at an angle, and our feet crossed at the ankles. Our hands were to lie in our lap just so. We even did the walking-with-the-book-on-your-head thing. I asked Emily, “When are our knees going to stop being so knobby and get all round like yours are?” I had no idea of it at the time, but this may have mortified her, because she was already a bit self-conscious about weight.

This lesson from Emily was one in a series that our parents put together one summer. They decided that our AGP club (Remember the Associated Girls for Pepperdine?) could be useful, and that we needed some scheduled activities to enrich us. So we took a typing class that summer, we took some art classes in the Pepperdine art department, we went to Peggy Teague’s house (her husband Bill was Vice President of Pepperdine at the time) and learned how to wrap gift packages (I still think of that lesson when I wrap packages), and we had that deportment class with Emily. I actually enjoyed the attention and the activities a lot, and wished we could have had more summers like that. But the grownups only got it together for us that once.

If you left the family room and turned right, you entered the formal dining room (the one with the aforementioned mysterious stain around the chandelier), where we only ate on special occasions. Then there was the butler’s pantry, which was a little hallway with cupboards and shelves, and then the swinging door to the kitchen.

The kitchen was all white and had a white Formica-covered table in the middle. In the refrigerator you could usually find all kinds of leftovers. Leftovers from teas and dinners, leftovers from receptions and breakfasts. We could usually scrounge around and find things to snack on. You had to be careful of the milk though, and check it before you chugged it. (It might be sour.) I loved to go shopping with Helen and the girls at a huge membership discount store called Fedco. We would load up two grocery carts with all kinds of things, always including big cases of canned diet soda. I especially loved Fedco when I started buying record albums there at $3 each.

When we were very young, Helen had a lady helping her with the housework whose name was Valeria. She was from an eastern European country, like Poland or Czechoslovakia. I don’t remember if she cooked for the family, but she probably did. I do remember her being gentle, quiet and shy, maybe because she didn’t speak much English.

After a few years Valeria left, and we got Geraldine. Geraldine was a real character. She was very bossy, loud, mouthy and set in her ways. She enjoyed watching “her stories” (the soap operas on afternoon TV) while she ironed, and she enjoyed complaining about how messy the kids were. She would often cook a main dish for the family’s supper, like a roasting pan of barbecued chicken, and leave it in the refrigerator. Geraldine made absolutely the best cookie dough I have ever tasted, and I’ve always wished I had her recipe. A roll of it would be in the freezer waiting for someone to get it out and bake some cookies. I would sneak little bites from it, and probably more than once ate a big wad of it. It was fantastic.

Once a child of Geraldine’s, I think it was a son, was in a fight or got shot and was taken to L. A. County General. It must have been summer, because it was daytime when the girls and I drove downtown with Helen to be with Geraldine in the waiting room. County General was enormous, and it took us a long time to find her. There were different colored stripes painted on the floor that you could follow to different parts of the hospital, and in some of the bigger halls the stripes were seven or eight or nine colors.

I thought, “This is really something, that Mrs. Young would take the time to drive all the way down here and bring us just to show Geraldine that she cares about her and her child.” My mom just wasn’t the kind of person who got involved in someone’s life like that. She didn’t want to meet my friends or their parents, and she rarely did anything for her cleaning women, when later on we could afford someone once a week, other than pay them.

The first dog the Youngs had was named Stonewall Jackson. They made a house for him by the steps down from the breakfast room. Later on, Marilyn had a dog she kept for years, named Buckwheat. Geraldine really disliked Buckwheat. He was a tan and white beagle, hefty and low to the ground. Buckwheat had some digestion problems, so if there was ever a bad smell in the air, we would always say, “Buckwheat did it!” and that way no one had to own up to passing gas. In the Young family, flatulence was called “bluffing”. “Who bluffed?” was a question often heard. Buckwheat would wake us up at night scratching his back on the frame of Marilyn’s bed. She really loved that dog.

Buckwheat was a racist, and it may have been based on experience, since there were black kids in the neighborhood who would ride their bikes and chase or kick him. It was an unfortunate name for a dog to have in the racially tense ‘Sixties in Los Angeles. “Hey, Buckwheat!” was not something that should be shouted in a neighborhood next door to Watts, where the riots and fires happened in 1965, and where Pepperdine had its own racial crisis two years later. Buckwheat lived long enough to move with the family to Malibu in 1972, and lost a lot of weight chasing animals and running all around the beach house property. Finally he was hit by a car on Pacific Coast Highway, and Helen put him in the freezer so Marilyn could give him a decent burial when she came home from college in Abilene, Texas for a visit.

Back to the big white mansion in L.A. In the kitchen, to the right of the sink in the windowsill, Helen kept a box of index cards that had encouraging words written or typed on them. She had collected verses from the Bible and quotes from wise people, so there would always be something encouraging for her to think about while washing the dishes or fixing meals. A plaque hung on the kitchen wall that had a prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr which people now call the Serenity Prayer: “O God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” We could not have guessed when we were kids how much those words would come to mean to us in later years.

One funny thing to me about that kitchen was that there was always a mess somewhere. Maybe the top was left off the ketchup bottle or the pickle jar and they’d be sitting like that in the cabinet. Or there would be a spill from a cupboard dripping onto the counter. Or one of the kids would pour a glass of milk and it would end up half in the glass and half on the table or on the floor. My mom liked things neat and clean, so Chip and I always had to be very careful. I thought it was kind of wonderful that the Young kids were free of that tight restriction – although I was also horrified by the messiness.

As we got a bit older, the kids drank “Instant Breakfast” in the morning, which was a chocolate flavored powder that you stirred into milk, or “Sego” which was one of the early canned diet meal drinks. We were always in a big hurry to get to school in the mornings. It was so hard to wake Marilyn up, and then there was that last minute homework. (I never had last-minute homework, but that’s how the family often managed at the Youngs’ house.) There was certainly no time to eat breakfast if you had to sit down to do it.

By the time we got to seventh grade, we were always going on diets. There was the grapefruit diet, where we ate a half a grapefruit with every meal. For that one, I was actually allowed to spend one whole week with the girls, eating together and running around the track behind the house every day. We were very diligent – for that week! But it was hard for all of us to stick with anything much longer than that.

Being so often restricted at home on what I could eat, coupled with my early association of comfort with food, encouraged a sneakiness in me. But I had a mother one could not easily get past. Sometimes she was incredibly conscious of what she had in the kitchen and the freezer. Once she came home from work and hollered, “There were thirteen cookies in the cabinet and now there are only ten! I want to know who ate them!!” On another occasion I asked if I could have some grapes and she responded, “Yes. Six.” Something rose up in me that said, “I’d rather have no grapes than eat just six!” The atmosphere was so controlling that I sadly came to associate bounty with freedom, and restriction with being deprived. It took me a long time to retrain myself.

After the kitchen came the breakfast room, where sit-down-together meals were usually eaten (rarely, like Sunday lunches after church). From there, or from the side door hallway, you got into Matt’s rooms. He had two rooms and a bathroom, like a little apartment of his own. I have a vague memory of my brother Chip and Matt tying me up in a chair and leaving me back there one time. I think I was pretty little at that point.

In my teenage years, I thought Matt’s rooms were very mysterious and fascinating and would wander (Shall we say sneak?) around in them, or sit and read his books when he wasn’t there. That’s where I made the acquaintance of J. D. Salinger and his Franny and Zooey. (That’s why Danny Jackson says he noticed me for the first time. He was impressed when Matt told him that I had read all of Franny and Zooey in just one long, delightful afternoon.)

Monday, August 15, 2005

I’ve talked a bit about the Pepperdine campus, but it’s hard to communicate what it felt like to come to know a place so well. I loved having the feeling that this was my place, that I could wander wherever I wanted to and I belonged there. There was such a broad expanse of grass, with buildings all around the periphery. In the spring, that grass would be covered with little white daisies with yellow centers, and I would sit in the middle of the campus and play with them, and make daisy chains. To my dad, they weren’t daisies, they were weeds, and at least one spring I cried when he had the mowers cut them all down. How could he be so heartless?

The jacaranda trees that Daddy had planted along the sidewalk on the 79th Street side of the campus would bloom every year, making a purple haze, and the enormous date palms would actually flower and produce inedible orange-brown dates. There was another tree that produced pretty white flowers, and if you broke a twig off it there was a milky white liquid. We were told that tree was poisonous, and I think the juicy purple berries that the mulberry bushes dropped were supposed to be poisonous too. Giant eucalyptus trees trailed their rustling leaves beside the Fine Arts Building, and made mysterious shadows at night.

The girls and I felt we owned the campus, since we had the run of it, and one of the many signs of our passage there was a path in the grass from the library to the palm tree across from the cafeteria. That was “our shortcut” because we could push through a little hole in the bushes next to the palm tree. We knew we had truly made our mark when a few years later they gave up and just paved that diagonal brown line from the library to the palm tree where we had killed the grass, making it an official walkway.

Since all of the workmen at Pepperdine worked for my dad, I got to know many of them. Daddy taught us that everyone was worthy of respect and kind treatment, no matter what sort of job they did. The two men that stand out are Charlie Lane and Jack von Bender. Charlie had a British accent and an affectionate way about him. He made his nightly reports in a beautiful calligraphic script in a red journal my dad kept in his office. Pepperdine was so small and things were so quiet that we actually had only one night watchman for all those years. At one point, Dad paid Chip to walk around Charlie’s beat each evening about dusk, and make sure all the doors were locked and the lights appropriately on or off as needed.

Jack von Bender always wore a blue jumpsuit and he was so tall and big that it felt like hugging a mountain when I would hug him. I felt so safe with him. He worked for Pepperdine for years, even when we moved to the Malibu campus, and on a visit back there after I had graduated, I ran into him one day. He was working by the Youngs’ swimming pool. I walked up to him and called his name and gave him a hug. He started to tell me some memory about my dad, and had to turn away because he didn’t want to cry in front of me. What a teddy bear, a lover of a guy, was Jack.

Once, before I had my driver’s permit, I was waiting for Momma and Daddy in the family Buick and I yielded to temptation and started the car. I actually put it in reverse and backed the car a bit, unaware that behind us there was a metal pole sticking up out of the ground about two feet. What on earth was that doing there? The rear bumper was now hooked over the offending protrusion. I panicked because there was no way out and I was going to be in big trouble when my parents came back. Like an angel, Jack showed up, saw my predicament and lifted the bumper up off the pole while I inched forward. I was so saved!

My mother became Head Librarian of Pepperdine Library when it was still just one campus with just one library. Her office was on the front left corner of the building. You would walk up a few curved steps to the double front doors, entering the large front room with the oak card catalogues and the front desk. It was also oak and instead of a right angle, where it turned was a curve. (All the buildings at Pepperdine had rounded corners instead of right angles. The architect was consistent in his style throughout the campus. It may have reflected some influence of Art Deco.) To the right was the entrance to the Reading Room, a huge room with high windows and built-in bookcases all around the room, and long library tables with heavy chairs. Swinging wooden double doors with windows in them made a quietly heavy sound as you opened them to enter the cavernous Reading Room.

To the left of the front desk was the door to my mother’s office. When she sat at her desk, she was facing you as you entered. There were windows on two sides that connected and curved around from behind her to her right. There was a big closet to her left, and some bookshelves, her big desk, and a couch. She was an early believer in power naps. At lunch time she could fall asleep for twenty minutes, wake herself up and be refreshed. Here's Momma in the lobby of her L.A. campus library around 1971.

After school, I would sometimes stop by to say hello, but she was seldom really free to stop for a minute and talk to me. Always busy, in the early days she had a student secretary I met many years later in Nashville. Barbara Bailey Frank declared that she remembered me as a brat, and I was not too surprised to hear it. I stayed frustrated by my folks’ lack of attention. Both worked so hard in their jobs and at home that they were exhausted and never seemed to have anything left over for me at the end of the day. Also, Sara and Marilyn and I developed a certain bravado, a lack of boundaries, and a critical mouth. We projected a veneer of confidence that a friend later told me made it appear to him that we were “stuck up”. I explained to him that the veneer was a mask for our actual shyness and insecurity.

Another benefit of living in an academic community is that other adults besides our parents took an interest in us kids from time to time. One significant adventure for me was when Gloria Sanders took me to see the movie version of South Pacific. She was the wife of my parents’ old friend J. P. Sanders and the mother of three boys, so maybe she thought it would be fun to do something with a little girl. I fell in love with Bali Hai. I loved all the intense green rainforest, I loved the waterfalls, and of course I loved the soft focus shots inside the bamboo house when Lt. Cable sang to Liat, “Younger than springtime are you…” Waterfalls have been my favorite part of nature ever since.


Hayley Mills was an adorable little blonde girl, the child of a British theater family, and in 1960 Walt Disney starred her in a movie called Pollyanna. I saw the movie, I read the book, and I decided that I wanted to be like Pollyanna. It made perfect sense to me. Here she was, alone in the world (her missionary parents had been killed) living with a cold, unaffectionate aunt, and facing a town full of bitter, harsh or otherwise difficult adults. And she won every one of them over with her perseverance, her good cheer, and most of all her “Glad Game”.

Pollyanna’s father had taught her that no matter what happens there’s always something to be glad about. She revolutionized the town with his philosophy. Well, who wouldn’t want such power to make their world a happier place? So I proceeded to make her my role model. It didn’t help that later on I was steeped in the Shirley Temple movies. There was a Shirley Temple Film Festival on TV for weeks, and I caught every one. From Shirley I learned to be a “little trouper”, always to act brave and resourceful and take care of myself. In the end, these role models proved not to be the best, but they did help me survive in my childhood world.

Everyone loved Hayley Mills so much that the following year she starred in The Parent Trap. It was the first time, I think, we had seen an actor play twins, and she was adorable again. This time, instead of the prim Victorian era, the story was set in the present day. She got to be a modern kid and even sang a little pop music. So this was the first album I ever bought for my own record collection. “Let’s get together, yeah, yeah, yeah…We can have a lot of fun…” Pretty innocuous lyrics…yet I wonder, could this have been the source of the Beatles’ famous “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah…” from their hit “She Loves You” released two years later? I’m no musicologist; just wondering.

As powerful as movies were to shape my life, I also learned that they were powerful to upset it. For someone’s birthday all of us little girls were taken to see Charade with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn. I believe I asked an adult to take me out of the movie, because it was scaring me so much, but they probably felt they couldn’t do that and chaperone the other girls as well. At any rate, I dreamed about the faces of the several murdered people in that movie for some time after that experience. It took me quite awhile to learn that I was more sensitive than many people to visual images. It was years before I learned that I needed to take responsibility for what entered my mind. One day I suddenly realized that it was crazy to take in horrible images and then later have to ask God to help me deal with them. Why not just guard against taking them in at all?

Second grade was hard for me. I had an Asian teacher. I would have called her Oriental at the time, not being able yet to distinguish Japanese from Korean from Chinese. She was very strict, and I felt that she didn’t like me. I don’t remember what I did wrong, but as a punishment once she had me sit on the floor under the blackboard and she cleaned the erasers over my head by banging them on the chalkboard.

I never heard my parents discuss it, but they made the decision to remove me from Raymond Avenue and enroll me in the Lockhaven Christian School, where Matt, Sara and Marilyn went. One afternoon I got into the car and was told by my dad, “You won’t be coming back to this school.” I wondered if I had done something wrong enough to get me kicked out of Raymond Avenue. They never said what caused them to make the change.

My parents made another decision at that point which also helped to reinforce the direction of my early life. My reading ability was the only thing I knew of that made me stand out, but apparently they or someone believed that skipping a grade would benefit me. So now instead of being in third grade with Sara Young, I was skipped to fourth grade with Marilyn Young. Their brother Matt was in eighth grade, and before I was enrolled at Lockhaven I went with the Young family to attend a night time school performance in an outdoor amphitheater. Matt’s class was part of the program, singing, “Don’t Fence Me In”. That was my only contact with the school before I arrived. I thought that concert was pretty neat, so I might have been excited to go to school there.

That summer between second grade and fourth grade, my parents tried to catch me up by hiring a high school girl from down the block to teach me cursive writing and my times tables. For many years, I explained my math blockage by the fact that I missed third grade math, joking that I was still insecure about the multiplication tables, but really it’s that I let my ninth grade math teacher make me believe I couldn’t do it. It turns out decades later that I have some aptitude for working with numbers after all. At the end of that summer, however, I did not feel ready for fourth grade.

This was the first time I had been driven to school. I would walk across the Pepperdine campus to the Youngs’ house and Helen Young would drive us to Lockhaven Christian School in Inglewood. I was scared at first, not knowing anyone in my class except Marilyn. Up until then, Sara and I had been somewhat closer since we were the same age, but now I would get to know Marilyn better. In fourth grade, at that young age, she was understandably not mature or thoughtful enough to try to include me with her friends, so I often felt alone at recess or at lunch. This was already my habit from previous years at school, and I didn’t know how to break out of it.

As in every group of kids, there were the cool ones and the not so cool. Cheryl Hall and her friend Mindy were always perfectly groomed, well dressed, quiet and nicely behaved. I felt like a misfit. My hair never seemed to do the right thing, my clothes never seemed to look right, and I didn’t feel very feminine. And I was too loud, too talkative, too opinionated and too passionate to be well-behaved.

Mrs. Feldkamp was my fourth grade teacher at Lockhaven. She was a perfect grandmotherly type, somewhat swishy in the way she walked, with an old lady voice. I remember her as very sweet. She had silver hair, and her hairdresser put a different rinse on it for each of the four seasons. It was green at Christmas time, violet in the spring, blue for summer, and I think somewhat golden for fall. I thought she liked me, and this was such a relief.

We were told to bring a set of colored pencils to school and keep them in our desks. I loved having my own desk, metal with a wooden top that lifted and my books and supplies inside. One afternoon each week, Mrs. Feldkamp would tell us to take out our colored pencils and draw, while she read aloud to us. She read an incredibly descriptive story about an impala (from the impala’s point of view) that made me fall in love with Africa, and she read us The Island of the Blue Dolphins. I so identified with that island girl, left alone to fend for herself. And I loved the colors of the colored pencils, and the feeling of creativity, letting the words of the story wash over me while I drew.

Which musical did the theater department at Pepperdine perform when I was in second grade? I don’t know, but I think Sara was in third grade (and Marilyn and I in fourth) when she won the part of Amaryllis in The Music Man. Once again, I fell into the role of coach instead of getting to be on stage myself. My mother played the piano and she was trying (with much resistance) to teach me, so I helped Sara memorize her piano piece for her role, the one Amaryllis called her “Cross-Hand Piece.”

I was jealous of Sara, because she was so cute and I was already gaining weight from my secret candy habit developed while waiting for the Brownie troupe meetings. Susan Teague, another faculty child, also got to be in The Music Man. She played the younger daughter of the Mayor and his wife, Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn. I consoled myself that Marilyn wasn’t in the play, just like me. That was the end of Marilyn’s and my careers in the theater, but Sara went on to play another part, one of the children of Job, in a play by Archibald MacLeish called J.B.. The star of that show, Mark York, paid attention to all of us but especially liked Sara and would walk her home from rehearsal at night. Talk about a romantic…this college guy saved the rose petals from the roses he would pick in the Youngs’ driveway as he walked her home. She was by that time, what, twelve years old? What a heartbreaker she was.

Now that I was in the same school with the Young girls, and riding there and back with them in a carpool, it was natural to spend more time with them, especially after school when I was already at their house. When you turned off 79th Street onto Budlong, their block, you passed the Pepperdine Gym, and then you came to a black iron fence with brick columns. It extended a long way, down the front of their main yard. Then you got to the black gates, which could be closed but never were. There were tall dark cypresses and big magnolia trees, and along the driveway were sculpted box hedges and rose bushes staked to poles like saplings. When we were little, a lot of the yard to the right side of the driveway was a fruit and vegetable garden, though later as Helen became increasingly busy with Pepperdine work, it was transformed into a rose garden.

There was a swing set there, when we were little, across from the side entrance to the house. Remember the Mary Martin play, Peter Pan? I loved a three-part round from that musical, “Tender Shepherd,” that the children sang before bed. I found it entrancing to hear the parts of the round cross each other and fit together. One day, as we were swinging on the swing set, I tried and tried to get Sara and Marilyn to memorize that round and sing it with me. I don’t recall getting much satisfaction from that effort.

We picked raspberries and boysenberries with Helen in that garden. Boysenberries were unique to California at that time, and I loved the boysenberry preserves at the Knott’s Berry Farm Steakhouse. I would always order beef stew, and for dessert I would have their rolls and boysenberry jam. Helen later said she got too busy and just let that garden die. I don’t know why the Pepperdine gardeners didn’t help take care of them. I guess someone thought that was the family’s job.

For a long time, there was a big parrot who lived in those trees and we would hear him calling now and then. And for awhile, somebody gave some peacocks to Pepperdine and they would strut around the yard. (I wonder who fed the peacocks?) I also remember mourning doves who lived under the eaves of the roof near Sara and Marilyn’s bedroom windows. They said they hated the sound of those birds cooing, but I thought they were neat. (That’s how we talked back then.) They appealed to my quickly developing sense of the romantic.

There was a fig tree in the back yard, and I thought it was special that the figs ripened just in time for the Christmas visit of Helen Young’s mother, Irene Mattox. Mrs. Mattox loved figs, and Helen was so delighted to be able to please her mother in that way. The giant avocado tree in the back yard was a blessing not only because of its avocados – it was also our fort. The branches came down almost to the ground all the way around the tree, except for an entrance (Did we create that?) but inside it was like a tall green room.

There were nights we had slumber parties under the tree . . . until we got scared and ran into the house. Once the Youngs bought a large tent to go camping with across the country. We used it for a slumber party in the back yard. I believe the story goes that Norvel and Helen had planned to take the kids and camp across the country, but Norvel was called away on some kind of Pepperdine business and Helen had to finish the trip as a single parent.

You could get to the terrace through several other doors, but we always used the sliding glass one in the breakfast room off the kitchen. Stepping down from the terrace, you came to a large square rose garden surrounded by box hedge. We didn’t spend much time in the side yard on the other side of the house, but the back yard held the tennis courts, and there was the college track beyond them.

Norvel and Helen were big on family exercise when the kids were little, which was a novel idea for me, and we sometimes played tennis together. They had actually played tennis on those very courts years before, when Helen was a senior at Pepperdine and Norvel a young history professor. Old Brother and Sister Baxter lived in the house at that time because they were then the college president and first lady. Now, here were Helen and Norvel, after thirteen years in Lubbock, back at Pepperdine living in that mansion and playing tennis with their four children and me, their self-proclaimed adopted child.

I can still remember the phone number for that house. Back then, instead of the first two numbers, people used a word that started with the letters that you see next to those number on the dial of the phone. The Youngs’ phone number was “PLeasant 3-4702”. (The way we would say it now is 753-4702.) I called that number a lot, so I guess it burned itself deep into my brain.

Marilyn lived upstairs with Sara, in a big, long L-shaped white room, with slanting ceilings, and Emily lived down the hall from them. There were also two huge attics upstairs. One we didn’t play in much, but the other was connected to the girls’ room and we played there a lot. We decided that one side of that attic was for Marilyn and the other side for Sara. (Or maybe a wise mother decided that so as to avoid arguments.)

I had learned about neatness and housecleaning at home, and somehow I decided that it was my job to be Sara and Marilyn’s maid. I straightened up their “playhouses” on either side of the attic many times. Other times I cleaned the kitchen downstairs without being asked. I think it was the first thing I did in hope that I might receive praise or notice, approval or acceptance.

One time we were giving a doll baby a bath, and when we were through, we poured the water through the floorboards. We didn’t give a thought to where the water might go. Years later, I believe it was my sixteenth birthday dinner, we were all sitting around the table in the beautiful, dark paneled dining room downstairs, and Helen said, “I always wondered where those water stains around the chandelier came from.” Marilyn and Sara and I all looked at each other wide-eyed and giggled. We suddenly realized what we had done! It took us a few more years before we were ready to confess it to Helen.

The girls were only seventeen months apart. Sara recently mentioned that their mom always dressed her in pink and Marilyn in blue. I always thought the color pink really suited Sara, and that Marilyn really was a blue person. I liked the color green the best. They fought like sisters often do, and once Marilyn got so mad at Sara that she threw an aspirin bottle at her and broke a shower door. Sara still has the scar on her shoulder where the broken shower glass cut her.

All three of us said and did things that hurt each other, but the two sisters actually competed a lot. I didn’t. I never had an urge to compete. Instead, my automatic reaction was always to default, give up, defer, give in. It took me years to learn why that was. And it took me a long time to learn that God had truly given me sisters in my relationship with Sara and Marilyn. Because they hurt my feelings sometimes, left me out of things sometimes, didn’t defend me sometimes, etc., I thought they didn’t really love me. But many years later, in one brief conversation, a lady named Mandy who had two sisters herself changed my perception. She helped me realize that we had acted just like sisters usually do, all those years ago.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ 0

Time out for some family history. Why did the paths of the Youngs and the Moores so often cross? Norvel and my folks met in Nashville, Tennessee, where the three of them were in high school plays together. When Norvel Young was a teenager, he and my mother were good friends. She told me that he liked to try out new words on her -- big words, unusual words. I have a photograph of them going horseback riding together. My parents and Norvel attended high school and then college together at David Lipscomb (a two-year college at that time, later to become Lipscomb University) and then they all graduated from Vanderbilt University.

Then Norvel became a professor at George Pepperdine College, in Los Angeles. Pepperdine College was still relatively young at that time. It had been founded by the owner of Western Auto, and it was the main thing he had left when the Depression wiped out his fortune. Helen was a senior, and a student in Norvel’s class. She had grown up in Oklahoma City, but the Church of Christ circle was small enough that both Helen’s mother and Norvel’s mother were able to call friends to “check on” the possible coupling and see if it would be an acceptable and appropriate match. And it was.

Norvel and Helen got married and decided to move back to Nashville for awhile to go to graduate school. They lived with his parents at 1904 Blakemore Avenue. (Here is a picture of their daughter, Marilyn, her husband, Stephen Stewart, their son, Josiah, Norvel and me at the front door of that house.) They both went to Vanderbilt to graduate school, and Norvel’s mother taught Helen all the things that Ruby thought Helen needed to know about being a wife and running a household.

Then Norvel became the preacher for the Broadway Church of Christ in Lubbock, and that congregation funded my parents’ and several other missionaries’ efforts to do relief work in post-war Germany. They were the first American civilians to enter Germany following World War II. Because it was so difficult to get entry permits, they had to wait in Zurich, Switzerland for six months before they were allowed in. There, in the mountains outside Zurich, my folks and three-year-old Chip lived in a cabin in the woods where they carried water from a well and had no electricity. The story goes that they kept Chip close to the house by telling him that there were wild boars in the woods that would kill and eat him if he ventured too far. Once allowed into Germany, the missionaries distributed food and clothes to poor people.

Later on my dad designed and was contractor for the construction of several church buildings, often using materials from the bombed-out rubble. (Here's a photo of him conferring about the work, probably 1947.) In 1963 I was able to see for myself the beautiful pale blue and violet stained glass windows of the Senckenberg Anlage church in Frankfurt, and was told that those were created from broken glass that resulted from bombings. The missionary group started little congregations all around Germany. Helen and Norvel brought Mrs. Ruby Young on a trip to Europe, and they traveled with my parents for six weeks.

Fast forward a few years, while the Youngs were still living in Lubbock, and our family was in Searcy. Pepperdine was in a terrible way financially, and Norvel was invited to move back to California, be its next President and reinvigorate it. After a year there, he called my dad and said, “J.C., I need you out here,” and we packed up to join them in salvaging a sinking college. They succeeded, to say the least. Pepperdine today is a thriving, nationally known institution, and it was Norvel and my dad who kept it afloat and began building its rich endowment.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Accidents Will Happen

When I was in Raymond Avenue Elementary School, we had a physical fitness test. Maybe it was a result of President Kennedy’s emphasis on physical fitness. I had such a lack of upper body strength that I wasn’t able to make it across the monkey bars. Failing monkey bars in Kindergarten sort of marked me emotionally – I believed I didn’t have any talent for sports from then on until college, when I discovered I had a natural backhand in tennis and that I actually enjoyed playing baseball! I loved to hear the crack of a bat connecting with a ball, when a pitcher who believed I could hit the ball was pitching. But more about that later.

I was so shocked the first time I got the breath knocked out of me, when I hit the ground flat footed, sliding down a pole on the playground at school. I didn’t know that kind of thing could happen, I’d never heard of “getting the breath knocked out of you” and I thought I was dying. I had already broken my collarbone and leg in Lubbock, broken an arm and bit my tongue nearly half in two in Searcy, but now I started having accidents in earnest. There was the gravel in my knees when I skidded on them in a parking lot, and the pain of having it picked out by the nurse in the student infirmary at Pepperdine. I still have some blue spots in my knees, reminders of my accident-prone youth. I sprained an ankle chasing Weldon Blackwell down the hall of the Administration Building one Sunday afternoon after church, and had to wear a cast. I must have fallen on my knees again in another accident, because the bandages around both my knees fell down and embarrassed me as I walked over to the Chapel for Mrs. Mac’s funeral in seventh grade.

There was a man who worked at Pepperdine named Pete Weldon. He was my mental picture of the phrase, “Hail fellow, well met.” He loved everybody. My dad had met the Weldons when he went to Omaha, Nebraska to do some work on his Master’s degree, and recruited them to come and work at Pepperdine. Pete worked in many capacities over the years, all the way to the Malibu campus, and even past my mom’s long tenure. His wife Dell was my mom’s secretary in the library until her retirement. Well, Pete was everyone’s friend. He had a tandem bike, and one day as I was riding down the Promenade behind him, his saying hello to someone made us miss the turn onto New Hampshire, and we skidded on the ground on our side quite a ways.

When he brought me up to our front door bleeding, Mom said, “Oh no, not again!” Although he apologized profusely and took full responsibility for the accident, I still felt she was unmercifully put out with me. Just irritation, no comfort. Off we went across the campus to the doctor to get me fixed up…again. Going to the Student Health Center was always unpleasant because I didn’t trust Dr. William Allen. I would tell him my wrist was sprained and he would grab it and twist and say, “Does this hurt?” I decided later he must have had a streak of sadism.

Dr. Allen’s office had a “Diet Kit” attached to the wall as a decoration and/or joke, with a half knife, a fork with no prongs, and a spoon with a hole in the middle. I was not amused. I can still see in my mind’s eye the blue mimeographed sheet he gave my mother when she put me on my first diet in fourth grade. The diet plan listed things I could and could not eat. I still hate Brazil nuts to this day, since that was the “approved” nut on the list. My cold hamburger with no bread that Mom packed for my lunch was so embarrassing – I was supposed to hold it in the foil and pretend it was a sandwich, while all the kids around me were eating the standard peanut butter and jelly or baloney on white bread, and then buying candy and ice cream at the concession stand for dessert.

It was hard on Momma, with her basic belief that illness was something to be ignored in hopes that it would go away, to have a child who was so often sick or getting injured. She was very nurturing in mainly two ways: cooking and housekeeping. And sadly, those two gifts of hers had a negative side for me. Her cooking had a bait and switch element to it, since I was becoming overweight, and her housekeeping made me feel that things were more important, had more value, than me.

According to the red travel journal I kept when I was ten, Travels Abroad, I had German measles when I was three, regular measles when I was four, and mumps when I was eight. Unfortunately for Momma and for me, I had mumps on one side only, so awhile later I had mumps on the other side. The wisdom on the street says that once you’ve had mumps you’re supposed to become immune, but no, I had mumps again a third time.

Daddy was more nurturing than Momma. I think he learned it from his mother, who once told me that she cooked four different breakfasts to suit her husband and three boys. I think it happened more than once, but once when I was sick in bed in the blue bedroom of the Pink House (which means Chip had moved to the front bedroom and I had my long-begged-for white canopy bed with eyelet canopy) Daddy went a got a hot washcloth and laid it over my face. He called it “having a facial”. It felt so good. To this day, a steaming hot washrag is the most comforting feeling I can think of. I thought it was amazing when I discovered that the Japanese have that tradition too.

God did something really important for me when we moved to the Pink House. He gave me next door neighbors that tangibly, tenderly loved me. On a visit in 1992, I was able to go back and visit them, and I found out then that they had loved other Pepperdine children (especially the four Banowsky boys) and rescued them from their parents’ career focus and benign neglect. But when I was little, I only knew that they were my special friends, and a safe haven from loneliness and from spending hours alone when school was over and nobody was home. On that 1992 visit, they told me that when my parents would come home from work, my dad would holler across the fence, “Is Gwen over there?” Jean would holler back that I was, and ask if he wanted me to come home. “No,” Daddy would yell back, “we just wanted to make sure where she was.”

The Rossamando Sisters

Their gate was made of pink, wide wooden vertical boards with rounded tops, and I could not see over it. It was locked with a latch on the inside, so I couldn’t let myself in. The first thing that happened when I would knock was that Pierre would start his wild barking. He was a French poodle, the kind of dog our family would never have tolerated. He was nervous, excited, jumpy and frivolous, a dog that we would nowadays call “high maintenance”. But the sisters loved him, so I accepted him on their recommendation.

Usually it was Jean who would come to the gate and let me in. Olga was the shyer of the two sisters, had less to say and was less warm and welcoming, but I still felt she didn’t mind me being there. Along the left side of their house, where the gate opened, was a patio. It was paved with flagstones, or maybe it was concrete. I thought it was really weird that their back yard had no grass. They didn’t want to have to mow, so they had it covered with concrete and paving stones years before. There was a table and chairs under their grapefruit tree, and one bright sunny day we sat there with another guest and ate grapefruit from the tree, sprinkled with sugar. We didn’t put sugar on grapefruit at my house. It seemed like cheating to me to sweeten the bitterness.

When I entered the front door I entered an exotic world. Everything about their house was different from mine. It was always dark in there. There were heavy, dark velvet curtains on the windows, and it felt cool, as if the walls were very thick and didn’t let in the outside world.

The living room was like a parlor. We never sat there but once, when I visited with my mom. That time, I remember a crèche in the fireplace, a big one with lots of pieces. I had never seen a crèche before. It may have been there for Christmas, or it may have been there year round. On that visit, Jean brought both of us some anisette in little glasses. I never liked licorice, black or red, and this tasted like it. I was too honest that day, and I think I hurt Jean’s feelings by saying I didn’t enjoy the anisette. I wished that I had kept that particular opinion to myself.

In both the sisters’ bedrooms there were statues. I think in my own mind I called them “idols”, but I wouldn’t have hurt Jean and Olga’s feelings by saying that to them. The one I remember best was of the Virgin Mary standing, holding in her arms the Baby Jesus, with a ball in his hand that had a cross on top. They told me the ball was called an “orb”. I knew it was not okay with my family to have these things around. They seemed dangerous and powerful to me, but beautiful, and kind of peaceful, too.

To the left of the living room was the dining room where we sat at a huge dark wooden table to play Parcheesi. We liked to play it often. I think it was the only game we played. Even the name Parcheesi and the rules of the game felt mysterious and exotic to me. It didn’t seem like logic or skill had anything to do with it. I guess it was the chance, the roll of the dice, that gave me the sense of difference. We never played dice games or “face card” games in our extended family gatherings when we were in Nashville. I don’t remember my family playing any games at all.

The next room back was the breakfast room. It was cramped and cozy. Pierre slept in a basket with a pillow in it. The basket made a dome over his pillow bed. It was under the back window. I felt like he was pampered and “spoiled”. They spent money on him. Our dogs slept in a box in the laundry room by the back door. Pierre was a central and cherished member of this family.

In the breakfast room, sitting at the table (it seemed like it was always a gray or a rainy day when we sat there), I saw Boy’s Town and The Bells of St. Mary’s and Song of Bernadette. These movies connected Jean and Olga to my concept of “Catholic”. The movies helped me comprehend that the sisters were part of a much larger thing. The feeling I had about Jean and Olga’s religious life opened me up to an emotional, sensory experience my church did not offer.

When my parents took me to see “The Last Supper” reproduction at Forest Lawn, I was in tune with the religious awe of my surroundings, and I believed my parents and the other grown-ups could not feel it. I felt special and alone in my awareness, like God noticed me and that He appreciated me appreciating the atmosphere there. I walked carefully and moved slowly and quietly, with a sense of wonder and respect. Later on I learned that was called “reverence”. The feeling stayed with me when I visited cathedrals all over Europe when I was ten years old and again later in college.

One of the biggest differences between Jean and Olga’s house and mine was the smells. There was a lingering scent of incense and candles always in the house. But even more unusual was the garlic. I don’t think my mother ever cooked with garlic. Anything so strong and insistent and obnoxious would have been offensive. At our house we tried to cover up smells, so as not to draw attention or criticism. I think the strongest scent our kitchen ever produced was cooking cabbage. And I think that my mother apologized for that odor.

Since that time I have felt that sense of shame (and been criticized and complained about by roommates) when I cook with strong smells, and especially in teenage years when my body odors would offend. It was a feeling like, “Who do you think you are that you can impose yourself on me, invade my space with that smell?” And I have felt proud of people who are daring enough to boldly smell like garlic or sweat or whatever natural odor without apologizing for it.

Jean and Olga Rossamando never married and were probably in their fifties when I knew them. They worked at a factory somewhere and took the bus to get to work. I would worry about them when it rained, but that wasn’t often. (It almost never rained in California when I was young.) Their work was glamorous and frivolous to me: they did bead work. They attached sequins to costumes for the movies. Sometimes they did their work at home.

My parents both worked full-time away from home. They believed that the work you chose should be of service to others. I respected that, to the point that I was shocked at a Christian who was wealthy. It felt like the sisters just played. They had some of the stuff they worked with at home, and would occasionally give me a string of sequins to take home with me. I was amazed at how the string of sequins all nestled in each other looked so dull from the side, but could be so sparkly when attached to fabric one at a time.

Once I visited them on a sunny Sunday afternoon when they had a guest. I think he was a relative of theirs. He was a virile, loud, big man. He was the first man that ever impressed me as “masculine”. He was different from all the pale, safe men in my world. Probably he was Italian. He was an artist, and he drew swans for me with a pencil on a big tablet. It made me feel special that he did something for me, and even at that age, special that he felt I would appreciate his “art”.

At Christmas time Jean and Olga and I had a tradition of walking together at night around the block to see the lights and decorations on the neighborhood houses. We probably walked only a block or two, around and back, but it seemed like a big adventure to me. Since the little houses on those few blocks were jammed up next to each other, and many of the neighbors decorated for Christmas, it was like fairyland at night.

In the way they lived and the way they treated me, Jean and Olga taught me many things that stood in sharp contrast to the messages I got at home.

• Children are a pleasure and a delight.

• Life is full of moments to be celebrated.

• Sensual experiences (sight, smell, texture, taste) are not to be feared or controlled but to be enjoyed.

• God (“religious feelings” was how I experienced it at the time) could have an honored, central place in the home and be a part of daily life. He was not only for the church building and public worship services.

• You can have a life that is not inspected and judged by a whole community, but that is private and small and may never make a public impact. It’s okay just to live.

• There is enough time to lavish love on children and on animals, to play, to visit, to welcome. We are not too tired or too busy for you.

• I can feel loved and accepted without being touched.

I don’t remember either woman ever hugging or touching me, yet I felt their hearts embracing me. I craved touch at my home because I could not feel my parents’ hearts reaching out to me. I never got enough touch.

Jean and Olga never talked about God, but I felt that He was everywhere in their home. Our family talked about religion a lot, but always in terms of “The Church”, never about God or Jesus. We attended every church meeting, Sunday School and Sunday morning worship services, Sunday night services and Wednesday night “prayer meetings”. (It was still called a prayer meeting because that was traditional, but the practice of sustained prayer had been mostly lost by then.) I don’t even know if the Rossamando sisters went to Mass. But I felt there was a terrible lie going on in our home.

We (my Daddy and I, anyway) were always stretching toward and yearning for and pretending we had the kind of life we sang about in the hymns at church. But we didn’t have it. It was hell at home and we were always hoping someday for heaven. But there was something of heaven at Jean and Olga’s house. It wouldn’t be that big of a transition when they died and entered into more of what they had experienced here on earth. There was peace at their house. There was strife and bitterness and constriction and pain at my house.

I said my Daddy and I longed for the Lord because I don’t recall my mother or my brother (while he lived at home) ever speaking about Him or expressing in action any personal interest in Him. We were always at church, and at the annual larger meetings at the college, because we were supposed to be there. It was out of duty, fear of others’ opinions and possibly fear of eternal damnation, though thankfully that threat was never spoken at home.

But my Daddy let his heart show when he sang. The only spoken prayers he ever prayed in the family were at meal times. But he would sit by my bed when I was little and pat my back (“Pat me to sleep,” we called it, except I don’t think I ever went to sleep while he was there with me) and sing hymns. “O To Be Like Thee”, “The Great Physician” and “I Come to the Garden Alone” were his three favorites.

Once he hummed one of those hymns as we rode in a car full of tension from a fight that had just happened. At the time I resented his humming because it felt like he couldn’t or wouldn’t deal with the problem, and was escaping into fantasy. Years later I came to realize it was the best form of spiritual warfare he had. He was reaching out to the Lord and trying to change the atmosphere among us in the only way he knew.

I thank God for providing Jean and Olga Rossamando in the early years of my life, ages seven through twelve. They gave me a taste of a different kind of life, a different view of life, than the one I had in my home. Sometimes there is still a bit of a battle going on inside of me between my parents views of life and other, more relaxed and trusting views. I have bounced back and forth between fighting their way with all my might, rejecting their narrow, oppressive, dutiful views and positions, embracing many elements of the “other way”, and then feeling terrible guilt for being rebellious. The fight is not over yet, but our side is definitely winning.

Second Grade Was Hard
Second grade was my year to join the Raymond Avenue Brownie troupe. Maybe the opportunity was intended to socialize me, but it backfired. There was an hour or so between the end of school and the beginning of the Brownie meeting that I had to fill. It didn’t make sense to go home and come right back, and I didn’t have any friends in my class that I wanted to invite myself home with. So I felt sort of lost, and embarrassed at having to come up with something to occupy myself. Our meeting was held in a little building that stood on the playground, and it was empty until the girls gathered at meeting time. To pass the empty waiting time, I went to the corner store across the street from the school, and spent whatever money I could find on candy. Then I went back to that little building, and crouched down in the corner so no one could see me through the windows, and ate my candy.

My memories of our Brownie meetings are odd. I recall us spending a lot of time sitting silently. I know we learned to sing the Brownie song, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, and the other gold.” Our troupe leader (the mother of one of the girls) was an alcoholic and would come to the meetings drunk. We never seemed to do any activities. The one exception was the annual May Pole Festival in the spring. It was an area-wide get together of Brownie troupes and we were supposed to take part in the winding of the May Pole. (I was familiar with this tradition from Harding College, where they actually crowned a May Queen in addition to winding pretty ribbons around a pole.) The event was held in a big, hilly park, and there was some excitement about arriving there on time, finding our place, and not messing up as we circled the May Pole in a kind of choreography with our ribbons.
Field Trips
I can’t say which years we took all the field trips throughout grammar school, but I know they made a big sensory impression on me because I can still see and hear and smell the wonders they introduced. We actually went down to San Pedro, to the harbor, and saw the giant cargo ships that brought products from around the world to the west coast, with their enormous smoke stacks. I can still hear them blowing those huge billowing whistles. Someone had the incredibly wonderful insight to take us to a bakery, and we walked through what seemed like an acre of machinery. At the end of the bakery tour, each of us kids were given a tiny personal loaf of bread, and I loved that. The smell of bread baking was something I had never experienced before, and it was awesome to learn what a long process it was. I think it was the same teacher who took us to a carrot factory, and at the end of that tour we each received a little plastic bag of carrots.

Another field trip was to Griffith Observatory. Griffith Park was a green, wooded mountain you could wander around on, which we later did as fledgling hippies on a Saturday adventure. Up on top was the observatory, an elegant, round white building with huge patios surrounding it. Inside, there was a rotunda with a brass pendulum that moved from side to side across a kind of circular pit. I would lean over a short wall above the pit and watch the pendulum swing in its heavy, elegant movement. We saw a show in the darkness of the planetarium that depicted the movement of stars in the night sky. This was before the days of lasers, so it wasn’t a very exciting show, but I was awestruck to realize that God had created all that wonder.