Monday, September 26, 2005

Leaving the Nest

Again, my parents decide to transfer me from one school to another without my understanding exactly why they did it. Lockhaven went through eighth grade, and I had fully expected to graduate from there and go on to high school somewhere. Instead, my folks told me I would be leaving seventh grade at Lockhaven and going to eighth grade at Airport Junior High. In one fell swoop, I left a school that spanned K-8 and had less than 300 kids total, where our class sat all day in one room, and entered a school of more than 3000, where each class was in a different building. And I knew absolutely no one there except our preacher’s son, Danny Teel. I didn’t really know him except from afar, since he was older, and since I had a minor crush on him.

Chip and Daddy took turns driving me to school that first week, and I cried in the car every morning. I just about begged Chip not to make me go. I was terrified of such a huge place. I didn’t know where anything was, and was too timid to ask anyone for help. I felt so shaky that more than once I sat in a bathroom stall and wept in the middle of the day. It was a big campus, and I had a long way to walk from some classes to others, plus a locker to keep up with. There was the problem of learning what to take with me from class to class, depending on how far they were from the locker. It was a complication I had not anticipated.

I’ll never forget the feeling of dread when I found out that we were required to take off all our clothes at our gym locker, and run naked to the showers at the other end of the huge room. Even then, the showers were not individual showers but large square areas with half-walls and ten or twelve shower stalls per enclosure, with dividers that only pretended to provide a tad of modesty. We were told that we would be required to stand there naked in the shower room, without holding up a towel for modesty, until the shower monitor has ascertained that we were actually wet and checked us off a list.

I sat on the gym floor after hearing these announcements and had another cry. I went to the gym teacher and asked, shaking, “What if it’s against my religion?” There were no excuses – unless you had your period, which I didn’t yet. If you had your period, you got to use a shower stall with a curtain. Some girls lied and said they needed to have a private shower when they really didn’t, but I never tried that. Later in life when I learned about Nazi Germany, I understood just a tiny bit the overwhelming shame and fear when the victims of the Holocaust were required to strip naked before their guards. I wondered if the girls’ gym teacher wasn’t a secret Nazi in her heart.

Airport Junior High had some bright moments, and some blessings, but it was mostly just hard. I rode the bus home from school. I was the only white kid on the bus, which taught me something about being a minority in a hostile environment. This was the ‘Sixties, and racial tensions were building in Los Angeles. In the summer after my eighth grade year, L.A. finally exploded into the Watts riots.

More than once I played hooky from school, I hated it so much. One time in particular, I plotted and planned so I could be sure I wouldn’t be caught. I actually hid in my brother’s bedroom until I was certain both Momma and Daddy had gone to work. I felt terribly sneaky and dishonest about it, and my conscience was pricked because I deceived them, but that feeling wasn’t as bad as my dread of going to school.

My parents couldn’t have imagined the environment at Airport Junior High, and I chose not to describe it to them. Kids my age were having sex (or at least boasting about it), smoking in the halls, having gang fights. It was reported that certain girls hid razor blades in the requisite six inches of ratted hair atop their heads, so that if another girl grabbed their hair in a fight, she would get cut. There was a knifing one afternoon after school.

We were approaching that age when little girls attempted to become young ladies. The school policy was that only girls in the second half of ninth grade were allowed to wear nylons to school. The rest of us were required to wear socks. To get around this, some of the rougher girls would wear hose under their socks, and the fashion among them was to see how many runs they could get in their hose and still wear them. This produced an especially dramatic effect when the hose were black or navy blue.

I had a few good friends who encouraged and uplifted me at that school, but I had another friendship which unfortunately introduced me to a different word. Helen was in my grade, but since I had skipped third grade I was a year younger than she. She was reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels, and they were my introduction to the power of erotic literature. Of course by today’s standards the language and descriptions were tame, but I was stirred by them and knew instinctively without being told it was a guilty excitement. I was also fascinated with the Song of Solomon in the Bible, but its poetry was a bit beyond my ability to appreciate at that age.

I was escaping from this hostile world in books and in music. At some point, Pepperdine chose to put on another musical and this time it was Camelot. We girls already knew Mark York, because he had starred in J.B. and Sara had played one of his children. He would talk to all three of us like we were people, and I longed for his attention. In Camelot, he played the part of Pellinore, the bumbling comic character who was constantly on a Quest, and John Novak, Chris Stivers’ cousin, played King Arthur.

The most romantic character was, of course, Lancelot, and I had the inevitable crush on the student who played him. This guy produced my first real confrontation with the fact that giftedness – in this case, the ability to play a role – does not guarantee or even reflect genuine character. I heard that the young man who played the part of this ardent and awesome hero was in real life actually mean to his wife. This was a rude awakening. I’ve had to learn and re-learn that lesson many more times throughout the years, as it seems I tend to forget it.

Mark was talking to me after church one Wednesday night, and he said, “You’re too young to be a cynic. If you ever need to, I’d be glad to talk. I hate to see you heading in the direction you’re going; you’re too young.” That was sweet, but we never had those talks because I never asked for them. I didn’t trust that he meant what he said enough to follow through on the offer.

After I knew the musical note for note, Hollywood produced the movie version of Camelot, with Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero. What a wonder! How excruciatingly romantic, particularly the montage of Ms. Redgrave so exquisitely portrayed in different seasons and settings as Lancelot sang “If ever I would leave you...” And Richard Harris, pondering late at night by a fire on the question of “How to handle a woman…Just love her, simply love her, merely love her.” My sensibilities were deeply influenced by the stage decoration of Arthur and Guinevere’s medieval bedroom.

The movie inspired me to read T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, a modern retelling of the Arthurian legend (based on Mallory’s L’Morte D’Arthur) which had been the source for the musical. I loved that book so much that I re-read it many times. I especially got into the chapters when Arthur was a young boy being trained by Merlin, and he gained rich insights by being turned into various animals. In my imagination I became that fish swimming in the river, along with Arthur.

The Gray House

We moved from the Pink House across the street from Pepperdine, way down 79th Street a few miles closer to the beach. Now we lived in a community called Inglewood, on Crenshaw Avenue, on an acre of land, in a big old two story Gray House. I had to walk a ways up a hill on Crenshaw from the bus stop, past some stores and apartment buildings, and a bakery I was usually but not always able to resist, on my way home after school.

Daddy speculated that the Gray House had been a farmhouse on an estate that connected to the ranch presided over by the Youngs’ Spanish mansion. He thought our farm had probably run all the way to the ocean. Somehow, he talked the previous owners of the house into donating it to Pepperdine, which is why we were able to live there. Two other faculty families lived in houses on the same property, but ours was the main house. Helping with the move from the Pink House to the Gray House, I enjoyed the feeling of power I got in being Daddy’s “right hand man” lifting boxes, helping him carry furniture I should not have been carrying. We always had a working relationship, because I learned early on that was the only way to spend time with him.

Besides us in the Gray House, the Jim and Brownie Kinney family, old acquaintances from Nashville, moved in next door. Their three boys gave me personal attention without the competition of Sara and Marilyn. They played volleyball with me. Jim, the oldest, took me to the gym and showed me something about working out in the weight room, and they all took me to a concert for one birthday.

The Gray House was so pretty, and so conservatively decorated, that we didn’t do anything to change it when we moved in. Chip took the bedroom on the end upstairs, because it had its own little bathroom, and a private entrance with a staircase all the way to the ground, as well as a little office with windows on three sides, overlooking the patio below. I took the bedroom with yellow and white wallpaper, a room with windows on two sides with white shutters, and I had my own bathroom down the hall, across from the blue guest room where my old white canopy bed lived.

One night I stayed up late in the guest bedroom, because I was deep into reading Gone with the Wind. It was the only time I recall Momma having anything to say about my reading, and it made me feel good that she was thoughtful of my feelings. She advised me, “You don’t want to keep reading that tonight. If you try to finish it, you’ll be upset because it will be so late and it’s not a happy ending.” Even though I appreciated her advice, I ignored it, and I did finish in the wee hours, and she was right, I wasn’t happy about it.

Momma and Daddy’s room was pink, with its own bathroom, and it had white French doors that opened out to the flat roof that overlooked the patio below as well. You could sunbathe there, and my friends and I did that a few times. Their bed set into a small recess that jutted out over the yard, with shutters over the windows, and their brown furniture looked pretty there. Momma also found a pink velvet bench to sit at the foot of the bed, which I thought provided a very elegant touch.

In the living room we had a “new” couch that Daddy had found in an estate sale. He had someone reupholster it in a light blue Chinese brocade. The seat cushions were stuffed with feathers, so in order to look right, they had to be fluffed. This meant that no one was allowed to sit on the couch except company, since Momma didn’t want to have to re-fluff them for just us. Recently I was watching a video of comedian Rita Rudner and was reminded of Momma. “We know that neurotics are those who build castles in the air, and psychotics are those who live in them. (Languid delivery after pregnant pause…) My mother cleaned them.” I’m sure her cleaning compulsions weren’t all her fault. Once Grandmommie told me that she warned Dot before they married, “J.C. is particular, and will be a demanding husband, not so easy to please.” Here in the background is his office; Momma and Daddy are sitting on the living room couch.

A good thing about the Gray House was that it had a den where we could sit and watch TV. (By the way, it was the same black and white set we had originally bought in Arkansas. We never had a color TV till after Daddy died. He didn’t see the point.) Before, at the Pink House, the only place I could sit was on my bed in my bedroom, since we weren’t allowed to use that living room and there was no den. I did sit at the breakfast room table sometimes to do my homework, but everybody always seemed to be either working or in their bedroom at that house, with no place to congregate.

At the Gray House, Daddy made himself an office in an extension off the living room. That little room, separated from the living room by some wooden columns, had windows on both ends and a brick floor leading to the original front door. (You can see it behind Momma and Daddy in the picture above.) The house was so old that there was a covered front porch for carriages outside this door.

We used a different entrance, on the patio side, that let into the dining room and then the kitchen. The other entrance to the house, also off the patio on the other side of an L shape, was the sliding glass door that belonged to the family room. The kitchen was between the dining room and the family room, so the downstairs made a big circle which, if there had been any little kids around, would have been a fun place to run and make a racket. I’m sure the previous owners’ children enjoyed it.

The kitchen was all a light gray-green, and an odd thing about it was that the cabinets were metal, with a silver metal grid instead of solid shelves inside. In the kitchen cabinets were our same pink and white every day dishes that we seemed always to have had. I can’t call their names from memory, but I still have those dishes. The majority of the pieces were the “Printemps” pattern from Grindley, England, but some additional plates and serving dishes were from Villeroy & Boch, made in Germany and called “Burgenland”. Those say “Made in Germany” in English. I think they must have also been a post-War Germany purchase.

We used both clear and white glasses for water and milk which sat on a little short pedestal with a round base. I found out that these had been sold at the grocery store as containers for peanut butter and jam, and that’s how we collected our set. Those were the days of S&H Green Stamps, which you received each time you checked out at the grocery store. You licked and pasted them into a booklet and when it was filled up, it could be traded for various products that you wanted but might not be able to justify paying “good money” for. (Why did people call money “good” like that? I never knew.)

The kitchen sink faced the corner, with windows looking out to the patio on both sides of it. I don’t recall as much entertaining in that house as I did in the Pink House. We did have a wedding shower there for one of the college girls. That’s where I was introduced to cranberry bread and lemon bread, both of which thrilled my tastebuds. I’ve always loved lemons, but this was when I developed a fondness for cranberries.

On the other side of a counter in the middle of the kitchen was a large, long picnic table that had benches built into the wall around it on three sides. That’s where we ate most of our meals, and I have just a few memories of those years’ meals. One evening when Daddy had just come home from work, supper was put on the table, and Chip was home. He was discussing some novel thoughts or philosophy (I have no idea what the topic was), and Daddy became horrified at the possibility that Chip might actually believe what he was saying. Emotions ran high, and Chip finally said something like, “Dad, I’m just trying out ideas. I’m not always going to feel this way!”

Sad that both Chip and I learned we couldn’t freely talk to our parents, for fear of upsetting them. Daddy cut that meal short by saying, “Now you’ve ruined my supper.” It seemed that everything was always terribly serious in our house. After Daddy died, Momma began to tell me a few of the things he had said to her in private, one of which was, “Honey, I think maybe we should have enjoyed the children more.” Amen to that.

In the Gray House, I was old enough to observe how Momma cooked, and I often judged that she was wrecking perfectly fine dishes by adding “weird” stuff to them. Cooking was one of the few places she allowed an adventuresome creativity to come out, and I didn’t appreciate it. I became aware that she was adding cornstarch to the saucepan when she cooked spinach, turning it slimy, and then she put boiled eggs on top, which I hated because I had developed a strong aversion to egg white. I pleaded with her not to “ruin” it like that, to no avail.

She would add wheat germ to things, or barley, or cornmeal, and it would wreck the texture. She was a Prevention magazine reader, and being her guinea pig for health food experimentation turned me off to what could have otherwise been a helpful education. She could be such a wonderful cook, but it seemed to me that she would try to punish us by making hideous “healthy” things we had to get through in order to deserve the incredibly wonderful dessert. I wish she had not been such a success at making peach cobbler and strawberry pie. This dichotomy made me just a little nuts about mealtimes.

I loved the plants at the Gray House, especially in the raised flower bed that ran under the kitchen and dining room windows. There were yellow and orange nasturtiums spilling out of those beds and hanging down to the flagstone floor of the patio. We had never grown those before, and I loved their strangely shaped leaves, reminding me of the Art Deco stylized depiction of nature. That patio was amazing. There was a curved, freestanding brick wall that contained a barbecue I think we never used, and enough room for several tables if we had them. (We didn’t.) We had a lemon tree and a pear tree in the yard that really produced, and magnolia trees with huge, fragrant blossoms.

Life in the Gray House was a strange period in our family. I was becoming a teenager, which is generally a strange time for anyone. Momma was taking on more responsibility at the library, and shifting more of the housework to me. One summer afternoon, I really upset her, probably by not completing some work I was expected to have done by the time she got home. When he arrived, Momma and Daddy had a meeting in the den and I tried to listen from across the kitchen in the laundry room, where I was ironing their sheets and his handkerchiefs.

When they were finished with their discussion, Daddy called me into the den and he laid down the law. I would not get my own way anymore. They would no longer change their plans to suit what I wanted. They would no longer accommodate me. They would do what they wanted. I would not disobey my mother. I would not talk back or speak disrespectfully to her.

He had no idea how good it felt to me for him to step in and take charge like that. He would never have imagined that I had been wishing that someone would put me in my place. Then they would be paying attention, taking their place as parents, and I would finally feel like a child, protected, and safe, instead of a miniature adult trying to “raise myself.” (On one of our visits to Nashville, Grandmommie had said to me in private, “Your parents aren’t going to be able to raise you, so you’ll just have to raise yourself.” This had sounded really scary and lonely to my ears.) Sadly, this “putting our foot down” period lasted mere weeks.

I took refuge in the books and movies and TV shows that pictured life as I thought it should be, as I dreamed it could be. I lived in the books by Louisa May Alcott, especially Little Women, and the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder that started with Little House in the Big Woods and ended with These Happy Golden Years. (Her work was later made even more popular by the TV series Little House on the Prairie.) I ate up the series by Elizabeth Enright that featured The Melendy Family. Happy family relationships were epitomized by the TV show that was my favorite, Father Knows Best. That series was in reruns in the daytime, and I would watch it every day around lunch time in the summers. I loved Danny Thomas in Make Room for Daddy, and Fred McMurray in My Three Sons, and the Dick Van Dyke Show. I only came to appreciate Andy and Barney of Mayberry after I moved to Nashville, but I would have enjoyed adding those shows to my regular “fantasy families” diet.

I also began to take refuge in music. I had always loved music, but now I started to receive a little allowance money and that’s what I chose to buy. I had a small collection of 45s that included the Doors “Light My Fire” and a bizarre rock version of “Ding, Dong, the Witch is Dead” from the score of the Wizard of Oz. Why I eventually sold all those 45s in a yard sale, I can’t imagine. I’ve lived to regret it.

We loved Peter, Paul and Mary. I didn’t know that the group was an invention of their manager, Albert Grossman, sort of an artificial creation like the Monkees. He pulled the group together in 1961, and Bob Dylan (whom he also managed for some time) and Joan Baez were becoming known around the same time. I didn’t delve into Dylan himself, but I would pick favorite songs from PP&M albums and discover that he had written them. My favorite album of theirs, Album 1700, also introduced me to John Denver, author of the PP&M hit “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” I loved the song “Bob Dylan’s Dream” so much I’ve included it in the Appendix in its entirety, as a great relic of the era. I loved “If I Had Wings” and “The Great Mandala”, both written by Peter Yarrow. What a rich collection of songs in one album!

PP&M’s next album, from 1968, was called Late Again, and there were two Dylan songs on it that became my favorites before I knew he wrote them: “Too Much of Nothing” and “I Shall Be Released”. That album also had a Tim Hardin classic, “Reason to Believe.” I’m so glad Matt introduced me to Tim Hardin’s first few records. He died young, and the pain he expressed in his music makes me think he died of a broken heart. What a writer! I was thrilled when the vibes that Farrell Morris chose to play on my first album reminded me of the sound of a Tim Hardin song.

I was still too ignorant to appreciate the history of the labor movement in America, and how music had played such a powerful role. I was only touched by the Great Depression in that my mother saved everything, and was inexplicably frugal. But I began to learn about these times, to get the feel of them, through the songs I would hear. Bob Dylan had pursued a relationship with Woody Guthrie, who was already so sick with Parkinson’s, and seemed to carry his mantle. The story is told that Allen Ginsberg, when he first heard Dylan sing, cried because he realized the baton had been passed to the next generation.

I had been exposed to a lot of classical music, and I kept wanting to point out to Daddy that there were classical elements in this rock n’ roll that he hated so much, like the organ solo in “Light My Fire”. He did appreciate one radio song of the era. He heard the banjo in Herman’s Hermits’ “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and he actually liked it! The banjo part brought back his Nashville roots, country roots he had put behind him.

In the summer of 1967 Momma and Daddy and I went on a family vacation to Catalina. We took the boat over to the island, fully dressed in our regular city clothes, and when we disembarked, I felt like I had arrived on another planet. All around us were semi-naked people with bronzed skin, and there was a spirit of ennui and woozy hedonism. I thought we must look to the natives like a family of Puritans. Some loudspeaker was blasting the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” and we so painfully didn’t fit into the sunsoaked atmosphere, I wanted to curl up on the ground and disappear. I was mortified to be so pale of flesh, so conservatively clothed, and, worse of all, with my parents. This was the height of exquisite teenage suffering.

While we were living in the Gray House, the ‘Sixties were happening. I was too young to branch out on my own, and too desirous of my parents’ approval to openly rebel. It would be years later before I finally realized that I had never felt my parents’ approval. At this point I was still trying hard to win it, though not so very hopeful about the possibility of success. At any rate, my “hippie” leanings, though present, had to remain subtle. I wore love beads, but with a conservative dress. For Christmas, 1967, I asked for the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. (It had been released that summer.)

We had the Young family over for Christmas breakfast, a tradition which continued until my mom moved to Nashville in 1993. I wanted Matt and the girls to come upstairs and listen to the new Beatles album with me, but they weren’t into it. I was so excited about the record, I couldn’t wait until they had gone. I went upstairs alone and listened, feeling a bit of the alienation that was so well expressed on the album. “She’s leaving home, after living alone for so many years…”

I would try to imagine myself out and on my own, but I just couldn’t picture it. As a result of the Beatles’ musical explorations, I bought an album by Ravi Shankar, and turned off the lights and lit candles, but the sitar music and candlelight did not succeed in producing the desired effect. I was looking for a way out of myself, but I couldn’t find it – not like that.

Chip was now moving away from the family, first to return to Heidelberg for his junior year of college in 1965, and then to leave for good when he married Sharyn, a girl from Abilene Christian University. She had also gone to Heidelberg the same year with Pepperdine Year in Europe program, and there they met and fell in love. They got married in 1967, in their senior year. Emily Young and her husband to be, Steven Lemley, were also in the 1965 Heidelberg program, and the two couples have celebrated many of their wedding anniversaries together ever since. Sharyn and Emily are dear friends. Thus the Young/Moore connection established in the 1930s extends into the 21st century.

Chip actually proposed to Sharyn while at a special dinner out with Momma and Daddy and me. (He did at least take her off to another area of the restaurant to ask her.) When they were ready to get married, they flew to New York where Sharyn’s parents were living. Her dad was an IBM executive, so they lived in White Plains, a bedroom community for IBM’s headquarters in Armonk. Chip and Sharyn’s wedding was there and Momma and Daddy and I didn’t attend. I never understood what the deal was. It was the most important event in my brother’s life, and I was offended that my folks decided not to go.

I think I recall some level of disapproval of the marriage, maybe because they were both still in college, maybe because it was “too soon” after they had met in Heidelberg, who knows. My folks never said, I could just feel it. I wondered secretly if it was just because Chip was taking an independent stand that would remove him from their control. Maybe they just couldn’t imagine their little Chippy being old enough to have sex with a woman.

Nevertheless, while they were on their honeymoon, Daddy said, “Let’s you and me go to the grocery store and stock their refrigerator for when they get back home.” We had a lot of fun doing that, and I discovered that he had performed that thoughtful deed for several other young honeymooning couples.

After they had been back in town for awhile, we had a reception for them at our house. I can still see my mother wearing an ivory brocade suit, her hair freshly done at the beauty parlor in that once-weekly ritual, looking more prim and tense than usual, receiving the guests. We had a small white book with photographs from that party at our house, titled “My Son’s Wedding”. It struck me as very odd that we had no photos of the actual wedding that happened in New York.

Momma was having troubles of her own. Of course, I didn’t understand anything about it at the time, and the tendency amongst us had always been to blame me when there was family unhappiness. But this time, somehow, it was determined that she was the one who needed help. Help came in the form of a hysterectomy. Without much of an explanation, I found myself with my dad, visiting my mom in Daniel Freeman Hospital. She was looking really bad, lying in the bed hooked up to machines. Then she came home, and had to sit on a rubber “donut”. Nobody explained to me what had happened to her, or defined the word “hysterectomy” for me. I knew it sounded like “hysterical” and that made sense, because she was like that from time to time.
Daddy was always tired, and more depressed than ever, though we didn’t call it that. We didn’t call it anything, since we never talked about it. His hair never did go gray, it remained black, but it was thinning. At this point, he was heavier than he’d been, through lack of exercise and too much desk time. I think he was partly depressed because he and my mom felt let down by their relationship with the Youngs. They had moved to California to help rescue Pepperdine from defaulting, and Daddy had achieved that goal. I believe he suffered from attacks of self-pity.

During the ‘Sixties, Norvel was dreaming big, fundraising, and mentoring a young golden boy named Bill Banowsky. He had no time to really interact with Daddy; he was too busy courting potential donors and raising millions of dollars. I think Daddy felt he didn’t get enough public credit for all he had done to make things work at Pepperdine. In his memorial talk after Daddy died, Norvel quoted him as having said, “It’s amazing how much a person can get done if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.” I know that’s the way Daddy tried to live. I suspect he was not fully able to. (I’ve added something Norvel wrote in memory of Daddy to the Appendix.)

Labor and maintenance weren’t sexy; building and fundraising were. Bill told me once that Norvel would dream, and then Bill would walk into my dad’s office and say, “Okay, J.C., how are we going to pay for this?” Somehow Daddy managed to make it all happen, what with wheeling, dealing, and building business relationships. One of those many business relationships was with the Buick dealership that rented their lot from Pepperdine. That’s why the Youngs, the Moores and several other Pepperdine families got good deals on their Buick leases. It was the first time we had leased a car, and the first time we had splurged and gone weekly to the car wash.

At some point in the mid-’Sixties, Daddy made a deal to purchase a new building for Pepperdine. It was actually an old, decrepit, abandoned building. It was on the corner of Vermont Avenue at 82nd or so. At one time, it had been a market place, with lots of small shops opening onto an interior atrium or courtyard. Daddy saw the potential, and had it gutted, repaired and redecorated. It would be an office building, so that the Administration Building on the main campus could be converted into classrooms. (Here's an outdoor graduation in front of the Administration Building, around 1963 - when I got my Brownie camera!) His office moved over to the newly remodeled building, as well as those of President Young and Vice President Banowsky, Admissions, and several other administrative services.

To get to his office, you climbed a big set of stairs up to a second level – he was through a door on the right. There outside his door was a desk for a secretary, but he didn’t always have one. To go on to the higher administrative offices you went left, and then up another story. Daddy’s office had windows that overlooked the lower level, and being such a lover of stained glass, he had stained glass for those windows created in his favorite colors. They were the same style as we had in the church building – no pattern, no representation of any image, just a crazy quilt of color held together by the leading, brown and dark red and ochre and yellow and gold and green. Daddy was always a brown person, rather than black. One of our cars even looked like him to me, with its metallic brown body and beige roof.

Daddy and Momma both loved classical music. They made sure I listened to Peter and the Wolf and the 1812 Overture even when all we owned was a little portable record player in Arkansas. When Daddy would work late at the office or on a Saturday, he had a favorite album he played called Fifty Great Moments in Music. That’s how I learned so many famous musical themes, yet had no idea what they were called or who composed them.

There was a vacant, paved lot between this newly renovated building and the Buick dealership down the street. Sometime after the renovation, Daddy swung a deal to buy that lot, and he connected the Administration Building to the next building over with a tall, two-story or more high ceiling/roof. He designed archways to pass from this large hall to smaller rooms he had built on the far side of the hall. This meeting space became known as Fellowship Hall, and large gatherings were often held there. There would be faculty and staff appreciation dinners, fundraising dinners, and parties of all kinds. There would be dinners during the annual Lectureship, when people from all over California and other parts of the country would come together for a few days to hear various preachers and teachers.

During the lectureship one year there was a special program for little kids where they ran a Disney movie on a projector, and I loved that movie so much I was able to remember it decades later. When I finally was given a VCR (I had tried to put it off as long as possible, knowing what an addictive collector I could be), I made a list of movies I really wanted to tape from TV, and I would watch the cable guide to see if any of them were coming on. Just once in that period of focused and determined taping, this precious memory was aired, and I got to record the 1949 Disney magic of live action combined with animation, So Dear to My Heart. The same lady who played Jimmy Stewart’s mother in It’s A Wonderful Life, Beulah Bondi, was Granny in So Dear to My Heart, and a perfectly stern and tenderhearted Granny she was.

Speaking of the Lectureship, since this was an annual event, of course much of it runs together in memory. One moment does stand out. Bill Banowsky, Norvel’s protégé, was a young lawyer, so well spoken, intelligent and attractive that we all knew he would go far. One year, he challenged Anson Mount, an editor of Playboy magazine, to a debate on a popular topic of the day, “Situational Ethics”. This got national attention, and I listened in a lecture hall as he discussed the issues in a speech following the controversial debate.

I was impressed with his logic, and the intricacies of Bill’s thought. I especially appreciated his understanding of a burden I was carrying. He said, “You know, my boys (he had four) sit in front of the TV every day and absorb more shocking and emotionally weighty events than we ever did as children. And they have no power to respond. This causes them great internal conflict.” He understood how I felt! This began to answer the cry of my heart the night that I heard Kennedy was shot. I didn’t feel quite so weird for being deeply moved by international events.

Most notoriously, the annual AWP Gift Fair was held there in the Fellowship Hall, and in the connecting Administration Building. Unfortunately, seeing that annual parade of lovingly created donated stuff each year at the Gift Fair, I developed a real aversion to handcrafts and homemade items. In my immaturity, I missed the noble, sacrificial hearts behind all that effort, and only judged the artistic deficits I found. I had a strong tendency toward elitist arrogance that God would work on later.

Just across the corner from Daddy’s office on the same side of Vermont Avenue were a string of old Los Angeles storefronts, one of which was actually a real live Chinese laundry. I went there with him once to pick up his order, and was delighted to see the stacks and stacks of folded shirts on the ancient wooden shelves behind the counter. Men’s shirts fresh from the laundry seemed like treasures, so perfectly folded, with a piece of cardboard stuck inside to keep them straight. Those shirt cardboards found many uses around the home, not the least of which was my drawing.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The summer after sixth grade, I was ready to ask for my own turn at baptism. I looked on it as my chance to be washed of all my failures as a disobedient child and my history of disappointing and displeasing my parents. I understood that I was “dying to my old self” and getting a fresh start. Years later, I would come to understand that this had been only a “baptism unto repentance.” When I studied the Bible for myself, I learned that this was the baptism that John the Baptist had practiced, not the baptism that Jesus taught. At any rate, I decided to do it.

I asked my dad if he would be willing to baptize me, and he was honored to do it. We got into the baptistery at the front of the church (behind the pulpit) from opposite sides. There were little rooms on either side of the baptistery where people could get dressed to prepare for getting all wet. The baptizer wore hip-boots or waders. The baptizee took off their regular clothes and put on a white robe, since they were going to get soaked.

He asked me if I believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. I did. I think I recall his voice being a little shaky with emotion as he said the traditional words over me: “Upon the confession of your faith, I now baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, for the remission of your sins.” He reminded me to pinch my nose closed, and then dunked me backwards under the water.

Afterwards, Charlie Lane the night watchman walked with me on the sidewalk behind the church to our house across the street corner. He said, “You try to be really good now, and make it easier on your father.” It didn’t occur to me until I wrote this that Daddy must have invited my beloved Charlie to witness my baptism. Why on earth would he be there, at that time of the morning on a Sunday? He was the night watchman. Perhaps Daddy was trying to use the event as a silent witnessing opportunity. He was always concerned when someone wasn’t “a member of the Church” although I suspect Charlie had some personal faith stemming from his youth in the Church of England.

Something huge occurred in my musical world about this time. Barbra Streisand had recorded several albums in 1963, but the first album I fell in love with was Barbra Streisand/The Third Album. She’s photographed in the dark with just a spotlight, sitting on a stool in some club. I loved every song, memorized every word, and introduced this Queen of Romance to Sara as well. We would lie on the floor of the study at her house, in the dark with our heads between the stereo speakers, and sing our little pre-teen hearts out. The next album we loved was released in 1964, People, with Barbra standing on an ocean shore.

Then in 1965 Barbra did a TV special called My Name is Barbra that thrilled my heart. It was so playful, so delightful, so exciting to see somebody be that creative and that freely expressive. I had a lot of favorite songs from her albums, but one that still sounds fresh and unique to me today will give you a sense of the tenderness she was helping me to express. This one was from The Third Album. I was already learning things about songwriting, because I loved how the melody line seemed to describe circles to fit the circle the lyrics talked about.
“Draw me a circle that’s perfectly round —
one curving line, simple and fine.
Now add two eyes and a lopsided nose,
and, if you care, add some hair.
Now draw two eyes, and make them bright
because they’ve just seen a beautiful sight.
Sketch in a mouth with a radiant grin,
one coming deep from within.
You’ve drawn me a circle, and
now that you’re through,
it’s a picture of me…
after being with you.”

It seemed like we would have one good year at school and then one bad one. The next year was seventh grade and we didn’t like it at all. This year for the first time instead of having one teacher all day long, we had different teachers who would come to our classroom at different hours of the day. We did love our Bible teacher, who was a single, lovely dark-haired lady with a sweet smile. Miss Silsby also conducted us in the Glee Club. Marilyn and I sang in a little group of six girls at a Christmas program. I believe that was the same year that Sara had a solo. She sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” She was adorable.

But the other seventh grade teachers! My goodness, they were just awful. We had a man who sold produce for a living, Mr. Rayport, who would come in to teach us social studies. He and I had an altercation because on a True and False test, I said the serfs did NOT enjoy Christmas, and he marked it wrong because he said they DID. Or was it the other way around? I can still recite the case that was made for both points of view, so I’m not sure which one I held at the time.

We had a tall, black-haired lady teacher, Mrs. Wright, for English and History who we thought didn’t know as much as we did. Unfortunately, she had big lips and we couldn’t help noticing that, in a mean, mocking sort of way. Mrs. Wright made me cry in frustration because she gave me a B+ on what I thought was a truly excellent map I had drawn. She claimed that the map was wrong because I had the Pony Express starting in St. Louis, instead of the suburb of St. Louis where it actually began. (Was it St. Joseph, Missouri?)

The man who taught us math and science, Mr. Palmer, was really truly mean, and seemed to enjoy embarrassing one or another of us in front of the class. When you are in seventh grade it is an especially bad age to be embarrassed in front of any group. (Of course, really nobody ever likes that at any age.) I fell down in the back of the classroom once, and he came all the way back there from the front, pretending to check the floor to see if I had damaged it in the fall. This was pretty humiliating for me.

Mr. Palmer taught us the “new math” and it became quickly evident to Marilyn and me that Mr. Palmer did not understand what he was teaching. What an unfortunate bunch of adults, trying to teach kids who arrogantly felt that they were smarter than their teachers. We didn’t trust or respect our elders much at all by the time we had reached the age of eleven and twelve.

We had Mrs. Mac for English the first part of the year, but Mrs. Wright took over the class because Mrs. Mac got sick, and finally died that year. Her death was the first one any of us had experienced up close, and her funeral was the first funeral we had attended. The whole school went, and there were a kazillion flowers. I didn’t like the smell of carnations for years after that. It was very sad because we knew we would miss Mrs. Mac, but we also knew that the Lord would take good care of her so it wasn’t so terrible to worry about her.

Seventh grade was the year I became aware of boys for real. There was a brief flirtation in sixth grade with a boy named Raymond Pate, but both of us were so shy that we actually never had a conversation. The entire relationship was negotiated and reported on by other people. In fact, I think it was entirely invented by my classmates, unless he actually did notice me all by himself. I’ll never know the answer to that, I suppose. The back and forth messages and even the brief “going steady” kept my classmates entertained for some time…and all without a word directly spoken between the principal parties!

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

Someone has said that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I just received a packet in the mail from my brother and sister-in-law, full of certificates: for my birth, and for my many graduations (Lockhaven Christian School for sixth grade, Airport Junior High, Morningside High School, Pepperdine University, Peabody College). There are also a few report cards. There’s a note from my mother, which I’ll allow to speak for itself. “Congratulations, Gwen, on your promotion from sixth grade. Altho you are not yet twelve as some of your class mates you act like a young lady in many ways. Daddy and I are proud of your good work even tho you missed the first term in Germany. We hope you will learn a lot this summer in loving to be our best house keeper and laundress. We love you – mistakes ‘n all. — Mother, 6/64”

None of these items was the reason I was stunned to see these documents for the first time in thirty years. With the sixth grade stuff was a little group of the notes to which I referred above, from Raymond Pate. For lo these many years, I had remembered that episode with him as something impersonal, arms length, and, as I wrote, even “invented” by my classmates.” What a shock to read his notes. “I love you, Gwen Moore.” “I dreamed about you and me last night. We were married, we had ten kids, the kids were playing and we were watching TV.” He even drew something that looked like an anagram, linking our names together where the letters matched. He made little packets out of notebook paper and staples to send me the notes in. He asked if he could call one night. He gave me his address and phone number. He was as serious as a sixth grader ought to get.

I’ve remembered the Raymond Pate period as insignificant, but in truth it appears to me now that I rejected him. I must have been afraid. There’s also a note from me to Marilyn, asking if I ought to write him, and her response, suggesting I show her what I would write before giving it to him. Seeing those notes last night made me feel a little taste of what I felt when I read my parents’ love letters years ago. I have a box of letters that my dad wrote to my mom both before and after they married, while he was doing his equivalent service as a Conscientious Objector at Camp Forrest in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

Grandmommie, Momma’s mother, gave me the box of letters as I was leaving Nashville to go to school in Connecticut in 1975. When I got settled in my new dorm room, I read them and wept. In the letters, it’s so clear that he was plighting his troth to her, wooing her, and she wasn’t buying. One quote goes something like, “I wish I could believe all your beautiful words, but I just can’t.” I was stunned at the depth of my mother’s rejection of herself and therefore of his declarations of love. And at that point in my life, I was afraid that I was destined for the same unavoidable situation. I really do thank God that this was not my ultimate state. Here's a picture of Momma and Daddy when they were writing some of those letters, in 1942.

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0

So there were these archetypal boys in our class and I started to appreciate their various qualities. Timmy Robertson was a tall, thin, All-American type who did a paper that year on kinesiology and wowed us all with the big words. He always wore plaid Pendletons, which were a popular light wool jacket worn by the cool guys of the day. His friend Jesse was as short as he was tall, but what made Jesse cool was his very long, sun-bleached hair and the fact that he was a serious surfer.

With Donnie Humphreys I had already developed a music connection over the Beatles the previous year, and he was the class clown and by far the most energetic and lively of the boys. His antithesis also got my admiration. James Cagle was quiet, droll of humor, more mature in his demeanor than any of the other guys, and he was into current events. He was the first person my age to value knowing what was going on in the bigger world around him, and he inspired me to pay more attention.

Something important happened to Marilyn in seventh grade. She met a person who was going to become very significant in her life. Janice Hahn was the daughter of an old Pepperdine graduate named Kenneth Hahn. Kenny had been elected as a member of the Board of Supervisors of the County of Los Angeles, and he served there for forty years. Janice came from a Lutheran private school to Lockhaven in seventh grade and she and Marilyn got to be friends. From then on, when we had a get-together, Janice was often there. Besides school, all of us went to Camp Tanda in the Big Bear Mountains two different summers (for a week) and stayed in a cabin together. We went to different churches, though. Janice and her older brother Jimmy, and their parents, Kenneth and Ramona, went to the Inglewood Church of Christ.

Janice and Marilyn were both very strong willed, both smart and funny, both had powerful fathers, both knew what it was like to always be in the public view. I think it was very important to them to have a friend who understood all that. God blessed them with a special friendship which lasted for the rest of Marilyn’s life.

A nice thing happened for me in Janice’s arrival. I was no longer the only Democrat I knew. My dad was what they called a “Southern Democrat” which was not exactly the same thing, but everyone else we knew were Republicans, some of them John Birch Society types at that. Janice and I were now the two Democrats at Lockhaven Christian School, and although I didn’t really feel any support from her, I didn’t feel quite so much a pariah anymore.

One cool thing about knowing the Hahns was that Kenny would get us tickets to a special Christmas program every year. (At the time, I would have said that it was “neat” to get to go.) There is a huge, beautiful building in downtown Los Angeles that was called the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center. (There was also the Mark Taper Forum, a smaller theater where we saw some plays.) It was all pretty and new back then. On Christmas Eve day, choirs and singers and musicians from all over the city would come there to perform. Kenny let us sit in a special section of the auditorium called the Founders Circle. I really liked having that as part of our Christmas. Finally, our family had a tradition!

I really felt that I owned L.A. Part of that feeling was the result, I guess, of our parents having met the rich and famous, mostly trying to get them to give to Pepperdine. The Youngs and my parents talked about city leaders and notable people as if they were associates. When I went with my college boyfriend for the first time to the Music Center, we walked up to the marble wall where all the donors for the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion were listed, and I started reading them off, saying, “We know him, and we know them, and we know them…” I wasn’t showing off, or promoting myself as having some kind of special status, although that may sound impossibly disingenuous. I was actually trying to reassure him, “See, you can relax now. You’re with someone who belongs here.”

At some point in college, I got an update on some of my Lockhaven classmates. Who was reporting on them, I can’t imagine, but I wrote it down and saved it. It’s such a microcosmic snapshot of my generation in L.A. in the ‘Sixties. I wish I had added myself to the list so we could see how I would have described myself at that moment.

“Jesse: Working, stable, already middle class.

Cheryl: Married to an older, financially successful career soldier

Timmy: Student Body President at North High, studying at Biola for the Baptist youth ministry. (Now that was predictable.)

James: Unwed father, acid and meth freak, shooting up. (Too much pain with no resources to cope.)

Donnie: Promiscuous frustrated actor, rich freak

Marilyn: Ex-bad girl (one year of actual trauma with psychological help), now involved with an Okie football player (receiving desperately needed strokes from non-acceptable partner.) (Current update: Became a much beloved therapist, very happily married for nine years, two children; died in 2001 of leukemia.)

Janice: P.E. major, no satisfying male/female relationships, doing poorly in school.” (Current update: Elected Councilwoman for the City of Los Angeles.)

Slumber Parties

All of our parents were busy people. My parents and Norvel all worked full-time for Pepperdine. Helping Norvel, putting on multitudinous Pepperdine events, editing the two magazines, caring for the children and the upkeep of the household kept Helen constantly running. (Until her devastating tumble in 2003 when we almost lost her, she still ran everywhere, in her high heels with her painful metatarsal arches.) We didn’t have much supervision, to say the least.

During the years when Marilyn and Sara and I were little girls, I spent the night at their house pretty often. They had an extra bed in their room, so the three of us would each have our own twin bed. Sometimes we would have slumber parties, and we would invite Susan Teague and Beth Ross, and later on, kids from school like Janice Hahn, and we would try to stay up really late. But as hard as we tried, we never could succeed in staying up all night until dawn. We watched some really bad B movies on TV while making the effort, though.

It seemed that everyone in my life thought it was funny to scare me. My friends, my cousins, Nannie (my dad’s mother) all enjoyed telling me scary things, and even when I begged them to, they wouldn’t stop. One night when we were pretty young, Sara and Marilyn and another girl and I were all lined up on the floor of Marilyn’s side of the room having a slumber party. Just beyond her room was one of the two large attics upstairs, and for some reason one of the girls decided to scare me about what might be lurking in the attic. It was crazy, because we had played there so much. But still I began to get terrified. I ran into Emily’s room and begged her to defend me. I don’t know if she didn’t take my crisis seriously or if she didn’t know what to do to help, but she did not take action.

That hurt, because I really looked up to her. Emily was my ideal of a teenage girl. She was eight years older than us, she could drive, she rolled and ratted and sprayed her hair, she wore hose and she read teen magazines. Once there was a movie projector and a big screen in the Youngs’ living room, I don’t know why, and we girls all watched April Love together. Emily loved Pat Boone.

We all did. He was the only Church of Christ glamour king, because he had made it big in Hollywood as an actor, and as a singer on the radio. He got his start winning the Ted Mack Amateur Hour, and went on to make lots of records. He even wrote books for teenagers, because the adults thought he could be a good role model. We all read his books, ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty and Between You, Me & the Gatepost.

While Emily was still in high school, she was taken to the hospital because she couldn’t move. I had never heard of paralysis before. I went with Sara and Marilyn and Helen to see her and there she was, lying a hospital bed. It was my first time to be in a hospital, and it scared me. I could feel the fear in the halls, and I hated the smell. I wanted so badly for Emily to be okay, and I didn’t know if she would ever come back home from there.
One year it was New Year’s Eve and a bunch of us were having a slumber party in the guest rooms. We knew that people are supposed to make a lot of noise to celebrate when the clock turns to midnight, so we went to the kitchen and got out all the pots and pans. We were in our nightgowns, because in California back then it was warm enough to do that most of the time, even at night on December 31. We all ran out onto the grass of the Pepperdine campus banging our pots and pans. There was the night watchman, Charlie Lane, an Englishman with a soft heart, who heard us and came running after us. The noise must have given him a fit until he discovered who was making it. He herded us safely back into the house, and then warned us that we had better not do that again!

We tried once to have a slumber party at my house. We were all going to sleep in the living room, and unfortunately there was no door between it and the hallway, and my parents could hear us making a racket down the hall in their bedroom. My dad got out of bed more than once and stood in the doorway in his pajamas with a glowering look on his face. The next day, he informed me that there would be no more slumber parties at our house. Hosting those would be the Youngs’ exclusive privilege.

Marilyn was already practicing being a good mother when she was young. She was very nurturing and also somewhat critical, and she was quite concerned about me biting my nails. She was so proud of me the year I quit and let them grow longer. Marilyn liked to say that she was a recovering perfectionist. A perfectionist can see how something ought to be, or how it ought to be done, and then give up even before they even start because it seems overwhelming or impossible. I can be like that sometimes. It was that way with Marilyn and cleaning her room.

When Emily married Steven Lemley and moved away, Marilyn moved across the hall from Sara and had her own room. It was always very full of stuff. She would have things covering her bed, so that there was only a little piece of the bed on the edge where she could sleep. And she slept very hard – it was really tough to wake her up sometimes, she slept so deep. Anyhow, I remember laughing when she packed up and moved away to college. I told the maid, Geraldine, “You know, I honestly never knew Marilyn’s carpet was green.” It had always been completely covered up with stuff!

We watched a lot of TV when I was at the Youngs’ house on the weekends. (They had a limit on school nights.) Each year we would sit in the king-sized bed and pontificate on the Miss America pageant candidates. “She’s not so cute! Look at those thighs! What about that swimsuit! Look at that nose! ” There were certain shows that so mesmerized Sara that she literally could not hear her mother calling her. I would say, “Sara, your mother wants you.” She would not respond, not even a blink. I would get closer and say it directly into her ear, and she still wouldn’t budge. It was like she was in a trance.


Over the years we made many trips to visit the relatives, usually in the summer or at Christmas. Below is a 1962 photograph of me with my cousins Pam, David and Wayne. We had found a nest of bunnies under the roots of a tree in their yard on Harding Place. Their parents were my mother’s brother V.M. (Virgil Marion Whitesell, after his dad) and his wife Lois (Church). David and Wayne were adopted, and they also adopted two more children, a brother and sister, Barbara and John. V.M. was a salesman for the same company where my uncle Paul was a graphic artist, Williams Printing Company.

I was spending time with my cousins in Nashville when the Watts riots broke out in the summer of 1965. Watts was the neighborhood next to Pepperdine. Marilyn was staying with Steven and Emily in another suburb of L.A. while her parents were away on some trip, like as not to China, or maybe to visit with the Shah of Iran. Norvel and he were buddies for awhile, and the Shah was considering some kind of deal with Pepperdine. We certainly had a lot of Iranian students in the following years.

When she heard about the riots, Marilyn insisted she was going home to the Budlong house. Since the Pepperdine campus was not far from the place the riots were happening, she and Steve fought about it, but she would not give in to him. She went home. I was stuck in Nashville hearing about the riots and the fires and the looting on the TV news, and feeling very cut off from my home. My uncle V.M. would not allow me to call to make sure everybody was okay. That was so hard.

Here is Chip, our cousins Suzanne and Ronny Moore, and in the front row, Bonnie Kay Moore and me. We were all double cousins, because my mother’s younger sister Marian Marie married my dad’s younger brother Paul Webb. Paul and Marian actually fell in love and got married before my folks decided to hook up. The story goes that a bunch of young college folks did things together in a “crowd” for years, and as they began to pair off, finally my mom and dad were the only two still single. They looked at each other and said, “Why not?”
There was a third set of aunts and uncles. My dad had a another brother, the youngest of the three, named Winston Martin Moore. He found a sweetheart named Martha Nell in Memphis and wooed and won her. When they were a young married couple without children, Winston would take all the cousins out to the movies from time to time, and he therefore became Chip’s favorite uncle. Chip decided to carry on that tradition with Sharyn’s cousins’ children and continues it to this day, although most of the cousins are fully capable of paying their own way.

Here are Momma, Martha Nell and Larry, Carol Ann, me and Beth Mingle, a family friend, around 1970.

Winston was an officer for Third National Bank, which is no more. After he retired from banking, he became the business manager and co-owner of 20th Century Christian corporation. Martha Nell and Winston adopted two children, Carol Ann and Larry. I loved to visit their house when we were little because there was an enormous playroom and we children had the run of the house. Marian’s house was like my own, naturally enough since she was my mother’s sister, with lots of rules and particularities, but Martha Nell seemed to run a looser ship. She did warn Carol Ann in my presence once that if she didn’t watch it she would gain weight like I had, and that hurt my feelings.

My two grandfathers had both died before I was born, so I never knew what it would feel like to have a grandfather. But I did have an Uncle Wilburn that I loved. Uncle Wilburn taught me how to hold my playing cards like a fan so I could see everything in my hand at once. He smelled of cigars, and laughed a lot, and had brown leathery skin from being out in the sun too much. He seemed to like me, and I thought he was wonderful. His wife was my grandmother Whitesell’s sister, my Aunt Bess, who made me the Barbie clothes and helped me make a little patchwork quilt for Barbie too.

Grandmommie was named Bonnie Long Whitesell, so my cousin Bonnie Kay was her namesake. She was white-haired when I first knew her, and sort of “stout” as she called it; then later on she didn’t have much hair left and wore a wig, and her frame became bony and frail. Her favorite color was blue, so her bathroom was a dark blue, with the big white clawfoot tub, and almost all her clothes were shades of blue. By the time she moved to a nursing home, her daughter-in-law Lois would go dress shopping for her and bring five or six blue dresses to pick from, and Grandmommie would select a couple and send the rest back. But until I was in my twenties, Grandmommie lived in the big old house on Primrose Lane where she lived for a total of fifty years.

The house was near Christ the King Catholic Church, and in the winter night air you could hear the church bells echo through the neighborhood. I always had a fantasy that we could visit their Midnight Mass at least one Christmas “for a cultural experience” as I would position it, but no one went for the idea. I would look through the upstairs bedroom window out at the trees and listen to the church bells and wish I could share in that Christmas majesty.

Grandmommie loved to greet you at her front door and say, “Come in this house!” with a welcoming energy. She could do lots of things. She could garden, she knew the names of tons of flowers and could arrange them beautifully, she could make the very best fried chicken and sweet iced tea and fudgecake ever, and she could sew. I became very particular about the kind of underwear I could tolerate when I was still quite young. I couldn’t stand nylon. Nobody accused me exactly of being “The Princess and the Pea” but I really was. So Grandmommie actually designed and made me cotton slips.

Speaking of gardening, Momma learned a lot from her mother about flowers, how to grow them, what their names were, and she became a serious gardener in her own right. Because she had a career as a librarian, she never had time to join a garden club, or learn Ikibana (Japanese flower arrangement), like Grandmommie did, but she always gardened. I have often thought in the years since I left home how sad it is that I wasted the opportunity to learn that from her.

Because it was Momma’s thing, and because she made me so unhappy that I didn’t want to be like her, I rejected her as a source of education in many areas. She could have taught me more about knitting, crocheting, sewing, cooking. The world of gardening is only one of many pleasures she could have introduced me to if our relationship had allowed it. I still feel that the realm of growing plants and trees is a mysterious foreign land. I never learned to speak its complex language. I do have a natural knack for arranging flowers, which I guess is inherited.

At Grandmommie’s we would set up a card table in the guest bedroom downstairs, which served as her parlor, and play Scrabble. We also played Chinese checkers. I loved having breakfast with her in her sunny kitchen. She always had Pepperidge Farm whole wheat bread in its bag on the table, and she would slip a couple of pieces into the silver toaster and it would smell so good. Then we would always put butter and honey on it.

She liked to boil her coffee in a saucepan on the stove. (She didn’t own a percolator, and the days of Mr. Coffee hadn’t arrived yet.) She might cut an orange in half, or a banana, and share it with me. There was a green plant in the center of the Formica breakfast table that dripped its tendrils down and covered the flowerpot…the name was some kind of “tears”.

In the big brown pantry off the kitchen, there were shelves full of wonders, and I was most surprised to see a collection of tiny bottles. I loved tiny things, and I was surprised to find out that she did too. And I loved going down in her “root celler” – a basement that really was just dirt, with wooden shelves built in for canned goods.

Here's a picture of Grandmommie and my grandfather, Virgil Marion Whitesell. He was called "Uncle". He was a traveling salesman who returned home on the weekends and enjoyed having lots of people around. That was a good thing, since two couples lived with them, along with the three children, during the depression - her brother John and his wife Mary, and Aunt Bess and Uncle Wilburn.

My favorite thing about spending the night with Grandmommie when I was little was that she would tell me stories. I had a favorite I asked for every time – the one she called Epondanondas. Years later, I found the original version of the story in Elder’s Used Bookstore, and the real title was Epaminondas. Grandmommie told it so well, and drew out all the descriptions even more than the storybook did. But the last time I asked her to tell it to me, she had forgotten it.

Grandmommie’s house was in walking distance of Belmont Boulevard, and if you continued down that street a ways, turning left on Woodmont and right again on Granny White, you would come to Maplehurst. It was a street that ran alongside the Lipscomb track, and when she was younger and healthier, Nannie could walk to the Granny White Church of Christ, which was the college congregation. Later on, Winston and Martha Nell drove by and picked her up for church.

Nannie’s house was on a little slope, and in the front yard I loved her cast iron lawn furniture painted white and looking like a tea party. Inside, her home was full of treasures I did not appreciate. She had china figurines of men and women in French Rococo clothes, and lamps of dark red glass, and other decorative items that were not attractive to me. There were a formal living room and dining room, with dark wood and silk and brocade. But that was okay, I didn’t spend time in her living room unless it was to listen to her play the piano.

She loved a ballad, “Dear Heart”, that was popular when I was a child, because it reminded her so much of Pappy Moore, her husband who died before I was born. And she loved to play “Somewhere My Love” from Dr. Zhivago. She could also play inaccurate but lively ragtime, including Scott Joplin. It totally amazed me when Paul Newman and Robert Redford made The Sting and Joplin’s music was revived for the movie. Then I thought Nannie was cool. “Honey, why, ‘The Entertainer’, why don’t you know I heard Liberaci play that on TV the other night, and it nearly thrilled me to death,” she told me once.

My favorite thing about Nannie’s house was the feeling of acceptance. She “spoiled” us grandkids. She never talked about diet or weight, she never criticized me, and she never put limits on what we could do. She was so indulgent, she took Suzanne and Bonnie and Ronnie’s dog, Shane, for several years. Marian had decided she didn’t want the dog anymore, but Nannie couldn’t stand for the kids to lose Shane.

She would make tomato sandwiches on white bread with mayonnaise – such a luxury – and bring them with Cokes on trays into the TV room in the back of the house. We would sit next to the air conditioner and get completely chilled watching TV. She had an air conditioner also in her living room. In the bedroom at night, we would open the window and she had a fan on a stand that would oscillate. Waiting for that precious breeze to blow on me every time the fan turned toward me would lull me to sleep, while Nannie scratched my back and told me tales about the olden days. Here's Nannie and "Pappy" Moore walking down the street in Smithville, Tennessee, where he was mayor for awhile. I wish I could have met him.

Her favorite tale was about the bootleggers. It seemed that she was with her dad and some others in a car traveling from Nashville to Knoxville when there really weren’t any good roads, and they were in the Smoky Mountains and it was night. They had been warned of the dangerous bootleggers than lived in those hills, and lo and behold, they got stuck in the mud. Oh, the fear they suffered as they waited on the flat to be fixed. As I recall, I had no idea what bootleggers were, the word just sounded dark and nasty. And as I recall, the fearful night in the mountains passed uneventfully. The real tension was in their imaginations, as they anticipated potential horrors lurking all around them. Her story sure did a good job of scaring me when I heard it.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Toward the end of December, we said goodbye to Chip. We were leaving him for a semester alone in the Englisches Institut boarding school, where he had been since September. I guess my parents imagined that a boarding school experience would strengthen a boy’s character. I felt that they were frightened of his growing interest in the opposite sex. (There was a mysterious, dramatic event with a girl named Susie in ninth grade, and secret parental meetings to which I was not allowed to listen.) Perhaps they hoped that living with a bunch of non-American guys would rein him in for a bit longer. Still, I thought it was a hard thing for him to have to do, to stay in Germany while we left. And he didn’t get the benefit that I did of that trip “the rest of the way around”. It turned out I was right, and Chip did suffer some envy about missing that return trip.

We left Heidelberg and flew to Athens. What a contrast! It was warmer there, and I felt out of place in my German school girl dresses, practical, heavy leather shoes and thick winter leggings. We met a man there Momma and Daddy had known in post-War Germany, Rene Chenoux-Repond, and his wife. We toured the Acropolis with him, and saw the real Parthenon. (I’d already visited the replica in Nashville.) We went shopping and I bought a shawl and a couple of charms for my charm bracelet. When, as a ten year old in California, would I ever have occasion to wear a shawl? Never, but I thought it was feminine and romantic. Then we flew to Cairo.

This was my first real experience with poverty. I was stunned at the elegance of the short downtown blocks with their tourist hotels, and the extreme poverty that surrounded those blocks. It was obvious, looking out the windows of taxis and the hotel, that most of Cairo was hideously poor. We took a tour of the Pyramids and the Sphinx. Each of the three of us got on our own camel (Yes, there’s a picture of that!) and each camel had its own driver. They separated me from Momma and Daddy and kept hollering “Baksheesh! Baksheesh! Give me dollar!” I kept explaining, “I have no money! I’m just a kid!” “Dollar, dollar!” the driver would yell, and I would say, “Sorry! No money!” I was truly afraid that he wouldn’t let me off the camel because I couldn’t pay him, but we finally got to the pyramid and I flew back to my folks.

Now we started climbing up inside the pyramid. This was exciting. What kind of treasures and mysteries awaited us? It was steep and narrow, we had to bend over, even me as a ten year old, and our footing was supposedly aided by little strips of wood attached to the floor. Finally, we reached the top, and…it was a square, stuffy, empty room! A pretty huge disappointment after that climb. “Where’s the treasure?” I demanded, and it was explained to me that the treasure had all been taken to the British Museum in London! Shocking.

Another day in Cairo, we were escorted upstairs into a shop in the Suq (the marketplace, all narrow crowded streets, much like the Old City in Jerusalem). There we were presented lots of perfumes, essential oils in fancy glass bottles. I didn’t like any of them enough to want them, for which mercy I’m sure my dad was grateful. That day in the Suq was the first day I saw yet another seamy side of poverty.

There was a little boy who was literally walking on his hands, and begging. He passed right by me, and as he did, I was able to see that he had full-length legs and feet. He had appeared to be an amputee from the front, with the bottom of his robe a flat and hardened square that dragged the street as he slid along on his knuckles. It occurred to me that someone was making him beg, appearing to be disabled, and he really wasn’t. I don’t think I would have come up with such an idea on my own; maybe it didn’t come from me.

From Cairo, we flew to Haifa, Israel. It was a beautiful harbor, and we stayed in a hotel or pension on the hillside above it. I remember walking with Momma and Daddy and seeing a gorgeous sunset over the Mediterranean. The air there felt so good, much like California air, and it felt clean and civilized after the bustle and dirt of Cairo.

An unpleasant incident happened in Haifa. Daddy and Momma and I were all staying in the same hotel room, and there was one bathroom connected to it. I had forgotten to take my clean clothes into the bathroom with me, and when I had taken a shower, I called out to Momma and asked her to please bring me my clothes. She laughed and said, “You come on out and get them yourself.”

“No, please,” I asked, “I’m embarrassed in front of Daddy.”

“That’s silly,” she said, and after more protests from me, she made me cross the room with him there, and only a towel to cover me. I was so ashamed. It seemed strange, looking back on it years later, but it was one more incident where my extreme modesty revealed itself. Once she had made me take off my swim suit standing outside in the doorway at a motel, with nothing to put on and no shielding, because she didn’t want the floor of the motel room to get wet. That had humiliated me as well, and having to change into a swimsuit at the local YMCA locker room, when she took me for swimming lessons, had been very uncomfortable. I had the same feeling this time…no mercy for my feelings, just her mocking my scruples.

We traveled over to the east from Haifa and stayed on the shore of the Galilee in Tiberias. We visited a real kibbutz, and they explained to us their communal lifestyle. We ate in their dining room, and I was introduced to tangelos. I remember thinking how strange it must be to be taken away from your parents and live with all the other kids in a dormitory, even though your parents are living right nearby.

I was moved to know I was in the place where Jesus lived and walked, on the lake where he taught. I was reading some religious-themed novel at the time, to get myself into the proper mindset. Was it Chastain’s The Silver Chalice? Or maybe The Robe? I just know that I felt, “I can’t get close enough. I can’t feel the spiritual feeling I’m trying to feel here.” I tried to stay in a reverent place inside myself, but I was frustrated. From the Galilee, we traveled down south to Jerusalem.

Momma and Daddy knew, or knew of, a family living in Jerusalem, and the family showed up at our hotel and sat with us in the lobby for an hour or two while the adults conversed. I think we weren’t close to them, and I think we didn’t have a very nice time getting together with them. There was relief when it ended.

It was pre-1967, so there was still the Mandelbaum Gate and a no man’s land dividing the city. We crossed over on foot, and went into East Jerusalem. I remember the Damascus Gate and the Shuk, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre inside the Old City. We went to Bethlehem, and to the Church of the Nativity. It seemed crazy to me that people would bow and kiss a piece of marble where Jesus was traditionally supposed to have been born. I hated all those churches! They were so dead, so ornate and full of gilded things and candles and incense, and I knew that they were not the real deal. When we arrived at Gordon’s Garden Tomb, outside the Damascus Gate, I believed that was the true site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. It felt so right.

We flew from Tel Aviv to New Delhi on Christmas Eve, and for the first (and last) time I got air sick. I was miserable, and those were still the days of excellent airline cuisine. They wouldn’t let me eat the Christmas Eve dinner (which was Western style with cranberry sauce, no less) because they were afraid I would throw up again. When we arrived at the hotel in New Delhi it was nighttime, and we all went to bed. I had never been in a room so dark. No light shone anywhere, even from under the door to the hallway. We hung our socks on the doorknobs for Santa, and I tried to sleep.

Daddy got whatever bug I had caught, and he felt sick and stayed in bed all the next day. Momma and I decided to go to the hotel restaurant for Christmas Day lunch, and unfortunately we ordered curry. It was so hot that neither one of us could eat another bite after the first few, and we were not the kind of family that would waste food or spend money ordering a second meal, so we had no Christmas lunch that day. The next day, we had our own tour guide and a car, and we were taken to many historic sites and government buildings. My main impression was that many buildings in New Delhi were red. The guide was a very controlling, imperious sort of fellow and I recall our not liking one another. When I realized that we were half a day away from the Taj Mahal, which I had read about, I begged and begged Daddy to let us go there. I thought if I could get to the Taj Mahal I would feel this illusive feeling I was longing for. To be in New Delhi and not be allowed to go there – so near and yet so far! It was not on the schedule and we couldn’t afford the extra time or money to do it.

In New Delhi the American Embassy was holding an open house holiday reception for all the expatriates. The Embassy was beautiful, the face of the building a white latticework of marble or some other white stone, and the interiors large and grand and clean. We met the Ambassador and his wife, ate hors d’oeuvres, and Momma and Daddy chatted with various folks. Being a guest at the Embassy made it seem pretty special to be an American.

We flew from New Delhi to Bangkok and were met at the airport by a family we knew from Pepperdine, Mert and Bob Davidson, and their three kids. They had lived as house parents in Baxter Hall, the boy’s dorm at Pepperdine, and I had played with the kids before they moved here. Now they were missionaries in Bangkok, and getting ready to move up north to Chieng Mai. They were sweet people, and I felt at home with them. We also heard about Ken and Ruth Rideout, their fellow missionaries, but they were out of town at the moment. (I met Ken in Nashville thirty years later.)

That night there was some sort of fair or carnival that the family had planned to attend, so we all went with them. I thought it was hilarious that the Thai young people were attempting to imitate American rock ‘n roll bands! Different groups were performing on stage as we all mingled around in a big outdoor gathering place. There were different foods for sale and I ate some chicken on a stick called satay.

The next night the grownups went somewhere and left me with the Davidson children and a Thai adult babysitter. I mistakenly thought, when she lit an incense coil in our bedroom as she put us to bed, that she was burning incense to an idol or a demon, and it scared me. It was hard to go sleep on a mat on the floor in such a strange place, with that mysterious incense burning. The next day I found out that the harmless coil burned all night to fend off mosquitoes and other insects. We didn’t do any sightseeing there because of our friends, and that was a shame, because I had been trying to imagine Thailand ever since I was five and performed in the King and I.

From Bangkok we flew to Tokyo. Even in 1963 it was a huge and bustling city, with New York-style skyscrapers and jillions of cars in the streets. There were tons of neon lights and billboards and signs. Extremely commercial, after the poverty and countryside we had seen in the last few places. We stayed in a tall hotel (I loved the gray stone bathroom, it was so tiny but modern and convenient), but we were met the next day by Brother and Sister Bixler, old friends of my parents, who took us to their apartment in another huge, cold building. They had a beautiful picture hanging on the wall over their couch, and I commented on it.
Sister Bixler said, “Oh, now I must give it to you.”
“What? No, you can’t do that,” I protested.
“You must understand that when you praise something in a Japanese home, the host is duty-bound to give it to you.”
“Oh, no, I’m so sorry!” I said, and she didn’t force it on me after all. I had learned my lesson.

The next day, we went with the Bixlers to a school they had helped to found or run, and met a lot of little Japanese kids and teachers. Then on to Ibiraki Christian College, north of Tokyo, where Terry and Susan Giboney were serving as missionaries. Remember Terry Giboney, my very first college boy crush at Pepperdine? I must have been six or seven. He was blond and tall and he noticed me. Now I was all of ten, he had married Susan, and they lived in Ibiraki and worked at this tiny Christian school. There was some kind of program that night and the adults all went, and I stayed in the Giboneys’ apartment and read. They had the first electric foot warmer I had ever seen, and even though I kept my feet tucked inside it, I couldn’t get warm. Japan was cold, and their house was cold, and it was between Christmas and New Year’s.

Next day Terry took us to a Japanese restaurant and I discovered that I really didn’t like Japanese food. I liked American/Chinese food and Polynesian food (I had a favorite Polynesian restaurant in L.A. called Tai Ping), but Japanese food held no interest for me. The exception was shrimp tempura. I’ve never had such good shrimp tempura anywhere else – it was terrific, light and crunchy and not greasy at all.

My idea of glamour had been evolving over the years, and one of the many experiences I felt would be glamorous would be to stay at a Hilton Hotel. That was the top of line, in my mind, and I kept asking Daddy if we couldn’t please stay at a Hilton somewhere along this trip. On our plane ride from Tokyo to Honolulu, I wondered about this. It would be our last stop, our last chance to stay at a Hilton. Had he heard my heart? (I wasn’t remembering that all the arrangements had been made months before with the travel agent, and he wouldn’t be able to easily change our plans while on the trip.)

We were getting loaded into a taxi at the airport and my ears perked up when my dad told the cab driver where to go. “The Ili-Kai Hotel, please,” he said to the man, and my heart sank. Last chance was dashed. I would never get to stay at a Hilton. Somehow I knew this was the only Really Big Trip we would ever make as a family, and the only time my dad was going out on a financial limb like this. We pulled up in front of the hotel, under a very tall, white pavilion, and the cabbie announced, “Ili-Kai”. But it said Hilton!! I couldn’t have been much more excited. Wow!! Daddy had heard my heart after all, and he had kept it a secret for so long, just so I could have the thrill of this moment’s surprise. He put up with my disappointment and harassment just so he could do this for me. I really took it in.

We went shopping, and Mom and I both bought Hawaiian muumuus. I was amazed that they used American money, and someone reminded me that Hawaii was now a state of the United States. I bought a charm for the “rest of the way around the world” charm bracelet I was building, this time a pineapple. And we ate supper at a tourist event, a luau feast, where I learned about one, two and three finger poi. Then we went back to our hotel.

It was the first time in four months that I had watched American TV. I was lying in the fold-away bed that they had rolled out of the closet, and enjoying the crisp white American sheets, and relishing hearing English, watching the Tonight Show with Jack Paar on the TV. He was sitting on his stool, cracking jokes like he always did, when the phone rang. It was the airlines telling us that our flight had been changed and we had to pack up and hurry on to the airport to catch the next flight out. So our Hilton experience was cut short.

Adolescence Encroaches

It was so good to be back in California, but it was obvious when I started back to school that I had changed. I felt much older than just four months. I had seen a lot of the world that no one else my age had seen. The globe that sat on the teacher’s desk meant something real to me. I had been to a lot of those countries! I could smell and taste and hear things in my memory, and those names were tangible to me.

I entered sixth grade at Lockhaven, and we had our first male teacher, named Mr. Bruce Murray. What a wonderful guy! We all had a crush on him, because he was young and he was funny and he liked us and treated us like individuals. He was actually going to school himself at Pepperdine and lived in Normandy Village with his wife. Sara Young babysat for them later on.

If you remember the Rodney King trouble in the early ‘Nineties in L.A., it happened very near that side of the Pepperdine campus, on Normandy Blvd. Normandy Village was the married student housing down at the west end of the campus. It was a series of two-story apartment buildings that had been thrown up as temporary Army housing during World War II and had never been torn down. Funny to think how many layers of paint some of those apartments must have had. The young married couples who were enrolled at Pepperdine lived there, and much later on, when we were in college, single friends of mine lived there when the dorms got too full.

Sara’s boyfriend Sam was one of those, and there was a whole gang of people I knew who lived there then. Butch and Cheryl Armstrong (Sam’s older sister) had an upstairs apartment, and they were famous for singing “Happy Trails to You” standing in the doorway as you headed down the stairs from visiting them. Judy Clark, Cuartor Wynn, John Nall, Gail Cosner all lived there.

Another couple named Chuck and LaNell Stovall lived in Normandy Village, and they were the first and only people who ever talked me into going camping. I went with them and a bunch of other single folks up the coast to Gorda, in Northern California. (I’ll tell about that later.) Once I was visiting Mike Johnston, a Pepperdine graduate in New Haven, Connecticut. He said, “You know that couple in L.A….” “You mean Chuck and LaNell,” I responded. Neither of us could believe that, out of all the couples in L.A., I had guessed right on my first try.

Anyhow, back in sixth grade, Mr. Murray decided that we should be reading and thinking about more than what the school told him to teach. So he asked some of us to be in what he called the “Special Reading Group”. He gave us assignments to read chapters from books in a series called Great Books of the Western World. We read selections from Plato, Euclid’s geometry, Montaigne’s essays, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, and lots more. Once a month our group met at each other’s houses and discussed what we had read. We loved being in that group! It was the first time any adult had ever asked for our opinion and then waited quietly while we tried to state it.

Marilyn and I went to the Pepperdine library to read from the books. They were kept in a huge room called the Reading Room that had lots of long tables and lots of heavy chairs that slid under them. It would echo a lot if you talked or scraped your chair leg on the floor. I loved how cool and quiet it always was in there. The windows were big and tall, but too high up to see out of. Marilyn and I felt very serious and sober about our Special Reading Group assignments. Mr. Murray really knew what he was doing when he gave us that challenge.

Sadly, my tendency to become easily scared gave me a lot of trouble one night. It was a Special Reading Group evening. We were sitting around the circle in someone’s living room, and Mr. Murray was describing the death of Socrates. He told how Socrates had driven Athenian leaders crazy with his “gadfly” questioning of their activities, and all his questions had finally made them want to shut him up. He had been given hemlock, a poison, to drink, and he chose to do it, knowing that in a few minutes he would be dead.

This story gripped my imagination. When I went to bed later that evening, I began to see faces coming at me in the dark, dead faces, and the screaming, angry heads of the Athenians who hated Socrates, and I began to imagine I was going to knowingly drink something that would mean my death, and how horrible and desolate that must feel, and I could not go to sleep.

I didn’t realize at the time just how deeply I had identified with Socrates. I too was someone who felt that my presence was a nagging irritant, and my own semi-conscious fears that my parents would prefer to get rid of me, combined with demonic suggestions along those lines, may have been what was harassing me in the dark. Just that once, I got up in the middle of the night and asked my parents for help. They didn’t know what to do for me, and sent me back to bed, where I lay awake the rest of the night. I stayed home from school the next day, for lack of sleep, and my dad called Mr. Murray and told him he had no business stirring up the children in such a way.

Mr. Murray took us on our best field trip ever. He wanted us to study the tide pools at the beach, and he hired a bus to take us there. KFWB-Channel 98 radio was playing “Going to the chapel and I’m gonna get married…” and “Blue Velvet” and we all sang along. It was so exciting to walk around on the rocks and peer into the tide pools, trying to identify the little creatures that I never before knew could be found there.

Mr. Murray noticed each one of us as an individual, and that was an amazing thing. On my report card he wrote, “You have a bubbling personality.” Marilyn made fun of it, but I was proud because I felt like he thought that was a good thing, if perhaps irritating at times.

I believe it happened during sixth grade, but it could have been earlier or later. I see myself riding in the back seat of someone’s car on the way home from school. I was always reading, but this particular book was changing something inside of me. I was awakened to the reality of racial prejudice. Ever after this experience, it was what I think of when I hear the phrase. I was reading a paperback novel about the first black girl to go to an all white school. The book was written in such a style that the reader identified with that girl, and went with her through all the emotions of fear, hurt, confusion, anger, dismay. Just because of her skin color, she was hated and her life was endangered. I became a Freedom Rider in my heart. I wanted to DO something about racial prejudice and I certainly felt the burden of sorrow that the victims of prejudice were suffering.

Sometime in the ‘Sixties I was in Nashville visiting my dad’s mother. Nannie walked into the den where I was watching TV, I think with my cousins Ronnie and Bonnie Kay. The Mod Squad was a popular TV show at the time that featured three people in the twenties, a white girl and guy and a black guy (with a “natural” – what we called long hair picked out into a big halo-like mass of frizz). Nannie glanced at the TV and commented, “What is that white girl doing acting friendly like that with a black boy?” And I responded, “What do you mean, Nannie?” She said, “She shouldn’t be spending time with a black boy like that. You wouldn’t do that, would you?” I truly did not intend to hurt or shock her, I was just telling the truth, but I was offended at the rejection I felt she was putting on the black guy. “Nannie, I would marry a black man if I loved him!” I declared.

Another time, my mother’s mother was concerned about new neighbors who were moving in next door to her. She had lived in the same house in Nashville since my mother was a child, and the neighborhood was changing around her. “What am I going to do about these new neighbors?” Grandmommie asked my parents. I responded, “Take them a cake!” This was not the expected response for the dilemma she felt she was facing.