Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I always seemed to be getting a bit of encouragement from an unexpected source. I loved getting mail in Heidelberg. It was the first time I developed a mail addiction. In came a postcard dated September 19th from, surprise, Danny Jackson! He had shocked everybody and married Sally Hamilton, the Columbia Christian College Homecoming Queen, then Pepperdine’s Homecoming Queen, and one of the girls Matt Young had dated. Now D.J. and Sal lived in a tiny town in northern California called Hayfork. (I wondered sometimes if he moved there just for the name.) Danny Jackson wrote these bracing words:

“We live here now. Naomi just called and is experiencing the feelings of apprehension and nostalgia one feels before leaving for a long time. It’s a Sunday afternoon, Sam just left for the railroad and I’m listening to Gordon Lightfoot. Good time to write you.
“We all think of you and miss you. Take every opportunity you can to experience new things. If you have difficulty choosing between two situations, take the one that demands the most action, the one least comfortable. Keep praying — Danny.”

Oddly enough, Naomi Harper, who couldn’t afford to come to Heidelberg as a student, managed to come instead that same fall as a missionary. Ted Thomas was another friend of Danny Jackson’s, and the preacher at the local German Church of Christ, the Heidelberg Gemeinde Christi. Naomi showed up to serve as Ted’s secretary. A quote from a journal: “Do you know, Naomi’s being Ted Thomas’s secretary and all was my idea in the first place. I mean I just sort of wrote a letter for a joke and mentioned it to Ted. And now everybody’s acting like the Lord did it…”

Ted and Jane-Anne found Naomi a room to rent in the upstairs of an old lady’s house, in walking distance of the church. They and their little boy Todd actually lived in the church building, in an apartment that my dad had designed when he built that building some twenty-five or thirty years before. I wrote them a whole long poem/meditation on Heidelberg, that building, my dad, Moore Haus…but for mercy’s sake, I won’t insert it in this manuscript. If you really want to read it, it’s in the Appendix.

At first it was really fun having Naomi there. She and Danny Blair and I had hung around each other so much that we naturally thought we would do the same in Heidelberg. We did go to Paris together, and Munich, and London, because she and he and I bought Dave Rice’s van, together with Sunny Lindsay and John Baker and Phil Lowe. Splitting $500 six ways made the transportation deal appear pretty cheap. What we could not predict is that each and every time we took her out, the Blaue Bus conked out on us.

We were all relatively poor, or at least frugal, and I learned from traveling how to take great joy in little blessings. One day Sunny bought a tube of mayonnaise (I had never seen it in a tube before!), and a tomato and an avocado, and that made the most luxurious feast with bread and cheese. We sat in a park and relished the sun and were so grateful for our little repast. Most of the time it was just stale Brötchen, cheese and apples, sometimes with water, sometimes with wine.

The first day in Munich, it was icy cold and we all had on jeans, which we learned are a bad idea in an icy cold wind. The van had gotten us to Munich and then died. We had no idea what to do with it. Not one of us had any mechanical knowledge. Our only tool was prayer, so those of us who prayed took responsibility and appealed to Heaven for assistance. Inexplicably, the van started up, and we were on our way. We returned to Herrenchiemsee, where I had been that summer with the girls.

With an air of childlike excitement, Phil Lowe was always saying “Letchgoshmokesomehash” and this trip was no exception. Out at Herrenchiemsee, the sun had come out and it was beautiful if still a bit chilly. We drove up to the ferry and found out we would have to wait awhile, so of course Phil suggested a return to the van for some chemical enhancement. I had been sitting in closed rooms, on the beach and in cars when other people were smoking marijuana now for three years and had always declined the invitation to partake. But this time, I asked to try a few hits.

I wandered around outside by myself for awhile, as we waited on the ferry. There was a field over to our right, with a wonderful old wooden fence, wildflowers and weeds, and to our left was a forest. I stepped into the forest, and it was like an enormous room that went on and on, with the ceiling made of tree tops, but all the tree trunks bare a long way up before the branches started. And the floor of the forest was all neat and clean! Somebody had straightened up the forest! I didn’t know at the time that this was a German tradition. Old people on Sunday afternoons would go out and tidy up the woods, as a sort of public service and good exercise to boot. It was magical. It felt like an enchanted place, so that if you walked into it, anything could happen.

After we got back in the bus, I asked them, “So, guys, what’s the feeling you’re going for? Here’s what it felt like to me. Everything looked a bit clearer, it made me feel like things were sort of in slow motion, I appreciated the water droplets on the fence and the flowers.” “Yeah, that’s it,” they assured me. “Oh, well, I can do that for myself anytime. Now I know I don’t need hash.”

On the way out of Munich, the Blaue Bus died again. It just so happened that we were able to roll into a large parking lot, and we sat there freezing and waiting, again without a clue as to what to do next. Suddenly a guy in a track suit pulled up in his Mercedes (the car was the same champagne color as his track suit, if memory serves) and jumped out. He went to his trunk, pulled out some tools, opened up the back of the van where the engine was, tinkered a moment, packed back up and drove away. Never a word exchanged. “An angel in a track suit!” is all we could say. And away we drove, north toward Heidelberg.

The next trip, to Paris, we were driving through the French countryside, passing little town after little town, when nature called and we stopped at a restaurant. Entering, we asked if we could use the facilities, and the owner shrieked at us that we could do what the animals do and go outside. This exchange tended to reinforce our image of the stereotypical Frenchman, so when our van did break down and we were still outside Paris, we felt some despair. It happened that it broke down quite near a garage, but it was Friday afternoon and the garage at just that moment was closing its doors. We were stranded - it looked like for the whole weekend - in a little village called Clermont en arq.

We stood along the street looking dejected and an old lady passing by said, in perfect American English, “Can I help you? What seems to be the problem?” Turned out she had been a hairdresser in New York for thirty years, only returning to France after her American husband died, and she would be glad to do what she could for us. She proceeded to go over to the great locked metal door of the garage and bang on it. She hollered in French to the owner that he had to open up and help us, that our whole weekend would be wasted in this little town…who knows what she said to him. Somehow, she persuaded him to open back up.

We felt so indebted to her, and practical Sunny found a way to repay her kindness. She noticed that the lady’s toes were sticking out of her big leather shoes. Sunny asked about them, and the lady explained that she couldn’t find shoes to fit her in this small town. So we took her address, and when we got back to the States we sent her a new pair of shoes in her size. Meanwhile, the garage owner fixed the van, and we went on to Paris. We stayed in the Hotel du Commerce, we climbed the Eiffel Tower at sunset, but my favorite restaurant from the previous trip was closed and we found no affordable culinary delights that weekend. Naomi and I found a little teddy bear in the Metro and gave it to Danny Blair for his birthday.

The next adventure, London, needs a bit of prologue to provide the full effect. It happened one night that some of us were sitting in Seppl, Heidelberg’s oldest pub, down a few stairs in the back room, when we noticed a couple of older (maybe in their thirties?) American travelers sitting near us. We decided to fake them off and speak German. Finally, though, we broke down and spoke English to them, and am I glad we did!

These guys revealed that they had gotten their Masters in Psychology at Pepperdine. In the course of conversation they said, “Hey, if you’re ever in London, you need to stay with a lady we met. Her name is Mrs. Maude Rose. Her address is 10 Derwent Grove, East Dulwich, SE 22, London. You take the 185 bus from Victoria Station to the East Dulwich station and then you can walk from there. If she likes you, she’ll even give you supper for free.” I had a bit of warning ahead of time that we were making this trip to London, so I wrote to Mrs. Rose and asked if she had room for six on the weekend we had planned. But there wasn’t enough time to hear back from her, so we left on the trip not knowing whether her house would be our landing place.

It was strange, having the van with us on the ferry. We took a Hovercraft for that trip across the Channel, it was a rough crossing, and I got exceedingly seasick with the unbelievably violent ups and downs. We drove up to London, somehow found Mrs. Rose’s row house, and knocked on her door. She appeared and grinned and said, “So you’re why the Lord had me up all last night cleaning!”

After we got settled, Naomi and I went and sat with Mrs. Rose in her parlor and she told us more. “You see, your letter arrived at my front door only this morning. So when the Lord told me to get ready for guests last night, I said, ‘But Lord, no one’s expected!’ And you see, He knew you were coming! So He had me up late changing the linens and readying the place for all of you.”

She told us about the state of the church there, how so many people were nominal members of the Church of England but didn’t attend church anywhere and really didn’t believe anything. She talked about the rather radical risk it was to belong to the smaller denominations, since there was so much disapproval and prejudice towards them, and what a minority they felt themselves to be.

Mrs. Rose had a fat little dog named Tina ("Teee-na!") and in order to get Tina to do anything at all, Mrs. Rose would offer her a cookie. “Here’s a biscuit, Tina, come here now, good girl!” It occurred to me, rather hilariously, that the day would come when her cookie intake would outweigh Tina’s ability to respond, and Tina would no longer be able to “Come here!” no matter what was offered her.

Mrs. Rose did indeed decide that she “liked us” so the next evening we were expected back promptly at 7:00 pm for supper. Beef Wellington, Yorkshire pudding, vegetables, salad, and apple pie for dessert – it was an outrageous feast and I think she let us contribute about £1 apiece to help with the expense. My favorite moment during the meal, in which my hippie friends were mostly silent and gorging themselves, was when she was handing out the dessert. The apple pie was accompanied by a large bowl of real whipped cream, and as she entered the dining room from the kitchen, she saw one of us in dire need of instruction. “Don’t mess it about, just plop it on!” she cried dramatically, as if it were an absolute sin against the integrity of the dessert to fool around with one’s whipped cream.

On this trip I got to see Godspell again in English, with Naomi and Danny at my side. We had all loved it in L.A., had been to see it together there more than once, and it was incredible that we could share the same sweet fellowship in London. In L.A., at intermission, the actors distributed bread and wine to the audience, and we had thought it was so cool, although a tad bit scary, to experience Communion in such a light-hearted setting. It made me sad that the London director wasn’t comfortable with the implied resurrection of Jesus, and left it out.

After we ran out of time and money for travel, we settled back into the routine of classes and meals. One day it snowed and someone took this picture out of Danny’s window. (I’m not saying I didn’t break the rules and visit the Boys’ Floor – I think a bunch of us did, just to get a good view of Heidelberg in snow.)

We didn’t see much of Naomi. I didn’t go downtown to visit her often because it was such a hike back up that hill, and she almost never came up to visit me. Eventually, after supper one night together at the Burgfreiheit, she and Danny and I were walking back to Moore Haus and we took a detour. We went up into the hillside on a little footpath, in the midst of all the bare winter trees, and at some point stopped and sat on the ground and were silent for awhile in the dark. The gorgeous, crystalline Glöckenspiel across the river rang out, and the winter night air was so clear and crisp that it felt like the stars were tinkling fairy music from the sky.

Naomi spoke up and said, “I need to break up with you. It hurts too much to be your friend. You don’t have time for me, and I just need to be alone with the Lord.”

I was shocked, and devastated. No one had ever “broken up with me” before except Danny the first summer in that letter, and that hadn’t lasted long. I had probably never bonded with a friend as closely as I had with Naomi, she was so vulnerable and passionate and dramatic, and now she was trying to rip those heart ties out of my chest. (I didn’t realize at the time how much trouble she was having being with Danny and me…she had started to fall in love with him, and she felt sure I wasn’t appreciating him enough. She even wrote a poem to him expressing her desire to be with him, and shared it with me.)

Danny listened silently as we talked back and forth. I attempted to talk her out of it. It didn’t really work. When we left Heidelberg not long afterward, in December, Naomi stayed for the following semester, kept working for Ted as a secretary, and then returned to L.A. in the spring.

o ~ o ~ o ~ o ~ o

In the summer, I had roomed with Betty White in a sunny, bright room with a big window. In the fall, I was moved into a larger, darker room where Barb Henderson slept across from me, and two more girls shared a “porch” room connected to ours by windows and a doorway. I think this bed, built into the wall, with a shelf and bookcase, is my favorite so far in life. Next to it was my built-in closet (Shrank). Note the institutional chair next to the bed, shipped all the way from California. Art by Danny Blair and Arthur Rackham are featured on the wall, along with Charlie Chaplin as The Little Tramp, and there’s an Advent wreath with four lit candles on the shelf. The blue curtains lent a bit of privacy to the girls in the “porch” room.

At Christmas, I was hoping that Danny would come with me to Nashville and let me experience how it would feel being around my relatives with a boyfriend. But by the time school ended, we were not exactly feeling cozy, and he decided to go to Rome for Christmas with some of the other students. I had a few days in Moore Haus between the end of classes and my departure for Nashville and then California. I enjoyed having free time to wander around Heidelberg by myself. I bought some Weinbrandbohnen[i] and portioned them out a few each day, and cuddled under my striped Decke in my built-in cabinet bed and read. I had never been introduced before to the Chronicles of Narnia, and in this little vacation break I devoured them. I already loved C.S. Lewis but now he drew me in with his vivid imagination and his deep experiential knowledge of how it feels to have a relationship with a God who “is not a tame Lion.” So here I am, Christmasing in Nashville in 1972. Note my mom’s red net holiday “hostess” apron! Those were the days.

Talk about culture shock. It wasn’t nearly so hard to move from L.A. to Heidelberg as it was to return from Heidelberg to Malibu. I had been wandering Europe in the same two pairs of jeans (I thought we invented the joke about our jeans walking off by themselves) and old sweaters and long hair and leather boots. I hadn’t worn a bra in eight months. (Too much information, I know, but I have to explain the extreme cultural jolt to my system.) Because we were so poor, we bathed irregularly when traveling, which we did half of each week.

Malibu was a new country altogether. All the girls were tan and blond and thin, and all their daddies were rich. You could see it in their clothes and their cars and their attitudes. Who recruited that first freshman class? The admissions people were just cruel. I had never been comfortable living in straight-blond-hair-and-very-tan-California, but I had grown accustomed to feeling like a misfit. Now, in only eight months, I had quit thinking about fitting in, and started feeling comfortable just being myself, and I couldn’t stand the thought of squeezing back into that uncomfortable, impersonal, not-interested-in-who-I-am-inside mold.

Danny, poor Danny, really felt it worse than I did, because he hurt me by saying, “You’re really embarrassing me. Would you put on a bra?” one day after he had become painfully aware of the new environment. I tried to fit in, but the clothes I always chose when my mom was paying for it tended toward girlish, in reaction to her suggesting old lady styles. The following year, when I made some of my own money, I could finally buy some upscale hippie-ish things that I liked and felt comfortable in. (Here’s a set of ID cards that display a certain transformation from freshman to senior.)

I did enjoy one thing about being back in California, and that was salad. European restaurants gave a nod to salad with a few limp pieces of lettuce at best, but now I was in the land of fourteen kinds of greens and three kinds of peppers, cucumbers, carrots, bean sprouts, fresh mushrooms, red onion, croutons and American dressings! I was in salad heaven. And I was introduced to jicama, a white root that was crunchy and juicy and tasted something like a mild, sweet radish. I craved the freshness.

We discovered a restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway, halfway between Pepperdine and Santa Monica, called Moonshadows. It had the most wonderful wood interior, fabulous ceiling, inlaid wooden tables, and the entire restaurant faced the ocean. When the tide was high, the waves would beat against the floor beneath us. Sunsets out those windows were gorgeous. The lobster was incredible, because it was broiled on the grill along with teriyaki steaks, and there was a wonderful fresh salad bar, brown rice, and fresh hot bread, both brown and sour dough.

Since we were poor college students, my mom was concerned about our spending so much money on meals. Caren Houser, a college friend of ours, and I both really loved the lobster, so we asked the manager if he would consider selling us one lobster tail instead of two, and price it as a “child’s plate”. We suggested that he lower the price from $8 to $4, and, lo and behold, he did it! A couple of years later we noticed that the “child’s plate lobster” was an official item on their menu. Another mark made on L.A. cultural history.

Caren, Sara and I were all discovering a new, refreshed or deepened relationship with Jesus, and our lunches and dinners would often turn into Bible studies or passionate “preaching” sessions. From my Church History class with Richard Hughes, I borrowed a name for our group, The Humble Order of Preaching Sisters. We would whip out our pocket-sized Bibles or New Testaments and go at it with joy and excitement. What happy, yearning, adventurous times those were. One night Caren told me, “I’m having a date night with the Lord” and it was the first time it had occurred to me that you really could plan to spend time with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit just like you would with another friend…out of desire, rather than obligation (the infamous “quiet time” that serious Christians were supposed to schedule into their day).

One quite odd occurrence involved then-President of Pepperdine Bill Banowsky. (Norvel was now Chancellor, and later on became Chancellor Emeritus.) I had been around Bill for years but we’d never had much personal conversation. Maybe Norvel or someone told him I was “smart”. Anyhow, one day he called to ask if I would be willing to do some research for him. I don’t recollect what topic I was researching; I think it was quotes for a speech he was preparing to give. The working relationship didn’t last long, but I was not disappointed by that, just amazed that he had considered using me in that way at all.

That first trimester back in Malibu, even though my mother lived just off campus down the hill in the DeVille Way condos, she let me live in the dorm. We both thought it might be too hard for me to live at home again after having been on my own. The only problem with this plan is that I was put in a freshman dorm. Those girls just started coming alive at about midnight or 1 a.m., whereas I was trying to be a responsible adult and get up at 5:00 a.m. to walk down to the cafeteria to work by 6:00 each morning. It was also tough to concentrate with so much racket, so I learned to study in the library instead.

That crack-of-dawn job was quite an experience. Alice Robertson, a lively, red-headed motherly woman, was the chief baker and I worked for her. (I later found out her son conducted the Jerusalem Symphony. You just never know who it is you are standing next to in this life.) The most memorable week was marked by our making six thousand cookies (two thousand each of oatmeal, peanut butter and chocolate chip – no kidding, that was the order for one reception). Every morning one of my tasks was dishing the rubbery Jello. I hate to mention that my hands got stained orange and yellow and green, because that must mean I wasn’t wearing gloves. Things have changed in the food service industry since then.

Oh, the sunrises that I joyfully witnessed morning after morning. You could watch the sun rise over the ocean out the huge windows of the cafeteria, and all that spring at supper time you could also watch the sun set through those same windows. Nature in Malibu was glorious, my heart was so sensitized to it, and the ocean that had always been a normal part of my life became even more precious because I got to see it every day in so many lights and weathers.

I had a roommate from Nigeria who was a sweet girl with a terrible problem. She had sickle cell anemia, which I had not heard of before. One night she had a really bad attack, and I sat up with her until dawn, when she finally let me go to the resident advisor who called an ambulance. She had not wanted to go to the hospital, but that’s all that could be done for her – sedate her for a couple of days until the pain had passed. As I sat with her for hours, stroking her hair and praying, I sang this song over and over. It helped me overcome my natural desire to block out her pain and go back to sleep.

“Would you be poured out as wine upon the altar for Me?
Would you be broken as bread to feed the hungry for Me?
Would you be so one with Me that I might do just as I will?
Would you be light and life and love, My Word fulfill?”

Another girl I met that spring turned out to play a significant role for awhile in my later life. Beckie Foster was a student at Malibu that year, also living in the dorms, but she was from Nashville and knew “my people.” I think her family even attended my uncle V.M.’s congregation at Vultee. At any rate, Beckie played guitar and sang, so we would get together in the lobby of her dorm and sit around singing and playing from time to time.

Beckie was a sweetheart, and I’m so delighted to say she finally settled down with a tender-hearted songwriter feller in Nashville. They both have done very well as writers. But in her early years of building a career, she was working non-stop. She hired a decorator to make her home lovely, but she was hardly ever there to enjoy it. She even hired someone to grocery shop for her, so that if she ever happened to land in her condo for meal, there would be something in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator.

In the late ‘Seventies, she invited me to visit her on the set of the Marty Robbins TV show, where she was singing background vocals for lots of country acts. Witnessing her life helped me make a decision about whether or not to pursue the music career that had by then fallen into my lap. I learned that she could never say “No” to a producer or an artist, because they would easily find someone else to hire. After much consideration, and trying it out for a few years, I chose not to live that way. I didn’t want to feel I had no choice in how I spent my hours and days, and I didn’t want to achieve all the financial and environmental rewards of such a lifestyle but have no time of my own to enjoy them.

[i] Brandy beans, dark chocolate in a curved “bean” shape, filled with brandy. Some people like the inside lined with sugar crystals, but I like them without, “ohne Kruste.”

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