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The scene is upstate N.Y., church camp, 1964. It seems like it was just yesterday.
Here’s the podcast of it:
[To see the text while listening, right-click and open the file in another window, or save the file and listen with Windows Media or put it on your portable listening device, or whatever.]
Memories of Jeanie F. audio
Here’s the story:
The last summer I went to camp before we moved overseas was the summer of 1964. That was the summer I liked a girl named Jeanie Fisher. Her real name was Norma Jean but she went by Jeanie. She had brown hair and green eyes (correction – hazel eyes) and she liked me. I liked her very much and was comfortable in her company. I was fourteen and I had had “girlfriends” in two previous summers, but I think Jeanie was the first girl with whom I had an unselfconscious, intentional relationship. Even at age fourteen, I think she and I were mature enough to begin learning new lessons in relationality.
At our Bible camp there were lots of opportunities for boys and girls to socialize—it was easy and safe. We had plenty of time to sit together, walk and talk, and play games. We were fundamentalists—we didn’t dance, but we did play games. And about half of the games we played featured hand-holding as an integral part. Take for instance an outdoor game I liked called the Flying Dutchman. It was a large circle game in which the whole group would form up in the field and hold hands all the way around without a break, boy girl boy girl boy, the more the better. The first pair to be “it”, a boy and a girl, would circle the group on the outside perimeter, holding hands and speeding up, looking for a pair to tag. The chosen pair, tagged on their joined hands, would then have to break out of their place and race the first pair around the circle, running in the opposite direction, trying to beat them back to the empty space. And the rule was, don’t let go the hand of the person you are paired with. If you and your partner lose the race the two of you become “it” and have to circle the group looking for a couple you think you could beat around the circle. It was a great game for learning about centrifugal force—and the opposite sex. Games were a parable and an illustration of all kinds of principles and ideals in life, the first being that the opposite sex is wonderfully marvelous, and touching and holding on to them is both enjoyable and beneficial.
I could go on and on about the games, but I won’t because I want to say more about Jeanie and me—how the memory came into my heart a few days ago and now will not leave. And right at this moment I don’t want it to leave because it is so beautiful.
I’m thinking about Jeanie and me and Sadie Hawkins day—how we caught each other and got to spend the whole day together, and as well as sitting next to each other in Bible class and other times, but the major memory I have is, saying goodnight after campfire. At this time each night boys and girls who liked each other could find a way to get two or three minutes alone for a goodnight kiss. Our particular tradition actually facilitated hand-holding (planned or not, that’s the way it was). It didn’t matter whether it was one of our devotional campfires or, on alternate evenings, the fun campfire. As a benediction we would cross our hands right over left and grasp the hand of the person next to us who also had his or her hands crossed. Then we sang taps. “Day is done, gone the sun, from the lakes, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest. God is nigh.” Goodnight.
Then, since you already had ahold of your girl’s hand, you could just not let go. One of the two of you would twirl around—again, without having to let go her hand, and voila, there you were walking down the dark path to the main compound, down around Bonnie Lodge. Now there might have been one or two lights on the eaves of the buildings down there, as well as the occasional flashing of peoples’ flashlights, but there were plenty of shadows to aim for, under the trees or around the corners of buildings. And the wonderful thing was it was thrilling without being anything but completely safe. After all, we weren’t planning anything illegal—just a kiss on the cheek and a hug, then a few more steps, until we had to go our separate ways—to the boys’ tents or the girls’ cabins, whichever applied.
I think the first time or two that Jeanie and I did this goodnight ritual I took the lead, walking her to the compound, instigating a kiss on the cheek. Her face was so smooth and clean. I can almost remember how she smelled. I can certainly remember how she made me feel. And after that I would float, two feet off the ground, down to the boys’ area with the army surplus folding metal cots, and crawl into my sleeping bag, full of lovely thoughts of liking and being liked and, how nice tomorrow would be, and how many days would be left before Jeanie and I would have to part.
Then one night, as I was aiming for Jeanie’s cheek she turned quick, in a split-second, and got me on the lips. She may have even licked her lips first. It fills me with the deepest wildest yearning as I remember it—to think I could have been the object of the affections of such a wonderful girl. To think I could be a part of such an innocent little pairing. Even at fourteen years of age it was certainly possible for one to make another person feel so meaningfully loved. I wonder if Jeanie ever thought back on it with the same sort wistfulness I have. Secretly I hope she has.
One day a group of us went on a bus trip from camp to somewhere about an hour away—it might have been Chittenango Falls. I don’t remember very much about the day—probably we had a cookout and hiked around at the base of the falls—probably got our feet wet. But I do remember very well the bus trip back to camp. There were so many people that Jeanie had to sit on my lap part of the way back. Now mind you, I didn’t hold her tight; she just sat there straight and prim as could be on top of my knees. Of course I was affected by the closeness and felt lovely but at the same time somewhat uncomfortable about it. By the time we were home it was dark already and I was ready to be relieved of my burden, despite the delightfulness.
My friend Brent, who was a year older than me, also had a girl on his lap in the dark bus. I don’t remember her name but I remember she was the kind of girl who seemed a bit socially backward. It seems like she might have been from the country and also was not pretty. So when I saw that she and Brent were kissing passionately and making out energetically, I thought they must really be in love. The next day I mentioned it to Brent. I said, “You and that girl must really be in love, huh?” He said, “Oh her? I’d rather have a dog than her.” That’s not the answer I expected; I figured the more passionate the making out was, the deeper the love must be. And so besides the fact I was disappointed in my friend, it was the first time I realized there was a possible disconnect between real relationality and physical intimacy. For the record I was not then, nor have I ever, in all the years since then, become reconciled to that disconnect.
Before our two weeks were over Jeanie and I had grown comfortable with each other. Once she volunteered to sing a song for the talent show and I accompanied her on the guitar. She sang 500 Miles.
“If you miss the train I’m on you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles.”
Jeanie was nervous and kept saying her voice was going to crack but she did fine. (Well, maybe it did squeek just once on a high note.)
When I think back about it, she was the first girl I played music with. Before the session was over we exchanged addresses and promised we would write letters to each other, which we did. Phoning long-distance was out of the question; it cost too much. But a postage stamp was only four cents, and so we wrote each other letters.
There’s a another memory back there that I’m not sure I want to bring up, but I think you will enjoy hearing it, so here goes. To the best of my recollection, Jeanie went home after two weeks, but hoped to come back again for a later session that summer. Meanwhile other things were going on in her absence.
One afternoon as we came back from the swimming hole, I saw Cathy Field, my “girlfriend” from two summers ago. She was sitting on the well playing her french horn. I was overawed. She was fresh as the sunrise—blonde and blue-eyed, hair cut short and cute, sitting there just as nice as you please. Her mom must have brought her after her band practice, to make arrangements to come to camp. I approached her gingerly, as if she were a space alien I used to know on another planet. But sure enough she remembered me; or at least she didn’t say she didn’t. We had known each other—had even written a few letters back and forth, then we drifted apart. I still had fond memories but they were distant ones—until all of a sudden she showed up and and my little soul was all awhirl with happy but mixed up feelings.
Then, when Cathy arrived to stay, it was a Sunday afternoon I think, I immediately stuck to her like glue. I was changeable, wasn’t I? But this time I had competition. Some kid, whose name I don’t even remember, thought he was her boyfriend. And Cathy was non-commital; she refused to choose between us. I affirmed my commitment to her, so did the other kid. The two of us competed to win her affections, by feats of athletic ability, or by impossible promises, but she would not choose between us. I remember walking around camp holding her hand—and that other kid holding her other hand. She was eating up the attention; I really think she had a boy-friend in her home town and was funnin’ with us.
Howe’er it was, I didn’t feel one twinge of guilt about being untrue to Jeanie, or if I did I sure didn’t dwell on it, I was so full of myself.
Soon Cathy heard through the grapevine that I had another girlfriend and quizzed me about her. She would be returning to camp in a few days and what would I do then? I said, “I will stick with you.” She had her doubts about that and said so. “When Jeanie comes back you will go back to her,” she prophesied. Cathy had the wisdom of years, after all she was six months older than me.
And she was right. It wasn’t a hard decision. Jeanie was really something after all, and I was ready for her to come back. Plus, there was the thing about Cathy having two boyfriends at once, and refusing to reject one of us—and that other kid wouldn’t give up. That was kind of wearing on my psyche.
I don’t know how long I stayed at camp that summer. Maybe four, maybe five weeks. I sure felt at home there. My family was getting ready to move to Washington, D.C., then overseas. I guess they didn’t mind getting me out of their hair while they packed up and got rid of most of the stuff in the house. We thought we were going to Bolivia, and that’s what I told Jeanie. Then we found out it would be Pakistan. That seemed so much farther away. Either way we wouldn’t be back to the states for at least two years, and even then, though I didn’t know it at the time, we would never again live in the state of New York.
I wrote to Jeanie that we were going to Pakistan. She wrote me back saying, “Pakistan! that’s even farther than Bolivia. I’ll miss you. It seems almost like you are going into the army. But you’re too young for the army.” That made me feel like Jeanie was devoted to me and, of course that’s a heady draught for a fourteen year old, almost fifteen. I don’t remember how many letters we wrote back and forth, but I’m pretty sure they trailed off by the time we got to Pakistan. Maybe I lost her address; maybe she lost mine. Maybe she got another boyfriend and stopped writing. It’s hard for teenagers to keep a relationship going by correspondence, when there are other living, breathing boys and girls around them in real time.
One thing is for certain. I never again felt as comfortable, and as well liked by a girl as pretty, and as nice as her, until, around age twenty, I met my future bride. But that’s another story.
I got a copy (from a yard sale) of a beautiful book by Harold Bell Wright. Shepherd of the Hills was his second book, and was followed by others I haven’t read yet that sequel it. It’s a story of love, regret, atonement, but mostly, in my view, love. Of course I tend to see love everywhere.
I was amazed by the writing skill of this author whom I did not previously know much about. This book was originally published in 1907 and has become an important part of the story of the Ozarks and Branson area, where the story is set. Not that he was perfect—he had some wordy paragraphs that didn’t need to be so wordy and some flowery phrases that didn’t need to be so flowery, but his story-telling skill made up for these weaknesses. It held me closely attentive until I finished, particularly toward the end.
It had mystery, unexpected twists and turns, sorrow and grief and, of course, a beautiful love story.
Harold Bell Wright grew up poor in New York and Ohio, became a minister, then reached out to the wider world by writing novels.
You can read the story for free online or I would be thankful to earn a few pennies if you buy it (or anything else) through my amazon picture link here.
Here’s a quote I like from the character Dad Howitt:
“Here and there among men, there are those who pause in the hurried rush to listen to the call of a life that is more real. How often have we seen them … jostled and ridiculed by their fellows, pushed aside and forgotten, as incompetent or unworthy. He who sees and hears too much is cursed for a dreamer, a fanatic, or a fool, by the mad mob, who, having eyes, see not, ears and hear not, and refuse to understand.
“We build temples and churches, but will not worship in them; we hire spiritual advisers, but refuse to heed them; we buy bibles, but will not read them; believing in God, we do not fear Him; acknowledging Christ, we neither follow nor obey Him. Only when we can no longer strive in the battle for earthly honors or material wealth, do we turn to the unseen but more enduring things of life; and, with ears deafened by the din of selfish things of life; and, with eyes blinded by the glare of passing pomp and folly, we strive to hear and see the things we have so long refused to consider.”
Good quote, good character, good book, good author. I would like to be more like each one of them myself.
I am available to work part-time as a clerical assistant. Online communications are my forte. Church, institution or small enterprise, if I can believe in your efforts. 15 to 25 hours per week. In your office, Nashville or Franklin, and/or from my home computer.
Click here to get in touch with me.
I’m down in Perry county for two days, in the house on Bunker Hill Standing Rock Road. I’m working, writing, reading, taking pictures. Sporadically, two or three times as evening came on, I stepped outside to check the weather. Now it’s all the way dark and I step out again, barefooted, gingerly leaning out in order to see beyond the porch roof. I see a patch of stars. It’s only about one-tenth of one percent of the sky, but still it wows me when I see it. It’s full of stars.
I step two steps down the concrete stairs and from there I get a much larger view. Probably one-half of one percent of the sky. It’s full of stars—plus I can see a very dim cloudy milky area. Wow, that’s my galaxy.
It’s cool out tonight. Below seventy already and it’s not even ten o’clock yet. Maybe this really is the cool front they were talking about. I step back up the two steps and walk to the front part of the porch. (I don’t go out on the grass now because I don’t want to have to inspect myself for ticks again tonight.)
I grab one of the porch posts and lean out, looking up at an unbelieveably full expanse of stars. There are a lot of dim ones and a few brighter ones. And there is Venus, the evening star—just hanging there—not twinkling, just glowing. It’s a planet, a wanderer, but for me it is steadfast because it is always there when I look for it.
The country around here is so dark and the sky is so full of stars. You don’t see nearly this many stars in the city. Even on Berry’s Chapel Road where our in-town home is, what with no street lights and close cow pastures, we can’t see this many stars. But there they are, just where I left them last time I saw this many of them at once. And here is God, just where I left Him last time I noticed him—last time I was so sure He was here.
Even the most unassuming books often have one passage outstanding in its perspicacity. This is from Image of Josephine by Booth Tarkington, 1945.
His deeper suspicion was of Josephine Oaklin’s own gullibility—about herself. Was she one of those people who so determinedly gild themselves that they see themselves shining, all gold? Was she one of those who make fact plastic to their needs, distort it adorningly, always save face at any cost, and so have never true vision of themselves or of their kinship with their unperfected fellow-creatures? Such a one is not a beautiful sight—no, the rather ghastly—a deaf and blinded hermit walking abroad through crowded life and unaware of what’s all round him.
From Augustine’s Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love:
In this universe, even what is called evil, when it is rightly ordered and kept in its place, commends the good more eminently, since good things yield greater pleasure and praise when compared to the bad things. For the Omnipotent God, whom even the heathen acknowledge as the Supreme Power over all, would not allow any evil in his works, unless in his omnipotence and goodness, as the Supreme Good, he is able to bring forth good out of evil. What, after all, is anything we call evil except the privation of good? In animal bodies, for instance, sickness and wounds are nothing but the privation of health. When a cure is effected, the evils which were present (i.e., the sickness and the wounds) do not retreat and go elsewhere. Rather, they simply do not exist any more. For such evil is not a substance; the wound or the disease is a defect of the bodily substance which, as a substance, is good. Evil, then, is an accident, i.e., a privation of that good which is called health. Thus, whatever defects there are in a soul are privations of a natural good. When a cure takes place, they are not transferred elsewhere but, since they are no longer present in the state of health, they no longer exist at all.
Augustine’s Handbook on Faith, Hope and Love, chapter 3, paragraph 11. Full text here.
Of course, that was not really about yin and yang, but about good as reality and substance, and evil as an absence of that reality. Good comes from God and evil corrupts wherever that fact is forgotten.
I am sitting in a coffee house in Hamilton, New York. I am full of memories and also full of the sights of today. It’s a classic New York state small town, a college town. The lady who owns the place doesn’t know anything about the Sugar Bowl cafe that was here in the fifties. I am going outside and taking some pictures right now.
We used to pass through this town, sometimes would do activities here like band concerts at the bandstand in the park.
It’s beautiful, very pleasant, and very much in the present – but for me it has a magicalness because of my memories.
Here’s a picture of the Barge Canal Coffee Company where Susan and the folks were hospitable.
Note to myself: Get some decent heat in this place.
There’s a gas space heater in the living room – vented to the outside, it heats up real nicely. But it only heats up two parts of the house very well – (1 )the spot right in front of it and (2) the upstairs hall, because of the open balcony space. So one would either have to stand right in front of the thing, like one would warm oneself at a fireplace, or go upstairs go the upstairs hall. The upstairs bedrooms get a little heat too. But the whole downstairs gets almost no benefit from the gas stove.
Last night I didn’t turn it on, partly because I didn’t think it would be too cold and partly because I didn’t think it would do much good. I was wrong on the first count – it was cold. I had moved the bed downstairs (because I didn’t think it would be cold anymore this season) and I had to add blankets as the night went on. As it happened, the blankets I had with me were the heavyweight kind that don’t hold in much heat. Give me a lightweight goose down comforter any day.
Oh, and here’s an update on the rat poison issue. I brought one package with me this time and put it on the floor by the water heater before going to bed. This morning the package was gone – dragged off by what I could imagine to be some giant-sized mouse. Later I did see it under the bathtub and it had been broken into, so I am satisfied it is doing its work.
Years ago Steve Taylor sang about church-changing as a steeplechase. Here’s a cartoon from Dave Walker that is along those same lines and mucho poignant. You can get his book here: The Dave Walker Guide to Church
I knew there were mice hereâ€”one of them was working the night shift in the bedroom as I tried to sleep as all mice are wont to do. I thought, I gotta do something about this, but I didn’t want to use mouse traps because I didn’t want him smelling up the place till I got around to removing him.
Then one evening as I wrote on my computer I saw one of them dart across the floor and I thought, that’s a big one. So I resolved to use rat poison.
On my way down the next time which was last week, I stopped at the farm store and looked at the selection of rat poisons. There were several choices and the instructions were displayed in such fine print, that I decided to ask advice from the owner. He said get the ones in the bags; just crack the bag and leave it out. Large bag $1.50, box of ten small bags $7.50. I got the box of small bagsâ€”more kills for the money, I thought.
When I got ready to leave the house after my visit I put out three bags, cracked them and left them in strategic out of the way places. I put the box up on a shelf to save for another time, in case there are any rats left alive after this treatment. I thought, I hope the rat gets a taste of these and crawls off to die someplace far away.
When I came back the little bags were empty; I thought, boy oh boy, he’s taken the bait.
He took the bait alrightâ€”he ate all the bait in the bags I left out, then found the box, opened it and ate all the remaining packs too.
And there he was floating in one of my auxiliary water buckets in the bathroom. Later, while I was writing on my computer I saw one of his pardners strolling around just as well as you please. It cost me $7.50 plus tax to exterminate one large mouse.
Here’s a little movie I made last year at our place in Perry County.
Here’s my Old Tennessee House web site.
Yesterday I saw a notice posted on the bulletin board at work announcing a lecture in Flynn Auditorium at Vanderbilt. It was to be about consciousness.
“The Problem of Consciousness in Philosophy, Religion and Science.” A Templeton Lecture by Christof Koch
As I looked I mumbled, “I want to go to that; it’s right up my alley.” So I called my friend Rob to see if he could go with me. He was too tired but made me promise to report back to him what the guy said. All day long whenever I passed the bulletin board I looked at the little handbill tacked there and thought, “I’m goin.”
As I drove home I realized I didn’t remember the name of the auditorium. I did know it was six o’clock in the Law School building, just not the name of the auditorium.
Upon arriving home I called my director at work and asked him if he would kindly glance at the notice for me and let me know the place. A minute passed and he came back to the phone saying it was the Flynn Auditorium and also that Mary Beth says she is going too. So I wrote it down and thanked him. Hanging up the phone I called Steve to see if he wanted to go. Steve was kind of down in the dumps but thought it might do him good to get out so I said I would leave right away and pick him up.
By the time I got through our local mid-county bottleneck, we were late – but that was alright – we would surely catch most of the lecture. After locating parking and the building we were now faced with the task of finding the room. A very kind student directed us using the side door as reference. But when we found the side door locked, and went around to the front door we had lost our bearings. Finally we found an auditorium door with the handbill posted next to it. Going in we found a nicely-appointed but sparsely populated room with a video being projected on a screen. We shrugged and sat and watched and listened. It was apparently Professor Koch lecturing about consciousness as advertised, but we were a little bit taken aback that, instead of being there in the flesh, he was there on “Memorex” so to speak. Be that as it may, we made the best of things and listened as well as we could to the grainy and audibly faint movie.
Steve and I went on back and had a good visit. We talked some about consciousness and some about other things, as well as postulating as to why we would be presented with a movie of a lecture rather than a real lecture from a real flesh and blood man. I surmised that the good professor had got his flight cancelled or some such and they had to substitute a dvd of a previous performance.
So, on to next morning. I saw Mary Beth at work and mentioned the lecture and that I didn’t see her there after all. Much to my surprise she said she certainly was there and she had seen Tom there too. (Tom’s the guy who posted the notice on the board in the first place.) I said, really, did you leave early, before we came in? Didn’t you like the video?
Mary Beth said she didn’t see any video; she had seen Professor Koch give a lecture. I said last night, 6 PM?
She said yes, that’s right. I said I wonder how that could be when Steve and I were in that very same auditorium between 6:20 and 7:00 PM and had only seen a video.
Mary Beth said she and her friends were there in the back of the room, standing against the wall because the room was packed out with people.
“Packed out?” I said. “We saw lees than a dozen people there. Is this the twilight zone or what?”
Mary Beth said she’s not telling a fib and that I could ask Tom. I said I believe her: I’m just trying to figure out how two different scenarios could be true at the same time in the same room.
I said, as a matter of fact the video looked like it was made in the same room we were watching it in. Same ceiling lights, same rows of work-tables and chairs for the audience. I was starting to think there had been a vortex in the time-space continuum since we appeared to be watching a video of something that had taken place earlier in the same room – but it wasn’t earlier – it was at the same time. I said to Mary Beth at least three times, “This is just like the twilight zone.”
Then it hit me – Steve and I didn’t actually find Flynn Auditorium, but it’s twin. And we weren’t watching a video recording but a live feed.
As soon as I figured that out I called Steve and said, “Steve, it was the overflow room.”
How proverbial is that?
Here’s the blurb about it. There’s an mp3 recording of it there if you want to listen.
Oh yeah, I have a myspace page now. Here’s where it is:
I have some music there to listen to if you’re interested.
Why do people do things noisily when they could just as easily do them quietly?
I work in a place where library quiet is required of us. We have groups of people in rooms trying to concentrate on their work. There are no cubicles, just six foot tables, two workers to a table.
Now it’s not supposed to be what you’d call quiet as a morgue; it’s just supposed to be quiet so we can concentrate on our work.
So here’s what I’ve noticed:
- Flopping folders down on tables, when quiet placement would suffice
- Tossing liquid-filled drink containers into trash cans from a distance
- Clacking chairs against table legs, when quiet sliding would be easier
- Door slamming entering and leaving, when careful handling would be much more polite
What’s up with all that? Passive-agression or what?
Shall I make a movie to illustrate?
I’ve been looking at some various discussions about whether God exists or not – arguments against His existence and arguments against the arguments. They always give the attributes of the God they are going to disprove—as if someone who doesn’t exist has attributes.
Anyway, it all reminds me of a little routine we used to do when I was a kid. My expanded version goes something like this:
Smith: I saw our old friend Microfiche a few days ago.
Jones: Microfiche, who’s that?
Smith: Swinburne Microfiche, surely you remember him.
Jones: Oh, Microfiche! The labmaster from the old school.
Jones: Old Swinney the Pooh.
Smith: Yeah. You remember him then.
Jones: You mean the guy who used to blow up a lab rat in the face of one unsuspecting freshman each year?
Smith: Yeah, he was notorious for that.
Jones: The one who lived over on the other side of the commons in the fieldstone house … with the lovely wild roses and Japanese lilacs.
Smith: Yeah, that’s him.
Jones:You mean Swinney Microfiche? The man who married the parson’s daughter Elena – what a lucky guy.
Smith: Yeah. You remember him. Just the other day I ran into him and he was saying …
Jones: Hmmm. Lemme get this straight. You’re talking Microfiche, the guy who always used to come to faculty evening functions in corduroys? His lack of evening attire always scandalized the dean’s wife.
Smith: Yeah, well …
Jones: You mean Microfiche the labmaster – used to tinker with Italian motorscooters in that shed behind his house. Knew how to relax, that fellow. Rare trait in one so thin.
Smith: Yeah, I think he did fool with motorbikes or some such. Anyway, as I was starting to say ….
Jones: Microfiche – Swinney Microfiche?
Jones: Microfiche, the rat-exploding labmaster?
Jones: Swinney the Pooh Microfiche, husband of Elena, the parson’s daughter.
Smith: Yeah, that’s him.
Jones: Microfiche, the scooter-fixer who you ran into the other day? The one with the wild roses and Japanese lilacs?
Smith: Yeah, you seem to remember him quite well.
Jones: Microfiche, Swinburne Microfiche.
Smith: That’s the one.
Jones: Never heard of him.