The summer after my junior year of high school, I went to Four Square camp with my childhood friend Leslie, who had moved away when we were in the sixth grade, then moved to a neighboring town, Oceanside, when we were three-quarters of the way through High School, for a short time before moving again to South Carolina. Someone at Foursquare Camp said, Dancing is wrong because when a boy and girl dance, look at what parts are together! Someone else told me that male homosexuals live in colonies and provide semen to colonies of lesbians who inseminate themselves. The girls are raised in the lesbian colony and the boys are sent to the homosexual colony. I would never hear any collaboration in support of that.
When I was young I had gone to both Lutheran Sunday School and Seventh Day Adventist Sabbath School. They both took place in the same building. During that time I had learned to pray and had experienced a mystical event at about the age of 7.
I used to have nightmares of bondage, where it felt like I was bound up in some kind of rubbery black stuff and I couldn’t move. My tongue was thick and I couldn’t cry out. I would feel one hand with the other. It felt thick and unnatural. Decades later I would have various theories to explain these horrifying experiences. It may have been a body memory of sharing the birthing ether that had been given to my mother against her will when I was being born. It could have been symbolic of the physical abuse from my dad. It could have been that my maternal grandfather, who had repeatedly molested a cousin, had gotten to me as well when I was very small, and, although I have no recollection of that, I may have gone into a state of shock and later experienced these nightmares of bondage.
Once, while experiencing one of these nightmares while still quite small, I had thought about Jesus and had prayed to Him for help. I saw a purple form as he came to me. I felt energized in his love, comforted and in peace. His presence dispelled the pain and fear, and brought me into a deep rest. Eventually praying became habitual. The nightmares still occurred for a few years after that, but they were no longer terrifying, because then I knew what to do.
Ironically, I didn’t know anyone that I felt had the depth of spiritual connection that I had. I felt that pastors and teachers at church and childrens classes were full of words that did not really resonate with the connection that I knew was possible.
Sometime after the mystical experience, my father had stopped attending church because he wanted to spend all weekend working on projects on the property while listening to church services, music, lectures and ball games on the radio. Dad had been raised as a Lutheran, and Mom as a Methodist. When Dad had stopped attending, my mother, siblings and I had then attended the Methodist Church.
Around the age of 10, thanks to rides there from a neighbor, I had attended Sunday School 10 Sundays in a row at the Assembly of God Church, for which I was awarded my own red letter edition King James Bible. The more liberal churches I attended with my mother were using more modern translations, but I loved that Bible! I loved reading the words of Jesus set apart by the red ink. I read them over and over. It didnt take very long to read everything Jesus ever said that had been recorded that I knew about. It can be done in less than an hour, and I usually read a good chunk of it every night before I went to sleep. Before long I knew all of Jesus’ words by heart. Mom also took me to the Unitarian Church a few times, although it was a 30 minute drive away.
I am grateful to God for having touched my life and letting me know of His existence enough times enough ways that I have no doubt. I am grateful to the Churches, Sunday schools, Sabbath schools, and youth fellowships I attended, and the people there who taught me to sing hymns, read scripture, and pray.
The Foursquare Church, whose camp Leslie and I attended, was what my mother called, Fundamentalist. She didn’t like the close-minded dogma, but she was open-minded and encouraged me to go, because she wanted me to have a balanced experience so I could make up my own mind about religion.
Leslie and I had been inseparable from the time we had met while in second grade until her Navy Chaplain father got transferred to Bremerton, Washington, just after 5th grade. Mama had told me it was better to have lots of friends then just one special chum. I’m sure she was right.
Leslie and I had a lot of catching up to do. She said my brother Jeff had kissed her against her will. I didn’t doubt that because he had pulled down my pants against my will. I had promptly beat him up after pulling them back up.
There were services every evening we were at the Foursquare camp. I remember hearing testimonies about what horrible people some of those giving the testimonies had been before they had found Jesus. Now that is something you wouldn’t have heard in the Methodist Church. No one would go on and on about how bad they were before they learned about Jesus. If that were so they would keep it to themselves. You wouldn’t have earned points for how much you reformed after learning about Christ like you seemed to in the Foursquare crowd. (Later I would hear similar testimonies in support group meetings with a difference. It was the fellowship and working the steps that brought about the reform, not faith is a particular deity.)
I was riding with Darlene in the back of her mother’s pickup. We were going to our swimming lesson. Her mother and mine took turns driving. I told her about an experience I had had recently at a party with my cousin Mary and her backpacking friends. Not sure how it happened but somehow I ended up on John’s lap. He gave me a back rub, and I experienced sexual arousal, including a wetness in the crotch. I didn’t know what it was. The whole thing was very mysterious and I wanted more information. I thought Darlene knew a lot even though she was a year younger than me. She kind of froze up the way I do when I am uncomfortable about something, so I just left it there.
John was extremely attractive. With beautiful women all around, I wouldn’t have had a chance. But my first arousal was an interesting collage of sensations and emotions. One of the emotions was self condemnation. I shouldn’t have been on John’s lap. I shouldn’t have been getting these mysterious wonderful feelings from just a back rub. Mary probably saw it and didn’t think anything of it. The hiking club traded back rubs all the time. Bob and I used to trade back rubs and all it was was back rubs. Neither of us were turned on, at least I wasn’t and if he was, he didn’t give any indication.
Lee saw me on John’s lap, and I thought Lee knew I was letting myself get aroused, and resented him for that. Mary couldn’t understand my spiteful behavior toward Lee on the next backpacking trip. Lee was in high school like me, the younger brother of one of the PCC Highlanders.
I needed Darlene to tell me I wasn’t bad, it might have happened to anybody, but she didn’t. Her silence seemed to affirm that I was bad. She was a neighbor. We used to visit each other sometimes. We both played the guitar. I taught her the blues progression and she taught me a version of Walk Right In that I would still remember and still play decades later. We rehearsed songs like Today together, but we never performed anywhere together.
Darlene had asked me if a friend of hers could call me. I had assented. He seemed to be in his teens or early twenties and had a British accent. He was supposedly a famous musician, however I was unable to verify his name or any of the facts I was given. We had several long conversations. He was married and talked about his wife, his musical compositions and career. I have not met him in person.
Once Darlene and I had gone to the beach together. She had a surfboard but she broke the skag (fin) so it apparently was unusable. She had nice dark skin that could handle the sun much better than mine.
In later years after high school, Darlene would become active in Calvary Chapel. This would be one of the Christian churches that would become infected with magical thinking and religious bigotry, in my opinion, although their music would be very nice, and to the extent that they would teach the teachings of Jesus, I would be able to enjoy them. She was cute in high school but later she would put on weight, and would remain single. Darlene would become a teacher, and my oldest daughter would be in one of her classes at an adult high school when my daughter would need a few more units to finish her high school requirements at the age of 18.
My cousin Mary, 5 years older than me, had saved me from drowning at La Jolla Cove when I had been about 3 years old, while her family had been visiting from Pasadena. I dont know if she realized that she saved my life, but I am sure she did. Suddenly the water was over my head. Not yet being a swimmer, I was panicked. Mary had pulled me from the water.
For three summers during high school, I was on the John Muir trail with Mary, and her college hiking group, the PCC (Pasadena City College) Highlanders for the month of August 1963, ’64 and ’65, before my sophomore, junior and senior years. Mary invited me on trips with the PCC Highlanders, a college group, whole I was still in high school.
“Have you heard about the riot in Los Angeles?”
I was on a trail in the High Sierras with my cousin’s hiking club. Bob was near me, near the top of a pass. As another group of hikers approached coming from the direction we were going, one of them asked us this question.
“No!” Bob exclaimed, “We have been on the trail for a week and a half!”
“It’s in Watts. The police shot another black person. They’re going nuts, setting fires, looting stores… It’s a real mess!”
“Why do so many black people got shot? It’s terrible!” I said to Mary.
“I know this doesn’t really excuse it, but the police are not responsible for the economic disparity between blacks and whites, they just have to deal with it. Unfortunately, blacks commit crimes sometimes because of the limited options open to them. This makes black people dangerous to the cops, and, unfortunately, all too often, the police shoot first and ask questions later.”
“Why can’t people just be fair and get along?”
“I don’t know.”
I was reminded of the anguish I had felt a few months earlier when Malcolm X had been killed.
My first trip with the PCC Highlanders had been to explore caves a couple hours away from the Los Angeles area. We had camped inside a cave. It was very dark and quiet. I had learned to rappel down a short slope.
On another trip we had hiked up to the top of Mt. San Jacinto. My feet were really tough from walking outside barefooted a lot, and I hiked all the way up barefooted. The next day we came back down and I wore my hiking boots.
I earned the reputation for being a strong hiker. On the Miur trail which I did three years in a row with Mary and her friends, our little group would look at the guide book in the morning at breakfast and agree where to meet for lunch and dinner. I often would be at the rendezvous spot first.
The first two years we started at Yosemite and hiked to Whitney portal, taking four weeks. We carried two weeks worth of food. In those days the water in the streams was drinkable with no purification needed, and there was plenty of water along the way for our needs. We also gathered our own firewood, either wood on the ground or dead wood in the tree called pull-down wood, because it could be pulled down by throwing a small rock tied to a couple yards of light-weight nylon rope over the dead branch.
Of course there were no toilets or even out houses along the way, so we each carried a roll of toilet paper. I would get a little ways away from the group, or anyone else who happened to be nearby, dig a small trench with a stone or a stick, do my business, wipe, then use the stone or stick to bury the waste. This was not supposed to be done anywhere near a stream or a lake.