Saturday, December 13, 2008

September 1965...

It was Autumn again. A whole year had passed since I had first come to Memphis State. Things seemed different longer the strangeness of being new.

It had been an eventful summer and one in which I'd grown a great deal. I'd been challenged and come away the better for it. I thought often about the beautiful Pacific Northwest and all that I seen there. I also thought about how God had chosen to work in such a mysterious way...for my good and His glory. I kept the papers from the train reservation for many years...just in case I forgot.

Bill came over before school started back to ask me to speak to his church youth group about my summer in Seattle. I had taken many slides and felt comfortable sharing. He told me about his summer and his experiences at the Air Force flight training. He was taking flying lessons at a small airport in the county. One afternoon he stopped by my house on his way home from his flying lesson. He had completed his first solo flight. In keeping with tradition, they had cut off the back half of his shirt and signed it with the date. He couldn't wait to show me, and I was excited for him.

Once again, the BSU was the hub of activity with everyone returning back to school and sharing the events of their summer. Several of the students had traveled to other destinations as summer missionaries. It was fun sharing stories with each other.

Autumn of 1965 would also be when I realized that my feelings for Bill were more than just friendship...

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A summer in Seattle...conclusion

It had been almost forty-eight hours with nothing more than an occasional nap, but the lull of the train had finally rocked me to sleep. I had fallen asleep in the observation deck surrounded by the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. When I awoke early the next morning, we were just a few hours outside of Portland, Oregon. Trying to bathe in the quart-sized sink in the train bathroom was a challenge but I'd managed and then met my friends for breakfast in the dining car. There was such anticipation and each of us wondered what lay ahead for the summer.

Portland was beautiful...with the beautiful Willamette and Columbia Rivers, snow capped mountains in the distance, the Columbia River Gorge and Multnomah Falls. Over the next two weeks, I would fall in love with the City of Roses...but my destination was Seattle. We were met at the train station and driven to the beautiful estate where the two-week orientation would be held.

Students from all over the United States now joined those of us from the East, South and Midwest who had met in Chicago. I'm sure the agenda over the next two weeks included training for what we would need to know as summer missionaries...but my memories are distinctly different. I remember the dormitory where the girls slept with open windows on three sides, inviting in the cool mountain air. That first night's sleep on a top-bunk was one of the best I've ever had. I remember the unexpectedly delicious meals in the dining room with big pitchers of ice cold milk. I remember the amazing view from the mountaintop setting. Most especially, I remember meeting new friends and having fun touring Portland together during our spare time over those two weeks.

Toward the end of orientation, a group of about twenty college students were selected to stay an additional two weeks in Canada at the end of summer. I was one of them. I changed my train reservation and prepared to stay. Little did I know then, the events that decision would precipitate.
There were several of us traveling to Seattle. We would be together off and on throughout the summer. We stayed with different church families who made us a part of their family while we were with them. I remember each of the families..maybe not their names after all these years, but their faces and their homes.

For the next ten weeks, I worked setting up and teaching Vacation Bible Schools all across the Seattle on Vashon Island. We worked in several underprivileged areas. The children at each one tugged at my heart. It was difficult getting attached to them knowing that we would be leaving and moving to the next church in two weeks. It was a time of growing for me...a time of finding out just what I had to give.

It wasn't all work. Those of us assigned to Seattle got together as often as we could. We took the elevator to the top of the Space Needle and enjoyed the view of Seattle and the breathtaking mountains. We went night fishing at a trout farm. We took a ferry to historic Victoria, British Columbia. I loved it, especially Butchart Gardens. One of my friends, Shelby, rented a motorbike and I remember touring part of Victoria on the back of it with him. Another day, we traveled to Mt. Ranier, where I got an up close and personal look at a majestic mountain. I would laugh later when I got home and had all my film developed. I had taken a full roll of Mt. Ranier. I was captivated by this structure, this unbelievable display of God's incredible handiwork, and in my excitement took at least 24 photos which, of course, all looked alike.

Toward the beginning of my last week there, I began having some serious symptoms...among them fever, extreme fatigue, aching joints and shortness of breath. I had been seriously anemic prior to the trip and had endured several painful injections of iron to be able to make the trip...all the while insisting I was going. I thought the symptoms were related to that, but the "Mom" I was staying with at the time insisted on taking me to her physician. He examined me and ordered bloodwork. There were some issues with the blood work; but the doctor admitted he wasn't sure what it was and diagnosed it as "some type of rare virus". I wasn't a Registered Nurse at that time, of course, and didn't ask questions. I just knew I felt ill. The doctor did not recommend that I stay the extra two weeks in Canada, and he definitely did not want me traveling home by train. My home church took up a collection for me to fly home at the end of that week.

I don't remember whether or not the doctor had given me any medication, but over the next few days, I began to feel a little better and enjoyed my last visit with all the friends I had made there. It was difficult saying goodbye to everyone...honestly, I didn't want to leave the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I remember the Friday evening that I boarded the plane to fly first flight ever. There was a battalion of handsome young Air Force men on the same flight. They had been stationed in Alaska for the entire previous year. With a big smile, the "full bird colonel" sat down next to me saying, "I have a daughter just your age...I'm sitting here." I understood what he was saying, of course, but confess to thinking "oh, heck". What better person to have sitting next to you on your first flight though than an Air Force colonel. He was excited about getting home to his wife and the daughter who was my age and told me all about them. Thankfully, he was there to help me make my tight connection at the O'Hare airport in Chicago...something I've done dozens of times since...but not before then.

Oddly enough, when I arrived at the Memphis airport I felt perfectly fine. There were no more symptoms, and my doctor did not find anything with his examination and blood work.

Two weeks after my arrival home, I was sitting on my front porch reading the newspaper. There in black and white was the account of a serious train accident. I remember running into the house and comparing my ticket, which I still had, with the newspaper was the same train. I had goose bumps for days after that.

Only God knows if I would have been among the injured or dead, had I been on that train...but He intervened and orchestrated an early arrival home for me. I'm thankful for that and for the wonderful summer of 1965 in the Pacific Northwest. Little did I know then, that 43 years later, I would be living in the Callahan Mountains of Oregon.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

A summer in Seattle...part one

It was early winter 1965. I was nineteen years old and excited about applying to be a summer missionary through the Southern Baptist Convention Home Mission Board. There were thousands of college students applying across the United States, but only a certain number would be chosen. It was a lengthy process, but I completed it...then waited. We would know in the Spring. The summer missionaries would serve in their appointed destinations for ten weeks. By the time we were notified whether or not we had been selected, we'd have time to prepare to travel.

The Baptist Student Union was a busy place that winter. We'd meet there daily for lunch, NoonDay service and just to relax between classes. Several of the BSU students had applied to be summer missionaries, and there was excitement as we were all waiting to hear the news. Bill would be headed to the Altus Air Force base in Oklahoma for ROTC flight training that summer. Each day during lunch or on our long walks together, Bill and I would talk about our plans for the summer.

Word came in the early Spring from the Home Mission Board. I had been selected. My protective parents were opposed to the idea, but this time I didn't ask. I just said "I'm going"...maybe I should have tried that sooner. As my first choice on the application I had chosen an Indian reservation in Oregon. I didn't get it...I was to spend ten weeks in Seattle.

The Home Mission Board paid for the cheapest transportation to a summer missionary's destination. In my case, that was by train...four days and three nights by train to be exact. I remember the night that I boarded the train in Memphis...the Illinois-Central to Chicago. After traveling all night and then an eight hour layover in Chicago the following day, I would have to transfer train stations by bus. I would then board the streamlined, fully-equipped Union-Pacific train line for the cross-country trip to Portland, Oregon, for the two week orientation...such logistics for a nineteen year old who'd never been farther than 200 miles from home. Although the cross country train came equipped with sleeping cabins, I couldn't afford one. I was hoping I could sleep in my seat...unfortunately, sleep didn't come until the third night in route.

I love the classic movies, usually mysteries, that depict traveling by train...eating in the dining car...enjoying the stars by night in the observation deck. Basically, that's exactly what I did, along with the other summer missionaries that I'd met in Chicago...all headed to the Pacific Northwest. Spending that much time together on a train is a good way to get to know each other and we did. All these years later, I still remember names and faces...although, by now, those faces will have changed no doubt. Together, we all enjoyed the dining car with the white tablecloths and little lamps on the tables. We watched the ever changing landscape from the observation deck as the train steadily made its way to the Pacific Northwest. Since none of us could afford the sleeping cars, we did our best to try to rest in our seats.

As I traveled cross-country at the age of nineteen, I saw parts of this country that I'd only read about before. I was thilled to see my first mountain somewhere mid-way along the journey...and then awestruck going through the Rockies at sunset. I was in the first seat of the observation deck with glass all around me. The mountains stretched out forever before me as the train wove in and out of long tunnels making its way northwest.

Even after all these years, the memory of that train journey remains...

Monday, December 1, 2008

Our birthday...

Today is the first day of December...our birthday, Bill's and mine...and, perhaps, the best time to begin telling our story.

The first time I ever saw his face was on an Autumn afternoon in 1964. I was sitting on the sofa by the fireplace in the BSU with some friends, when he walked in the door. He was wearing his Air Force ROTC dress uniform. He removed his officer's cap and placed it on the top shelf of the coat rack. I couldn't help watching him as he walked over to another group of friends and immediately became the center of attention...talking and laughing. I remember thinking he was handsome, very sharp and self-assured, almost cocky...much like a young Tom Cruise in Top Gun. He had beautiful green eyes and dark brown hair clipped short in the ROTC required style. There was something about him that I definitely found appealing.

His name was Bill. I had no way of knowing at that moment that I would spend thirty-nine years of my life with him. Life is a remarkable gift, but unfolds just one brief moment at the time; and at that time, I was dating Mike (the young Sean Connery look-alike), and Bill was dating a redhead named Linda, who was at least as tall as he was or maybe a little taller. Linda was a home economics major as I recall and it would, in the months to come, be a comment made by Linda that made me realize my true feelings for Bill...but that's later in our story.

The exact moment that Bill and I met is lost in my memory, but over the Autumn of 1964 we became friends. At some point during that season, Bill asked me to go to a church banquet with him which was held at a beautiful campgrounds. Memory is a funny thing...laid down in so many transparent layers...but it almost seems I can remember the drive out there in his little black VW bug. There's a canopy of brilliant colors flashing past as we drive along those winding roads...laughing and talking all the way. Many years have passed, but I remember the beautiful gardenia corsage he gave me. Gardenias would be one of his favorites for years to come.

As the months and seasons came and went, our friendship continued to grow. We would find an empty picnic table on the grounds of the BSU when the weather was good and enjoy our lunch together. He would share his Mom's homemade oatmeal raisin cookies with me, which I loved. After lunch, we'd go for long walks in the neighborhood surrounding the MSU campus. Looking back now, I realize we were wanting to get away from the crowd at the BSU...we wanted time to talk and get to know one another.

Little did I know that while I was growing up on Victor Drive, Bill lived just a few short blocks from me all that time. We went to different schools and different churches, so we had never met until that day in the BSU.

For years to come, I would tell Bill that I had been his birthday gift when he was only two years old...