A Missionary’s Odyssey
Waldron Byron Scott
Holistic Ministries International
The Arc of Ambition
Table of Contents 2
Part One: Growing Up In Omaha 9
Chapter 1 The Earliest Years 10 that because of
Chapter 2 My Extended Family 24 minor editorial
Chapter 3 Grade School and Church 32 revisions the
Chapter 4 Albuquerque and Benson High 47 page numbers
Chapter 5 Libido and Conversion 62 may be inac-
curate by a
Part Two: Military Service and College 75 digit or two in
Chapter 6 Stateside Service places.
Chapter 7 Guam and Japan 88
Chapter 8 First Love 102
Chapter 9 Northwestern Schools 111
Chapter 10 Macalester College 127
Chapter 11 Twin Cities Nav Director 138
Chapter 12 Engagement and Out to Cyprus 150
Part Three: Learning the Trade
Chapter 13 The American Academy
Chapter 14 Cyprus, Continued 166
Chapter 15 An Impossible Romance 179
Chapter 16 Marriage and Melody 194
Chapter 17 Glen Eyrie Training 208
Chapter 18 Washington, DC, Daws Dies 226
Chapter 19 DC Continued, Dad Dies 239
Chapter 20 Overseas Coordinator 252
Chapter 21 U.S. Coordinator 267
Part Four: Founding the Middle East Navs
Chapter 22 Pioneering in Lebanon
Chapter 23 A Band of Young Men 299
Chapter 24 Loueizeh 314
Chapter 25 American University of Beirut 330
Chapter 26 East Africa and Furlough 347
Chapter 27 Overseas Training Corps 361
Chapter 28 North Africa, Asian OTC 378
Part Five: Directing PAN
Chapter 29 Glen Eyrie, Third Tour
Chapter 30 Six Day War 414
Chapter 31 An Eventful Year 424
Chapter 32 Petaling Jaya 440
Chapter 33 A Year of Innovation 454
Chapter 34 Jalan Tanjong 466
Chapter 35 China Task Force Locates 482
Chapter 36 Financing National Staffs 496
Chapter 37 PAN Comes of Age 510
Chapter 38 Return to the States 524
Chapter 39 Busiest Year of My Life 536
Chapter 40 PAN Girls Conference 548
End of Volume One 560
When I read the book, the biography famous,
And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man’s life?
And so will someone when I am dead and gone write my life?
(As if any man know aught of my life,
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,
Only a few hints, a few difficult faint clues and indirections
I seek for my own use to trace out here.)
Leaves of Grass, 1867
In early 2000, Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen opened on Broadway to rave
reviews. I was still in prison at the time, but Georgia brought me a copy from Barnes
and Noble. In the play, scientists Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg are trying to come
to terms with the quantum principle of uncertainty as it relates to human relationships.
In the final moment of the play Bohr comments, “Before we can lay our hands on
anything, our life’s over.” And Heisenberg
responds, “Before we can glimpse who or what
we are, we’re gone and laid to dust.”
That thought, or some unarticulated
thought not far from it, motivates this attempt at
autobiography. I would very much like, before I
die, to understand the pattern of my life better
than I do now. And I think others, particularly
family members and those engaged in Christian
mission, could profit from my endeavor to
discern a meaningful pattern, if there is such.
So, having passed well beyond my
biblically allotted span of three score and ten, the
time has come to review my life, recount its
adventures, assess its successes and failures, and see if Left to right: Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg,
it makes any sense or has any value. As Justice Felix and Wolfgang Pauli, Copenhagen, 1934
Frankfurter once opined, “Wisdom too often never
comes, so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”
Wisdom is to some extent a gift, pure grace. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he
should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to
him” (James 1:5). But it is also a struggle. A recurrent idea in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s
philosophy is that you can put a price tag on thoughts. The currency you pay for
thoughts is courage – the courage to struggle with yourself, to fight shallowness and
laziness. Horatius Bonar, the 19th century Scottish hymnist, expressed it this way:
Great truths are greatly won. Not found by chance,
Nor wafted on the breath of summer dream,
But grasped in the great struggle of the soul,
Hard buffeted with adverse wind and stream….
But in the day of conflict, fear, and grief,
When the strong hand of God, put forth in might
Plows up the subsoil of the stagnant heart,
And brings the imprisoned truth-seed to the light.
Solomon observed that “it is the glory of God to conceal a matter; [but] to search
out a matter is the glory of kings” (Proverbs 25:2). I take this as a warrant to use my
mind to probe the mysteries of life, and I approach the project prayerfully.
If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if
you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden trea-
sure, then [my emphasis] you will understand the fear of the
Lord and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:3-5.)
I see my life as moving through seven stages: growing up in Omaha; maturing in
the military, college, and early assignments with The Navigators; marriage and raising a
family; Navigator leadership roles in the Middle East and the Pacific Areas; broader
leadership roles in the World Evangelical Fellowship (now Alliance) and American
Leprosy Missions; developing Holistic Ministries International in Paterson; and my
prison experience and what lies beyond it. How far ‘beyond’ extends, only the Lord
knows. As the adage has it, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds
At 77 I am in good spirits. Prison left some permanent scars, but turned out
overall to be a blessing. It allowed me to solidify my relationship with God and
reconstruct my worldview from the bottom up. I came out of prison a much more
integrated person, replete with gratitude to my heavenly Father. These days I am
enjoying the companionship of my wife, Georgia, who staunchly supported me
throughout the ordeal, as did my children and our pastor, Dr. John Algera. During my
incarceration I was blessed with visits and letters from friends and correspondents
around the world.
I am in relatively good health although, at 185 pounds, overweight, the
consequence of a high carbohydrate prison diet, combined with high stress and minimal
exercise. My high blood pressure is controlled with medication. I exercise by yard work
and bicycling. My hearing and eyesight are okay, though I just had a cataract removed
from one eye and some dental work completed. (Legally, both of these projects should
have been done in prison but were not.) I walk with a barely noticeable limp, the result
of an encounter with a pickup truck several years back. I’ve shrunk a little with the
years and am now about five feet, seven inches tall, with what is euphemistically
referred to as thinning hair – but beginning to gray, however. My mind seems sharp
enough. And no one can accuse me of having lived a boring life!
I apologize for the fact that the narrative is uneven. That is, some portions are far
more detailed than others. At my age it is futile to try to rely on memory alone, and I
have more documentation, photos, etc. for some portions of my life than for others.
About my intended readership: I write first of all for myself. Even if I don’t
succeed in finding a complete explanation for my life, at least I will acquire deeper
understanding. Timothy Dudley-Smith, the biographer of the evangelical statesman,
John Stott, insists that he, Dudley-Smith, aimed only “to supply material for judgment,
not to pronounce judgment.” As far as possible, I will do the same. I will describe and
analyze, but not pronounce judgment on my own life, nor try to justify it. Others may do
that as they wish. As the Apostle Paul wrote,
I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court. Indeed, I
do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make
me innocent: it is the Lord who judges. Therefore judge nothing before
the appointed time. Wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what
is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At
that time each will receive his praise from God (I Corinthians 4:3-5).
I write also for my brothers, my children and their children. One of the enduring
sorrows of my pilgrimage has been my inability to penetrate the fog, the mystery that
surrounded my parents’ lives. The essayist Philip Lopate believes “we spend most of our
adulthoods trying to grasp the meanings of our parents’ lives; and how we shape and
answer these questions largely turns us into who we are.” My parents: Who were they?
What were their interior struggles? Why did they make the decisions they made? What
motivated them to persevere? How did they really feel about each other? While they
were living I felt it presumptuous to ask them intimate questions. Then they were gone
and, as I knelt beside their gravesites, I wept, knowing that now I would never know. I
would like to spare my own children this sadness. In this respect, this narrative is my
gift to them. My life may perhaps shed light on their lives.
As for my grandchildren, all ten, I am including anecdotes of 20th century life
they might find interesting, together with information about our Family Tree. Non-
family readers can feel free to skip over these parts of the story.
The Hungarian writer, Sandor Marai, raises doubt about whether it is possible to
write a ‘true’ autobiography:
“We not only act, think, dream,” he says, “we also hold our silence…All our
lives we are silent about who we are, which only we know, and about which we
can speak to no one. Yet we know that what we are and what we cannot speak
about constitutes the ‘truth.’ We are that about which we hold our silence.”
This work is an attempt to get past the roadblock Marai sets up, to find truth by
breaking silence. Yet he has a point. I cannot recount everything. To do so, Proust-like,
would expand my book beyond reason, and embarrass some, still living, who do not
deserve such treatment. So I will be discreet in some instances and mute in others. Yet
I expect to provide enough essential content, accurate and honest, to enable interested
readers to fill in the silences with their own insights.
I would hope that other interested persons, more perceptive than I, will read my
account. With this in mind I intend to leave extensive material in my archives for
perusal by missionaries and laypersons, as well as by any professional historians or
missiologists who might want to focus on specific portions of my contribution (for good
or ill) to Christian mission, or utilize my story to add texture to their own narratives. I
will not attempt to document everything as I go along, but material in my archives will,
in fact, document what I pen. The archival material, in six or seven file cabinets, will be
arranged according to year, so relevant documentation will be relatively easy to access.
Some comments about the title of this memoir: One can think of a double
helix as a spiral consisting of two strands coiling around the axis of an imaginary
cylinder, as in the illustration at right. James Watson and Francis Crick (who
died recently) made history when they discovered, in 1953, that DNA is
structured as a cross-linked double-stranded helix.
For me, the double helix is a potent metaphor, illuminating several
different levels of my personal history. On one level the two spiral strands speak
of the public and private dimensions of my life, spiraling around God as the
central axis, and cross-linked by a myriad of interactions with an ever-changing
environment. For much of my life, regretfully, these dimensions were tightly
compartmentalized, hermetically sealed from each other.
My axis in late life is a strongly renewed faith in God. My faith is not intellectual
assent to propositions, nor submission to a presumed authority, much less mere
credulity, but faith as child-like trust, which I rarely felt earlier in life. Beyond that,
there is an adult trust, described by Annie Dillard in For the Time Being as “living in
conscious and rededicated relationship to God.” I have that kind of faith, too.
On a second level, the strands reflect the life-long tension
I have experienced between the claims of Space and Place, a
concept I picked up from William David Davies’ The Gospel and
the Land. For me, Space = ambition, rebellion, extension, travel,
world vision, and ecumenicity. Place = intimacy, love, security,
roots, limits, constraints, as well as my personal DNA and
Within this perspective my life can be measured in terms
of “the arc of ambition, the weight of Eros.” I am not sure where
I came across these phrases – they sound Freudian – but they
William David Davies
are apt. I have utilized the opposed phrases as sub-titles for Part
I and Part II of my autobiography. One strand of the double helix,
Eros, drags down the other, ambition. The philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (sic,
pronounced Purse) remarked that to explain the conduct of Hamlet is to show how a
single character gives rise to the most contradictory actions. Peirce just as well could
have been commenting about me. This perspective is also captured in the Apostle Paul’s
reflection on the two “laws” that dominated his own behavior:
So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For
in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the
members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a
prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am!
Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus
Christ our Lord. So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the
sinful nature a slave to the law of sin (Romans 7: 21-25).
A third metaphorical level suggested to me by the double helix is that of comple-
mentarity – a Niels Bohr insight of quantum theory that posits alternative but mutually
exclusive modes of description of the same entity. An electron is revealed as both
particle and wave, but cannot be observed as such simultaneously. Again, the position
of an electron, and its velocity, can be determined – but not both at the same time
(Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle). I have been compelled by the realities of life to see
myself in ways that can never be reconciled. I am both wave and particle.
Yet the noted scientist, John Polkinghorne, suggests in The Faith of a Physicist
that in quantum theory these incompatible modes are not inherent properties of the
entity in question. Rather, they are properties of the observer’s interaction with it. That
is to say, the contradictions and incompatibilities in my life that I observe may not
appear as such to God who views from eternity, not time.
My friend Bishara Libbus draws another analogy between the double helix and
humans. The strands of the double helix itself are different but complementary. If one
knows the sequence of one strand of a DNA helix it is possible to predict or generate the
sequence of the other strand. Similarly, while each of our five children is different from
the others, and from us as parents, those differences have “rhyme and reason.” In many
ways we leave our imprint on our children, be it in the form of mimesis or in reaction to
A fourth level that resonates with the reality I have discovered in life is mirrored
in Jesus’ parable of the weeds among the wheat. I quote it in full because it has shaped
my thought decisively.
The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while
everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and
went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also
appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good
seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ ’An enemy did this,’
he replied. The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them out?’
’No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the
wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will
tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned;
then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’ (Matthew 13:24-30).
Jesus’ emphasis seems to be on the impossibility of uprooting bad weeds (one
strand of the double helix) without destroying good wheat in the process (the other
strand). And while Jesus appears to employ the parable to point to whole peoples or
nations, it strikes me that the principle operates with respect to individuals as well.
From my earliest years, sex has played a major role in my life. Some Christian
readers may find the recital of my childhood sensuality inappropriate, even “kinky,” as
one reader of an initial draft expressed it when urging me to be less explicit. But after
consideration, I have decided to retain the incidents, feeling them to be integral to my
narrative, part of my “truth.”
A fifth and final metaphorical level is the vision promoted by philosopher
Langdon Gilkey (in Reaping the Whirlwind) – how freedom, when overpowered by
destiny, becomes “fate.” Gary Dorrien’s summary of this thesis in his The Word as True
Myth seems powerfully apropos to my own history:
Destiny is that which is ‘given’ in personal and social life from the past. It is an
inheritance from the past that cannot be removed. Yet destiny is also a given on
which human freedom can work and, to some variable degree, can bend or
reshape to particular ends. Destiny becomes fate when its oppressive weight
overwhelms our spirit and powers, and thus destroys our freedom. Fate is the
sigh of the lost or defeated soul that has stopped struggling for freedom from the
I don’t think I have ever stopped struggling for freedom from the given.
* * *
Before beginning the narrative proper, I want to thank my wife, Georgia, and my
Malaysia friend, David Bok, for helping me proofread my text. Many typos and other
errors, though perhaps not all, were corrected in the process. The primary typeface used
herein is Georgia, a new font designed by Matthew Carter for easy reading on computer
screens. For epigraphs and interior quotes I have used Verdana, also by Carter.
Growing Up in Omaha
July 1929 – July 1946
The Earliest Years
Mom pushed me out into the world at 4:29 a.m. Sunday, July 14, 1929. I
measured 18 inches long and weighed seven pounds, 13 ounces. The labored event took
place at Providence Hospital in Kansas City, Wyandotte
County, Kansas, USA. By the time I was six weeks old, clearly
I had not figured out what life was all about!
Today, as I review my trek through life from a distance
of 76 years, I find I recall virtually nothing of the first five or
six. What little I “know” about them derives from overheard
snatches of conversation between my parents and their
My mother, Audrean Ann (née Spurgeon) was not yet
18 years old when she bore me. She was born September 13,
1911. My father, Waldron Byron, Sr., was a month shy of 25.
He was born August 13, 1904. Both were born in Kansas City,
Kansas. To get married, they had eloped across the river to
Liberty, Missouri. Age six weeks
As the firstborn, I was named after my father. This was
something of a break in tradition in our family, where firstborns were usually named
after grandfathers. My father was named after his paternal grandfather. His father, my
grandfather, was named Walter. Waldron is not a common first name, so I have often
wondered how my great-grandfather acquired it. I heard it said that he was named after
the rural doctor who delivered him. Perhaps.
The July 14, 1929 edition of the New
York Herald Tribune failed to note my birth.
What it did feature on its front page was a
report that railroad stocks were soaring as
the public continued to “buy, buy, buy.” Few
imagined that the stock market would crash
within three months, or that the Great
Depression was just over the horizon.
Herbert Hoover had been inaugu-
rated President earlier in the year. In his
inauguration address Hoover, ever the opti-
mist, declaimed, “In no nation are the fruits
of accomplishment more secure…I have no
fears for the future of our country. It is
bright with hope.”
Not everyone was so confident.
Midwestern senators such as George Norris
Wall Street panic on Black Thursday
of Nebraska and “young Bob” LaFollette of Wisconsin railed against the feverish
specula-tions of Wall Street. Nobody listened, but they were proved right.
On October 21, 1929 the New York Stock Exchange suffered what one writer
called an “eight-day Armageddon.” It climaxed on Black Tuesday, the 29th, when the
equivalent of nearly 100 billion dollars in today’s money evaporated in just five hours of
trading. The Great Depression had begun.
I have always understood myself as a child of the
Depression. I believe in hard work and frugality. Family, the
Depression, the Plymouth Brethren, and World War II were the
four great formative experiences of my childhood. World War I
and the Jazz Age, as the 1920s were commonly designated on
the other hand, shaped my parents. Bessie Smith, left, and
Louis Armstrong were two of its towering figures. A behavioral
psychologist at the time noted that “sex has become so free and
abundant that it no longer provides the thrill it once did.
Gambling in Wall Street is about the only thrill we have left.”
As the decade drew to a close, the average family’s
annual income was $2,062. A new home typically cost $7,250; a new car $450; a gallon
of gas 12¢. A loaf of bread and a quart of milk cost 9¢ and 15¢, respectively. The Dow
Jones average was 311. Life expectancy for males was 54 years.
I share my birth year with civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., former first
lady Jacqueline Kennedy, Palestinian President Yassir Arafat, and the diarist Anne
Frank, above, in the order recited, from left to right. I have a 1929 dime my mother gave
me as a memento. (I pause here to note that those material items and other items that
cannot be incorporated into this book or stashed on a web site, including thousands of
pages of supporting letters and documents, are retained in my archives.)
Other items of note for Americans in 1929: communists and Nazis clashed in
Berlin…penicillin was invented…Bell Labs showed off the first color TV (the size of a
postage stamp)…Babe Ruth hit his 500th home run…the St. Valentine’s Day massacre
shocked Chicago…Richard Byrd flew to the South Pole and back…construction began on
the Empire State Building in Manhattan…the cartoon character Popeye was introduced.
Popular songs in 1929 included “Singin’ in the Rain.” I mention this one only
because Mom was still singing it as she went about her housework five or six years later
when I first became aware of pop music. Both Mom and Dad had pleasant singing
voices: she a soprano, he a tenor. I heard people at church comment on Dad’s voice
especially. His favorite song was Henry Barraclough’s 1915 hymn, “Out of the Ivory
My mother recorded the first year of my life in some detail: first tooth, first
outing (to nearby Olathe, Kansas), first word, first steps, first pair of shoes, first
Christmas presents, etc. All are there in Baby’s Own Book in my archives.
At the time of his marriage and my birth, my
father, as the eldest son, was working alongside his father
in the family’s neighborhood grocery store, right, at 1300
Pennsylvania Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas. The store
stood in Mom’s neighborhood, which is how they met.
We lived above the store the first year or two of my life.
As was typical of neighborhood bodegas at the
time, Grandpa Walter and Dad extended credit to their
regular customers. With the onset of the Great Depres-
sion, many could no longer pay their debts. Per capita
income had fallen sharply from 1919 to 1931 across the
nation. The store could not continue to support two
families. (A younger brother, Gerald Francis, had been born August 17, 1930, thirteen
months after me.) Sometime in the early thirties my father, with Mom and Jerry and
me in tow, set out on his own.
Missouri River Nomads
My father had a high school education but no particular skills other than the
ability to run a corner store. Times were tough. Three-quarters of all families earned
less than $2,000 a year. A family with $4,000 annual income was in the top tenth
percentile. Dad found work as a day laborer in limestone quarries strung out along the
banks of the Missouri River between Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska, 200 miles to
Our family skipped from town to town – rural
villages named Kickapoo, White Cloud, Nemaha,
Hamburg, Peru, Forest City, Waldron (yes, there was and
is a Waldron, Missouri) – rarely staying more than a few
months in any one place.
Usually Dad worked with dynamite, blasting great
chunks of limestone from the quarries. At other times he
drove a 2½-ton dump truck, hauling rock from the
quarries to the nearest railroad siding. My mother “kept
house.” She was young. I doubt that such a peripatetic
lifestyle represented a real hardship for her.
Life was hard in other ways, though. Dad’s wages
were miniscule. As late as 1935 he was earning only
Me (age 4) and Jerry (3)
$18.00 per week. Food was scarce. Even milk was
sometimes beyond our means. Poor nourishment gener-
ally and lack of calcium in particular retarded my growth and kept me vulnerable to
childhood diseases. Yet if family photos are to be trusted, we dressed well.
These were “Grapes of Wrath” years
for many. Dust storms ravaged the Great
Plains. A farmer sitting on his porch in
Nebraska in the middle of a dust storm (so
a popular joke went) was asked what he
was doing. “I’m counting Kansas farms as
they fly by,” he replied. An Oklahoma
farmer reputedly told a reporter he was on
his way to Kansas to pay his taxes because
that was where his farm had gone.
In one of these riverfront towns we
A Nebraska sand storm
rented a house (I can’t ever remember living in an
apartment as a child) set back off a gravel road. The house itself was at the top of a
small rise that sloped gently downward fifty yards or so to a shallow gully. The dump
truck my father was responsible for at the time was parked in front of the house. One
evening I climbed into the truck – I must have been about four years old at the time –
and somehow slipped the gear shift into neutral. The truck ended up in the gully, but
both it and I escaped serious damage.
M first actual memory is a rather painful one. Again, I must have been about four
years old. My mother was having afternoon tea with a group of ladies in a nearby house.
I tagged along and at one point was given permission to “show off,” which I did by
demonstrating my ability to walk backward. This was an accomplishment of which I
was quite proud. The ladies all laughed – in appreciation, I’m sure. But I misunder-
stood and assumed they were ridiculing me. Intolerably embarrassed, I ran from the
I have another rare memory from about this time. My father and I are walking
together in the dusk of a summer evening out to the roadside where, side by side, we
pee-pee, then make our way back to the house. Few if any of the houses we rented had
indoor plumbing. There were no erotic overtones to that incident, but on another
occasion, when I was a little older, and we were living in Blair, Nebraska, I recollect
having a distinctly sensual feeling as I watched my younger brother, Jerry, leave the
house. Something about the way his
trousers creased back and forth across his
rump as he marched out the front door
Another story told me is that when
I was four or five years old, on a visit to
Grandma Elsie, Dad’s mother, whom
everyone in our extended family regarded
as a saint, I asked Jesus to come into my
heart. I have no personal memory of this,
but it seems likely.
In Blair, aged five, I enrolled in
school. Apparently my mother, still in
X her early twenties, had taught me to read
This photo was taken during the school year 1933-34, in Blair, Nebraska. The
and write. So after brief intervals in Kin-
teacher is Mrs. Gonerman. The class combined first and second grades. I am dergarten and first grade, I was allowed to
in the front row, at the extreme right. Note “barefoot Billy” at the opposite end.
move up to second grade. I had no trouble
keeping up academically, but when afternoon
nap time came, I conked out. I’m told the
teacher would hold me in her lap during the
Being so young, I was not aware of the
Great Depression as such. I do recall hobos
coming around to the back door of houses we
lived in, offering to do small chores in
exchange for something to eat. I don’t recall
any chores actually being done, but Mom in
later years told me that she never refused food
to anyone, even though we had little enough
I remember, for instance, our
Job seekers during the Great Depression Thanksgiving Day dinner in Blair, when I was
five years old. Though we wee well aware it
was a holiday, there was no turkey, no cranberries, no pumpkin pie. Indeed, nothing
that I would one day associate with Thanksgiving Day feasts. The only thing special we
had that day to commemorate the occasion was a dish of Lime Jell-O. That, I
We Settle in Omaha
The winter of 1935-’36 was brutal. Early in March I came down with pneumonia.
I was six and a half years old and we were living in the hamlet of Forest City, Missouri.
There were complications. Given the medical facilities of the day, my condition was
considered life-threatening. Doctors advised that my best hope for survival lay in
getting to a hospital in Omaha, Nebraska, more than a hundred miles distant.
Why Omaha and not Kansas City, which was actually closer? Earlier, as I
mentioned, we had been living in Blair, a few miles north of Omaha. There my parents
had become acquainted with the Plymouth Brethren assembly in Omaha. (More about
the Plymouth Brethren later.) My guess is that Mom and Dad felt they could count on
needed social and perhaps financial support from the assembly.
The night the decision was made, a savage
Great Plains blizzard set in. My father prevailed on
a friend who owned a Model A Ford. They tucked
me into the back seat of the car, bundled me up in a
ton of blankets, and took off. The journey took all
night, with frequent stops to dig our way through
towering snowdrifts that piled up across the road.
We were traveling old U.S. 73-75, only two-laned at
the time. Mom was not with us, having stayed
behind with brother Jerry.
We arrived at Methodist Hospital in Omaha
at dawn. Dr. Hamilton and the surgeon, Dr.
McLaughlin, were waiting. I was ushered into the Nebraska blizzard 1935
operating room. An ether-soaked mask was clamped over my face. I panicked,
struggling to breathe. Then the ether did what it was designed to do and the operation
The procedure was simple enough – a couple of tubes inserted through my back
to drain pus from my lungs. Today it would hardly warrant the term ‘operation,’ but it
was serious enough in that era. After that it was just a matter of normal recovery. What
‘normal’ meant was two weeks’ recuperation in the children’s ward. Today, I’m sure,
they would have had me out of there in 24 hours or less. I remember the ward for its
whiteness: white walls, white enameled beds, white sheets, nurses in white uniforms.
Why do I recall this event so vividly? First, because my parents recounted it as
high drama in family folklore. In their minds, they had nearly lost me. Second, no
doubt the awful blizzard had something to do with it. Third, this event was a turning
point in our family history. We exchanged our nomadic lifestyle for permanent
residence in Omaha. Fourth, a small episode occurred midway through the hospital stay
that made a huge impact on my later development.
Part of the recuperative process was blowing up balloons to strengthen my lungs.
One day Dad walked in with a packet of balloons which, when inflated, morphed into
global maps of the world. All day long for several days I huffed and puffed away on
those balloons. And as I did so, I memorized the features imprinted on them –
continents, countries, cities, oceans, rivers, mountain ranges, and the great expanse of
the British Empire colored in red. The world in its totality fascinated me. By the time I
left the ward I ‘knew’ that somehow my personal destiny was entwined with the world.
An aside: the pus that filled my lungs, and the experience of being anesthetized,
must be the source of my lifelong dread of suffocating. It inhibited me from learning to
swim until I was forty years old. It was prominent in my youthful nightmares.
While I was in the hospital, my father had found work as a laborer at United
Mineral Products Company – perhaps as a result of contacts he had made while
quarrying. The folks at Omaha Gospel Hall afforded social support. Upon leaving the
hospital in mid-March, I was taken “home.” This is the first home I have sharp recall of.
The address was 4722 Charles Street in Omaha. It was here our family settled in: Mom,
Dad, Jerry, and me.
Home was a dark green-and-black tarpaper shack. It was situated at the rear of a
rather deep lot abutting a dirt alley, perhaps 75 feet back in from the street. Just inside
the front door, which led directly into the kitchen, was a tiny bathroom. It contained a
commode, but no wash basin or bathtub. Jerry and I washed up at the kitchen sink and
bathed each Saturday night – whether we needed it or not, as Midwest humor had it –
in a galvanized tub.
To the left of the kitchen, down a step or two, was an add-on bedroom, Jerry’s
and mine. To the right of the kitchen was a small parlor and, beyond that, our parents’
bedroom. In the center of the parlor was a wood-burning, pot-bellied stove. Here,
during the winter months, while it was still dark outside, we huddled and shivered,
trying to get warm enough to dress for school.
Our front yard was large, the largest in the neighborhood. Midway toward the
street was a fishpond, empty except when it rained. Near the fishless fishpond stood a
car-less, stand-alone garage. These two features made me suspect that at one time a
substantial home must have existed on the lot, owned by someone well enough off to
possess an automobile. Perhaps the owner had gone bankrupt and committed suicide.
The bank had foreclosed on the property and then razed the house. Someone else came
along and built the shanty we lived in. So ran my childish imagination.
The lot adjoining ours eastward was empty. Each spring Dad rented a mule for a
day and plowed the lot. Then we all pitched in to plant sweet corn, potatoes, green
beans, tomatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. Mom, Jerry, and I weeded it through the
summer. When harvest time arrived, Mom canned part of the crop to carry us through
the winter. Keep in mind, this gardening was going on in a burgeoning metropolitan
Just beyond that lot was another, a corner lot, and also empty. It was not a lot,
properly speaking, just a big hole – whether by nature or excavation I would not know.
Part of each year this hole was filled with swamp grass and marsh reeds. With the
advent of summer it was home to snakes. Harmless garter snakes, these were, but
exotic enough and ‘dangerous’ enough to afford my brother and me hours of fun trying
to catch them. We were scared, but so were the snakes. I recall one snake so nervous
that it vomited as I snatched it behind its head.
We lived in our tarpaper home for two or three years.
Apart from the agony of donning clothes in the early
morning cold, I remember little about the winters. In
spring we flew kites. And summer was wonderful. Our
front yard attracted a good portion of the neighborhood
kids on any given evening. Omaha had its share of
mosquitoes, so Mom swathed us liberally with Citronella
before shooing us outside. As dusk descended we chased
fireflies and played Hide and Seek, left, or Kick the Can.
A favored competition between Jerry and me
involved the garage. We dragged open its wooden doors, which swung out-ward,
clambered up one of them and from there reached the roof. We crawled up one of its
steep sides, slid down the other, braked with our feet, then leaped to the ground. It was
an exciting eight or nine foot drop. Whoever completed the circuit first, won. Like
hunting snakes, this exercise was surely an effort to overcome youthful fears and test
In summer we mowed our scrubby lawn, mostly crab grass. In the fall we raked,
piled, and burned leaves. The pungent smell of leaves burning on those crisp autumn
evenings stays with me. Pinning together the four corners of newspaper sheets
diagonally, and lighting them with a match, we created fiery pinwheels, buoyed up by
the heated air trapped within.
Our next door neighbor was a postman, or mail carrier, as they say nowadays. He
had a rough, intimidating demeanor and I feared him, though he was doubtless a good
man. He was the first person on our block to have an attached garage. One summer
afternoon, under the cherry tree just behind our garage, his daughter Gloria and I
played “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine.” I had no sisters and was naturally
One of my Dad’s younger brothers paid us a long visit at this time. Like many
young men during the Depression, Uncle Bob was unemployed. While with us, he found
a job clerking in a supermarket. The grocery business was the first place anyone in
Dad’s family looked for work. Each evening in our parlor Uncle Bob painted signs –
TODAYS SPECIALS or SALE TWO for ONE – in bright, shadowed letters on butcher’s
paper while Junior and Jerry watched. I was called “Junior” all the way through
elementary school. When I entered high school my parents switched to calling me
Mom, in her mid-twenties, must have been bored much of the day. There
certainly wasn’t much housework to do in our small abode. I can imagine she
appreciated Uncle Bob’s company, for he was about the same age as she, both in their
Dad, right, was seven years older than
Mom. As I mentioned earlier, he was working
for a mere $18.00 a week – and these were
48-hour weeks. Dad was five feet, eight
inches tall, with thinning, sand-colored hair
and brown eyes. His Sunday attire always
included a fedora. By the time he was in his
mid-thirties he had lost all his teeth and wore
dentures. While the rest of us chomped away
on buttered corn on the cob, Dad had to slice
off his kernels with a knife.
My father had a strong work ethic.
When opportunity afforded, he didn’t hesitate
to work double shifts. He was also ambitious,
forever enrolled in one course or another from
the International Correspondence Schools
(ICS) out of Chicago. At one point, in con-
nection with a railroad traffic management
course he was taking, he hung maps of all the
railway lines in North America from our My father, in his mid-forties, c. 1947
dining room walls. (He studied at the dining
room table.) As with the global balloons I had inflated in the hospital, these maps
intrigued me. I never tired poring over them. Dad had a dry, ironic sense of humor –
Scottish wit, they told me. He was also an avid student of the Bible. My own work ethic,
my penchant for study, and my sense of humor were modeled by Dad.
My mother was what they called a “typical Irish lass.” Often I heard this
commented on while I was growing up. She was only five feet, two inches all and
weighed 110 pounds. She had almost pure black hair, blue eyes, and shapely legs.
About these, too, I overheard complimentary remarks. Mom was lively, even vivacious,
and curious about everything. I will have photos of her further on.
People said I “took after” my mother. I too had dark hair and blue eyes. But I
was underweight and frail, especially in comparison with brother Jerry. Though a year
younger, he was already marginally taller and heavier than I. I cried easily. Jerry called
me a crybaby. I got sick frequently. In Baby’s Own Book I read of measles, whooping
cough, pneumonia, scarlet fever, tonsillitis, chicken pox, and mumps – all before I was
nine years old.
My genuinely remembered life thus begins at age six, or six and a half, and in
Omaha. My parents thought of Kansas City as home, but my hometown has always
A Troubling Experience
One afternoon when I was seven, I was taking my daily nap in the bedroom Jerry
and I shared. I am not sure why Jerry was not present; most likely, Mom had separated
the two of us for naptime. A sheet and light blanket covered me. Apparently I had
developed a habit of “playing with myself” as a prelude to napping. Mom was
attempting to break me of it. I took it for granted that she was in the right and was
conscientiously trying to cooperate. This required great discipline on my part. To help
myself, I deliberately placed my hands between the sheet and the blanket to ensure
there would be no physical contact to tempt me.
Mom entered the room to check on me. She saw the outline of my hands under
the blanket but did not realize they were on top of the sheet. She presumed I was
playing with myself and began to berate me unmercifully. She was totally unjustified in
doing so. The sense of shame I felt then has never left me; neither has the sense of
moral outrage at being unjustly accused. This was a formative moment in my personal
Life during the Great Depression continued to be hard for us, as it was for many.
When only eight or nine years old, I went door to door, selling flower holders for 15¢ or
20¢. Mom had crocheted the holders into vase-like shapes and soaked them in sugar-
water to stiffen them.
For awhile my mother did housework for a well-to-do lady. This lady taught
violin. For a few weeks Mom bartered housework in exchange for lessons for me. I
didn’t take to the violin, however – it was too difficult to hold under my chin – so the
experiment was aborted. However, I have carried in my heart the memory of Mom’s
sacrifice. She needed the money, yet was willing to forego it in an effort to expose me to
“culture.” Each May, during my elementary school years, I scouted our neighborhood
for violets and presented her with little bouquets.
Mom purchased a second-hand upright piano for $25 and insisted that I learn to
play it. We could not afford a teacher, but we borrowed beginner’s books from church
members. I managed to grasp the basics, but never mastered the instrument. I enjoy
music, but have little natural talent for it.
As a child I was aware of a number of public
events of the time – partly by overhearing adult
conversations (about the abdication of King Edward
VIII, for instance), and partly through normal
interaction with playmates (e.g., Roosevelt’s defeat of
Alf Landon in the 1936 presidential contest). En route
to school we sang a ditty that began with “Landon,
Landon, sitting on the fence,” and ended with “hasn’t
At one point during the Depression, farmers in
Iowa and Nebraska went on strike. They overturned
milk vats, blocked roadways, and strangled delivery of
cattle and hogs to the vast stockyard in Omaha. But this made little impression on me.
Similarly, I was barely aware of the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese invasion of
Manchuria, Hitler’s machinations in Europe, or Mussolini’s bedevilment of Ethiopia.
On the other hand, I was very much aware of Joe
Louis’ defeat at the hands of the German, Max Schmeling in
1936. (Two years later Louis, right, knocked out Schmeling in
the first round.) I knew of the disappearance of aviatrix
Amelia Earhart, lower right, in the South Pacific. Walt
Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs appeared on
movie screens, but Jerry and I were not allowed to see it. The
Gospel Hall forbade movie attendance. I was well into high
school before I saw my first movie: A Guy Named Joe,
starring Spencer Tracy, Irene Dunne, and Van Johnson.
In 1936 the Cunard Line launched the steamship
Queen Mary, at that time the largest ship afloat. Sixteen
years later I sailed on the Queen Mary from New York to Le
Havre, France on the initial leg of my first missionary
assignment, to Cyprus. The National Labor Relations Board
was established during the Depression. I was blissfully
ignorant of that event and mention it only because twenty
years later I would be leading a weekly Bible study group in
the office of Judge Boyd Leedom, at time the head of the
About mid-1937 hard times intensified. The
“Roosevelt Depression” began – a depression within the
greater depression. But my father, unlike so many others,
was working steadily, if cheaply. By 1938 we managed to
purchase a radio. The night before Halloween
that year we were in front of the radio at home
when CBS broadcast “War of the Worlds.” It purported to be a live report
of an invasion from Mars. We were at first mystified, then frightened,
until Dad finally figured out that it was a Halloween prank – a fictional
drama dreamed up by Orson Welles.
Given the Depression, there was a great deal of labor unrest during
this decade. John L. Lewis, the aggressive union organizer, was someone I was aware of.
Looking back, I find my father’s attitude puzzling. He, a hard-working laborer trying to
eke out a living for his family, should have been a pro-union Democrat. But he wasn’t.
Perhaps he had imbibed a Republican mentality during the heady pre-Crash atmosphere
of the ‘20s. More likely, it was because he was eager to land a job working for the
railroad. The unions, however, had all the jobs sewn up, so he couldn’t break into the
ranks. Hence his anti-union, anti-Roosevelt stance.
I consider also the conservative nature of Midwesterners. In the midst of the
Depression it was Kansans who put up the Republican Alf Landon for President.
Roosevelt, running for a second term, was not well understood in the Great Plains
states. He was assumed to be the tool of the unions, and the unions were an Eastern
element forcing their way westward. They were an exclusive club that discriminated
against honest workers – or so Dad complained at the dinner table.
Congress passed the Hatch act in 1939. This aimed at eliminating corrupt
practices in national elections. The Act was named after its chief sponsor, Senator Carl
Hatch of New Mexico. I learned later that he was a distant cousin of my first wife, Joan
I was ten years old when, in 1939, Adolph Hitler, left,
initiated World War II. By that time I was following world news
with interest. I knew about Wendell Wilkie and Henry Wallace –
but not Harry Truman, even though he, like Wallace, was from our
part of the country. (Truman owed his political career to Tom
Pendergast’s Kansas City machine.) I detested Mussolini but
admired Chiang Kai Shek. I had never heard of Mao Tse Tung.
But the big event of the year, for me, was the Golden Spike
celebration of the 70th anniversary of the completion of the first
transcontinental railroad in 1849. The celebration coincided with
the release of the movie, Union Pacific. That railroad had its
national headquarters in Omaha. For several weeks running, we kids dressed up daily
as cowboys and pioneers – the girls wore calico skirts, we boys donned red-checkered
bandanas. We carried toy Colt .45s, and those who could afford them sported faux
Stetsons. The Wild West was very real to us.
Omaha was a blissful environment to grow up in. It was said to be “as friendly as
a wet dog.” During the 1930s and ‘40s its population was about 200,000. The city rose
from the banks of the Missouri River in a series of hills that undulated westward toward
Boys Town, which became famous when Spencer Tracy starred as Father Flanagan in
the 1938 movie, Boys Town, again a movie I was not permitted to see. Omaha’s streets,
as in most Great Plains towns, were wide and laid out square with the compass. They
were lined with tall shady trees – maples, elms, and oaks. Our own yard boasted a huge
cottonwood tree and fragrant lilac bushes.
The city had been founded in 1854 on land ceded by the Maha Indians to the
United States. As I grew up, I heard two other explanations of how the city got its name:
1) Three Indians were crossing the Missouri in a canoe when it started to capsize. The
mother shouted “Oh!” The baby cried “Ma!” But the father just laughed, “Ha, Ha, Ha!”
2) It was Maha until the Irish came west to help build the Union Pacific Railroad.
Naturally they named it O’Maha.
In my youth Omaha was noted for its ice cream consumption, highest in the
nation. During torrid summer months we kids lived for those luscious 5¢ single-dip
peppermint cones! (The rich kids on the west side devoured double-dip cones, of
Omaha was, at that time, primarily a food-processing
town. Two out of every three dollars of its income derived from
the handling of food: meat, naturally, but also grains and butter
(more butter than any American city). In addition, Omaha was
becoming a significant insurance center, and remains so today.
Omaha’s business center was down by the river, near the
railyards. Both the Union Pacific and Burlington Lines had
headquarters in Omaha. The Missouri Pacific, for which my
father eventually worked, and the Chicago & Northwestern were The Burlington Zephyr 1936
also major enterprises.
The city’s main east-west axis, Dodge Street, divided Omaha into two parts, north
and south. To the south were the Stockyards, left. The Cudahy Company owned the
giant meat-packing plant there. The area
around the Stockyards, left, was inhabi-
ted largely by Catholics from central
Europe – Bohunks, we called them.
Omaha was really an overgrown
cattle and railroad town. And it was very
much a man’s town. Most of the res-
taurants catered to men and specialized
in steaks. Women were relegated pri-
marily to housekeeping, school teach-
ing, and nursing.
Jewish people tended to
congregate in the center of the city.
Jewish kids attended Central High
School. One of them was Warren Buffet.
He was about my own age, though I
never crossed paths with him, then or
later. He grew up to be one of the richest
men in America, founder of the Berkshire Hathaway holding company.
At the southwest corner of Omaha was Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backward),
a racetrack. And just beyond 72nd Street, at that time the city’s western boundary, lay
Peony Park, with its large public swimming pool.
(Ten percent of the city was given over to park and
other recreational areas.) The Oregon Trail and the
California Trail both ran through Omaha. The
latter became known as Military Road and, later,
Military Avenue. This was the main artery through
our neighborhood. It carried a street-car (trolley)
line. At the north edge of the city was Florence,
where the Mormon Cemetery held the bodies of
600 victims of the harsh winter of 1846-47. They
perished en route to Utah.
We lived, at first, at 47th and Charles Street,
which put us about halfway out to the western (affluent) section of town, and a little
more than a mile into the northern quarter. This geographical placement seemed an
important part of our identity. It distinguished us from the Jews and “Bohunks” of the
central and southern sectors, and from the Negroes who lived in the northeast. This
“Colored area” was centered at 24th and Lake – actually, not that far from our
neighborhood. But it seemed like another world.
Often I rode the trolley downtown, paying just a nickel for the ride. My objective
usually was the Jocelyn Art Museum, but sometimes I just wandered around downtown.
The main buildings that attracted me were Woolworth’s 5&10, the Brandeis department
store, and the WOW (Woodmen of the World) building. At 14 stories, the latter was the
tallest structure in town.
As I grew older, winter activities played a greater part in my recreation. On
Saturdays I trekked to Fontenell Park, a mile or so to the north, or to Elmwood Park, a
comparable distance to the south, for all-day sledding. During summer, our church held
picnics at one or the other of these
parks. Church picnics were major
events. Fontenell Park, interestingly,
was named after an early settler who
married a Indian girl and became
himself a tribal chief.
One Sunday morning we were
visiting the Pattersons. (More about
this family later.) Of a sudden we
heard a horrendous noise and rushed
outside to investigate. It was an
John Vichon’s famous 1938 photo
of downtown Omaha automobile accident, the first in my
experience. Two cars had collided at
high speed. One man was killed.
There were not many cars on the streets in those days and lethal accidents were rare.
Modern Omaha, viewed from the railroad yards where Dad worked
My Extended Family
Each summer, and more rarely at Christmas, Jerry and I were packed off for a
couple of weeks to visit our grandparents and other relations in Kansas City, Kansas.
Both sets of grandparents, Scotts and Spurgeons, lived there at the time. We traveled all
by ourselves, coming and going, on Burlington Trailways busses, feeling very grown up.
The 200-mile trip took six or seven hours and was rather boring. There was really
nothing to look at out the windows except corn fields stretching miles in every direction.
We would be met at the KC bus station by Aunt Catherine, Mom’s older and only
sister. She was married to Robert Adams – another “Uncle Bob.” He worked as a
carpenter, renovating Pullmans for the Santa Fe Railroad. Somewhere along the line he
lost an eye in an on-the-job accident and replaced it with a glass eye. This fascinated
Jerry and me no end. The Adams family included two sisters our ages. Rowena
LeVonne and Dorothy Ann were the cousins I knew best during the 1930s.
There was another young girl in the picture, Frances
Opal. There was and still is an air of mystery about her. I
assumed she was another cousin, and was told to address
her caretaker as “Grandma Shelton.” Mom called her
“Mother Shelton.” I never met either of Frances Opal’s
parents unless – could this be? – my Mom was her mother,
or my Dad was her father? In either case, she would be my
half-sister, not cousin.
Either alternative might be true. Dad’s mother’s
middle name was Opal. But, I discovered late in life, my
Mom had been married briefly at age 15½ (having told the
probate judge she was 18) to a certain Adrian Russell. Was and Frances Opal
the marriage annulled? Was Frances their child? To date,
in spite of researching Wyandotte County records, I have
not solved the mystery. In any event, of the three girls thus
far introduced, I was partial to Frances.
Cousin Rowena, a little older and much more sophis-
ticated than I, enjoyed telling off-color jokes. At age seven I Grandma Shelton and
heard my first one from her. A rabbit went about all day
making love to his lady rabbit friends. “Wham, bam, thank you, ma’am!” he exclaimed
as he humped first one, then another and another. Once, on a front lawn, without
thinking, he did his thing with a stone rabbit ornament. “Wham, bam, thank you,
ma’am – goddamn!”
It was about this time that I experienced a second erotic sensation. We were
standing on the sidewalk – Rowena, Dorothy Ann, Jerry, and I – when a car drove
slowly by. In the
car a woman was
smoking a cigar-
ette, something I
had never seen
sight, I had an
erection. I was
only seven years
My mother, ages Mom’s twin brothers, Leonard
5 and 9 (1916 and Lawrence, born 1918 My mother
and 1920) was born and rais-
ed in Kansas City. In addition to her sister,
Catherine Rose, she had two younger brothers.
They were twins: John Lawrence and Francis Leonard. Both went by their middle
names, as did their father, my grandfather. During her pregnancy Grandma Spurgeon
refused to believe she was carrying twins. After the first-born emerged, she dismissed
the doctor. “Okay,” he replied, “but I’ll be in the next room if you need me.” Which, of
course, she did.
Leonard was riding his bicycle one day when he was hit
by a car and killed. He was only 19. He and Lawrence had
intended to study for the priesthood. After Leonard’s death
Lawrence decided against that vocation. Instead, he enlisted in
the Army early in World War II, fought in the South Pacific, and
afterward married a Protestant girl. Aunt Catherine’s husband,
Bob Adams, was also a Protestant, as was my father.
All four siblings had been baptized and reared in the
Roman Catholic Church. Grandma Lorraine Spurgeon was a
true Irish Catholic. Her maiden name was Boylan. Her
maternal forebears had come to America from the Irish
counties Monaghan and Cork a
few generations back – presu-
mably with other immigrants Right to left: my mother, her brother Lawrence,
fleeing the terrible potato and his son, Larry Dean, circa 1948
famines that began in 1845. Mom’s great-grandmother
Bridget Mann was born in 1822 and lived to be 98 years
old, dying in 1920.
Irish influence was strong in our family. Mom
always thought of herself as Irish. And this in spite of
the fact that her father, Philip Francis (Frank) Spurgeon,
was of English stock. Although Protestant (Primitive
Baptist) himself, he agreed upon marriage that all his
children would be raised as Catholics. It intrigues me
that the three surviving siblings ended up marrying
My maternal great-great-grandmother, Bridget Mann (left) and my great-grandmother, Catherine Boylan.
This photo was taken in 1920 when Bridget was 98 years old. She died that year, Catherine the following year.
Protestants and becoming Protestants themselves.
Grandfather Frank Spurgeon’s remote ancestors were Vikings. Spurgeon is an
Anglicization of the Norwegian word for “little sparrow.” But Grandpa Spurgeon
himself was a real English bulldog. He had the heavy, bluff air that I associate with men
from the north of England, though his immediate
forebears were from Essex. He spoke loudly and
roughly. Both Jerry and I were intimidated by
Grandma Spurgeon nagged her husband
incessantly. Or so it seemed to me. No doubt she
had many positive qualities, but what I as a young
boy remember about her was the nagging.
(Perhaps this is because I have unpleasant
memories of my own mother nagging my father.)
She was one of three sisters. Her father, John
Boylan, had been a successful builder and, as the
sisters married, they were given dowries – small
but comfortable homes on South Coy Street in the
Armourdale section of Kansas City, Kansas.
Grandpa Spurgeon (born 1885) was a
mechanic at the Sinclair Oil Company nearby. He
had an industrial accident there and was forced
into early retirement. As part of his compensation Above: Grandparents Lorraine and Frank Spurgeon,
the Company presented him with a brand new Buick Left to right: Dorothy Ann Adams and Jerry, Rowena
LaVonne Adams and Me, Christmas 1935, just three
Dynaflow, especially equipped for his handicap. He months before my hospitalization and our family’s
was the only man on the block with such a fancy move to Omaha. Below: Cousin Rowena circa 2001.
The Spurgeon home seemed dark and gloomy to me. Tiffany
lamps provided rather dim lighting throughout the house. Pictures of the
Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus were prominently displayed
on the walls. When Jerry and I visited them, we would all sit together on
the back porch in the evenings where, for several hours, both
grandparents drank beer and
bantered back and forth while Jerry
and I sipped orange soda pop
Car traffic was very light in those days so we
kids had few restrictions. We explored the neigh-
borhood at will, shuttling back and forth between
the homes of various relatives without pre-
Although Grandma Spurgeon boasted of her
Irishness, the parish in 1911, when my mother was
born, appears to have been Italian. On her baptism
certificate Mom’s name is spelled Anna, and her
father’s Phillipo. Yet the pastor was German
Grandmother Lorraine Spurgeon (née Boylan) (Martin Hoeft, OFM). Today the parish is largely
age 4, 1890, and at age 9, 1895
Mexican. Such are the polyglot immigration patterns of America.
Counter clockwise from right: Mom, her cousin John and
wife, Vi, their daughter Hazel, Mom’s Aunt Ida; my brothers
Jimmy and David
Age 15, with Uncle Lawrence
Celebrating Christmas 1935. My father is in the center. To his Grandpa Frank Spurgeon (center)
left is Uncle Bob Adams; to his right, Grandpa Spurgeon. The with sons Leonard and Lawrence,
twins are at the ends. Sixteen months after this photo was 1935. Though twins, Lawrence
taken, Leonard was killed in a bicycle accident. was taller and heavier.
The Scott Side
Now I must say something about my father’s side of our family, though they
featured much less noticeably in my youth. Dad was born the second of nine children.
He had two sisters and six brothers: Neva, Vernon, Marion, Kenneth, Harlan, Norman,
Robert, and Wilfred, in that order. Neva was born in 1902 and my father, the eldest son,
Although a good portion of Dad’s family still lived in the greater Kansas City area
in the 1930s when Jerry and I visited, I cannot recall much about them. I suspect some
or all of them lived in Kansas City, Missouri, not Kansas, and that may explain why we
saw less of them. (The two Kansas Cities are twin cities, separated by the Missouri
River.) Dad’s elder sister, Neva, married a Texan named Clayton Cox. How they met, I
don’t know; they had moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma before I was born. There they
developed a landscape nursery business. In moving to Tulsa, they set the pace for the
rest of the family, for eventually nearly the whole clan, including Grandpa and Grandma
Scott, settled in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
I understand from my cousin,
Joanne, that the migration was set in
motion when Grandpa Walter’s favorite
daughter, Neva, came down with tubercu-
losis. She had two young sons, so
Grandma Elsie volunteered to care for
them. Times were hard in Kansas City, so
Grandpa Walter soon followed, and after
that, other family members.
In Oklahoma, the family, led by
Uncle Vernon and his wife, Grace, opened
up a couple of Scott Super-markets. After
World War II, however, the big national
chains effectively ran them out of business. Grace and Vernon, Harlan and Edith
Uncle Vernon, the brother closest in age to my
father, is another about whom I recall little. When my father died, and then my
grandfather Walter, Vernon effectively became the head of the family. He had two sons,
Robert (married to Portia) and Donald, my cousins. (See photo, page 36.) Of late,
however, I have been corresponding with Vernon’s grandson, Bob, Jr., who with his wife
Julia, lives in Alpharetta, an Atlanta, Georgia suburb.
In 1961 or ’62 Aunt Neva and Uncle Clayton, in retirement, took a trip to the Holy
Land. En route they found their way to Zahlé, Lebanon to visit my family and me. More
about their visit is recorded in Chapter 22.
Aunt Marion, right, and her husband, Charles Ryder, who owned
a funeral parlor, had a son and a daughter, Charles, Jr. (“Buddy”) and
Marilyn. They were about our age, and we spent some time with them,
but I recollect little about the visits. Later on in life Marilyn was eager
to become a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American
Revolution). Grandpa Scott supplied her with documentation to
support her claim, but I don’t know the details. Aunt Marion, like many
of the Scott clan, struggled with alcohol and died relatively young of a
Uncle Kenneth, left, and his wife, Helen, had twin
daughters, Jeannine and Joanne. They were five years
younger than I, so I did not get well acquainted with them till
I was in my twenties. The twins’ younger sister, Joyce, whom
they nicknamed Susie, was only 19 years old, the mother of an
18-month old daughter, Karen, and pregnant with her second
baby when she developed toxemia and died. Had she lived,
she would be a great-grandmother today. Kenneth himself
lived to age 85, passing away just a few years ago. Joanne was
destined to become the cousin I felt closest to from my
Uncle Harlan (see photo previous page and page 35)
also paid us a visit once in Omaha, while he was still single.
(His future wife would be Edith.) He must have been making
good money, for he gave me a silver dollar, which I didn’t dare
Jerry and I spent more time
with Uncle Norman and his wife, Dorothy, right. She was my
favorite aunt, yet I remember little about these visits other than
that I warmed to the atmostphere Aunt Dorothy created.
Norman suffered from severe depression and eventually
committed suicide. Dorothy continued to correspond with me
for many years, well into my forties. All the photos on this page
were taken about the year 1935. The snapshot of Norman and
Dorothy was taken on their wedding day on the steps of the
county courthouse in Kansas City, Missouri.
Uncle Robert I mentioned earlier in connection with a
visit he paid to us in Omaha. His wife’s name was Betty. Uncle
Wilfred (“Mutt”), the youngest, was a favorite of Mom’s. I
personally don’t remember any
incidents in connection with him. His
wife also was named Helen.
As I mentioned earlier, by all
accounts Grandma Scott (Elsie Opal,
née Cates) was a saint. All her children
adored her. By contrast, her husband, Walter Emanuel Scott,
left, born in 1876 in Garland, Kansas (and whose father was
named Waldron), was something of a martinet: religious,
patriarchal, rigid, a stern disciplinarian. Grandpa Walter was
slightly above the average height for his time, heavy set in his
later years (he lived to be 94, nearly 95), with a full head of
white hair. I took my sons Greg and Doug to visit him in 1967
when he was 91 or 92. (See photo of the occasion in Chapter
29.) He was mentally sharp but physically frail then. He spent
much of his day watching TV, we were told.
Grandma Elsie died relatively early of cancer and Grandpa Walter married again.
This didn’t set well with his children, including my father, at first, but in time they
accepted Ella Bridewell without reservation.
I have noted that Grandpa Walter was a strict disciplinarian. That, combined
with his rigid Plymouth Brethren religious convictions, resulted in all of his nine
children, save the two oldest, Neva and my father, rejecting in adulthood all forms of
religion. Even my Dad rebelled until he was about 30 years old. I should add that
Wilfred, the youngest, who was wounded in World War II and became addicted to
morphine, experienced a conversion to Christ also when he was in his thirties. His story
was written up in the Christian Business Men’s Committee magazine (see page 287
My paternal great-grandfather, also named Waldron (!), fought on the Union side
during the Civil War and was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. He married
Mary Ann Johnson, the daughter of a prosperous Iowa farmer, but appears to have
spent much of his life working as a coal miner. He and Mary produced eleven children,
three of whom died before their first birthday. Life was not easy on the frontier. Mary
Ann is buried at Fort Scott, Kansas. Waldron died in 1905, a year after my father was
Waldron’s father, James W. (I wonder what the W. stands for?), my great-great-
grandfather, was born in Philadelphia, February 22, 1799 and led an unusually
adventurous life. I relate his story in more detail in the Genealogy Appendix. But here is
a brief excerpt about him written by my grandfather Walter about his grandfather when
the latter was on his way to California by ox-cart to participate in the Gold Rush:
My grandfather wrote to my grandmother [in 1848] when he got to West
Port, Missouri. [The letter] was over 100 years old but easy to read. He com-
plained of the high price he was charged for food for his oxen, and told the
children to obey their mother, and he would bring them a present when he came
back. He got back all right, but with only enough gold to make the girls rings
and the boys breast
pins. (The men wore
breast pins in those
days.) We still had
dad’s when I was a lad
in Garland, Kansas
where I was raised.
My grand-father and a
pardner got them a
claim and found plenty
of gold, so they took a
ship [around Cape
Horn] and landed at
New Orleans, Louisi-
ana. At that time
cholera was raging
Walter, son Harlan, and Walter Emanuel in his grocery store in
grandson Michael (Mike), my cousin Tulsa, Oklahoma
and grandfather caught it, but his pardner did not, and he stole the belt that had
grandfather’s gold and disappeared. That is why he returned home with so
In fact, a fuller description of our family tree will be
found in the Genealogy chapter at the end of this book. In
addition to the Scotts, it includes more about the Irish
Boylans and the English Spurgeons. I regret that as of
now I have little reliable information about Grandma Elsie
Cates, other than that she was born in Hamilton (Caldwell
County) in northwest Missouri, sometime in 1881, and
was raised as an orphan. Nor have I been able, to this
point, to research the family tree of my first wife, Joan
Hatch. One of my children will have to do that.
My cousins Joanne, Joyce (Susie),
and Jeannine, 1951.
Visiting the Scotts of Tulsa, 1946?
Vernon Sons Robert Grace (Vernon’s wife) My mother and father Dorothy (Norman’s wife) Harlan
And Donald My brothers Jimmy and David Mike (Helen and Harlan’s son)
Robert I, Robert III, and Robert II. Robert I is my first cousin, son
of Vernon and brother to Donald (photo above). He is the father of
Robert II (Robert E.). Robert III is Robert E.’s son. This photo was
taken in 1999.
Left: Four generations of Scotts, l to r, Vernon, Greg, Walter, Donald
Walter is the patriarch, my grandfather. Vernon is his third child, second Jerry and Me Me, age 5, Blair, Nebraska
son (my father was the eldest son). Donald is, I believe, one of
Jerry (age 4) and Me II of
Vernon’s sons, and the uncle of Robert E. Scott, (5) Alpharetta,
Blair, Greg is Donald’s
Georgia. Donald is my first cousin. Nebraska, 1934 son, and first
cousin to Robert E. This photo must have been taken in the 1950s.
Joanne Scott Lindsley with her first grandchild, Mitchell
(Smigglepup) Vogel, 2005 Michael is Stephanie’s son.
His father’s name is Greg.
Cousins Portia and Donald, Robert and Kathy Scott
Grade School and Church
Walnut Hill Elementary School, left, at 45th
and Hamilton Streets in Omaha, was named after
the grove it replaced. It was a decade old when I
began attending it in the fall of 1936.
I was just seven years old but so well prepared
by my mother that the powers that be “skipped” me
to third grade. This was useful so far as my
academic progress was concerned, but horrific for the disadvantage it put me at during
the remainder of my school years.
All through these elementary years, as the youngest, smallest boy in each
successive class, I was always the last to be chosen for the scrub teams organized each
day during recess and gym periods. Additionally, this meant I had difficulty relating to
and making friends with the boys in my classes. All the way through high school, even,
they were a year, sometimes two years, older than I. The only friends I recall from grade
school were girls. My few male buddies were from church.
Unable to excel in sports, I threw myself into reading and studying. Walnut Hill
had a fine library of nearly 4,000 books. I spent as much time as possible in the library.
My interest in foreign countries had been stimulated by the balloon globes I had blown
up daily in the hospital, so I gravitated at first toward a set of books that featured twins
from various nations – one set of twins per book: Chinese, Dutch, Mexican, Egyptian,
and so forth.
Walnut Hill was a hand-some, red-brick building with 15 classrooms and a
playground. Across the street was a large vacant lot that provided space for softball.
After school I would sometimes be found on the sidelines, waiting for an invitation to
Having my photo taken was always a painful ordeal for me – not because of shyness
(though I was shy) but because looking into the sun hurt. My eyes would tear up and I
would squint so badly as to be virtually unrecognizable in photos.
As noted earlier, there was a sizeable colored population in Omaha, but most
lived on the far north side. Only one Negro girl was enrolled in my third and fourth
grade classes. After that, none. A Negro boy, Clifford Rose, was a couple of years older
than I and a grade ahead of me. At some point he began carrying a pack of cigarettes
and matches in his rear pocket. A good athlete, he slid into second base one day, the
matches ignited, flared up, and burned his butt.
I attended Walnut Hill for five years – third grade through seventh. I have happy
memories of my years there. I competed with the generally smarter girls – Eloise
Paustian, Helen Underwood, and Violet Gustafson – for top grades. All three went on
Left to right: Lois Brady Martin, Lois Brown Bartlett, James Blair, Me, Paul Larson, In this third grade class photo I am fourth from the left, second row (yellow arrow).
[Seated: Joy Stute Elwell.] Ruth Westgate Kelly, Eloise Paustian Anderson, Helen
Underwood Pugel, Donald Gibson, Aileen Hawley Nestander.
to have outstanding careers in education. Helen was once named “Teacher of the Year”
for the State of Colorado.
Other girls I remember well because they were neighborhood play-mates: Lois
Brady, Lois Brown, Ruth Westgate, Joan Burda, Gloria Jensen, Lois Reifschneider, and
Joy Stute. A number of these are present in the snapshot at left, taken at a Walnut Hill
reunion forty five years after our elementary school days. I am just left of center.
I remember my grade school teachers well, especially Mrs. Shanahan, Mrs.
Noriega, Mrs. Kiewit and Mrs. Agor. The first three were considered “tough,” but that
was fine with me. Mrs. Kiewit’s brother was a well-known building contractor in
The school had a music room to which we repaired twice a week. I enjoyed the
sessions even though, unlike my parents, I had no musical voice. At one point we
focused on Scottish tunes. This awakened a desire to learn more
about my ancestry. Probably because of my surname I fantasized
about Scotland rather than Ireland or England. Grandpa Scott
had told me we were descendants of the famous poet and
novelist, Sir Walter Scott; right. (I haven’t worked through
genealogical records deeply enough to affirm that.) After singing
“My Heart’s in the Highlands,” I would scoot down to the library
to read about Rob Roy or Redgauntlet or Ivanhoe, who romanced
Rowena and Rachel the Jewess.
I was a nail-biter and a pencil-chewer. Often I bit my
nails right down to the quick. Once blood came and I panicked,
certain I was about to bleed to death. I chewed on the metal bands around the erasers
on my pencils. Eventually the eraser would grind out, but I continued chewing. What
kind of genetic heritage or life experiences or dietary deficiency would cause a child to
be so nervous? Or was it just pent-up energy?
We walked to school each weekday morning, climbing the long two-block hill up
Charles Street, then turning right for one block. It was not a terribly long walk, but it
seemed so because of the hill. (That incline, however, was great for winter sledding.)
Catty-corner from the school was the Omaha Gospel Hall, our church – or Assembly, as
we called it. So we made this trek not only on school days but on Sundays as well.
The only disruption during the Walnut Hill days came when, about 1938 or ’39,
we moved from our tarpaper home into a regular frame house on Patrick Avenue, a half-
mile away. The move was made possible by my Dad’s promotion to foreman at United
Mineral Products. Since Patrick Avenue was still in the Walnut Hill school district, the
disruption was minor. I continued to see classmates at school and made a few new
friends in the new neighborhood.
Our new neighborhood, like the previous one, was lower middle class – small
single-family homes populated by day laborers, mechanics, bookkeepers, and the like.
Just up the street from our house was an empty lot
elevated perhaps six feet above street level. On it stood an old
elm tree with branches stretching out over the sidewalk and
street. From one of these branches we hung a stout rope and
took turns swinging. One afternoon I swung out over the street
and lost my grip, plunging to the pavement below. I landed on
my left wrist, certain I had broken it. But it was only a bad
sprain. Nevertheless I ostentatiously wore a sling on my arm for a couple of weeks.
One January it had been snowing hard all day. I took my sled and made my way
to the runs in Fontenelle Park. By nightfall I had caught a cold. Mom put me to bed
immediately, loaded on the blankets, urged hot lemonade down my throat. It was all
very comfy and I basked in the attention. Mom was in her mid-twenties at this time. I
have to keep reminding myself of her age because, growing up, I never thought of her as
young, but middle-aged.
I read a lot at home. The Omaha World Herald ran daily
serial stories for children which I followed avidly. When I
learned that my birthday coincided with Bastille Day (France’s
equivalent of our Independence Day) I began reading French
history and became something of a Francophile. Some of my
reading must have involved sea-faring adventures, for I recall
whiling away winter evenings drawing large four-masted Clipper
ships in full sail. I became quite adept at this. Other idio-
syncratic talents found expression. I remember persevering for
hours until I could draw a U.S. map of all 48 states free-hand
“from heart” without looking at a reference. And I was especially
proud of one sixth-grade achievement. From an orange crate,
broomsticks, and butcher’s paper, I constructed a blue and
orange “movie” scroller which purveyed a story I had painted
frame by frame.
Storming the Bastille July 14, 1789 On a summer day I made my way to the far northeast edge
of the city to Carter Lake. The lake had formed when the
Missouri River changed its course, leaving behind a horseshoe-shaped stretch of the
river. It was a popular swimming area, and free. On this particular day a young boy, my
own age, was reported missing. He was found half an hour later and hauled up on the
beach, bleached out and blue. An unsuccessful effort was made to revive him. I was
deeply moved by the sequence.
We were still relatively poor, but Christmas was special, complete with ham
(provided by the owner of United Mineral Products) and a Christmas tree with presents
under it. The presents were mostly clothes, but there would always be at least one toy.
One evening, the week before Christmas 1938, I was
overcome by curiosity and tore the corner off my gift
and discovered a baseball mitt. Mom caught me at it
and scolded me, provoking a sense of shame that
spoiled that Christmas for me. Like many others, all
my life I have looked forward to Christmas with
anticipation too high ever to be fulfilled, coupled
with a sense of doom. Always I feel somehow short-
changed by the season.
A Traumatic Event
One afternoon when I was eight or nine years
old I came home from school at the usual hour.
Entering the house I was aware of the strong odor of
gas. I went directly to the kitchen, there to find my mother with her head in the oven
and with the gas turned on. She was weeping, saying she could not continue to live. She
was only 26 or 27 at the time, but apparently was intent on committing suicide. I
arrived “just in time” to rescue her. Sometime later – I don’t know whether it was a
week or a month – she repeated her performance and I repeated mine.
In retrospect it seems obvious she was relying on my timely arrival and rescue,
but I was too young to understand that. Amidst her tears it was never clear to me
exactly why she was so distraught. Was it the prolonged poverty of our circumstances?
That is hard to believe since millions of other families in America were in similar straits
during the Depression. Was it her relationship with Dad? They quarreled a lot and I
was aware of her nagging. But if so, what exactly about their relationship was wrong?
There were no answers to my questions, yet I felt I had become responsible for her
emotional well-being, as if only I could keep her alive. Meanwhile I had my own normal
emotional needs that were being short-changed.
During these Walnut Hill School years my father continued working at “the
Plant,” as he called it, on the north side of town. We did not own a car, so every day,
rain, snow or shine, he walked to and from work, a distance of three miles each way.
The most direct route was up the railroad tracks, which he picked up a quarter-mile
from our house. I include the snapshot at right, even though it was taken during my
high school years, because it shows Dad in his working clothes. (Mom was earning
money as a foster mother at the time.)
His work was physically very hard. Freight cars delivered rock, primarily
limestone, freshly quarried out of the same riverside cliffs he had worked at during my
pre-school years. The plant crushed and processed the rock in various ways, then
shipped it out in new forms. Dad would arrive home at night covered head to toes in
white dust. He would throw himself into his favorite chair and wait for me to come over
and pull shoes and socks off his aching feet. A decade later, my brother David tells me,
when his income was higher and he could afford to indulge himself, he would come
home from work, plop down in the aforementioned chair and snack on imported cheese
and crackers while reading his Bible. His was smelly work. His socks were sticky with
sweat and grime. But it was a chore I cherished, for it was virtually my only tactile
contact with Dad. His weariness communicated heroism to me.
One day – this was later, during World War II – I walked all the way down to the
rail yards, hoping to spot him at work. And I did. There he was, on top of a string of box
cars, leaping from one to another, checking the braking mechanisms. Silhouetted
against the sky, he seemed a god-like figure. But he
was also smoking a cigarette and since this was
something he did not
do in front of us kids,
and it was among the
Brethren no-no’s, I did
not reveal myself to him
lest he be embarrassed.
Our Family Expands; We Move to the Northside
In 1939 my mother gave birth to David Bryan and a year later to James Leland
(Jimmy Lee). I don’t know why my parents chose those particular middle names.
Overnight, as it were, our family of four mushroomed to six. Two sets of boys, ten years
apart. Like Jerry, baby David with his reddish hair reflected Dad’s side of the family,
and like me, Jimmy took after Mom. Our mother was the only female presence in our
The snapshot at left shows Mom and the four of us in June 1940. Newborn
Jimmy Lee is in the basket. Jerry, nine years old, going on ten, David (curly red haired,
not yet two), and me – squinting into the sun, as usual – are lined up left to right behind
Jimmy. I am just a month shy of eleven. Mom is 28, nearly 29.
In the late spring of 1941 we moved again, this time a mile and a half away to the
far north side of the city. Dad was getting older now (he was almost 37) and wanted to
live closer to work. Not only was he weary of the daily walk to and from work, but he
was now the plant manager and needed to be available for emergencies. His new title
did not reflect a great pay raise. His salary now was $50 a week, and he was given use of
a company car.
From my standpoint this was a major move because it took me away from Walnut
Hill to a new school, Druid Hill, where I would be enrolled in the eighth grade. I had
long assumed I would be graduating with my friends from Walnut Hill. It was
disconcerting to think about graduating from a school after spending only a year there.
And for a shy lad such as me, the prospect of trying to break into the circle of kids who
had spent the previous seven years together was daunting.
As it turned out, things were not as bad as I
feared. One reason is because I had my first real
opportunity to exercise leadership. It came unexpect-
edly, which increased my gratification. At Walnut Hill I
had been a member of the Safety Patrol. I had a badge
and wore a white canvas belt that circled my waist and
looped diagonally over one shoulder. Quite military.
My job was to stop vehicular traffic at street corners and
escort children across the street safely – a task that is
handled today by adults, and rightly so.
I had thought that in transferring to Druid Hill I
would lose my seniority and re-enter Safety Patrol ranks
at the lowest level. Instead, I found myself a Sergeant in
charge of a cohort, and was soon promoted to
Lieutenant. This made up, in some measure, for all the
“put downs” I had experienced in previous years from Back row: Me, Mom, and Jerry
my male classmates due to my younger age, smaller size Front row: Jimmy and David
– and better grades.
Our new home was on Ames Avenue, directly across from North High School.
Ames was the major thoroughfare on the north side. The new house was a frame one-
family, two-story residence. Unlike our earlier homes, this one was elevated about 15
feet above street level. North High School was big. And it had a lot of bushes around it.
Jerry and I utilized those bushes to experiment with cigarettes – a cheap brand named
Marvels, as I recall. (The smoking experiment was short lived.)
North High School had the usual music department. During summer the music
classroom windows were kept open. Several times a week I climbed up on the sill
outside one of the windows and listened to practices. One of the singers had a voice that
entranced me. He must have been 15 or 16, tall, blond, and sang beautifully. When he
finished practicing I would follow him home, like a puppy dog. He condescended to
notice me occasionally. Once he bought me a vanilla ice cream cone.
One day in the bushes I found a large yellow-and-
black spider. I put it in a tin can, lit a small fire with my
cigarette matches, and proceeded to roast it alive. Why I did
such a callous thing, I have no idea. Perhaps it was an
expression of inner pain or rage on my part. In my whole life
this is the only instance I can recall, apart from rare
spankings I have given my children, when I deliberately
inflicted pain on another living thing, human or otherwise.
The memory leaves me feeling ugly and ashamed.
In the fall of 1941, after only three months in the Ames
Avenue house, we moved again, this time a few blocks away,
to Ruggles Street on the other (south) side of North High and
just up the hill from United Mineral Products. The area
between our house and “the Plant” was devoid of other
Jerry and I, ages 11 homes. It consisted of empty lots covered with brush. We
and 12, he the taller played Cowboys and Indians there.
We fashioned our revolvers and rifles by hand. First we
carved wood scavenged from the railroad tracks that ran alongside the Plant into the
appropriate shapes. Then we collected rubber seals of the kind that used to be used on
Mason jars for canning fruits and vegetables. We rigged these to bind the spring-loaded
clothespins that served as triggers to our weapons. For ammunition we sliced bicycle
and automobile inner tubes – bicycle tubes for our pistols and car tubes for our rifles.
The art involved was in stretching the inner tube bands as far as possible from the
clothespin trigger to the tip of the revolver or rifle. Stretch it too far and it would snap;
stretch it loosely and it would have no fire power. The challenge was to “kill” the enemy
at the furtherest distance. These “bullets” were effective; if you were hit by one, you felt
We spent a lot of time along the railroad tracks, putting our ears to the rails to
feel the vibration of an oncoming locomotive, or placing soda bottle caps on the rails for
the trains to smash as they passed over. One day Jerry got it into his head to throw
stones at the windows of one of the railside factories. The manager reported this to my
mother, who in turn told Dad. Normally Mom was the family disciplinarian, but on this
occasion Dad gave both of us a whipping with a switch – Jerry because he was the
culprit, and me because I did not stop him. I felt this to be most unjust because Jerry
was actually a bit taller and stronger than I, and would never stop doing something just
on my say-so.
On the other hand, I can’t recall any other instance in my growing up years when
my father spanked me. Usually the mere threat by Mom, “I’m going to tell your father”
would squelch any misbehavior. Whatever abuse I may have suffered as a child was
verbal, or emotional, not corporal. (Mom used to spank me a lot when I was younger,
but by the time I was twelve her spankings no longer hurt.)
About this time my Kansas City
“cousin,” (half-sister?) Frances Opal, arrived
for a short visit. For some reason – other
guests? – she, my brother Jerry, and I were
to share two cots set up in the dining room.
Frances was given the choice of whom she
would sleep with. She chose me. I found
this immensely satisfying. Why? Sibling
competition? Emergent sexuality? I don’t
During this Ruggles Street sojourn
(1941) Grandma Elsie Scott died. (Her
death and Frances Opal’s visit may have
been related.) She died relatively young,
about 60 years of age, of cancer. I was very
aware of my father’s sorrow, for ordinarily
he was not one to show emotion, but now I
saw him crying.
About this same time, for a reason I can’t recall, Mom Pearl Harbor under attack
was absent for a week or two and a church lady named Hazel
came to care for us kids. When Mom returned home she found the household unusually
tense. Dad said he would not allow Hazel to baby-sit for us again; or perhaps it was
Hazel who said she couldn’t stay on while Dad was here. Such events are always bathed
in mystery to children. My guess now is that there might have been some sexual
The deaths I have referred to were not my first brush with mortality. There was
the young boy who drowned at Carter Lake. And a few years before, in 1937, as I noted
earlier, one of Mom’s twin brothers, Leonard, met death prematurely. Mom took Jerry
and me with her to Kansas City for the funeral. Mom herself was only 26 at that time.
World War II
I was old enough in 1941 to be following national and world news. On the
morning of December 7th we were all getting ready to go to church when the report came
over the radio that the Japanese had launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.
(Interestingly, Commander Mitsuo Fuchida, who led the raid, became a Christian after
From this moment on the war, World War II, like the Great Depression, became a
defining feature of my generation. I was a half-decade too young to be drafted into
military service; my Dad at 37 was a half-decade too old. But Dad’s younger brother,
Wilfred, was one of the first to volunteer for the Navy, as was Mom’s younger brother,
Lawrence. Wilfred’s and Lawrence’s generation, those who endured the Depression and
fought in World War II – is the one NBC reporter Tom Brokaw wrote about in his book,
The Greatest Generation.
Early in 1942 Dad finally
achieved his goal of obtaining
employment with the railroads – in this
case the Missouri Pacific Lines. He was
hired as a switchman and later made an
engine foreman. His good fortune lay in
the fact that many young members of
the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen
had volunteered or been drafted into the armed forces.
This created openings for older applicants such as my
father. Overnight he became a staunch union supporter.
Among my most valued souvenirs is Dad’s original switchman’s signal
lantern, middle frame at left. It is with me here in my home office as I type. Later in life
Dad became the chaplain of his local union. (I also have Grandma Lorraine’s rosary
beads and cross far left, passed on to me by my mother.)
Railroad work was outdoor work, which Dad had had enough of. So he
immediately set about trying to qualify for indoor middle management work. Every
night after dinner he spread his books and papers out on the dining room table and
studied. Mom bequeathed curiosity to me; Dad modeled work ethic and good study
In June 1942 I graduated from elementary school – a major event for me, though
of small importance in comparison to the great
global war being waged. Eighth Grade Graduation Photos, 1942 I call attention to two
features in my formal graduation photo on the page following. Already the char-
acteristic dark circles under my eyes are present; and there is a set to my jaw, barely
noticeable at age 12, but reflecting the way my teeth were misaligning at the time. Over
the years my teeth have given me great trouble, as my father’s had given him. At several
points in my life orthodontists examined me with a view to correcting the problem. But
none ever came up with a solution.
The Omaha Gospel Hall
Three powerful influences bore upon me during the first dozen years of my life:
Family, Walnut Hill School, and the Omaha Gospel Hall. It is time to describe the latter.
(Another major influence during my high school years is discussed below, page 61.)
The Omaha Gospel Hall, diagonally across the street from Walnut Hill School at
45th and Hamilton, was an undistinguished white wooden building with a basement.
This is where those known as the Plymouth Brethren worshipped. We were a smallish
Assembly (the preferred terminology) numbering 60 “in fellowship,” which is to say,
about 25 married couples and ten adult singles. Similar assemblies were scattered
throughout the Great Plains. In the 1930s and ‘40s there were, in fact, nearly 800
Assemblies in Canada and the USA. As a boy I knew only of those in western Iowa and
These assemblies were the American expression of a movement begun
around 1825 in Ireland and England by a former Anglican priest named
John Nelson Darby, right, and a few associates, including Anthony Norris
Groves, left. The latter is regarded as the founder of the extensive Plymouth
Brethren missionary movement. Groves was an early contrarian missionary
to Iraq and India. He was one of my childhood heroes.
Mr. Darby visited Canada and the United States a number of times
during the years 1862-77. He was an accomplished public speaker and his
visits generated great interest. Very few of the Assemblies established
actually followed the pattern laid out by Darby, however.
As a reformation movement the Plymouth Brethren (“the Brethren,” or simply
“PBs”, as they were known fraternally) were attempting to restore the Church to its
original apostolic simplicity and purity. In practice this meant eschewing denomina-
tionalism, eliminating ritual from worship, doing away with hierarchical offices, and so
Fairly early on in England a split occurred between “exclusive” PBs and “open”
PBs. Darby led the “exclusive” section, which not only separated from the world but
from other Christians who did not identify with them exclusively. The split was carried
over to America and my grandfather, Walter Emanuel Scott, was well-known among the
“exclusives.” My grandfather’s assembly was so exclusive, in fact, that sometimes only
two or three people joined him for the Lord’s Supper in his home. That did
not disturb Grandpa, for had not Jesus promised that “where [even] two or
three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them”? During the
20th century the exclusive Brethren were often known as Taylorites, after the
father-son team that led them for many decades.
The Omaha Gospel Hall, however, was an “open” Assembly. As a
young adult my father (like most of his siblings) had rebelled against the
spiritual environment of the Exclusive Brethren. But when my illness and
near death at age six prompted him to return to the faith, and at the same
time brought him to Omaha, he was amenable to identifying with the Open
Brethren at the Gospel Hall.
My mother had been reared as a Roman Catholic but had been led into a personal
relationship with Jesus through Grandma Elsie. Mom had little understanding of
ecclesiastical nuances and was quite ready to identify with the Open PBs as well.
In the United States the Plymouth Brethren were caught up in the 20th century
modernist-fundamentalist controversy – on the side of fundamentalism, naturally. This
anti-modernist mentality, combined with the anti-clerical, anti-
ritual, anti-denominational mindset already noted, produced local
assemblies (at least in our part of the country) that were totally out
of sync with mainstream Christianity, not to mention contemporary
Our brand of Christianity was defined by the Scofield
Reference Bible. We believed in dispensationalism and pre-
millenialism. We thrived on the prophetic sections of Scripture
Cyrus I. Scofield that presaged the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the
world, and the special role of Israel in the End Time. Separation
from the world was stressed: no drinking, no smoking, no gambling, no dancing, no
movies, no cussing. Reading the Sunday comics was frowned on, though tolerated in
some households. By the time I finished grade school I was very much inhibited socially
by these taboos.
On a Sunday morning we trekked up the Charles Street hill and turned right for
Sunday School, following the same route as to Walnut Hill School. Classes convened in
the four corners of the Hall and down in the basement. After Sunday School came the
worship service. A small table was set up in the middle of the Hall (a room perhaps 30
feet by 50) with a baptistery at one end. Otherwise it was unadorned – no organ (we
sang a cappella), no pulpit, no stained glass windows, no American or Christian flag.
Rows of chairs, three deep, were arranged
four-square around the table. A white cloth
covered the table, on which sat a leavened loaf of
bread and a beaker of wine. This was the Lord’s
Supper, or Breaking of Bread, known in other
circles as communion or the Eucharist, which we
celebrated each Sunday as the only order of
Everyone present, including we small
children, sat in silence, as in a Quaker meeting,
for a while. Then one of the brethren would
suggest a hymn (women were not allowed to
speak) from the Believers’ Hymn Book. Another
– usually J. Price Patterson – would set the pitch
and we would sing. Then silence again while we
meditated, or tried to meditate, on the Lord’s
death. Willard Rodgers, Jr. shows off his firstborn,
Omaha Gospel Hall, 1950
Presently another brother would lead in
prayer, followed by another hymn, another prayer, another hymn. Finally someone
would give thanks for the Bread. An elder would break the loaf and it would pass from
hand to hand around the square circle. The same protocol was followed with the wine.
Then an elder (we had no ordained ministers, only lay elders) would briefly expound on
a passage of Scripture. A final hymn and prayer and it would be over. The service lasted
exactly one hour, but to a lad it seemed interminable.
The positive side of this intense religious upbringing was a deep grounding in
Scripture (laying aside for the moment its interpretation) and the strong sense of
community imbibed. In such a small assembly everyone knew everyone else; our lives
were deeply intertwined. There were weekly prayer and Bible study meetings, and
church suppers and church picnics. (Church is my word; for the PBs the church is the
universal Body of Christ and the local congregation is an assembly.) Saturday nights
were reserved for street preaching. On Sunday afternoons we formed an ad hoc choir
and sang to patients at the county hospital.
As might be expected, my closest childhood friends were boys from Gospel Hall
families: Leonard Rodgers (who was killed during his freshman year at Wheaton College
in Illinois while learning to fly), Bill Knuckles (who later distinguished himself as a
football coach at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington), and Harry Hamilton, Jr.
(whose father midwifed my conversion to Christ when I was 15 years old).
Each December Sunday School sponsored its annual Christmas Program. Each
student had a part in the event. I recall the first poem I ever recited:
Said the Robin to the Sparrow,
“I should really like to know
Why these anxious human beings
Rush around and worry so.”
Said the Sparrow to the Robin,
“Friend, I think that it must be
That they have no Heavenly Father
Such as cares for you and me.”
At least once a year our Assembly conducted a week-long Bible conference
featuring traveling evangelists and teachers invited especially for the occasion. We
extended invitations to all the Assemblies in nearby farming communities such as Pella
and Walnut and Glenwood, all in western Iowa. In return we went to their annual
conferences. In this fashion we children got acquainted with a wider group of kids like
These were happy events to which we looked forward. Many of the con-ferences
focused on prophetic themes. These fascinated us children as much as they did the
adults. Huge canvases were strung from one side of the Hall to the other, emblazoned
with drawings of imminent future events (and the emphasis was always on “imminent”)
foretold by Daniel’s prophecies and the Book of Revelation.
Scads of good foods were on deck and, when the conference drew to a close,
plaster plaques of biblical texts were available for purchase. These hung from
the walls of every PB home, including my bedroom. Mine was inscribed with But they
Isaiah 40:31. that wait
Each summer upon
the Gospel Hall would LORD
pitch a tent on some their
vacant lot in the city, strength
lay fresh sawdust renew
down, set up folding (Isaiah
chairs, rig electricity 40:31).
and a public speaking
system, and hold evangelistic
meetings. (Photo next page.)
We kids loved these tent
My mother, because of
her open, friendly nature, had
no apparent difficulty adapting
to the Plymouth Brethren, so
very different than Roman
Catholicism. As I noted
earlier, her faith was that of a
unquestioning, and zealous.
Nevertheless, though she did
not appear to have reservations, she must have felt constrained by all the PB taboos, for
I now know what I didn’t know then, that by the time she was 30, she was open to new
My father’s situation was also ambiguous. Before he returned to the fold, his
lifestyle included alcohol (his finances permitting nothing more potent than beer,
however) and tobacco. He continued those habits, but not blatantly. Trudging home
after a hard day’s labor, he would stop off for a 15-cent bottle of beer, for we kept no
liquor in the house. After supper he would “step outside for a minute” or “take a short
walk” for a smoke. It took me a long while to recognize what those patterns signified.
My father walked everywhere, and as he walked, he whistled. All the neighborhood kids
knew when he wa coming. Whistling is another habit I inherited or copied from Dad.
On the other hand, Dad
was a serious Christian. He
studied his Bible, perused
commentaries, and prepared
notes for the occasional ten-
minute expositions he would
present at the Lord’s Supper.
He was recognized as an elder in
the Assembly. Because the
strictures against drinking and
smoking were strongly vocalized
among the Brethren, I gradually
came to suspect that Dad was Evangelists Arthur Rodgers, David Lawrence, and a
considered less “sanctified” than some third man unknown to me, at a summer tent meeting.
of the other brothers. I resented this.
The Assemblies in the USA and Canada kept in touch with each other through a
publication called Letters of Interest, as well as by means of the itinerant evangelists
mentioned earlier. For example, I quote a paragraph from an issue of Letters of
Interest. It is part of correspondence from the Gospel Hall in Philadelphia,
Since our last report the following brethren have visited us: Frank Carboni
(Italy), Colin Caldwell, Sr. (Puerto Rico), Samuel Lander (Bolivia), Walter
Gammon (Africa), Navy chaplain Albert J. Otto, Edgar Ainslie, Robert
McClurkin, Samuel Jardine (Ireland), David Long (Africa), and James Gunn.
Every Assembly had an official Correspondent: J. Price Patterson was ours. The
Correspondent of the Philadelphia Gospel Hall and the author of the report above was
Robert L. Scott – which reminds me that my great-great-grandfather, James W. Scott,
was a trunk maker in Philadelphia, born there, February 22, 1799. Correspondent
Robert may have been a distant relative of mine.
Some of the visitors noted in the report were missionaries. The Plymouth
Brethren fielded a strong missionary contingent, functioning under the rubric Christian
Missions in Many Lands. This PB outreach was far out of proportion to its size as a
denomination. We were visited constantly in Omaha by missionaries. No doubt this
helped to determine my own life vocation.
We had books at home, predominantly religious. There were Bible commentaries
by J. N. Darby and C. H. Mackintosh. These were Dad’s. There were daily devotionals:
Streams in the Desert and My Utmost for His Highest. These were Mom’s. Others were
my own, received as Sunday School prizes or purchased at a Bible conference. They
were mostly missionary biographies: Twelve Mighty Men, Twelve Marvelous Women,
Blaike’s David Livingstone, and Mrs. Taylor’s Borden of Yale ’09. These too motivated
me toward mission.
At the time our family became part of the Gospel Hall Assembly, J. (for James)
Price Patterson was the leading elder. He was perhaps 40 years old and Secretary-
Treasurer of Sutherland Marble and Tile. He was a stout, rather fussy man with a
mustache and soft hands – very much a white collar worker – in contrast to my father
and most other men in the Assembly. He was relatively well off financially and lived in a
comfortable home on Bedford Avenue with his wife and their three sons, James, John,
and Paul. His wife, seven years older than he, was a noticeably plain-looking woman.
Even as a child I was aware of the rumor that he had gained his position at Sutherland
Marble and Tile by marriage.
Patterson was one of the few men in the Assembly to own a car. He traded it in
every other year for a new one. He had a lot of time at his disposal and was always
available to take Mom shopping in winter weather or carry us children off to church
picnics in the summer.
Other prominent heads of family in our Assembly (which I note just in case
someone from among the Plymouth Brethren happens onto my story) included Arthur
Rodgers and his brother, Willard; Les Kent and Harry Hamilton, Sr.; Tom Knuckles and
Phil Olbert; Don Flatt and Glen Plowman; Bill Jones and Wes Fox; Michael Hoffman
(recently arrived from Yugoslavia); Phil Kalich and, of course, my father.
We were poor, as I have acknowledged more than once, although our financial
situation improved steadily through the ‘30s and early ‘40s. Nevertheless my brother
Jerry and I never had the experience of going off for a couple of weeks every summer to
a Christian youth camp. We couldn’t afford it. So far as I recollect, we accepted this in
The primary objective of anyone growing up among the Brethren was to “get
saved.” My first conscious religious memory (distinct from my grandmother’s story
recounted earlier) occurred at age seven. An itinerant preacher, the short-statured
Welshman, David Lawrence (in the photo at the top of page 44), visited our Gospel Hall.
During Sunday School, he offered a quarter (a fabulous sum) to the first young person
who would simply walk forward and receive it – illustrating salvation by faith alone.
I wanted with all my heart to go forward, but could not bring myself to do so.
Afterward at home, while I was perched on the toilet seat (for privacy, not necessity) in
our tarpaper home, Mom knelt before me and tried to coax me to accept Jesus as my
Savior. I couldn’t do it. Part of my behavior was founded on shyness; part of it, I think,
on shame. But there was also an unidentified “something else” blocking my way. It
would be some years before I figured out what that was. (My conversion is recounted in
If J. Price Patterson was the most prominent member
within our Gospel Hall assembly, Arthur B. Rodgers, left, was one
of its best-known personages in the wider Great Plains region from
Colorado to Ohio. His life is of interest in itself, and also illustrates
some of the basic features of Plymouth Brethren life and ministry.
Rodgers was born in Colorado in 1889 and moved to Omaha
with his parents when he was three years old. He was “saved” in
1908, at the first-ever Omaha Gospel Hall Bible conference. He
wanted to be a missionary but this ambition was never realized,
except for brief forays to Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Instead, beginning in 1915, by means of caravans, tents, street meetings, tract
distribution, store rentals, magazine editing, etc. he pioneered assembly-building
(church planting, we would call it today) throughout the Midwest. During World War II
he directed a Christian Servicemen’s Center in Kansas City and, later, in Colorado
Springs. With my father, he officiated at Joan’s and my wedding at Glen Eyrie in 1952.
He died in 1961 of a heart attack.
I was well into my thirties before I was able emotionally to outgrow the Plymouth
Rodgers on tour
in 1919 (right)
(below). In both
photos he is on
Above: Passing out literature in
the Dominican Republic in the 1930s.
Left:: Rodgers counseling a serviceman in
World War II.
Albuquerque and Benson High
Land of Enchantment
Just after I graduated from elementary school misfortune struck our family.
Little brother David, three years old, contracted tuberculosis (TB). There was no
pharmaceutical cure in those days. As in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, one
entered a sanatorium or, if one could not afford that, as was the case with us, one moved
to a hot, dry climate, preferably one at high elevation.
For our family, this suggested a move to the American South-west.
After making enquiries as to what Plymouth Brethren assemblies might
exist in that part of the country, we determined on a move to
Albuquerque, New Mexico, already well known as a treatment center
“We” included Mom and us four kids, but not Dad. After finally
achieving his long-sought goal of working for the railroad, he deemed it
necessary to remain in Omaha. He accompanied us to the railway
station and stoically waved goodbye. I watched my mother weeping as
the train pulled out of the station. I wanted to cry too, but didn’t. Now
that I was a teenager I couldn’t risk my brother Jerry calling me a cry-baby.
The journey in mid-summer 1942 was long, hot, and surely tedious, though I
recall nothing of it, not even the exact route. We might have headed straight west to
Cheyenne, Wyoming on the Union Pacific, then south to Albuquerque on the Denver
and Rio Grande. Or we might have taken the sleek Burlington Zephyr to Kansas City,
transferring there to the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. In any event, it must have
been a tough trip for Mom, for she was traveling with four children in coach class, which
meant we slept nights in our seats. The journey would have taken two or three days.
In 1942 Albuquerque was a quiet, dusty little city of 60,000 gearing up to play its
role in the war. At an elevation of nearly one mile, about the same as Denver, Colorado,
it straddled both sides of the shallow, lazy Rio Grande river at the base of the Sandia
mountains. (Sandia, oddly, is Spanish for water-melon.) It was an old city, founded in
the early 1700s by the Spanish governor-general of New Mexico. He named the city
after the Duke of Albuquerque who was then the viceroy of New Spain. Naturally,
Native Americans were present in the area long before the Spanish arrived.
We were met at the Santa Fe Station, right (which
accommodated the Denver and Rio Grande
railway), by Mr. and Mrs. Guynes, a middle-aged
couple with a 16-year-old daughter, Anita, and two
grown sons. One son was an enlisted man in the
Army; the other was an Air Corps officer. Both
impressed me mightily – not only when they were
in uniform but more especially when they changed
into “civvies.” For them this included cowboy
boots, belts, hats, Levi pants, and pearl-buttoned
shirts. Admiring them, I knew I had really arrived
in the fabled West.
Central Avenue, Albuquerque, 1943
The Guynes lived in a small adobe house on an unpaved street complete with
cacti, about a half-mile up from the river at the base of the Sandia foothills. They were
very generous people to take us in, for it seriously overcrowded them. In fact, our family
of five quartered and slept on the back patio. The interior of the house, with us present,
was always cluttered. We stayed with them only a few weeks while looking for
accommodations of our own.
Anita was vastly disappointed when she first saw me. The preparatory
correspondence passing between the Omaha and Albuquerque Gospel Halls had led her
to believe that a full-grown teenager was coming to town. This excited her because, as
we soon found out, she was the only teenager in the tiny Albuquerque assembly. Her
social possibilities were severely compromised since she was not allowed to date non-
Brethren boys. She was disgusted when she discovered I barely reached up to her chin!
I, on the other hand, was not disappointed in her, for I had just arrived on the
cusp of puberty and was intrigued by the experience of actually living at close quarters
with a girl (recall: no girls in our family). I was
particularly observant during the early morning hours
when everyone, getting ready for a new day, raced helter-
skelter around the house in their underclothes – in
Anita’s case, a pink slip.
What I referred to above as “accommodation”
proved to be one half of a single story duplex built adobe
style, left. Very simple, very New Mexican. The local
Assembly was within walking distance. The apartment
was small and I remember nothing about it. Apparently there were no other children
our age in the immediate vicinity, for I don’t recall playing with any.
Mom found work quickly as a clerk-typist at Kirtland Air Base. This, at age 30,
was her first real job in the outer world since early in her marriage when she also
worked as a clerk-typist in Kansas City, Missouri. I imagine she enjoyed the experience.
Jerry and I pretty much fended for ourselves during this time. Mrs. Guynes baby-sat
brothers David (with TB) and Jimmy.
When Mom started working there, Kirtland AFB was home to three schools –
advanced flying, bombardier training, and multi-engine – under the command of
Colonel William B. Offutt, after whom the Air Force Base in Omaha would later be
named. Sandia Base, which was adjacent to Kirtland, was used (secretly) to coordinate
military nuclear activities.
The focus of my life was Lincoln Junior High School, which comprised grades 7-
9. I was in Grade 9. The school was situated on one of the lower foothills not far from
our house. Interestingly, in spite of my academic bent, the only classes I recall now
were the practical ones: Spanish, typing, industrial drawing, and woodworking. Electing
to take typing was one of the best decisions I ever made. Woodworking was also
gratifying. It filled a need to work with my hands that remains with me to this day.
The choice of Spanish (rather than French or Latin) came easily, since a majority
of the students were “Mexican.” I know now what I didn’t
know then, that some of these “Mexican” families had lived
in the U. S. Southwest for two or three hundred years. I
grasped the formal elements of the language well enough
but was too shy to practice speaking Spanish with my
Spanish-speaking classmates. They, as one might expect, were bilingual.
The year in Albuquerque was a genuine cross-cultural experience – from adobe
architecture and tortillas to turquoise rings, the sounds of a new language, and gorgeous
landscape altogether unlike the Midwest. For that reason it was a key year in my life. It
fired my imagination no end. It was at Lincoln Junior High that I experienced “puppy
love” for the first time. Her name was Sarita Lujan. (Sarita means little princess, or
something on that order, in Spanish.)
It was during this year I expressed rage overtly for the first time as well. Jerry
and I borrowed one of the Guynes’ .22 caliber rifles and went into the foothills to hunt
jackrabbits. At some point I must have thought Jerry was “picking on me” again, for I
aimed the gun at him and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t head for home pronto.
He sensed the force of my anger and began running.
Lest he have second thoughts, I fired a couple of
rounds over his head. He increased his pace and I
cooled down. It was a foolish and dangerous affair.
Part of my rage was long-repressed resentment
of Jerry. I considered him a bully. But other factors,
perhaps more important, with their sources in our
family life, or school, or church, must have been at
work also. For example, having entered puberty and
become consciously aware of sex, I was upset when my
The old Wright Trading Post mother began inviting her boss, an Air Corps sergeant,
over to our house after work for supper. It may have
been an innocent thing to do – just the attempt of a 30-year-old woman to assuage
loneliness – but I interpreted it as stark betrayal of Dad.
Speaking of Dad, my father, being a railroad man now, was able to use his “pass”
to visit us once. It was just before Christmas. I took pride in showing him the coops I
had jerry-built in our back yard, and in which I was more or less successfully raising
pigeons. Dad praised me, but then suggested that raising rabbits might be a better idea.
They reproduced rapidly and could be sold for food, he reasoned, and that would give
me some pocket money. He helped me reconstruct the coops to suit them for rabbits
and then went out and bought me a few start-ups.
An Unusual Train Ride
One night after Dad had returned to Omaha, and I had quarreled with Mom over
something – or perhaps because of some ill-defined angst – I made my way down to the
Santa Fe railyards and crept aboard a northbound freight train with the object of
running away to home in Omaha. In my ignorance I was unaware of the danger
involved. No box car doors were open, so I wedged myself on an outside ledge. The
ledge was not more than six or eight inches wide, but I was small, and there must have
been something available for my hands to grasp.
I was wearing only my ordinary schoolday clothing, nothing extra. I had no food.
The whole adventure must have been the product of a desperate impulse. As the train
chugged northward the evening air grew colder and colder. To compound my misery,
soot flying back from the two front locomotives kept getting into my eyes.
The freight moved slowly as it headed toward higher elevations. After perhaps a
half-hour or 45 minutes (though it seemed much longer than that) we reached
Bernalillo. There the station master spotted me, hauled me down, and took me into the
depot to warm up by the pot-bellied stove. A few minutes later he offered me some
soup. Then, no more trains being expected for a while, he put me in his car and drove
me back home, having managed to coax my address out of me.
It was nearly midnight when Mom met us at the door. She must have looked
furious for the kindly stationmaster said, “He’s had a good scare, Ma’am; he’s learned
his lesson, I’m sure, and doesn’t need a whipping.” And as it happened, I didn’t get one.
Railroads were a major factor in my life. I hung around the railyards as much as
possible. Each evening, for example, at about six o’clock, Jerry and I walked down to
the Santa Fe Depot and waited for the 3571 Chicago-Los Angeles train to pull in. We
watched the passengers disembark and enter the depot’s dining room at the Alvarado
Hotel where dinner was waiting for them. As they finished their meals and rose to
return to their carriages, but before the waiters had begun clean-up, we whisked
through the dining room, Jerry and I, stuffing our pockets with left-over rolls and
The cupcakes were important. There never seemed to be enough money in our
household for candy or desserts. Once I was walking in Old Town when I saw an adult
cram a Milky Way into his mouth and bite off a big hunk. This awed me. I would never
think of biting into a candy bar with such gusto. One had to make a chocolate bar last.
One nibbled at it, very slowly.
To earn a little spending money (the rabbit breeding enterprise was not as
profitable as I had hoped) I took to selling the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s
magazines door to door. During this particular year, prices for an individual magazine
rose 40%, from a nickel to seven cents. My commission was two cents per sale. I was
lucky to make three sales from the time school let out till the time I would head for the
Santa Fe depot. Once in a blue moon I would sell a year’s subscription.
A copy of the September 13th (Mom’s birthday) 1941 issue of Collier’s is in my
archive. This particular copy is notable because it contains an extensive article on The
Navigators, an organization destined to profoundly influence my life. This was seven
years before I first met a Navigator (Jake Combs), on the island of Guam. The photo on
the following page is reproduced from the article.
The lower caption reads:
Dawson Trotman is guiding genius of the Navigators, who spread salvation as they do their hitches in the U. S. Navy
Again, for pocket money, I set pins in a local bowling alley. No automatic
machines in those days. I perch on the edge of the pit at the rear of the alley. A ball
barrels down the hardwood and splatters the pins. I jump down into the pit, grab the
ball, hoist it onto the chute that returns it to the bowler. As the ball rolls back I pick up
the pins by the neck, two or even three at a time, and replace them in their proper spots.
This has to be done before the ball gets back to the bowler. It was hard work for a
slightly built 13- year-old, and sometimes dangerous. A flying pin could break a shin
I joined the Boy Scouts in Albuquerque. We met at the Y. That was the only year
I was involved in scouting. After
memorizing the Boy Scout Oath (“On
my honor I will do my best to do my
duty to God and my country...) and the
Scout Law (“A Scout is trustworthy,
loyal, helpful, etc.), I learned how to
make knots, treat a snake bite, build a
camp fire, and make a tourniquet. I
earned merit badges for First Aid,
Pigeon Raising, Scholarship, and
Leatherwork. One Saturday a visiting
Albuquerque YMCA 1942 Scout Master from Switzerland took
our troop into the foothills to learn
how to sketch topographic maps. This seemed like a true war enterprise and I took to it
At school I skipped classes a lot, persuading our next door neighbor, a young
stay-at-home wife, to write excuses for me and sign my mother’s name. Why she was
willing to do this, I can’t imagine. It certainly couldn’t have made for good relations
with Mom. And why did I, who enjoyed studying, skip school? Boredom with a couple
of my classes, maybe. But more likely it had something to do with the ennui I was
feeling about life in general.
Usually I headed down to the banks
of the Rio Grande, right. There was a kind of
beach there, used only in the summer
months, with a life guard stand that rose
perhaps a dozen feet above the sand. During
winter this area was deserted, so I would
climb up on the platform, take off my
clothes, and bask in the winter sun. In
Albuquerque at mid-day, even in January,
the sun was delightfully warm. The
experience was quite sensual. It was
to a halt
when an official-looking hombre accosted me and
ordered me to dress and leave immediately. I was
too shamed to repeat the practice.
One day, strolling through Old Town, I
noticed two horses in a vacant lot. One had just
completed intercourse with the other and his foot-long organ hung limply below his
A veranda in Old Town hind quarters. This was
my first exposure as a
city boy to animal
sexual behavior and I was duly impressed.
During our year in Albuquerque the atomic
bomb testing project was getting underway at
Alamogordo in southern New Mexico, though I was
oblivious to this. By the end of the school year our
doctor deemed brother David’s TB cured, and we
returned to Omaha.
Before leaving this significant, though brief,
chapter of my life let me
mention two books I have Downtown Albuquerque 1943. Note
the many Servicemen on the street.
enjoyed: Nebraska novelist
Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop, which is set in New Mexico; more
Albuquerque Museum 1943
science writer George Johnson’s Fire in the Mind. Johnson uses a New Mexico setting
to explore the relationship of science and faith.
San Felipe de Neri Church, Old Town
Close up of San Felipe
Mother and child passing the Santa Fe
Old Town Cantina
Native American Quarter in
Benson High School
In late summer of 1943 we returned
to Omaha and I enrolled as a sophomore at
Benson High School, right, on the near
northwest side of town, a mile and a
quarter from our house. I walked to and
from school each day, good weather and
bad, invariably stopping en route at a
small corner bakery shop to buy a single,
luscious, flaky, glazed, five-cent donut.
How I remember those donuts! They don’t
glaze them like that nowadays, though
Krispy Kremes come close.
At Benson High, right, I reunited with friends from Walnut Hill Elementary,
including Lois Brady, Joan Burda, Don Gibson, and Helen Underwood. All four
ultimately pursued careers in Colorado. I mention that because Colorado was also my
home base intermittently later on in life.
Other Walnut Hill classmates at Benson: Violet Gustafson (later a political
science professor), Tommy Krist (CPA), Paul Larmon (businessman), Eloise Paustian
(National Education Association leader), Dick Patrick (U.S. Marine Corps), Delores
Reifschneider (homemaker), Joy Stute (special education teacher), Ruth Westgate (sales
representative), and Joanne Zander (wife of an orthopedic surgeon).
Benson High was a medium-size school with about 1,300 students. My “Class of
‘46” graduated 263 out of 329 that were enrolled as freshmen. (Some of our class left
school early to enlist in the armed forces.) By 1991, when I was 62, we were living in 32
different states of the Union; we had produced over 900 children, more than a thousand
grandchildren, and 40 great-grandchildren. Meanwhile, a tenth of our number had
died, including two by suicide. As I write this, fourteen
years later, all of these numbers will have increased
substantially, except perhaps the suicides.
Thumbing through class reunion handbooks, I see
we had our share of doctors, lawyers and judges,
professors and – somewhat surprising to me – ministers.
Over the years, about a dozen of us have been elected to
Benson’s Hall of Fame. I couldn’t be present at my
induction ceremony, so friends and former classmates,
Leonard Hammes and Ruth Westgate, left, stood in for
me. They are holding my certificate.
None of us acquired our fifteen minutes of national
fame, except perhaps Don Sarooian, whose professional name was Saroyan. He became
a Hollywood actor/producer and (for seven years) was married to the comedienne, Carol
While not all were Anglo-Saxon or Protestant, the Class of ’46 was essentially all
white – not a single African-American or Asian. A lot of Scandinavian and German
surnames show up on the class list, along with the expected Irish and English names.
Not many Central European or Italian names (they attended South High).
The dominant figure at Benson High (which celebrated its
100th anniversary in 2004) was Miss Mary McNamara, right, its
principal for 38 years, having been installed in 1912. She retired in
1950, four years after I had graduated.
As in my freshman year in Albuquerque, I remember only a
couple of my regular classes. Vaguely I recall geometry, which I
enjoyed but did not excel in. And I remember an excellent English
literature class taught by Mrs. Irene Johnson. I groan when I
recollect how hard I worked to understand George Meredith’s
masterpiece, The Egoist. To this day I have difficulty distinguishing
between egoism and egotism.
It was in this class I first heard the phrase, “frozen music,” to describe
architecture. The romance of that phrase, added to the fact that my father always had a
keen interest in architecture, motivated me for a while to consider architecture as a
career. The urge passed. It was the design aspect that intrigued me, the engineering
aspect that dissuaded me. Still, to this day I am invariably attracted to architecture
featured in newspapers and magazines.
But Stanley “Johnny” Howe, left, who made little impression at
Benson, and who never publicized his own intentions, went on to
become a major figure in architecture, designing more than 2,700
projects in 34 States, including the famous Rain Forest and Kingdom of
the Sea features at the Omaha Zoo, and a new addition to Benson High
I enrolled in a class on rhetoric. Standing in front of the whole
class to make my first presentation (a review of The Egoist) was sheer
agony. Yet that turned out to be the first of thousands of speeches given during a
lifetime of Christian mission. From that class it was an easy step to the Debating Club,
coached by Miss June Pickard. And it was in the Debating Club that I acquired my
closest friends during high school.
My closest friends were Don Pederson, right, who intended to
become a minister but ended up as a small town lawyer; Leonard
Hammes (photo previous page) who became a corporate lawyer in
Omaha; Garth Lof and Louis Tribulato (photos page 64), both of whom
became doctors; and Dennis Quinn, a student at Tech High whom I met
through debating contests. He became a philosophy professor at the
University of Kansas (photo page
Just before we graduated and parted ways,
Leonard left me the note at left:
Throughout grade school my
Dear Scotty…I cannot help but meditate upon the parents called me Junior. When I
characteristics you possess that are so rarely reached high school they began
found in one individual: intelligence, personality,
and good looks. Yet I must think of you fore-
addressing me as Waldron. But
mostly as the person whose friendship has a among my teenage friends I
depth and quality unequaled by anyone I have insisted on being called Scotty.
known. This was a not-so-unconscious
attempt to identify with my father,
whom everyone knew as Scotty.
My closest female friends were primarily from the Debating Club also. They
included Eva Mae Jennsen, who married Dennis Quinn; Laura Lou Mead, my debating
partner; and Violet Gustafson. The latter two were co-valedictorians with me at our
graduation in 1946 (see page 75).
This extra-curricular activity led to others, like working on the school newspaper
under the mentorship of Gunnar Horn, rumored to be homosexual, and easily the most
popular teacher at Benson during my time there. Our journalism class presented a
program aired over KOWH. I’m in the center of the photo at right, partially hidden by
the mikes. Walnut Hill classmates Eloise
Paustian and Joan Burda are left and front,
respectively. Gunnar Horn is standing.
I joined the Drama Club, playing Mr.
Webb in Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I became
active in school politics. During my senior year I
managed the campaign of a slate of class officers
but was too shy to run for office myself.
Thus, as I look back on my high school
years it is apparent that I was much more fully
engaged in extra-curricular activities than in
regular classes – and that I was much more
interested in words than in math or science.
Later, in college, it was the history and
philosophy of science, not the doing of it, that
enthused me. Even so, my grades overall were high enough to keep me in the academic
upper tenth of my class.
From our class book, The Cupola
During my senior year I
achieved the National Forensic
League’s Degree of Excellence. I
took first place in a district debate
tournament and second place in a
state-wide contest for memorized
orations. For my “memorized
oration” I chose the famous
William Jennings Bryan speech
which climaxed with the line, “You
shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold” (see photo page 63.)
A political populist, Bryan, along with Senator George Norris, was the best-
known Nebraskan of my father’s generation. He ran for President (unsuccessfully) three
times and was Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. An ardent Christian
fundamentalist, he was humiliated by the atheist Clarence Darrow during the notorious
1925 Scopes trial in Tennessee.
The girls in my class were at least one, and often two, years older than I, and
much more socially mature. So I dated infrequently until my senior year when I began
to date Juniors. Other factors contributed to my social ineptness and minimal emotional
intelligence. To be popular one had to be either a “letter man” or a member of the junior
Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). I was neither.
Parenthetically, I note that my father had little interest in sports. When he wasn’t
working, he was studying. The only time I ever saw him demonstrate an overt interest
in a sporting event was in 1945 when the golfer Byron Nelson won 11 championships –
something not even Tiger Woods has accomplished to date. One of Nelson’s victories
was on an Omaha golf course and the tournament was sponsored, in part, by United
Mineral Products, for whom Dad had worked. I’m sure it was only this connection that
piqued his interest.
I had arrived at Benson as a 14-year-old undersized sophomore. Had I joined the
ROTC I would have had, for the next three years, the least seniority of anybody – rank
depending largely on seniority. And I was too proud, or
vain, to end up as a lower-ranking officer. The closest I
ever got to the “in” crowd was when I managed the
winning slate for two class officers: Secretary Peggy
O’Donnell, left, a star athlete; and President Bill Fear,
right, voted “most likely to succeed.” I viewed him as
being in a whole different world than I. Thirty-five
years later I learned just how his life had turned out.
Growing up during the Great Depression, I was very conscious of
class distinctions. My Dad was “a working man.” Yet I had no real insight into
economic distinctions among my classmates. The Plymouth Brethren had conditioned
me to regard “us” as altogether different from “them.” Since our neighborhood was
lower middle class, and since Benson High was located in an upper middle class area, I
simply assumed that most of my classmates were from well-to-do families. This was
irrational, but I was not positioned to see otherwise. Not until much later in life did I
understand that some of the most popular kids in school – for example, the very class
officers whose campaign I managed – were from economic
circumstances little different than my own.
As I mentioned earlier, my family, the Depression, Walnut
Hill Elementary, the Gospel Hall – these were the great
influences of my grade school years. The dominant exterior
influence of my high school years was World War II. The War
was the air we lived and breathed. That is one reason why my
not being in the ROTC motivated me to excel in other areas.
World War II is well documented; no need for me to
rehearse it here. Dad was over-age and served the war effort by
keeping the trains running. (The famed “Red Ball Express” that
carried supplies to the forward lines in France was an army truck Adolph Hitler reviewing
transport system named after railroaders’ expression for a fast troops on the eastern front
We were proud that one of the Normandy invasion zones was called Omaha
Beach. We were inconvenienced by gas rationing and price controls, but took it in
stride. Like other kids my age, I collected scrap iron and saved my dimes to buy war
bonds. And $18.75 bond could be redeemed ten years later for $25. I followed reports
of the European campaigns and looked forward to each new Ernie Pyle column and Bill
Mauldin cartoon (see top of next page).
Sad Sack and Old Joe –
the two most popular
cartoons of World War II,
with their creators, S/Sgt.
George Baker (left) and
Sgt. Bill Mauldin
Midway through high
school, the Allies invaded
France and thereafter the focus of the War shifted from Europe to Asia,
from General Eisenhower’s “Crusade” to General MacArthur’s “Return,”
right. Out in the Pacific General LeMay’s bombers attacked Japan’s
largest cities and destroyed 43% of that nation’s built-up areas. In the
process he de-housed eight million people, killed 900,000 and injured
1,300,000 more. (After the war concluded, LeMay headed up the
Strategic Air Command located at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha.)
Historian David Kennedy writes that “While the
school girls of Japan had been gluing their rice-paper
panels together in sumo arenas, the women of Omaha,
Nebraska were riveting together the fuselages of B-29s
on the assembly line of the Glenn L. Martin aircraft
plant. While Japanese technicians were rigging up the
first balloon gondolas on Ninety-nine League Beach east
of Tokyo, Air Force Colonel Paul Tibbets went to Omaha
to handpick B-29 number 82 off the Martin production
line. He soon renamed it after his mother, Enola Gay.”
The rest, as they say, is history. The “Big Three,”
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, met at Yalta (top photo
at left) to divvy up the
spoils of war. Ameri-
cans began to wake up
to the reality of the
Holocaust. Two days
after my 16th birthday
the first atomic bomb
was tested at Alamo-
gordo, New Mexico.
Roosevelt died, and on
August 6th President
Truman ordered the A-Bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
And before I had finished high school the war was
As a result of what I learned and experienced Above: Generals Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton view
the charred remains of Holocaust victims at Buchenwald.
later in life, my views on war have changed, but as a
teenager I was inspired by the heroics we heard
about daily. I memorized High Flight, a poem
written by a young aviator, John G. Magee, Jr.,
below right, who was born in China, the son of
missionary parents. He was
only 19 years old when he died
Hiroshima after the A-Bomb
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-colored wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds -- and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sun-lit silence. Hovering there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air.
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew –
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.
Benson High had one authentic war hero of its own.
Nile Kinnick was a Benson alumnus who went on to the
University of Iowa, where he won the 1939 Heisman Trophy
as a halfback. A pilot, he too was killed in 1943.
These were exalted times and I awakened to them. I
was gradually perceiving a whole new world utterly different
than the world of the Plymouth Brethren. Subtle shifts in my
worldview were occurring. First suspicions of accepted
authority had been aroused. I could hardly wait to begin
exploring this new world.
Wm. Jennings Bryan, whose “Cross
of Gold” speech I memorized.
Winter on Charles
Street – Above right:
me at age 15; Right:
Mom, with brothers
David and Jimmy
My Closest High School Friends
Joan Caddock Leonard Rodgers Don Pedersen Laura Lou Mead
Bill Knuckles Helen Underwood Leonard Hammes Louis Tribulato
Robin Halquist Garth Lof Joan Burda
Note: the photo of Bill Knuckles, the only close-up I have, was taken twenty years after.
Libido and Conversion
The Big Band Era
At the beginning of World War II the crooner Bing Crosby was still ascendant.
By 1944 he had been replaced in our age group by the new voice of Frank Sinatra, below
right. This was the era of the Big Bands and the music I listened to was played by the
likes of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Harry James.
Pop songs we were singing in 1946 included “Old Buttermilk
Sky,” “To Each His Own,” “I Can’t Begin to Tell You,” and “They Say
It’s Wonderful.” Such tunes seem to me superior to the songs on the
market today – but that’s just a generational thing, I suppose.
Big Band was also the music of our school dances. I wanted
to go to those dances, but I
couldn’t. Dances were taboo
to the Plymouth Brethren, as
was movie-going, drinking,
smoking, and swearing. I
have had a life-long abhor-
rence of cursing. I was never tempted to drink
or smoke during high school. In fact, I doubt if
many of my classmates were. There certainly
was no smoking or drinking at school dances.
By my junior year I had begun to sneak
out for an occasional movie. One of the first
Above: Bing Crosby ones I recall seeing was a war movie starring
behind the mike.
Left: Harry James Dana Andrews. Not till my senior year did I
attempt a school dance. Mom did not
prevent it, and I suspect Dad never knew about it. Actually, I
went to two, one of which was the Senior Prom. Neither was a
very happy experience. I couldn’t dance and was too self-
conscious to be taught on the spot. The girl I took to the Senior Prom, a Junior but my
age, was pretty but extraordinarily vain. Dorothy spent most of the evening combing
her long, blond hair. Occasionally one of my buddies would invite her to dance.
Economically, times were much better because of the war. Dad’s union pay scale
was good, though in some ways working conditions were harsher. As a railroad
switchman and engine foreman he worked out of doors in good weather and bad – and
Nebraska winters can be pretty bad.
Times were good, but not good enough for my mother who, after the hardships of
the Depression, now wanted more than my Dad’s wages could provide. So she rented
out two of our three upstairs bedrooms to young girls who
had come in from Iowa farms to find work in the big city.
Later, but still during the war years, we were able to
purchase our own home at 4524 Charles St, right, halfway
up that long hill we kids used to trudge every day to
school. This house, and the tar-paper shack we lived in
when we first came to Omaha, are the ones that come to
mind when I think of childhood “homes.” After I gradu-
ated from high school Mom renovated the house –
removing the front porch, adding some stone facing and a
big front window. But this is home as I remember it.
Mom not only continued to rent out the upstairs bedrooms, she also became a
care-giver for new-born infants who were up for adoption but not yet placed. (Recall the
earlier snapshot of her and Dad, she with an unidentified baby in her arms.) At times
she would have as many as six to take care of. I became proficient at changing diapers,
mixing formulas, etc.
High school was proving to be more expensive than I expected. So I got an after-
school job at a corner grocery store run by a Jewish family named White. I stocked
canned goods, set out vegetables, packed bags, laid clean sawdust down and swept the
sidewalks. From White’s I acquired a habit I picked up from the owner’s daughter – a
peculiar but distinctive way of forming the capital letter B.
After a year at White’s I had saved up enough money to buy
a second-hand Schwinn bicycle and pursue the job I really wanted
– a paper route. And this was my main source of income during
my junior and senior years.
I had two afternoon routes. The first was in the far west end
of Omaha, an inner suburb. It was a large route, widely spread
out, so I was occupied with it from the time I left school in the
afternoon until dinner time. On Sundays I rose at 4:30, biked
down to the circulation center, rolled my papers into tight
cylinders, and was delivering them at 5:30. The winter months,
when it was pitch dark and the snow was knee deep, were tough.
Before dawn one Sunday morning as I was pitching papers I
paused before a house. One second floor bedroom was brightly lit,
its window unshaded. A nearly nude young woman stood before the window preparing
to dress. I watched transfixed as she fastened her bra, pulled her slip down over her
head and donned her outerwear. I was greatly aroused by the sight and had trouble
keeping my mind on anything else as I carried on
with my route. For some Sundays thereafter I
looked up at that room, hoping to catch another
glimpse, but never did.
After some months on my first route I
managed to wangle a more favorable afternoon
route – two short blocks of three- and four-story
apartment buildings. Life became much easier.
I cannot remember much about my baby
brothers, red-haired David, near right, and Jimmy,
though I imagine I must have taken care of them from time to time, for I do recall baby-
sitting occasionally for our neighbors.
My brother Jerry was two grades behind me at school, so we had little in common
and I can recall virtually nothing related to Jerry during my high school years. It
bothers me now that I didn’t know what was going on in his life, for I can’t help but feel
that apart from school we should have had some interaction leaving a mark in my
memory. The truth is, however, that we were never very close.
Away from high school my life centered on the Gospel Hall. I had two
particularly close male friends there, both of whom I mentioned earlier. Bill Knuckles
was an athlete, six feet, four. I barely reached his shoulder, but we got along well. He
taught me how to tie a Windsor knot. Leonard Rodgers, left, a
prospective engineer, was enrolled at Tech High, so we saw each
other only at church. But we were simpatico and his premature
death as a college freshman raised questions in my mind about the
reality and nature of God’s providence.
In the context of the Gospel Hall I was aware of two girls my
own age. One, whom I needn’t name, had a crush on me for a short
time. One afternoon at Peony Park she insisted I teach her how to
float. She stretched out prone on the water before me, with my arms
under her shoulders and hips. Her pubic mound was strikingly prominent. In my
emerging sexuality I was terribly embarrassed. From that time onward I diligently
avoided her. I’m sure she probably never knew why.
Joan Caddock, right, was the other girl I was aware of. Her
family was one of just two upper middle class families in the
Assembly. (I have already mentioned how self-conscious I had
become of economic class distinctions by my junior year at Benson.)
Her father was a farm boy from Walnut, Iowa who at the Ak-Sar-Ben
arena in Omaha in the year 1917 won the world heavyweight wrestling
championship. The match lasted three hours. He parlayed his fame
into a successful business career and the family lived in an exclusive
neighborhood on the West Side.
Joan was my age, but a year behind me in school, so I never saw much of her
there. But as it happened, my first paper route included the Caddock home. Joan’s
mother was of Dutch lineage; her home was immaculate. She concentrated on the
cultural nourishment of her only daughter. She was unwilling to allow Joan to date
“non-Christians,” by which she meant anyone who was not affiliated with the Plymouth
That left Joan with limited opportunities, so her mother began inviting me in for
tea after I completed my paper route. As planned, Joan would be present, she as shy as
I. Romantically, the whole project was a non-starter from the beginning. Nevertheless
it was exceedingly important to me. It was my first close-up encounter with what I took
to be “culture” since those early days when I was exposed to violin lessons.
I reveled in the quiet, uncrowdedness of the Caddock house, so unlike my own,
and in the gracious behavior of my hostess. I took in the furnishings, the place settings,
the paintings on the walls, the books in their library. This was the kind of life I might
aspire to. In due time Joan married a boy from a Dutch family in Paullina, Iowa. But at
this time she, with her mother, formed my initial concept of human grace and
The summer I turned 16 our family went over to Iowa to attend a week-long Bible
conference. As teenagers I and the other young people paid little attention to the
meetings but concentrated instead on getting to know each other. I met a nice girl and
spent most of my time with her. Her father owned a car and since I was now 16 and
eligible for a license – though I had none – I persuaded her to ask her father to let us
take a drive together. I had never actually driven a car before, but I had watched closely
how others drove and was confident I was up to the challenge. Unfortunately I wasn’t.
We returned with a dent in the front fender. The father forgave me. I’m not sure he
forgave his daughter.
I’m writing about my years 14-16. Many of my more vivid memories have
something to do with sex. As I’ve noted, I was active in extra-curricular activities at
school, and I enjoyed the companionship of my buddies at Benson, but these were my
post-puberty years and my hormones, if not raging, were certainly revved up.
Yet sex was a fascination I could not explore adequately. It was impossible to
discuss it with my parents. I had no older brother or sister to talk to. What I heard at
the Gospel Hall was that sex was an evil, forbidden lust. The friends I had at school
were studious types. Although they were as intrigued by sex as I, we discussed
academics and the war more than girls. (If I had been “in” with the athletes and ROTC
guys, perhaps the story would have been different.) I discovered
masturbation, but it provided only sporadic relief.
So during my high school years I had only one serious
girlfriend, Robin Halquist, left. The surname is Scandinavian but she
was quite un-Norse looking. Robin was olive-complexioned,
Mediterranean, darker than any other girls I knew. No doubt this was
my Albuquerque past catching up with me. Our relationship lasted
less than a semester. Surely she got bored with me. My social skills
were minimal. Because of church taboos I didn’t dance – and she was
an avid dancer. I violated Plymouth Brethren taboos
occasionally by taking her to the movies. Mostly we went
roller-skating, which for some reason was not on the PB
taboo list. Or if it was, my mother allowed it because she was
concerned that I prove myself a normal teen by dating.
Roller skating was a popular American pastime in the
‘40s. At one time there were about 4,000 skating rinks
throughout the country. Skating was cheap, and it was clean.
There was no drinking, no roughhousing. And it was a
daytime as well as an evening option. Roller skating was as
close as I would ever get to learning how to dance.
Robin and I dated during the winter months. Coming
home at night about 10 p.m. we would huddle together on her
front porch, shivering while we engaged in some light petting. Every so often her
mother would call down, “Robin, you should come in now.”
Each summer an Omaha civic organization sponsored outdoor evening concerts
in Elmwood Park. The band played and couples lolled all over the hillside. That
summer I worked in a canning factory. It was hard, hot work, but it was grown-up work,
and it paid well, 85¢ an hour, if I remember correctly. A pretty girl from Council Bluffs,
across the river opposite Omaha, worked there too. She and I attended several of the
aforesaid concerts. On a warm evening it could be very romantic. Afterward we would
take the long streetcar ride, from the park to downtown, then over the bridge to Council
Bluffs, and on to her home. We spent most of these long rides in the back of the
streetcar “smooching,” as we called it in those days.
My Sexual Initiation
But I’ve gotten far ahead of the story of my sexual initiation. It actually began
earlier, at age 14, shortly after we had returned to Omaha from Albuquerque. Our house
on Seward Street had three bedrooms upstairs. One small rear bedroom was mine;
another rear room was Jerry’s. The large front bedroom could house two or three
Lucy G. shared this front room with two other farm girls from Iowa, Grace and
Helen. Having just graduated from high school, they had come to Omaha to find work.
It being wartime, work was easy enough to find. What they paid for board and room
provided part of my mother’s personal income. Lucy was 17, the cutest, most vivacious
of the three. She hit it off with Mom right away. She and Mom used to do aerobic
exercises together – though they weren’t called aerobic in the ‘40s.
In spite of the difference in our ages, Lucy took a liking to me. The other girls
found better-paying jobs working the swing shift, 3:00 to 11:00 p.m. That left Lucy with
the large bedroom to herself in the evenings. So whenever Mom was away at church or
visiting friends, I would be found in Lucy’s room in my pajamas, she being pajama-clad
as well. One time Jerry walked in on us fondling one another. I was afraid he would
report the incident to Mom, but he didn’t.
What Lucy’s motivations were I cannot tell. She dated older boys regularly on
weekends. Why she took it on herself to initiate a 14-year-old, I can hardly imagine. My
own motivation was curiosity and simple lust, which was amply rewarded in spite of the
religious inhibitions that bound me like chains. Looking back on that experience, I am
startled by just how inhibited I was, and how restrained Lucy was. For in spite of the
fact that she allowed me to explore her body thoroughly, we never had intercourse. I
was afraid to try, and she did not particularly encourage me, except on one memorable
Late one night she came into my bedroom, pajama-less, and slipped into bed
with me. Instinctively I knew that she wanted to go “all the way,” but I was too stifled.
When she finally left, unsatisfied, she left her panties with me. I stashed them on top of
the tall wardrobe (there were few built-in closets in these older homes) where, one day
while dusting, my mother discovered them. I feigned ignorance, which she appeared to
accept. Yet shortly thereafter, I learned that Lucy had moved out.
I have difficulty understanding the sexual inhibition I have described, though it
was surely religious in origin, and powerful. When I graduated from high school I was
technically a virgin, still a virgin when I was discharged from military service, still a
virgin at age 25 when I married.
On the other hand, my sexual initiation, my intimacy with a woman, gave me a
heady sense of superiority as I related to other 13- and 14-year-olds around me. I knew I
knew more than they, and was proud of it.
Yet sex remained mysterious. En route home from delivering papers late one
afternoon I bought a 25¢ paperback at the drug store. I remember nothing about the
book except the disconcerting fact that when I finished reading it I had the sense that
homosexual love was the purest kind of love. Whether the writer was discussing
Socrates’ sexual orientation or dispensing pornography, I have no idea.
As I progressed through my high school years I became aware that sex was a
hidden part of life in the Gospel Hall community. A scandal occurred in my junior year.
As I have previously noted, the Patterson family was the leading family in our Assembly.
They had three sons, the youngest named Paul. While informally engaged to a girl
named Joanne, it was discovered that Irene, another girl in the Assembly, was pregnant
– by Paul.
The elders tried to cover up the affair, but were unsuccessful. Even unsophis-
ticates such as I learned all the details. I was confused, because all three young people –
Paul, Joanne, and Irene – were considered model Christians. Here was my first hint
that Assembly believers were not as “separate” from the world as I had been led to
The most important event of my teenage years – and arguably the most
important event of my life – was my conversion to Christ at age 15 in the summer of
This, I see in retrospect, was a multi-level happening. At one level I view it as a
simple rite of passage through which I assured my acceptance as a quasi-adult member
of the Plymouth Brethren community.
At another level, or dimension, it had all the marks of a certain type of pietistic/
evangelical “born again” experience, described well enough in William James’ The
Varieties of Religious Experience. At this level it constituted the resolution of
psychological tensions that had been building up since I was seven years old, at least.
(Recall the bathroom conversation my mother had with me at that age.)
At still another level the experience carried strong Barthian overtones – though I
would be ignorant of the name Karl Barth and neo-orthodox theology for some years to
come. By “Barthian” I mean here to contrast the notions of “getting” saved with
discovering that one has been, or “already is” saved.
The last level is an “ultimate” one, for though I have long since outgrown the first
two dimensions, and would even no longer describe my conversion exclusively in
Barthian terms; nevertheless this event itself has stayed with me all my life. It is the
pivotal point to which I return when I need to explain the overall direction my life has
taken. Because of this permanent dimension I do not doubt that my conversion was a
genuine encounter with God.
How did it come about? An itinerant Plymouth Brethren evangelist/teacher
whose name I have forgotten was touring America. He was Irish. Our assembly favored
Irish and Scottish speakers because of their brogues. The English accent was considered
effete. The Irishman’s meetings were similar to what Baptists call “revivals.” In the PB
context that meant lots of preaching about sin, lostness, hell and damnation, the
prospect of being “left behind” at the Rapture, and the need to “get saved.”
I had just turned 15 the summer of 1944 and could easily identify with “being
lost.” I was hardly an overt sinner, but I had a vigorous sense of guilt and a nagging
conscience, the consequence of my sexual adventures (bland as they might be) and my
sneaking out now and then to a movie. Add to this the shame-based psychology I had
been burdened with from early on, and it becomes clear that I was prepared for the call
The visiting Irish evangelist was invited to teach our Sunday School class. The
class consisted of six of us teenage boys. We met in the basement boiler room of the
Gospel Hall. (In winter this was a favored site; in summer it was uncomfortably hot and
stuffy.) The evangelist went through the lesson rapidly, then got on to what really
concerned him: the state of our souls.
He began with the lad on his right. “Are you a Christian?” he asked. “Yes,” the
boy replied. The evangelist questioned the second boy and received the same answer.
And so it went around the small circle, the same question, the same answer. Finally he
reached me with “Are you a Christian?”
Now the easiest thing in the world would be for me to answer as my fellows did. I
knew all the boys well enough to know that none of them had yet “professed salvation”
and that they were being untruthful in their responses. Some bit of contrariness in me
disdained the easy way out. I felt compelled to answer, “No.”
“Would you like to be?”
“Would you like to get saved right now?”
I hadn’t anticipated that kind of pressure. I squirmed a little, hesitated, and
finally said “Yes.”
“Very good! I’d like you to stay behind for a few minutes when we finish here,
and then we’ll settle this matter once for all. We’ll assure your eternal destiny!”
I stayed behind, embarrassed, but determined to go through with what I had
started. The evangelist opened his Bible and began to present the gospel to me in terms
I had heard a thousand times before. When he finished a half-hour later I was no nearer
to being saved than I had ever been.
Needless to say, my parents were aware of what was occurring. When I got home
they wanted to know if I had got saved. When they learned I had not, they pressed me
to continue attending the meetings the Irishman would be conducting during the
coming week. This I agreed to do.
I sat through the Sunday evening sermon, feeling “convicted” as was expected,
and wanting desperately to “get saved.” To no avail. I had been conditioned to believe
that getting saved was a life-transforming experience. Consequently and perhaps
irrationally I assumed that the manner of getting saved must involve some special act of
faith. If salvation was so special, faith must be some kind of exotic action as well.
I was assured that I had only to “believe,” but I could not connect this belief
required for salvation to the everyday, common-sense notion of belief. For, in truth, I
had always “believed” in God and Jesus. When had I not believed? I was frustrated
and in great emotional turmoil. In PB patois, I was “deeply exercised.”
Sunday night. Monday night. Tuesday night. No relief. Wednesday night.
Midway through the sermon I gave up. Silently I prayed, “God, you know I want to be
saved. But I don’t know how to believe. I’m not going to try any more. If I go to hell,
it’s all Your fault!”
Saying that, I felt a load roll off my shoulders. The matter was settled. Some
people get saved. Others don’t. Some go to heaven; others go to hell. I’m one who will
be spending eternity in hell. Now let me get on with my life. With that I began to think
of other things and paid no heed to the remainder of the sermon. I just wanted the
meeting to finish so I could go home.
The meeting finished. I headed toward the door. Before I could get there Mr.
Harry Hamilton, an electrician about my father’s age, and an elder in the Assembly,
approached me. “Would you like to sit down and talk a bit?” he asked.
It would be impolite to decline, so we sat down together at the rear of the Hall
and he began sharing appropriate passages of Scripture with me. “Believe on the Lord
Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth… and
believe in thine heart…thou shalt be saved.” And so on. (Only the King James version
was used in those days.)
The passages meant nothing to me. I knew them all by heart. The problem
wasn’t that I didn’t know what to do – believe! – but that I had believed in Jesus all my
life, yet I was, in everyone’s judgment, including my own, “lost.” Obviously, some factor was
missing in this equation. Mr. Hamilton turned to another passage, I John 5:11-13.
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in
his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God
hath not life. These things have I written unto you that [already] believe on
the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and
that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
The third sentence, in which I have inserted a parenthesis and have underlined,
came as a revelation to me. I understood! It was not a matter of my having to believe in
some special way. It was a matter of my knowing I was already saved because I already
I turned to Mr. Hamilton. “I know I’m saved.” Total assurance, total relief –
quite unlike the relief I had felt only a half-hour earlier when in despair I had
capitulated. Mr. Hamilton said a short prayer with me, after which I ran home to tell my
The process of scientific discovery consists of four events of unequal duration:
preparation, incubation, illumination, verification. My preparation had gone on for 15
years. The incubation lasted a few days, during which I was disencumbered of the
psychological tension that had paralyzed my mind and emotions. Then the moment of
illumination. When I reported my salvation, Mom wept with joy. Dad, a man of few
words, merely responded, “We’ll see” – a clear reference to the fourth stage: verification.
Years later I was able to interpret this experience as
famed theologian Karl Barth, left, might: one doesn’t urge
people to “get saved;” one proclaims the good news that they are
already saved. As the Apostle Paul announced, “God was in
Christ, reconciling the world to himself, not imputing their tres-
passes unto them.”
As a new convert I began carrying a New Testament with
me and reading it regularly. Six weeks later I was baptized –
immersed, according to the Plymouth Brethren rite – while the
congregation sang, “O Happy Day!”
I threw myself into the Assembly’s outreach activities. I joined the ad hoc choir
that sang in hospital patient wards Sunday afternoons. I enjoyed learning how to sing
“parts,” though I had no particular gift for music. I participated in the Saturday night
outdoor street meetings we conducted in small towns surrounding Omaha. My role was
to give my testimony. I found these public meetings excruciating, exceedingly
embarrassing. But I knew I had to “endure hardship” for Jesus, so I persisted.
At the same time, I was old enough to recognize a certain amateurishness about
these exercises and a certain futility as well. I understand now that the real problem for
me personally was that of exposure, which is at the root of a shame complex. Instead of
these activities building up my confidence, as they were designed to do, they increased
my sense of shame, exactly what I didn’t need.
There was one bright spot in all this. The electrician who was present at my
moment of illumination, Harry Hamilton, and his wife Louise, took it upon themselves
to nourish my new faith. They lived on Military Avenue. I got into the habit, at their
suggestion, of dropping in on them. We sat at the dining room table, drinking milk and
eating cookies while discussing Bible texts and their relationship to everyday life.
Later I would learn from The Navigators to call their behavior “follow up.” At the
time I saw it as welcome friendship and guidance. Harry Hamilton gave me my first
genuine leather-bound Bible, a Scofield Reference edition that must have set him back
five or six dollars – a substantial sum in those days. I still have that Bible.
I want to insert something here out of chronological order in order to draw the
connection between Harry and Louise Hamilton, so important to my early growth as a
Christian, and Bill Fear, the fellow whose election as senior class president I managed,
the boy our class voted “most likely to succeed.”
Bill, whose photo is back on page 57, did not live up to his early promise. He did
not go to college, but found work as a salesman. He drifted into a classically mediocre
life until, sometime around age 40, he ran into Harry, who by then would have been
approaching 70. Harry led Bill into a personal relationship with Christ and Bill, in turn,
threw himself into the life of the Plymouth Brethren with all the zeal of a new convert.
When I crossed paths with Bill at our 35th anniversary class reunion, he appeared to me
to have become an overzealous and dogmatic fanatic.
But by the time of our 40th anniversary reunion a remarkable change had
occurred. Through a random set of circumstances, which both he and I would describe
as providential, Bill and his wife had developed a successful program called Overcomers
for people recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. The program operates today in a
number of States, with Bill and his wife having developed all of the written materials
that accompany the program.
University of Denver Seminar
Now back to my own story. During the summer between my junior and senior
high school years, which is to say shortly after my conversion, I was offered the
opportunity to participate in a special summer session for debaters and drama students
at the University of Denver. I was exuberant at the prospect; the only problem was
money. I needed a couple of hundred dollars right away.
Mr. Earl Caddock, Joan’s father, came to the rescue, arranging for me to be
employed at his brother’s feed mill. My task, for eight hours a day, was to grab a burlap
bag, twist the corners into ears, hold the bag by the ears under a chute, manipulate a
lever so that just the right amount of grain – t0 or 80 lbs., depending – poured into the
bag, and then, utilizing an oversize needle and twine, sew up the top of the bag and stack
it on a pile. It was hard, hot work and demanded some skill. I enjoyed it while it lasted.
The Denver seminar included 40 students from Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska and,
of course, Colorado. Dennis Quinn, my friend from Tech High, and a couple of my own
Benson High classmates were among those participating. We had to select partners for
the term. I asked Laura Lou Mead, the most accomplished debater at Benson, to be my
partner. To my surprise, she agreed. At the end of the six-week session we were ranked
second overall. Had she had a better partner than I, they would have come in first, no
One night I swiped the keys to a school bus from the front office and a dozen of us
went on an all-night joy ride out to a red rock amphitheatre in the western suburbs of
Denver. We were never questioned about our escapade. (Maybe every seminar class
does this; maybe the administration left the keys available on purpose.)
I took a liking to Joyce Tate from Cheyenne and we spent a good part of the
seminar together. One evening we went to a concert. But at dinner I had eaten some
concoction laden with beans, not knowing at the time the probable consequences.
Hardly had Act One got underway when I had an urgent need to pass gas. I held off as
University of Denver Seminar, Summer 1945. I’m just left of center, third row back. Red
arrow. Dennis Quinn, third from right, front row. Eva Mae Jennsen and Eloise Paustian,
upper right hand corner. Joyce Tate is to my right and Laura Lou Mead on her right.
Lois Brady, just under the tall fellow in the back row.
long as I could, but eventually had to give way to nature. This was my most
embarrassing moment of the summer.
Back in Omaha, as graduation day approached three of us were elected (by
faculty vote) as co-Valedictorians. The other two were my partner Laura Lou Mead and
Violet Gustafson, a Walnut Hill classmate. Each of us gave eight-minute speeches.
Mine was based on an Old Testament text, “Ye shall not go out with haste” (Isaiah
52:12). I interpreted this as suggesting that we graduates were not being sent out into
the world unprepared.
Mom and Dad attended the commencement ceremony which was held at
Technical High School, for Benson’s auditorium was not large enough to seat all the
parents and student present. I am sure my parents were proud of me, but not much was
said afterward. Such emotions were not easily expressed in our family, particularly by
my father. I received two
scholarships, one to the
University of Nebraska at
Lincoln, the other to the
University of Omaha. But
as it happened, I took
advantage of neither.
More High School Friends
(not previously pictured)
Ruth Westgate Jimmy Krist Lois Brady Don Saroyan
Dennis Quinn Eloise Paustian Violet Gustafson
Dennis Quinn attended Technical High School, so I don’t have a
photo of him. Ruth Westgate organized our Walnut Hill reunions
The Graduate, posing
Dorothy Hume, my Prom date
End of Part One