In the summer of 1969, Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I watched the fuzzy black and white images being broadcast live while sleeping1 on my grandparents' living room floor. I heard the words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” about six seconds after he spoke them (allowing for various propagation delays en route).
A few weeks later, we moved from our little house on 3185 Gilbert to 545 Potter Dr., a much more upscale dwelling in the West End of Beaumont. I started school that fall in Amelia Elementary, where I was instantly designated “the new kid.”
It was quite a change for me, socially. At Fehl (my prior elementary school), I had been one of the “in crowd.” Everyone wanted to be friends with me, and I was very nearly the king of the playground.
The neighborhood around Fehl was definitely lower-middle class, but everyone was friendly. Amelia was definitely upwardly-mobile, middle-middle class, and no one had any clue at all who I was (nor did they care). Of course, this analysis is based on much after-the-fact looking back; at the time, I just knew that I had few friends and certainly no longer stood out among my peers. I cannot comment on the benefits provided by my relative anonymity.
I did well in classes, and the next few years went by in unmemorable blandness. There was one major exception to the “unmemorable blandness”: in January, 1970, my church, Memorial Methodist, hosted a lay witness mission.2 (A “lay witness mission” was an evangelical movement or program, mostly Methodist, in which laypeople would travel to another congregation and share their personal “witness,” or the story of their faith.) My parents, and indeed my whole family, had been active church members until this point, but this event marked a noticeable shift from mere church participation to becoming more “evangelical” in their faith.
There were few immediate impacts on me with this change in my parents' life. (I should also mention that the lay witness mission also had a large impact on my brother Ted. It was there, I believe, that he first felt the stirrings of a call to ministry that ultimately resulted in his ordination as an Elder of the United Methodist Church.)
We started attending a new church, Cathedral In The Pines Christian Center, a church that was loosely affiliated with the Assembly of God. We also acquired, slightly used, an Apache pop-up camping trailer. We called it a “tent camper,” but the pop-up sides were actually ABS plastic, not canvas, so it was a bit more sturdy than most of them. My father altered it to include an air conditioner (mandatory for the Texas summers) and we used it all over the place for many years.
We spent a number of summers on the frigid Guadalupe River near New Braunfels, Texas. We rode inner tubes down the river from Canyon Dam to our campsite, and I spent hours and hours fishing. My favorite trick was to use a small hook with a light weight about a foot above it. I would attach a hellgrammite to the hook through it’s hard collar and cast it towards a likely spot. The free line beyond the weight would allow the hellgrammite to crawl around naturally, and it would soon be attacked by a perch or trout, which I would then hook and capture.
Hellgrammites are tough little critters; one afternoon, I caught fourteen bluegill perch on a single bug. One day we left the trailer at the campsite and went into San Antonio to visit the Alamo and Brackenridge Park. When we returned to the campsite around 5PM that evening, the entire lower end of the campsite was under about three feet of water, including our campsite. We were filled with fear that we had lost the trailer, but it turned out that the owners of the campground had received notice of the water release from Canyon Dam, and they attached our trailer to a truck and moved it elsewhere. Things inside were somewhat disheveled, but it was all safe.
At the end of sixth grade, I joined Little League. Almost certainly as a result of my father’s influence (he was a die-hard baseball fan, to the extent that he named two of his sons after baseball players3), I had developed a love for baseball. This was the first opportunity I had to actually participate. I still remember the tryouts; probably one of the most nerve-wracking events I have ever been a part of.
I did reasonably well, and I was a pretty big kid, so I got selected for a “senior-league” team. My best friend at the time (who had convinced me to tryout), did not make the senior league, and he never spoke to me again. As a baseball player, I was enthusiastic but, frankly, not very good. I can only remember getting a couple of hits that season, and I was usually relegated to the depths of left field. I do not recall how well the team did, and I only played that one year.
The next autumn I started Middle School: a small step for some, but a giant leap for me.
Ok, I wasn’t really sleeping. I was in a sleeping bag, it was night, it was late, and we were preparing to sleep. But not actually sleeping. Satisfied? ↩︎
I admit that I’m a bit perplexed. This is the first instance in my recent memory where Wikipedia failed to come up with a reference. There is no article on “lay witness missions” at all, but there are tons of other references on the web. ↩︎
Warren (Spahn) and Ted (Williams). ↩︎