Wednesday, December 26, 2012

MY INTERVIEW FOR AN ATHLETIC SCHOLARSHIP TO NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY



       That we had no editorial control over the paragraph in the annual Christmas letter that described our achievements of the past year was sometimes an embarrassment.  Adolescents, vulnerable and literal minded, do not like to have the spotlight turned on them.  Above all, they do not wish to seem to be bragging. Most would rather play down than play up their accomplishments. 
          Teens also have a natural sense of right and wrong that some adults have lost through too many struggles between what they know to be true and their egos.   Mom was modest in saying anything about her achievements and in fact was skeptical of honors conferred by the world.  Dad, always eager to promote himself and his family, seemed to think that modesty was one of the seven deadly sins.
          So I did not see and had no chance to cut or alter the item on me in which my modest accomplishments as a high school athlete were made much of.  I could not reasonably object to "He played on the district champion high school basketball team."  That was correct as far as it went but would have more accurately read, "Was a member of the district champion high school basketball team."  I occasionally played at the end of a game when our best players had piled up a massive point advantage.  But the truth was I was a member of the second five and did most of my playing in scrimmages against the outstanding six or seven team members that won the championship.  
          But far more embarrassing is what dad wrote about my football exploits as follows:
“Recently the sports editor of “The Santa Fe New Mexican” spoke of him as ‘One of the top gridiron starts in Northern New Mexico." After all these years I managed to find the actual quote.

“It’s too bad that Lewie Luchs played on a losing team at Los Alamos this season.  He and Monte Hamilton, the latter stricken by appendicitis were among the top gridiron stars in northern New Mexico.”  
         
     Behind that simple quote from the sports editor’s pen is a story of confusing me with my brother Mark. Mark was an outstanding football player who had been selected to co-captain the Los Alamos team the following year. As left end I lined up beside Mark who anchored that side of the line at left tackle.  So there were two Luchs next to each other. To make the confusion more excusable, Mark's number was 36, mine 46.  Moreover, the sports editor was known to tipple while covering games.    
          There is another possible reason for the sports editor’s confusion about my role on the team.  He did not always attend our games but he was at the only game, in Taos, New Mexico, during which I caught two touchdown passes, the first a mistaken throw by a substitute quarterback.  So the editor of “The Santa Fe New Mexican” saw my season's best performance and if he added the outstanding blocking and tackling of my brother Mark, he could reasonably have concluded that Luchs was a name to contend with on the playing fields of northern New Mexico that year.   He certainly convinced Father.  In dad’s mind I was a sports star with a serious case of false modesty.
          I stayed in New Mexico to begin university when the family moved back East to Evanston, Illinois because I was awarded a full scholarship there and because, at that juncture, my mental health required that I be at least 1500 miles distant from my father.  There were other reasons to stay in New Mexico.  One of them had long dark hair and clear brown eyes.  The other was the University of New Mexico’s outstanding department of anthropology. 
          But after one year in Albuquerque, as the romance simmered down and I was feeling lost in the anonymity of a large state university, I decided to follow my family east to Evanston, Illinois.  At eighteen I could see some wisdom in what mom had suggested when I was 17; that I was a good candidate for a small liberal arts college.  But I did not begin applications to transfer to another college or university soon enough to please Father.  He began dropping catalogs and application forms on my bed, including one of his Alma mater, Franklin and Marshall.    
          One morning as I was going off to my summer job at a steel company in North Chicago, Father said:

"Lewis, my boy, there’s someone over at Northwestern University that I would like you to meet.”   
         
       That night I found one of his cryptic notes on my bed with a name and telephone number.   I recognized at once another campaign to get me to do something he wanted and I knew he would pester me night and day until I agreed to see whoever it was that he wanted me to meet.  In an effort to smoke him out, I said I assumed I could meet his friend while wearing jeans and a clean T-Shirt.  He said that would be fine.  I assumed, I said, it would be OK to see his friend on Saturday morning since I was working during the week and did not feel like seeing anyone in the evening.  He said that would be fine.  So, without actually having obtained my consent, he arranged a meeting with his friend at Northwestern for the following Saturday.
          The building that fit the address Father had given me was of gray stone, large and imposing, a Northwestern University administration building on Orrington Avenue in Evanston.  I climbed up a wide, long flight of stairs and was ushered into a large room with dark wood walnut doors and trim, furnished with dark overstuffed chairs and Persian carpets.  The art work on the walls was lighted with small brass lamps as in a museum.   A single secretary, a trim brown-haired woman in a tailored suit, sat at a walnut desk.  The room was as silent as it was large, as so often are the anterooms to power.  I felt out of place, intimidated.  Self-conscious in my T-shirt, jeans, and white tennis shoes, I wished I had never agreed to come.  Damn! I said to myself, now what has Father got me into?

"Yes, young man, may I help you?"
"I’ve come to see a friend of my father's.  I have an appointment at 11."
"Oh, you must be Dr. Luchs' son.  Sit down, won't you?  Dr. Allen will be with you in a few minutes.  He's on the phone."
          So I sat down, uncomfortably, all 5 feet 10 inches and 150 pounds of me on the edge of a large dark brown overstuffed leather chair, while she let Dr. Allen know I had arrived.   I was nervous and could feel perspiration trickling from under my arms even though the room was well air conditioned.  I wondered who Dr. Allen was.  I was feeling trapped.  My impulse was to run out the door.  But my feet were heavy.  I could barely make them move.   

Ten minutes or so later the secretary said:

"You may go in now.  Dr. Allen is ready to see you."

          I got to my feet slowly, my body feeling like a large glob of inert protoplasm.  I somehow pushed myself through the dark wood double door of Dr. Allen's office.  His office was even more spacious than that of his secretary.  Dark wood bookcases lined the walls and there were full length French windows.  There were more ever more vast dark Persian rugs.  More lighted portraits.  I had rarely been in such luxurious surroundings.  My white tennis shoes seemed to disappear into the carpets.  Dr. Allen’s massive walnut desk opposite the door I had entered seemed to be 30 yards away.
          He spryly stepped from behind his large desk and strode vigorously towards me.  He was impeccably dressed in a charcoal pinstripe three-piece suit with red strep necktie.  He shook my hand vigorously and said,

"Well, well!   You must be Lewis.  I am very happy to meet you." 

I managed to mumble that I was happy to meet him, too, one of the biggest fibs I ever told.  I noticed he was looking me up and down, toe to crown, as if I was a thoroughbred horse, which only made me more uncomfortable.

Then he said,

"You're not very tall.  You must be very fast."
"Very fast???  I was confused.
“Yes,” he continued, your father wants us to offer you a basketball scholarship to Northwestern.”

A basketball scholarship to Northwestern University!!!?  When I wouldn’t dream of trying out for a varsity team in a small liberal arts college!

          Though deeply embarrassed I managed to thank Dr. Allen, turned away and left the building.  I was furious with Father.  I vowed I would never again fall for his line, “There’s someone I would like you to meet.”   In August I wrote Beloit College in Wisconsin to request an application form and in late September was enrolled there, odd as that may seem in today’s world of highly competitive and complicated college application processes. Beloit, with a first-class department of anthropology, excellent teaching, small classes and informal relations between students and faculty, turned out to be a right choice for me. 

   

 


Friday, December 21, 2012

Rabbits as Our Totems



         Mom noted in her journal of our first week in Athens how we had run like scared rabbits from a large friendly dog when we visited Happy Howell’s plant nursery, a sight she said she would never forget.  We had never had pets in our lives and when we arrived in Athens we feared dogs almost as much as we feared policemen.  Because I showed a special interest in rabbits our first year in the manse the Luchs gave me a white rabbit.  My first oil painting in Mary Leonard’s art class at Rufus Putnam was of whimsical pink, blue and purple rabbits.  My brothers and sister also seemed to be fascinated by rabbits.  Rabbits appeared repeatedly in our school art work and in our dreams.
          I’ve sometimes wondered if there was a connection between our interest in rabbits, among the most vulnerable of nature’s creatures, and our own sense of vulnerability.  As an adult artist and for over a decade my brother Michael created the image of a rabbit in different media again and again. His rabbits were leonine, reminiscent of the lions in repose at the entrance to art museums and libraries, their fore limbs extended in front of them, their majestic heads held high.  Secure in their strength, Michael’s rabbits were confident and invulnerable monarchs. During one period some of Michael’s majestic rabbits were caged and he once painted a series of squirrels carrying AK-47’s, well prepared to defend themselves against human hunters.   In his art Michael turned the world upside down.  The last shall be first, his paintings and sculptures of animals seemed to say, the weakest and most vulnerable shall be strongest.    So often did rabbits appear in our lives I wondered if the rabbit was our totem animal.   We were becoming Luchs, which means lynx in Swiss-German, agile and formidable forest cats.  But inside and for a long time I think we remained rabbits.
                                             Hunting with Father
          Dad’s father, Simon Luchs, was an expert marksman, which accounted for some of Simon’s popularity as a leader in the Swiss community of Ridgway, Pennsylvania.  Simon enjoyed hunting.  He also liked to dance and drink with his friends in beer gardens on Sunday afternoons.  On Sunday mornings, however, in the Swiss manner, Simon taught a Sunday school class, directed the church choir, and sang with his beautiful voice.  Then he returned to church after an afternoon of dancing and beer drinking for the evening service.  At dad’s baptism Simon raised high his second son so that all present could see the infant boy and announced, “This son will be a preacher,” a calling of high status in the Swiss villages from which most of the Ridgway Swiss had come. 
Simon died of typhoid three years later.  At one point during the funeral in loud, clear, Swiss-German words, dad announced, “I want peanuts!”  For the rest of his life dad spoke of the hardship of growing up without a father. One connection he felt to the father he hardly knew was his skill and pleasure in hunting. 
Father mostly hunted with shotguns for squirrels and rabbits, and if he flushed any, fired at grouse and pheasants or an occasional fox.  There were then no deer or bear or coyote in Athens County as there are now.  One of his frequent hunting buddies was Thor Olsen, a world champion wrestler and then trainer and wrestling coach for Ohio University.  Thor coached and trained for 36 years without missing a day.  As the older man I remember, Thor had a full head of brush-cut gray hair and was so solid and muscle bound that when he walked, his body pitched from side to side.  His wife, to be sure, was unnaturally thin.   
     As we grew up dad encouraged our wish to go hunting with him.  He purchased old, well-used shot guns for us.  He also bought a handsome pedigreed beagle named Bobby at a bargain price.  Cheaply purchased Bobby turned out to have a beautiful bark but no nose, which Bobby’s previous master had surely known.  Disappointed with Bobby’s performance, Father searched for a solution. 
                                               Paul McVey
     One of the men we sometimes hunted with was Paul McVey.  Paul had some kind of non-academic job at the university but I knew him as a skilled hunter who could find and even see rabbits in places we could not.  Paul could put half a dozen rabbits before our guns in an afternoon without any help from dogs.  He wore loose-fitting blue bib overalls over a red or gray union suit and a pair of the brown boots we called clodhoppers.  He was a big man with a heavy shock of black head hair but, as was then more often the practice, was clean shaven.
     Paul lived in a dark gray unpainted board and batten house of one story with four small rooms heated by a pot-bellied stove, humble even by the standards of Athens County.  I was amazed as a boy that a man who knew so much about rabbits and rabbit hunting could live in such a modest house because skilled rabbit hunters and men able to train beagles to hunt rabbits were high on my list of heroes.  At age twelve I would have elected Paul McVey mayor of Athens.   When we went out without dogs on the farm where Paul lived he would walk down through the briar filled valleys and then would suddenly stop.  He would point to a rabbit and then to the direction the rabbit would probably run when jumped. 
          At age thirteen I had graduated from a b-b gun to a single shot 410/22 over and under. I lifted the gun to my shoulder and pointed it in the direction Paul had indicated the rabbit would run.  He jumped the rabbit.  I got a shot from the shoulder immediately and missed.  My brother lifted his gun to his shoulder and dropped the rabbit.  Paul said to me, “You'll never hit anything if you shoulder your gun and aim before you can shoot.  You have to do them together. Lifting your gun to your shoulder is part of your aiming.”  Having Paul along was better than having a dog.   
          When Paul acquired a dog, a beagle-fox hound mix, he named it Whitey.  Whitey had one serious defect in a hunting dog.  He was mute.  But Paul kept him because he was a superb tracker.  Father’s solution to his dog without a nose and Paul’s dog which was mute, was to pair his handsome pedigreed beagle with the beautiful howl but no nose with Paul’s mixed-bred Whitey, who was a superb scent tracker. 
          On sunny days in late September and early October we would run the two dogs across the colorful autumn hillsides of farms in Athens County before the hunting season began.  Those were probably our best times as father and sons, tromping through browning pastures and dried corn fields and blazing woods of maple and oak and hickory on sky blue October afternoons with the mellow smells of harvest in the air.  I loved the sound of stillness in the fields and woods.  The only noise other than Bobby baying in the distance was the wind in its many moods and the crunch of the earth and the snapping of twigs and the rustle of dried leaves under our boots.    When working the dogs we jumped on farmer’s brush piles to scare rabbits out and then watched from one hillside as Bobby and Whitey, the mutually dependent twosome, pursued a rabbit on the other, their snuffling noses close to the ground.  We often had front row seats to observe their prey double back and forth across the opposite hillside, sometimes slowly hopping, sometimes stopping to listen, sometimes running quietly, and working always to confuse the pursuing hounds.  I most enjoyed watching the wily rabbit double back and stand silently only three feet from the pursuing hounds and not be seen, so intent were the dogs on pursuing the rabbit’s scent with their noses on the ground.  Finally the rabbit would complete his circle of evasion and jump back into his warren.  When the dogs pulled up a few minutes later, they could only yelp and paw the ground around the burrow entrance in frustration.
                                      Why I Never Hunted Again
  Going into the field later with shot guns was a different matter.  Father taught us gun safety; pointing the barrel down, where and how to place a gun when climbing a barbed wire fence, and double checking to be sure we had pulled the red shells with their brass heads from our guns before we walked off the field to the car.  When we began to hunt with him it was an adventure full of excitements; carrying a real loaded shotgun; suddenly jumping a cottontail rabbit; sensing the wildness in nature and scanning the stark winter woods and gray November skies; feeling the cold sleet or snow driving into our faces in late November and early December. Twice we got lost. Once, on the day before Thanksgiving, we were caught in the season’s first snow storm.  Cold wet flakes struck our faces in a near whiteout as the temperature fell and an early winter’s night approached as we trudged though barely visible meadows and corn fields.  We somehow found our way back to human warmth in the face of a friendly farmer only after two hours of searching for the country road along which Father had parked the green Buick.  Our clothes were soaked with moist snow.  The bitter cold seemed to have invaded our bones. We could not stop shivering.  We were ravenously hungry. The farmer’s wife cooked some homemade sausage patties which she put between thick slices of homemade bread that we devoured as we warmed up.  I remember those sandwiches as among the most delicious food I have ever eaten. Then the farmer helped us find our green Buick.
          We continued to hunt together, father and sons, but the animal kingdom did not have much to fear from me.  My old 20 gauge bolt action shotgun, another of Dad’s “bargains,” sometimes jammed and I was at best a mediocre marksman.  Once we jumped a rabbit a few feet in front of me that bounded away, its white tail rising and falling to my right in the direction of my brother Mark.  I raised my gun but did not shoot because it did not seem safe to do so.
           ”Why didn’t you shoot?  Dad shouted. 
          “I don’t know,” I shouted back.  
          Eventually the rabbit circled around, as they always do, towards his burrow.  I saw him running up along the ridge of a meadow above me some 20 yards away. I quickly raised my shotgun and fired without thinking at all.  The rabbit tumbled.   I ran over to him, surprised that I had made such a good shot, my heart beating wildly.
          He lay entirely still but was not dead and was looking directly at me with large brown fearful eyes.  He was exhausted from running, his small body steaming in the cold.  The grey-brown fur on his chest rose and fell rapidly.  I could feel the pulsing of his body in mine.   His gentle warm eyes seemed so familiar and yet seemed to come from a place I had never been.  I knew what I had to do, what I had been taught to do, however much I dreaded doing it.  I took his hind legs in my hand, placed my booted foot gently on the rabbit’s head and pulled, amazed at how easily the lower body pulled away from the head.  Tufts of gray fur with speckles of blood in them made a ring around his neck.   I avoided looking again at the rabbit’s head.  I carried the headless body by the hind legs to my father who placed the decapitated rabbit in a pouch around the back of his tan hunting coat. 
           “Well done, son” Father said.  “That was a good shot.”    
          I never hunted again.


 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Los Alamos: Coming of Age in the Atomic City PART II




LOS ALAMOS; COMING OF AGE IN THE ATOMIC CITY         
                                                Part II


Dr. Coit and Erik Erikson

          Only once did my adoptive mother think my behavior required the attentions of a psychiatrist. That was in Los Alamos when I had just turned sixteen and was deep in the emotional turbulence of the teens.  My adoptive parents found me moody, uncooperative, rebellious, and irritable.  I insisted on wearing my Levi jeans tight and low and had begun talking and acting like a movie star of the l950s, James Dean, the rebel without a cause. Mom and dad raised the possibility of spending my senior year of high school at a military academy in Roswell, New Mexico.  As much as I would have loved to be separated from my adoptive father at that point in my life, the prospect of transferring to a military academy held no charms for me.  I had developed new friendships; I was actively involved in varsity athletics, I enjoyed life in Los Alamos.  A month or so later my mother brought up another possibility.  There was a woman, she said, one afternoon as the two of us sat in front of a fire in our cozy log and stone living room, who she wanted me to meet.  Dr. Coit, a psychiatrist.  She lived in Santa Fe on a small ranch.  The mere word psychiatrist created waves of anxiety that flowed through me.  At first I resisted such a meeting and at great length but finally agreed to accept an appointment with Dr. Coit.  Helen Coit spent half a day talking with me, observing, asking questions, and putting me through a series of written tests.  At the end of the session I was dismissed and my mother was invited into Dr. Coit’s office.    Mom told me later that Dr. Coit began with a serious look on her face, saying, “You have a serious problem.  Your son is suffering from a difficult condition.”  Then Dr. Coit smiled.  “It’s commonly called adolescence,” she continued.  “Otherwise,” she said, “Your son is a sensitive but normal sixteen-year-old male.”  Dr. Coit added that she was impressed with my maturity and wished to offer me a position as a junior counselor at her camp for disturbed children the following summer.   My mother, perplexed but greatly relieved, was light-hearted and smiled a lot as she shared Dr. Coit’s diagnosis with me over our lunch at a New Mexican restaurant.      
Some years later, as I matured in adulthood, I began to see my difference as an adoptee not as something to regret but as something special, an experience few of my peers had.  I grew into looking at my early history differently.  I saw the same reality but through a different lens.    I came to realize I did not have to repeat the sad life stories of my biological parents.  I had been freed to create myself, to become my own man.  
I later found confirmation of this insight in the life and work of Erik Erikson, the father of American identity studies.  I did not know as I struggled with the question of my identity that Erik Erikson had faced the same issue.    Both the development of identity and adoption were primary personal concerns for Erikson.  His biological father was a mysterious Danish man who left his Mother, Karla Abrahamsen, before Erik was born.  When his mother subsequently married Dr. Theodor Homberger, Erik’s pediatrician and German and Jewish like his mother, Homberger adopted Erik. So Erik became Erik Homberger, a tall, blond, blue-eyed boy, who was also Jewish.  Amongst his Jewish boyfriends, he was teased for being Nordic and among non-Jewish friends was teased for being Jewish.  Identity and adoption became the great themes of Erikson’s life.  Friends reported that he talked about them all the time. 
Years later when he became an American citizen, Erikson assumed the new name of Erik Homberger Erikson.  No one seemed to know where he got the last name, since he had never searched for his biological father or even knew that father’s name, but his name change was not rejection of his Jewish adoptive father, whom he admired and loved, nor a rejection of his own Jewish heritage.  When an American adoptee asked why he had never searched for his Father, Erikson said that perhaps it was better to keep his fantasy.
“We create ourselves in a way.  When I became an American citizen I realized that I could take a name of my own choosing.  I made myself my own son.  It is better to be your own originator.”    I agree with Erikson.  It is better to be your own originator.   There is tremendous freedom in that.  Blood families can sometimes be burdens, realities to overcome.  Mine was such a family.  I had to escape them to be free.  Abandonment, as painful as such separation can be for a child, can be a new freedom if we choose to make it so.   It seems to me that soon or later in life most of us realize we are our own creations.   Erikson certainly believed that we all create our own identities.  Some chose to make their biological family history part of their identity.  Others, such as I, do not.  It would have been easier if I had known Erikson’s history when as a teenager I worked through the issue of my identity.  When you are a teenager it is especially important to know that you are not alone.  Others, including some famous others, have dealt with the same issues.  Knowing that then would have made my own struggles with identity easier. 
Skytop Ranch Camp
One of my best memories during the three years I lived in New Mexico was the summer I worked at Skytop, Helen Coit’s ranch camp for children five miles east of Santa Fe.  I was 16 years old, happy to have a summer job and even happier to be away from my father.  I was the counselor for half a dozen six and seven-year-old boys and the assistant to Eddie Nao, a man in his early 40s, who owned the seven or eight mares and geldings the children in the camp rode.  His own horse was a handsome brown and white stallion named Ranger.  I learned a lot about horses that summer, information I wish I had had when we were trying to domesticate the obstinate pony, Ginger, during our Knox summers.  
I accompanied most rides on our weekly schedule.  I rode a three-year-old palomino mare named Blondie at the end of our column while Eddie Nao led us.  I grew fond of Blondie, a gentle mare, and had almost made her my own for only $90 when Father decided he had had enough of trying to hold the United Church together and accepted the pastorate of a large Congregational Church in Evanston, Illinois.  Near the end of the summer we castrated Ranger because Eddie Nao no longer needed him for breeding, and when they were in heat, Ranger’s presence made Blondie and the other mares difficult to handle when they were in heat.   
Dr. Coit’s concept for the ranch camp was to mix disturbed and normal children in roughly equal proportions because she believed that such a formula helped the disturbed children.  Such a program also enabled her to observe the children with problems or needing medications and do whatever was necessary to support them.  Her partner, Waggoner, a friendly presence nicknamed Wag, was a psychiatric social worker with New Mexico’s social services.  Waggoner spent most of her day in a government building in town down Santa Fe.  Both divorced, the two women had linked up in New York City and came to New Mexico seeking a new life together.   Helen was in her mid-50s, was thin and small, with a little pot belly and brown medium length hair.  She always wore tan slacks. Waggoner was of normal height, also in her 50s, and enjoyed eating and drinking bourbon --- which Helen sipped throughout the day --- each evening after work.
The other counselors were University of New Mexico students from Albuquerque, all psychology majors.   Evan was tall, strongly built and a red head.  Ed was of medium height with curly black hair and had a gentle scholarly manner about him.  Ed and Evan were working on graduate degrees in psychology.  The other counselor, Norma, a young woman in charge of the girl campers was also, I think, a student in psychology.  Evan and Norma were either romantically involved before they arrived at Skytop or became so during the course of the summer. 
The residence for Helen and Wag, and the camp headquarters, was a one-story ranch house more or less like the adobe residences common in Santa Fe but constructed of plastered cement blocs.  It was comfortable and had enough room to provide a large living, sitting room and a dining room big enough to accommodate campers and counselors.  Once each week the cook would prepare green chili and sofa pillas, a meal I looked forward to all week.  Simple wood frame dormitories slept six or seven campers each and a counselor.  
Cats were a passion of Helen and Wag.  There were at least a dozen on the property.  One of the summer’s crises was created when a neighbor’s pack of dogs raced through the property at night and managed to kill two cats.  
Eddie Nao, the man with the horses, had married a German woman he met during his US army service WW II.  He was a talented craftsman.  He and a half dozen other men had built their own adobe church in the traditional style still popular in New Mexico.  He taught me how to make and lay adobe bricks and we, helped by my brother Mark, made all the adobe bricks we used in constructing an addition to the arts and craft shop that summer. In another memorable activity we took a group of campers to a Pecos River camp ground for an overnight in tents.  As darkness fell, I walked up into thick underbrush near our camp site looking for fire wood and suddenly found myself three feet from a bob cat.  We eyed each other for ten seconds, both perfectly still, and then the cat slowly turned and disappeared into the brush.    
Skytop was a happy place until the end of the summer when there was a blowout between the two senior male counselors, Ed and Evan, and Helen Coit.  I was never told exactly what the issue was but it was a disagreement over how to treat the children.  The result was Evan and Ed left abruptly before the summer was over, which made it difficult for those of us who remained.  Norma was upset that Evan had simply left without considering the welfare of the children.  Dr. Coit told Mother later than my behavior during and after the crisis proved beyond any doubt that she had nothing to worry about.  I would do well in life, Dr. Coit said.

                                           Mark Never Lies

          In the minds of our parents Mark had established an unassailable reputation for honesty.  He always told the truth.  Always. Without doubt Mark was a truth teller.  Asked a direct question, he always gave a direct answer.  Once before the football season began he was in the back bathroom adjacent to his bedroom smoking a pipe, a pleasure he enjoyed from time to time when not in training. 
Father was in his study, a large room with a fireplace, full of windows that looked out on lovely park land. Sniff, sniff, sniff, was that tobacco smoke he smelled?  Was one or more of his sons smoking?  Smoking tobacco was a vice he had given up at the age of nine for a b-b-gun, a story he loved to tell.  He walked into my bed room.
          “Have you been smoking?  I smell tobacco smoke,” he said.  “No,” I answered.  He sniffed hard two or three times to verify what I had said.  He walked down the hall to the room Mark shared with Michael.  Curious, I stood outside my room in the hall.  He walked into Mark and Michael’s bedroom.  No smoke of any kind.    He walked back into the hall and by the closed bathroom door adjacent to Mark’s bedroom.  Ah, hah!  Smoke seemed to be coming from around the door to the bathroom.  He knocked on the bathroom door. 
“Yes?” Mark answered. 
“Would you please open the door?”
“Yes, but give me a minute.” 
          A few minutes passed and then, “Click,” Mark opened the bathroom door.  Great clouds of pipe tobacco smoke poured into the hall.  I was sure Mark was in for it. 
“Do I smell smoke?” Father asked Mark?  “Have you been smoking?”
“No,” said Mark
“Oh,” said Father.  “I’m sorry to have bothered you,” and walked away. 
          I am not sure what moral to draw from this incident.  Is it that however strong the evidence to the contrary, we do not easily give up our cherished opinions?  Not only was Mark not called down for smoking and then lying about it but he continued to be seen by mom and dad as the one of us who always told the truth.  “Mark would never lie to us,” they continued to say.  And to believe.  
The Beer Blast
In our late teens Mark and I had lost interest in attending church.  We had to go to Sunday school in the morning and junior choir practice during the week and youth fellowship on Sunday evenings.  But we found a way of avoiding the major 11:00 AM church service except during the four times each year our choir sang at that service.  Dad’s sermons were broadcast on the local radio station.  As long as we were near a radio and listened to some of the sermon, we believed we could do what we wanted on late Sunday mornings. At our formal Sunday noon dinner dad would say,
“I didn’t see you boys in church this morning.  Were you there?”
Instead of directly responding to his question with a lie, one of us would say. 
“That was interesting what you said about the prophet Amos.  I had no idea he had such a passion for economic justice.  And so long ago!”
“Well, yes,” Father would respond, “I suppose that is surprising,” and then went on to explicate one point or another in his sermon, believing that we had, indeed, been in church.  
Some times we stretched the new freedom we had in Los Alamos too far.  A few weeks before the football season began a dozen of us decided to have a party before training rules required us to give up smoking and beer.  Three car loads of us drove down off the Hill to a bar near Pojoaque, a village near the Rio Grand River, where those that looked legal among us bought three or four cases of Coors beer. We loaded the beer in the trunks of the cars and drove back up the steep winding road to Los Alamos.  We knew the gray-blue uniformed security guards at the entrance gate to the town would see the beer as they checked our photo IDs and opened the trunk and inspected our cars.  We also knew they would ignore it.  Security was their concern, not law enforcement.
Rather than taking our cache of Coors to the Bandelier National Monument Park or some other out of the way spot, we decided it would be fun to hold our little beer party under the open spectator stands of the high school football field.  The field was just across Diamond Drive from the school and centrally located in the Western Area, a quiet residential suburb that surrounded the stadium on two sides.  We opened our first cans and began drinking our beer and talking quietly. 
I had just popped opened a second can of Coors when I noticed that my brother Mark and two of his buddies, Guy Hodgkins, who would be killed in Vietnam,  and Pete Olivas, who with Mark was about to become a captain of the football team,  had begun to run around the track that surrounded the football field.  At first they observed our agreement to drink quietly.  At first I could only hear them running on the dark track in a dark stadium.  But not long afterward I could see them, an arm in arm threesome, doing a jig.  Then I heard them singing. Quietly at first as we had agreed, but then as the beer took hold, louder and louder, and then boisterously they began to sing at the top of their lungs.  The beer had overcome their inhibitions.  They were in high spirits and having a great time yelling and singing and were surely oblivious to the noise they were making next to a quiet residential neighborhood. 
They had not quite made it around the quarter mile track in the dark a third time when suddenly spot lights flashed across the field from four white Los Alamos town police cars.  The police had arrived at the four corners of the open stadium in the dark with their lights off.  My brother and his two buddies were trapped like stunned animals.     
But the police did not know about the nine or ten of us quietly drinking our cold Coors beer under the stands.   We could escape into the night. Two of my best friends, Walter Maestas and Dick Lyons, and I took off in the dark and ran down a side street.  We ran just out of the street lights along Diamond Drive two miles or so to the Northern Area suburb where Dick lived.  He borrowed his Father’s brand new 1952 Oldsmobile and drove Walter and me to Walter’s place.  I decided it was best to stay overnight with Walter.  
Walter and I were exhausted but we were safe in bed, warm, and almost asleep when suddenly we could see the circulating light of a police car.  Minutes later, a policeman appeared at the door looking for me but not Walter.  While we were fleeing from the stadium Mark and his two buddies had been handcuffed and driven in separate cars to the police station where they were interrogated. 
The parents of the three miscreants were summoned to the station.  Mom lost her normal composure.  Because she knew I had left the house with Mark, she unhelpfully mentioned that to the police and then even more unhelpfully pointed out to the police that it was unlikely that three boys could consume most of three cases of beer.  That cleared up some confusion for the police and assured that at mom’s suggestion, the police would come looking for me.  
The policeman was not kind during the drive down to the station.  He spent most of the time cussing me out, calling me a “little bastard” and making frequent use of the F word, more as a noun to describe me than as a verb. When I was taken into the station I could see that Mother was nearly hysterical, Father cool.  Mother said we had damaged our Father’s role in the community, he would probably have to resign his pastorate in humiliation, and that a police record would blight our futures forever.  
When I told dad how the policeman had abused me verbally, he spoke firmly to the man involved, saying such language was out of line and undeserved.  I was proud of him for that.  For what had we done that was so serious?  Under-aged drinking?  Mark and his two friends for disturbing the peace?  Only I of the others involved was brought to the station, but we were not charged and did not have to appear in court.  Nor did our football coach ever mention the incident to us, if in fact he knew about it. 

Edna Ferber’s GIANT

          By the winter of 1952 I had been dating Carmen for a year and our relationship had begun to become intimate.  Mother could see that I was emotionally involved in my first serious romance.  One winter afternoon she invited me to sit by the fireplace with her and told me about a new book she had been reading, Edna Ferber’s Giant.  The book is set in Texas.  The major themes are the arrogance of the newly oil rich, racial prejudice against migrant workers (Mexicans in Texas speak) and disapproval of inter-marriages.  The inter-marriage featured in the book is that of the son of a cattle baron, Jordan Benedict, the book’s main character.                    
Against his father’s wishes the younger Benedict, like his maternal grandfather, became a medical doctor and chooses a practice that brought medical services to migrant workers and poor whites.  Jordan then married a Hispanic woman, a radical act in Texas at that time.  Inter-racial marriages were outlawed in Texas in l837 and the prohibition was not removed from the books until l967, when the Supreme Court declared all such laws unconstitutional. 
Mother briefly described the book and suggested I read it.  She probably identified me with Jordan Benedict, Jr. though I do not remember that she said so.  But she did suggest the difficulties that can arise in mixed marriages.  She did not, however, tell me she thought I was making a mistake or suggest I should stop dating Carmen.  Her touch was gentle, her words wise.  This conversation was only possible because of the respect and trust that had developed between the two of us over the years.   In any case, distance tested the relationship.  In the fall of my freshman year at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque I hitchhiked twice to Los Alamos, 90 miles away, to see Carmen.  Once she visited me.    But by midyear we were growing apart and the relationship ended the following year when I followed my family to the Midwest and enrolled at Beloit College in Wisconsin.  Mother’s reaction to my romance was the polar opposite of Father’s handling of Janey’s romance with a University of Missouri football player when she was a freshman at Stevens College a few years later. 
                             
                                        Health Scares
We had some health scares in Los Alamos.  Dad, almost 50, developed a bad case of the mumps but survived with no ill effects.  Polio was very much on the minds of parents in the l950s.  Mark came down with a high fever and other symptoms.  Mother was sure he had polio.  I can still see her outside his room, bent over in the hallway, weeping.    She was wrong.  Mark did not have polio.  I had my first bout with pneumonia in my senior year following the football season.  I had a fever and had gone to bed to take a nap.  When I awoke Mother was standing over me with a thermometer.  My temperature was 105 and she immediately called an ambulance.  The doctors said they did not think I would survive the night.  But the crisis passed and a week or so later I had completely recovered. 
Spiritual questions
I must have been about 13 and was in Dad’s study in Athens when I asked if ministers had any advantage over other human beings when it came to going to heaven.  He stopped what he was doing for a few moments and looked up at the ceiling as if consulting God. 
“I haven’t thought about that much,” he said.  “I guess I would say they have an inside track.”  
Much later in my life’s experience I came to the same conclusion.  But the race was no longer to heaven.  It led straight to hell.  And there was a significant minority of clergymen who were definitely champions in that race. 
I began asking my Mother theological questions at age 15 while we were in Los Alamos.  She gave lectures on the major Old Testament prophets and the New Testament letters of Paul and gave an occasional sermon which was more teaching than preaching.  . Everyone looked forward to her Mother’s Day sermons during which she stood next to the pulpit but not in it.  She had too much respect for the ordained ministry to do so.     Once she handed me a small book with the strange title of The Cloud of Unknowing.  She thought it might appeal to me.  She said she thought that I might be a mystic.  She told me she thought she was a mystic into her 30s but then decided she was not.  I read in the Cloud from time to time without understanding much of it.  But I felt strangely drawn to the book and found myself re-reading parts of it from time to time through the years.
I still read the Cloud today along with The Book of Privy Counsel, probably by the same author, a 14th Century English monk.  The Cloud of Unknowing is the first such “how to” spiritual manual in the English language.  A few years ago I compared the meditation methods described in the Cloud with those of Buddhism, especially Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi.  I found many parallels.   
          New Mexico left more than one enduring legacy in my life.  Stimulated by my interest in Native American history and culture, I would chose anthropology as my college major and my lifelong interest in other cultures served me well as I moved from country to country during a career in diplomacy.   Despite my mediocre academic record in high school, I was given a full scholarship by the University of New Mexico because I scored high on a state-wide examination in my senior year.  I was disappointed with some of the academic departments at New Mexico and transferred to Beloit College, a small liberal arts school in Wisconsin, the following year.  Both New Mexico and Beloit had and have distinguished departments of anthropology.   I count the transfer to Beloit as another important turning point in my life.    But I have an enduring love of northern New Mexico.