This blog is a little different. Not that I won’t ramble – I will almost certainly do that - I am going to name some names with this one and say thanks! In fact thanks almost seams like too small a word – but I can think of none better.
This goes back to the summer of 1973 – I was 16 years old and had some really great friends.
Keith and I were friends since 4th grade when he first started going to my school. Gary was a member of my Sunday school class along with Keith and a few others – but the three of us were the core of our class. Then there was Steve, Stan and Rick with whom I was playing guitars with and trying to form a band. Steve and Stan played guitar, I played bass and Rick played the drums – we had everything… well, talent might have helped – but that’s not for me to decide. All of us except Rick went to the same church.
At the time I was also playing bass for the traveling church youth choir. The church had a Silver Eagle Continental Trailways bus to shuffle us back and forth between the various trips and churches as well as the TV station where they had a “religious” variety show.
One nice thing about being a part of a large church is the opportunity to do things you wouldn’t otherwise get to do. One of those was playing bass for them and the really cool part of that was that they had some really cool equipment to use. Old Fender Showmans, Bassmans and Bandmasters they got from another friend of mine Tom Green. (www.guitarsandcars.com) That connection helped Steve, Stan, Rick and I to have the equipment to form a band. Not that it really makes that much difference, but playing guitar did seem to open a few more doors with the girls we knew and I guess at 16 that was one really big advantage.
So one day, Stan and I were riding in the car with Steve and his girlfriend Pam, when Pam decided it was high time she find me a girlfriend. I hadn’t dated anyone for a while and she was worried for me… what are friends for anyway? In her mind, it wasn’t healthy for a 16 year old guitar player to not be dating. So when she asked me who I liked or was interested in – I had no reply. Either all the girls I knew I thought were “out of reach” or else I hadn’t met them yet. The rest I had known for a long time or had dated and just didn’t hit it off with them.
Finally they wheedled out of me that I had noticed a beautiful brunette at church one day and that I’d kinda like to meet her. That was all Pam needed to hear. She enlisted her best friend Kim in the search for who this mystery woman might be and how she was going to orchestrate our meeting.
One Saturday evening, as the singing group was preparing for a trip the next day, Pam and Kim came up to me to tell me they had found her. Her family had just moved to Wichita and was joining the church the next day… and as my luck would have it, she was going to go on the trip with us in the bus. Here name was “Debbie”. She was beautiful!
You know that feeling when everything in your stomach turns over and things start flying around in there? Butterflies never happened the entire time I played guitar or bass on stage or on TV - but it did right then. The girl of my dreams was being ambushed by a couple of my friends and I was going to have to step in and meet her! Talk about being put on the spot!
I thought it better if I did it on my own and not in front of a crowd – especially friends like Pam, Steve, Kim, Stan and the others who would take the opportunity to kid me and give me a hard time of it. So after the morning service when new members are introduced to the church I got in the line to meet them and shake their hand.
I was in the choir that morning… sticking out like a sore thumb. Everyone else had on suits and I had on my “Jesus Freak” t-shirt with a cross and a one way sign rising up out of billowing smoke on the front, faded holey blue jeans and my flag tennis shoes that were more holes than shoes. I wanted to make a good first impression…
Of course Debbie’s father looked horrified that he was going to have to shake my hand and after doing so, I’m sure he was wishing he could go wash up – but that didn’t prevent me from meeting his oldest daughter. Did I mention she was beautiful?
We talked about where she was from and when they had moved to Wichita and that she was going on the trip that afternoon to Cherokee, Oklahoma where the singing group was doing a concert. We hit if off immediately – she was absolutely beautiful and warm without the slightest hint of conceit or snobbishness – which I had come to expect from some of the more well-to-do families at our large church. (Something I guess my hippie type appearance might have been a contributing factor)
So that afternoon as Keith, Gary and I were carrying band equipment to the bus, we were talking about the new girl, and who was going to date her first. Keith was a good looking guy with a big smile and almost Robert Redford/Jeremiah Johnson charisma and Gary… well Gary was the son of a barber if that tells you anything. Keith and I knew we were the only ones in contention.
About that time, Pam, Kim and Debbie walked by and got on the bus. Which continued to fuel our conversation. Of course Gary wasn’t going to lie down and let us walk all over his dreams – and said so – but that was a sad reminder of those puffing at the back of the pack trying to keep up. Keith and I had already staked out seats and unfortunately for Keith, he didn’t know Pam and Kim were already working on my side.
The trip down to Cherokee was fairly uneventful – except for the contentious nature of our discussion. The three of us, Gary, Keith and I, were plotting as to how we would succeed in winning Debbie’s affections. It was all good fun and once there we busied ourselves setting up for the concert and trying to look important.
After the concert – which went off well – the church had a dinner for us and so I invited Debbie to hang around with me while I stored the guitars and amps and then we’d eat together. I guess that’s another reason guitar players have an advantage that Keith and Gary did not – we had something to do during those awkward first few minutes while you’re getting to know each other.
By the time to load the bus and head back north, Debbie and I had hit it off and Keith knew his chances were fading like the distant western sky just ouside the window on his left. This time though, Pam and Debbie sat in the front row on the right side of the bus while Keith and I sat on the left. Gary by now was somewhere in the back of the bus flirting with the empty seat beside him.
The rest of this story is as they say “history”. Keith and I would go out to her house to visit her in his old antique Ford, but he didn’t know that I was using him – Debbie’s father and stepmother wouldn’t let just me come over – they must have thought there was some danger to the family to let a hippie in the house – and Keith was pleasant company.
That was some 32 years ago. Debbie and I continued to date for almost two years and were married on December 6, 1975 by Stan’s dad Dale. Steve was my best man, Stan was an usher and my new band, Aslan with Ralph Teran, Gary Fesler and Brad Carpenter, along with the pastor of our little hippie church, Tom Rozof, played guitar and sang all the songs. Many of the youth choir from the big church as well as most of our little hippie church attended… along with Debbie’s reluctant father and stepmother, some of her family and my folks and family and Debbie’s real mother Virginia.
30 years they say is a long time these days for marriages to last. Sadly, even marriages in the church have an equally poor percentage of success. Everyone said when Debbie and I met we were a strange fit – since we were so different. I guess that’s a measure of why we have lasted this long. She completes me as no other person could, and I give her a reason to have hope… that someday I’ll grow up.
We couldn’t have gotten this far in our lives if it had not been for the efforts of our friends. With friends like these… somethings are possibly possible.
But the one friend who has come through for us more often than any other is Jesus Christ. With Him, all things are possible.