The Gate

(Continued from last week’s post titled “Walk by Faith.” This is from the opening chapter of my memoirs. I’m 19-years-old, selling books door-to-door.)

Door-to-door, I walked on that summer of 1978 in Newton, IA. In my flip-top steno pad I tracked every house on every street with a box and house number. I tracked who had bought books, and what they had purchased. At one door the elderly woman who answered, after asking me about Jesus, said, “Son, those cut-offs are not appropriate for the work you are doing. You need to dress more decently to come to the door.” Then she added, whispering, “Those mormon missionaries at least dress decently.” Ashamed, heat rose within me, my face flushed, sweat broke out on the back of my neck and under my arms. I stammered an apology for my appearance and felt self-conscious the rest of the day. I took her message to heart and never again wore those shorts.

Another time, on a hot, many-door, little-success day, I asked in one house if I could use the bathroom. She let me in to do so. I remember sitting there on the toilet feeling so discouraged. The bathroom with its pink fixtures, frilly towels, soft, white rug was so pristine, beautiful, and the AC felt refreshingly cool. I had long finished on the toilet, but sat there crying, and feeling so tired and alone. Sometimes, Jesus just lets us feel the emotions. And sometimes, our emotions block out what He might be speaking. I sat there a bit too long. She knocked on the door and spoke, her voice anxious:

“You okay in there?”

“Sorry. Be right out.”

I wiped the tears, flushed the toilet, washed my hands, came out, thanked her profusely, picked up my black book box and left. I knocked on door after door and met some incredibly kind people. I followed what I felt prompted to do, and so when I heard the inner Voice say at the beginning of August, “I want you to leave a week early, on August 20th,” I knew it was Jesus. To leave August 20th was to finish a full two weeks early. But, I knew what I needed to do.

I told my roommates, then I called Franklin, TN to talk to Jim the head of sales. He was angry, told me it would break contract. I asked what was I to do, Jesus wanted me home? A man of faith, he couldn’t get mad at Jesus so relented. He shipped all my books to our address. I borrowed the light blue Chevy Impala from 75-year-old Agnus, one of my customers. I still cannot imagine she let me borrow her car! I delivered all my books, flew to Nashville to check out and pick up my check and then flew to California. I arrived on the night of August 20th.  

My mom and Dad were on their first-ever trip to Europe with their choir from church. They traveled doing concerts in multiple Scandinavian cities. They had left the loan papers for Willamette University signed on the kitchen table, with a note in Mom’s perfect handwriting, “Brian, we support you, if you decide to return to Willamette. And we know, if you go, you will need to leave before we are home.” I slept in on the 21st and did not know why I was home. At 10 am, the morning of August 22nd my German teacher phoned from Willamette University, in Oregon at where I had completed my freshman year. 

“Brian! I am so glad I found you at home,” she said in her thick German-accented English, “You have been accepted onto the London Semester abroad program.”  

“The what? I thought I had not been accepted,” I stammered, mind spinning. I remembered writing the application and receiving notice I had not been accepted. I had not given it another thought.

“You were on a waitlist,” she explained, “and a student just dropped out today. Can you come?” I glanced at the loan papers and mom’s note on the round, oak, kitchen table. My parent’s affirmed my return to Willamette even without the full-ride scholarship I had had my first year. I was so excited. London! “Yes” I told her. 

“Good. So, here’s what you do. Fly to Salem on the 29th of August and I will drive you to Seattle. We will meet up with Scott there, the boy who has had to drop out. You will need $171 cash to pay him for the ticket.”

Can you imagine a oneway ticket to London cost $171.00 in 1978?

“He will take your bag and check it in for you on the flight with his passport, and you can use his boarding pass to get on the plane.” I did not think to ask if this was legal. I followed her advice.  

I called my cousin Ann Bartholomew. She screamed in my ear, “London! BRIAN! This is so exciting! Yes, I will come help you pack. How about Thursday? Then, I will drive you to the Oakland Airport on the 29th.”

I took the loan papers to the bank, deposited my Southwestern check, went to Olson Travel to pick up an airline ticket to Salem and bought a camera to take with me. Ann met up with me at The Ranch and helped me choose clothes. We stuffed and barely zipped up my light brown, nylon enormous duffle my mom had made with an REI kit. We packed my second suitcase with everything I needed to be in school. In my carry-on bag I put my passport, a couple books to read, my wallet, and other items. Then, I typed a goodbye letter to my parents telling them our planes had passed in the sky and I was on my way to London.   

On August 29th Ann dropped me at the Oakland Airport and gave me a huge, enthusiastic hug goodbye. She handed me two dimes and a nickel, saying, “Call if you need anything.” She also handed me a pack of gum for the flight. I flew to Salem, rode to Seattle with my chain-smoking professor. We met Scott outside the terminal in the bright sun. I paid him the $171 cash. He took my bags, checked-in for the plane, then gave me the boarding pass. I hugged my German professor “Vielen Dank,” I told her, and “Aufwiedersehen!” I shook Scott’s hand, and made my way to the gate. 

Clearly, today, this could not happen! In that era, they did not compare boarding passes and passports at the gate.

The gate area was crowded, every seat filled, with many standing around the sides of the room. Air Canada had gone on strike over the weekend, so all the Air Canada passengers were being funneled through Seattle onto the Pan Am and other London-bound flights.

I stood and watched the crowd. All of us inside the wooden barrier had shown our boarding passes to the agent. Across the wooden barrier stood family members seeing friends off at the airport and standby passengers. I was mindlessly looking across the room at the people standing outside the barrier. I noticed families talking with loved ones. And then I saw someone who looked my age. I smiled at her. Seeing me, she smiled back, this winning, wonderful smile. Her smile reminded me of one of my brother’s good friends CR (Cathy Richards) whom I had always admired. I crossed the crowded room. I had to meet her. 

My parents arrived back at the church sometime around two in the morning on the same night my flight left from Seattle at 6:30 pm. My mom told me when dad had started the car waiting for them in the church parking lot, the radio had blasted out the station the last driver had had it tuned to. She thought I must have dropped off the car for them and told my dad, “Brian must be home!” She was so excited to see me. It had been several months. But when she walked into their ranch style house first. A sheet of paper lay on the table, a typed, single-spaced letter, which began, “Dear Mom and Dad…” She picked it up and could not believe what she read and began to cry, calling out to my dad, “Burt, you are not going to believe this!”  

(continued next week…) 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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