Upon graduation from high school, I attended Salem College, in Salem, West Virginia. It was in Salem, while my father was attending Salem College, that he met my mother. Grandma and Grandpa Randolph, her parents, still lived about 12 miles from Salem in the “hills of West Virginia.” My freshman year, I visited my grandparents most every weekend where I and Uncle Bond’s family usually visited. One of them would pick me up at school Friday evening, Sabbath morning I would go with Uncle Rex and his family to the closest Seventh Day Baptist Church in Lost Creek, some 20 miles away, and we would return to Grandma and Grandpa’s house, where the uncles, aunts and cousins would gather for lunch. The rest of Sabbath and Sunday morning we played Rook, which was allowed because it was not played with poker cards, which, along with dancing, drinking, smoking and school activities or work of a Sabbath was equivalent to courting the devil. It wasn’t playing cards that was the problem, but rather the deck of poker cards, Ace, King, Queen, Jack and trump card, all associated with the evil of betting. The Rook cards consisted of four suits of different colored numbers, from 1 through 10 with the trump card sporting the black and white image of a crow, otherwise known as the Rook.
Salem College was considered by Seventh Day Baptists, with Milton College, Milton, Wisconsin as the two colleges in the country in which the denomination played a large role in the founding. Alfred University, Alfred New York, has been considered to have strong Seventh Day Baptist associations, also.
My freshmen year at Salem College was one of the last years, perhaps the last, that all students were expected to attend a convocation, or worship time, directed by the president, although the Seventh Day Baptist students totaled no more than ten or fifteen in a total student population of 1500. So strong was the influence of the church and its customs and practices upon the institution that served the entire population of the region. Another vestige of that connection with Seventh Day Baptists was the requirement that in the first year each student take religion classes taught by Dr. Nida. One of those classes was History of the Bible and the other had to do with early church history. There, I first learned that the Bible did not fall directly from God in the heavens to man on the earth. That was quite a shock. We even learned that the Bible that we have today was the result of a number of canonical processes of additions, exclusions, and editing which was not totally progressive to our present Bible, but at times retraced its steps or was otherwise redirected.
At Christmas break I had the first of many discussions with my father concerning the Bible and Christianity. Being a new experience for both of us, and being yet quite immature and taken by the vast knowledge that had recently been bestowed upon me, at one point I made the comment that I thought that Augustine’s writings were as inspired as any other part of the Bible. My attitude was as much of a shock to my father as this discovery in college was to me. It would appear to me at that time that Dad just was a step behind me in such enlightenment. Dad had never been a boisterous or argumentative person; he remained quiet and controlled of temper throughout our “discussions,” but he used all of his knowledge and conviction to reason with me and to dissuade me from these heretical attacks upon his Bible, on which he had staked not only his profession, but, with Mom, their entire lives. I called these “discussions,” not because of friendliness, nor of politeness, but because shouting was not a habit of the family. Perhaps it will help the reader to understand more thoroughly my brashness to acknowledge that I had never read any of Augustine’s writings.
Back at college after the break, I had a more general religion course that addressed not only the history of the early Church but also some basic concepts of the Church. There I learned some definitions of religious concepts from Dr. Nida that have stayed with me a lifetime and have helped in challenging times to untie the dogmatic Gordian Knot with which I have at times wrestled. Dr. Nida defined “sin” as “anything that separates us from the love of God.” He defined “miracle” as “where the eye of faith sees the hand of God at work.” These definitions have helped me realize in many areas of my life a spiritual experience entirely unassociated with any church, creed or doctrine. Hopefully, the reader will understand that my journey has taken me out of formal religious settings to a world where I can see the “hand of God” at work. It also helps me understand and experience apart from formal religious environments, the impact of separation of individuals from love, and of at-one-ment through the miracle of love. That summer and the next year I was disoriented by girlfriend problems and what could perhaps be called an implosion, overwhelmed with disappointment and the vicissitudes of passage from adolescence into young adulthood.
That next fall my sister, Ruth, started college at Salem. Having addressed this in a previous writing, suffice it to say that at the last moment before school was to resume I could not see my way to college that year. I went to upstate New York where I took a job as herdsman on the dairy farm in Truxton, New York of Bernard Potter, the director of the New York State Fair in Syracuse. Through a number of immature actions with what I should have expected could carry bad results, I burned my bridges in Truxton after only three months and I returned home to Rhode Island, not, as I viewed it, as a prodigal son but as a more mature person who had discovered that he could make his own way in the world and now had a reason to complete his college education. From that experience, the parable of the prodigal son took on a new meaning for me. It seemed that in the understanding that I had of that story in the religious tradition into which I was born, the prodigal son got headstrong, demanding, went off to a life of frivolity, squandered his riches, discovered what a mess he had made of this life, and came back utterly broken and repentant. It seemed to me after this experience that sometimes “rebellion” is a necessary part of the passage to maturity and into one’s own life. That was the view that Mr. Potter took when I visited him again some years later. I apologized for my immaturity. His reply was that he had taken no offense: “You were just a kid.” Some mistakes others make during this time of passage aren’t so easily surmounted: I was one of the “lucky” ones.
I returned to college the second semester that year a more focused person. Then, it was not girlfriend problems but a trumpeter’s embouchure problems that consumed me in frustration. Ultimately, I had to give up my trumpet major, trying the baritone horn as an alternative with no fewer embouchure problems and no less frustration, despite hours of practice each day.
That next summer, I repeated the same mistakes of the prior summer: I had no job lined up. I was able to find work as a dishwasher in a restaurant, which, like the prior year, I hated. I had an appointment with my orthopedic doctor following up on my polio treatments. He recommended that I have the large toe of my right foot fused and the muscle split off to help raise my right foot as well as my right toe. Mom was against it, stating that she thought we had done enough corrective surgeries and it might be time to accept how conditions were at that time. I had learned to trust doctors, and I elected to have the surgery. Mom and Dad were supportive. The surgery involved splintering the joint of my large toe so it would fuse solid and driving a surgical nail through the length of it to hold it stable while it fused. It was the most painful surgery I recall. One morning, they gave me morphine for the pain. I apparently suffered an overdose, and began elucidating the horror of being on a conveyor belt that was feeding me into a machine to cut off my right leg. (On later reflection, the amputating contraption and conveyor belt bore a remarkable resemblance to the dishwasher that I operated earlier that summer.) My hallucination was terminated when I began to hyperventilate, and at the same time my muscles began to spasm, including the transplanted muscle. Again, I spent the rest of summer convalescing.
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