Cotillion

Prior to Dancing with the Stars and Miss Manners, there was Mrs. Burke’s Cotillion of Louisville. After the Great Depression, Mrs. Burke had been a ballet dance student and instructor in New York City before coming home to teach ballroom dancing in the 40s. For four decades, she annually enrolled an equal number of boys and girls in Cotillion (her former assistants currently continue the tradition).

Unlike the legend, I was not put on the waiting list at birth, but I went to Cotillion from 5th-8th grade at the Louisville Country Club. Over a hundred of us would gather every other fall Friday. Chairs were lined up along the wall on each side of the ballroom’s polished wood floor. The girls sat on the left “with both feet on the floor” and their white-gloved hands in their laps. I took a seat on the right in my sport-coat and tie; suits were not required due to the financial strain of growth spurts.

We learned a lot about manners along with the waltz, fox-trot, and jitterbug. More than manners, she taught me about treating others like I’d want to be treated with more practical examples than my church’s golden rule. In the midst of my body’s and society’s changes from ’68-71 I was placed in a bubble of consistency for a few months a year.

My most comforting consistency was Ruth. Dancing began when the boys were all told to “walk” across the room to ask a girl to dance. While I dreaded the risk of taking the initiative, I was relieved I wasn’t a girl who was asked last. After a few sessions, I asked Ruth to dance. We became dance partners for four fall seasons, except for the one time a guy made the mistake of beating me across the floor to ask her.

Our familiarity enabled us to dance really well together; our pact assured us of a partner we liked. Her flowing red hair enabled me to easily find a seat directly across before my run for the roses. By the third fall, her newfound height made the twirls challenging but we carried on. I never saw Ruth outside of cotillion but I thought of her in college the night a tiny dancer and I took second at our bar’s disco contest.

How were you initiated into treating others with decency and respect? In choosing a partner for the dance, do you appreciate consistency or seek variety? Who teaches you to treat others like you’d want to be treated? How do you put those lessons into practice?

Stand by Me

Our elementary gang spent many days exploring the woods with streams, sticks, trails, talks, and a few firecrackers.  Three boys moved away from our “web” of friends when their parents moved to Ashland, KY as dad became a VP of Ashland Oil.  (I knew about coal in Kentucky, but oil?)  Soon enough, four sixth graders traveled to visit the friends we missed.

Our gang’s first and last train ride went from Louisville to Ashland and we had fun roaming the cars.  The reunited rabble rousers spent our last weekend together playing pool, listening to music, laughing at jokes, and roaming Ashland.  Sleep was not prevalent. 

I first heard the 45-rpm single “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf, on the brothers’ new stereo.  I experienced the album “Tea for the Tillerman” by Cat Stevens the same night.  I didn’t buy the single, but I got the vinyl album that I’m streaming now.  Whenever I hear those songs, I’m transported on a magic carpet to that basement with my friends.  Music evokes such powerful memories.

The night before our departure, the man of the house informed us that the Ashland Oil Company Learjet was going to fly empty to Louisville in order bring businessmen back.  He’d arranged for us to take the Learjet rather than the train back home.  The day we buckled in, the pilot said to us, “Boys, you’re in charge of this flight.  I’ll take off when you let me know you’re ready.  Just say the word; it’s your flight.”  I’d never felt so much power….. or privilege.   

Following that final weekend, we started going to different schools that led to different lives.  The three in Ashland weren’t the only ones who moved away from each other.  Maybe that’s why the closing lines of the 1986 movie “Stand by Me” still haunt me: “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?” 

Who were your friends when you were 12?  What songs transport you to those times?  What memories does the music evoke?  What are you thankful for?

PS – I am grateful that Facebook has brought those friends virtually back to my life; who would have guessed that? 

The Belle of Louisville

The Belle of Louisville

Have you ever heard: “I don’t know how those children come from the same family”?   Bill Oglesby taught me in seminary, “A second child doesn’t come from ‘the same family’, because there was only one child at first.”  

One of the many differences with my older brother (besides eight years) was that while I would grow to love dancing, my brother would revel in it.  In 2001, Jackson Browne’s “For a Dancer” was chosen by him as the final words and music of his funeral service.  In 1964, when a fifteen year old Baylor Landrum, III was invited to a senior dance on the Belle of Louisville, he couldn’t resist it even though Baylor Landrum, Jr. forbid him to go.

When my baby sitter called dad at a cocktail party to say, “Baylor just snuck into a car with several kids,” mom joined him to fetch Baylor at the Belle.   She stayed in the car at the downtown dock, while dad told the riverboat’s gatekeeper, “I’m going on board to get my son; I’ll be right back; you can’t leave until we return.”  Turns out dad had as little control over the Belle as my brother.  The boat left with both Baylors aboard.

During the paddle wheel steamboat’s two hour cruise, my father endured loud music from an obnoxious wannabe rock band, my brother received lightning bolt stares daring him to have a good time dancing, and my mother was abandoned in a sweltering summer car “down by the river.”  I would not hear that story until 20 years later, because none of the parties involved could even talk about it until the emotional statute of limitations ran out.

While that’s not really my story, I just can’t resist telling it, and it sets the stage for things to come.  I do think it has something to say about families that is part of all our stories.  The first lesson in “Parenting the Love and Logic Way” is: “There are no guarantees in parenting.”

This story also has a lot to say about control when many of us feel so out of control these days.  As Suzanne Stabile teaches in the wisdom of the Enneagram, “control is an illusion fueled by emotion.”  I can’t control circumstances, I can’t control someone else, I can’t control how I see the world, but I can learn to be more responsive than reactive to what I can begin to control — myself.

What stories rise up for you today?  How have you been frustrated by a lack of control?  How have you sought to share control?  What are you learning about yourself and your relationship with God and other people?

First Impression

I wonder whether I was a child of the 60’s, but I know I was a child in the 60’s.  On a fall Friday in first grade, my principal Miss Lewis told my teacher Miss Goodwin to tell our class that our president was dead.  I didn’t fully comprehend the impact of the news — as if I could at any age. 

Two days later, as we arrived home from church, dad turned on the TV as we watched the assassin shot dead — live on TV in Texas.  It was a first for both of us.  I noticed the shooter wore a hat just like my dad had worn to church.  I remembered the day before on the same TV I watched the Lone Ranger shoot a bad guy in Texas, but that guy lived.  What really affected me was school was canceled on Monday.

My journey would soon include asking questions and hearing crazy conspiracies until each was quelled with information and experience.  In a decade I’d visit Dallas and remember the grassy knoll as much as I remembered attending the Cowboys-Dolphins Thanksgiving Day game.  I would work hard to control my life, as I realized that the actions of another could change everything in an instant.

Over the decades, as I have witnessed many other unreal events happen before my eyes, I’ve stopped to ask myself: “How are first graders seeing this?”  What impact will this have on their lives?  How will they see the world based on their first impression?  Recently, on the church’s Epiphany Day, I wondered how children will come to view our nation’s capital and what crazy conspiracies they’ll face in their futures.

I’ve heard it said: “you only get one chance to make a first impression.”  Maybe we get a lifetime of chances to grow beyond it.

Describe a first impression that impacted your life.  How old were you?  How were you affected?  What have you firmly held onto?  How have you grown and changed since then?

Confidence

In 1987 I took a man into my confidence.  He was a member of a church about an hour away and offered to lead a workshop where I served as associate pastor.  The class was about parent and youth communication and I was pleased with what he taught and how well it was received.

When the class was over, we visited over snacks.  He said, “Wally, you should take your youth group on a ski trip.  I’ve been on a few; I’d be glad to help you plan it, and I could even go with you.”  That was the first time I considered using a ski trip to form a community of youth. 

During the decade between his suggestion and the first of our three annual trips, that man served time for a sex crime.  As I attended my first Boundary Training Class for church leaders, his offer to go on a trip with our youth echoed in my ears all day.  Was he being helpful or predatory?  Was he worthy of my confidence or was he a confidence man?  How do I trust but verify the behavior of others? How do I best protect myself and those entrusted to my care?

Experience gives me confidence that one betrayal of trust can have horrific ramifications for persons within a community.  As a church, we set many boundaries to protect children, youth, and the adults who care for them.  When questions arise about why we need protection policies in a church, my mind wanders to what might have occurred.  My mouth says, “we set limits to have the freedom to grow in faith in safety.”

Who are the people who have lived up to the confidence you have in them?  How have you reacted to being betrayed by another?  Where do you go for help when you’ve been hurt?