[An excerpt from my novel, East Into Unbelief, soon to be released.]
March came, the days brightened and the weather turned warmer and windy, the trees dragging their leaves like nets. Sean walked across the quad and up to his English class. He loved some of the poetry they were reading, but he would never admit that to his friends. And Christian Education class. Mr. Getsch’s lectures fascinated Sean—he taught them how to teach, how to start a file drawer. Or, maybe Sean just enjoyed sitting next to Linda Fuller from Manchester-by-the-Sea.
Slightly built, Linda’s brown hair fell carelessly to her shoulders, framing her brown eyes. Usually she wore a white blouse with short sleeves, her pleated skirt falling just to her knees. and black flats—casual but not sloppy.
Fascinating, exotic Linda. Sean loved her self-confidence, her brio. Fuller: Sean loved the name. It sounded English. He knew nothing about New England, but he loved her New England accent. She told him, “Yes—the town was founded in 1645, just after the Pilgrims . . . Mother belongs to the Daughtahs of the American Revolution.” She said cah for car; sneakahs for tennis shoes. Imagine growing up, not in Santa Ana, but in Manchester-by-the-Sea!
Linda explained how Dean Darla Dickenson shadowed the lives of the Hargreaves Hall girls like a darkening eclipse. “She’s always calling someone in over something. I think she cares about us, but she tries to control . . .” Possessing the metabolism of a hummingbird, Linda never harbored an unspoken thought, never finished a sentence, and never provided segues. But Sean, usually at a loss for something to say, loved the way her words filled his awkward silences.
“Last week my roommate asked Dickenson if French kissing was a sin.” Linda said as she opened her textbook and binder. “I think she needs to get married. That’ll solve all her problems.”
Sean’s face colored, not being used to such frankness. He assumed most girls weren’t interested in French kissing. Then he thought of Betty. Maybe some girls were like Betty, even TBI girls.
Sean knew that Dickenson was long on law, short on grace. She lived a disciplined life, defending her moral barricades so fiercely that no man had ever dared breach them. “What did Dickenson say to her?”
“Oh; Dickenson said it was a sin.” Linda chattered on, stopping only when Dr. Getsch’s opening prayer drowned her out.
It was 1961, and most colleges practiced in loco parentis—curfews, no alcohol, segregation of the sexes. Most colleges locked the girls up, tracked their movements. But Fundamentalist schools more so—they endeavored to shield them from the attack of a post-WWII culture that threatened to overwhelm their moral defenses.
Linda, beautiful Massachusetts Linda. A few days after their conversation, Sean asked her to go with him to Lincoln Park. Walking up LaSalle Street, Sean realized they would miss TBI’s dinner, so they stopped at a little restaurant for sandwiches. “I wish my parents would come visit,” Linda said, “but they won’t leave my baby brother, and can’t very well take him . . . Oh, look! A couple CPD cars stopped at that apartment. I wonder what . . . I’m glad they’re . . . My dad got stopped by a policeman once.” Linda burbled on about her classes, her roommate, her church and family back home. Sean searched for a verbal handhold to vault himself into her monologue.
Then they reached Lincoln Park, a beautiful summer gathering place—gardens, little lakes, curving walkways, manicured lawns, trees misted green with their tiny new leaves. Along the border of the park, elite residential buildings towered over them.
They sat down on a bench to watch the ducks swim around in one of the little pools rippled by the brisk March wind, their reflections moving with them across the water. Above in the trees, sparrows rose in random gusts. Linda slouched down and her dress drifted a couple of inches above her knees. Sean pretended to not notice. Linda pretended she didn’t notice that he noticed, as she gazed at the ducks and wriggled her dress back down.
She wore a thin chain with a Cross that nestled between her breasts, like gold cascading down a mountain vale. “Where’d you get that Cross pendant?” Sean asked. He longed to grasp it.
“Oh; I got that in the TBI bookstore. They’ve got all kinds of . . . Oh look, a squirrel!” She looked, fascinated, as the animal scurried up a maple tree. “Our dog at home loves to chase squirrels down cellar . . . Isn’t this lake beautiful? Look at those ducks . . . I wonder if there’s a bubbler nearby? I’m thirsty. . .”
Linda talked like she was strewing potato chips on the ground—Sean didn’t know which to pick up first. Was she nervous, having to comment on everything? Regardless, her idle babble reassured him. After careful thought, he reached over and took her hand.
She stopped talking and stared again at the ducks. Embarrassed, he released her hand. After a while they stood up and started walking. Linda stared ahead. “Holding hands is like being on an elevator, you know. I’m scared of elevators. You start going up slowly, but then you go higher and faster. It’s hard to stop.” Sounds exciting, Sean thought. But her objections confirmed that girls didn’t welcome his advances. Betty must have been an anomaly, he thought. It was getting cold, so they walked over to the “L,” rode it south, got off at Chicago Avenue, then walked the short distance back to TBI.
As they reached the school, Sean glanced at the façade of Moody-Sankey Auditorium. D.L. Moody was a great nineteenth-century evangelist. His partner, Ira B. Sankey, was a gospel singer and hymnwriter. Sean thought about the dozens of huge brass organ pipes that lined the front of the auditorium. He fantasized about taking Linda up into the dark balcony, but he wasn’t sure he was that courageous.
They walked into Hargreaves lounge, a sterile space as formal as a king’s reception room, designed to guard couples’ morality. The rule was “three feet on the floor.”
“The afternoons are growing warmer, and the park had so much green grass,” Linda said as she sat down. I wonder about our lawn at home. Oh; did you hear about the spring banquet? I suppose Dickenson will check the girl’s dress lengths, as usual.”
Sean said nothing. Was she hinting he should take her to the banquet?