Friday, January 24, 1975. After morning prayer we drove to Potomac, Maryland where we played an 8pm concert at St. Francis Church. Amazingly after only five days Christopher and Patricia were completely “worked in” to the concert. What a wonderful difference! I loved Christopher’s rich singing voice and guitar playing on “I will not leave you comfortless” and his pump organ parts in other songs. Patricia added many delicate bell and flute parts and was a delight to watch perform because of her cheerful smile and child-like mannerisms. It must have been a strain on their married life though living in the cramped quarters of the bus but they were real troopers. The organizer of the concert was a woman named Charlotte who took very good care of us and invited us over for dinner after the concert which was a resounding success and very well received.
January 25-26th. Next stop Truro Parish in Fairfax, Virginia. This church turned out to be a charismatic group, much like Church of the Redeemer and from the moment we arrived we were bossed around and told what to do by various “elders.” That did not bode well. Then when we performed, the ever-intuitive Shipen said he could sense “bad vibes.” No one smiled, clapped or gave any sign of enjoyment. In fact, it was one of our more torturous experiences. To top it off, Shipen misjudged his footing and stepped off a pew during the “pew walk” portion of the concert and landed on a bell, gashing his foot. This was at the end of the concert so we finished the last song, wrapped up his foot and someone rushed him off to the hospital for 5 stitches. Of course, he blamed it on the audiences’ negativity! When he returned we met with the choir and then had dinner, then bed. The following day we played for Sunday services, then packed up and left around 11 am. Shipen was presented with a gift of crutches as he was limping pretty badly (no more pew walking for awhile!) Our honorarium was $500, enough to pay for Shipen's stitches!
We were off to Queen Anne’s School where we met Father Bill Noble and put on a concert for 250 students on the 27th. I was surprised at how quiet and attentive the children were. Then we performed at St. Barnabas Parish for a small crowd of 40. Afterwards, Melody and I got into it over something stupid like why I had passed her a Calimba when I was supposed to hand her a maraca! We were starting to get edgy and over tired.
January 28th. We drove to Dunbarton United Methodist in Washington, D.C. and met Rev. Harry Kiley. The inside of the church reminded me of a huge warehouse with lots of toys and books and things lying around. During rehearsal, Patricia experimented with blowing bubbles during the banjo song, wondering if that might liven things up? We performed at 8:30 p.m. for about 50 people and Mary’s brother Jim showed up too. Yup, the bubbles were a hit! A week later, Patricia danced through the aisles with flowing ribbons on a stick during the banjo parade, which everyone adored. Afterwards, famished, we went down for our promised “cover dish” dinner but the only food left was half of a dried out noodle casserole, some Wonder bread and lime Jell-O. Even more disappointing was the fact we collected only $80 (normal honorarium was $300).
January 29th Our first day off! Who arranged such a grueling schedule anyway! After morning service we quickly packed up since the nursery school was due to start (that explained all the toys lying around). We drove through the narrow old streets of Washington, D.C. to Tacoma Park, Maryland where we parked and ate lunch in front of the House of Musical Traditions (our favorite instrument shop!). The day was balmy and warm so we sat on the lawn and had a picnic of wine, cheese, rye bread, lentil soup and salad as we waited for the store to open. When the owners arrived and opened up they explained that Hank and Marie Levin had sold the store to David and Carol Eisner and it had become more of a mail order business. Nevertheless it was a treasure trove! We tried out bagpipes, sarods, flutes, kazoos, and drums. Steve has his eye on a beautiful dulcimer and I tried out a small tamboura. In the end we could only afford some wooden flutes, kazoos, an Indian hand tamborine, reeds, a harmonica and a Taiwanese “wind hooter” (that’s what I called it).
January 30th. Another busy day with services, setting up, performance, then off to St. Stephen’s Church in Richmond, lunch, back to tune up, and then, OH MY there was a fire in an art room in the Middle School! Amazed we watched fire trucks and firemen rush around putting it out. Then it was off to do loads and loads of laundry, then back for a small presentation with students and then the concert at 8pm. Phew! Strangely with the new format of the Christ Tree, for some reason, at the very end of each concert there was no applause. It ended with the audience joining in singing a soft, chordal freeform song. It had the quality of a peaceful benediction or prayer. This was followed by a long period of silence and then the curious thing would be that people would rush up, pumping our hands and rave about the music and how great it had been. Go figure. We received full payment of $300 – a Godsend.
January 31st. This was our last night at John Vianney High School Seminary. I had enjoyed the delicious meals and comradery we shared with the boys. Belatedly we learned it had been final exam week, which explained the heightened emotions and exuberance of the boys. Exams were completed the night of our “charity” performance (paid $50), which probably contributed to the elation and energy. The students applauded wildly after every song we played (a first). By the time we got to the Banjo music all the boys were laughing and clapping along and eagerly joined in singing “the chance chord” at the end. This was followed by a five minute standing ovation and many hearty slaps on the back, wow! At least this time there was no wondering if they liked it or not, hah! Dinner and a movie called “Inherit the Wind.” The next day was off.
February 1, 1975. Next stop Raleigh, North Carolina where Father Sapp of Christ Church helped us set up, then provided a fried chicken and beans dinner in the tiny two-room house that was our lodging. Unfortunately as we settled in to watch TV, it grew colder and colder inside. After extensive searching we realized the building had no form of heat. It dawned on us that it might not be the best idea to sleep there over night. Earlier a parish family, the Lasacurs, had kindly offered accommodations at their luxurious southern home but when we saw they had six children under the age of 8, we had thanked them and declined. As the night grew bitter cold, we buried ourselves in our sleeping bags covered with blankets. We should have accepted their invitation.
February 2nd Another day of whirlwind activity. We tuned at 7 a.m., performed for both services to a full house. Then we zipped off for a quick lunch, rushed over to the university to set up in just half an hour, and rehearsed as best we could with most of us coming down with the flu or colds. Shipen kept hacking and coughing, as were Patricia, Mary and Melody. We soldiered on and gave a 4:30 concert. Unfortunately there’d been little publicity so only about 90 people came, including my Aunt Judy and Uncle Chuck. Then Mary, Melody and I went to spend a luxurious night and a day off at Judy and Chuck Smallwood’s home. Aunt Judy served a sumptuous dinner of roast beef smothered in mushrooms (no dried out casseroles or fried chicken!), fresh green beans and mashed potatoes. I relished the quiet, relaxing evening without anyone asking the same nosey, stupid questions. Clean sheets on a real bed, totally sinful!
February 3rd. Reluctantly I left my aunt and uncle’s for St. Stephen’s Church in Goldsboro. Though we arrived rather late, we found a nice chili dinner waiting for us. The following morning we worked on Psalm 46. In one section we decided on organ music (with Christopher on his small Missionary’s foot pump organ) and it turned out beautifully with a sort of soprano boy’s choir sound: “The Lord of Hosts is with us…our citadel the God of Jacob.” After an excellent evening concert we loaded up and were paid the usual $300.
The Lord of hosts is with us.
Our citadel the God of Jacob.
God is our shelter our hope our strength
Ever ready to help in times of trouble
So we shall not be afraid when the earth gives way
When the mountains tumble and fall
Into the depths of the sea
And its waters roar and seethe
The mountains tottering as it heaves
There is a river whose streams refresh the City of God
And it sanctifies the dwelling of the most high
God is in the midst of her.
She can never fall
At the break of dawn He helps her.
Nations are in tumult, kingdoms tumble down
When He shouts the earth rips apart.
Come and see what the Lord has done.
What awesome things he has done in the world.
Throughout the earth he puts an end to war
He breaks the bow, he snaps the spear
He throws the shields to the flames
Be still and know that I am God
Exalted over the earth
The Lord of hosts is with us
Our citadel the God of Jacob.
We slept at the student center and left the next morning for Wilmington. It was a warm, sunny day and the drive took us from the red clay soils of the piedmont region into the white and yellow sands of the coastal plains. The trees were tiny bright green pines with amazingly long needles and small leafless trees draped in pale gray-green Spanish moss. It looked like Mars. We drove past rundown wooden shacks with junk strewn yards followed by huge tracts of land dotted with new industrial complexes.
Arriving in Wilmington for the East Carolina Diocesan Convention we were given a ninth floor suite at the Hilton Inn. Great! We dined at the hotel restaurant at the expense of the convention. Then some of us (the women) took a “walk” from the back door to the front door of the hotel while others (the men) listened to the Dixieland Band play at the hotel bar. Before we went to sleep, Mary wrote that I chattered on and on about all the different ways someone could steal a color television from the hotel! Oh my.
February 7th was the official start of the convention. We didn’t participate in daytime events, but instead our bus became a means of transportation for the overflow going and coming to the hotel. At some point we were interviewed by Carol Hammond, who wrote an article for Cross Current, the newspaper for the Diocese of East Carolina:
Meanwhile, we found it a total delight to have all our meals at the hotel paid for and it was nice not to feel pressured and busy. We gave a concert at 5pm in the hotel ballroom and the room was so packed we could barely move. We counted about 200 enthusiastic participants. We loaded up in the dark and then reluctantly left our awesome accommodations, stopping briefly to eat dinner at a greasy spoon along with way.
February 8-10th. It was a long haul across the state to Greensboro, where we eventually found Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and slept in the parish hall. I for one missed the comfort of our too brief hotel stay but ah well, back to uncomfortable sleeping bags on the floor. The next morning we played for communion and then broke into two groups. Some of us gave a workshop for an adult study group while the rest of us set up at St. Mary’s Church where we were to perform during the mass. After tuning up, we waited and waited but the rest of the Trees didn’t show up. I kept scanning the audience anxiously as people streamed into the church. With five minutes to go, the small wooden building was packed and we were really worried. What would we do? Finally the service began and the organ played the opening hymn just as the rest of the missing Trees rushed in breathlessly. With the procession entering the church and everyone singing, they quickly tuned in four minutes flat. That was close! After the service we rushed over to the college for quick showers, then back to Holy Trinity to perform that evening. Supper was McDonald’s hamburgers, yuck! In the morning the church ladies prepared a wonderful spread with eggs, ham, rolls, fresh fruit, coffee and other goodies.
After feasting we were all in a better mood and decided it was time to talk about who should wake everyone up each morning for prayers? After some discussion Patricia was nominated since she was always so cheerful and had more tact than the rest of us. It was decided she would be the only one who could wake any sleepyheads without their taking offense. She accepted the job!
We drove to Charlotte, North Carolina passing beautiful horse farms and rolling green hills. We gave a concert at St. John’s Church preceded by a Lenten pancake supper. At the very end of the concert our cat Shimshi gave a loud howl and everyone burst into laughter and then applause. For me, the best part was when we were invited for fancy dinner and desert at a beautiful horse farm nestled in the pines. Over generous helpings of chocolate chip cake and vinegar pie (delicious!) our host regaled us with stories of porpoises mating and shark tales. It was quite late by the time we got back to the parish hall to sleep.
Feb. 11th. Off to Davidson College in Davidson, North Carolina for a musical seminar where we taught the students how we develop our music, outlining our various communal composition techniques. Then we schlepped our instruments across campus for two! concerts at the campus coffee house - all the while struggling with colds and the flu. Another grueling day! The good news was we met the composer Morton Subotonik and heard some of his compositions performed on the synthesizer. Somewhere there is a poster giving us equal billing with the famous Subotonik. However, I felt a tad jealous that he had two dozen red roses in his dressing room. In our dressing room there were none. Hmmm. Well, at least we had a dressing room.
February 12, 1975 Ash Wednesday. It was a breezy, warm spring day and we laid out blankets on the grass for naps (oops a bit too soggy!) or took long walks in the sunshine. I relished the chance for some privacy, which was always catch-as-catch-can on the tours. At mail call Tom Croft wrote with news from the Cathedral…Canon West’s office had been broken into…they were having poetry readings in the Exhibit Hall. It was snowing in NYC and they were having soup fasts for Lent (been there, done that).
At 10 we played a short “informal set” and explained what we were doing lecture-style as we went. There was an excited, cheerful group of children in the front two rows who sang and danced along to the music. We played a raga that flowed into “there is a fountain filled with love flowing from Emmanuel’s veins” (a Hutterite tune), Baptism, introduction of the instruments, Taka and a rhythm section, There is Such a Love, Jesus He Knows, I will not leave you Comfortless, ending with the banjo song (we called it My Father’s Beard). The children were refreshing and loosened everyone up. Would that we always had such happy participants! At 12 noon we gave a class with Morton Subotonik and at 5:30 we had dinner with him followed by our full concert at 9:30. Subotonik seemed thrilled with our music and made a point of shaking each of our hands afterwards, pumping our hands with great enthusiasm. I was a bit star struck, for some reason!
The next morning we were once again delayed by having to search high and low for our cat Daniel. He was getting really annoying! Once found, we left for Beaver Creek and drove through the mystical, smoky Blue Ridge Mountains. As we crept up steep winding roads, tall green pine trees stood guard along the roadside and mountain laurel and rhododendrons ran wild over the ridges. At the top of each peak, the road hugged the mountaintop and on one side was a sheer drop off that disappeared in smoky blue mist. Awesome!
At noon we arrived safely at Rev. Fulton Hodge’s apartment in Beaver Creek. And he set us up in the vacant apartment just next door to his residence. Fulton Hodge was a warm, loving man with a thick head of black hair, a bushy moustache and an engaging smile who ministered to this impoverished mountain community. For the next four days he was our kind and gracious host. He made sure all our meals were either prepared for us, brought to us potluck style or he took us out to restaurants - all on his tab. He drove us here and there in two old Scout jeeps that he had obtained somehow or other. I was duly impressed.
David Lynch and Fulton Hodge
That first evening he hopped into his beat up old jeep and led us to a Methodist camp where we set up in a meadow lined with tall, wispy pines. It was getting chilly by the time we performed at 7:30 for a small intimate crowd of friends and parishioners so it was particularly difficult to keep our instruments in tune. It was a truly majestic setting and I had a little trouble paying attention to what we were doing as I looked out at the mist enshrouded woods and the mountains fading into the horizon. Stunning! Afterwards we enjoyed good old country cookin: beans, biscuits with gravy and ham.
February 14th, Valentines Day. We piled into the two jeeps with Fulton for a radio interview, which for some reason never happened. This angered Fulton but he quickly shifted gears. Smiling brightly, he turned to us and asked, “Who wants to go meet a mountain man?” It sounded like a grand adventure. After rustling everyone up and grabbing some film, we crammed into the jeeps and bounced our way up a rocky, two-track road on the side of a mountain. Quite unnerving! Finally the woods grew so thick we couldn’t drive any further. We piled out and walked the rest of the way up until we reached a small ramshackle shack way at the top, what a view!
Monroe's mountain home
As we hiked up, Fulton explained that the mountain man who lived there was completely content with his life, hard as it was. He would hike five miles up and down the mountain each day to get his mail or food, and yet he wouldn’t hear of living anywhere else. Knocking on the weathered door, we could hear rustling noises inside. The door swung open and there stood a thin, grizzled, sweet faced old man in a threadbare plaid coat. He gripped my hands with a powerful squeeze as Fulton introduced him simply as “Monroe.”
What an experience! I was totally impressed with the gentle countenance of the old man. He invited us into his dimly lit shack that Fulton has explained had no electricity or running water. The only source of light came from the sunlight streaming in through an open window. Monroe sat down by an old pot belly stove and began playing his “fiddle”, spinning out lively, danceable tunes that seemed to me to embody the sweet essence of his mountain life. After listening to him play for while, we sang Jesus He Knows. Next he brought out a hand carved homemade mountain banjo. One of the things he did to earn money was to carve banjos with nothing but a small jack knife. With a wink he explained it was the last one he had, as he plucked a few tunes on it. Amazed, we bought it from him on the spot! (However, being solid wood it never did carry much of a tune). Of course our visit wouldn’t be complete without jelly jars of homemade moonshine and boy did it pack a punch!
As we ventured back down the mountain, I asked Fulton about the violin. I had noticed that it had a label with the words Stradivarius and I wondered if it was just a fake or what? It was then that he told us an amazing story! He insisted that the “fiddle” that Monroe had been playing was a real Stradivarius and was one of the rare few left in the world! Monroe had inherited it from an aunt and never knew its true value. When Fulton first saw it, he took it into Atlanta to get new strings and had it appraised. After careful research, it turned out to be authentic. It was a well-kept secret that we agreed never to divulge as Fulton was adamant that it could destroy the simple and happy life Monroe so enjoyed. Well, we DID tell the story but we never told anyone the true name or location of our sweet old mountain man.
Feb 15-16th. Patricia had the flu so she rested all day. We gave an evening concert at St. Mary’s Church in Beaver Creek to which Bishop Henry came, then fellowship and a potluck supper. The next morning it was Melody’s turn for the flu, on top of her ulcers. Still we had to perform for the mass, and another special service, pack up and do it all over again at Grace Episcopal Church in Ashville, NC that evening. Sick or healthy it didn’t matter. Fulton Hodges was kind enough to help us load and unload, and was our nonstop tour guide from his lead position in his jeep.
Fulton Hodges left a lasting impression on me – a difficult feat given our constant jumping from spot to spot meeting so many people. He was such a selfless, gracious and caring human being, so funny yet deeply compassionate and in tune with his parishioners and their individual needs. He seemed to know exactly when someone needed an extra hand or help in landing a job, or when shut-in’s needed daily meals and visits. He taught me to be a little more careful in judging people by their appearance after our experiences in that poor mountain community.
Feb 17th. Barely a month into the tour and already we were dog-tired and worn down with colds and flu. We said our goodbyes to Fulton Hodge and drove to Boone for a last minute concert (which I for one wished hadn’t been arranged). We gave a lack luster performance to a small of a crowd (75) who barely responded – a dud in my book. We slipped away as quickly as we could. Shipen took the helm and drove up the winding, hair-raising mountain roads in a thick fog. It probably didn’t help that the rest of us nursed our bedraggled selves with moonshine (150 proof grain alcohol). By the time we made it to a scenic spot to park for the night, we were all feeling much better and I have no idea what Melody cooked for dinner or when we got to bed that night. Watch out for that moonshine!
February 18th. We woke up with throbbing hangovers to a rainy, drizzly miserable day. We drove to Maudlin, Georgia, bouncing over the railroad tracks and arrived at a typical Southern colonial church with tall white columns and an ancient red brick façade. John Stapelton, whom we’d met in NYC, welcomed us and showed us to our “accommodations” in the parish hall at Maudlin United Methodist Church. Still feeling worn down, we must have looked like a haggard bunch of derelicts as we dragged in our foam pads, sleeping bags, and perishable food. Melody cooked dinner while most of us leapt at the opportunity for a clean shower and a chance to freshen up. Showers were too few and far between. Clean and refreshed the performance went better that evening.
Feb. 19th Melody’s Birthday Celebration Part One. To celebrate Melody’s birthday we took her to a dress store called Tanner’s. It was time for a fashion makeover! Melody tended to dress in overalls, pants and oversized men’s shirts. We decided she needed a new, more feminine look. We women had a grand time dressing her up in frills and lacey tops, until finally she agreed (a bit reluctantly) to a white lace skirt and blouse and another crazy-quilt dress. She looked lovely in them!
Before our shopping adventure, we met in the parish hall for a brief yet very productive meeting about what our vision was for the Trees. Shipen seemed very concerned and started off by posing several questions. What was our vision for the Trees? Where were we headed? What did each of us think should be our ministry? Next he read from the Bible about St. Paul’s conversion and talked about our early vision and history for our newer members. Then Christopher shared that he felt that we had been given a gift of community, we had something good and holy, but we still had to work for it. Mary shared that to her, it was our music and that the music was a gift of faith we shared with others, it was God’s handiwork. Just as we were about to get into a deeper discussion, someone from the church walked up and said we had a long distance phone call from Sara Benstein. Quickly we agreed to think and pray about what each of us thought our vision was and “put a bookmark” in our discussion. Then we rushed in to take the phone call from Sarah. She told us what had been going on with her and that she’d meet us later on during the tour.
After shopping, we packed up and set out for Atlanta, Georgia, driving for a long time through the Appalachian mountains and parking somewhere in the dense fog on a road somewhere up in the mountains. It was pitch dark and when I went out to pee, Shimshi and Daniel slipped out and took off. Okay fine, spend the night outside you stupid cats, but you better be back in the morning!
February 20th: Mylanta in Atlanta-Melody’s Birthday Celebration Part Two. At the crack of dawn I heard a rooster that seemed to be crowing right outside the bus windows. Where are we? I looked out to see chickens strutting around a garbage dumpster and a short distance away a dog was barking and barking. What time is it? Climbing out of my sleeping bag, I looked around for the cats and then I remembered they’d snuck out the night before. Oh great! Damn cats! I got dressed and slipped outside calling, “Here kitty, kitty, kitty. Shimmieeee…here Shimmieee, Shimmiee, here kitty, kitty…Dannnniellll…..Dannnnielll.” I hadn’t even combed my hair so I must have looked pretty bedraggled poking around the dumpsters, digging through trash and lifting up boxes. After what seemed like ages, I started walking toward some nearby houses when both cats came running back with what I swear looked like grins on their faces. Thank God! As I returned to the bus, cats sprinting along behind me, a burly looking mountain man ventured over and introduced himself. A bit nervously I invited him into the bus and we served him black coffee, hot oatmeal and bread. After breakfast, he offered to give us rides on his hot rod dune buggy – What a blast! Finally we had to be on our way and he went up to each of us, shaking our hand in his huge, calloused hand. As we drove off he hollered something that was hard to make out over the noise of the bus engine, something like, “You all folks come with me now!” or was it “You all folks come back again now!”
We left the incredible majesty of the mountains and drove down into the busy metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia. We set up at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church then sent Melody off shopping so we could prepare for Part Two of her birthday party in typical Tree’s fashion. We cleaned and decorated the bus with dozens of yellow daisies and vines of real ivy, which Stephen stretched across the ceiling. He lit candles everywhere and set up a “communion of saints” across the dashboard with St. Martin the bullfighter, St. Sam the policeman and Aslan the Lion. Once everything was ready, Mary ushered Melody in and we kicked of the celebration with shots of Everclear (extremely potent 150 proof clear grain alcohol that would burn your throat if it wasn’t mixed with something else!) I can’t recall where we got it but man did it kick butt! Immediately time and space warped and changed. After a few more drinks someone coined the phrase “Mylanta in Atlanta” (Melody had an ulcer so was often swigging Mylanta for it) and this set us all to laughing. Soon we were in high spirits! We ate a delicious feast prepared by Shipen of baked chicken breasts topped with fried eggs topped with gravy and crumbled bacon, steamed cauliflower, fresh peas, wild rice and homemade bread. Unbelievably delectable!
After dinner, it was all we could do to keep a straight face when we had to make our way to the bathroom, which was inside the church. There was some kind of special meeting going on and to reach the bathrooms, we had to file right through the middle of a room full of somber looking church elders, a task we tried to accomplish by acting as sober and normal as possible. Each time, I focused on keeping my head down, trying to look detached and serious. But each time we re-entered the church it got harder and harder. We would make our way back to the bus and relax, ahhhhh, safe again, and then dissolve into laughing and giggling. It was a gas!
Finally after dinner, the plan was to treat ourselves to cocktails at the hotel nearby. So we put on our best suits and dresses, draped our arms around each other, and went weaving our way into the Atlanta Hyatt Regency Hotel. Once we stepped inside, it was so luxurious we just stood there for a minute in awe, gaping. Somehow we managed to pull ourselves together and made our way to the elevators. Unfortunately, we found ourselves on the wrong one that only stopped at the 22nd floor. Oops. Tee-hee-hick up-hee. So back down we rode, laughing and having a grand time. Finally we figured out which was the right elevator and took it up to the glass domed top floor restaurant, which had a 360-degree view of the city. The hostess escorted us to two tables next to the windows and we ordered peach daiquiris. The best part about it was that the whole floor rotated so that after about 40 minutes you were back to where you had started and the view of the city lights was incredible. One table took to discussing contemplative prayer, and the other chose to discuss nothing that serious. An hour later, we wended our way back to the bus for the final stage of the celebration and presented Melody with her presents: a water pistol, bubble wand and a crazy quilt birthday card. Believe it or not some stayed up to watch TV but I fell into bed and drifted into a happy, crazy, wonderful sleep. That was a night to remember – Mylanta in Atlanta! It was the best of times!
February 21, 1975. We awoke still in great spirits and enjoyed another rare day off shopping, baking cookies, and some ice cream after shopping. In the evening the men folk went to the movies while we women stayed home and sewed and sewed and relaxed together.
Shishonee and Mary in Atlanta
The next morning it was back to the old grind and we drove to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Atlanta. There a young priest met us and was kind enough to drive us to his home so we could all shower. On the way back, he told us a very grisly story about the time his mother and brother were attacked, burglarized and molested by a crazed pervert who terrorized them afterwards for days with random phone calls and letters. I was so frightened by the story that I insisted on sleeping next to Mary for the next two weeks!
Feb. 23rd. After playing for the morning mass, we were mingling with parishioners during coffee hour when all of a sudden the black janitor fell crashing against a plate glass door and gashed his head open, and then fell to the floor having an epileptic seizure. Shipen ran and got a spoon, which he placed into his mouth but the man kept gurgling, chewing his tongue and seemed to be choking. Someone turned his head to the side and luckily he began breathing again after what seemed like ages. After the seizure was over, he was rushed to the hospital to get stitches for the gash on his forehead. (We didn’t know it at the time but spoons should never be used for a seizure. It was the standard procedure for the 1970’s).
The evening concert went famously to a packed house (300 people!) largely due to advance ticket sales. In the audience was Cheryl Sullivan, the daughter of Mrs. Sullivan, my boss at the Cathedral gift shop. We packed up and drove to a rest stop outside of Dublin, Georgia where Christopher insisted he had the best sleep he’d had in some time! Not me. I was still having nightmares from the priest’s scary story.
The following day we played at Christ Episcopal Church, a small parish. Once again we enjoyed clean showers and a chance to do laundry! The most basic modern conveniences such as washing machines and showers were something I coveted when on tour. The evening concert was to a small crowd in a nearby tiny church, but it seemed to go over well enough.
February 25th we left Georgia and drove to sunny, warm and beautiful Florida - paradise! As we drove south the chilly weather changed and suddenly it was springtime. With David at the helm, we drove along roads lined with beautiful flowering dogwoods and magnolias and soon we saw tall palm trees, orange groves, and sandy soil. It was sunny and hot, what a delight! We picked up a few hitchhikers and invited them to join us for lunch but they declined so we dropped them off before reaching Jacksonville High School. Just off the freeway, the school had a timeless quality nestled amongst ancient gnarled trees smothered in ropes of Spanish moss, rolling green grass fields and some flat, modern buildings.
A priest ushered us into his office where he and Shipen sat smoking cigarettes and talking on and on as the smoke filled the tiny room with a gray, stifling haze. It was twilight by the time we enjoyed mail call and escaped the stale room to walk over for chicken dinner at a restaurant across the street. Then it was a free evening with showers, TV, walks or the school play.
February 26, 1975. At this point in the tour we were crabby and short tempered. Habits like leaving dirty socks in a corner or dirty dishes in a bed got old quick. Melody was ashen and tight-lipped, trying to hide the pain of her frequent ulcer attacks, something she refused to talk about. All of us were edgy and snapping at one another too often. David and I were suffering through a long stretch of mutual anger and annoyance with one another. In the chronicle I wrote that even the way David warmed up his flute just before the concert was grating on me and I would nag at him to stop, but this only caused him to trill away even longer. Harrumph!
After lunch, we played for about 400 white upper class students at Jacksonville High School who were eager, appreciative and focused. Afterwards, Patricia and I set out to explore the unique Florida terrain searching for snakes and lizards while Stephen and his brother Christopher enjoyed an energetic game of tennis. In the evening we played at All Saint’s Episcopal Church where we were welcomed by a kindly priest named Whitey who showed us to our sleeping quarters in the coffee house (some slept in the bus).
Feb. 27. In just a few days we would be taking a vacation and I could almost taste it! Possibly as a mental health maneuver, each of us had taken to reading books during our spare time (as opposed to arguing or hashing out every little detail). I was deep into a book about Harpo Marx, someone else was reading about Harry Truman, someone else was reading about the life of a country priest.
Our morning classes had degenerated into long monologues by Shipen while I sat in a resentful silence. Sometimes Stephen would lash out in angry rebuttal or someone else might burst out in pent-up anger. I was getting really annoyed with Shipen’s know-it-all lectures and but I decided to bite my tongue since disagreements usually led to even longer arguments. Shipen was always right and I was always wrong. Melody on the other hand often sought Shipen out for long discussions with him. Well good for her. I felt that my opinion was not respected so I was just going to just keep my mouth shut. Meanwhile, Stephen and Christopher spent a lot of time walking and talking together. David confided in Stephen and even Patricia often talked long into the night with Shipen. It seemed like I was the only one who kept my thoughts to myself and suffered along in silence. I indulged in a little self pity...I missed the arm-in-arm walks, the friendship, the joking and good-natured rivalry David and I had shared on previous tours. I missed the silly wrestling sessions we had, rolling on the Indian rug, tickling each other and laughing so hard I couldn’t stop. I missed my wonderful discussions with Sarah and Stephanie. How did I become so cut off from everyone? What had happened to me that I had become so completely alone? I felt as if I was stranded on an island of isolation. Ah community life. How strange and how lonely it had become to me.
February 28th. We set up in All Saint’s Church in Jacksonville, Florida. The tables were somewhat flimsy on which we set up the barge, but luckily there were no mishaps when we performed for the church preschool. The audience was a sea of happy, laughing, excited black and white children. We demonstrated the instruments and showed them how we layered the music. They loved it but I think the teachers enjoyed it even more!
After the evening concert, I decided I just needed to be alone so after supper I went for a walk instead of helping pack up. Shipen was furious I didn’t pitch in and misconstrued it as an act of defiance. When I got back he blew up saying that “all the women split” and “didn’t help clean up” (which in fact was unusual in that we women had been doing most of the packing up after concerts - at least so I thought at the time (smile). Then Melody said she wasn’t going to eat. This led to an all out argument and yelling after which I burst into tears and retired to my bed feeling angry, misunderstood and unloved. Definitely time for a vacation!
March 1st we drove to All Saints Episcopal Church in Orlando, a charismatic parish that had been (I think) visited in the past by Graham Pulkingham in some capacity. After unloading, we women went to shop at K-mart and do all the laundry while the men washed the bus. In the evening some went to the movies and Stephen and Christopher played tennis in the dark.
March 2nd. I approached Shipen and asked if I could talk with him about David and I. I explained how disconnected I felt with the distance growing between David Lynch and I and how aggravated he and I were getting with each other. Something as stupid as the tempo of a song infuriated me. What could I do? What was happening to he and I? We talked until it was time for the 11:00 service. In the end I agreed to turn it over to God in prayer and try to be more patient and less annoying.
After the mass, we rushed over to the parish hall for a forum. One woman was very confrontational, questioning our faith and insisting we give testimony about our faith in Jesus as Lord. Aside from her pushy questions, everyone else had the usual, “How did you ever decide on those instruments? How did you learn to play them? How do you write your music? What are your influences?” The same questions over and over. I was getting tired of it. Yup, definitely time for a vacation. After the evening concert, we were all given free tickets to Disney world. Oh joy!
March 3rd. A day at Disney World. Our hosts even provided a station wagon. As we walked through the amusement park I was amazed at the masses of people everywhere. We waited what seemed like hours in lines but it was great fun even so. I had a blast riding Space Mountain and visited all four worlds - Fantasy world was my favorite. We tried to cram in as much fun into one day as we could.
March 4 –6th. We spent the next three days in Lakeland Florida at another All Saints Episcopal Church, a small, conservative rural parish. Thursday was our final concert for the first half of the tour, thank God! After the performance, it seemed that finally, finally, the Christ Tree had developed into a well-polished, beautiful concert piece. In the audience that night were Dorian Gregg (who flew in from NYC to spend his vacation with Shipen), Ariel and his friend Wesley, and Mr. And Mrs. Lebzelter. Mr. Lebzelter remarked that he felt we had become very professional and topnotch performers. That was encouraging!
That night I thoroughly enjoyed our candlelight dinner with the choir, clergy and friends. It felt warm and peaceful as we sat together listening to a blessing given by Shipen. Finally, a glorious vacation!
March 7-26th, 1975. For the next three days we stayed with Ariel and Wesley at their lovely beach house apartment in St. Petersburg, on the Gulf. As always, Ariel was the conscientious, ever attentive host. One day we did a photo shoot on the beach, to use for a future publicity poster. Ariel was back to his old self, snapping pictures all afternoon.
Ariel shooting pictures
March 11, 1975. After enjoying a wonderful visit with Ariel, we drove down to stay at Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys. We sang several songs (sans instruments) at the Church of St. James the Fisherman on nearby Plantation Key. Afterwards, Shipen left with his parents and Dorian for a long fishing trip and vacation somewhere in Florida.
Shipen had a successful day deep sea fishing
What luxury! For two weeks I kicked back and went fishing, snorkeling, swimming and laid on the beach. It was paradise and exactly what we needed: watching dolphins leaping in and out of the water, catching conk shells and boiling the meat inside to make a huge pot of fresh conk chowder, and lying on blankets each night gazing contentedly at the stars. Alas, finally it was time to leave sunny Florida and head to our next stop, Houston. Melody penned the next chronicle entry.
Saturday, March 29, 1975. Houston Arrival. We left the overnight rest stop at which we stayed in Louisiana at about 9:30, after rising about 7:45 a.m. The bus was put in pristine condition or as nearly pristine as was possible. A ton of fishy dishes were washed (via the boiling water on the range technique since there wasn’t other suitable for dishwashing); I washed the bus windows inside and out, we agreed that the night’s rain would have to do for a bus wash since the outside temperature was 45 or 50. And so off into Texas. Crossing the border Christopher and Stephen whooped and hollered and began singing “Yellow Rose of Texas” and smoking a rather obnoxious cigar. Somewhere about an hour and half out of Houston, Stephen had a bus driving lesson from Christopher while David and Shishonee played pinochle with Melody [oh my God, I forgot how much we used to play pinochle and how I loved that game!]. Melody was annoyed that Stephen was the next to learn how to drive the bus as she was anxious to learn.
Once near Houston, a telephone call to Roger and Claudia revealed both directions to their house on McKinley Street and that Shipen had arrived the night before. We ate a delicious lunch of fish balls (courtesy of Patricia) before descending upon McKinney House early in the afternoon.
At this point five emotion packed days followed. Shipen especially enjoyed seeing Roger and Claudia and felt that personal reconciliation was already being effected. The Houston chill had ground through everyone and the entire community was most happy to go inside (after the bus was duly shown off) and warm themselves by the gas fire that was stationed in the fireplace. Once inside, we met the Gumbiner children, Julie and Joshua, and the two young people living with Roger and Claudia.
First on the agenda was washing costumes that had been forgotten by everyone since Lakeland, Florida. Claudia and Roger's son Joshua settled down to playing bus driver (while Claudia or Mary watched) and a tentative, strained conversation was begun in the living room.
Easter Sunday, March 30, 1975. Easter breakfast was made by Patricia and followed by driving to Redeemer services at 10:00. We arrived just in time to get folding chair seats together up front. We were all dressed in our easter finest, with Patricia wearing her sister’s lace dress and Shipen in a white shirt and plaid suit jacket. There was a very short sermon…”Do you believe Christ rose from the dead? Yes. Halleluiah, Amen. What more can I say” given by Jeff. There were a few more hymns and many folk mass songs and a very fast exit on our part due to the need to get to Ascension. The concert was announced at the Redeemer mass.
Outside Church of the Redeemer Easter 1975
We zipped over and performed at Little Ascension Church and then enjoyed a fancy turkey dinner at Roger and Claudia’s. The following night there was a Trees style feast of Shipen’s delicious chicken a l’orange, Mary’s fresh baked bread and other yummy side dishes. Roger then arranged a meeting with he, Shipen, Jeff and the Redeemer elders. Meanwhile, I visited Stephanie’s household and wrote about it in the Chronicle...
Dinner began with children’s songs along with hand movements such as "This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, I’m gonna let it shine…”. The household was friendly and up beat with a lot of hugging and sharing of how the Lord had spoken to them and what had happened during their day. After dinner, Stephanie urged me to read the Bible more (okay, good point, I should probably do more of that) and that I needed to free myself of “hippie spirits” (thought I did that but I could pray again about that) find a pastor (nope, have one -Canon West) and that maybe God wanted me to lay down my harp (nope, not happening). I enjoyed seeing Stephanie again but felt somewhat uncomfortable.
The four days we spent at Redeemer did NOT bring reconciliation, alas. Only later did I find out what the meeting with the elders had been about. It seemed that Shipen and a fellow named "Pete" (not his real name) talked into the wee hours of night and Roger, misconstruing their discussion, asked the elders at Redemmer to intervene. During the meeting Shipen was accused of attempting to seduce Pete. Pete, for his part, felt the Lord was calling him to pastor the Trees, and this also disturbed Roger. Meanwhile, Shipen was hurt that his old friend would misconstrue his honest intentions and upset that Roger still didn’t trust him. Although the elders admitted our concert had been good, they would not acknowledge our ministry of music and in fact, once again, questioned our calling. Shipen called Father West who counseled that Redeemer was a menace and that we should leave. [Well, that was a bit harsh but it was true we didn't fit in there.] Shipen had a private talk with Roger and Claudia prior to our departure and seemed disappointed that the reconciliation he had so hoped for was not to be. He came away dissapointed and was visibly saddened for some time afterwards.
We played at St. John the Divine in Houston and some Redeemerites attended, quickly packed up and headed for Austin. As we drove off late that night toward Austin, I realized the full emotional impact Redeemer had on us during our first visit. I thought back on how we were nearly torn apart by the constant bombardment and attacks against our integrity. I also realized that the only thing that saved us originally was the fact that our next stop had been the Pecos monastery where we were accepted fully for who we were. Thank God Pecos nursed and supported us until our wounded self-confidence could heal. Thank God they nurtured our musical ministry.
April 3, 1975. As we neared the gently rolling hills near Austin, Texas, Stephen’s home turf, he brightened. He took a long walk that night and was up before dawn, wandering through the countryside. The land was alluring in its unusual beauty and I could now see where he came up with the poetry for the song Jesus He Knows…
Crystallite by Stephen Gambill
Deciduous trees again
Old wheels of wonder
Tracery of branches
like the growth of the crystal.
Huge uprooted trees lie in a field.
Then a grove –
grace between the white trunks,
dead branches on the groomed earth.
Buds clink among the limbs,
the slightest rustling of a chandelier.
I want the branches to stay bare.
To be touched on the eyes
by the old mandalas,
set in unseen motion.
I don’t want the spring
but the trees won’t stop.
I’m lifted into the conviction of it,
explosion and explosion.
My anchor is the bare branch.
A naturalist at heart, I too was drawn to take long walks in the Texas countryside. Austin had a natural allure that rivaled New Mexico’s for me. The lush valleys were like hidden green jewels, small oases tucked in a strange, desert wilderness. Gnarled and stunted mesquite trees stood like dry gray sentinels, an army of ghosts covering the rolling slopes. Instead of grass pastures, cows grazed between mounds of prickly pear cactus. Just when I felt overwhelmed by a strange mixture of despair and happiness, soft patches of yellow and purple flowers appeared, bringing their soft surprise. In the chronicle Stephen wrote: the flowers were like dappled sunlight, splashing the pastures with gentle murmurs of spring. The senseless blue of blue bonnets on the shoulders of the little highway, unasked for, unsuspected, pry a sense of heaven. Low cedar woods deepened the hills. Just as Pecos had done once before, the desperate beauty of the land brought healing to the torn places in my heart.
That evening we played at All Saint’s Episcopal in Austin for a small crowd of family and friends who didn’t seem to smile a lot and it did not seem to go very well. Luckily, things went better at the next night’s concert at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest at Duval and 32nd Street. The tone was upbeat, warm and inviting. Attendees in the audience were old friends of Patricia and Stephen’s, including Dennis from the Symphony house (Redeemer). For the next four days, we relaxed and visited with Stephen’s family and enjoyed a much welcomed break.
April 11, 1975. We drove to Stephen’s grandmother Mau-Mau’s home where we held a devotional service in her living room. Her parting gift for Steve was her portable typewriter. Then we were off to Arkansas and, in keeping with tradition, when we hit the border of Texas around early evening everyone joined in with hoops and hollering. We stopped for dinner at a tourist park just inside Arkansas.
As Shipen prepared another festive feast, we worked out details for the upcoming recording deal, signed paperwork and prepared a deposit check of $500 which we put in an envelope to send off to Roller Mills Studio in Glen Arbor, along with a tape of our music. With that out of the way, it was time to kick back and enjoy Shipen’s Mexican delight: tamales, tacos, refried beans, and enchiladas, all prepared with exquisite style and taste.
With lips tingling and bellies full, we settled in for a long night’s discussion. Once each of us had an after dinner cocktail of Southern Comfort or Everclear and coke, we began “Talk Number One” by exploring the positives of continuation of the Trees: re-evaluating our ideals, hopes, visions, experimentations, and the neo-monastic capitol R- Religious Life experience or “Christian Community Life in the 1970’s”. Melody started by asking yes/no questions about should we invite critics to our New York concerts and other questions. Then Shipen asked each of us to share our visions and ideals for the Trees. His vision was that we could be a fellowship, a community of brethren living in unity and peace sharing a common language of love. Ohhh, that sounded poetic. All of us agreed with that! I then posed the question, “Why, if we love each other and share fellowship, should there be such a great need for us to look outside our community for romance - that “special” kind of mutual-affection, personal in-love experience that a lover gives?” Why wasn’t our love of God and fellowship with each other enough? As we sipped our drinks, the barriers came down. We launched into a discussion of the difference between physical love and spiritual love. Could there be a chaste love, a love free of physical wants?
This led to discussion about our need to be honest with each other and more trusting. It was important to stop cutting each other down and instead “pat each other on the back” and build one another up. How it was easier to be sarcastic than to try to draw out the other person’s holiness (good point).
Next we talked about the music and the question was posed that if I left, could we continue? I admitted that I felt heavy pressure to stay because if I left, the music might fall apart. Then we talked more about our family as a Religious Community.
It was a weighty, long conversation but after Talk Number One, everyone seemed relieved. Most everyone had put their two cents in (with inflation 10 cents). I hoped that Talk Number Two would be as successful as this one had been.
April 12th. Drove to St. James Episcopal Church in Bolivar, Tennessee and then went up and down the street knocking on doors looking for a woman named Bess (someone had given us her name as a person to contact to arrange a last minute performance at St. James). A few doors down we met Ms. Bess who showed us where to park in a field behind the church. After dinner, we listened to a tape of The Christ Tree then split up, some to see the movie Blazing Saddles, others to go for a walk around town.
Sunday April 13th. Ms. Bess woke us up with a pitcher of fresh squeezed orange juice and an invitation to come see her garden - what gracious southern hospitality! Later, the church priest stopped by and invited us to sing a song during the service (we had arrived unannounced hoping to be able to at least perform during the Sunday morning service). We agreed, dressed up in our green robes, and then played Psalm 45 following the sermon (donation- $41). Then off to the university at Sewanee.
The next morning we met Canon Dennis from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine who was giving a week-long seminar at the University on divorce, planned death, legalization of marijuana and other issues. We had dinner with George Myers and his family after which Shipen taught everyone intricate Chinese hand positions while others of us watched a TV special on Chief Joseph and the Nez Pierce Indians.
Shipen teaching Christopher hand movements
On Tuesday we lectured to two religious classes at the seminary about community life, our Christian lifestyle and music. Then we hurried over to St. Andrews High School and gave a musical demonstration for an assembly there, kicked off by Canon Dennis.
At this point after three grueling months on the tour I was anxious to for it just be over but we still had over two weeks to go and an album to record. I was physically present but my heart was elsewhere. I dreamed of being in a different time and space: back in the Florida Keys, or Pecos, New Mexico or in the hills of Texas, or working in my garden on the Close. I buried myself in books and daydreamed as I washed laundry.
As we were leaving the high school, our rascally cat Daniel jumped off the bus and escaped into some nearby thickets. After an exasperating search through the brambles, we snatched him and hustled him back onto the bus and drove back to the seminary to spend a free afternoon and evening. I went rappelling off a cliff with George Myers (thrilling!) while others went to the movies or the symphony.
April 16th. After lunch, Shipen met with the Bishop of Houston and talked about our experiences at Church of the Redeemer. Concert at 6:30pm for 300 or so students. After a brief reception, we pointed the bus toward Gethsemani and the monks we had missed so much. It was the middle of the night when we finally arrived, so we parked outside the gatehouse under the stars and dropped off to sleep, exhausted but grateful to be back “home”.