Chapter 5: "Beeline Back to Love"

Part 5:

Beeline Back to Love
1961-1963

The Most Loyal Innkeeper in Bordeaux

On Monday, March 13, 1961, the ship on which I was a third-class passenger sailed north around the corner of Spain and then west through the Bay of Biscayne toward mainland France. The swells were large and long but admirably smooth. The ship was “surfing” the swells, not heading into them as on the outbound journey. We slowed into the Garonne River, the waterway that would take us to the home berth in Bordeaux and I knew that I’d made the entire northerly run from Conakry to home port with no seasickness. I stood in the cold air on deck with some of my African friends, all of us nearly freezing in the temperate zone spring air, and explained some sights along the way as they glimpsed Europe for the first time.

France looked different to me, I noted in my journal, than when I had departed in November. Then I focused on the grayness of both buildings and skies, and on the cold and rain. Now, returning, the sun was shining, leaves were budding on trees, a spring breeze was billowing, and all of that put me in a gay mood. The spring atmosphere gave me a new vision of old France. France looked better.

At about noon the ship was boarded by police, customs and shipping officials. After dinner we cleared our papers with them. When finally when we docked in Bordeaux, I was ready to debark and made it quickly down the gangplank, one of the first passengers onto the dock. I didn’t need to take time to kiss my relatives, as did the French passengers, so I was one of the first through customs. I taxied to my old flophouse at 5 rue de Sèze, where I had left my cold weather clothes in the tremendous rush of my pressured departure months ago, and checked into a room with a bathtub. The luxury of the tub required a higher room rate of me but I needed a warm bath.

The faithful innkeeper recognized me, went to a storage closet and came back with my duffel bag, which he handed over for a very small fee and a very big smile. My main concern all along had been the condition of my overcoat. In departure months before I had stored it wet. Now, on inspection, luckily it wasn’t moldy. If it had been, though, I knew how to fix that, thanks for Mrs. Knowles at Tournata. Everything in the bag was in good order except that all the clothing items were wrinkled.

My next order of business very late in the afternoon was to collect mail at the United States Consulate. Here again, I was fortunate. My parents had unexpectedly sent $50. I received mail from relatives and from the Canadian Pacific company with a reservation for travel home from England.
I decided to celebrate. I walked over to the Bordeaux National Opera House and bought a $1.00 ticket for a play. Then I went on to a travel agency to purchase tickets from Bordeaux to London. Finally, back at the hotel I had time to hang clothing items in the closet. Prioritizing and operating by a time schedule were skills of mine that had grown rusty.

I purchased a ticket to a play for several reasons. First, I was absolutely determined that I’d take in some concerts and plays in Europe on this visit. Also, I wanted to see how the audience conducted itself or behaved in a French theater. In addition, I thought I might be able to catch at least a few phrases of dialog.

Starting with the last item first, I could understand absolutely none of the French. I could follow the plot in general by watching the actions, but that was only about as exciting as watching a television quiz show with the sound turned off. I was bored and left the theater during intermission.
As for observing the conduct of a French audience, I noted nothing different than what I experienced among an American audience at a play. No wild clapping and no “huzzahs.” Simply because I couldn’t keep up with the French dialogue, I decided that I’d seen plenty of French plays. However, I still hoped to see some theater in London.

On Tuesday morning I started out early in order to catch an 8:05 a.m. train for Paris. I did beat the train to the station. However, my plan was frustrated. I found that the train was reserved for holders of first-class tickets only. I was only second class, so I hung my head and waited for a noon departure. The extra four hours gave me time to walk around a sunny Bordeaux, so the wait was delightful. I ate a candy bar for lunch, scrimping again because I’d spent 1600 francs on the hotel room with the tub.

Onto a Cunard Transatlantic Liner

Sightseeing from the train was as delightful as the wait in Bordeaux had been. Once every few miles a fine old chalet would come into view. There seemed to be no end of these aristocratic country houses. Some spring flowers were abloom, vineyards were leafing out, and farmers were working the fields using their mechanized equipment. I traveled on a slow train. In the afternoon, the sights had grown routine. More and more, I was hungry and tired. At 6:30 p.m. the train finally reached the Austerlitz station and I exited into the parking square to find a taxi ride to my Paris digs, the Hotel de deux Continents.

I accidentally chose a daredevil of a taxi driver. At 6:30 p.m. with the rush hour in full tilt in Paris, the traffic seemed to challenge the driver to charge through like a fool, just missing pedestrians in as well as out of crosswalks. We hit a top speed of 80 kilometers per hour on several short stretches. This taxi ride was the transportation thrill of the entire trip.

Arriving at the hotel, I was pleased to find a room for only eight francs, somewhat under $2. This was a record low for my Paris stays. I’d paid nothing that low on my previous two occasions. The bargain room rate entailed an offsetting cost. I was disappointed at the location on the fifth floor of the walkup hotel (the sixth floor by American numbering scheme.) The staircase climb was arduous, but I felt the need of exercise after confinement in third class on the boat for two weeks, so six flights of stairs were okay.

Once in the room I was too tired to go out immediately and flopped on the bed for a while. About 7:30 I went out to look for a restaurant. The prices were so high that I nearly decided not to eat. After walking and searching for a mile I found a place I thought I could afford. I ordered salad and a piece of boiled chicken with rice, plus Brussels sprouts, horribly prepared, all for 7 francs. The dining room floor tipped from front to back, I was given no napkin, and the room was heated poorly by one old pot-bellied stove set in the middle of the eating area. I wasn’t alone in my misery. Many others were there, Parisian students and middle class people.

I was in the habit of eating plenty, three times a day, which was the norm in Liberia and on the ship. My goodness, it was difficult to break that habit and migrate back to the student fare of a meal or two a day and bread the rest of the time.

I’d planned to stay in Paris for three days. I intended to leave for London Friday. As I looked through my Paris guidebook, though, I began to realize that I had missed so much in my previous two visits. Also, I was just now in Paris at a beautiful springtime season. On the basis of these two factors I decided to stay in Paris for two extra days, leaving on Monday, March 20.

I began a more or less systematic schedule of visits to principal spots indicated in the guide book. Île de la Cité, Central Paris in general, the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Pont Neuf, the Louvre Palace and the Arc de triomphe were my main destinations. I revisited the Café des Deux Magots, so near to my hotel. On this second visit I made certain to pay the waiter himself, not the cashier as before. I left in great dignity instead of in humiliation as I did after my first meal there, months ago.  

I visited several churches but had my greatest thrill at the church of Saint-Sulpice, a large structure influenced by Greek architecture. I more or less wandered into the church at about 10:00 a.m. By sheer coincidence, I arrived as an organist played the famous five-keyboard, 118 register organ in recital. The organ, set into the balcony, filled the enormous nave with sonorous melody. A coffin was carried out as a deep-toned bell tolled. The concert, it turned out, was in memory of a dead person. Angled beams of spring sunlight streamed in through tall south wall windows, offsetting the emotional gloom of the funeral ceremony.

Outside again and in front of a medieval structure, the Hôtel de Cluny, I struck up a conversation with an African passerby. He turned out to be Ghanaian, a student of theology at Oxford University. Since it was noon, we ate together at Self-Service-Latin. The buffet was a great find. Here I could eat every meal at a reasonable four francs (about 75-80 cents.) I happened to bring up a current event: the departure of the Republic of South Africa from the Commonwealth over the matter of apartheid. My new friend said, “But you have apartheid in the U.S., don’t you?” He said that when Africans think of apartheid, they think of the U.S. and South Africa as the two main offenders. He felt that discrimination was equally bad in both places. This was a signal to me of the harm done by America to itself by its racial practices.

France, in contrast, was to be praised for its liberal racial attitudes, according to the Ghanaian. I began to look around. I saw many interracial couples in the crowds on the street. My Ghanaian friend appreciated the French attitude very much. The national motto, Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité (French for Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity) seemed to mean a lot.

In the next couple of days I attended four formal concerts, including a Paris Philharmonic concert. The dramatic hall had four balconies and my ticket was for a seat in the top section. I ran into a tipping problem again. An usherette outside the door to the fourth balcony looked at my ticket, handed it back again, but did nothing more except to ask for a tip. I felt she’d done nothing to deserve a tip. She ran after me. “Teep! Teep!” I gave her a tip and peevishly took my seat. The concert was marvelous and I concluded that a man or woman who plays in a symphony orchestra has one of the world’s best callings.

My time was running short. I had to leave Paris, sad though I was at departing. I simply reversed the original journey from London to Paris. This time it was a French train, a cross-Channel boat, and train into London.

In London, out of habit perhaps, I called the Peace Haven hostel, the institution at which Bill and I had stayed at a low rate. They took me in. After dinner I went straight to bed and slept under a mound of wool blankets for warmth. The British, or at least the British house keepers of Peace Haven, seemed to prize cold air. Even on a cold day they left the windows open.

I experienced socialized medicine. I’d been growing a wart on my thumb for weeks. In Paris, it had become infected. I went to a medical office near Peace Haven and requested treatment. All I had to do was to sign a notice of temporary residence. I received treatment and noted in my journal, “perhaps I’ll return home as a left-winger.” Travel experience can broaden one’s thinking.

I took care of steamship business, wrote important letters, and bought tickets for plays. I saw “King Kong,” a South African production. My next theater event was “Flower Drum Song,” the Rogers and Hammerstein musical. Then I saw a play, “J.B.,” Archibald MacLeish’s version of Job.

The London cultural scene was fascinating but so were the people, particularly some “mates” of mine at Peace Haven. On this occasion I stayed there long enough to get acquainted. One of the mates was a sociology graduate of London University, employed in London in the Ceylonese embassy. He was very distinguished, understanding and yet seemingly humble in attitude. He was the perfect Christian, perhaps, except that he was a Hindu. He told me many things about Hinduism—that a quiet and orderly life is its philosophy. A Hindu’s actions are peaceful. A kind word and a helpful act are part of his daily practice. What a great way of life for practitioners of Hinduism.

I thought that Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism all seem like abstraction concepts in sermons or lectures. It’s different when you meet a human being who professes a faith. Flesh and blood is more realistic, more holistic, than words.

I met a quiet, studious native of South Africa. According to his story, which I recorded but couldn’t confirm, he was admitted to a hospital and then discharged a few days before he was scheduled to leave his homeland for England. He bribed someone for a passport and then moved quickly from place to place within the country to elude the police. He got onto a ship bound for Britain and was now working, studying, and waiting for the South African revolution, which, he predicted, would begin in late 1963. Later events would show that he was correct in predicting a rising against apartheid, but was about a decade early in timing.

On Sunday I attended morning and evening services at the Regent Hall of the Salvation Army. The worship events were centered on the death of the Chief of Staff of the Salvation Army International. Hundreds of people attended each service. To me, the services seemed quite typical of evangelical Christianity, except that singing was accompanied by a brass band.

I broke the mood of Sunday morning and evening worship by spending much of the afternoon at nearby Hyde Park Corner, the famous location of complete freedom of speech. I quickly deduced two types of speakers. Some groups were proponents of a specific cause, such as nuclear disarmament, Communism, or some form of Christianity. The other category consisted of clever groups or individuals offering entertainment of various forms. I spent much time enjoying one old man, dressed nearly as a bum, standing up on a box and giving his candid opinions about everything from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” to President Kennedy. He gathered quite a crowd and must have enjoyed himself. I admired the British spirit that specified a place in town for such acting out.

Finally, on Tuesday, on the day of my departure for home, I boarded an Empress Line passenger train in London, running direct to the Empress Line dock in Liverpool. Once at the dock, along with over 500 other passengers, I embarked on the Empress of Britain, a 22,500 ton white vessel, much larger than the ships that took me to and from West Africa.
The Empress towered over the warehouse and pier to which it was tethered. Once on board, luxury prevailed, so much so that I, still the frontier hick, now felt quite out of place at my dining table. Initially, at least, I was deferential to objects such as the sterling silver flower bowl, table setting of nine pieces for each diner, silver bowls and pitchers. The diners were attended by a uniformed waiter who served two tables and a total of six persons. After just a few hours I grew used to the pampering and luxury and became less deferential. It’s seemingly easier to move up the economic ladder than to move down.

The meals were simply out of this world. My candy bar lunches were over for the duration of the Atlantic crossing. I chose from several choices at each meal. A typical breakfast could include grapefruit, grilled smelt, a bowl of rice krispies, two fried eggs and bacon, a bun, and an apple. A typical dinner consisted of soup, filet of whitefish, pork chops with two vegetables, and a dessert of pie a la mode plus an orange.

The evening entertainment was rather worldly for someone with my taste: dancing, drinking and bingo prevailed I could have chosen bingo but I generally opted to attend a film show. The crew offer community sings every evening but these were dominated by old, single ladies and I ducked out of that venue.

Quite a few young people of my age were on board, some returning home from journeys like mine and others moving to Canada as immigrants from the U.K. and elsewhere. We shared travel joys and some tears with each other and bonded quickly.

But the most exhilarating part of the trip related to sea conditions. Almost every day, the captain declared the sea to be “rough.” He had a classification system, so one particular day was even worse than mere rough: “Very Heavy Swells, Very Heavy Waves, and Gale Force Winds.”  

What a tough day to be on the sea! The stout, large ship pitched and tossed like a stick in a mountain creek. The propeller shafts often came out of the water and roared at high speed until the stern went down again. The bow lifted up and then plunged into the sea sending up a huge wake and white spray. The ship would frequently shake from one end to the other with a flexibility like rubber. I avoided seasickness by skipping lunch and spending fourteen hours in bed that day. A transatlantic passenger in my circumstances could choose airline travel and avoid the travails of storms at sea, but lose the opportunity of enjoying luxury on board a Cunard liner.

As we neared North America and the mouth of the St. Lawrence River the sea calmed down. Interest in sea conditions picked up even more, though, for we began to run into cakes of ice. At first, ice cakes were infrequent and merely random. Soon the cakes were larger and closer together. Eventually the ship proceeded very slowly, perhaps because the captain feared damage to the hull. When the ice became a solid sheet as far as the eye could see the captain ran the motors fast but the ship stopped dead in an ice flow about ten feet thick. We passengers had no way to know where we were, exactly. All we knew for sure is that we were stuck in ice.

During the stop the captain radioed for instructions. One of the passengers heard a report on his short wave radio that a Canadian ice breaker was coming to our aid. Meantime, after a couple of hours, the captain decided to try again. After racing the motors at high speed for at least five minutes, we finally began to move again. The ice flow became thinner and thinner until the ship was practically clear of ice. The captain announced that the river was sufficiently clear of ice to allow us make port at Montreal, the original destination.

The ship moved ahead during the night and the following day through scattered cakes of ice. Finally, at dusk, we passengers caught a glimpses of snow-covered hills on the river bank. I slept all night and awoke in the morning to find out that the ship had docked, not at Montreal, but further downriver at Quebec City. Apparently the ice conditions changed again during the night. The captain had to change his mind.

Customs officials had to check each and every piece of luggage before we passengers could debark. They seemed harried, as if they’d never seen such a large group of passengers. I got through inspection quickly and had about two hours of free time while the remaining passengers were cleared. An English immigrant and I teamed up to see the sights of Quebec City, which were impressive, by foot.  At 1 p.m. the train finally left the boat-side but it took another hour of switching and connecting of cars before our special train left for Montreal. Once released to travel we moved rapidly, but still not fast enough for me. When we reached Montreal I rushed to the American Express office to collect my mail, but it was closed for the night. I took a room in the Y.M.C.A. and collected my letters the next morning.

That evening I contacted my parents by telephone for our first unhurried conversation since the previous September. They amazed me again with their support. They told me that they’d purchased a new Ford; it would be waiting for me in Detroit! This wasn’t a gift of an automobile to me, though. On my dad’s part, he wanted to purchase a car in Detroit to avoid having to pay the subsidy required by automobile companies for cars they delivered to buyers west of the continental divide. My role was to drive the new car to Tacoma to save him the delivery fee. But the arrangement certainly worked for me. All I had to do was to pick up the car and drive 2,500 miles west. I made “home port” in Tacoma in mid-April, 1961, about seven months after departure.


TRANSFORMATION


I came home a different person. I’d clarified my spiritual outlook. As I put it for myself, living in the way of Jesus was of more importance to me than rationalized doctrine. Those simple points became my personal foundations for life. Heart prevailed over doctrine for me. In terms of role models, that meant Pastor Meinhardt over Francis Schaeffer. Educationally, it meant Biblical Seminary over Western Evangelical Seminary.

Based on that discovery, I entered theological school in the fall of 1961 at Biblical Seminary in New York City rather than in Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t easy for me to contact Western Evangelical Seminary with the news. The administrators there were my personal friends and were also held power over my future life. Their allies, though not they themselves, would constitute the majority of members in a board of clergy when I came before them for ordination after three or four years of formative education. I knew that I might not be approved if I attended any seminary other than Western Evangelical. The way of Jesus entailed risks in my era just as in the first century. I was willing to separate from Western Evangelical, even though it was as emotional as divorce would be for a married couple.

LOVING LUCY

A huge loose end yet remained to be tied: my affectionate and loving ties to Lucy, which had been sundered—but not completely shattered because they lived on in memory—by my clumsy breakup with her in the spring of 1960 in order to travel.

Lucy was living in Oregon during the summer of 1961, and I was tied down with my usual summer work in the pickle plant in Tacoma. I could have communicated with her by letter or even a personal visit, but I didn’t. I put it off.

That fall, Lucy began her senior year at Seattle Pacific. In January 1962, she was the senior representative on the Homecoming Court—a princess! Finally, she was elected Homecoming queen by the student body. She was interviewed for the college paper. Before photos were taken, she picked out her formal. Another fellow escorted her to the grand Homecoming banquet. I should have been there as her escort.



Seattle Pacific Homecoming Queen Lucy, 1962

But I was in graduate school in Manhattan, with my nose in a book, my weekend filled with service as an assistant in an EUB congregation in Queens, and exploring the City with any free time! If I’d become a bit more sophisticated in travel and self-definition, I had not progressed at all in matters of love.

After Lucy’s reign at the Homecoming event of 1962, a couple of my classmates from Seattle Pacific got a forceful message through to me. If you want to relate to Lucy, you’d better get in touch now while she’s still free!

Shortly after that warning, in a letter home about her sore throat and her senior vocal recital Lucy closed with a question: “Guess who I received a letter from? He is coming home soon and would like to see me.”

Her mom, dad, brother and sister were on pins and needles. Who would that be?

After a blank space she continued, “Oh, his name. Well, something like Darrell Reeck. Hmmm!”
When I wrote the letter to Lucy I knew I had egg all over my face, having failed to communicate for 18 months. Nevertheless and amazingly, she wrote back expressing interest in seeing me. Her message was an act of grace. I arrived back in Seattle/Tacoma in time for the senior banquet—and this time I was her escort. The chorus of Bizet’s Toreador song did not ring out for us but it would have been appropriate.

The summer of 1962 was good for both of us. Lucy had graduated from college but was taking summer school courses in completion of her education major. She was living in Seattle in the home of family friends, Bill and Belle Elmer, just a few blocks east from Aurora Avenue, near the north end of Green Lake. She’d already contracted to teach in Shoreline Public Schools for the 1962-63 school year.

During the summer of 1962, I was back in Tacoma, working in the Nalley’s pickle plant. I drove to Seattle on Highway 99 to see Lucy whenever I had a day off. We did lots of things together, such as driving up to the summit of Snoqualmie Pass or attending Compline at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
Seattle was in the midst of the 1962 World’s Fair. The Space Needle towered over the city, and the monorail rushed people between Pioneer Square downtown and the World’s Fair Site. The Fair offered us plenty of exciting things to do.

In July, we took a day trip via a fast catamaran to Victoria, B.C., with Marilyn Burns and Ron Wick. Ron was the same practical joker with whom I’d been friends through junior high school, high school, and college. On the return trip, Lucy and I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker: “Two children, Lucy Reeck and Darrell Reeck, are lost. They are brother and sister, aged four. Will they please come to the Purser’s Office?”

Ron liked to tease.

LUCY’S FIRST VISIT TO MY FAMILY HOME

Later in July, Lucy came home with me to University Place for an overnight stay with my family. That evening, I showed her slide photographs of my entire Europe/Africa trip. Afterwards, my parents went to their bedroom, and Lucy and I chatted in hers. She leaned back in her bed, and I began tickling her. After we carried on for a while, I heard heavy footsteps in the hallway and a knock at the door. It could be only my Dad. I jumped to the door, and through the doorway I told him, “We’re just having our evening devotions.”

Our giggles probably didn’t sound like devotions to him, but my answer was unassailable theologically, and he walked back to bed with a low-voiced warning of some kind.
I left her for the night and slowly climbed the stairs to my second-floor bedroom. So close, so far away. Despite that interruption, the long hours watching photos, and my possibly smelling like a pickle, Lucy expressed that she’d had a wonderful weekend.

POPPING THE QUESTION

A bench with a view, just off of the parking lot of St. Mark’s Cathedral where the night lights of Queen Anne Hill could be seen sparkling in mirror-smooth Lake Union is the romantic spot where we sat late one Sunday evening after Compline. I asked Lucy to marry me and she said, “Yes.” Fantastic!

By August, Lucy had us sounding and acting like a couple in letters to her parents back in Salem. She reported that we were looking at wedding rings, china, bedroom sets, and all sorts of things that we dreamt of having. She’d end a letter home with something like, “Darrell sends greetings to all of you.”

In September, Lucy wrote to her parents that she’d been back in Tacoma, where she and I sat through an evening worship service and cried. That’s because we were about to be separated once again. I was headed to Chicago for my second year of theological school at Evangelical Theological Seminary and would be gone for an entire nine months. She added that my Mom cried, too.
For this time away from Lucy, I communicated with her a lot by letter and telephone.

The brightest spot during the school year was Lucy’s visit to my place of work in Chicago over Christmas vacation. I was living on North Wilton Street, about a block south of its intersection with Diversey Parkway. My assignment as a student ministerial intern was to the Parish of the Holy Covenant, and our host and hostess for her visit were John and Peggy Winters, co-pastors. That visit went smoothly, with trips out of the neighborhood to the sights and sounds of the Chicago Loop. The visit went quickly, too, and far too soon Lucy had to fly back to Seattle to her classroom job.

In June 1963 I flew from Chicago to Seattle-Tacoma Airport and Lucy, her family, and I began preparations in earnest for our Sunday, June 23rd wedding in Salem, Oregon. On wedding day the bride was beautiful. The stately brick walls and heavily shingled roof of First Evangelical United Brethren Church, located right on the capitol mall, sheltered the ceremony. After the minister pronounced the magic words “husband and wife,” everyone moved on to the ballroom of the nearby hotel for a smashing reception, during which our car was wired with cans that rattled and banged on the street as we rushed out of town for a honeymoon in the quiet Pacific Ocean beach town of Neskowin, due west of Salem.

And who suggested the Chelan Lodge for a honeymoon? None other than my supposedly no-nonsense mother, who had the capacity to overcome her taciturn nature and produce warm and loving suggestions.

Lucy and I had tied a knot that brought loose ends together. And I felt that I had strayed a lot but was finally and truly home—home for a lifetime!

And I offer a literary hug now to readers who’ve stuck with me all this way. May the love of God be with you.











Sources

Butcher, Tim. Chasing the Devil. New York: Atlas & Co. Publishers, 2010.

Campbell, Greg. Blood Diamonds. Westview Press, 2002.

Fyfe, Christopher. A History of Sierra Leone. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Megill, Esther L. Sierra Leone Remembered. Bloomington: AuthorHouse, 2004.

Mills, J. S. Mission Work in Sierra Leone, West Africa.  Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House, 1898.


Olsen, Lois. Contentment is Great Gain. Milwaukee: Leone Press, 1996.

Harris, W. T. and Harry Sawyerr. The Springs of Mende Belief and Conduct.  Freetown: Sierra 
Leone University Press, 1968.


Reeck, Darrell. Letters and journal, 1960-61.

Dinesen, Isak. Out of Africa. New York: Modern Library, 1992.

Greene, Graham. Journey without Maps. London: Mercury Books, 1963.





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