Monday, April 20, 2015

1978 -- A Pivotal Year

With Shana, summer 1978
I've been thinking a lot lately about 1978 and what an important year it was for me. I spent the first four months of the year at BYU, finishing up my freshman year of college. I would turn 19 early in May, and thus I was old enough to start church missionary service shortly after I got home from school. However, I was nowhere near being emotionally ready to go on a mission -- notwithstanding my having worked out some serious homesickness issues at college that might otherwise have crippled me down the road as a missionary. It didn't help that I'd attended a priesthood-meeting mission prep class at BYU that had done much to convince me that one needed an ebullient, forceful personality to be an effective missionary, and I knew that wasn't ever going to be me. Then, too, my brother Kelly had convinced me to start college in the summer of 1977, right after I'd graduated from high school. That had left a "fun" void in my life that I naturally felt inclined to fill before I left home for another two years, and thus my actual preparations to serve a mission were lackadaisical for several months. During that time, I didn't have a job and thus wasn't doing anything useful outside of playing softball with the ward team. My sister Kristen had, in January, given birth to a baby girl, whom she named Shana (pronounced like Shauna), and I spent a lot of time that summer playing with my new niece. (See attached photo, taken in our front yard after a softball practice.) I also spent a lot of time in the evenings hanging out with my good friends Ken Foley and Tracy Carroll.

I finally started preparing in earnest for my mission around mid-August, after my uncle Carroll Shumway put it to me in simple terms: "Kevin, it's time to get out there." Around that time, Ken got me a job at the place where he worked, Uni-copy of New Mexico, a company owned by a member of our ward. I worked for Uni-copy until mid-December -- the job didn't pay for much of my mission, but it did help me buy most of the kit I needed...and it kept me occupied. I did all of the usual preparations, taking the language-aptitude test that the Church used to administer to prospective missionaries (and reportedly getting the highest score ever in our stake up to that time), interviewing with my bishop and stake president, and having my wisdom teeth removed. At last my papers went in to church headquarters, and several weeks later, on Saturday, November 18, I received my mission call in the mail. It wasn't our family's wont to make a big production out of opening a mission call, so I immediately opened the envelope while sitting in front of the TV in our kitchen/dining room. The words fairly leapt off the page at me: "Chile Santiago South Mission." Fortunately, I didn't have long to wait to enter the Missionary Training Center -- six weeks, as opposed to the six months that people routinely are left waiting nowadays -- although I had to rush to obtain a passport and to receive the required vaccinations. I was to enter the MTC on Thursday, January 4, 1979; President Jay Payne set me apart on Sunday, December 31, 1978, and we drove from Albuquerque to Utah on Monday, January 1, 1979.

Here are some of my many memories from 1978:

1. Greta V. Greta was a girl in my home ward whose family moved in while I was at BYU. I can't remember how or when I became enamored of her, but indeed I did; the really inexplicable thing was that she was only 15 years old at the time. The high point of our relationship was the night I took her to see Heart in concert at the old Albuquerque Civic Auditorium. After that, it was all downhill, especially since a younger fellow in our ward, who was better-looking than I, was even more obsessed with her than I was.

2. Change in church policy. On June 8, 1978, the LDS Church announced that it would no longer withhold the priesthood from black men or temple ordinances from black families. I've written about this topic previously, but it was a thrilling thing for those of us Mormons who'd felt self-conscious about the discrimination.

3. "Baker Street". There are probably dozens of songs that say "1978" to me, but none does it so loudly as Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street." I don't even like the song much, but it holds a lot of memories for me.

4. Envelope-stuffing. Back in the days before ward budgets and building funds were paid out of tithing donations, the Albuquerque 6th Ward used to engage in various fund-raising activities. The most memorable were the "envelope stuffing" activities where some organization, most often a political campaign, would pay the church to put various brochures and inserts into envelopes for mass mailings. They represented a time, now almost lost, in which church members actually had a chance to talk to and get to know each other.

5. Cheryl B. Cheryl was a girl from the "other" stake whom I'd considered cute for some time.  I took her out precisely once, to a Pablo Cruise concert at the UNM "Pit" in the fall of 1978. It was apparent, however, that she had no particular interest in me, and that was the end of it. (She later married someone much more ebullient than I.)

6. Road-tripping for Uni-copy. It was sort of ironic that I was the warehouse guy at Uni-copy who was most often assigned to take out-of-town trips to deliver paper, toner, etc. to the satellite offices. The other guys looked at highway driving as drudgery, but I must have inherited some of my bus-driver father's love for the road. There simply was no better day on the job than one spent driving to Clovis, to Alamogordo, or (overnight) to Ruidoso and Artesia.

7. Wisdom teeth extraction. X-rays revealed that all of my wisdom teeth were impacted and' "coming in" nearly at right angles to the molars next to them. Rather than risk having problems in the mission field, I had oral surgery in the summer of 1978 to have the teeth extracted. The procedure, as it was practiced then, must have been quite a bit more invasive than it is now, because it put me in bed for the better part of a week. I'm fond of saying that I never understood people's fascination with recreational drug-taking until I took the Percodan that was prescribed for me on that occasion. I only day-dream now about ever sleeping that blissfully again!

8. Youth Conference. Tracy Carroll and I, being one year removed from high school, shouldn't have attended the church regional youth conference in the summer of 1978, but no one in our ward told us we couldn't. It was held in Las Vegas, NM at New Mexico Highlands University, and I remember it generally being a good time.

7. Volleyball. I played a lot of volleyball in the summer and fall of 1978, going with my brother Robin to play at the Kirtland AFB East Gym on Monday evenings.  (I also remember going with my brother Jeff to play volleyball at UNM, but I think that probably was while I was still in high school.)

8. Basketball. My friends' and my favorite form of recreation, even after high school, was playing pick-up basketball, so we spent a lot of time at church and on playgrounds. I remember 1978 as the zenith of my abilities as a basketball player, especially since it was the only time in my life when I could fairly consistently dunk a basketball (at least, off one foot with an approach). All that was a casualty of my serving a mission, though there was no real reason to regret it; I was never as good as I wanted to believe I was. Right before I left for the MTC, I remember playing in a ward basketball game on the day after I got the first of two typhoid-fever inoculations. Not only was I sick as a dog, but I couldn't lift my right arm to shoot the ball!

10. The last time I saw Traveller playTim Pierce's band Traveller was my favorite local "cover" band when I was in high school. One time, in the summer of 1978, I heard they were playing at the old Hog's Breath Saloon on Juan Tabo Blvd. near my house. I went there with Ken Foley and Bob Maes to hear them play; of course, it was a bar, and I was 19, so I had do a little "finessing" to get in the door.  (I don't remember Bob, who was still 18, having to do the same, but then he always looked older.) That turned out to be the very last time I heard Traveller play. Some time after my mission, I found out that Pierce was in California, playing in Rick Springfield's band, and the rest is history.

11. Softball. Later in my life I would come to regard playing on the ward softball team as banal, but in 1978 it was a big deal to me; I even went and had my own jersey made, with my favorite number (51) and my last name on the back. I remember that we played in the regional tournament, but we didn't make it to the multi-regional tournament. (Given my general lack of knowledge about baseball, I probably still thought a fielder's choice counted as a "hit.")

12. Van Halen. The first Van Halen album came out in 1978, and I bought an 8-track tape of it. I knew Eddie Van Halen had a pretty unique style of guitar-playing, but I couldn't have predicted how much he would influence rock guitar in the next 5-10 years. I liked the song "Feel Your Love Tonight," especially since the guitar riff was easy to figure out.

13. The Midnight Special. I remember staying up late every Saturday night to watch The Midnight Special on NBC. For anyone starved for live music, The Midnight Special and the syndicated Don Kirshner's Rock Concert were the shows to watch on TV.

14. Disco dancing. I always hated disco music, but I remember going to a couple of workshops at church in the summer/fall of 1978 on disco dancing. It seemed de rigeur for everyone to learn a few disco dances, and I even bought a pair of skin-tight brown "Angel's Flight" (or "Anal Flight," as we used to say) disco pants to wear to dances. (I didn't know that the seeds of New Wave were already germinating -- disco was pretty much dead by the time I got back from Chile.)

15. Cable TV. I had no idea what cable television was, or that it was coming in a giant wave, until I was in the home of the Seamons family in our ward, sometime in the summer of 1978. I happened to notice a movie was playing on TV without the bad words being edited out.  It was explained to me that the channel was "Home Box Office," and that it showed full-length movies with no editing or commercials. It would be another eight-or-so years, however, before I would become an actual cable-TV subscriber, and even then, Dorine wouldn't let me get HBO.

16. Interviews with my bishop. I remember interviewing with my bishop at the time, Scot Fishburn, to get my mission papers going. I thought it was so important to repent of everything I'd done wrong in my life up to that moment that the interview turned into a massive "confession session." I don't think Bishop Fishburn (who actually moved away before I left, being replaced as bishop by my father) ever looked at me quite the same way after that.

17. Rebecca P. I met Rebecca for the first time in late summer 1978 at a church dance in Los Alamos, which was still in our stake at the time. I instantly had a crush on her, and a few weeks later I made a point of driving to another church dance in Los Alamos in hopes of talking to her and possibly asking her out. That's precisely what happened, and in November I drove back up and took Rebecca to a movie, bowling, and dinner. Of course, that's all there was time for before I left on my mission, although Rebecca and I wrote each other intermittently while I was gone. When I got back, Rebecca was a freshman at BYU, and I looked forward to dating her there; however, after we went out a couple of times, I balked. I simply didn't call her again, which of course was the coward's way out, and I know it hurt her. To this day, I'm not quite sure why I acted that way, except that (a) I was in no position to get serious about anyone (which is why I dated very little at BYU in general), and (b) I didn't know how to tell Rebecca that I wasn't as attracted to her as I once was. In later years, Rebecca's brother Jack lived in our ward while he was finishing his doctorate at UNM; he always seemed to regard me with contempt, and of course I thought I knew why. At one point, Jack's wife Collette told me that Rebecca had had twelve kids with her husband, which of course is one excellent reason why she wouldn't have wanted to marry me.

[Update 4/24/15: Here are photos (all from 12th grade) of the three girls mentioned above:]