So there I am in Happy Valley, a senior just about to get out of prep school and having no clue as to what was going to happen next. Isn't that always the way?
At my prep school, we had classes on Saturday and not on Monday - because they didn't want us mixing with the riff-raff in downtown Lenoir, NC. The school chartered a bus which arrived right after lunch on Monday to take upper school guys into town the afternoon and back by supper.
I usually spent my Mondays at (you guessed it) one of two movie theatres in that mountain town. But one Monday, my friend Jimmy Farnsworth and I wandered into the First Baptist Church and boldly asked if we could see their pipe organ and possibly play it. Nothing ventured - nothing gained, right? Well, the church organist took us into the sanctuary and there was a big Moeller pipe organ. I don't think I had ever seen one with three manuals (keyboards), but there it was.
I sat down and played God-knows-what, probably a hymn. I encouraged Jimmy, a fine tenor, to sing - and he didn't need much encouragement. So we performed something and before we finished, we were offered jobs in the church! This took some doing to make it happen because we had to get permission from the school to be off campus at odd times. Miraculously, we were granted carte blanche by the headmaster. (I think he wanted rid of us. In fact, I know he did. Read on.)
So began my first church job - assistant organist with a big instrument to play and a wonderful adult choir to accompany. I was in heaven.
Jimmy and I were immediately ushered into all the choir activities of that church. One I remember in particular was a Saturday night party in Blowing Rock just up the mountain from Lenoir. Odd, two 17-year-olds being asked to an adult party, but we went. I don't remember much about the party except we ended up staying out till dawn with Betty Miller, the church organist/choir director and one other lady. I can still remember the sun coming up and we were driving around Happy Valley. I "think" maybe those two women were testing to see if we were romantically interested in them. Honest. Of course we weren't. We were just having a good time.
But the thing I most remember was asking the organist, Betty, where I should go after prep school. And she said, "You should go to Stetson University and study with Paul Jenkins." She had known him at the Baptist Seminary in Louisville, KY. I put that thought out of my mind, planning never to ever go to Florida for anything.
Little did I know.
The days went by and one night Jimmy and I decided we were going to leave school and become stewards on the old Queen Elizabeth steamship. Why? God only knows! But we picked up a lamp and walked up to Coach Teaster's house on campus and woke up his wife Maxine and offered her the lamp if we could use her phone. She let us and we called a cab and the cab took us to Betty Miller's house in Lenoir. We stayed about an hour and Betty talked us into returning to school and we agreed.
The headmaster saw his chance. He called a meeting of the student council and Jimmy and I went in separately. When asked if I wanted to stay there I boldly said, "No". Right there was my mistake. I probably should have stayed. But how my life would have been is anyone's guess. Another crossroad encountered, I got thrown out of that school. The headmaster called my father. His reaction? He literally told the headmaster to give me the balance of money in my allowance account and got me on the phone and said, "Son, you can't come home. Don't call me unless you get sick." Thanks, Dad.
So who did I call?, my uncle the Attorney General. He said, "Come here to Atlanta at once." So Betty Miller and I got in her car and we drove to his house, where both he and his wife, my beloved Aunt Julia said, "Of course you come here, we are your port in the storm." So they went the next morning to the Law Department and my Uncle called my father and said, "Bennie, you can't disinherit an adopted child. The boy needs to go to school and Julia and I will find a school for him." What could my father do but agree and said, "Send me the bills." Always with the cash.
So we got out the little red book of private schools and found Howey Academy in Florida and called. The dean of students who took the call from my Uncle was swept away that the Attorney General of Georgia was calling with a request and immediately said, "Send the boy to us. No Problem." Things just kept happening in my favor and in two days I flew to sunny central Florida. And went to a co-ed boarding school for rich kids, right in the middle of an orange grove!
The point of my story is - You Never Know. And it gets better. Stay tuned.