(Note: Thanks for your patience as I re-typed this whole story and posted it in pieces. The complete story is available now at the following link)
On My Own
I continued to spend time with the kids. Sometimes doing homework. More often they would be over to cook and eat with me and sometimes spend the night.
Dee and Gilbert, Debbie, Gibby, Randy, Lori and Robbie Porter lived on the other side of the double I lived in, so I saw they often, especially the kids. They were always very kind and helpful to me. I mentioned earlier that the first year I was here I became close friends with Dennis Anderson. During the summer, Tony Sergent and I were good friends. Then Tony, too, moved from the neighborhood. The second year, Gibby Porter would be my little brother.
Spending all my time in the neighborhood, I depended on certain of the older kids, Dennis, Tony and Gibby, for two way friendship. During the summer I worked with all the kids, and counted each of them as my friend. But I needed, and felt there was a reciprocal need, to have certain people to share more with. Gibby and I were to have such a friendship during the second year.
Soon after Connie left I began looking for work to do while the kids were in school. I was interested in working on an ambulance or returning to respiratory therapy.
On November 6, 1972, at 8 in the morning I rode my bike the three miles to the Indiana University Medical Center to apply for a position in respiratory therapy. I filled out an application and was told to call back later that morning. Then I started the 10 mile trip across the city to the suburb of Irvington, where I was to get a ride to Richmond with John Kennerly, pastor of Irvington Friends Church. Several miles on my way, I was sitting at a stop sign. A panel truck turned into my street, cutting the corner sharply, heading right for me. As I jumped from the bicycle I heard a crunching sound, looked back to see my crumpled bicycle bounce from beneath the wheelsof the truck. The driver, very apologetic, stopped, asked if I was alright, and gave me the company’s address. Later I would be reimbursed in full for the bicycle.
Shaking, I caught a city bus to Irvington, to get there just before John was ready to leave. I called the Medical Center before we left, and was told I would have to be there by 1:00 that afternoon for an interview if I wanted the job.
I caught the city bus back to the Medical Center. I found an on the job training program for respiratory therapists had begun that day and was to last two months. One of the people originally signed up for the program didn’t show up. Despite my experience at Methodist Hospital, they thought I would benefit from the program. Several of the people in it had college degrees. If I wanted the job I would have to be there the next morning.
A few weeks earlier I had talked to Larry at Scattergood about working there. This day I received his reply, saying it would be fine if I were to come as assistant dorm sponsor and maintenance man. I sort of rejected Scattergood because I wanted to go there after I had my teaching degree and I didn’t really want to leave Indianapolis, yet.
I chose to work at the Medical Center. The training program was excellent, I really benefited from it. I was assigned to the adult hospital. First we had clinical rotations among the four hospitals at the Medical Center. I really enjoyed being at Riley Children’s Hospital during the rotation. I asked if I might work there instead of the new adult hospital, and it worked out that way.
I thoroughly enjoyed working at the Children’s Hospital. The respiratory therapy department itself was special there, with very kind, interested, and fun people. I just loved working with the kids. As I said earlier, on of the unique things about respiratory therapy is that the therapist spends a good deal of time with each patient and has a chance to know some of them well. I took full advantage of this opportunity with the children.
After hours, I spent time with the neighborhood kids. During the winter the younger kids tended to stay indoors at home. But the older kids (10-15) did come over.
Gibby Porter, for example, was the neighborhood leader; organizing all sorts of activities. Gibby almost single handedly organized the construction of the basketball court, lining up materials, etc. He was one of the key people in the 4-H Club. Though a little small for his age, he received the most valuable defensive player award for his school’s undefeated football team, and was on the neighborhood social center’s All Star Basketball Team, as well as a good Little League baseball player.
I didn’t keep very good Journal records during the last part of my time at VSM.
“I think one reason I left college was that I knew I was becoming callous, though I didn’t know why. Now I think it had to do with academic study; the sterile weighing and choice of issues, principles and beliefs; no feeling, no human contact. Someone once said those who fight for principles are fakes, and I think I know what they meant, now. It is easy to say I believe this and I stand for that, and yet avoid people and down to earth problems. Just how much can you care for humanity when you know so few people?
Legislation, external authority, coercion; what does it do, how much effect does it really have? Very little I think. The real work that needs to be done today is to care for our neighbors; people, individuals. To love, to care for, to help, to need, to want real, living, specific persons. This is a one to one process. But if everyone did their one to one thing, we’d have it all together. As it is, it’s a chain reaction. To care for another is to help us care for ourselves, for God, and quite naturally for one another.” Journal 2/1/1973
John Transue, a recent graduate of Wilmington College, joined Second Friends VSM in January of 1973. John had spent a term in inner city Detroit in a project similar to ours. He was thinking of going into an Episcopal seminary.
As warmer weather approached, activity began to pick up. Some of Gibby’s friends, boys in his class, began to come over once in a while. They lived within 3 or 4 blocks of us, but that is considered a different neighborhood in a way. One’s neighborhood generally consists of the people on either side of the street of a city block.
I really enjoyed spending time with these older kids. They are really sharp, and their interests more closely corresponded to mine. Those last two months were perhaps the best I had at VSM.
Kenny Roberts came over frequently, playing basketball and spending the night with Gibby at the house. Kenny’s family came from Kentucky, and they went there to visit occasionally. One of the first kids in the neighborhood to have a ten-speed bicycle, Kenny was well prepared when the ten speed craze hit Indianapolis. His father was good at working with the bike.
Before the ten-speed though, the unicycle had its time in our area. Curtis Shelly Jeff Johnson, Randy Uton and Pat Gorman. I thought it looked fairly easy, but sure didn’t get the hang of it when I tried.
Once Gibby, Curtis, Kenny and I went to the Speedway Shopping Center, where we were going to see a movie. Leaving the neighborhood on the city bus at about 9:30 a.m., we first rode downtown to transfer to the bus that went out 16th Street, past Methodist Hospital, where I once worked, past the Indianapolis 500 Motor Speedway, and arrived at the shopping center about 10:30. Since the stores weren’t open, yet, we played tag, then ate at Burger Chef.
At a large department store we saw some wall ball paddles, which Kenny and Gibby bought, as well as some tennis balls. Wall ball was popular at school at that time; a game somewhat like handball. So we went behind the store, where we played wall ball in the alley, against the back of the store. We didn’t see a movie, but wall ball was more fun.
I really liked being with the kids, and I grew to love them very much. A month after leaving VSM and returning to Iowa, I wrote the following.
“One of the several conflicts at the project (VSM) was our relationship with Second Friends Church, a programmed, Protestant congregation with no interest in Quakerism. As far as I was concerned, I handled the conflict by ignoring Second Friends for the most part.
I deeply value the many friends I have there (VSM, Indianapolis) and the many things we have been through together. For the first time, aside from Scattergood School, I really established roots and deep relationships in a community. Overall, I think very highly of my VSM experience.
Why did I leave? The easy, and probably best answer is that VSM is meant to be a two year experience, corresponding to the two year alternative service requirement, and my two years were up.
In a great many ways I was very reluctant to leave. I left a number of close friends. I felt I was involved in meaningful work, work I deeply believe in.
One of the key reasons I left concerned Quakerism. Quakerism means a great deal to me. At Earlham I attended Clear Creek Meeting (unprogrammed) and Earlham Young Friends meeting for worship mid-week. The closest meeting to Indianapolis I was aware of was Lanthorn Meeting at Sugar Grove Meetinghouse south of Plainfield, about 15 miles from us. I enjoyed riding my bicycle there a few times with Connie, but did not get there often. So I did not often share in Quaker meeting for worship, and felt this was a great handicap for me. (I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of North Meadow Circle of Friends in downtown Indianapolis, that I began attending these last several years before returning to Iowa, which was unfortunate. I’ve had great experiences, and made great friends with Friends at North Meadow).
I felt led to VSM and the particular work I did there. But as time went on, I less often sought guidance; the Inner Light was often weak, dim. I was almost constantly involved with either the kids or the hospital, and didn’t take the time for reflection, to seek guidance, which is so essential. I did become able to really see and try to relate to that of God in others, to be honest with myself and others.
One of the great values of my VSM experience was that a number of my head ideas became integrated into my life (some did not). Property did become much less important to me. Human relationships did develop and become very beautiful, meaningful experiences. I did become able to accept others as they were, and as my equal.
Nonetheless, I did need time to reflect, to seek guidance from God, from elders and mature friends. I realized that I put my time and effort into relationships with the kids, and didn’t spend time with my peers or elders, and felt I was missing a lot.
I learned a lot, went through a lot, grew tremendously, and left a lot in Indianapolis. But I felt the time had come when I would very much benefit from Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), relationships with my peers and elders, and further education. I feel I will have more to offer in similar situations in the future if I evaluate the VSM experience, have a better education, and a more refined concept of life and myself. I also wanted to spend more time with my family.
I now have a lot to think about, a lot of experiences to evaluate, confidence in myself now that I have been on my own, and a better idea of what I want to do with my life.”
Marshalltown, Iowa 5/26/1973
I would like to relate a final experience. My last day at the (Riley Children’s) Hospital was April 30. One of the people in the department had bake a farewell cake for me, which we shared. I was really sad to leave the department and the hospital.
I rode my bike home from work that day and was greeted by Gibby and John. We went into the house, where the kids jumped from their hiding places. Evidently all the boys in Gibby’s 8th grad class—Curtis, Kenny, Jeff, Randy and Pat, had skipped school that afternoon (with questionable permission from their teacher) to clean up the house and get ready for the party. There was Coke, chocolate ice cream, and a cake which read FAREWELL JEFF.