Christmas in 1968 was a huge surprise. I woke up car-less and by breakfast I was the proud owner of a 1959 Mercedes 180D. It was white; kind of a dirty white. It had a sun roof, 8-track player, standard transmission (3 speed on the column) and the speedometer read kilometers instead of miles (which was very good for real world math practice.)
And, oh yeah, the D stood for Diesel.
I couldn’t drive it though, at least not without a grownup, because I wasn’t 16 yet.
Now before you get too far into thinking that I was a spoiled little rich kid, let me just say this. It wasn’t really in the same class as the Mercedes’ models the Allesio kids drove. I loved it and I was Gobsmacked! It had wheels and it went vroom vroom. Well actually not so much vroom vroom, more like. . .umm. . .you know, it really sounded more like a Cessna than a car when it got going. Sometimes people would hear me coming and look up into the sky. And it was about as heavy as a tank.
I think that was what Lukie Bean liked most about it. It WAS a tank. I never got it over 100 kilometers per hour (60 mph and brother, that was downhill and to the floor! I know. I tried often to get it really going) so speeding was not possible and the 0 to 60 was about 2 minutes. It had a lot of torque but I didn’t know what torque meant so that was kind of lost on me. I think Lukie figured that, although I might possibly be able to kill others with this thing, they probably weren’t going to be able to kill me. And maybe I wouldn’t be able to go fast enough to do a whole lot of damage one way or the other.
Lukie Bean picked this beauty up for $500 from a guy who drove it up from somewhere in South America and then decided he wanted a real car that could keep pace with Southern California speed limits. I flunked my driving test three times in this car because the examiner said I was going toooooooo sloooooow. I really wasn’t. It just felt like it. And. . .Jeez Louise! I was going as fast as the thing would go! On my fourth try I convinced mom to let me take the test in her car and passed without a hiccup. I never got around to naming this beast, but if I had, her name would have probably been Hildegarde or maybe Brunhilde. So, for the sake of this story, we will call her Hildegarde.
Right out of the gate she started having starter problems. We would fix the starter only to have the alternator go out. Then we’d find an alternator, put it in and WHAM, the starter would go out again. Eventually I just gave up and found a work around. Now, I know that you kids who have never driven a stick shift won’t know what I’m talking about here and I’m sorry, but it can’t be helped. Go ask an old person what it means to “pop the clutch” or “bump start” a car. We lived at the top of a steep driveway, so bump starting Hildegarde to get to school was no problem, but finding a place to park that had enough elevation to get her going for the drive home again was sometimes a little harder. And it was great practice trying to make sure I didn't kill the engine at stop lights. If I did, I would need to find some nice person who wouldn’t mind giving me a push with their own car to get going again. Ummm, that happened more than once. The back bumper got a little dented, but I got where I needed to go. I finished High School that way and the first part of one semester of Jr College as well. Later, when traveling around Southern CA, for ministry started in earnest, mom finally put her foot down.
I had to tell you about Hildegarde because she is part of the story - just in case you were wondering.
Lukie Bean built things. Sometimes he was building two or three or four things at once. He built several churches, lots of custom homes, spec homes that he bought and moved and remodeled, then sold or just bought lots to build on and then sell the house. He built RV parks and restaurants and well, you name it. However, after “The Day That Changed Everything,” Lukie Bean would never build a liquor store or club or anything he thought might add momentum to someone's down hill slide, be it owner or patron. No way. No how. No matter how much money he could make from it. God bless him. Oh yeah, and Lukie Bean's other name was Robert Durnal.
He was a good man and a good dad and I never wanted for anything important while in his care. He never hit me and hardly ever yelled at me. He didn’t have to. He let mom take care of the attitude corrections.
One day he got a call from a guy who needed a "build out" in the new mall that had just opened in the Mission Valley area of San Diego.
It was a modeling school, a very well known and very prestigious modeling school, and Lukie liked the guy right away because he was Jewish. So they shook hands, drew up some papers and Pops started the job. By the time the walls were up and the paint was dry Lukie Bean had somehow succeeded in getting me both a scholarship to the school AND a part time job there. The job was answering phones and doing Girl Friday stuff in the evenings from 6 to 9 p.m. It was just a few evenings a week since there was so much church and music in my life. I would also work some Saturdays after the classes were over at the modeling school.
It was the first job where I got an actual paycheck that had taxes taken out and it was for the going minimum wage at that time, a whopping $1.65 an hour. Woohoo! Now Hildegarde could eat and I could go places besides school.
Just as with the gift of Hildegarde, this was a gift with something behind it. It was a loving, fatherly, not so subtle thing (I got it and I was blonde, 17 and oblivious) and honestly, I was okay with it.
By now I was very aware that if my Mom was Maureen OHara. . .then I must be Haley Mills.
I’m not sure just how old you have to be to get this 1961 movie reference, but if you don’t get it then your homework is to find the original version of “The Parent Trap” starring Brian Keith, Maureen O’Hara and Haley Mills. And, if I was Haley Mills, I wasn’t the East Coast prim and proper twin. Nope. I was the other one who grew up on a ranch and rode horses bareback etc etc.
I was the girl who got bloodied playing soccer and didn’t cry or whine about it; The one who tried really hard to keep up with the boys and sometimes succeeded. I could put a choke hold on my little brothers before they had a chance to follow through with whatever it was they were scheming. Oh. . .and they were always scheming!
I think Lukie Bean secretly hoped that modeling school would do for me what the old time finishing schools used to try to do for wayward, clumsy, unfeminine females. Yeah, I could clean up okay - if I worked hard at it - but I was falling a little too far from the tree and “Sweet Mommy JoAnna Marguerite” was his ideal for women everywhere. He knew I couldn’t be her and I don’t think he REALLY wanted me to be. After all, even he treated me like “One of the boys.”
Once I got started in modeling school, however, it didn’t take them long for them to let me know that I had a very “sporty” look. (Ya think?) They told me I was too short to be a really successful model (designers just didn’t make clothes for people like me and I could never be a walking clothes rack.) Maybe I could be a living mannequin in a department store window or perhaps, if I was lucky, get catalogue work for sports attire. Sure, they would put me in their database and point me toward things that came in to the “Agency”, but really they didn’t seem all that excited about my prospects.
And, oh yeah. I was too NICE. I remember the jaw dropping day when my modeling school instructor said, "One has to remember that modeling is a very competitive business and every other girl out there is trying to get the same jobs as you so you better realize they are ALL the enemy."
Well, at least there was the job thing and I could go ahead and finish up with the modeling school (for Mom & Lukie’s sake) and maybe I could learn how to do my make-up better and be a little less of a klutz. So I didn’t quit. I finished the school and got to keep the job too, at least for a little while.
I might have been a kid, but I knew the Lord didn’t want me in a career where everyone I worked with was the enemy. God had called me. To what I wasn't quite sure yet, but this thing had just failed the Jesus test and so I checked it off my mental list of possible paths into my future.
There were several instructors at the school, but the main people I interacted with were the women who pretty much ran the show. Judy was very cute and even a little shorter than I was, probably about 23 or 24 years old and full of spunk. She had a wholesome look about her, but there was something else there that made me uncomfortable and I couldn’t figure it out.
The manager was tall and quite a bit older, probably in her 40’s. Obviously a former model, she reminded me of an aging ballerina, teaching what she could no longer do herself. Proud and cool. She was tall and had long hair, bleached white with a black streak going down one side. I can’t remember her real name so let’s just call her Elvira. Still very beautiful, but somehow hard, Elvira’s beauty was a little scary to me. My beautiful mother was 180 degrees out from this one, soft and inviting, generous and friendly, she could be impetuous and hard headed and emotional sometimes, but she radiated love from the inside out. Her beauty was redeemed and comfortable and I felt safe with her. Not so with Elvira.
Somewhere along the way I heard (probably from other students) that Elvira claimed to be a Medium and that Judy was a witch. I hadn’t been exposed to much, so I tended to think that it was just the girls talking nonsense. Yes, Judy and Elvira were a little weird, but I took them for just normal every day heathens. After all - witches? Mediums? Get real. And if they had told the other girls those things, they sure hadn’t told me. Teenage gossip. Looking back on that time I realize that they probably didn’t say anything because they could smell Jesus on me and might have even been afraid of the Jesus in me.
For good reason.
One evening Hildegarde and I were on our way to the school when suddenly two cars were merging into my lane on either side as I took the off ramp that led to the mall. The one was trying to duck under me on the right and the other trying to dive for the off ramp from the lane to the left at the last second. I suddenly remembered from science class that three things couldn't occupy the same space at the same time and felt like this one might be really bad because there was seriously nowhere for me to go. I was in the process of becoming a Mercedes sandwich as the two cars filled both sides of my peripheral vision, apparently not happy with my (lack of) speed or seeing each other. A major crash seemed unavoidable.
I grabbed the wheel a little harder, called on Jesus and closed my eyes, trying to brace for impact.
Neither one of the cars hit me! After what couldn't have been more than a half second I opened my eyes to find Hildegarde ahead of the other cars, waaaaay further down the off ramp than she was just an instant before, totally in the clear.
Something had moved me. Angels perhaps? I had no idea. My eyes were closed. Dang it! I wanted to see my angels so bad and I had missed it!
It took me quite a while to stop trembling that night and I'm not sure I got a lot of work done. But it wasn't so much fear as excitement and this wonderful and terrible sense of awe. That the Lord should be so intimately active in my life. I'm not sure I ever told too many people about this part of the story before. Even telling it now just seems almost too bizarre for words.
Not too many work nights later, I was sitting at my little desk as usual, writing postcards for the school and thinking. Judy was the only other person there. Her office was further down the hall and she usually kept the door closed. Out there, by myself, the silence was often thick and there seemed to be waves of God’s presence alternating with normal teenage fear of being alone somewhere with nothing familiar around to make it feel comfy, and sometimes something that seemed darker. To battle those normal teenage fears, and the other as well, I didn’t whistle, but I sometimes did sing softly (trying not to bother Judy) and if it got bad I prayed very quietly.
It really never did get too awful. Even back then I really enjoyed silence and solitude and the fellowship with Jesus that I found there. My most poignant memory of those silent times was once when the idea of Jesus’ return - “Like a thief in the night” - the reality of that event - not as just a possibility, but as a certainty, hit me like a wave crashing on the beach. It bowled me over and became so real that I was riveted, for a time, in a state where everything got bright and sparkly in my mind and I was caught in this place filled with alternating joy for the thing itself and anxiety over the state of the hearts of others. People like Judy. People like Elvira. People like so many that I had known from the school and even the youth group at church. This was important. Maybe the most important thing of all, that people should know how real his Kingdom, His coming and His love was. It was a moment of real clarity, in an otherwise topsy turvy teenaged life, that really grounded me and kept me heading in the direction of missions.
The silence heightens everything and I heard the door to Judy’s office open and close and then soft padding down the hall. I looked at the clock. Perhaps it was time to go home. No. Not yet. She stopped behind me. I could feel her there not far away, but I resisted the urge to turn and look at her. Maybe she was looking for the words to correct me on some error in my work.
But instead, she laid a hand gently on my shoulder and said “Dee, do you believe in the devil?”
Now I did turn in my chair and look at her. “Oh yes,” I said. “I believe in the devil."
“I serve him and he gives me power,” she continued.
A sudden rush of Holy Spirit anger washed through me and I stood, leaned in a bit and looked her in the eyes. She leaned away, trying to protect her personal space and I held up my left hand with my pinky finger pointed at her.
“Judy,” I said. “There is more power in this little finger right now, than the devil can ever give you. You are on the wrong side."
She gathered herself and started to scoff. I must have said something about eternity and her soul. I really don’t remember much of what was said after that except that she kept saying that she just wanted to be an evil force roaming the universe when she died. Poor Judy. That just wasn’t the way it was going to be. It didn’t work like that. The evil force that was her would have to be confined for eternity, not free to roam the universe.
I think she decided to close up a little early that night and I wasn’t due to be back there again until Saturday. I did a lot of thinking and praying on the way home and in the days between then and going to work on Saturday afternoon. I felt pretty inadequate and I got a little anxious. I really wasn’t sure what would happen or what I would say to Judy and/or Elvira. Now that the elephant in the kitchen was there in plain sight. Now that the lines had been drawn. Now that we knew what each of the others really was, it would be impossible to go on as if were still just regular people, as if life was just about working hard and being civil and getting through the day. We were on opposite saids of a very old war. This was getting interesting.
It was years later that I discovered and finally read C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”, but since then I’ve wondered at times what the unseen, spiritual battle looked like leading up to these events.
Whatever was going on, all I knew was that I had to get up and go to work on Saturday.
When it was time I bump started Hildegarde, as usual, and headed toward the Mall. Going West on Highway 8, I didn’t feel like playing any of my 8 track tapes. I only had three. The Bee Gees, The Mama’s and the Papa’s and The Lettermen. I played those a LOT - over and over and over. But not today. Between the confrontation with Judy and that moment I had prayed everything I knew to pray, so I just drove and prayed in tongues a bit, trying hard to listen. Everything was kind of slow motion, but Hilde got me to the mall without stalling and I found a piece of parking lot with enough downhill to get me going again and then walked toward the tall, wooden castle-like doors that led into the school. I never bothered locking Hildegarde. There probably wasn’t a thief within a 1000 miles that would have known how to start her or who would have wanted her.
I got to the doors, stood for a moment and asked the Lord to be with me, which was weird cuz I KNEW He always was, but I always did it anyway. I reached out, pulled the big door open and stepped inside. There was a big, fancy reception desk just inside the door and Judy was sitting behind it. Elvira stood next to the desk to Judy’s right. They were waiting for me. Maybe they heard the Cessna.
I looked at Elvira, then Judy and then Elvira raised her hand toward me and opened her mouth to say something. But nothing came out. She tried again and this time there was sound but it was unintelligible. Gobbledegook. She got a weird look on her face and looked at Judy, who opened her mouth to speak. She couldn’t say anything understandable either. Not a word.
Finally, they made me understand with body language that I should leave and so I did. On Monday, when I got home from school, there was a message on the answering machine telling me I didn’t need to come in. There wasn’t much work and they probably wouldn’t be needing me any more.
So I guess at least one of them got her voice back.
I never saw the Medium, the Witch or the Modeling school again and honestly that was alright with me.
There were probably a dozen things I could have done differently as I stood there in the doorway that last time, but I was blonde and 17 and oblivious. Maybe not quite as oblivious as I had been on Saturday morning - but still just a kid. A lamb in the midst of wolves. I didn’t know much, but I knew Jesus and that was, and still is, pretty much all that matters.
Guess that's it.