Last month I started you on the journey of my life with a look at my family and my first possible encounter with God. Today I want to move ahead a few years to my high school days.
As I was finishing up the eighth grade at Calendonia High School in Caledonia, Minnesota my dad came to me one day and asked me if I might be interested in going away to a private boarding school called Wayland Academy in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin? I am not sure where this idea came from or why they had chosen this particular place but I thought it would be a great adventure and had no reservations what-so-ever, so I said yes. Now some people might think that this would be a form of punishment or wonder why their parents would want to get rid of them, but I knew I was loved. They wanted me to get a good education and we were at a stage in my father’s business life where there was enough extra money to make this happen. I would be the first child out of eight to have this opportunity and I was eager to make it happen.
As I discovered, Wayland was a co-educational prep school so I was even more excited as I had recently discovered the wonder of kissing and reveled in the prospect of having a girl friend who was from some place other than my home town. I had been quite popular in the schools I had attended so far in my life and I was confident that this would be no different.
Life at Wayland was a lot different than living at home. We lived on campus in dormitories, we had to wear a coat and tie to classes and meals, could only leave campus for a couple hours on Saturday and if we were “cordially” invited to attend an event, your attendance was mandatory.
My confidence was high as I started that first week. My parents dropped me off with my trunk full of clothes, all permanently marked with my name so they could be sorted in the laundry where we dropped them off each week. I met my roommate and got comfortable in our room in the basement of Wayland Hall, a building constructed in 1855 with just a few updates in the years since. Each of the four floors of Wayland Hall had a bathroom with showers that we all used. Needless to say, in 1964 Wayland Hall was the boy’s dorm. The girls lived in Warren Cottage, just on the other side of the athletic building and gym.
That first week was exciting and I began to scope out the girls in the freshman class to see who I might ask out to the first mixer on Friday. There were some very pretty girls to choose from but I wanted Kay Wagenknecht. Kay was petite, blonde and I was sure she was the going to be my girlfriend for four years.
I was full of confidence and I bravely approached her on Wednesday of that first week and asked her if she would go to the mixer with me. To my surprise no one had asked her yet and she said YES! I was sure that I was on my way.
Now, as you know, I came from a small town and the school I attended for fifth and sixth grades was in a building with just four classrooms with four teachers. Each teacher taught two grades at once; first and second, third and fourth, fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth. I lived a pretty sheltered life and grew up with just a couple neighbor kids and spent most of my time on the river or in the woods.
The kids at Wayland had grown up in much larger cities like Chicago, LA, Denver and Minneapolis. They came from huge schools with populations of 4, 5 and 6 hundred kids in one class. I had no idea how sheltered I was and how deep the water was that I was about to jump into, but I was about to learn.
Friday came and I was still excited about the prospects for the evening. I went to Warren Hall and there was Kay waiting for me. This was going to be great. I remember entering the gymnasium where the mixer was held but from there the rest of the night is still a bit of a blur in my head. I was this shy kid from Minnesota surrounded by a couple hundred outgoing athletes, artists and just plain scary people. I felt like a minnow in a tank of barracudas, helpless and about to be someone’s lunch. I don’t remember how soon it was before my “date” had disappeared but soon I was alone and left to find some other minnows to swim with, just to stay alive.
This was pre Breakfast Club, and Heathers but some of what they capture was my next four years; confined to one of the lower casts at Wayland. Not that we weren’t just as smart as most of them, but we lacked that “something special” that would allow us to hang with the cool kids. You know these people; they are the athletes, cheerleaders, artistic people and politicians. Those of us who were not outgoing or talented in some way still found our niche though. We were the game players, the experimenters.. the non-athletes. We worked the sets at plays or maybe became a tree to get on stage, we got drunk or experimented with other mind altering chemicals on prom night, we knew how to pick locks and acquire pass keys so we could explore all of the hidden spaces on campus including hiking through the duct work in the gymnasium.
I don’t write this to make you think I was not happy at Wayland, to the contrary, I loved those years and the ability to explore a still bigger picture of the world I was about to enter. I was in the right place at the right time and this was my path and the whole world was about to encounter me.
More about that in the next addition….
I think I was born with this question in my soul, perhaps we all are. Who am I and why am I here?
I came into a wonderful family. I was child number seven and son number five and I came forth knowing that I was loved. My mother told me more than once that I was very smart and could do whatever I wanted to do. I’m not sure if she didn’t do this for all of her children, but would not be surprised if this wasn’t the case. She was an angel in the form of mother. I know that she prayed for me every day and I am sure that the trajectory of my life would have been far different had she not been on her knees all those years and onto today.
Mom was a full time mother and homemaker who loved her children and was rewarded with the opportunity to raise eight of them and do a great job at it the whole time. She made a point of doing little things that let you know that she loved you. She would darn your socks so they could be worn a few months longer, she would make your favorite desert for your birthday every year, and she would bring you a treat shortly after sending you to bed after a good spanking. There was never any doubt that I was loved and cared for.
I was an inquisitive soul. I love science, insects and plants. I loved being in the woods or along the Mississippi River growing up. When I was about 11 I decided I wanted to make some money but we lived on a county road along the river and were 5 miles from the nearest town of 600 people. Since the river was the only thing convenient I decided that I would set up a commercial fishing business. Now I had no idea that I was actually doing that but I bought the license and made 2 one hundred hook set-lines so I could catch catfish and sell them to Dad and his Grocery stores in Iowa.
My brother Stan and I took the boat out on a nice sunny spring day and found a couple of good looking spots to put our lines out and after getting them placed we, being true adolescents, were too tired to bother to bait the hooks. We planned to come back in the morning and begin the baiting process, but when we got there the next day we were surprised to find fish on about 10% of the hooks and were happy to haul them back home to clean up and put in the freezer. We were so surprised and happy that we didn’t bother baiting the hooks another day and for that I will be forever grateful. You see, when dad got home he was very concerned that we had stolen these fish off of someone else’s set-line and that was definitely not ok with him. We could only tell him the truth, that these fish came off my lines and we had no idea how we got fish without using any bait. He insisted that he come with us in the morning to check our lines and if there were no fish on our lines we would be up for some severe punishment.
Needless to say, this was my first serious night of asking God to intervene in my life and put some fish on those hooks. I knew that it had happened once and I was unsure if it was a fluke or something I could count on. I know that it was with some grave fear that we launched the boat the next morning and as we approached the lines I was more than a little afraid. To my great relief and delight we pulled up 4 nice catfish on the first line and another 3 on the second and Stan and I were in the clear.
I will never know if I manifested those fish or not but it was a point of revelation for me and an opening to the question that would attract me to the truth of life.
I just got a note today that another high school classmate is approaching the end of this incarnation. Her husband and partner, Stan, requested some memories and I have some. My memories of Christine are few, but they will stick with me. I saw the gregarious side of Christine so I am sure I missed the serious or the contemplative woman that I am sure she was. I share only this short tribute to the Christine that I know. I know that the spirit she is will find joy and abundance once she is free. I am grateful for the moment I fell into her orbit.
Marc Cram, Wayland Academy, Class of 69