Image from Wikimedia Commons
A few weeks after our wedding, Genie and I went camping at a favorite spot in the North Georgia Mountains, to enjoy the fall colors. While we were gone, a fire started in the stairwell of our apartment building in Atlanta, and burned four units. Thank God no one was injured. We returned to find most of our furniture and wedding gifts had been destroyed in the fire. We were starting new life together, and now, instead of all this ‘stuff’, we had a check from an insurance company. We were thankful, because we were the only one of the four apartments with renter’s insurance. We didn’t know it at the time, but that fire, and what came of it would forever change our lives.
I graduated from High School in 1969, and even though protests against Viet Nam were growing, I lived in a bubble of conservative Southern culture and did not feel the angst. I really wanted to take a year after High School to travel and work, to get a better handle on what I wanted to be and do. With Viet Nam raging, I was faced with a choice, school or Viet Nam. Easy choice. Off to school I went. I emerged from the bubble when I went away to College. I began to feel the influence of the Counterculture.
My concerns about the war escalated when I drew number 82 in the draft lottery. The first years of the lottery, anyone with a number under 150 was at risk. Entering adulthood during Viet Nam, I was disillusioned about the American Dream and began to look at the institutions of power, from Government to Big Business to the Church, with a cynical eye. Watergate cemented my view of how corrupting power can be.
I got caught up in the blossoming of the counterculture in Atlanta, attending both Atlanta Pop Festivals, growing my hair, and buying into the illusion that our generation could peacefully change the world. I began to question everything. I did not go for the revolutionary jargon of the times, because those folks seemed more interested in tearing stuff down than building something in its place.
At the same time, I was the son of an entrepreneur, who had returned from the horrors of World War II. He started a business the year I was born. I grew up with the clear expectation that I would follow my father into the family business. I didn’t think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. I just repeated what I knew was expected of me, “I’m gonna follow in my daddy’s footsteps.”
I worked for my father for a couple of summers in High School. We sold tractors and heavy machinery. My first summer, I was a mechanic’s assistant. I’ve never been so dirty in my whole life. I learned quite soon that I did not aspire to a blue-collar job.
I was hounded by a soulful question as I learned at what success looked like in American business. “Is that all there is?” You go to college, start a career, accumulate more money and toys than your peers, and then you die.” I was unchurched and unbaptized, alienated and alone. I aspired for more than the illusions I saw people chasing.
Genie and I met in 1971. I was nineteen and she was turning 17. She turned down a chance to go to Duke University to stay in Atlanta and go to Georgia State with me. In 1972, Richard Nixon declared an end to the draft, as Viet Nam wound down. I was so bored in my first Accounting course that I transferred out of the Business school, into the school of Urban Life. What a name. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life, and had difficulty finding relevance in my studies.
What really excited me was the idea of starting a life with Genie. So, without the threat of Viet Nam hanging over my head, I quit school and we married in October 1972. We were ready to make our way in the world. I was making good money at my job, and we were anxious to get on with life.
Although I was years away from being baptized and becoming a Christian, I was drawn to Jesus, and desired to know God. I took a job as a carpenter to learn an honest trade. A trade that was good enough for Jesus was good enough for me. At this point, anything other than working for my father looked good. Genie continued in school, and I worked.
We were starting our new life in the world when disaster struck. When the fire destroyed our apartment, Genie and I took it as a message from God not to hold too tightly to the things of this world. They can be gone in a moment. So, we took the insurance money, and bought camping and hiking gear. We borrowed money to buy a pickup truck with a camper shell and the next spring, we took off out West in the middle of March on a ten-week camping trip across the Western U.S. and Canada.
Two things happened on that trip. God revealed Himself to me in the Rockies, and Genie and I built the foundation of a marriage that has endured. Spending 24 hours a day with someone for ten weeks is equivalent to five or ten years of face time in a typical marriage. We made another trip the next fall, spending a winter in Vermont. The next year took us backpacking in the Minarets just outside Yosemite. We came home pregnant, and settled down for a couple of decades, but never forgot our nomad roots.
This fall, Lord willing, we will celebrate our 40th Anniversary. We grew up together on the road those first three years of marriage, and have spent the last forty years looking for the untrod pathways, diverging from the trails the crowds were following. In so doing, we found God’s Faint Path. And that made all the difference.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference
The Road Not Taken