There were only a few things for teenagers to do for recreation at Stewart on a Sunday night. One was going to the Teen Club to dance. There were usually a number of songs to dance to, “Ben”, a creepy song about a rat by a young Michael Jackson, “If” by Bread, and “Color my World”, by Chicago. I think the only “fast song” that got us moving was “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band because I and The Commodores “Brickhouse” which always seemed to be talking about Linda Mabry or least that is what Ronnie said. My Sundays nights were reserved for the base youth group.
Captain Bill Cates ran our youth group. He must have been an extremely patient man. None of the kids who went to youth group ever went to the base Chapel or church as I recall with the exception of the Mackesy girls who were Catholic. The only family that I knew who was remotely Pentecostal charismatic were the Lorigan’s. I remember Becki Lorigan telling me about her experience of speaking in tongues while getting off the bus and Washingtonville high school. I was happy not to be alone in that experience. We were all faithful to be at youth group every Sunday night. It was fun to be there and wasn’t overly religious, There were not a wide variety of churches in the upper Hudson Valley portion of New York. The majority of churches in that area were Catholic and we were not. We did visit an Assemblies of God church in Newburgh because we were brought up Pentecostal, but it just wasn’t like our church in Georgia, Evangel Temple, it felt a little bit hokey, to which my yankee friends probably would’ve gotten a great laugh.
I’m not sure that I thoroughly understood the gospel in those years, but I understood that someone loved me. Captain Cates was Christ to us. We were a ragtag band of ragamuffins. We were loved and we loved back, we just did not understand it. I contacted Captain Cates a number of years ago and thanked him for inspiring me to go into youth ministry all those years later.
The only real remembrance of any of the lessons from youth group from Captain Cates was what he called an Agape feast. We sat around eating grapes and cheese. I remember him causing me to have real feelings for the group and longings toward God. Our group met in the chapel annex, a separate building from the church itself. I worked in that building babysitting for kids during church services, I made a whopping $3.25 an hour which was the federal minimum wage. It was my first job. The church stored the communion wine in the refrigerator in the kitchen. There was always in a 1 gallon bottle Gallo burgundy wine in the fridge.
My best friend was Ronnie Parkins. He was the cool guy at school and on base. I felt very privileged to be called his friend, me, the super skinny redhead kid. One night Ronnie and I were walking down the icy roads from the Gardens to the teen club. He was carrying his prized stereo system and had slightly too much to drink. The road was icy and he was scared he was going to slip and fall and break his sound system. I kept trying to steady him. We decided to take a break and go into the church annex to get warm and dry. We were hungry so I decided to look into the church refrigerator. There wasn’t much there except a couple of sticks of butter, the obligatory red punch, some leftover cake, a half eaten box of cornflakes that seem wildly out of place, and of course, the gallon bottle of red wine for communion as opposed to the stuffy Protestant cheap grape juice
I snuck the large bottle out the back exit, and Ronnie and I began drinking red wine out of red Solo cups and had a deep conversation that has stuck with me all these years. Ronnie looked at me and told me that I was such a great example for him. Here we were drinking stolen wine in a stairwell in 4 inches of snow! Him holding me up is an example of morality is pretty hilarious to look back on!
We grew up there. I had one of my first real relationships in that town. I dated Melanie Wimmer, a proper east coast girl who did everything properly. Her father was an anesthesiologist stationed in Korea. Her mom was a socialite and volunteer. As far as I remember, Melanie was a bit spoiled and she loved to have fun. I taught her how to dance and she fell in love with the movies and soundtracks to Grease and Saturday Night Fever. She was a great dancer who I completely dissed at a dance competition. I wrote about that in the earlier blog.
Our families were tied with the Jerowskskis’ and I had it bad for Michelle. Michelle had it bad for my best friend, Ronnie. My brother had it bad for the twins, and Neal had it bad for them as well. My sister had it bad for John John and as far as I know John John didn’t know that my sister even existed!
Linda was in love with Dominic from the day I met her. She had her wedding planned out from I believe her sophomore year. It reminded me of the song “songs from the Italian restaurant “just like Brenda and Eddie, it didn’t work out. She has been really loving relationship now for many years. God had a way of weaving a beautiful story in all the lives of the Stewart game.
Ronnie drove his big brother, Richard, absolutely crazy. He was the first person I ever saw that put beer in his Cap’n Crunch cereal. He preferred Primo Beer from Hawaii which was where his dad has been transferred from and Ron would eventually move back to and meet the love of his life, Virginia. Ronnie has been able to beat the family curse of divorce. He and Virginia have been married now for 39 years. I am so proud of him.
I have said before and I would love to reiterate. If you look at the path God has been leading you on from day one you can see how every little decision, every little tragedy, victory, everything has led you to this moment in life. God has directed your destiny. He has not caused everything to happen but he is directing everything. He has allowed your choices to go in natural directions and he has been by you the entire time. There is freedom in the world God created for you and it allows your choices to be the thing that in concert with him Will drive you toward him or drive you away. Make the right choice. You will never regret it.