Freedom in the 
Summer of ‘71

There were four friends—Jeff, Paul, Kevin, and Tim.  Ours was the generation that saw the death of idealism.  Yes, we formed our worldview out of the Beatles anthems, but the Rolling Stones better symbolized our descent into cynicism.  And though we discarded the ideals of the hippie generation, we kept its mantra refrain—if it feels good do it.   So, imagining we were just too smart to be “straight,” we embarked on an all-out campaign to experience freedom in its various forms.  Unfortunately, we found too little restraint in our quest for freedom.  At sixteen and seventeen, we boldly declared our intent to leave for Yakima Washington for the summer and our parents surrendered to our unwise plan.    

Jeff Cupp was the natural leader.  Years before, in the 7th grade, he heroically vanquished a cheif Junior High bully. The guy had picked me out as the new kid in school and routinely followed me home for “fun.”  And as bullies often do, he focused primarily on humiliation.  Some time later I learned he had been schooled in public humiliation at the hands of his father.  So one day at school, Jeff told him to stop harressing me and he snarled, “Who’s gunna make me?” and lunged at him.  Jeff stepped aside, grabbed his ears, and bounced his head down every handle of locker row C.  Jeff’s heroic deed went down in Madison Junior High legend and we were now fast friends.   

Paul Doty was our technician and social conscience.  He always carried the right tool for our assorted needs—a multi-function pocketknife, fingernail clippers, baling wire, Chap Stick, and other paraphernalia.  Through Paul’s older siblings we learned of the ideals of the sixties and in him we were reminded of the meager fruit of that generation.  Thus we dared never litter when Paul was present, since he continually goaded our otherwise dysfunctional conscience.  In time he converted us also as Jeff illustrated by summarizing our moral credo, “Just so long you don’t murder or litter, it’s OK.”   

Before this time it was just the three of us, but Kevin Culver was to round out our number that fateful summer.  Kevin was the one always getting in the most trouble, and we thought, the one always having the most fun.  He seemed to have a way with the girls, and thereby, a way into fights.  On one occasion I remember crashing a rival-school party and Kevin so enraged the guys by the way he sweet-talked the girls, a fight broke out which ended only when Sky Overstreet bested a 300-pound giant.  With all the girls that Kevin had chased, he caught me off guard when he said that he was going to Yakima to forget one in particular.  

We were actually enabled in our escape to Yakima by a deal Jeff’s father arranged with a business associate to get him a job there.  Near the end of the summer his father announced that he was divorcing his mother and Jeff was shaken in a way that he seemed to never get over.  But this was now the beginning of the summer, and Jeff was promoting our “big chance for freedom.”  There were supposed to be plenty of jobs in the orchards that “paid mass money.”  It sounded great to us, so we packed our bags and took a Greyhound bus to a place we had neither seen nor heard before.  

After we arrived at the Greyhound bus station, we walked down 6th Ave, the most dangerous street in town, and immediately found a place for rent.  In a matter of hours we rented a one-bedroom house for $60/month with “furniture and everything we needed.”  Kevin even found a stray dog to add to our household, which he promptly named Tippy.  All that was left was to get “provisions” at the grocery store, which consisted of several illegally acquired “half-racks” of Rainier Beer.  With the drugs we brought along, we were now ready to party.  My sense of the benefits of freedom was now growing in leaps and bounds.   

 We did have parties in that house.  As people walked by our open door they would hear the Rolling Stones playing “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” in an endless loop and then see our furniture made from stacked cases of Rainier beer.  One night as we sat at the kitchen table a June Bug, the size of a Huey helicopter, roared in the window and landed on the table before us.  We looked at each other in dumfounded amazement until Kevin jumped up, grabbed a butcher knife, and with a scream impaled the monster onto the table.  Another night I remember Kevin and I standing head to head, drunk out of our minds, and making vows about what we would always… and would never do.  Sadly, neither of us was up to keeping vows.  Even so, Kevin and I formed a friendship that I will always remember. 

Then one particular night while I stood alone in front of a grocery store, it struck me that I had no one to answer to and no curfew to keep.  I felt I was finally “self-ruled” and an uncommon sense of freedom sweep over me.  This was really the first time I had ever experienced such a feeling and it seemed profound and deep.  And yet I later found that this summer set a course for me—and really all of us—that would eventually lead to bondage and not the freedom we so desired.   

One typically hot Yakima day a group of us decided to go rafting down the Wenatchee River.  We got our hands on inner-tubes, air-mattresses, and anything else that might float and tied it all together in a makeshift raft.  This was a perfect day for a laid-back ride down a cool waterway through this hot, dry country.  Little did we know that countless others had been drowned on this same treacherous stretch of the river.  At first we moved at a leisurely pace, but soon we were swept down the rapids and perilously close to death.  Kevin was ripped one-way, Chubby another, as the raft was quickly dismembered.  Chubby was pulled down under the roaring waters and was caught on a sunken tree that held him there so long that when he finally came up he lay on the shore vomiting water.  Hidden rocks pummeled the others.  Only I was saved by grasping a tree branch that kept me from being pulled through the deadly whitewater.  This experience was much like what would later happen to us as we traveled down the river of life—ill-prepared for rapids that would sweep us under deep waters.  

Then there was the hot summer night that Sky Overstreet came over from West Seattle with a pickup full of cheap beer and wild friends.  That night we drove recklessly down the otherwise peaceful orchard-lined country roads.   After a number of insane driving stunts—some jumped from a speeding car bumper to the bed of the pickup—we finally stopped to lie in the middle of the still-warm asphalt road.  In minutes the crickets calmed our raging hearts.  Even now I remember how clear was the night, how bright were the stars, and how sweet was freedom that swept over us. 

As our summer stumbled on we “began to be in want.”  You see, we found it difficult to remain faithful to the rigors of orchard work, so we soon ran out of food and money.  One particular week we ate nothing but pancakes with peanut butter, and when the peanut butter ran out, it was pancakes alone.  In time Paul returned from Seattle with some cash and we all rushed to the grocery store to buy some eggs, bread, and mayonnaise.  Kevin made fried-egg-sandwiches and I remember thinking that nothing in the world could possibly taste so good and wholesome.  To this day, when left to fend for myself, I know what to eat when I “begin to be in want.”  

Because we were all so reckless, we often found ourselves on the brink of disaster.  Kevin and I often joked about a childhood cartoon where “Tooter Turtle” always got in trouble and when he wanted to go home would shout, “Help Mr. Wizard!”  Then Mr. Wizard would say, “Drizzle, drazzle, druzzle, drone.  Time for dis one to come home.”  One particular night we were riding a wave of reckless abandon.  We had already been drinking a good deal at a party but then went on to purchase a large quantity of Hashish.  As we drove heedlessly to another gathering, we finally noticed some flashing lights and heard the siren.  Kevin and I were obviously drunk, so the police locked us in the squad car while they discussed our fate.  As we waited for them to return to the car, Kevin whispered, “Give me the hash!” and since I didn’t want to arouse attention, I handed it over.  Kevin stuffed it in between the car seats and then we waited for a search of the car, or us, and the bigger “bust” to follow.  They never did find the Hashish, but we were given a night at “Juvy Hall.”  Our parents were called and my Mom said she would be there in the morning, but Kevin’s parents were nowhere to be found.  Only as we showered did they search our belongings.  Finally, we were each locked down in solitary cells.  As I lay silently on a cot, I heard Kevin’s voice echo down the empty hall.  In his characteristic comical tone, Kevin cried, “Help Mr. Wizard! Help Mr. Wizard! I want to go home.”  Silence was the appropriate response.    

About six months before this ill-fated summer, Dave Brown helped share the gospel of Jesus Christ with me, but even though the promise of “freedom from sin” seemed real enough, it soon became apparent that my own experience was shallow.  Nevertheless, in Yakima we were seeking freedom—autonomous freedom, that is.  And yet it was here that we rushed into relationships that should be saved for a commitment of marriage.  None of us appreciated the indispensable role of purity in truly loving relationships, and so, the choices we made sowed the seeds of later relational failures.  Two thirds of the way through the summer, Jeff got that devastating call about the divorce of his parents.  He left the next day and soon after we each were torn off in different directions. The mounting waves of disaster began to break over lives.

Kevin’s life was the first to be pulled under deep waters.  When he arrived home in West Seattle, he seemed to have lost his life compass.  Before too long he actually made an attempt at suicide.  With this deadly turn, he seemed to lose his self-respect and when he threatened to take his life several more times, most said he was just trying to “get attention.”  Kevin did finally get our attention.  One terrible night in a car with some friends purportedly mixing alcohol and downers, there was a horrible accident.  Most of the passengers were seriously injured.  Kevin was in the rear, middle seat—the spot thought to be most safe—yet he was killed instantly.  Suddenly, I was struck with a numbing grief as I recognized that a beautiful life had been wasted in youth.  
For some number of years, Jeff struggled to navigate through the torrents that would flood his life.   First he established and then lost a business, was married and then divorced, and finally saw his beautiful son die from bone-cancer.  All of this heartache would have overwhelmed anyone, but it was alcohol that eventually drowned his once great ambitions in life.  Jeff, who was once my hero, and I believe the hero of many others, was now lost in despair.  In the end, Jeff died of a bleeding ulcer driven by chronic alcoholism.  For my part, I am still angry about the effects of drugs and alcohol on the lives of those I love.  

Then there was Paul.  Without a moral rudder, Paul soon went off course in an otherwise decent pursuit of happiness.  For years he attempted to swim in the strong current of the West Seattle drug culture, but eventually he floundered.  He was married, then divorced, and ultimately lost visiting rights to his children.  Still later, he lost a baby born out of wedlock to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Once again, we can only imagine how difficult it would be to bear such heavy burdens, but under the influence of drugs and alcohol, it would be impossible.  Paul, who was always the most thoughtful, ingenious, and handsome of the four, was now a soul adrift.  Paul took his own life while sitting alone in a hotel room on Rainier Avenue.  Paul, I miss you.  

Then there was my own life after that decisive summer.  In my younger years I made some very bad choices with alcohol and drugs.  So when I later joined the high school football team, I had to overcome a badly earned reputation.  But if the truth were known, in my sophomore and junior years I actually submitted to the alcohol and drug restrictions and tried to stay straight—at least through the football season.  I am still thankful for the influence of high school sports, since it helped me experience some healthy success and put some distance between the 70’s drug culture and me.  But after that summer, my previously successful pattern was broken.  I now realize that I was never meant to be a football fanatic, but I will always regret that I did not discover what might have happened if I had just done my best.  

Before long, due to a drift back to corrupt company, I personally experienced how drugs destroy the most meaningful of relationships.  At the time, I felt that I was victim of circumstances beyond my control and I fell into a depression that pulled me dangerously close to suicide.  Somehow God intervened.  But instead of taking responsibility for my failure of leadership, for too long thereafter I allowed myself to be swept along various wayward tributaries.  Finally, for reasons I still don’t fully understand, God again opened my eyes to see “the branch of salvation” to grasp along the way (Zechariah 6:12).  That branch was the cross of Jesus Christ.  As before, he offered me “freedom from sin,” but this time I realized he meant “freedom from self.”  Whereas I previously thought of him only as savior, I now accepted him both as Savior and Lord.  It was then that I saw that in going to Yakima to pick the fruit of the apple orchards, I had actually picked from the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”   I now know that true freedom always includes freedom from the regrets of self-seeking sin.

Now, in sharing all of this I realize that many will discount the bad experience of another by reasoning that they are too smart to make such “stupid” mistakes.  Yet in the last sixteen years that I have worked with Christian youth, my great concern has been for them to grow in God’s grace and humble wisdom to see that a self-directed life leads to destructive bondage and not the freedom they naturally desire.  And in order to help them on the path of wisdom, I have often thought to share my own experience, but because of my concern about the rationalization of youth, I have sometimes refrained.  At times I can even see it in their eyes, “He survived, so will I.”

Recently, I heard a youth share about a first experience with freedom when away from family on a mission trip.  I could not help but remember my own experience with freedom over thirty years before.  My prayer for youth and adults alike is that they experience the freedom from self that sweeps over a life that allows Jesus Christ to be Lord.  Jesus promised just such an experience when he said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).  You see, God has always planned for us to be free, but not so as to be enslaved to self.  His plan is simply this: to live out the love he has given us in the life of his Son, Jesus Christ.  The apostle Paul explained it so well,  “You, my brothers, were called to be free.  But do not use you freedom to indulge the sinful nature.  Rather serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).  Again, to those who say, “I know what is best for me,” I say, “There were four friends—Jeff, Paul, Kevin, and Tim.”  Now, only by the grace of God, just one remains.


Tim Nordgren,  6/16/02