Chapter 14:

Can We Talk For A While?

The relationship between Morgan and Linda simmered along beneath the surface of their lives through the spring and summer of 1964, a dance of intimacy where each held the other simultaneously within and beyond arm’s reach.

Just before their graduation, Linda’s senior-year steady, Howie, enlisted in the National Guard. Before he shipped out for basic training, Linda wrestled with the future of their relationship.

“He is such a good guy," she wrote in her journal, “and I love his family, but if I stay with him, how long will it be before I get bored with my surroundings? He will want to get married, I know.” And not surprisingly for somebody who had already lived in forty-some different places before graduating high school, she added, “I just can't imagine staying in the same town for the rest of my life." Tearfully, Linda gave Howie back his class ring. .

True to his word, Morgan was “around,” but never for very long. He would stop by to take Linda for a short ride on his motorcycle. Or he’d drop in to Ashlawn for a brief visit, and then he was gone again. Linda actually learned more about Morgan from her girlfriends, for whom Morgan was the shining star in their gossip world.

For example: The last Friday in August, Morgan had attended the Philadelphia Folk Festival, and afterwards invited a group of fellow revelers — what his father would disdainfully refer to as “hippies” — to spend the night on his family’s farm. Early the following morning, Morgan’s father was outraged when he discovered several couples in various stages of undress nestled together in the hay loft. After kicking the sleepy and disheveled group out of his barn, he unloaded on Morgan. “This won't do," he bellowed at Morgan. “I won't have this sort of activity here. You have a reputation to think about and this is never going to happen again!"

Linda had already heard about the sleep-over and ensuing confrontation in the barn when the phone at Ashlawn rang, and she was surprised to hear Morgan’s voice on the other end. “"Can I come over?" he asked — “so sweetly,” she wrote in her journal, adding "I am sure that I am just an afterthought to him, but he has made me very happy.”

A half hour later Morgan’s father drove his car into Ashlawn’s driveway and Morgan laughed as he unloaded a guitar and a sheaf of sheet music out of the back seat. He also grabbed a towel, a toothbrush and a comb, and when he noticed Linda was watching him curiously he smiled at her and declared "I'm moving in for the day!" Morgan’s father never got out of the car, but before he drove off Linda was sure she’d caught him smiling at her, too.

Later, when Morgan told her himself about that morning’s exploits at the barn, he commented, “I guess my Dad figures that you are a better influence on me!"

Linda studied Morgan as he turned and walked toward the pool, noticing how much simple fun he was to watch, how tall and handsome he was. “Not if I can help it,” she thought to herself.

As the late summer sun rose into the cloudless sky, Linda and Morgan passed the time swimming and lounging by the pool. Morgan strummed his guitar, which he had bought the night before from one of the kids at the folk festival — a Gibson J200 jumbo flat-top, just like Elvis played. Linda smiled at him as he struggled with the fingering, and he promised, “Someday I'll be able to entertain you with this thing, not just amuse you." They raided the nearby strawberry patch and Linda admitted later "I flirted outrageously with him, but I was so shy I don't think that he even noticed.”

At one point, Morgan took Linda completely by surprise, sweeping her into his arms. “He was going to throw me into the pool,” she wrote in her journal, “But I hung on so hard he couldn’t pull himself away from me, and I pulled him into the water with me.”

Morgan sputtered to the surface. "Damn,” he laughed, "you are one strong girl!"

“Damn Amazon,” Linda wrote in her journal that night, “that’s what he’s probably thinking! That was the only move he made on me the entire day!” Linda was sure she’d blown it with Morgan when, instead of staying the entire day like he’d promised when he first arrived, he wound up leaving early that afternoon. "Here he is a champion wrestler, and he can’t even rip me loose long enough to keep me from pulling him in the pool with me,” she wrote.

Linda sized up what she was now certain were her other shortcomings in the eyes of this prospective suitor: “He loves to dance,” she wrote, “and I can barely do a waltz. His favorite song is “Dancing in the Streets” and I just can’t seem to keep up with him. He loves that big guitar and I can’t begin to strum it. He can sing, and I am just too shy to even try. I just know that I am so drawn to him that I can barely breathe when he stands next to me.”

And then, contemplating her impending departure for college, Linda wrote, “I have only fourteen days before I leave for Southern Seminary — and he hasn't even kissed me yet!

* * *

Linda’s journals from the summer of ’64 also make note the festering socio-political climate of the period. Race riots were sweeping through the inner city of Philadelphia as “1000 black people looted and tore places apart,” in a series of disruptions that prompted a curious observation from her father:

“Daddy commented that he felt it was humankind’s response to an outside force that is affecting all of us. He says it’s the same type of force that has probably ‘encouraged’ revolutions and wars… It makes us all feel like fighting. I dunno…. Those are not exactly the kinds of emotions that I have been entertaining lately….”

Linda was busy with her journal that weekend. Sunday morning she wrote, “I guess that Morgan has made things even worse. Word from the grapevine is that last evening he took a girl skinny dipping in the farm pond, and then made the mistake of using his Dad’s car to drive back to the main house to get some towels. His Father stormed out of the house to ‘pull the keys,’ only to discover a naked girl dripping wet in the front seat."

“I think,” Linda recalled Morgan having mused later, “my father has seen one too many loose women for one weekend.” But all Linda could think of was how jealous she was. “I wondered if I had to stand in line — or didn’t he think of me at all in a sexual way?” “Morgan and I," she wrote with a sad resignation "live in an entirely different reality."

Linda expected that last Sunday in August was going to be “a quiet day.” Hattie, the Ashlawn housekeeper and her husband Taft, the butler, had the house “looking wonderful” prior to their departure for a vacation. Taft and Charles — taking a break from his driving duties — were working in the garden; Mother was reading and Daddy was working at his desk in the study.”

And as for herself, Linda wrote, “I was purely agitated.”

By the time Sunday evening settled in, the big house was totally quiet. Linda, still feeling restless, had retired to the ‘rec room’ to watch some old movie on the TV. The last thing she expected was a knock at the door. And when she opened it, there was Morgan, whispering, “I know it’s late,” he whispered, “but can we talk for a while?”

Morgan’s “while” lasted until four the following morning. They talked about “everything,” sitting by the pool, their legs dangling in the cool water under the hazy summer’s night sky. They laid back on the deck around the pool, staring up at the moon and star. The next thing she knew, they were spinning off on an expansive dialog about the planets, the stars, the vastness of space and even the possibility of time travel.

Morgan started talking about his family: how his parents had become estranged when is younger sister drowned in swimming pool accident, how his mother never recovered from her grief and blamed his father; how his older brother was also trapped in an unhappy marriage.

“I just don’t think marriage is in the cards for me,” Morgan said. “I don’t think I’m ever going to take my father’s place in society. My parents have these terrible fights, but they stay together, like they feel obligated to make each other miserable because of what happened to my sister. I don’t ever want my life to be like that.”

As Morgan continued to express his contempt for conventional domestic tranquility Linda smiled, surprised to find herself in complete agreement with Morgan’s sentiments.

Morgan went on. “I just don’t want the big house and mortgage" she heard him saying " I don't want to have to stay in one place except for two weeks every year." Linda could tell that the very thought made him restless and uncomfortable. She smiled at Morgan and looked away.

“What do you want, Morgan,” Linda asked quietly, looking skyward. “What do you see for yourself?”

Morgan seemed startled by the question, as if he had never been asked that question by a girl before. But when he started to speak it all came out in a rush.

“I’ll go to college,” Morgan said, “and then I want travel and adventure. It’s weird, but I have this very clear vision of myself, I don’t know where, or when, but I’m in someplace that’s mountainous, and really rocky. No trees anywhere. I can see small pebbles on the trail tumble away from my boots. It’s strange because I don’t know of any place like around here. I don’t even think it’s in this country, and the vision gives me this overwhelming sense of danger and excitement. Somehow, I want to be there, but I don’t know where it is.”

Morgan looked at Linda, could see her listening intently, as if she could see his vision herself. “I don’t know where that picture comes from,” he said. But somehow, that’s the answer to your question. That’s what I imagine for myself, sometime in the near future.”

Linda took a moment to absorb the majesty of Morgan’s vision, warming herself with the thought that this particular image of himself was probably not something that he cared to share with those other, mostly marriage-minded girls.

After a quiet pause, Linda smiled and confided in Morgan some of her own visions. “You just have to listen to your own soul about these things,” she said, “and somehow, you’ll just know what to do in the future. I have my own peculiar premonitions. Sometimes I can just clearly see myself riding horse-back over golden hills, past these strange, gnarled trees. I’ve even drawn the trees in art class, but the teacher says I should stick to reality, that trees like that don’t exist anywhere in nature. I don’t know where that picture comes from any better than you know where yours come from. But I know my trees are real, and I’m sure your pebbles are real, too.”

Morgan studied Linda for a long time without saying a word. Linda gazed into his grey-green eyes and imagined that she could see them reflecting the sparkle of distant starlight.

“Amazing…” was all Morgan could manage to say,

Suddenly the silence was shattered by the sound of a phone ringing on the wall of the greenhouse. Linda sprang to her feet to answer it before the entire household was awakened, positively irritated by whoever was calling at this hour. But it didn’t matter who was calling. The spell was broken.

On the other end of the line, Linda’s older brother Joseph was calling from Oregon, and wanted to speak with his mother. Linda set the phone down on a ledge in the greenhouse, and whispered to Morgan, “wait, please wait…” But Morgan just wiggled his fingers at her, gesturing a silent “goodbye…”

Linda tip-toed into the house to awaken her mother, who took the call on the phone by her bed. Then Linda tip-toed back down the long hall, back down the stairs, back out into the darkness and back to the greenhouse to hang up the extension where she’d first answered the call. By the time she got there, Morgan had slipped into the pre-dawn darkness. In the distance, she thought she heard the trailing whine of his motorcycle.

Returning to the house, Linda realized it would not be long before she’d be seeing him again. His big Gibson was still leaning against a wall near the door where he’d left earlier.

Next Chapter

 


 

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