My mother’s best friend Mary Beth lived across the street from us on Mt. Pleasant St. in Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas. Our families were good friends, and I played often with their son Andy when I was a little girl. Andy and his family eventually moved away from Mt. Pleasant; and later in 1962 we did, also. Both families still lived in Oak Cliff; but, except for occasionally bumping into Andy at school ball games, I had very little contact with him for several years. Our moms, on the other hand, spoke to each other and saw each other regularly.
Andy was a member of the Westminster Youth Choir at Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church. One day he called me to talk about the choir. He invited me to visit one of their rehearsals and asked me to consider joining. I accepted his invitation to visit and quickly became a member of this warm and inviting group of teens.
The choir’s beloved director was William C. Everitt, a.k.a. “Mr. E.” We sang regularly for the congregation at the church and occasionally on the radio, and we recorded long-playing albums. Each summer the group also made an annual two-week tour around the U.S. and Canada. It took three Greyhound buses to accommodate our group of approximately 70 teens and its sponsors/chaperones. The choir raised money for tour expenses by holding paper drives. Then each traveling member contributed toward the amount that was still needed to cover remaining expenses. Normally, while I was a member in 1966-68, each tour participant paid about $70 a trip, some of which was returned to us a few dollars at a time for miscellaneous expenses.
Each traveling member chose or was assigned a tour partner. Carolyn, who was a current member when I joined, asked me to be hers. She and I went to different high schools and did not know each other before I joined. I said yes, and we were tour buddies until we graduated from high school.
Through at least 1968, the same three bus drivers drove us around the country: Charlie, Smitty, and Shorty. They were virtually one and were very kind and patient with all of us loud and rambunctious teens. We were good kids, though, as far as I know.
During my three summers with the choir, we traveled across the United States and into Canada. Some of the places we were privileged to see were: Niagara Falls, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation home, the Washington Monument, Pikes Peak, Yellowstone National Park, Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, the Expo ’67 World’s Fair, and more.
At Expo ’67 World’s Fair in Montreal, I remember a 360° cinema exhibit called “Canada 67.” Spectators walked into a large round room and stood in the middle surrounded by projection or TV screens. I watched as horses galloped toward me and around me, then disappeared behind me. It was much like an Omni Theater experience today but a marvel in 1967.
The choir only stayed in hotels when necessary. In cities where we performed, we stayed with church members in their homes. I believe it was in Montreal where Carolyn and I stayed with a family in an old three-story brick row house. The home and neighborhood fascinated me, and the huge ranch style breakfast they served was memorable – cereal, fruit, biscuits, toast, bacon, sausage, eggs, potatoes, waffles, pancakes, freshly squeezed orange juice…you name it! This is where I discovered how scrumptious real cream on cereal was! I had never tasted anything so divine. Also, I never forgot the old bathtub on the top floor. As I eased back in the bathtub that night, I saw the starry night sky through a large clear skylight high above the tub. A skylight directly over the bathtub was something new to me, and I was a little uncomfortable.
Our trip through Virginia and Washington D.C. in 1966 took us to Arlington National Cemetery and John F. Kennedy’s gravesite. This was my first visit there, and I was a bit overwhelmed. I was in Dealey Plaza in Dallas in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated just a few years earlier, but it felt like decades ago at the time.
We passed through Las Vegas in 1968 and spent one night at the Sands, I believe. Mr. E allowed choir members to break up into small groups that evening and walk around unchaperoned until our 10 p.m. curfew. My group started our night of excitement by going to the hotel café where each of us dared to order a soft drink garnished with an umbrella! Next, we tried to get a peek into a small showroom in one of the hotels, but the doorman closed the dark curtains and shooed us away every time we giggling troublemakers walked by. We had an early curfew that night and an early departure the next morning. To get to our rooms from the front of the hotel, we walked through an area right next to and open to poker tables in the smoke-filled casino. When we left the next morning around 7:00 a.m., the same guys were still dealing and smoking at the same table. I didn’t know people did that!
At the time, I was not able to appreciate how much work went into planning and executing a trip like these choir tours for 70 teenagers. We kids just showed up with our suitcases, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the bus (or in my case, jelly sandwiches), went where we were told to go when we were told to, and sang and prayed our merry way across the continent. What fun it was for us and what a huge undertaking and responsibility for all of the adults who planned and/or participated in these trips.
I am guessing that Andy was an innocent accomplice to a plan hatched by our mothers to coax me out of my comfort zone, and I am grateful he made that phone call to me that day. As a member of the Westminster Youth Choir I got to see breathtaking sights, meet many wonderful people across the U.S., and sing in beautiful and historic churches. Again, I find myself wishing I had taken more photographs and kept travel logs.
Being part of the Westminster Youth Choir changed my life forever. I made many good friends and had many rich, rewarding, and spiritual experiences. Our performances were conversations with God.