BECK index

1

Family

I know I am an eternal being, as all souls are. However, I have not yet developed divine omniscience enough to see into my past lives clearly, though I intuitively sense that I have lived many times before. Thus let me begin with the family that raised me in this life.

My physical father was born on May 15, 1918. He was an only child. In 1925 his parents put their things in a model-T Ford and moved from Scottsbluff, Nebraska to Los Angeles, California. My father described his father as a selfish man. Grandpa loved to eat and at one time weighed over 300 pounds, but he was not that large when I knew him, which was after he retired from being a superintendent at the gas company. I liked him all right; he was generally relaxed and jolly. Grandma was good too, but she had an occasional temper. Once when Grandpa made a joke about how they used to use old corncobs instead of toilet paper, she reprimanded him.

Every year when I was little, my parents took a vacation by themselves, and Grandma and Grandpa would come out to our house and stay with us kids for a week. Grandma made great applesauce with cinnamon in it, and Grandpa showed me how to eat it on top of fried eggs. Since fruit is my favorite food, this appealed to me. Once when we were out of milk, my mother put apple juice on my cereal. Now I regularly put fruit juice on my daily granola and trail mix.

My mother in this life was born in Richmond, California on October 27, 1919. She was raised in Los Angeles except for a brief residence in Houston, Texas. Her father's mother was a Spanish Californian called Tia Sepulveda. The Sepulvedas were related to the Alvarados and the Picos, one of whom, Pio Pico, was Governor of California under the Mexican rule in the 1840s. I heard he was corrupt; so there was nothing to brag about, but I would occasionally nonetheless. Gramps, as we called him, was a traveling pot-and-kettle salesman. My mother said that she could relate to Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN, because her father always wanted to be well-liked. I never knew him very well, because he got leukemia and died when I was about ten.

Coco, as we called Mom's mother, lived to be 94. She was brought up on a hops farm in Santa Rosa. She started driving a car at age 14 and had a good driving record for 74 years before she finally gave it up at 88. She often accompanied her husband on his sales trips. She is conservative and loves Reagan now. When she heard of my protests, I once overheard her talking about the I. W. W. as the "I Won't Work" group instead of the International Workers of the World.

My mother had some difficulties in childhood, because she was shy and a little crippled for a time with polio. She had only one older brother who didn't seem to offer much consolation. However, at Cal. Tech. he did introduce her to my father at a basketball game. She was also skinny before she had children; when she married, she was 5' 5" but weighed only 108.

My father was quite an achiever as a youth. In the Boy Scouts he earned the top rank of Eagle and accumulated more than forty merit badges, twenty beyond what was needed for Eagle. At Cal. Tech. he played basketball and was quarterback on the football team. He told me he played against Jackie Robinson in the Rose Bowl, but that was when Robinson was at Pasadena City College and Cal. Tech. played their home games in the Rose Bowl. He wrote "Sports Slants" for the school paper, and a friend and he became President and Vice President of the student body respectively. He got his B. S. and an M. S. in Mechanical Engineering.

I have no doubt in my mind that by far the most important thing in both my parents lives has been their relationship to each other and the children it produced. My father is also a rather shy and straightforward person. I would bet that both my parents have never had sex with anyone other than each other, and in their 70s they are still enjoying themselves as a couple. Certainly the love they have had for each other all these years is a wonderful example to behold. They may have had some differences to work out in the early years, but by the time I arrived on the scene in the seventh year of their marriage things seemed to be running along fairly smoothly. They live for each other, and the division of labor is clearly defined along traditional lines. Pop earned all the money and took care of most of the outdoor tasks which weren't parceled out to the kids, and Mom did the indoor tasks such as cooking, washing, cleaning, sewing, and also shopping and a little watering during the week. They rarely ever quarreled at all and never fought. The worst I can remember was once in the car my mother kept on nagging him. I was thinking to myself, "How long is he going to take this?" Finally he said to her, "Aw, why don't you just shut up?!" She did, and that was the end of it.

My mother was in a sorority at UCLA when they met, but she was really looking for an Mrs. degree. So she dropped out of college when her goal was attained. They decided to wait though until my dad had his masters degree and a steady job. My mother was raised as a Catholic and my dad as a Methodist. They were secretly engaged for a year. She had gone to her priest and told him that she was in love with a man who was not Catholic and wanted to marry him; but the priest told her that if she did, she would go to hell. As far as I know, that marked the end of her Catholicism.

So on September 28, 1940 Duane Beck and Marcy Davis were married. Slightly less than nine months later my brother Dan was born on June 16, 1941, two weeks early. They were living in San Diego where my dad began working. With the United States entering the war directly, he soon found his way into the aircraft industry for a career that lasted until he retired from it at the age of 55. His engineering talents kept him out of the military, but during the dark days of the war he would go into a building before sunrise and come out at night. The last twenty years or so of his career he worked for Hughes Aircraft in Culver City where he became manager of the engineering data department. Apparently he started out very ambitious and was rising fast. However, sometime in the 1950s he discovered a malignant cancer. Re-evaluating his life he realized that the important things to him were his family and working with plants. He was always a good gardener. He decided to relax in his work and not travel much or accept transfers, like my uncle who moved to Georgia for a while with Lockheed or his friend John Black who lived in Tucson for a time and eventually became a vice president at Hughes. I didn't know anything about the medical danger until my parents happily announced to us kids that it had been five years since the malignancy had been removed. Of course most of the projects at Hughes were related to the arms race, such as the Falcon missile, but he also worked on the SynCom satellite in the space program---a communications satellite in synchronous orbit above the earth that was finished in time to televise the 1964 Olympics from Tokyo.

My other brother Tom was born on June 4, 1943. I later realized that both my brothers were born with the sun in Gemini, which seemed cosmically significant to me since Gemini is the sign of brothers and sisters. I suppose they competed with each other more than most brothers.

After Tom, my mother had two miscarriages. About that time doctors began giving pregnant women the drug diethyl stilbesterol (DES) in order to prevent miscarriages. I was a DES baby. Later they discovered that many of these children developed abnormalities and cancers in their genitals. A few years ago I noticed a lump next to one of my testicles, but the urologist I went to didn't seem too concerned about it. It is still there.

I was born in Los Angeles on March 5, 1947 at 3:48 p.m. My brother Dan commented, "Three boys is too much boys." Even before I learned about astrology, I felt the time was significant. When I asked my mother one year on my birthday what time I was born, she said she thought it was about 4:30 in the afternoon. Then I would think at that time, "Now I am exactly twelve years old," or whatever age it was.

In 1945 my parents bought a third of an acre in Pacific Palisades on the edge of Santa Monica Canyon just below Sunset Blvd. about one mile south of Will Rogers State Park and about one mile north of the beach at 732 Greentree Rd. There were few houses in that area then. In fact I think my parents helped name the street. My dad helped design the plan of the house, and we moved in there February 1948 before I was one year old. This was my permanent home growing up. My parents sold it and moved to their avocado grove in 1974.

The street was a dead end; so we could play football in it without having to stop very often for a car. There were nice lawns in the front and back which my brothers and I would mow, after raking the leaves. The garage was well back behind the house at the end of a gray asphalt driveway which stretched out into a badminton court in front of the garage. Somehow the badminton idea never took hold, but Pop or Dan built a basketball backboard on the roof of the garage which us three kids used a lot.

Pop put in flower gardens all around the house and the perimeters inside the solid cedar fence which closed us off from our neighbors. In the front lawn were three magnolia trees and an olive tree. In the back outside the breakfast room was a limequat tree and lemon bushes. Between the driveway and the fence was a row of cedars, pines, and redwoods, although not big ones. On the other side were two almond trees, but they got diseased and were replaced by a mandarin orange tree and an apple tree. The street was on the west side. The north side was also a small forest that covered the ground with pine needles and in front there was a naval orange tree. Back by the garage was a macadamia nut tree, banana palms, an avocado tree, an apricot tree, and two peach trees, white and yellow. Behind the garage was a small dicondra lawn and a compost bin, built so that one side could be removed. A brick walk went from the badminton court under a grape arbor by the garage to the northeast corner where we burned our trash in an incinerator until smog regulations made it a level place for our trash cans, which I had to carry out to the street on Sunday nights. In the middle of the back lawn was a sycamore tree, which after many years became too large and was reduced to a stump. When I was in high school, we had a pool put in along with a small waterfall; but I never cared much for swimming myself.

The house was painted green with white trim and was about 1800 square feet. A person entering from the front porch after having walked up a curving pink walk would find an entry way with a dining room on the right and the living room on the left. We only used the dining room for company; it also had a desk, and one night a week my parents would do "accounts" there. One passed through a swinging doorway from the dining room into the kitchen. Off the southeast corner of the kitchen catching the morning light was the breakfast room with a glass-top table and four metal chairs. As I recall, I sat at the end of the table on a stool until Dan went away to college. The kitchen had a cooler, which is like a cupboard except that slat shelves and wire mesh on the bottom and top allow the cool air from under the house to flow through. In there we would keep potatoes, onions, jars of catsup, mustard, mayonnaise, peanut butter, honey, jams, etc. and even butter or margarine so they wouldn't get too hard to spread. The "back porch" was really a room off the kitchen between two Hollywood doors which were glass inside the top half. The washing machine was in there.

Between the kitchen and the den was a well-supplied bar. My parents never really got drunk, but they would usually drink something every night before dinner. After many years of doing all the housework herself, my mother got a maid to come in once a week and help her with the cleaning and ironing. The ironing board came down out of the wall right in front of the bar. This proved to be too much of a temptation for one of the black maids; so they put a lock on the bar's cupboard doors. They didn't have to worry about us kids; we were pretty good. The worst we would do would be to look in their bedroom closet to see what our Christmas presents were going to be. I must confess though that I didn't like milk, and if Mom was gone, sometimes I would pour my glass of milk down the kitchen sink.

The living room had a fireplace and the television. When I was about ten, my parents bought a really good stereo with big speakers. A hall and bathroom separated the den from three bedrooms in a row on the north side. My parents bedroom in back had their own bathroom. From my parents bedroom to the front bedroom was a long hallway with a furnace. We had bunk beds. Once when I was very little, I fell out of bed, and Pop came running right in naked to see what happened; he never wore anything to bed. I was not hurt.

I think my parents were pretty relaxed with their third baby, and I was spared a lot of anxiety and insecure training. I knew both my parents loved me very much. Every night I would kiss each of them before I went to bed. I don't remember any early traumas. I was a secure child.

My earliest memory was when I was in the car with my mother. She was waiting for the green light at Sunset Blvd. I was in the back seat and saw a truck with lumber sticking out the back with a red flag on it start backing up toward us. I think I pointed, not yet able to talk. The wood made a little dent in the rounded part of the car that covered the back wheel in those days. That is my only memory of that old blue car.

My first playmates other than my brothers were the little girls who lived on our block. Susie Sklarek lived next door, but she and I didn't get along very well. Two houses down from her was Andrea Anderson, a passive girl, and next to her Camille Gillespie, who was my age but taller. Once when we were playing a game in my room and my mother was singing as she worked in the kitchen, Camille said she sang like Snow White. I could see that my mother was surprised and pleased by the compliment.

At this age my most loyal and constant companion was our German shepherd Laurie. We went everywhere in the neighborhood together. She was by far the best dog we ever had. It gave me more freedom from parental worries, because, like Lassie or Rin Tin Tin, we believed she would look out for me. And she did, but one day she didn't look out for herself. I was walking home on Brooktree Rd. toward the bridge when Laurie ran ahead on the road around the curve out of sight behind some trees. A car came speeding past me, and as it crossed the creek I had a terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. When the car passed out of sight I heard the wheels screech and the dog yelp. I ran across the bridge and around the bend to see the car speeding away and Laurie laying in the middle of the street. When I ran up to her, I saw blood come pouring out of her mouth; then she died. I started crying and couldn't stop. After a while someone stopped their car and carried the dead dog off to the side of the road. I just stayed there crying for two or three hours. That evening I overheard my parents talking that it was too bad, and they guessed we'd better get another dog. I couldn't believe it. How could they treat this so casually?

After that we had a succession of German shepherds who never seemed to behave properly. We had to get rid of one of them after she attended uninvited a ladies' tea party down the street. A new city ordinance required dogs to be fenced in or on a leash, and we never used a leash. A five-foot high fence and gate was built across the driveway, but our shepherd would leap and climb over this. The fence was extended and angled back, but heroically she would struggle to get over this. Even in the back yard she might interfere with our ball games. One time I tied her collar to a bench, but she dragged the bench behind her. My frustration was not alleviated as I was carrying the bench back and my friend Mike yelled, "Hey Heck, that's a funny way to walk your dog!"

Although I was usually happy, there were times when I had my troubles. I used to go barefoot around the neighborhood with Laurie, and one summer I had a bad habit of stubbing my big toe on the uneven asphalt of the street. It would bleed, and I would limp home for Mom to put on a band-aid. One day I stubbed the same toe twice, and it really hurt. Tom contemptuously laughed and asked me when I was going to learn how to walk.

Every once in a while I would have these tail-spin cycles when it seemed like I couldn't do anything right. Another example was years later when I was practicing throwing a football at a target on a tarp hanging from the garage, and no matter what I did I just couldn't manage to throw a spiral. But I would retrieve the ball and stubbornly buck my chin up and try again.

Generally though, I believe I had an idyllic and happy childhood. When people used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would say, "I don't know. Right now I'm happy being a kid."

Next to the family past-time of sports, camping and scouting were next in importance. I remember when I was very small we were at a campground and I got permission at dusk to go down the hill to the swings. By the time I was through swinging it was dark, and I got lost trying to find my way back. Finally after dinner Mom found me with some kind folks who were taking care of me.

My parents told me about a similar incident when I waited confidently for them to pick me up after they left me at Palisades Park after my brothers' softball game. They loaded up the station-wagon with kids; and after they took everyone home, someone asked, "Hey, where's Sandy?" When they got to the park, I just said, "I knew you'd come back."

I was a good hiker, and our camping trips became more adventurous. When I was seven, our family of five went on a day hike without packs in the High Sierras. In mid-afternoon we reached a fork in the trail which had two trails back to our camp. Mom and Pop wanted to take the shorter trail which would complete a 16-mile hike, but Dan wanted to take the other which meant a 21-mile hike, because he needed a 20-mile hike for hiking merit badge. Tom also wanted to go with Dan; so my parents gave me the choice which way I wanted to go. I wasn't tired and went with my brothers. I was always proud that I had hiked so far at such a young age.

When I turned eight, I was put in the Cub Scouts with a blue uniform. I was in it for three years and went through the usual ranks. Of course Cub Scouts was kid stuff since both my brothers were Boy Scouts and Pop was the founding Scout Master of Troop 106, numbered just under his boyhood Troop 107.

My first memory of having money was in relation to one of my first Cub meetings. Mom gave me a quarter to turn in for my dues. I think my allowance then was ten cents a week. Anyway I had my mind set on getting a Coke from the Coke machine for a dime on my way through the park. I had never done it before and thought I would try a penny first, since they are almost the same size. I carefully took a dime and a penny from my money and put them in my pocket. Later reviewing my plan I looked at the coins in my pocket. "What is this quarter doing here?" I wondered. "I don't need this." Having forgotten its purpose, I put it back with my savings. When Mom found out I hadn't paid the dues, because I deliberately took it out of my pocket and kept it, she was angry. I think I must have got a spanking for that one.

Neither Mom nor Pop were afraid to spank us if they thought we had disobeyed, and it wasn't very often. They would put us over their knee, and Pop would slap us on the butt with his hand, but Mom might use a coathanger.

In another early incident camping, I was throwing rocks up in the air and hitting them with a stick, as in baseball. However, I wasn't paying any attention where they were going, and one of them hit Pop in the head. He got angry, but Mom intervened, saying it wasn't intentional. So he just told me to get away from there. I can still remember that strange and lonely experience of being in exile in the wilderness. After a couple hours I was allowed back to the camp.

My brothers would play with me sometimes or let me play with them, but four-year and six-year differences are pretty big for children. Tom had more friends than Dan; so Dan would spend more time with me even though he was the oldest. It seemed like he always wanted his way though, and I would call him, "King Dan." One day when I was teasing him he got particularly irritated and told me that if I said one more word to him he was going to slug me in the stomach as hard as he could. Feeling invulnerable in a giggly mood I said, "Hi, Dan." Suddenly with all his might his fist plunged into my relaxed stomach. I was not expecting it, and it took all the air out of me and left me in an agony of pain. He threatened me not to tell Mom or Pop, or he would get me. I wasn't going to tell them, but when I saw Mom I couldn't help bursting out crying and had to tell the whole story. After that, Dan criticized me for not being able to control my emotions.

During the summers when I was 8, 9, and 10 I spent a week at the YMCA Camp at Big Bear Lake. One year we had a rather sadistic cabin counselor who liked to make the kids bend over and whip them on the butt with a stick for the slightest thing, like talking out of turn. I thought it was humiliating and was one of only two boys in the cabin to escape such punishment. He even put a live snake in one boy's sleeping bag and made him get in wearing only shorts, not knowing it was there. My friend Mike was switched several times. He and others used to like to play "butts up" with a basketball. The loser would have to stand against the garage and bend over while the other stood back and threw the ball at his butt. Again I thought this was humiliating and didn't like being a part of either end of this. I would not bend over very far, and Mike complained that he was afraid he might hit my back or head.

Around the campfire we would sing, which I liked, and the staff would tell us inspirational stories. The only one I remember was about a tough guy and a smart guy who were captured by their enemies, probably Indians. The tough guy was tortured to death and suffered great pain, but the smart guy claimed he knew a mud pack that even an ax couldn't penetrate. If they would put it on his neck, the ax would shatter. So he got his head chopped off. But I thought it was a stupid story, because he died too and only saved the pain.

At 11 I was eligible for the Boy Scouts and diligently passed the requirements of the various ranks as fast as I could. Each summer our troop spent a week at Camp Wolverton in the High Sierras where both Dan and Tom were on the staff and another week at Camp Emerald Bay on Catalina island. Since I liked hiking in the forest better than swimming, I preferred the former. The first year Tom let me accompany him backpacking to Twin Lakes before the troop came. We went fishing where the inlet brought things into the lake. Later I was able to show my older friend Bill Latta this fishing spot, and he won the prize for catching the longest trout. I didn't fish myself, but I liked knowing where the best spot was. One year I was standing by the fire-stove by this lake when suddenly a huge lodge-pole pine tree cracked and began to fall. I saw my brothers' friend Alan Axelrad kneeling on his sleeping bag look up and run over toward me with his face white. The tree crashed down on his sleeping bag and shattered his pack rack. The diameter of that tree was over five feet. If it had fallen two hours earlier, he would have been in his sleeping bag.

I remember that one year I was having such a good time at Wolverton that I didn't earn any merit badges, and Pop was very disappointed in me. However, I tried to make up for it at Emerald Bay. My second year there I was the youngest in our troop selected and initiated into the Order of the Arrow. We could vote for three secretly, and I chose Bill Latta and my own name, because I knew Bill would get it and I didn't want to help my competition. I think Howie Reynolds would have got it instead of me if he hadn't developed what I thought was an inferiority complex. The next year he was elected Senior Patrol Leader over the whole troop.

Everyone in the camp stood in a circle around the bonfire, while an older scout dressed and painted as a wild Indian danced around inside the circle. He slapped me hard on the collarbone and took me away with a few other boys. We were ordered to be silent, were blindfolded, and taken away from the camp. Somehow our sleeping bags were there for us. The next morning we were given a half cup of apple juice and one-third of a piece of French toast and set to work, moving rocks or something. We weren't supposed to talk, but Bill and I made a game of whispering to each other as much as we could. Steve Benjamin was taking it very seriously though. He was my patrol leader and was a fatter kid who had to struggle to pass physical fitness merit badge, which for me was a breeze. He once gave me a black eye accidentally with his foot when showing me he could do a hand stand on a diving board. In the afternoon they gave us some free time, and I wandered over to the camp. I was silent, but when someone offered an extra sandwich asking if anyone was hungry, I blurted out, "I am." They gave me the sandwich, but a moment later Bob Knauft got this funny expression on his face as he wondered, "Didn't someone just say something?" But no one could remember for sure.

Our troop had a good skit we performed where Bill Latta would put on a mustache like Hitler and inspect the troops. Someone would sneeze, and he would ask, "Who sneezed?" No one answered. Then he would go up to each person and ask, "Did you sneeze?" "Nein" was the answer. Then the person next to him pretending to hold a machine gun would shoot that person. One by one troops would fearfully reply "Nein" to the question and be shot down. Finally they got to the person who sneezed, and he said, "Ya." Then Bill would say, "Gezundheit." It was an absurd skit; but now that I think about it, it made its point about an absurd world.

Emerald Bay had both a 22 rifle range and archery. I never liked guns, and after trying it once or twice I avoided it. My antipathy was increased by the pain of cutting my finger on the inside of a rusty old oil barrel there. I liked the bow and arrow though. My last year I was camp champion in archery, because my high score the first day was not surpassed; and I got to wear a shell on a string around my neck the rest of the week. I also got archery merit badge.

Swimming was my big weakness. I don't have much fat on my body, and I would just sink. Both swimming and life-saving merit badges were required for Eagle. One of the requirements for swimming was to jump into the water with your clothes on, take them off, and make a float out of your pants. Most of the kids in the class had their heels out of their tennis shoes before they jumped in the water, but that didn't seem right to me. I wasn't in the water very long before I was too tired to continue and climbed onto the dock. As we walked back to the camp I said to my friend David Moody, "I guess I won't be an Eagle scout like my brothers." He didn't have much sympathy for me, since he was a champion swimmer. However, I continued with everything else, and they gave me swimming merit badge. I had a sin of omission though, because I never told them I failed that requirement. Later I joined a special class to prepare for life-saving merit badge. The counselor passed us all, but he warned us that we really should practice more. After we got a pool I did become a better swimmer, learning to relax and let my knees bend when I kicked; so I felt I made up for my earlier inadequacies.

My third year in the scouts I became a patrol leader, but somehow they gave me the most obnoxious kids and Bill Latta who couldn't come to meetings because he was in high school. I guess the adults figured I was more mature and could handle the worst kids. Anyway we did badly in the competitions, and boy scouts became an onerous duty. Once when we were starting out on a hike from my house, Paul Rapp became so obnoxious that I lost my cool and went to hit him; he was taller but a sissy. As I swung he turned his back and then accused me of hitting him in the back. I pointed out that he had turned his back, and he realized it too. I am recounting this minor incident, because it is the only time in my life when I can ever remember using physical violence against a person.

Becoming an Eagle scout was a tradition in our family which now included everyone. After each of us received our Eagle metal, we pinned a tiny eagle on Mom and gave her a kiss. After the ceremony we all got to go to Blum's restaurant in Beverly Hills and have banana splits. I was proud and glad---proud that I had achieved the goal and glad that I could soon quit the Boy Scouts without dishonor. Both my brothers had joined the Explorer scouts at 14 and spent summers on the staff at Wolverton, but I made Eagle while still 13, and baseball had become far more important to me than scouting. Besides I had never really liked the militaristic aspects of uniforms, standing at attention, saluting, and ranks.


For more autobiographical writings see:
Family
School
Sports
Quest ACROSS THE GOLDEN BRIDGE

BECK index