Susan must have been among the first teenagers to frequent the Spanish Castle Youth Center. A slight build, long brown hair, the scruffy look that seemed the uniform of the last year of the decade of the 60s. By that I mean her clothes. Many of the girls wore tight-fitting jeans with that well-worn look: frays and tears and holes in the knees. On top, a t-shirt, bearing music or message logos or just tie-dyed, and that was often covered by an old jacket, even something Army surplus…strange as that was in the anti-war days. Susan fit right in with most of the other girls in the house in those early days.

I can’t picture her without a cigarette in hand. And it was easy to suspect that some drugs were in her system. Pot, to be sure. I also suspect she was sexually active, but what was true and what was rumor was hard to figure out. If some of those kids weren’t sexually active, they’d just as soon want you and everyone else to think they were

Susan was among the serious thinkers who dropped in to the Castle almost every day it was open. We had our share of guys who just wanted to play pool, and girls who just lounged in over-stuffed chairs and talked about their social lives. But there was this core, this smaller group of teenagers who enjoyed discussing politics, rock music, the proposed Constitutional Amendment that would lower the voting age to 18, and, of course, the Viet Nam war. Some opened up about themselves, too, moving from the “issues” of the day, to the “issues” they faced at home or school. Susan and I talked often in one of the upstairs rooms, distant from the hoots and taunts that came from the pool table downstairs, and insulated from the music (AM rock in its last days) that poured from the big radio down there.

I liked having her around for many reasons. First, she was likeable. Second, I trusted her. When she was around, she was a positive role model for some of the other kids. She knew what could get the house in trouble with the neighborhood, and I think, looking back, that she kept the place in order, so to speak. Also, she liked to just sit down and talk. I don’t recall any deep agenda; but conversation came easy, and those one-on-one relationships were why I was growing to appreciate being part of that drop-in center experiment.

Eventually, Susan disappeared.

I guess she had been gone maybe a year or more before she surprised me with a visit one afternoon. There were a lot of teenagers who were part of that Spanish Castle community;  hundreds. Some were Friday night troublemakers, loud and drunk, stopping by to see who was there, and who wanted to go out for some fun. We never knew their names, even though there were times we wanted  to. To report them to somebody. but there was also the inner circle of teenagers who served on the youth council, who came to discussion groups and did art projects. Eventually there were even prayer meetings once the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s arrived. Some of us adults who guided the place and loved its youth leaders knew their names, their stories, their needs, and their gifts. But there were so many. And when Susan stopped coming, after a couple of weeks, we didn’t notice anymore. I did miss her, but only for a while, and then there were other Susans, Roberts, Steves, and Kathy’s.

 Later…she reappeared at the front door of the Spanish Castle, and we were both glad I happened to be there when she did.  The after-school hours were far more quiet than the raucous Friday nights when the Castle was like a big house party. So, with only a handful of other kids in the place, Susan and I found our way to the familiar sofa upstairs, and I asked her, “So, what’s happening with you these days.”

“I’ve found the Lord,” she said.

My first thought was that she was kidding around with something I took to be quite serious and personal. It might be overstating it, but I, for a split moment, felt, well, mocked.  “Really.”  That’s all I said, but it’s important to know how I said it.  It wasn’t a question, like “Really?”  It wasn’t an exclamation, like, “Really!!”  The word just lay there, without feeling, without curiosity or joy. In other words, “I don’t believe a word you’re saying, and I’m disappointed that you’d walk back into this place and joke around after being gone for so long.”

The thing is, she was serious. And she was different.

More about Susan in my next blog.

Jeff Kellam, Spanish Castle Youth Director, 1969

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