1. Mother


Born feet-first with a thick skull and a big head, I was trouble from the get-go. My family had their hands full trying to control me. After Mother found me unconscious on the floor, her father raised the walls of my crib to keep me in, but I still got out. After I graduated to a bed, I’d walk in my sleep. One night I stepped on a stinging scorpion, which woke me instantly. Another night Mother found me sound asleep in our snow-covered front yard.

Mother was physically affectionate. I particularly loved it when she scratched my back. We were very close. She weaned me early and toilet-trained me easily. My father’s family said she was spoiling me.

My mother’s father, Heywood Presley Marsh, whom I called “Gan-gan,” had wanted a son as a first child, so when Mother was born, he named her Willie, short for the “William” he would’ve named a boy. But her parents called by her middle name, Corrine. Later, I became the son Gan-gan never had, as he groomed me to become a professional baseball player from an early age.

My grandmother, Sallie, or “Ma-ma,” was very quiet. I hardly remember her at all. Mother told me more than once that Ma-ma had “Indian blood” and some photographs I later saw of her did seem to indicate Native American features.

After we were grown, my father, younger sister, Mary, and I took a road trip from Dallas to Arkansas to explore our Arkansas roots. We looked up “Marshes” in the Pangburn phone book, visited some, and showed them photographs. They identified some of the people in Mary’s photos, but they were all strangers to us. Many Marshes, we learned, lived nearby on top of a large hill, in an area known as Marsh Mountain. The town of Pangburn now has a Marsh Mountain Road. But the three of us from Dallas knew none of them, because we had never visited with any of my grandparents’ relatives, for reasons unknown to me.

My mother had dug deep into her secretary’s income to purchase our farm on the outskirts of Little Rock, Arkansas as a retirement home for her parents. I lived there during my first seven years. Gan-gan planted corn and other crops, and raised rabbits to sell in town. Once I counted 114 rabbits. That number changed quickly.

IMGWhen I visited the farm decades later, neighbors told me the land had always been rocky and infertile. But Gan-Gan worked it so hard, the neighbors thought he was half-crazy. Their impression didn’t surprise me. Gan-Gan was very hyper. Watching a boxing match on TV, for example, he’d sit on the edge of his seat throwing punches into the air empathizing with the fighter he was rooting for.

With me often riding Belle, the work horse, he brought in produce for the kitchen table. And we ate lots of rabbit! Eggs and brains (pork) were an occasional treat.

Best of all were the strawberries. Every year I’d wait for them to ripen, so we could make homemade strawberry ice cream. We may have had to grind the machine for an hour, but the reader can take it on good advice that there “ain’t nuthin’” like homemade ice cream!

Following rains, my older sister, Sally, and I made sand castles in the driveway. We loved to play with the rabbits (before eating them), and, when I got my tricycle, I was ecstatic going down small hills that seemed liked mountains. Once when our cousins visited, Mother told me later, we picked blackberries with bees swarming all around.

In the evening, we’d listen to radio dramas, like The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, and The Shadow. On weekends, we relished The Grand Ol’ Opry with Minnie Pearl, live from Nashville. I loved Minnie Pearl and her silly humor.

At bedtime, I’d lie with my head in Mother’s lap, with Sally on the other side, rocking back and forth in the front-porch swing. Lightning bugs flashed in front of us and the crickets chirped in the distance. That was my favorite time of day. Often we’d catch the lightning bugs and put them in a jar with holes punched in the lid. Mother sang songs and read stories. I took pride in being less frightened by the scary ones than Sally was.

On the surface, my life was idyllic. But trouble loomed on the horizon, like the woods on the edge of our property where I was forbidden to go.


When I was three, Mother went back to work. I found the separation hard to take. I started to wet my bed frequently (which continued for many years), and had vivid nightmares, including one in which I killed my father.

In the afternoon, we’d go to the highway, Arch Street Pike, where I waited anxiously for Mother’s return on a bus that had a dog painted on the side. I was told it was a greyhound that ran very fast, and to this day I still love the sight of that image.

My sinuses were the source of another traumatic encounter with reality. They’d get terribly congested and, when they did, the doctor would stick a tube down my nose to suck out the mucous with a vacuum. It hurt like crazy, but I “took it like a man.” (It was this doctor who told us that x-rays revealed I had an especially thick skull.) Eventually, I went to the hospital for an operation to widen the openings to my nostrils.

It was still another experience, however, that produced the most enduring shock of my childhood. It happened the day the whole family piled into our Nash Rambler for a rare, exciting shopping trip to the city. I was so eager to get to our destination that when we had to brake and wait for an African-American woman to cross the road in front of us, I yelled out the window, “Get out of the way, nigger.” Mother turned to me and yelled, “Don’t ever let me hear you say that word again!”

There weren’t many non-racist whites in Arkansas at that time. Mother was in fact the only one in my own immediate family, where I had surely learned the “n”-word. But in that moment, she displayed the courage of her convictions and her intention to put me on a moral path.

Mother was a very spiritual person. When my father, “Daddy,” told me after her death that he considered her to have been “a saint,” I thought he was simply parroting sexist Southern gallantry. But, thinking it over now, I’ve concluded that maybe he really did respect Mother’s strong principles. He said she never went to church regularly because “she never found a preacher she didn’t consider to be a hypocrite.”

Still, Mother would often get Sally and me to go to church, sometimes by arranging rides with other members. Sometimes, Mother would go herself.

Her most consistent message was the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. She was stern, often moralistic, and puritanical about sex. And preachers weren’t the only targets of her often harsh judgments. No wonder her children called her “Mother.” Nicknames simply would not have fit.

Before I was born, in 1944, Mother had moved to Dallas, Texas. There she met my father, whom she married at the age of twenty-five (considered old at that time). Sally was the first child. But when Mother was pregnant with me, she and my father moved in with her parents in their small farm house in Arkansas. The house had no bath tub, so, when I came along, Mother bathed me in a large metal tub in the living room.

I don’t know why my parents left Dallas. Daddy once told me he was drinking a lot at the time. He also hurt his back while delivering large blocks of ice (before refrigeration was common). These problems may have kept him unemployed for a while in Arkansas, before he got a job in Little Rock selling and delivering concessions for the Jewel Tea Company.

Another factor in my parents’ leaving Dallas may have been that their marriage had collapsed. I rarely saw any expression of love between them. And Daddy loved to flirt (if not more). I suspect Mother wanted the comfort of home and whatever love she could get from her parents, since she wasn’t getting much from Daddy.

During my first year in school, I experienced another emotional separation from Mother. My male classmates and I would piss in a large, swampy hole in the ground. One day, someone pushed me from behind. While gaining my balance to keep from falling in, I peed on the boy standing next to me and he angrily attacked me.

I ended up in the office of the school principal, who was convinced I had purposely urinated on my fellow student. He reprimanded me forcefully and called Mother. I went back to my first-grade class crying and sat down at my desk, next to my best friend, a girl. When she asked me what had happened, I was speechless, too embarrassed to tell her.

Even worse, when I got home Mother herself castigated me. I was devastated. Not even my own mother believed me. For me, the bond between us weakened again. First she had left me to go back to work, and now she called me a liar!


The next year we moved into the city. It was the first in a series of almost annual transitions, as Mother, frustrated and depressed, kept looking for salvation in the form of a better home. Each house was in fact a slight improvement, but none was large enough to provide me my own bedroom, not even when I was in high school. And our frequent moves prevented me from forming many friendships. I don’t believe Mother ever organized a birthday party for me or my older sister, Sally.

At the house we moved to in Little Rock, we lived on the side of a hill, which made our back porch about six feet tall. One day I was holding the screen door open when a gust of wind knocked me off the porch. I hit my forehead on a large, arrow-headed rock that bordered a flower garden. The doctor said that if the rock had penetrated a fraction of an inch deeper, it would have killed me. It was my thick skull that saved me. I count this as my first close encounter with Death.

Another incident that year haunted me for decades. After one of Sally’s friends, a girl, irritated me, I scared myself when I hit her on the head with my baseball bat. At least, that’s how I remembered it. I got into big trouble with Mother and felt terribly guilty about it, until Sally later told me she didn’t even remember the incident. That led me to conclude that I probably only tapped the girl’s head lightly.

Before I entered second grade, the family moved back to Dallas, with grandparents in tow. We took up residence on the edge of the black ghetto, South Dallas, where my father managed a small cinema. This was a really big city compared to Little Rock, and a whole new experience.

One day at home I saw a man walking down the street whose head appeared to be flat on top. He may have been afflicted from infancy with what I later learned was a deformity called brachycephaly; or he may have been a Jewish man wearing a skull cap. Frightened, I ran upstairs and told my family, “I just saw a man with half his head cut off.” Thankfully, they managed to calm me down.

But the theater my father managed was wonderful. There was all the popcorn I could eat and tons of free movies! At first, my favorites were Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. But when I was eight, High Noon blew me away with its intensity and realism. I identified with the hero (Gary Cooper), who cancels his honeymoon to return to town and take on the outlaws who threaten to run roughshod over the town and then track him down to kill him in revenge for having arrested their leader. No one in the town will support the hero, so he has to stand up against the bad guys alone. I saw that movie countless times. It may have helped to shape my character, as did the “Lone Ranger.”

After we moved from South to North Dallas, Mother gave birth to my younger sister, Mary, in 1953. This was said to be the result of an “accidental pregnancy.” I’m not so sure. Mother may have wanted to give a new focus to her maternal instinct. Even with the new baby, however, she remained generally tense. She was too nervous, in fact, to learn to drive. I assume she transmitted her anxiety to me by osmosis.

Mother often pressured me to tell her, “I love you.” Or she would ask me, “How much do you love me?” In those cases, I had to reply, “A bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck.” As I got older, I resented the pressure.

The family next door was Catholic and had many children. Among Protestants in the South at that time, Catholics were considered some kind of strange, dangerous cult that had to be avoided. But the Catholics next door had a television, the first one I ever saw, so we visited them and played croquet in their back yard.

My grade school years were consumed by baseball, and Mother began to fade into the background. Nevertheless, she kept a close eye on me, always wanting to know about my life and worrying about my friends. She taught me that all humans are sinful and urged me to rise above my base instincts.

She wouldn’t even let me join the Boy Scouts when I was eleven, probably because she worried about homosexual scout masters. I was a quiet and gentle boy, which probably fit my mother’s stereotype of a gay man. Once, in high school, when I was walking in the living room trying to swivel my hips like sexy women on television, Mother harshly admonished me.

The only fight I ever got into was in the fifth grade. I was about to score a goal playing soccer when a spectator ran onto the field and stole the ball. That prompted me to whale into him and led to the principal spanking my hands with a paddle. Otherwise, I was basically a coward, horrified by schoolyard fights, like when a boy would bash another boy’s head into the asphalt.

In junior high, however, when we lived on Ramona in South Oak Cliff, I was a “bad boy” once. I’d sit on our front porch with large bushes on each side of me and use my slingshot to hurl pebbles at passing vehicles. Eventually a driver got out and came after me. I ran into the back yard, but was trapped. My parents did not appreciate that foolishness.

Mother was deeply interested in ideas, spirituality, and politics, and bought the Modern Library’s “World’s Best Books” for our home library. When I was in high school, she urged me to read Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain and the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. I don’t know when she became metaphysical in her perspective, but by that time she was deeply into all kinds of spiritualism.

She and several women of about the same age shared interests in Edgar Cayce, extra-sensory perception, spiritual healing, UFOs, and the whole gamut of psychic experience. Some of her friends even went to séances. Cosmic Consciousness by Richard Maurice Bucke was their bible and their leader was Father Tollifer, head priest of an upper-class Episcopal Church in North Dallas.

Episcopal priests have enormous job security. Once in place, they can get away with almost anything, it seems. Father Tollifer belonged to the Rosicrucian Order, a society based on ancient, esoteric beliefs said to have been kept secret for one-hundred-twenty years. He conducted mass with rapid chanting that was unintelligible, even though it was in English. And he presented weekly lectures on various subjects like the Soul, Spirit, and the Mind, to which Mother often took me.

Though I didn’t agree with everything Father Tollifer said, it was certainly more interesting than anything I heard in high school. Then one evening he made a casual comment that sparked a heated controversy at school the next day. He affirmed legalized prostitution – in Dallas, Texas, in 1960, no less!

I passed on his comment at lunch hour to my clique of pseudo-intellectual high school rebels. When two of my friends continued to talk about it in their Honors English class, some cheerleaders got involved and created a scene. The teacher told everyone to stop arguing and stay after class to discuss the issue. When I got wind of it, I joined in the debate, arguing the affirmative. I felt indebted to Father Tollifer for spicing up my life!

A further breakthrough occurred when Mother surprisingly agreed to my taking on a Dallas Morning News paper route. Things spiced up even more when my bicycle broke down and she supported my purchase of a Vespa motor scooter. That greatly expanded my freedom to get around.

But when “Picnic,” the somewhat racy movie with William Holden and Kim Novac, was released when I was eleven and my father showed it at his theatre, she wouldn’t let me see it. Like so much in her world, she thought the film was sinful.

Mother was a bundle of contradictions. She taught me I was a sinful creature, but also repeatedly told me I would be “a great man.” She encouraged me to be a free-thinker, but smothered me with her love and manipulated me into doing what she wanted me to do with her hurt feelings, which undermined my own capacities for self-knowledge and self-confidence. One of her favorite tactics was the use of expressions like, “How could you do that to me?” and “If you loved me, you wouldn’t do that.” More concrete actions included breaking open my locked diary to read it and pulling back the covers on my bed to see if I was masturbating.

Mother’s lack of a good sex life undoubtedly contributed to her growing hysteria and her need to get her emotional needs satisfied through her children. I was a particular target, as I was her only son and the apple of the family’s eye. Once I walked into the bathroom when she was getting out of the shower and she screamed bloody murder. During my high school years, she was also afflicted by worsening emphysema and the drugs doctors were giving her, which made her more emotional.

When I came home from the public library with a copy of Bertrand Russell’s Marriage and Morals, which advocates “open marriage,” she became upset and showed my father a paragraph in the book that criticized monogamy. He responded by saying, “Well, Wade, you can’t check out any more books from the library.” Mother replied, “Rex, that’s too harsh. Let’s let him check out one book at a time.”

I next came home with a book by President Franklin Roosevelt’s Attorney General, Thurman Arnold, who was recognized as a “trust buster.” The book’s title, The Folklore of Capitalism, disturbed my parents almost as much as Bertrand Russell’s advocacy of “free love.” But when Mother discovered me reading Arnold’s book in the early morning, she resisted making any further issue of it.

I knew Mother wasn’t happy, and that she hated “Texas men.” The movie Giant, for example, with its implicit critique of sexism, racism, and materialism, was a favorite of hers. But when she told me she wanted to leave my father, I freaked out and begged her not to do it.

Mother hadn’t worked in many years, wasn’t healthy, and, as far as I was concerned, was loony. Her enthusiasm about a simple sunset, for example, and her certainty that I would want to join her in that experience struck me, with my adolescent cynicism, as weird. I also found strange her belief that we were related to President Andrew Jackson because one relative had “Jackson” as a middle name. Given her irrational streak, I thought, Mother’s intention to leave my father was fool-hardy. I didn’t see how she could possibly make it on her own. And that was before I became aware of how anti-female Texas divorce laws were.

In the midst of my concerns about Mother, I struggled mightily for my independence. I would go for long walks by myself at night, ending up in the swings at the playground where I went to grade school. Still, I loved her and enjoyed our intellectual discourse. Our conversations about UFOs, for example, prompted me to present a speech in my sophomore year Speech class on “Why I Believe in Flying Saucers.” One night we thought we had spotted a UFO and ran out into the backyard to get a closer view, only to discover that we’d seen a red light on a telephone pole!

As a cook, Mother was lousy. Lots of fish sticks, macaroni and cheese, pot roasts that would last for days, grilled cheese sandwiches, canned tomato soup. But she insisted that I eat everything on my plate. When I refused, she made me sit at the table until I finished. Still, I resisted the pressure. Once I threw my food in the garbage while she was watching television. She caught me and gave me hell. Another time, though, I managed to flush the food down the toilet without her knowing. Eventually she gave up.


During the 1960-61 school year, the Dallas school district required every junior to take a special course on anti-communism. The only textbook was J. Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit and my instructor was the basketball coach, who also taught history. During the course, we watched a documentary produced by the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) entitled Operation Abolition. The film included footage of a chaotic scene at a HUAC hearing in San Francisco, at which police swept protestors off the steps of City Hall with fire hoses. The narrator blamed the disturbance on trouble-makers from the University of California at Berkeley (“Cal”). That reference stuck in the back of my brain.

The next year, as I was considering where to go to college, I went to the public library to look at Cal’s catalog. The introduction began, “Renowned for its richness and diversity, the San Francisco Bay Area….” Having spent the previous ten years of my life in narrow-minded Dallas, and attending all-white segregated schools, “richness and diversity” sounded like heaven to me. When I went on to read the university entrance requirements, and saw that I would definitely be accepted and that tuition was free, I became dead-set on going to Cal.

It was little surprise that Mother wanted me to stay in Texas to go to college. We argued back and forth about the issue for weeks. Even the urging of our neighbor, the basketball coach, to “Let him get it out of his system” did me no good. Mother persisted in her position. She wanted me to stay close to home.

Finally, I made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. I told her, “Look, I’ll go talk to Father Tollifer. If he says I should stay in Texas, I’ll stay in Texas. But if he says I should go to California, I’ll go to California. Okay?” I figured anyone who favored the legalization of prostitution would support my going to California; I also knew Mother absolutely adored Father Tollifer and would respect his judgment as gospel. As I expected, Mother accepted my offer.

When I explained the situation to Father Tollifer, he immediately said, “Go to California.” After I replied, “But I don’t want to hurt my mother,” he responded, “Son, it’s a question of your own integrity.” We talked some more. I thanked him and, as I left, he suggested that I visit the Rosicrucian library in San Jose. I reported our conversation to my mother, who immediately backed off her objections. Freedom was on the horizon.

In early September, 1962, I escaped Dallas by the skin of my teeth on a Greyhound. The bus ride to Berkeley was incredibly exciting. Our family never took vacations, so I had never been out of the state of Texas since we had moved there from Arkansas. Before that, I had never been out of Arkansas.

On the bus, I discussed America and its problems with Latin American students. Among them was a young female student who had attracted a number of boys, including me. She spoke openly about sex in a way that was very refreshing. I was on my way to a new world! Little did I know that I was about to encounter a hurricane called “the Sixties” that would sweep me up and change me forever.


Following my arrival in Berkeley, I often wrote Mother long letters reporting my experiences. These frequently included line-item financial reports, accompanied by exhortations to make sure enough money was in the checking account to cover an essential check I had just written. Since I relied on my parents’ financial support during my first year at Berkeley, I had very little money for discretionary spending. I hoped to earn grades that were good enough to obtain a large scholarship. While I failed in that objective, I got a government loan.

In my letters, I raved about the beauty of the Bay Area, about my instructors, and about public affairs programs on public television, some of which were not broadcast in Dallas. Mostly, I wrote about politics – in particular the Cuban Missile Crisis and the civil rights movement. I tried to get Mother to agree with my opposition to Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba after the Soviet Union placed missiles there, and with my involvement in the civil rights movement. But she supported Kennedy and believed Dr. King should be more patient. Eventually, she told me she wanted to stop discussing the ethics of civil disobedience.

Starting with the summer of 1964, however, Mother seemed to demonstrate a small change of heart. In that year, she let me use the family car to collect canned goods for the Mississippi Freedom Summer. In 1965, she was deeply moved by Bob Dylan’s performance of “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” on the Les Crane show (though she was bothered by references to sex and drugs in other songs). And in the late Sixties, she bought me a VW bus with a bed in the back, just as that mode of transportation was becoming a fad with hippies.

In 1966, I bumped into Dr. Bob Beavers, my former boss at the Dallas County psychiatric hospital, at a conference on LSD in San Francisco. Because he had to leave the conference early, he asked me to send him my notes from the session. I did so, and Dr. Beavers later used them in a lecture he presented at Southwest Medical School, where he served on the faculty. Mother was impressed with my connection to that event, and invited several of her friends to our house to hear me give a report on what I had learned about LSD. As it turned out, not only were all of the guests interested in what I had to say, one of them had actually taken a trip on the drug before I had first read about it in the Scientific American while still in high school!

Overall, however, my relationship with Mother was strained. I resisted her efforts to shape me in the image of what she wanted me to be. Instead, I tried to get her to agree with me!

When I was released from the mental hospital following a months-long recovery from a bad LSD trip, Dr. Beavers, who had become my therapist, supported my inclination to return to the Bay Area. Though I was still very shaky, he thought it was important for me to strengthen my sense of independence. How fortunate I am that he supported me in this decision and persuaded my parents to do the same! Who knows what would have happened with me if I had moved back in with my parents in Dallas! I needed space to breathe.

When I returned to my student co-op in 2012 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my liberation from Dallas, I read through the old binders that contained member profiles. They were based on answers to standard questions, and often included efforts at humor. When I came to my own profile and saw that I too had tried to be funny, I began reading aloud for the benefit of those standing around. But then I came to, “My mother castrated me.” Shocked, I stopped reading and quickly put the book down.

For a couple of years in the early 70s, I became interested in psychic healing. Mother was amazed at this, and pleased. But her health was deteriorating.

When I visited her in the Will Rogers Hospital in upstate New York, where she was being treated for her tobacco-induced lung disease, she was really happy. She loved the mountains and had taken up painting again, which she had enjoyed as an adolescent.

She also began writing poetry. She explained her interest in writing poetry by reporting that the bosses had told staff and patients to stop visiting her.  (I suspect the supervisors had restricted visitation because they feared she would get too agitated in her conversations with others.) As a result, she had ended up “talking to herself” so much that she had decided to put her thoughts down on paper as poems.

About one year before she died, Mother wrote to Mary:

What you and Wade call my possessiveness is something else. I cannot explain it to you – if you do not already know, what I would say would have no meaning.

One thing I can say – I am cursed with the ability to feel another’s pain as if it were my own – in fact – when you are unhappy, I suffer twice – once for you and once for me. This makes me overly protective. My mothering instinct is multiplied.

As I tried to explain in my other letter, you have been trying to deal with a shadow – a shell – but that does not mean that in my heart, where I live, my desire to be a good mother has not been strong and terribly painful because I know I was failing. No wonder you and Wade don’t want children.

It is my sorrow that now as I am slowly thawing, coming alive, you are not with me. I will have to admit it is slow, but the poems are helping me express many things that have long been buried in a pit of self-pity and frustration. I wish your heart had ears to hear what I am saying. Maybe it is not possible for my own to hear – I have to turn to strangers or friends. All I really want is for my family to be my friends too.

She loved the rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and believed in The Age of Aquarius. At heart, she was a hippie long before hippies existed.

Some of her drawings are quite good. Mary has framed one and placed it on her living-room wall. One friend of Mother’s said she should publish her poetry. I can see why. I think the sixty-four poems she typed up shortly before she died are quite good. Four of my favorites are the following. The first two express her spiritual convictions, the third refers to Mary and Steve Hutson (an ex-boyfriend), and the fourth refers to me, I believe.



God is truth

And truth is God knowing


There is no way to climb His mountain

Because His mountain is here where

I accept you.

God is trust

And trust is God loving


There is no need to seek His kingdom

Because His kingdom is here when

I affirm you.

God is love

And love is God wanting


There is no need to ask His blessing

Because His blessing is here while

I comfort you.



Our one desire,

Our ultimate reason for living,

Must be to become

A simple-hearted servant

In the Kingdom of Heaven.

This constant prayer

Will become one with the heartbeat,

A breathing in and a breathing out

Of Life and Love and Light,

Bringing the Peace He left to us.



I just talked to my beautiful young daughter

in San Francisco.

She told me her friend and ex-love

Are living together as “spiritual friends.”

She said she was going to write to

let them know I was home.

So they can visit with me.

She says she knows I will be interested in Steve’s

“new thing.”

How lucky can a mother get?

Oh, it would be hard for some people I know

to understand that I, an old wreck of a reject,

Can actually communicate on a level where

just young hearts meet,

Where sex and God are clean three-letter words

And where “spiritual friends” are at home.




The time has come for you

To recognize me as a friend

With gifts of understanding and love

For you no longer need nor want

Mother’s protection and nurturing.

My love for you is so deep

That my happiness depends

Upon your freedom.

When you come to me,

It must be your desire

That brings you, not my call.

Your maturity gives me freedom.

Your emotional and mental balance

Brings fulfillment to me.

And your courage and honesty

Add to my measure of strength.


Partly because I had little money, and partly because I was getting my feet back on the ground after my spell of madness, I didn’t see Mother much during her last years until December, 1974, when she was on her death bed at the age of fifty-eight. When the doctor told us we could be with her during her last moments, I accepted the invitation and held her hand until her last breath. I felt a circle had been completed.

Instead of telling me I was a good person who merely did something wrong, my mother told me I was essentially a bad person, sinful at the core like every human being. Instead of simply expressing disappointment when she disapproved of what I did, she expressed deep hurt and anger. Instead of telling me, “I respect your effort,” she told me, “You will be a great man.” Instead of demonstrating to me how to be engaged with others in a compassionate manner, she preached to me about how evil people can be. An excellent April 2014 review of studies on child rearing in The New York Times, “Raising a Moral Child” by Adam Grant, helped clarify my understanding of these issues.

At the same time, however, Mother taught me to pursue truth, justice, and beauty, for which I will be forever indebted.

At the service for her at Casa View Methodist Church, Rev. Wilfred Bailey gave the eulogy. Most vividly, he recalled how he would occasionally be driving around town (Dallas is very spread out, so locals spend lots of time in their car) listening to talk radio and would hear a familiar voice. It would be Corrine, offering her two cents.

That was my Mother. She had strong opinions and was not afraid to express them. God rest her troubled soul. For years after she died, I felt her hovering over my shoulder, like a Guardian Angel, urging me on to become a Great Man.


The “deep community” I’m looking for would help its members remove their masks, go down to the ground of their being, feel connected with all humanity and Life itself, tap their profound reservoir of compassion, truly love themselves as they love others, consciously help one another become more fully who they really are, do what they can to correct the root causes of needless suffering (including destructive national policies), and help turn our nation into a caring community dedicated to the common good.

This book tells the story of my efforts to find or help develop that kind of community. Since my quest remains unfulfilled, I conclude the book with practical suggestions for how we can move in that direction.

Over the years, I’ve connected with many people who share my dream. My hope is that someday we will realize our aspirations. I believe we’re close.


Throughout most of the book, I tell a narrative story of the actions I took and the thoughts and feelings I drew from them. Each chapter begins at a later point in my life, tells a particular story, and ends when the story ends. “Mother” and “Daddy” conclude with their deaths. “Baseball” carries forward to the present day. “Schooling” ends with my graduation from high school. Some chapters like “Sex” and “Spirituality,” focus on personal issues up to the present day. Others address particular periods of time, like “College” and “Madness.” Consequently, the chronology often overlaps from chapter to chapter.

In the next to last chapter, “Reflections,” I evaluate my life, its achievements and its failures, my mistakes and accomplishments, and my strengths and weaknesses. The last chapter, “Beliefs,” presents a concrete twelve-step plan for how we can help our nation grow into a more compassionate society and also summarizes some of my basic convictions that motivate me.

My recommended strategies for pursuing deep community, first in small groups and then as a nation, are merely the ones that make most sense to me at the moment and are intended only for those who are inclined in the same direction. I don’t claim to propose methods that will work for everyone. Nonetheless, I do believe the ideas I put forward are ones that many like-minded people can find useful. I welcome criticisms that can help me improve them, and still hope to discover or help develop new, more effective approaches.

Organizing methods currently used by activist groups turn off many concerned individuals. They reflect superficial patterns of behavior common in today’s society that tend to be impersonal and corrupt our ability to be fully human. As I see it, those of us who participate in social activism, whether occasional or full-time, will be more effective if we relate to our colleagues and the general public with a greater appreciation of the need all humans have for deep friendships that enhance personal growth and social responsibility.

When I’ve discussed these issues with organizers, I’ve often been told that the groups they’re in already foster supportive friendships informally. My life experience, however, leads me to conclude that activists need to deepen their efforts with conscious, intentional, carefully structured activities that leave space for spontaneity. I don’t expect every activist to take this path. But I hope the number who do will greatly increase.

In light of this, I encourage readers with an interest in social reform to examine yourselves honestly, work on your self-development, devote some time to political activity between elections, and, as you create yourself, look for like-minded allies with whom you can pursue your efforts in community,.

No authority can justifiably or productively prescribe how you need to grow. We do best by trusting everyone to look into their own heart and make those decisions for themselves. We can, however, become more disciplined in our self-development work by regularly reporting on our own efforts and being available to listen to others report on theirs. In that way, we can learn from the best teachers we have, our peers.


For myself, I’ve concluded that the highest meaning in both personal and social life is associated with the expression of compassion – for oneself as well as for others. I’ve tried to be true to who I really am and to take care of myself in order to better serve others. I’ve initiated new projects to fill voids and set examples. I’ve consistently experimented and explored, both in the outer and inner worlds.

Over the full spectrum of my life, I’ve had lots of good sex, been intoxicated countless times, immersed myself in music, received countless massages, watched innumerable movies and TV shows, cheered on my sports teams, laughed and joked just for the hell of it, and indulged in many other pleasures. At times I’ve questioned whether I was being too self-indulgent and should instead devote more time to my social-change work. But I’ve usually concluded that those pleasures, in addition to being valid in and of themselves, helped me focus more effectively on my central purpose: changing the world and myself.

A major issue in my life has been the tension I’ve felt between my own needs and those of the community. On the one hand, I affirm independence and self-determination. On the other, I affirm community and compromise. Resolving this conflict has been an ongoing struggle.

Though I’ve had numerous rewarding intimate relations with women, I’ve never been married and have no children, partly because I’ve been so focused on my community work. Humanity is my family. I miss not having children, but one child I helped raise, Brandon Faloona, a dear friend, honored me by inviting me to be Best Man at his wedding and naming his first son Azure Wade Faloona. I dedicate this book to Azure, a symbol of our future.

After once falling madly in love and expecting to become a father, my lover decided to have an abortion and stopped seeing me. That trauma led me to become profoundly distraught and briefly contemplate suicide. After that, I decided to learn how to be alone so I would be better able to be in a relationship without being so vulnerable. Now, more than thirty years later, I enjoy my solitude, and feel ready to finally engage in a healthy, lasting love relationship. Even more, I’d like to participate in a deep community.

Throughout my life, my primary commitment has been to foster compassionate communities whose members support one another in their self-development efforts and work together to restructure our society. My approach has changed over the years, but that goal has remained the same.

After I took the break from my organizing in 2004 that I described in the Preface, I reached certain conclusions that underlie the case I make in this book for a “compassion-based” political activism that moves beyond the “left-right” continuum and combines personal development with political action. I believe that, by affirming a holistic perspective that nurtures the whole person, we can integrate personal, social, and political dimensions in ways that foster growth in each of those areas. That many-sided awareness can help us avoid ideological rigidity. And, by applying it to the development of small, face-to-face communities whose members inspire and support one another, we can build a foundation for similar growth across the nation and throughout the world. My experiments in initiating deep community since then have provided only a taste of fulfillment.

I‘ve also looked for a holistic community that I could join. So far, however, I haven’t found what I seek. It seems to me that no community has yet put it all together. I would love to find one that has.

Through these explorations, I’ve collected and developed some ideas about how we can foster and nurture deep community. To be deep, we must get to root causes, which means we have to change national policies that create so much needless suffering. As our Declaration of Independence states, when a government becomes oppressive, “it is [our] right, it is [our] duty, to throw off such government.”

To achieve that goal, we must build unified popular power nationwide. To do that, it will help if we develop some simple, user-friendly tools that concerned individuals can use on their own to strengthen their connections with one another and bolster commitment to political action to impact the government in Washington. Those example could then encourage others to use the same tools to grow deep community. As that network expands and becomes larger, its roots could grow deeper and become more solidly grounded.

This book explores how we can move in that direction.


Those who make their way through these pages will find that I’m open and honest in describing my experiences. In this way, I hope to set an example that encourages you, my readers, to also deeply examine yourselves, acknowledge your mistakes, and share your conclusions with others – even if only with a few trusted friends. To change the world for the better, we must be real, journey below the surface to get at the truth, allow our spirit to guide us, and follow our thoughts to their logical conclusion.

As I anticipated, writing this autobiography has been liberating. It has taught me that the more transparent I am, the easier it is to overcome fears associated with being honest. The more willing I am to reveal secrets, the less ashamed I am and the more I accept myself.

This honest self-examination is also a political statement. Our society teaches us to fear honesty. From an early age, we learn to stop being spontaneous. We become secretive in order to gain rewards or avoid punishment. At times, of course, withholding our feelings is understandable. But, if we aren’t careful, that discretion leads to habitual dishonesty, and we deceive even ourselves.

Often, too, we worry too much about what others think of us and modify our behavior to shape their reactions. We manipulate others with hidden agendas, and they manipulate us. We internalize the judgments of others and beat ourselves up with guilt, shame, and harsh judgments. These dynamics deprive us of the self-confidence to be authentic, which, in turn, undermines our ability to challenge illegitimate authority.

In general, the more integrity we maintain, the better. The same applies to society as a whole. Suppressing authenticity undermines creativity and productivity. One way or another, we need to learn how to foster compassionate honesty. I hope this book will contribute to that growth.


I’ve gone through lots of changes over the years and, hopefully, I’ve matured. Overall, though, I think I’ve remained essentially the same. I’ve felt like “a new man” at times, because I’ve “become more of who I am,” to use a phrase I learned from my friend Mike Larsen. But that self-development didn’t come easy. By recalling and evaluating my experiences, I better understand who I’ve been, who I am, and who I may become. Those reflections have allowed me to accept myself more fully and have grounded me in greater self-confidence.

At seventy, I feel I’ve finally grown up. I’ve paid a hefty price, but it was worth it. As I look out my window at a view that stretches from Twin Peaks to Mount Tamalpais, I’m at peace —to the degree that one can be, given the state of the world.

I now find myself with a few close friends, and fifty or so good friends I see occasionally. This informal community provides me with valuable informal support. I would prefer, however, to participate in a semi-structured community that enriches my life more deeply, and also serves as an example that encourages others to grow similar communities.

When I turn eighty, I trust I’ll be even more who I am. If I’m lucky, I’ll also be participating in a deep community rooted in hope, love, and action, forever young, with lust for life.

Front Matter

Cover A-page-001my search
for deep

An Autobiography


wade hudson

Copyright © 2014 by Wade Hudson

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.


My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography

Wade Hudson —Web edition

Published in the United States of America

ISBN 978-0-692-25215-4


For Azure Wade Faloona, the future.


The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson


A day will come when you will trust you more than you do now and you will trust me more than you do now. We will trust each other. I do believe, I really do believe in the New Jerusalem. I really do believe that we can all become better than we are. I know we can. But the price is enormous and people are not yet ready to pay.

— James Baldwin













Politics (1962-1971)







Alternative Futures



Outer Sunset







625 Leavenworth

Boulder Creek


The System





Compassionate Politics


Deep Community






As a longtime community organizer and social activist, I’ve written this story of my life in the hope that it will be useful to you, dear reader, as you strive to more fully love yourself, others, and life itself. In these pages, I’ve honestly portrayed my own halting personal growth as an active participant in some of the most important cultural and political movements of our times. I reveal many sides of my personality, acknowledge my mistakes, report how I’ve changed, and share my current recommendations for action. I hope these testimonies from the heart, and the social struggles they reflect, make my story interesting, and provide some assistance to concerned individuals who want to steadily improve themselves and the world.

The civil rights movement, which was inspired by the holistic nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi, provided me with my first experience of deep community. White participants in that movement weren’t merely helping African-Americans. We were also helping each other become better human beings. We saved our souls by fulfilling our social responsibility. In loving others, we loved ourselves more deeply. I’ve tried to rediscover that experience ever since, with varying degrees of fleeting success.

This book traces my efforts to grow in ways that increase my own capacity for compassion. Learning how to engage in effective compassionate action does not come easily. It matures through the hard process of meeting life’s challenges. To nurture that growth, we need peer support. If communities combine internal activities aimed at the mutually-supported personal growth of their members with external activities aimed at eliminating root causes of needless suffering, both efforts, the personal and the political, will be strengthened.

Until recently, my quest was semi-conscious. What motivated me was partly just below the surface of my awareness. Writing this book helped me better understand what I really want and why.

I know I am not alone. Countless numbers of others seek deep community. If we acknowledge that need and act on it, maybe we can figure out how to support one another in meeting that need and fulfilling our human potential. Growing deep community is no cake walk. But if we learn from our mistakes, we can do it. I wrote this book to communicate what I’ve learned about my deepest desires, hoping to encourage readers who experience similar desires to pursue satisfaction, and let others know what happens.


From what people tell me, my life of seventy years has been a remarkable one, marked by Sixties-inspired adventure and experiment, and relationships and collaboration with a host of creative people. Since I was fourteen, my instinct has been to buck “the system,” form caring connections, enjoy an authentic life, and try to improve our society. In 1967, I dedicated my life to organizing “communities of faith, love, and action.” That commitment has ever since provided my life with meaning and purpose.

After participating in the civil rights, anti-war, student, human potential, and other movements associated with the Sixties, I initiated or co-founded a number of community-based projects focused on a variety of issues, including educational reform, men’s liberation, alternatives to psychiatry, public transit, food co-ops, a low-income housing co-op, job creation, a neighborhood cultural center, and national antipoverty policy. In addition, I contributed to efforts initiated by others that focused on issues like corporate power, rent control, high-rise development, and the Iraq War. Those projects resulted in some victories, some unplanned benefits, and some resounding defeats. Through it all, I kept plugging away, addressing unmet needs, and working on my personal and spiritual development.

In 2004, I took a break from my organizing to step back and explore new strategies to promote fundamental social change. I reviewed some old books that had previously influenced me, read some new literature, initiated a series of strategy workshops, circulated a number of online surveys, continued to be active in various organizations, and engaged in extensive dialog with a wide range of individuals. The most recent in that series of workshops was held in January 2013 at the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, which was co-founded by Howard Thurman, the first African-American to meet with Mahatma Gandhi and a major mentor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Since 2004, I circulated fourteen questionnaires that were completed by more than four hundred respondents and consulted or collaborated with scores of individuals, including the following authors and community leaders: Michael Albert, Dean Baker, Larry Bensky, Rev. Dorsey Blake, Kazu Haga, Philip Harvey, Aileen Hernandez, Rev. William Homes, Claudia Horwitz, Jakada Imani, Taj James, Van Jones, Paul Loeb, Julianne Malveaux, Eva Paterson, Wilson Riles, James Vann, John Vasconcellos, and Howard Zinn. Many, if not most, of those hundreds of individuals have resonated with my interest in fostering compassionate communities whose members support one another in their personal and political growth. Those allies have provided important encouragement for me to proceed with my quest.

Over the years, I self-published two books that are posted on the Web: Economic Security for All: How to End Poverty in the United States; and Global Transformation: Strategy for Action. I also published three booklets: Promoting the General Welfare: A Campaign for American Values; The Compassion Movement: A Declaration; and Baghdad Journal. Since October 2010, I’ve published a blog, Wade’s Weekly. In late 2013 I started publishing Wade’s Wire, to which I post no more than one item each day. And in early 2014, I launched Wade’s Monthly, an Internet listserv. While writing this book, I wrote the Guarantee Living-Wage Job Opportunities petition, engaged in other efforts to promote full employment, and, in my continuing exploration of how to nurture holistic political communities, circulated “The Personal, the Social, and the Political: A Survey.”

To make ends meet as a community organizer, for twenty years I hustled grants from foundations and worked with non-profit organizations. Then in 1989 I decided to drive taxi part-time, which left me free to do my community work as a volunteer while continuing to live simply on a poverty-level income. In the year 2000, I got my own taxi permit, which boosted my income considerably.


Thanks to the encouragement of several close friends, I began writing this autobiography in mid-October 2013. I took my correspondence, journals, and other documents to Las Terrenas on the north coast of the Dominican Republic, where I refreshed my memory and worked intensively on the book for several months. Then I rented a cabin at Lake Tahoe, where I worked on it for several more weeks, until I returned to San Francisco to finish it.

This self-published book is my statement. The only person who read the first print edition prior to publication was Robert Anschuetz, my excellent line editor who focused on helping me clarify my intended meaning, rather than suggesting substantive changes.

I primarily distributing that edition to individuals I discuss in the book (as well as some consultants). After receiving feedback from those readers, I decided to post the book to the Web chapter-by-chapter, after making some minor corrections. I also hope to write and publish a second, much briefer print edition, with an index, photos, an appendix with resources, and a Foreword by a prominent individual.

I’ve tried to be transparent in recording what has been most important to me in my life. In so doing, I’ve attempted to avoid divulging private information that was given to me in confidence. However, discussing instances of conflict or disappointment concerning people who are still alive is a delicate matter. Even if one aims to be fair and accurate, the individuals involved can object to how the writer characterizes the situation or even resent that it is becoming public. So, wanting to be sensitive to those feelings, I decided to offer a free copy to people I discuss in the book and ask for their feedback before deciding how to proceed.

Their feedback was very helpful. Prior to writing the next print edition, I will thoroughly review their comments and post a reply.

If you want to receive the Web-edition chapters and other posts about the book as I post them, you can subscribe to the blog at www.DeepCommunity.org. You can also comment on the book at that site or send feedback to wadeATwadehudsonDOTnet. I will correct and update the Web version as needed.

Once the new book is in shape, I’ll offer cash prizes in a contest to name chapter titles and a title for the book. So stay in touch!

I appreciate your interest and would welcome your comments.

Wade Lee Hudson
September 29, 2014



I would never have written this book if numerous individuals had not urged me to do it. In particular, the following friends have provided important encouragement:

  • My sister, Mary Hudson, who has been a consistent source of support for decades and is my best friend.
  • Dave Robbins, a retired English Literature professor, who expressed great enthusiasm about this book.
  • Leonard Roy Frank, editor of the Random House Webster’s Quotationary, who has been a dear friend for more than forty years and knows me well.
  • Roma Guy, founder of the Women’s Building in San Francisco, with whom I’ve collaborated off and on for forty years and who has repeatedly recommended that I write more.
  • Mike Larsen, a literary agent and good friend, who in response to an early draft of the preface said, “You definitely have had a life worth writing about. Your preface proves that.”
  • Sharon Johnson, former legislative aide to Supervisor Harry Britt and Assemblyman John Burton, who’s known me and my work for almost 40 years, and told me, “The list of accomplishments … is very moving and inspiring, and reflects your exceptional sense of integrity. You should be proud, Wade!”
  • Numerous subscribers to Wade’s Weekly, my blog where I posted early drafts of several chapters of this book.
  • I am also deeply indebted to Robert Anschuetz, who helped me rewrite the book with valuable line editing, and the friends, associates, lovers, books, movies, music, communities, and institutions that helped shape me into the man I am. I trust the book will make my appreciation clear.