A Homecoming Memory of 2012 reflecting on Candlelight Ceremony of 1976
by Trudy (Neel) Weiss ('78)
“They say there’s a tree in a forest
A tree that will give you a sign,
Come along with me, to the sweetheart tree,
Come and carve your name next to mine.
They say if you kiss the right sweetheart
The one you’ve been waiting for,
Then blossoms of love will burst into sight
And your love will be true evermore.”
Sweetheart Song from The Great Race
It was 1974 and I had arrived at Lubbock Christian College. Also, I was firmly convinced that I would graduate with a Bachelor’s degree but more importantly with a “MRS.” Degree and a preacher/husband bagged after a four year long pursuit. After all, I was cute, I was tan, and I was exotic having grown up in Southern California.
As a kid in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s I lived on the beach. My family vacationed and camped along the Western Coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. During my teens, I was on a first name basis with most of the beaches in Southern California; Newport, Balboa, Huntington, La Jolla, Tamarack, and Carlsbad.
My father worked as a school administrator and was climbing the career ladder and bringing a wife, five kids, and a dog right along with him. In 1973, a job opportunity opened in Tucson, Arizona for him to become a superintendent of schools. He took the job, but his offspring came up with a few conditions. Paul and I were the two oldest at home and did all the talking. “If YOU are moving us away from the beach, grandparents, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Camp Tanda, we HAVE to have a pool. No pool, we're not going… We ALL get our own rooms, no more sharing. Since YOU are now rich, we can afford a big house.” Paul’s needs were simpler: “I want my own car, a black Saab or 240Z”.
My father felt number one was attainable, but perhaps we needed to compromise on the house and car. So in between my junior and senior year of high school we moved to Tucson and I met the kids from Palo Verde Church of Christ youth group who planned on going to college at Lubbock Christian College.
So instead of attending Pepperdine University in Malibu where I had a four year scholarship awaiting me in Journalism, off I trotted to LCC in the fall of 1974 to join my new friends. Life was one big party that first year. I joined Lambda Omega Alpha Social Club and being a part of LOA made sense as our brother club was KYODAI and the men of that club were good-looking Bible majors. LCC provided ample opportunities to Texas Tech and neighboring communities. Chorus trips provided another avenue for the few with golden voices. Nice church ladies invited students over for Sunday dinner and on Monday nights we sang our hearts out at the devotional in the foyer of the Mabee auditorium and life was fun.
During this time, I dated a few guys, but fell for a Bible major. We took long walks around the campus and became fast friends, but I wanted more. So, after a two year nebulous relationship I realized marriage to this young man was not an option and a wave of melancholy descended. I was 20 years old and an old maid, life was over for me! I would return to Tucson and pursue a degree at the University of Arizona.
The outlook was bleak indeed. Even worse, I would not be a participant in a most cherished tradition for the girls at the dorm of Katie Rogers Hall, “The Candlelight Ceremony”. This holy tradition consisted of the newly engaged young lady whispering to her Resident Advisor the exciting news, “I’m getting married.” Within minutes, the sign announcing the engagement or candlelight ceremony would appear on the front desk, campus wide speculation would commence and the phone lines would start buzzing:
“Who could it be?”
“From which club?”
“Have I ever kissed him or her?”
“God, why not me?”
The news would sweep over the campus like a tidal surge. Just when it seemed the campus would bust wide open with anticipation and tension the magic hour arrived, ten pm. All the girls would jam into the parlor of Katie Rogers Hall and form a hushed circle. The lights were turned off and a candle lit. It would pass from hand to hand while the aforementioned Sweetheart melody was sung. Finally, the flame would be blown out, the lights turned on and the screams and hugs commenced. Self-appointed messengers would let the rest if the campus know who the bridal pair was and then the young men of Johnson Hall evidently would conduct a private ceremony of their own with the prospective groom being the guest of honor.
As a Resident Advisor for the girl’s dorm I would take my turn and sit at the front desk in the reception area. One day in the spring of 1976, two of my LOA sisters, Wanda (Outhier) Dyess (’78) and Lisa (Payne) Hancock (’78) were keeping me company as I was on duty. All three of us were leaving LCC for different reasons: Lisa to pursue a music therapy degree in Canyon, Texas and Wanda and I because we were unlucky in love and undecided in our majors. My knee kept bumping the candlelight sign and so I put it up on the desk counter to get it out of my way. Just then two girls walked by on their way to dinner, “there’s a candlelight tonight?” My reply, “Sure, why not, and everybody knows who they are.” What happened next was truly epic. Thirty minutes later, while I was still on duty, Wanda and Lisa went to dinner and the cafeteria was humming with speculation. They left quickly and told me we needed a plan. The rumor now was that it was a LOA-KYODAI relationship of a couple being “just friends, now engaged”. Hmm! This candlelight was becoming persona. We didn’t know what to do, but decided we had to go through with it, but we didn’t have a bride to be. Then inspiration struck and we waited and fed the rumor.
Ten o’clock and curfew approached and the married ladies and the upperclasswomen who were not residents of the dorm came and crowded into the parlor of the dorm. There was hardly enough room to form a circle, let alone pass a candle. The guys were in a line outside waiting to hear the news or by their phones. Wanda, Lisa, and I took our places. This Candlelight was for all of us who would never have an engagement ceremony at LCC. We represented a sisterhood of unmarried females and although we might be destined to maidenhood, it would be a ceremony to remember. Lisa started conducting the “Sweetheart Song”, I turned off the lights, and Wanda lit the candle. We were pressed shoulder to shoulder. Five minutes went by and the candle made another round and then another. The crowd was restless and growing faint due to oxygen deprivation, and so we made our escape to the foyer of the dorm. We hopped up on the desk, unrolled our sign and waited. Someone staggered out to breathe, saw us sitting there, ran back in and gasped, “It’s a fake!” Wanda, Lisa, and I sat with our sign that read, “This candlelight has been cancelled due to lack of interest”.
The women of LCC streamed out, read our sign and divided into two camps. Many thought the staged event was brilliant, but others wanted restitution. We had made light of a sacred rite and the mob was turning ugly. Lynch us or hug us was the cry. Fortunately, our dorm mom emerged from her apartment to investigate the ruckus. Knowing something about humor behavior and being a wise married woman with a child, she surveyed the chaos, disappeared into her home, and came out with a paddle. She then administered five licks a piece to the three of us and told us to apologize and so we did.
Looking back, it was a confusing time. Who were we? We did not know. I think that Candlelight encapsulated this confusion. At twenty, we did not yet have the words or life experiences to say how we were feeling. I have reconnected with many friends from those days through Facebook and two years ago a friend mentioned this story to me as she was visiting with us on her way to California. My daughter listened in amazement as we told stories. She particularly liked this one and encouraged me to write it down.
I went to homecoming this year and had not been back in Lubbock since the late 1970’s. It was there that Wanda, Lisa, and I renewed our friendship and reconnected with friends from our youth. We had a wonderful time and I think caught a glimpse of the sweet fellowship of eternity.