At the end of the war, my parents concluded that the highpressure life of business was not for them. Being ahead of their time, they did the "sixties thing" in the 1940s: they moved to the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, bought a ninety-five-acre farm, and set about trying to create a simple agricultural lifestyle without use of farm machinery. Discovering after only a few months that this was not going to feed their two adolescent sons (and soon another brother and I would arrive), my father landed a job teaching drama at the local women's college. He recruited male actors from the local town, and together these college students and local tradesmen found the production of plays was great fun. Faced with complaints about the long and boring hiatus in the summer, my father and mother founded a summer theater in a grove of oak trees above our farmhouse.
The Oak Grove Theater continues in uninterrupted and delightful operation more than fifty years later.
I was born into this happy mix of pastoral beauty, hard farmwork, summer theater, and music, and thrived in it. As the youngest of four boys, I could not get into too many scrapes that were not already familiar to my parents. I grew up with the general sense that you had to be responsible for your own behavior and your choices, as no one else was going to step in and take care of them for you.
Like my older brothers, I was home-schooled by my mother, a remarkably talented teacher. Those early years conferred on me the priceless gift of the joy of learning. While my mother had no organized class schedule or lesson plans, she was incredibly perceptive in identifying topics that would intrigue a young mind, pursuing them with great intensity to a natural stopping point, and then switching to something new and equally exciting. Learning was never something you did because you had to, it was something you did because you loved it.
Faith was not an important part of my childhood. I was vaguely aware of the concept of God, but my own interactions with Him were limited to occasional childish moments of bargaining about something that I really wanted Him to do for me. For instance, I remember making a contract with God (at about age nine) that if He would prevent the rainout of a Saturday night theater performance and music party that I was particularly excited about, then I would promise never to smoke cigarettes.
Sure enough, the rains held off, and I never took up the habit. Earlier, when I was five, my parents decided to send me and my next oldest brother to become members of the boys choir at the local Episcopal church. They made it clear that it would be a great way to learn music, but that the theology should not be taken too seriously. I followed those instructions, learning the glories of harmony and counterpoint but letting the theological concepts being preached from the pulpit wash over me without leaving any discernible residue.