Pacific Union College – A Paradise Lost

A favorite memory of mine is driving up Howell Mountain Road to Pacific Union College (PUC), listening to “Open Arms” by Journey, getting ready to fall into the open arms of my Adventist friends. I didn’t have my first non-Adventist friend until I was 15. Adventists were my people. I felt such ease with them. The world outside of the Church was a little scary, filled with meat and profanity and dancing.

So why did the drive up Howell Mountain fill me with such joy and why did the drive down fill me with such sorrow?

Pacific Union College was the first place I realized I could have a good life. That was where the most beautiful girl in the class, Cindy Anderson, left a note on my desk early in sixth grade asking, “Would you like to go with me?”

See the girls in California
I’m hoping it’s going to come true

My parents left me behind at PUC for the last six months of eighth grade so I could graduate with my class and that’s when I started to blossom. I got away from the pernicious influence of my mom and dad and learned to connect normally with people, following the examples of the Muth family (Andy was in my class and his mom was active with my school).

For a few months, I got to be a normal kid. I wasn’t saddled down by my father’s rage and my mother’s depression. I wasn’t isolated and cut off from the cool kids anymore. Somehow, away from mom and dad, I felt free to be myself. Around my parents, probably in a primitive unconscious fear of being farmed out again as I was in my first four years, I was passive, believing that all resistance was futile.

If my parents caught me chewing gum or eating between meals or drinking water or juice with my meals or eating too much peanut butter or any of a thousand different sins (any variation from my father’s practice was a sin in my home), there was hell to pay (even though my spankings stopped when we arrived in California in 1977).

If I was out for a walk with my father and I fell down, he would immediately announce to those around us, “He’s fine!” I might’ve sprained my ankle. My knee might be bleeding. I might be in agony. But my dad would be yanking me up and denying all opportunity for me to say anything. I just had to fall into line like a dutiful soldier of the lord. Away from my parents, however, I could live in reality. When I was injured, I could say I was injured. When I was in agony, I could say I was in agony. When I was hurt, I could say I was hurt. When I was lost, I could say I was lost. When I was scared, I could say I was scared. Away from my parents, life only got better.

If I was in a social situation with my dad, he had to be the center of attention. He had to be instructing people. He had to be stirring things up. He’d call it making people think. I only existed as an appendage of him. Other people only existed for dad to the extent he could instruct them and receive back from that a grandiose sense of self.

Away from my parents, I could be my own person. I could be judged on my own merits. I could compete on my own terms for attention and connection.

My final time driving up Howell Mountain Road in normal health was during Super Bowl XX on January 26, 1986. At the Muth home watching the game, I met an angel in a white track suit, Lori Winn. All the guys at her Monterey Bay Academy wanted to marry her. She was wife material. And I got the privilege of talking to her.

I was trying to get over a cold. I had just covered a Sacramento Kings basketball game the night before. My first semester at Sierra Community College had finished. I had a week off and I spent most of it on the couch at the Muth home listening to their soundtrack of Chariots of Fire. “Jerusalem” was my favorite.

I also visited my friend Andy at his dorm that week and I went to a movie in St. Helena with Lori (The Jewel of the Nile). When I drove away on Friday, when I drove down Howell Mountain listening to “Oh Sherry” by Steve Perry, I felt such keen sorrow.

The cold I battled all week at PUC turned into mono and the next three months were misery. Two years later, it felt like the mono returned but this time it never left and was eventually called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. My youth was over. Ahead of me was a conversion to Judaism and that forever changed my return experience to PUC. It was like I had married someone else.

These dreams go on when I close my eyes
Every second of the night I live another life
These dreams that sleep when it’s cold outside
Every moment I’m awake the further I’m away

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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