The Bribe


(pictured from l-r: brother Phil, Judy, mother Martha, stepdad John McCrea on wedding day January 1965)

I did not welcome John McCrea when he appeared on our doorstep to court my widowed mother. At the time I was a college freshman with a strong independent streak. I adored my father, who had died when I was eleven, and as far as I can recall, this was the first man who seemed interested in taking my father’s place. In retrospect, this seems odd since my mother Martha was a very attractive woman, but that is what I remember.  In any case, John at age 71 was an imposing figure. He stood tall and erect, with a full head of white hair, a booming voice, and an air of command that I found vaguely threatening.

Then there was the matter of his being an admiral. I knew no one who had made the military a career. My father had volunteered to serve in the army during the First World War, but that was different. I was a left-leaning flower child, who believed in love, not war. I quickly decided that this admiral could not possibly understand or appreciate the sensitive values of a young person like myself, and I kept a cautious distance.

This was the state of affairs when I first experienced the force of John’s disarmament techniques. In those days, I was into folk music, and I sang and played the guitar. One day, John arrived with a present for me. I knew that I had not been particularly warm to him, and I suspected that this offering was a bribe. As I opened the package, I wondered what sort of inappropriate thing he could have gotten to soften me up. I was amazed to find an album of folk music filled with unusual songs by true folk masters—nothing ordinary or commercial. I was simultaneously thrilled and filled with guilt about my behavior. To this day I don’t know how he managed to pick out such a perfect present for me, but for the first time I sensed that this admiral might have a lot more on the ball than I had given him credit for.