Aimee slipped unbidden into my dream last night, which brought to mind my grandmother’s fascination with her.
Aimee Semple McPherson was a Los Angeles evangelist and media celebrity from the 20’s and 30’s, the largest among a flurry of religious salesmen, all of whom were selling salvation, a commodity always in demand, and which costs them nothing to supply.
In Aimee’s philosophy, God, being Love, desires only that His children be happy, and they cast money into the collection box with reckless enthusiasm to assure them of that happiness. “Just give a little more” she would cajole, and they did.
Aimee’s call to Love offered an eternal Costa del Sol, liberally supplied with food, drink, sex and sun. Evil had no place in this ethereal paradise.
Grandma was a liberated woman seeking a new source of religious interpretation, and was enchanted with the notion that another woman could supply it. LIfe was not easy for my grandmother at that time; a single divorced woman raising two young daughters, while working and running a rooming house in the middle of the Great Depression.
The spiritual bubble burst for Grandma, a highly moral woman, when Aimee became romantially involved with her secretary, who was also married. This was simply too much for Grandma.
They had donned their swim suits and went for a swim on the Southern California beach, when it was reported that Aimee had been kidnapped. The town went crazy with worry over their favorite God-fearing darling, sending out dozens of people, even dragging the ocean searching for her body, and at least one man drowned in the failed effort. A ransom note was delivered, clarifying the terrible news that she had been kidnapped.
A month later, Aimee came walking in, swearing that she had been kidnapped, tortured, and turned loose in the desert to find her way home alone, though her physical condition belied it.
As the money poured in from grateful followers of her Four Square Church, her Temple filled to capacity but without Grandma. She rightly felt that she had been duped, and that Aimee was merely another false Wizard of Oz, hiding behind a shiny curtain.