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 the 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; single and raising two young daughters, while working and running a rooming house in the Great Depression.
My mother Kathryn, pregnant with me, was having a difficult time in her pregnancy. She and my father Walter were very young, and he was recently embarked upon his career in the Navy, and was frequently away at sea. Grandma decided that the only sensible living arrangement was to make room for us in her house, and they quickly moved in.
As my mother’s time came near it seemed she might die in childbirth, so Grandma appealed to Aimee at one of her prayer meetings, to have her congregation offer prayers for our well being, prayers which apparently were answered, because I soon arrived with all toes and fingers on April 2, 1928. The only problem was my feet, which were turned to the outside. An orthopedic surgeon was called in and made braces for me which I apparently wore for some time because they are facing the right way now. It would have been a real dilemma for a future tap dancer.
The spiritual bubble burst for Grandma, a highly moral woman, when Aimee became romantically involved with her secretary, who was also married. This was simply too much for Grandma.
Aimee was ostensibly kidnapped, and disappeared from a California beach with boyfriend in tow, only to turn up days later with a thrilling story of her captivity.
Dozens of God-fearing people crowded the beaches and even dragged the ocean searching for her body. At least one man drowned in the failed effort. A ransom note was delivered which “confirmed” the terrible news that she had been kidnapped.
When she returned unharmed, 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.