Judy Stahl, My First Love

by Eddie Patterson

Photos Courtesy of California
Historical Society, MSP 3800

If you lived on the south side of Indianapolis, Indiana during the mid 1960’s, you knew the Fox Skating Rink was the place to hang out at on Saturday nights. The rink opened for skating at 6:00 pm and the sock hop started at 9:00.

It was there at Fox’s that I first met Judy Stahl. I was 15 and she was 14. The first thing I noticed about her was the way she always had a smile on her face no matter what was going on around her. She was one of those kids at the rink that everybody liked, and I don’t think she had an enemy anywhere on earth. She always had a kind word for everyone.

I asked her if she wanted to skate, and she smiled as she answered, “Sure.” We held hands and skated our first trip around the rink, but it wouldn’t be our last.

As we made our way along the crowded floor, we chatted about mutual friends and school. Turned out we both went to Manual High School where she was a freshman and I a sophomore. Every Saturday afterwards would find us holding hands and skating from six until nine and then dancing at the hop until closing at ten. Slow dances were the best, of course, since we could hold each other close and kiss without getting caught.

It didn’t long for Judy and me to start going steady. We made a cute couple. We would try our very best to dress the same as was the custom those days. “Bleeding Madras” shirts were the rage, as were shirts with small checkered patterns. With our “steady shirts,” blue jeans and tennis shoes, we were part of the in-crowd.

Judy’s older brother Ricky and I were classmates but knew each other only casually. She also had two little sisters, one named Robin – the family called her “Bird” – and the youngest sister, Kim Yoon Ai, who was adopted from South Korea. They all lived with their parents, Mary and Alfred. Mary worked as a nurse and Alfred drove a delivery truck. The family lived in a modest ranch-style house on East Werges Street just a few blocks from Fox’s, and I would walk Judy home after skating as well as after school.

Her family seemed to be fairly tight-knit with the usual bickering between the children put to rest at the end of the day with hugs for everyone. Judy looked up to her big brother, Ricky, and he always watched out for her.

After going steady for a few weeks, Judy asked me if I wanted to go to church with them the following Sunday. I gladly accepted since I would do anything to be around this new love of my life.

I was really impressed when I met Jim Jones, as he certainly had charisma and could easily sway the minds of the young and old alike. The one thing that I found odd was that during every service, he would make some reference to sex. Not in a vulgar kind of way, but more in a kind of “facts of life” type of conversation. One specific line I recall was his addressing the male members of the congregation by saying, “Men, when you go into your wives at night.” I don’t recall what he said next, as that type of language was completely out of keeping with my Southern Baptist upbringing, and I was just flabbergasted at his statement. But Judy’s family held “Father” in the highest reverence, so I wasn’t about to question anything he said. For Judy’s sake, I would just sit there and keep my mouth shut.

Judy and I continued going steady, continued going to Fox’s and continued to be deep in the middle of that thing they call puppy love. That is, until I decided quite foolishly to test the love of my sweet Judy.

One day while walking along Werges Street, I told Judy I wanted to break up. I didn’t mean it since I really loved that girl very much, or at least as much as any gangly teenaged boy can love a girl. I expected her to go into some kind of, “Please Eddie, don’t go” routine, thus reinforcing her love for me and upholding my newfound manhood. Much to my surprise, she gently took off my ring and handed it back to me. With tears in hers eyes, she turned and quietly walked away.

I stood there dumbfounded. That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. She was supposed to get on her knees and beg me to stay, or so went the logic of a snot-nosed little boy deep in the middle of his one and only true love.

Over the next few months I tried my very best to make up to her, to no avail. That was my first lesson in how a scorned woman will react when the man she loves rejects her.

Shortly thereafter I heard through a mutual friend that Judy’s family had moved to California along with their minister, Jim Jones. I was heartbroken because now my sweet Judy was gone for good.

For the next few months I went about my life and school while trying to put Judy out of my mind.

Then on one Saturday morning during the summer of 1965, I received a letter from her. The first line was, “Eddie, I still love you.”

I don’t remember what else she said in that letter, nor did I care, because all that mattered was my one and only true love still cared for me. The envelope from Judy had a return address of Ukiah, California, wherever that was.

I was home alone that Saturday morning with a total of thirty-seven cents in my pocket. There was no question in my mind as to what I had to do next. I quickly packed up a suitcase and left a short note to my parents saying, “Gone to California to see Judy. Will be back in a few weeks.” Out the door I went.

I spent twenty-five cents on bus fare to get downtown where US Highway 40 was still the main road through town. I stuck out my thumb. There I was, a 16-year-old kid hitchhiking from Indiana to California because some girl said she still loved him.

I could write a book on the trials and tribulations of a young lad hitchhiking across the country in 1965, but all I cared about at the time was seeing Judy. On I went until I reached the small town in northern California where her family had moved.

The look on her faced when she opened the door was one of complete shock. We held each other so tight neither of us could breathe and kissed so long her mother got mad at us. We were together and that’s all that mattered.

I stayed a few days with Judy and her family until her father basically told me it was time for me to go back to Indiana and back to my own family. As we parted we both swore we’d never stop loving each other and always stay in touch. The former we did but the latter we didn’t.

Long distance love affairs are hard on any couple, even more so for a pair of teenaged kids in the mid 1960’s. So it was with Judy and me, each going on with our lives for the next year and each slowly losing touch with the other.

I made a second trip out to see her the following summer, but things had changed between us. By then she had started dating another guy, and I had my own set of new girlfriends back home. It just wasn’t the same. My insatiable puppy love had turned into just a love for an old friend.

That was the last time I saw or heard from Judy Stahl.

Over the course of the next few years, her name would often come up when I talked with mutual friends we had had back in high school. Through those friends I was able to follow the path of Judy and the other members of Peoples Temple as they moved into San Francisco and eventually on to Guyana.

The next time I heard her name again was in November of 1978, when my mother told me about the Jonestown massacre. Judy’s siblings Ricky and Robin survived – Ricky has since died – but among the 918 who died that day were Judy’s parents and her adopted sister, Kim Yoon Ai. And, of course, Judy herself.

I sat down on a chair in my dining room and cried like a baby. My one true love, my sweet Judy, who always had a kind word on her lips and a smile on her face, was gone forever.

May you rest in peace, my dear friend.

(Eddie Patterson can be reached at edward@edwardpatterson.com and would appreciate hearing more stories about Judy Stahl, who was also known as Judy Ijames.)

Originally posted on July 25th, 2013.

Last modified on January 14th, 2014.
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