Barcelona burned Devers into our consciousness. Who else had sunk so low only to rise so high? But the Devers drama was so wondrous that it tended to obscure the Devers persona. Staggered by her deeds, we might be forgiven for thinking that her story seemed all plot, no character. But, of course, it was character that drove the whole impossible train of events.
Devers grew up in San Diego, where her father, Rev. Larry Devers, is still the associate minister of Mount Erie Baptist Church. Her mother, Alabe, was a teacher's aide at an elementary school. "We were a Leave It to Beaver family," Devers says. "We had picnics, rode bikes and played touch football together. We did Bible studies together. My father and brother played the guitar together."
But preachers' kids, determined not to be precious, have been known to test constraints. "I never did," Devers says. "That was my brother. He was 14 months older and a rebel without a cause." (Well, you have to figure a guy named Parenthesis—that is her brother's name—has reason to chafe a little.)
"When it started to get dark," Devers continues, "we had to be in the house before the streetlight stopped flickering. My brother hated that rule. I would be a little mother, tugging him in, explaining to him that later he'd understand. My mom says I've always been old."
About the only television show the Devers kids were allowed to watch was I Love Lucy. This launched Gail on a lifetime of devotion to that sitcom. She has collected most of the 179 episodes. "My dream, growing up," she says, "was to spend the night with Lucy."
When she was six or seven, Gail pleaded so long to meet her idol that her father finally put her in the car and drove her the 120 miles to L.A. to find Lucille Ball. "After we got to Hollywood," he recalls, "we found we couldn't actually get to Lucille's house, so I pointed out a bent old woman on the street and said, 'There, that's her.'
" 'No!' wailed Gail.
" 'Yes, that's her. I'm sure. See what makeup does?'
" 'No! No!' cried Gail, and the tears started.
"I finally told her I was kidding," says Larry. "And on the way home we had a talk about illusion and reality and the importance of living your own life. We always taught her to think well of herself and be able to be independent."