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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, May 25, 2006

One more Mormon Missionary Story

One more Mormon Missionary Story.

I will leave one more Mormon Missionary story here. I am leaving for Panama City Beach in Florida tomorrow, and will probably be out of touch for a week. I am using another of those Time Shares that I wrote about last fall.

At the conclusion of our mission training we were walked to the railroad station and put on a train. It was neat that as we approached the station we saw President Mc Kay, the man we considered to be a prophet, standing on the front porch of the station talking to a porter. As he became aware of our presence he turned, shook all our hands and wished us a wonderful mission. It seems so different than now. If you ran across the Church President anywhere in Salt Lake City today, except in his home, he would now be surrounded by security men and folks like that.

There were eight or nine missionaries in our group. Most were headed to New York to make connections with ocean liners for the trip. At least a couple were scheduled for a missions in or near Chicago and were picked up there. All arrangements had been made by Murdoch Travel in Salt Lake, although my ticket had come from my dad’s system pass as a U.P. railroad employee. Murdoch (I presume, paid by the church) paid for the Pullman fee and anything not covered by the pass, and made all the reservations. We each met Brother Murdoch, of Murdoch Travel individually to receive our tickets and reservations. There were two of us going to Finland. I had been set apart as the group leader or senior companion of the two of us, but someone else was the group leader for the whole bunch of travelers. We had a couple of layovers, and had the opportunity to leave the train at Niagra Falls, go see the falls and wander around. I don’t know whether it was on the “going” trip or on our return, but on one of these, arrangements had been made for us to get off the train, (probably in Cleveland) and a little bus took us down to Kirtland, where we saw the temple and went through it with an RLDS guide. It is a vivid memory but I am not sure how it worked. In my journal I write about the visit to Niagra Falls but it says nothing about a trip, to Kirtland, so I may have imagined that whole thing. We did, it seems go to a movie, even though it was Sunday. (I am beginning to really understand why the church moved to flying missionaries wherever they go)

It took two or three (or four or five) days to cross the country. When we arrived in New York City, we were bussed to the Wellington Hotel in Manhattan where we stayed on the top floor in what was probably designed as a Penthouse Suite. It had several rooms but each room was full of single beds and it was a virtual dormitory situation. There were several elders who were there when we arrived, waiting for ships to “somewhere”, and who left before we did. Others came after us and were still there when we left. I am not sure what practicality was involved in this “staging area” but I am sure there was some. While I was there, I picked up my Finnish visa from the consulate, and I wrote in my journal that we (some other elders and myself) went to the Radio City Music Hall to see the movie Brigadoon, and to see the Rockettes and the stage show, after which we went to the Latin Quarter and the Copacabana (both famous nightclubs), activities that I am sure are beyond the imagination of most current missionaries. They are almost beyond my imagination. The one thing I remember best about the hotel was that our suite had more than one bathroom and in one of the bathrooms was what I now know to be a bidet. It was unknown to us, and I vividly remember three or four rural Idaho missionaries standing around the plumbing fixture, tripping the flush button, and wondering about its purpose. I think that the general conclusion was that it was designed to save toilet paper. (But no one in our group felt inclined to test the theory.)

We sailed at 10:00 AM, September 21 on the SS Stockholm of the Swedish American Lines. Compared to the other ships in Port, she was a truly beautiful ship. She had a long pointed bow, almost like some kind of yacht. Compared to her, the other ships looked stodgy and pedestrian. I had no idea that only a few years later she would become world famous by colliding with an Italian ship the Achille Lauro, and sinking it in New York harbor. Sailing on that ship was the most luxurious experience of my life. Elder “John Doe” and I were the only missionaries on the ship, and theoretically we were supposed to be companions with me as the group leader. Although we were new at the companion business, I knew that we were supposed to be together all the time, but we weren’t. What the group leader assignment meant to me was that I laid awake and worried several nights about where Elder Doe was when he was late coming back to the cabin. A couple of times he was REALLY late and I was REALLY worried, but I didn’t know how to get him to stay with me or to stay effectively close to him. I could turn my back to pick up a cookie and when I turned back around he was gone and I wouldn’t see him for several hours. I make that sound bad, but we were together a most of the time as well.

My task as a “group leader” wasn’t made easier by our dinner table assignment. We were assigned to sit at particular tables for meals, and at our table we had us, and four really beautiful Scandinavian single girls. I don’t remember all their names, but one was Bodil Ellerhammer (who could forget that name) who was a really gorgeous brunette from Copenhagen, Denmark. One of the other girls was named Heddi. The first evening afloat was a dance, to which we both went, and spent the whole night trying to explain to girls who asked us to dance (actually, mostly Doe) why we couldn’t dance (to missionaries, dancing is not allowed.). We had a lot of fun anyway.

Meals were awesome. Breakfast and lunch were usually buffet, though our steward (I think his name was Hans, which isn’t a Swedish name, though he was Swedish) would get breakfast for us if we wished. Lunch was smorgasbord (which is natural since the Swedes invented it) Dinner was menu driven but we had two or three choices of each course, and desserts were obscene. At meals, we frequently swiped the girl’s cigarettes, giving them back only after the meal was over. It was kind of a silly game of “ No Smoking during dinner”. During the day there was shuffleboard, ping pong, pool, (both swimming and pool table) and they had chess tournaments, checker tournaments and you could go to the fantail and shoot skeet or drive golf balls into the ocean. We met and became friends with several other people. I remember Jane Bowen who was a very pretty ballet dancer who was going to Stockholm to work, Conrad Borowski who was from Poland and who humiliated me in the checkers tournament. We got to the championship and neither of us had lost a game. In the championship he blindfolded himself for the second game (it was two out of three), and he slaughtered me just by telling me which of his men to move to which square and asking me where I had moved. It was not really humiliating, more inspiring, but it was quite an experience. When we got to Copenhagen two of the three girls we ate with and Lilian Sorenson who didn’t sit with us but who had become GOOD friends with “Doe” all disembarked. We went to see them off and Bodil, just as she was leaving turned and planted a massive kiss on “Doe”. He stood there, hands at his side and (slightly) trying to get away. Judging from Lillian’s looks, the resistance was as much for her behalf as mine, but before Lillian could match the farewell, I, kind of, got between “Doe” and the other exiting folks.

The next day, we arrived in Gothenburg, which was our final stop. As the ship was coming to shore, "Doe" and I and Heddi and Jane and “someone” were giggling and exchanging addresses, and they were threatening to kiss us both on the gangplank etc. to the degree that we were late to the exit, and we found the Gothenburg District President there to meet us. He almost caught us giggling like little kids with the girls. I was most relieved that he didn’t.

We took the train to Stockholm where we had two days to wait until we took the ferry to Turku, Finland. We looked all over for the Swedish Mission headquarters and couldn’t find it, so we spent the rest of the time riding streetcars to the end of the line and back. We left for Finland on the SS Birger Jarl at about 6:30 PM, and reached Turku the next morning. We caught a ride from Turku to Helsinki with an auto importer, Tauno Matila, from Helsinki who was taking a little Saab to his car dealership. The Saab was interesting. It had a lot of power for a little bitty car, and when you bought gas, you mixed oil with the gas like you do for a motorcycle or a lawnmower. He bought us lunch along the way and took us right to the Ullankatu 3 A 4, the mission headquarters. Everyone seemed surprised, it appeared that, as a result of the ride, we had arrived a day early.

Some folks let others do the hard work.

I resolved not to do more politics, but periodically I read a post that seems to demand to be seen, and since I have solved the mysterious internal link thing on my computer here is a post that I think is worth reading.
Dust Bunnies of the Mind: The Electoral College Prevents Civil War

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mormon Missionaries

Mormon Missionaries.

I  stated when I commented on ”someone’s” blog that involved Mormon Missionaries that I would tell some missionary tales (all true – as I remember them, acknowledging that when you pass seventy, some of your memories shift.)  There are a number of really strange misapprehensions about Mormon Missionaries.  Some think of them as fanatic brain washed zombies out to brain-wash the rest of the population.  For others, the only thing they know is that they (mostly) go in pairs and are likely to show up at inconvenient times.  It is also thought by some that being a missionary is a “requirement” of some sort, like an initiation that young men go through in order to achieve some kind of mystic goal.

The truth is, that they are mostly like any other guys or girls of their age.  I can’t tell exactly what happens to current missionaries because I served my mission from 1954-57, and things were different then than they are now.  (I do have the advantage of watching the experience of three of my four sons who served their own missions, though that too was some time ago- - my youngest son is over forty now)  When I was a missionary the preparation process was much different than it is now.  It was true then as it is now, that some who would like to go on missions are not allowed to do so, that some go for personal reasons that are less than helpful to the purpose of the mission, and that some never have the desire to go and don’t.  

Missionaries in 1954 had to be at least nineteen years of age, and most were twenty or over.  The average missionary who had any college education at all had two years of college.  Current missionaries may submit an application (called generically “their papers”) fairly soon after becoming eighteen, though most are at least nineteen when they get out there.  Many have no college training, most have no more than one year.  Every one my age, going on a mission, was interviewed about his desires by his local Bishop, by his Stake President (Diocesan leader), then by a General Authority of the church. (more often than not, one of the twelve apostles who served as the central leadership of the entire church.).  These interviews concerned faith and belief in the gospel as taught by the LDS church, the reason for going on a mission, willingness to abide by mission regulations, financial ability to complete the mission (Missionaries then, as now were expected to either pay their own expenses or to receive support by their families.)  It was true then, though less so now, that some of the mission candidates were “encouraged” to go on missions in a (sometimes futile) attempt to “straighten them out”.

  Current missionaries are interviewed for much the same information by the local Bishop and Stake President, before papers are submitted and those who are obviously sent to “reform them” are discouraged from going.,  They are set apart before they leave home. Then, they were expected to pay most of their travel expenses going TO the mission, though the church, generally paid for the return trip home, I think that such is generally true today, but they probably pay a lower percentage of their travel.  Overseas missionaries generally went by rail to a port city nearest their mission field, then by ship to the Mission field (Nation).  The trip, in my case, took almost two weeks.

Nowadays, missionaries get on a plane and are at their designated mission field in less than twenty four hours.  Missionaries “then” were set apart (made official Missionaries) after they completed a training period in Salt Lake City.  Missionaries now are set apart before they actually leave home.  Training in my time was less formal or intensive than it is now.

The following is a copy of a memoir I wrote about my training at Salt Lake headquarters.  Note particularly that not one word in memoir deals with language training.  The acknowledgment of the difficulty in dealing with an entire new language was in the fact that an English speaking Elder was called to serve for two years, and a foreign speaking one was called for thirty months, or two and a half years.

At any rate, I instigated the idea of a mission call with the Bishop.  The interview was completed, followed by an interview with the Stake President, President Anderson, then some time later, at a Stake Conference by Apostle LeGrande Richards.   I assume that missionaries back then had to fill out the same kinds of forms they do now, but I don’t really remember the forms.  I just remember going through the interviews and waiting impatiently for a call, and being totally shocked (and pleased, I think) that the call was to go to Finland.  I was also surprised that my call was to be in the mission home in Salt Lake City in early September.  Somehow,   I had expected another month or so to prepare.

I am not sure of the exact date of the call, (found my Journal, it was July 13, 1954)  but some things stood out.  The Stake President Anderson’s son, Mark, (who was to serve as the Finnish Mission President some years later,) had returned from a mission in Finland only a year or so earlier, so President Anderson had many stories to tell about the country.   He remarked that his son Gale who was in my high school graduating class had hoped to receive a call to Finland, but didn’t.  I received, what seemed to be, an enormous list of things to take with me with the clarifying information that Finland had not yet fully recovered from World War II and there was considerable scarcity in the country.  

My parents were not the richest people on the block, so one of the deciding factors in buying suits was price.  Mom was a seamstress so she knew what to look for in quality, but style was secondary to price.  One suit, which was the mainstay of the three that were taken was a dark blue single breasted suit that would still be in style today.  One was a light blue glen plaid double breasted which made me look like a cheap used car salesman.  I honestly can’t remember the third, but I remember being less than thrilled with its appearance.  I was also required to take a heavy overcoat.  What I found was an army surplus canvas trench coat (in army green) with a zip-out lining.  It was heavy and warm, and not new, so I don’t have any idea where I got it.  I was required to take a hat, either snap brim or fedora, so I took a brown snap brim with quite a wide brim.  I was also told to take four pairs of winter long underwear and four short legged summer ones.  Mother was suspicious about the quantity and sent extras of both kinds along with some pull-over-the-top-of everything else insulated underwear.

As we were preparing, I got a letter from a sister in Preston, Idaho, I think (it might have been Montpelier) explaining that her son, Bill Wilson (who was to become a nationally known folklorist and a power in the English Department at BYU) was in  Finland, and he had sent her my name and address.  The request was to bring a LARGE size can or bottle of peanut butter with me, for him, and she would buy it and pay me to carry it.  I was also, if I was willing, to take six bars of Dial soap and two large tubes of Colgate toothpaste.  We talked to her on the phone and she said that all of these things were either in short supply or of a quality that didn’t match American tastes, and that peanut butter was the thing most often requested.  We had the same information about soap and toothpaste (and toothbrushes) from the church so we agreed to take these things for him and bought a good supply for me.  My mother said “If peanut butter is in such demand, we probably ought to send a big bottle for you as well.”  

You have heard the term “famous last words”, and I said them “Mom, if there is anything I can get along without for two and a half years, it is peanut butter”.   I ate those words many times over the years, and she ended up sending peanut butter by mail which made it almost prohibitively expensive.  For a suitcase, I ended up with an enormous U.S. army issue zipper garment bag with multiple pockets for almost everything.  The rest of my stuff went into a black footlocker (which I still had many years later.  I am not sure what happened to it, it was almost indestructible) and the biggest briefcase I could find.  Looking back, I am pretty sure that current missionaries wouldn’t have been allowed to take most of the clothing I took, but they were (apparently, since they didn’t make me send it back) more tolerant at that time.  But we were told to take everything with us.

The pattern was to go to Salt Lake to what was called the “mission home” for two weeks, then to travel by rail to New York City, and take a ship from New York to Finland.  We were supposed to pay a percentage  of our travel going out, and that the church would pay our homeward trip in full.  Since Dad was a railroad man, he got me a pass on the train to New York, and that covered part, if not all, of our share of travel..

Missionary farewells were a far different thing then, than they are now.   Farewells now are held during Sacrament meeting, in the chapel, and consist of talks by some of the people who love the prospective missionary, by the missionary, and usually by the Bishop, or one of the members of the Bishopric.  Farewells then were held on a week night, sometimes partly in the chapel and partly in the Cultural Hall.  Mine was, I think, like that.  I seem to remember a partial service in the Chapel, with appropriate talks, the ward clerk sitting by to take donations to the missionary, and we had a “mission tree”, a leafless tree, about five feet tall, covered with clothes pins.  Attached to one or two of the clothes pins were dollar bills, five dollar bills, etc., as a hint to the audience.  In other words there was both a spiritual and mercenary cast to the farewell.  I don’t remember much of the talks, and I am not sure how much money came in, though I think it was probably over a hundred dollars, which was quite a lot in those days.  What I remember best was a festive food table in the Cultural Hall and a performance in my honor by the bi-stake Mormon Men’s chorus (I can’t remember the name, it might have been the Ambassadors) I was a member of the chorus and sang in my own concert.  A side note was that the man standing beside me in the chorus was a local lawyer named Merrill Beale who became, first a Federal District Judge, and later a Judge in one of the Federal Appeals courts.  He was also a really good bass.  As a result of the Chorus and my being in it, I think I may have been the only elder that year who wore a white dinner jacket, a formal shirt with studs, and a Red cummerbund    to his farewell.

The trip to Salt Lake was like a caravan.  The bishop and his wife, and dad and mom, and my brother, Doug, and our home teachers, all schlepping off to Salt Lake on Sept 7, 1954.  The pictures of that time are pretty funny, all of us standing in rows with really cheesy grins.  I am not sure why those pictures are the worst.

Entering the mission home was expected, but it was a shock as well.  I have often thought of the type of preparation that missionaries receive today, with missionaries being set apart before they leave their home stakes,  foreign speaking missionaries receiving a couple of months of intensive language training in addition to training in proselyting etc.  

We were in and out of the Mission home in less than two weeks. We weren’t set apart till after the Mission Home experience was over.  When we got to the Mission Home, We learned to lead singing and beat time.  We were introduced to the portable flannel board, and given pictures to cut out for each lesson and we were given the first couple of lessons of the Prayer and Testimony plan, which seemed to me, in some ways, to parallel the sales process I had learned for Lifetime Stainless Steel cookware. (The class in teaching was called “Methodology for Proselyting.)  A general authority (I can’t remember who) taught us personal hygiene which included covering the toilet seat with paper, boiling water before use (especially in the areas south of the United States) trying not to despair that some toilet facilities were primitive (he even said that toilet facilities in Japan, while hard to get used to, were more sanitary than most countries.  I really didn’t understand until my son Ryan went to Japan, and, in one letter, described Japanese toilet facilities. )  We went to the temple almost every day.  My sole exposure to the Finnish language was a mimeographed ten or so page handout that had been written by one of the missionaries who was then in the country. We lived in a kind of bunkhouse on the second floor, (not of the temple, but the mission home) and enjoyed watching the General Authorities drive into the parking lot below and go to their offices.  One thing that stood out in my mind was that most of the General Authorities had big new looking cars, and Albert E. Bowen (who I recognized because his brother lived in our ward) drove a 1941 Plymouth, much like my parents car.  I am not sure why the difference, but it was pronounced.

This is getting too long, but you probably get the idea.  I will wait a few weeks and tell you something about the trip to Finland, or some of my first weeks as a missionary. (I have already told you, in early posts something about my first experience in the Finnish Sauna, and about my first winter in Joensuu, Finland.  It is a wonder that I got out of there alive.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Ja ever have one a those days

J’ever have one a those days.

My second son, the forty three year old bachelor who has done many of the good things in life but who has yet to father a grandchild (as a bachelor, that’s okay, but he could fix that part too, if he tried hard) has a birthday tomorrow.  We decided to have a little birthday party today, since he has to be out of town tomorrow, so we got out some steaks to thaw, and Janet spent much of yesterday making him a black forest cake (he requested one, and she had never done it before but you can always find a recipe on the webb).  

Today, on the way to the store, with second son driving, we decided to go yard sale surfing (yard “sailing” would probably be a better term but heck. . .. .) We went around to several good “sounding” sales but really found nothing but a couple of books and acres of baby :clothes, toys, furniture, etc.   It would have been a good time for us if our youngest wasn’t in the mid-thirties.   For a family with two or three kids under eight, this would have been a good day.  As we were driving around we had reached the stage that we were deciding whether to go home and eat shredded wheat, to do Shoney’s breakfast bar (the glutton’s friend”) or try one more sale, when the car in front of us slowed to make a left turn.  My son was driving so he slowed as well.  The driver in front had just started his turn when CRASSSHH.  A monster pick-up rear ended us, and sandwiched us between him and the turning car.  It was not a fun moment.  Fortunately we were all seat belted, but my poor old Pontiac Montana van is not going to be the same for  awhile.  It was drivable and we got home  without incident. (The weirdest thing was trying to find my glasses.  I was wearing them at the time of the accident, and they just popped off.  We finally found the frames, with one lens popped out, back in the back end of the car.  We still haven’t found the other lens- - -should make church tomorrow interesting—I bet that lens loss isn’t covered by insurance either)

We all seem to be okay, but Janet is beginning to have back spasms (it is now eight-thirty P. M.) and the whole thing took the edge of the birthday bash. When we arrived home,  I went out to check the charcoal grill and it had been knocked over scattering charcoal dust every where, and the base was broken (had nothing to do with the car accident, but these things seem to come in threes).  By the time I repaired the grill and cleaned up the mess it was about five thirty and  the senior son had been invited over for the party at six P.M. so it was really to late to start the charcoal.  Luckily we have a gas grill as well, so I went over to clean the grates and start the steaks voila, the tank was empty (number 3, I told ya.).  Whatever klutz (probably me) had used it last hadn’t turned off the gas at the tank and all the gas had seeped away.  Fortunately I had another tank connected to the turkey-fryer/ shrimp boil cooker.  I finally got the thing changed over (It takes about twice as long now that I have passed the three score and ten mark) and got some New York Strips and Rib eyes  finished  and we had dinner, sang happy birthday and did all those things.  The Black Forest Cake was wonderful (of course, it was made by the love of my life, and she never misses) but now, Janet has gone to bed with back-spasms and a little lortab, Everyone else has gone home and my back is beginning to feel “iffy”.  Well it was a nice birthday party, but I would like to excommunicate the little black cloud that seemed to follow me around all day.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Weight Doesnt Matter

Weight Doesn’t Matter If You Are Healthy

I take an intense session of water aerobics three to four times a week, and, to be honest I think it is one of the main reasons why I am alive, with low colesteral and good blood pressure three years after my bypass. It is also a factor in the fact that, in spite of a neuropathy that has at times been crippling, I hardly ever use a cane anymore, and the last time I used a walker was when I had ankle surgery last summer.

That said, water aerobics is interesting. Most of the participants are females who are approaching my age range rapidly (there are a few whippersnappers, but….) and they come in ALL sizes. During my participation in the class, we have had several instructors, most of them VERY good, a few, kind of “iffy”. Most of them have been nursing, or exercise therapy students from the University, and generally they are small. Our current teacher/coach is a former competitive gymnast, with thighs about the size of my upper arms. She has frequently lectured us on the above topic. If you are healthy and feel good about yourself, weight doesn’t matter. She frequently belittles the TV ads for step aerobics, pilates, and even classes in those kinds of things. Exercise will make you healthy says she, but it won't really take off weight. She says that, even though she both takes classes and teaches classes in these disciplines.

Last week, she suddenly went into a mini tirade (as we were doing “jumping jacks” with water weights in our hands) about the number of calories in a donut. Chatter went on about the Suzanne Sommers diet, Weight Watchers, Atkins, etc. When I challenged her as a bit of a hypocrite, she explained.

Her brother is getting married in June, and she is to be one of the attendants (of some kind, she didn’t clarify). A week or so ago, her brother went out and bought the dresses for herself and her sister. (She didn’t mention how this affected her sister, and it would be interesting to find out). The last time her brother had purchased clothing for her was about five or six years ago when she was actively competing in gymnastics. At that time she was a size one (She could fool me into thinking she was a size one now, but. . . ) Of course the dress her brother bought was a size one. She says that she can get the dress on, and could wear it, as long as she didn’t have to walk, or sit, or move, or any of those kinds of things. She is now deep into diets, is taking twice as many exercise classes, and is determined to fit into the expensive dress by the wedding. Oh well, so much for just being healthy and feeling good.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I have another memory or series of memories that follows up on Grandpa's death. Grandpa was buried in Lund, Idaho where he had homesteaded upon arrival in the U.S., and, following his burial we established a tradition of going to Lund almost every memorial day (or Decoration Day, as we called it) to decorate Grandpa's grave. I'm sure that for my dad, this was a solemn occasion, but for me, it was one of the holidays I always really loved. We drove to Lund up (or down--southwesterly) on Highway 30 north cutting off somewhere near McCammon to go through Lava Hot Springs. We went through Lava, up a cutoff and over what was called The Fish Creek Divide, down the divide to Lund. The trip was always exciting. I'm not sure what kind of car we had at first, but it seems to me that it was black and had fuzzy upholstery. When I was about six years old, my dad bought a NEW car. A green, 1941 Plymouth four door sedan that was OUR car for many years until I finally killed it coming home from my first college football game my freshman year in college.

Anyway, back to the trip, I'll fill you in on the death of the Plymouth later. The basic pattern of the trip was always the same, at least in my memories. Mom picked, what seemed to me to be, VAST quantities of Peonies from her flower garden (once in a great while she bought them from a second cousin who came up from Utah every year with a truck load of Peonies that he sold in Pocatello), packed a lunch which usually included fried chicken, sandwiches, along with lemonade which was carried in an old greenish grey gallon thermos which was still in the family after I married and moved away. The flowers were put in the back seat of the car in a vase. I remember it being on the floor, but I also remember flowers being up on the car seat between Doug, my brother, who was three years older than I and myself, wrapped in moistened newspaper. I suspect they were put there to keep Doug and me separated, since we fought a lot on trips. As we drove to Lava, we sang songs together (somewhere, I will write down all the Lyrics of the songs, not that they are that unusual, but many of them stick in my mind like glue, and somehow they are an important part of me. Among the favorite songs were THE OLD APPLE TREE IN THE ORCHARD, A SPANISH CAVALIER, old Stephen Foster tunes, and World War I camp songs like TENTING TONIGHT ON THE OLD CAMP GROUND, along with rounds like ROW, ROW YOUR BOAT, and FRERE JACQUE. (I really loved to sing this as a round, with my dad.) Once in a great while we would get away with 99 BOTTLES OF BEER ON THE WALL, but Mom didn't like that, so I always felt delightfully wicked when they let us sing it for a while. I have a vague memory that we counted telephone poles, though I can't think why one would do that, and that we sometimes played the Alphabet Game, looking at signs, but that may just be a transfer, because that was a game that I always played with MY children when WE traveled. Not long after we left McCammon, the main exercise was looking for the giant "L" that was up on the mountain over Lava Hot Springs. Somehow we always thought that the major part of the trip was over when we saw the "L". It was a beautiful drive, through valleys and small canyons crossing the Portneuf river several times. I always got a special thrill when I saw horses out in the fields, and I think that, once or twice, we saw a deer.

We stopped at Lava Hot Springs to have lunch in the park near the "Natatorium" ( two big swimming pools at Lava ). I think that once or twice we may have gone swimming while we were there after the children got older, but most of our swimming at Lava was on special trips there just for that purpose, not on the "Decoration Day" trips. We did always get to "feed the fish". There were enormous trout in the Portneuf there at Lava, and they congregated under the bridge between the parking lot and the pools. Everyone would throw small pieces of bread in the river and the fish would almost make the water seem to boil as they fed. It was an enormous thrill to see, what seemed to be, a yard long rainbow trout smash through the water to snatch "your" piece of bread away from all his brothers. Occasionally a smaller one would jump clear out of the water, shaking his tail in scorn at those more timid ones. I don't think any picnic ever tasted better than those "Decoration Day" picnics at Lava. (Actually they weren't on Decoration Day. Memorial Day was on Monday, and we usually left for Lund on the Saturday before.)

After the picnic we would pack up the blanket that had been spread on the ground, put everything in the car, and the hair on the back of my neck would begin to bristle, thinking about the Fish Creek Divide.

The road out of Lava was bordered by outcropping of Lava rock and small cliffs with great clusters of small aspen and chokecherries along the banks of the Portneuf and the creeks that were tributary to the river. It was quite a long uphill drive out of Lava, and my favorite part was when Dad would begin to put the car in second gear and the old car would sing out its frustration at the uphill grades. It was really quite a long drive from Lava Hot Springs to the top of the divide, and I suspect that if the road still exists it has probably been widened and all the excitement has been engineered out of it, but it was exciting to me even on the first trip (when, it seems to me, that I was in the front seat, between Mom and Dad, and Doug was in the back, by himself. I probably had complained about car sickness. I occasionally did get car-sick riding in the back, which had the advantage that I could occasionally get up in front, or I could get away with hanging my head out the window--for air). It may be a trick of memory that remembers the road over the divide as a very narrow gravel road, but the view of the valley from the top of the divide was breathtaking, and we always stopped the car to look at it. You could see the wide flat plain down below, covered with winter wheat and other crops. Three distinct towns could be seen from there, Lund, another little village the size of Lund, the name of which I can't remember, and, off in the distance, the clump of trees that identified Soda Springs. The ride down from the crest was the climax of the whole trip. Switch backs back and forth with the road so narrow that Dad never went around a curve without honking the horn, in case another car was coming up. I looked down the steeps at the side of the road, knowing in my heart that the wheels of the car were really hanging out in space and that momentarily we were all going to slip off sidewards and careen, bouncing and crashing down the cliffs to our collective doom. I always reached the bottom of the divide with the distinct feeling that I hadn't breathed since we left the crest.

The events that happened in Lund, after our arrival, stick in my memory less significantly than the trip. I think there was less of a pattern but some things were more or less universal. We stayed at the home of my great‑uncle Arthur Peterson, who had many acres that he farmed primarily in winter wheat. When I was little there was a horse that I sometimes got to ride, chickens to chase (and eggs to hunt), all the things that you think about when you think about going to "the farm". I remember how broken hearted I was when the year arrived that we arrived at the farm to find the horse gone, the chickens gone, all the things that we think of as "farm things" were missing. When I asked Uncle Arthur where they were, he said that his children had grown up and moved away and didn't need the horse, and that winter, after the grain had been planted he and Aunt--I THINK it was Aunt Ida, but I am not sure--had decided to go the Caribbean for a couple of weeks, and then couldn't find anyone to take care of the horses, chickens, etc., so he had sold the "whole kit and kaboodle". All he was going to worry about from now on was wheat.

He had to plow a fallow field, so he took us out to look, and he got in a great big yellow Caterpillar tractor, with disk harrows that appeared to go out thirty feet to each side, and four or five units deep. He completely worked a field that must have been forty acres in size in what seemed to be just about twenty minutes. It was really impressive, but it didn't take the place of the horse. The other memories that really stick from the visits to Lund were the visit to the graveyard, which was a small country graveyard, haphazardly cared for, and I remember at least once when Dad borrowed a push lawn mower and a rake from uncle Arthur and we went out and mowed and raked around the grave which had a small, white stone, as I remember. I seem to remember something about the family getting together and replacing the first stone, though it may have been changed since that time. At any rate we always made the area look nice, and then, Mom would arrange the flowers in two or three groups, with different names on them. Sometimes Grandma Johnson would make the drive to Lund with us, sometimes she was already in Lund when we got there (Uncle Arthur was her brother, so she stayed with him as well) but she came out to the graveyard with us, and when she came early, she had already gone out to the grave and put flowers there. I remember some really intense discussions between her and Mom about just which flowers would go where, and what colors went side by side, and together they picked and picked for what seemed to me to be an awfully long time to make sure everything was just right.

We usually made a trip to Soda Springs where there was a naturally carbonated spring from which the town took its name. I think the actual name of the spring was "Hooper Spring" or something like that, and Dad usually referred to the spring itself as "Beer Springs" because, he said, that's what everybody called it when he was little. We would each get a glass of the water and say something about how neat it tasted (which it didn't). At least once, my mother took some Hires root beer base which came in a little round bottle, mixed it with some sugar and poured the Soda Water over it. It was better that way, but not great, it seemed to go a little flat when it was flavored.

One of my favorite things about the Memorial Day trips was that dad would take us around and point out landmarks of when he was a boy there in the valley. He told us about school, and pointed out where the little school was that only went to the eighth grade, and that he had gone through the eighth grade two or three times, not because he flunked, but because there wasn't much else for a thirteen or fourteen year old boy to do when the snow got deep, and there weren't so many chores on the farm. When we got older he told us about the teacher that took all the older boys out behind the school, in this valley of Mormon immigrants, and taught them how to smoke cigarettes. Another story was of a time when he and another boy contracted to break some horses--I don't remember whether they were wild horses that had been caught and brought in or whether they were just young, but, according to the story, he was riding a horse that was bucking, and got thrown up over the neck of the horse. When he was seating himself back in the saddle the pommel of the saddle got caught in the buttons on the fly of his jeans, and he was caught. He couldn't get all the way back down on the saddle, and couldn't get off so the horse just bucked until the buttons broke and he was finally thrown off. He said that his "belly-- and other parts" were so bruised that he couldn't finish the rest of the horses that day, and couldn't even walk the next day, but he finally got finished with the job and got paid.

There were lots of other stories, but I can't remember them, which really irritates me, and is one of the reasons I am writing this. My children may be bored with these stories, but they will have them to refer to.

Somehow, the trips home don't stick with me as vividly as the trips going TO Lund. Maybe we went home by a different route, or maybe Fish Creek wasn't as scary going up as going down, but I honestly can't remember the trips home. There is a strong possibility that after two or three days in a strange town, with lots to do, picnics and graveyards, chickens and horses, that a young boy was plopped in the back seat and slept all the way home.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

New Post

Edit alarm. I have received a note from a relative that says that the picture below is not my grandfather but my GREAT grandfather. I am searching through files and if I find that such is true, I will find and post a picture of the real grandfather.
I decided to post another story or two about my youth, but I got tangled up in what I have already written and what I want to write. As a result, I have been trying to sort out my older blog posts to see what I have said. (One of the problems with three score and ten is that you have to be careful, or you tell the same stories over and over. In person, it is not so difficult because may family members are wont to say “Been there, done that” or my lovely wife Janet, who is much more tactful will catch my attention and raise her left eyebrow - - It is hard to believe that one eyebrow can be that expressive but in print there are no tell-tale eybrows.)

I went back to the very beginning of the blog and tried to save titles or stories in a folder that I could check, but my computer semi-literacy jumped in and I found that Windows and Blockspot conspire to keep me from saving things without going through ten steps to do it. (I now save everything I write as I write it. I haven’t mastered the art of saving commentary, and I would really like to find some commentary I have written in order to turn it into a post on my blog.

I guess I will have to depend on you my loyal reader (s?) to jump in an tell me in commentary not to do this again if I repeat myself. I’m don’t think I can see your eybrow even if it is as expressive as that of my lovely wife.

Having said that, I believe that I have already spoken of my great grandmother, of which I have only one memory, but it is a sweet one. I’m just going to copy from my memoir something about some of my other predecessors

I also have wonderful memories of my great‑uncle Charlie and Aunt Emmaline (sp.). Grandpa and Grandma Shurtleff (my mothers parents) owned a duplex with a basement apartment at 1021 East Clark in Pocatello, Idaho. Aunt Emma and Uncle Charlie owned a house around the corner and down about half a block or so, quite near Franklin Jr. High. The address must have been about 200 something North Ninth, but I don't remember exactly.

Uncle Charlie was my Grandpa Shurtleff's brother and Aunt Emma was Grandma Shurtleff's sister, and somehow that made them more special than my other Great Uncles and Aunts. Uncle Charlie was really inventive and could do almost anything with a pocket knife and some wood. He taught me how to make a willow whistle (Something I don't think I ever taught my children, and that embarrasses me), a rick-rack out of a wooden spool that was a tool used at Halloween to plague people who didn't "treat", and once he carved a ring with the face of an Indian out of a piece of wood. He just sat there on the porch whittling away as he was talking to us kids, and suddenly there, in his hand was the ring. Somehow, I think he gave it to me, but I don't remember seeing it or playing with it later. I did have, after I got married, a Scout neckerchief slide that looked much like that ring, but I think that I made that slide for a merit badge. Could perhaps be the same thing, and it has either been lost or I gave it to one of my kids, because I don't have it anymore. He also made a gizmo that I can't even clearly explain. It was made out of a wooden spool, and by putting several pieces of string in one end, then working the string over match sticks (I think) you could produce a soft, hollow continuous fabric tube out of the spool. I am not sure why, or why I thought it was so neat that he made this and taught me how to use it, but he did, and I did. I wish I remembered exactly how to do it.

The clearest memory of Aunt Emma is of food. She made peach preserves that were unique. The preserves were a really dark color, probably with cinnamon in them, and great whole cloves, and I thought they were better than Grandma's, better than my mother's, better than ANYBODY's. She made us sandwiches, sometimes, if we were really lucky, out of home made bread, and she coated one slice with a layer of her homemade apple butter (which is worth a paragraph in its own right) something like modern kids use peanut butter. Then she put on peach preserves. On the other slice, just butter, then she put them together to create a sandwich that was like no other. I have tried to duplicate that sandwich many times with products I made, things my mother and grandmother made, but no one on earth ever made a sandwich quite like Aunt Emma.

Grandpa Johnson
My grandma and Grandpa Johnson (my father’s parents) lived quite near there, on Lander Street, 1226 East Lander, I believe. I will probably write a lot about Grandma Johnson if I ever finish this, but I am now writing about memories that shift in and out, and seem deal with the time when I was very young. Grandpa Johnson is one of those memories. I don't really remember him very well except that, to a little boy, he seemed very tall, and I seem to remember white hair and that he bounced me on his foot and sang (Swedish spelling not guaranteed) LUNKEN EFTER VATEN, LUNKEN EFTER VATEN, HOOOCHIE HOOCHIE, LUNKEN TA HEM, LUNKEN TA HEM, SKOOTAVESTET, SKOOTAVESTET. My father also did this to me and his translation was "run after water, run after water, draw it up (from the well) draw it up. Run home again, run home again, Jump up the steps, Jump up the steps."
The most significant memory of my Grandpa Johnson is that his death was the first memory I have of the reality of death. I don't remember how old I was, but I vividly remember going to his funeral, seeing the flowers, and seeing my father cry, and being shocked that a father would cry (No one who knows me would ever be shocked by tears. I run like a leaky faucet.) I really think that I was so young that the memory of bouncing on his foot may have been told to me, and made real by the fact that my dad did that same thing to me.

(to be continued, if it is not a repeat._

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Small victories and gentle joys

Small victories and gentle joy.

I haven’t posted much since my return from Washington. I have stared at the computer, raged in the comment sections of a couple of blogs (my resolution to avoid politics doesn’t include the comment section of other blogs), played a lot of spider solitaire, and wondered.--- It isn’t that I don’t have things going on in my life, or that I have become dispassionate about the world, but I think I have been going into a “so what?” mode. What do I really have to say that is of value? I don’t mind writing a little blither now and then, it is fun, but I really would like to write about things of value. After all, what’s in this blog may be read by twenty or thirty folks (I read one blog the other day that had 79000 hits in a one day period—I bet that My Spaces had to update the server he was on), but my real audience will ultimately be my family – my children (most of whom check in every once in awhile) – my brother and sisters (though I keep sending them my blog URL, and I think they already know me so well, that if they do read it, they will quickly write in to correct my memories), my grandchildren- who knows.

I was invited to a meeting of the local community theatre (the ones who got me involved in the Scrooge business back in December) last evening. I didn’t read the invitation as carefully as I might, it had arrived during my visit to Washington and it took awhile to rise to the top the antique mail pile. As a result I arrived a little dirty and underdressed. It was a fairly formal occasion with a few ties, coats etc., in evidence, and (though I washed my hands and face, and behind my ears) I had spent most of the day puttering in my yard, and it showed.

I was glad I went. They presented me with a nice certificate of appreciation and a little trophy (mostly for surviving a Christmas Carol and remembering most of my lines for most of the performances). Getting there late, I missed most of the gnosh. I did get away with a couple of grapes and a cup of diet Coke. None of those things were elements of real value, but I did experience some real value that I wanted to share with “my readers”.

One of my old friends was there. She is a lady whose children used to be in my classes, and who acted brilliantly in the local community theatre ( this was not the same group, but one of it predecessors that went out of business almost twenty years ago) and who performed in some of the college plays when auditions were opened to the community. She is a wonderful lady whose energy, enthusiasm and talent was a big aid to every group who was blessed by her presence. The last time I had seen her was over a year ago, at the retirement celebration for one of my former colleagues in the University Theatre. I hadn’t seen her for a long time before that occasion so I quickly went to chat with her, and when I asked her what theatre activities she was involved in, she burst into tears.
“It is so difficult to even think about theatre when I have spent my life as a dancer and actor, and now, I can’t even walk without assistance.” I discovered that she had been diagnosed with polymotor peripheral neuropathy, that she could hardly walk, that she had been forbidden to drive and that she was taking some really powerful drugs (prednisone, an immunosuppressive, Neurontin which is an anti epileptic drug which I had taken for two years until I had so many psychoactive responses to it that I begged off from it and some others that I don’t remember.) Of course I was interested because I was first diagnosed with a polymotor peripheral neuropathy in 1991, and I recognized her feelings. When they first tried to find treatment for me, I became so ill that my brother and sister, convinced that I was at death’s door (I also suspected such a thing) had flown out from the west to see me, in case I didn’t last longer.

I found that she and I had found the same Doctor (he was about my third neurologist) and I reassured her that he was once of the best. I tried to make her feel better by pointing out that, except for walking problems which still exist, (sometime I have a duck walk that is really embarrassing) I was still around, only had to use a cane when I was tired, I was still alive, functioning, and getting a lot out of life. I’m afraid I wasn’t much help, and soon her two daughters (both of which had acted for me many times as well) lifted her to her feet, and walked her out.

When I came into this meeting she was sitting with her daughter (she still wasn’t allowed to drive- - Numb feet are a problem when you can’t feel the pedals) but she was bright eyed and alert, and jumped (a slight exaggeration) to her feet to wave at me. When I talked to her, she had worked on a couple of the plays this spring, was energetic, and walking (with a little help from her daughter, but without a cane). It was a thrill to see that the flash in her eyes had returned. What was particularly thrilling to me was her comment that she had seen my performance in A Christmas Carol the first week in December, and she saw how many physical things I did in the performance (I was a little surprised too, and my wife was astonished), and she determined that if I could do things she could too, and that my performance was one of the things that had lifted her up.

I never would have guessed that what I did could have had that kind of effect on anyone.
Sometimes things have value that we never would guess at the time. I’ve been blessed.

Monday, May 08, 2006

I have sworn not to get back into politics, but ExMI provided information that we all should know (and it would eliminate a lot of blither along the web. (also I figured out how to do an internal link- - of course I will not remember how I did it in an hour or so- - back to three score and ten.)
Someone should care, maybe not you....: The Law of Land Warfare

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Visiting children and grandchildren

I have mentioned how I came to be in the state of Washington right now. The trip has triggered some “three score and ten” reflections:

Airports and airlines are not designed for the aged and infirm. That is not to say that some airports don’t make a real effort to make it easier on the old and infirm. Wheel chairs can be arranged to meet the plane. Shuttles are on hand and easy to arrange, and if you are broke, you can even get away with stiffing the driver/wheelchair pusher. Sometimes being in a wheelchair can be a real asset. I remember one occasion when we (Janet, myself, one daughter, one son and daughter-in-law and four kids) had to change planes at London-Heathrow, when, if I hadn’t been in a wheelchair, we never would have made the flight. The driver bypassed checkpoints and rolled through others (with the crowd following him) and we barely made the plane. If we had stopped at all the stopping points, and not taken short cuts we might still be sitting there in Heathrow.

Having said that, some things remain.. Elderly kidneys and bladders do not function the same in old folks as they do in the non-coot world, and restrooms are always placed just out of reach of a shuffling old coot (or cootess). I am always in awe at whatever air-freshener is used to keep airports from smelling like old movie houses on forty second street in Manhattan. (If the old movie house metaphor is beyond your memory, just envision a thousand people urinating in a closed building twice every three hours for ten years—joined to other fragrances that I will not describe, in sympathy with the softer sensitivities of some readers). One of my chief ambitions in life is to get from (any) here to (any) there by air without either wetting my pants or feeling, for hours, that I am about to do so. (This is NOT one of the great feelings to anticipate.)

I have yet to figure out what intense pleasure the “crossing guards” (I know that’s not the proper term, but they are so much like the crossing guards of my childhood that it seems appropriate) get from trying to intimidate old folks, especially old folks with joint replacements and man-made interior hardware. My poor wife’s replacement knees seem to create very nearly the level of hysteria that would rise from crates of plastic explosives.)

Waiting areas are always organized so that the TV is just almost loud enough to hear or blurry enough that one can’t read the captions. ( Of course, new spectacles might help.) Additionally the “guard your baggage” rule means that when coots and cootesses travel together, one or the other is always sitting in an uncomfortable chair bouncing up and down in desperation waiting for the other one to come back from the facility (see above).

Entering the plane is a particular pain, because, in spite of so-called modern sensitivity, the extra time it takes for the coot group to get bags into the overhead or under the seats and getting themselves into the seats ALWAYS results in someone saying in a not so “sote” sote voce “What is holding everything up? I can’t stand here forever!”, or some similar thing.

After the flight is over and you have had the joy of seeing kids and grandkids, you are immediately reminded that the very nicest grandchildren in the world have periodic if not frequent “Eddie Haskell” moments (If you are unfamiliar with Eddie Haskell, you are too young to be allowed at the computer by yourself or you should google “Eddie Haskell”).

What is particularly disconcerting is when you see them with their peers EXCHANGING Eddie Haskell moments. That seems impossible, but it isn’t.

I have had a WONDERFUL two weeks in Washington but already am thinking wistfully about watching the news without depriving someone youthful of Dora the Explorer and sinking softly into my own king size(pre-heated) waterbed and sloshing from side to side. Another wistful thought has to do with getting back to my own computer, which, with all its flaws, has flaws with which I am familiar.

Well we leave for PDX in a couple of hours to get ready for the red-eye flight to Jacksonville, FLA. Hope to sleep most of the way, but something tells me there is a secret sadist out there in the air-stream ready to meet me.