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Three score and ten or more

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Don't get really ticked off much anymore, but a telephone jerk ticked me off today. Phone rings.
Me: "hello". Stranger asks me if I would be willing to participate in a telephone poll about local and state politics. "I have about seven questions, and this will take about five minutes. Can you help me?" I am a sucker for politcal polls. Used to do them once in awhile for the Cranston Republican club up in Cranston, Rhode Island.. "Sure." says I.

First question: "If the primary election were held today, would you vote for Casey Cagel or Ralph Reed for lieutenant Governor?" I hemmed and hawed a bit for though devout Republican that I am, I and not very fond of either of the above, but, I gave him a name.

Second question: In age group, would you identify yourself as 18-25, 25-35, 35-45, 45-55 or over fifty five?

Me, "Over fifty five."

CLICK, the sucker hangs up on me. I didn't call and ask for his time, he called me, and he wiped me out of whatever stupid poll he was conduction because I am over 55. I am over 55, and the only time I have missed voting since my 21st birthday (that was voting age back then) was one year when I was living in Finland and my absentee ballot didn't arrive on time, but because I am over fifty five, I am unworthy of his damnable poll. I wish I knew what candidate he was working for so I could vote against the creep. I think I must have been anticipating this bird when I didn't send a check this year when Senator Mrs. Dole sent me her polite request (for the party, not for her, and for somereason I was not in the mood)
mailto:$#@&*###*&?%$. Take that you punk.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Boston Butt Picture
Blogger (as usual) hates me and wouldn't let me put this picture in my lat post so I am sticking it in here.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

More funeral stuff

More funeral stuff.

I don’t know why I said “more”, since I haven’t finished my report on the funeral of my wife’s uncle in Idaho, but, just reading the obituaries I found another friend gone, though we were not as close to her as we have been to her children and grandchildren. Her daughter was a very good friend, and three of her grandchildren were almost like adopted kids. My wife established the program for the “gifted and talented” in Effingham County , GA, and began as an itinerant teacher working with middle school children. As the program developed she narrowed her personal focus to fewer schools each year (other teachers took up the slack), and ended up teaching A/P English in the high school. By the luck of the draw, a couple of my friend’s grandchildren studied with my wife through seven grades (until she shipped the oldest one off to Harvard).. This “viewing” (southern term) was a sad thing as we honored my friend, who had passed away from uterine cancer, but it was also a joyous reunion with folks who had grown up and moved away, and had children, and who had gradually become memories on Christmas Cards. As some of us began to exchange thoughts we more or less came to the conclusion that the folks in our church congregation and the congregation forty miles south where my friend had spent her last months had dropped the ball, each expecting the other to provide the “after funeral meal for the family”. As a result, some of us “picked up the ball and ran”, which means that if we were wrong and nobody dropped the ball in the first place there will now be enough food tomorrow afternoon to feed most of the county.

My contribution is to prepare a “Boston Butt”. I will have to confess that I don’t need much of an excuse to roast pork.. In fact, I decided that as long as I was doing a Boston Butt for the family, I would, at the same time, roast an uncured “front leg” (I can’t remember the term and am too darn lazy to get up and check).

I don’t know how other folks do this, but I know my process and I love it, my family loves it, neighbors who drop in because they smelled it love it. My process (adapted from one I picked up from Susanna Sommers diet cook book for heavens sake) works thus.

Take the piece of pork (Boston Butt or front shank) and score it crosswise top and bottom. Hand rub a bunch (don’t you like precise directions) of extra virgin olive oil into the whole thing. Next, douse with lemon pepper and re-rub it. The next application used to be a proprietary mixture of spices but I have settled for Tone’s spicy Italian seasoning. I rub in about an eighth of a cup (or more, till it looks right) then finish the pre-seasoning with two or three tablespoons of Cajun gunpowder (recipe in the archives of this blog.) Today, on a whim I also rubbed in Fresh Basil and chopped chives, because they were handy. Use a roasting pan that has space on the sides so that dripping is in the pan, not in the oven, and use a rack. Put the piece of meat (In todays case, both of them) in the rack. Preheat the oven to 500%, and when it is hot, put the meat in on a low shelf of the oven. Heat at 500% for one half hour, then lower the heat to 225 (If I have lots of time, sometimes to just over 200) and walk away from it for a couple of hours.

After about two hours at 225, paint the top surface of the meat with your own favorite barbeque sauce (I don’t give out my recipe or brands), then let the thing roast for about 8 to ten hours. (the length of time depends on whether you prfer slices of meat or pulled off strips of meat, resembling what, in this neighborhood, is called pulled barbeque. One of the best parts, on the leg piece which has “real pork skin” is the little diamonds of crispy skin on the top (No relationship to “pork rinds” from a store). Then you work your way down into the meat, slicing, if that’s your thing, or just ripping and rending with a fork (My thing). The addition of more barbeque sauce after it is on the plate is optional.

I should have taken a picture of the things before they went in the oven. I will try to take a picture of the finished goods in the morning.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Terrorism in the USA

Terrorism in the USA

Okay,  I am back from Idaho and Utah and the funeral, and I assume that folks were expecting me to react to the funeral, the trip, etc.  The fact is, I will, and I think (being an absolute egoist) that I have some interesting thoughts, but I am going to start with a piece that I call terrorism in the U.S.A.  Let’s see what you would call it.

We flew from Jacksonville to Salt Lake City, arriving in the city in the evening, so we elected not to try the two-plus hour drive to South Central Idaho.  Instead we bunked in with my sister and her husband who have a beautiful home in Bountiful (Northwest Salt Lake).  We went out to have a snack then settled in to visit (shoot the bull, renew old- - whatever, you know the drill).  It was after four A.M. when the family blither stopped and we sagged off to bed, planning to get up “bright and early” to make the trip to my other sister’s home in the Magic Valley area (Burley, Declo, Heyburn, Twin Falls, Filer, etc.: one of the most fertile valleys in the world).  When we arose (it actually WAS bright and early in the morning) we received a spate of phone calls which made us glad we hadn’t attempted the trip last evening.  The basis story that we received (from my sister and a couple of other sources) was that they had received more excitement that evening than anyone wants, and that we, my wife and I, would have found it less than thrilling.

For the sake of this story, I am going to refer to my sister and her husband as Deedee and Dan Byington.  I don’t think they need their actual names to be spread across the internet (even if my readership HAS been tanking lately). It seems that, late in the afternoon of Wednesday June 7, Deedee received a call from someone whose voice she didn’t recognize.

“Is this the home of Dan and Deedee Byington?”

“Yes, It is” (dialogue is NOT exact, I wasn’t there, but it is as close as I could reconstruct it)

“I’m trying to trace a phone call.  Does Amber Byington live there, or do you know where she lives?”

“No, I’m sorry but I don’t know anyone named Amber Byington”

Long pause.

“ I don’t believe you.  I think you’re lying!” Immediately there came the click  (or cluck) of a phone being slammed down.

Deedee asked Dan if he knew an Amber Byington, to which he responded “No” and after watching a little TV, being farmers who also had to be up bright and early in the morning they retired to bed.  Sometime after midnight, the phone rang, and it was the local sheriff.
“Dan, we have had a 911 call about some stuff happening up on your block, have you seen anything or heard anything?  Is everything alright at your house?”
“No,  haven’t heard a thing, but everything seems fine here.”

“Okay, but if you see or hear anything unusual, give me a call.”

“I’ll do that, Goodnight.”

Dan turned to Deedee who had been awakened by the call and told her what the sheriff had said.  It didn’t occur to them that it could have anything to do with the evening call, but, though  puzzled, they decided to turn out the light and go to sleep.  Just as they turned off the light, the phone rang again.  

It was Dan’s younger brother.  “Dan, do you have any idea what’s going on down the street from you?”

Now curious “No, what is it”

“Well I was coming back from changing my water (irrigation term) and I saw fire engines, EMT, and the swat team all bunched up at the end of your block.”  (A fair distance away, in farm country the blocks are about a mile long in Idaho)

“No, I don’t have any idea, but the sheriff called and said that he thought something was up.”

“ Well, it must be a big something, cause there’s a real crowd down there.”

Dan was puzzled, went to the door and looked down at the corner, but there were no lights, so he went back to Deedee in bed and told her that something was really screwy around there.  Just then, the phone rang again.  

It was Dan’s older brother. “Dan, what in the world is going on.  I just got a call from the sheriff, and he says that he has had a 911 call that you just shot Deedee, and are holed up in the house with an AK47 threatening to shoot anyone who comes around.  He wanted me to tell him what kinds, and how many weapons you have in the house.”

Dan, “Well, I have an old shotgun, but I’m not sure where it is.”

“Dan, you know that’s not what he’s talking about.  Why don’t you give him a call and straighten this out.”

Dan hung up, turned to Deedee, and explained the situation.  Deedee picked up the phone and called the sheriff’s office where she was connected to the dispatcher (who is an old friend)  whom she asked “What is going on?  Something is all messed up around here”

Dispatcher, “Deedee, is that you, are you all right?  I was so upset.”

Deedee, “I’m fine but we have been getting calls that people are all around at the end of the block, with guns, and it’s frightening.  Denver called and said that the sheriff told him that I was dead”

“You’re not?  I’m sorry that was a silly question, but I am so flustered.”

Deedee.  “Could you call the sheriff and tell him that everything is okay here?”

“Why don’t I patch you through and you can tell him yourself?

“Okay”.  So Deedee held on to the phone until the sheriff answered in an appropriately authoritarian tone.

“Sheriff, this is Deedee.  I’m fine, you can let everyone go home now.”

The sheriff replied that it couldn’t be that easy, that they would have to talk to Dan and her in person.  Deedee relayed that word to Dan who  said “Tell the sheriff that we will get dressed on drive down there, he knows the car.  I don’t want guys in camouflage suits with rifles with teeny red lazers shining through our windows.—Don’t tell him that last part.”

Deedee relayed the appropriate response, then she and Dan put on their clothes and drove slowly down to the corner where there appeared to be an army parked with no lights but with a lot of camouflaged folks with machine guns.   When they got close, the sheriff told them (probably through a bull horn, that’s the way they do it on TV) to stop, turn off the car and raise both hands.   They did.

“Now, using only your left hand, open the car door and get out”

So Dan did as he was told until he realized that his seat belt was fastened, so he reached down with his right hand to unfasten the belt, when he and Deedee were both shocked by the loud instant click as all the weapons were raised, locked and loaded (whatever that means).   With their hands in the air, they both stepped gingerly out of the car.  Someone came over to verify that Deedee was indeed Deedee, and Dan was first patted down, then asked to raise his shirt to verify that there was no hidden weapon.  

After the car was searched the sheriff apologized, hoping that Dan understood that they had to take calls seriously, and gradually everyone went home.  It was after four A.M. when they finally got back to bed, where they did very little sleeping.  It was not till the next day that he discovered that men in camouflage with rifles had indeed been looking though his windows before they drove down to meet the sheriff.

Who made the 911 call and was the call tied to the other call in the evening, has not been proved.  The 911 came from a blocked number that just gave out 000 0000.   They are still investigating, but when I left a week later they had no suspects.  I asked Deedee (a high school teacher) who she had failed that term and we laughed (but not really) about the whole thing.

Metropolitan Police who find a man waving a gun, drawing attention to himself often ask if the man is attempting “Suicide by Cop”.  I appeared to me that in a real sense the person who instigated this “prank” my have been guilt of “Attempted Murder by Cop” because the results could have been truly tragic.  I certainly feel that the creep was as much a terrorist and anyone who sets up an IED by the roadside in Iraq.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Death again.
I have a couple of ongoing conversations going in various other forums (I wish I had some going here) and I am leaving for one of the funerals I mentioned a couple of posts ago and won’t be back from Idaho till next Wednesday. If I can get to a computer I will answer questions

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Change of Pace

I just thought I would show you three pictures of Panama City Beach after the Memorial Day Hordes left.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Last of the Mormon Missionary Stories

The Last of the Mormon Missionary Stories

I have been careful not to get theological or to deal with religious issues and spiritual experiences.  I have been trying to deal with the experiences of living and working in a new culture. (and with the culture of twenty-year old men almost anywhere.)  That is not to say that there were not some rather intense missionary experiences.  Missionaries are expected to study, to get up early in the morning, read scriptures, pray, keep their rooms clean, call on the sick, learn the language and keep going for most of the day, every day.   If I had a complaint early in the mission, it was because all the missionaries who came home during my youth told us all about the marvelous friends and the great spiritual experiences of their missions as if that was all there was.  I had some sort of warped idea that the spirit of the Lord was going to sustain me to the stage that everything was going to be EASY and WONDERFUL.   It was a bit of a betrayal to find out that it is just as hard to get up at six o’clock in the morning when you are a missionary as it is when you are a college student (who really tried to avoid this six A.M. thing at all costs.)  When you are living on a pittance food doesn’t rain from the trees, and when you are exhausted at 10:00 P.M. you are just exhausted.  I was shocked to learn that , even  with prayer, missionary work is HARD work.

I will continue on this same path, and this will be the last mission tale for a while.  Tracksy says my readership has dropped into the tank, so I will go back to other stuff.

When I left you at the last episode Elders Pollack, Morrow and Johnson had left our friends from the army  at the dock and we went along home, which was the chapel.  It was an apartment on the second floor of a building that had entrances both from the street and from the piha, or courtyard..  On the ground floor, next to the entrance to the chapel was a Valio, or dairy and bread store.  There was another store on the corner, but I can’t remember what it was.  Upstairs, there were a couple of offices, one of which belonged to one of the members, and at the end of the hall, our “apartment”, the chapel.  I am pretty sure that the chapel had five rooms in addition to bathrooms.  As you entered, on the left was a small room that was used for a classroom.  As you came past that, the chapel proper was straight ahead, and there was a room on the right that was used as a bedroom for the elders.  In the upper right corner was a small kitchen and a bathroom.  From the kitchen, there was a window onto the fire escape into the piha or courtyard.  It was typical that many of the chapels at that time consisted of of the houses and apartments which also served as residences for the local missionaries.  All the rooms but the bath  were used as classrooms on Sunday with two classes, one at each end, in the chapel proper.  The beds for the elders were actually cots, which, covered with a bed spread were used as benches for the Sunday School classes.  Elder Morrow used to jokingly (????) complain that he was sure that there were people who sat on his bed every Sunday and broke wind so badly that he could smell it for days.   I’m sure that there were closets, but I can’t remember where they were.  I think that there was a table in the “residence” room which we used as a desk, and as a dinner table.  There was (I think) a water heater on the wall in the kitchen into which you put coins if you wanted hot bath/shower water or dishwater.  One advantage (or disadvantage) of living in the chapel was that you couldn’t leave your clothes lying around or on the floor or some member would sit on them or use them to erase the chalk board
In the bath-room were typical accessories.  What I remember most vividly was that the toilet tank was mounted about five feet up on the wall, with a long pipe leading to the connector.  One flushed it by pulling an overhead chain.  

There were also at least two missionary sisters who worked in Turku, who must have had rooms elsewhere, but I don’t remember where. When I arrived, the sisters were Leah Antsola, and a Sister White.  Sister A. was a native Finn, the sister of Irmeli, who had so strongly “gotten” my attention in Helsinki.  She was a very pleasant looking lady with mousy blondish hair, but not at all striking like her sister.  I quickly learned to depend on Sister Antsola to translate my talks into Finnish, to help me understand the scriptures in Finnish, and for almost anything else that was important.  She was intelligent, diplomatic, very fluent in both Finnish and English (I later learned that she had been one of the translators for the hymn book, along with Sister Patjas) and seemed to know how to cool everyone’s tempers. She also had a wonderful disarming sense of humor.  Her companion was (I think) a Sister White.  If  I remember correctly Sister White was energetic, tall and a bit overweight, with black hair and a braying loud laugh (I hope she never reads this.)  I seem to remember that her Finnish wasn’t too good, but at the time, mine wasn’t either, so who was I to complain. Somewhere along the line, before I left, Turku, Sister Willow Wagstaff was in town.  I really don’t know if she was there with a companion when I arrived (If she was, I think she was with a Sister Huhta,)  Sister Wagstaff was unique.   She was so much like most of the girls I knew in the theatre, sort of a pre-beatnik with long red hair and a mind that was sharp as a tack but seemed to drift.   I don’t know if it were she, or the girls like her at home, but if she wasn’t a vegetarian, she should have been, and I think she espoused every “social justice and equality” impulse of the day.

Our District President (who served both as District President for the members and as what would now be called Zone Leader for the Missionaries) was Elder Gibb, and he seemed to be really on top of everything.  I went out with him to see some inactive members my first Sunday in town and was truly impressed.  He must have had a companion, but I don’t remember who.  The members, as a group were outstanding in most ways.  I remember a few families particularly well, though I won’t discuss them here.  It really bothers me that I can’t remember the name of our Relief Society President.  She was a really intelligent impressive small lady with grey hair.  She was a Sauna Lady, and frequently expressed her frustration that the elders never came to patronize her sauna, but we discussed it, and as a group decided that once she saw the elders naked, she would never look at them with the same respect again. Actually, in retrospect, I don’t think it would have bothered her, and she would have quit complaining that we never came around.  She was a professional, did her job well, and I don’t think anything would have fazed her.

One family I will mention because they were part of an experience that was really precious to me.  The Heinonens were a lovely elderly couple who were very poor.  They both had tuberculosis, and were in generally shaky health.  One of my most lovely memories from Turku was an occasion when Elder Pollack and I were asked to come administer to them.  (We believe in anointing with oil, and blessing the sick).  When we arrived, sister Heinonen had prepared a really wonderful pea soup with ham, and insisted that  we have dinner with them.  We had major guilt feelings about taking their food, when we knew how little they actually had, and we both felt strange about eating the food that was prepared by someone with tuberculosis.  I almost felt that I could taste every germ going down.  In spite of all that it was a lovely visit, which we concluded by giving blessings to both of them.  It was really the first time in my life I remember feeling that the Lord dictated the words of my blessing, and the spirit was so strong that by the time we left, we were all in tears.

While Elder Morrow was with us, we had some really strange experiences “tracting” (the Mormon term for door to door proselyting) as a trio.  Occasionally either Elder Morrow or I would stay home, but usually we all went together.  One of the strangest experiences was when we were invited into a house where Elder Pollock began the first discussion.  As he spoke, doors opened along the wall, and attractive women came in one at a time till there were thirteen or fourteen women sitting, on chairs and on the floor, listening to Elder Pollock.  When it was over, one of us said a closing prayer and we began a wholesale handing out of tracts, two or three to each.  Then they came up and one by one they hugged us and sent us on our way, promising to attend church on Sunday.  It wasn’t till we were outside, and discussed the meeting between us that we came to the conclusion that we had just left a house of prostitution.  We spent some thoughtful time wondering if some of them would really show up to church, but they didn’t, and when we went back for our second discussion a lady met us at the door, and suggested that we were wasting our time.

Sometimes we would be out tracting when some lady would come to the door and see the three of us.  The eyes would widen in fear, and the door would slam shut.  I think some of them had seem enough James Cagney movies to feel the Godfather effect.  On another occasion, I was sitting on the couch, not understanding much of what was said, when a little boy, four or five years old came over to visit with me.  I knew a couple of slight of hand magic tricks, so I took a coin out of his ear, cut a piece of thread in half and ‘chewed’ it back together etc.  As a conclusion I did a trick where I appeared to separate one half of my thumb from the other half, and he had hysterics, screaming, pointing at me, and finally throwing up on the floor (thankfully not on me).  Suffice it to say that was my last adventure with magic tricks.

Elder Morrow left in November.  He was tranferred to Nokia, which was regarded by most elders as the armpit of the mission.  (Never having been there, I couldn’t judge).  Nokia had an enormous rubber tire factory there (called Nokia - big surprise) and it was heavily unionized, and the scuttlebutt was that the unions were so strongly Communist, that it was very hard to work there.  With that kind of scuttlebutt, everybody teased Morrow unmercifully till the day he left.  Of course Nokia is now known world wide as a great maker of cell phones.  I assume that the labor situation is changed.  At the time of my mission Finland was a very poor country (which made it really inexpensive for missionaries.)   According to the Helsingin Sanomat, the Helsinki newspaper, Finland  is very rich and is officially the most expensive country in the European Union.

We did have an adventure in Turku which infuriated the Missionary Sisters, especially Sister Antsola.  We noticed that pigeons were frequenting the fire escape outside the kitchen window.  On a whim, we decided to encourage their visits with dried crusts of bread.  We then set a trap on the fire escape (I doubt that it was anything sophisticated, probably a box propped up with a stick, and a string to remove the stick, I really can’t remember clearly) and we caught five or six pigeons.  We then cleaned them, gutted them and cooked them. (You have never seen anything filthier than a Finnish down-town pigeon; lice, dirt everything you could imagine on the surface.).  They were- - - - edible (We implied, without literally lying, that they wore wonderful.)  The meat was all dark meat with a fairly gamey taste. I think some other elders were visiting us, but however many elders we had eating them, we didn’t finish all the meat, and no one went back to eat the leftovers.  They were inexpensive though, and we were poor.  When we told the sisters, Sister Antsola was really angry and revolted, (and somewhat disbelieving, I think she would have been less surprised if we had eaten rats.)  Her companion didn’t say much, but I think she was a little put out that she wasn’t invited.

Trips to stores have a habit of being difficult and embarrassing when you are a green elder.  This is especially true if one asks a companion for help.  Soon after my arrival in Turku I was  given the task of buying milk.  The Valio (milk and bread) store was on the ground floor of the building,  right at the bottom of the stairs.  At that time in Finland, bottles and cartons of milk were essentially unknown.  The process of buying milk included getting a small milk bucket with a lid (provided in this case by previous elders), taking that bucket to a milk store and asking for milk.  The clerk (almost always female) would dip a one liter dipper into a big milk can and take out as many liters as you asked for (or as your bucket would hold)..  It came my turn to buy milk, so I was given the bucket and told to go downstairs and get it filled. (I should have been suspicious when both companions and the district president (our supervisor) and his companion schlepped downstairs to give me encouragement).  As we entered the store I asked Elder Pollock for a refresher on what to say.  “Olkaa hyvaa” (please) saanko teista   (May I receive from you -using the polite or plural ‘te’ rather than the familiar sina) kaksi litra maitoa (two liters of milk).”  I dutifully made the request as explained to me.  Almost as I began to talk the clerk began to giggle and was in full, blushing, hysterics by the time I finished the sentence, as were both of the other clerks whose attention seemed to be drawn to me.  

I turned to the escorting elders to see what was wrong, and they were collapsed upon each other hysterically giggling and pointing at me.  Nonplused, I asked the elders what was going on, so that they explained that I had used the “sta”(from) ending on “te”(plural or formal you) rather than the “lta” (from) ending.  “sta” means from within while “lta” means from outside of.  What I had functionally done was ask the clerks for milk from within (obviously from their breasts) or in other words I had asked them to “milk” themselves for my two liters of milk.  Blushing furiously I snatched the empty bucket and stormed back upstairs.  It was a “set-up” and I was humiliated.  It wasn’t till some time later that I realized how much of a “set -up” it was when I remembered that the clerk started to laugh almost as soon as I stated talking, so it was obviously not the first time a green elder had been drawn into the trap.  I can testify from experience that it was not the last time, either.

One interesting and kind of sad thing happened just before I left Turku.  Elder Cushing (who was the Billy Cushing that got me all confused my first day) was sent home for his health.  After treatment, instead of returning to Finland, he was to be transferred to the western states mission in Denver.  I don’t remember what was wrong with his health, (Kidney problems I think).  He was really depressed about it because he had just reached the stage where he was really fluent in Finnish and was able to work, and he was going back to the states.  He said it felt as if the first part of his mission had been wasted. (The part where he didn’t know enough Finnish to function).

He came to Turku to leave on the boat, our new Mission President and some folks from Helsinki came down to see him off.  Several members came to the boat as well and sang “God Be With You Till We Meet Again”.  It was a little teary.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

The New Adventures in Finland

As I mentioned, I have already told the story of my almost immediate introduction to the Finnish Sauna. When I arrived in Finland, I had never heard a Finnish word. That ended at the sauna. On that Saturday, after sauna, I got my trunk from the shipping company, went on a retki (hike) and, with the other elders, played softball, volleyball, and touch football and we all went to a movie that evening. I was bushed by sleep time, and hadn’t done anything I expected to do as a missionary.

The following day, which was Sunday, I had nine hours of meetings, gave my first sermon in Finnish (I wrote it in English, and it was translated by one of the local members. Thank goodness for a phonetically spelled language), sang Old Man River at a fireside (an evening meeting for the youth, which included ice cream) and realized what it is like to not understand anything that is said to you, or that happens around you.

The next day, I had a long interview with the Mission President, worked for a while in the office with an Elder Fuller who was mission clerk, and then one of the other early experiences was to be taken proselyting by one of the elders stationed in the Mission home. My first adventure was with Elder J. Neil Burch (or Birch, I am not sure which, I spelled it both ways in my journal), who was one of the kindest sweetest souls I have ever met. We went door to door for awhile then Elder Burch had two return meeting with people who had been “found” before. One meeting was a “second”, the other with an investigator who was obviously an “old hand” and had been taught many times before.

A number of things came to my attention at that time. I have always had an easy time speaking before audiences, acting, performing, etc., but meeting new people and interacting in small groups has been its own minor form of hell. I found that, when I didn’t speak the language, had no idea what was going on, and was more or less serving as a doorstop for the meetings, the fear was gone. I was also interested that the door approaches were obviously not the assertive type that we had been taught in the Mission Home. They were much more circumspect and the lesson was (I think) from an old teaching plan called the Anderson Plan. I asked Elder Burch about the new door approaches (“We are church representatives”) that we had been taught in the Mission home and he assured me that such would never work in Finland, that the Finns did not appreciate anything that seemed to be “high pressure”, and that the old plans would work best here.

Probably the silliest memory of the mission home derives from the fact that the word for brother, in Finnish, is Veli. Now the word for Elder is Vanhin, which also just means “old”, so most missionaries were called Veli, or brother, rather than Vanhin or “old” in everyday conversation. This was true whether one was speaking English or Finnish so Elder Burch was Veli Burch, Elder John Cushing who was also around in Helsinki was Veli Cushing, etc. After a full day of “Veli”s, which my untrained ear interpreted as the English name Billy, I asked Elder Cushing that evening if everyone named “Billy” had been transferred to Helsinki or if it was just a coincidence that every Elder I had met that day was named “Billy”. He turned blank for a second, and asked me to repeat myself. I mentioned “Billy” Burch, “Billy Gibbs”, Billy Cushing, and others. When he understood, he not only roared in laughter, but called all the other elders from the mission office to hear him explain the difference between Billy and Veli. Everyone had a fine old laugh at me.

During the next three days, I had two Finnish lessons from a sister Seija Patjas, who had to be one of the smartest people I have every met, I am not sure in how many languages she was fluent, but she was surrounded in texts that were in German, Russian, English, Swedish, and probably some others. I also met a couple of Elders from the Swedish district (Finland has two official languages, Finnish and Swedish, and several towns in the coastal area were primarily Swedish, so the Elders who were stationed there learned Swedish instead of Finnish) as well as a brother Manwaring and his friend who were soldiers stationed in Germany. They (or at least one of them) were returned missionaries from a stateside mission. I also got to go out with Elder Burch and have follow up visits to some of the people we had met while the previous day. On my last evening in Helsinki before being shipped to Turku (which is where I arrived in Finland at first) I went to NVK (MIA the youth Mutual Improvement Association) where some Finnish sisters did a play. It was very impressive. One of the roles was played by a Sister Irmeli Antsola, who was not only a good actress, but absolutely, strikingly, beautiful. I was a little in awe, and formed the first of several crushes on Finnish sisters, none of which had any long range effect.

I left the next morning for Turku, which was to be my new assignment. The soldiers from Germany, Manwaring and Russell traveled with me. The trip was quite an experience on the train. As a carry-over from the second world war, the Soviets retained a section of southern Finland and equipped it to be a naval base (somewhat like the American base at Guantanamo in Cuba). The railroad line apparently crosses the base, so when we got to the perimeter, the train stopped and soldiers came up to fasten metal shutters on all the windows so that you couldn’t see out. Then armed soldiers (I was not, at that time, sure whether they were Russian or Finnish) entered the train and stood at both ends of each car. I don’t remember how long we traveled across “Soviet” territory, but it was quite a while. At the other border, the guards stepped off the train, removed the shutters and we went on our merry way. The train cars were unfamiliar to Americans. There were no separate seats. All the seats were like poorly padded church pews that seated about three average people or two people if the people were a little bulky, like yours truly.

I was met at the train station by the missionaries with whom I was to serve, Elders Pollack and Morrow. Elder Pollock was the senior companion, and experienced missionary who had spent a lot of his mission as Mission Clerk. He was older than most missionaries. I am not sure, but I think he said he was thirty-three. He was a relatively recent convert to the church and was a CPA from North or South Carolina. He was not very tall, very dark complexioned, and dressed in a charcoal three piece suit with a black homburg hat. He looked very formal. Elder Morrow was a total contrast. He wore a tannish cloth raincoat, and his hat was narrow brimmed and flat on top. He had the face of a boxer who had been in several bouts with guys bigger than him. On the other hand, I doubt that there were an awful lot of guys around who were a lot bigger than him. He was about six two, but very compact and muscular. I would guess that he weighed close to two hundred pounds with no fat at all.. When I first saw them, I chuckled at the thought that they looked like a Mafia Don and his bodyguard. I was wearing my trenchcoat because it was too heavy to pack easily, and had my snap brim fedora on my head. I chuckled again when I saw the three of us reflected in a window. It looked like the Mafia guy had picked up another bodyguard.

Manwaring and Russell went to the dock where they were going to take the ferry back to Sweden. The “mafia don” and his “bodyguards” headed for the apartment which served both as a meeting place and a residence for the elders. Mormon missionaries usually travel twos, but this was right at the end of the Korean war. Most of the missionaries who were in the country at the time were either Canadian or were men who were otherwise not available to the service. The numbers were very small, and so, as they added new missionaries one “training elder” was frequently given two companions until one or the other could progress far enough in language etc. to break the number down to pairs. Elder Pollack was older, elder Morrow had just come home from Korea a few months ago.

To come: some of the experiences of naïve guys in a new culture and country.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Panama City Number 2

Panama City Number 2.

The face of Panama City Beach has radically changed in the past ten plus years.  I told you in the previous post what it was like twenty years ago.  It is no longer the same.  It still has one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world, and some of the clearest azure and emerald water that anyone could imagine.   Many of the beautiful resorts have been replaced, not by more beautiful but by bigger.  

When I first saw the Ocean Towers resort, the reason for the name was obvious.  The two seven-story buildings were visible for miles.   They are now surrounded by fifteen condo buildings over fourteen stories tall, and are visible only if you are within a couple of hundred yards.  From a distance, Front Beach Drive resembles nothing so much as the pictures that used to be seen on television news of the high rise “vertical slum” urban renewal projects in Chicago and other  big cities.  Yesterday, Sunday, the traffic was almost unbelievable.  I spent thirty one minutes in stop and go to clear one stoplight near Wal Mart.  There are cranes and building starts everywhere, and almost every single family house within two miles of the beach is for sale.  To say that the beach was crowded is a silly understatement.  From our place on the sixth floor, the beach in the afternoon looked almost like the line into the stadium for the Super Bowl (It was the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, so crowds were inevitable.).  

The results of this growth are mixed.  There is a part of me that thinks that a lot of investors in these massive buildings are inevitably going to go broke, if only because, in spite of the built in parking garages in each building, the (mostly two or three lane) streets  in the city will soon become virtual parking lots with no one moving.  The crowds would seem to insure that every business would be booming, but many of the smaller businesses have closed (I suspect that higher taxes may be a factor).  On the other hand, it would appear that the value of my time share has substantially increased.  This is something that almost never happens.  To help understand this, I have to return briefly to the time share business.

There are a few large companies who deal in time share real-estate.  They include massive hotel chains like Marriot and others, and some, also massive, companies that specialize in time share.  These include Spinnaker, Resorts Development International or RDI, Blue- Green, Weston, Sunterra, and two or three smaller groups.  Some of these instigate the building of resorts and through subordinate groups control construction, then using another subgroup, the sales, then after  sales are complete they have management groups to control rentals, check in, maintenance, etc.   Ocean Towers, when we bought our unit was being sold and managed by RDI.  RDI sent out messages to owners offering financial rewards for referrals etc.  I don’t know whether it was through sale of interest, or by offices of the condominium board, but after a few years RDI was replaced by Blue-Green.  After only a few years of Blue-Green affiliation the condominium governing board at Ocean Tower “fired” the management company.  I don’t know all the details but I know that part of it had to do with the percentage of income that was kept by the Management Company.  Whatever was the process, I found it pleasant because when all other maintenance fees (I own more time share property than any sane man) were increasing, the fees at Ocean Towers actually fell.  We no longer had a big company doing stuff but the elected condominium board actually took control.of every aspect except exchanges (exchanging resorts is one of the good things about time share though, with the purchase of RCI, the largest exchange company by Cendant (Several hotel and motel chains as well as Avis car rental etc.), the cost and convenience of exchange has become a little scary.  One result is that resales at Ocean Towers have been handled by the condo board itself.  Some of the units and weeks were for sale at that time for as little as 600 to 2000 dollars.  Since the overbuilding of Panama City, units that would have sold for a couple of thousand bucks are now on sale for ten and twelve thousand.  And seem to be selling.

(continued) Next Day.  Today is Tuesday and the Memorial Day crowd has left, and the traffic has gone from insane to simply a little crowded.  The beach below our window looks like a normal tourist beach, so  I am now looking forward to a relaxing remainder of the week.

Friday, June 02, 2006

I have been thinking about death

I have been thinking about death this evening.
Here I am, feeling a little maudlin, a little resentful, a lot sentimental, and really mixed up emotionally. It is not that I am planning on dying in the morning. All things considered, I am doing all right for an old coot who is creeping further and further past the three score and ten that the scriptures allot us.

On the other hand, I keep reading the obituaries and finding friends there. The worst thing about the obituaries though, is that, almost without exception, the friends that I find there are friends that I haven’t seen in months, even years. The older I get, even if I travel quite a lot and try to stay active in a variety of things, the narrower my world seems to get. I have been attending meetings of the local community theatre, acting a little, and talking about directing a play, but I am having trouble committing to that, because, as I spend more time there, the narrower my field of “vision” seems to get.

In the weeks before we left for Panama City Beach, one of my mother’s sisters passed away. She was in her nineties and was a sweet lady. I did not interrupt my schedule to fly out for the funeral. I hadn’t seen her in about ten years (do you see a pattern developing here?). The last time I saw her was at a family gathering when we were sitting together talking about inconsequential things when suddenly she gripped my right hand in both of her hands and said, as she squoze tears through suddenly closed eyes, “Your children are not supposed to die before you do”. I had known, but not thought for a long time about the fact that her two daughters, (One of whom was particularly close to me, almost more like a sister than a cousin) and some of her grandchildren had already passed away. There was a long pause, then suddenly Aunt Ruth’s attention returned to whatever unimportant thing we had been blithering about. When My sister called to inform me that this dear soul seemed to be on her deathbed, this scene from so many years ago flashed before my eyes, and I had a hard time really feeling sad. I think she was probably eager to follow, locate, and embrace her husband, children and grandchildren. When the call came that she had passed, and that the funeral was imminent I thought of this again, and, in fact, for some reason have dwelt on it a good deal.

Almost simultaneous with the news about my aunt came a call from Janet’s family. Her Uncle Clif had just been diagnosed with cancer. He has been ill for a long time, and wheelchair bound for about a decade and a half. He spent much of World War II in and around the Philippines, and not long after he returned home he began to have problems walking. He was diagnosed variously as having caught Tularemia overseas, as having Multiple Schlerosis, Muscular dystrophy and a variety of other things. Through all this, he worked ferociously hard, married a lady who had two sons and then had children “of his own” (The boys were of his own, as well, but in a different way). Janet had spent much of a couple of years, just a little while ago, badgering him into verbalizing many of his experiences, then she, using his tapes, wrote his biography, included in it pictures and documents of his youth, and she feels very close to him. Having another illness attack him was distressing, especially when she heard from relatives that he was denying it, and refusing some treatment. Last night, when we got home from Panama City Beach there was a message on the answering machine that he had fallen into a coma, then, this morning she was informed that he too had died.

Combine that with the word given us at the Time Share Condominium. The manager took us aside and said, “We have lost quite a few owners this year”, then clarified the reason for saying so by pointing out that if we willed this timeshare condo to one of our children, the will would have to be probated in Florida as well as Georgia, and it would probably cost over a thousand dollars, so they were recommending to “those of us who were a little ‘senior’ that if we wished to leave the time share to a child, it would be a good idea to make the child a co-owner now, while we were living so that we could avoid a Florida probate.

Anyway, I have been thinking a lot about death. I guess when you reach coothood it is a logical thing. It is obvious that death can come at any age, and I confess that for most of my years I didn’t think about it at all or I might not have done some of the really dumb things I have done, and survived. I probably am going to keep on telling stories about some of those dumb things, as well as contemplating in writing some of the things that come to mind, especially about the way your world can narrow as you age. But that’s enough for tonight.

Panama City Beach
May 28, 2006

This won’t be posted till next week, the post on Mormon Missionaries that would have come next was posted last fall as A NOVICE IS FIRST INTRODUCED TO THE FINNISH SAUNA, and I felt an urge to keep up some conversation, if only with myself. As I noted in my last post, we are now using one of the time-shares that I have written about. The time share at Ocean Towers at Panama City beach in Florida was the second one that we purchased. The first was one on Hilton Head Island which we bought because it was cheap, and because some friends had purchased one, and if we would go with them to spend time (free) and listen to a sales pitch, they received a year of condo payment free. We did it, bought a unit (for the same week in the year they had one) and we went to Hilton Head as two families at the same time for a number of years. It was fun.

I mentioned in my previous post on time shares, that once you buy one, you join one of the worlds most active sucker lists, and you will hear from someone relating to time-share at least once a month for the most of the rest of your life. I suppose there is a way to get your self off this list but I haven’t found it.

The sucker list was a lot more fun a few years ago. It was common to receive a phone call offering two or three days at a vacation spot if you would agree to listen to a sales pitch. (Nowadays they offer the same thing for 199.00 and a sales pitch). This was not always profitable for the sellers. On one occasion we took a trip from Georgia to the west (California, I think) stopping on the way four times for two or three days in places like Branson, Missouri etc. We didn’t buy a thing, but had a nice trip.

This time, we were offered a trip to Panama City Beach, in Florida, four days and three nights for nothing but a sales pitch. At the time, we had been married for twenty five or so years, and most of our six children had some kind of commitment, so we went by ourselves almost for the first time since our first child was born. We stayed in a big Holiday Inn Suite overlooking one of the most beautiful beaches in the world on the crystal clear bright blue and green Gulf of Mexico. We had the most romantic holiday you could imagine. We walked on the beach, played in the surf, made love, splashed in the pool, wandered through the ticky tacky shops on the lee side of Front Beach Drive and fell in love all over again. By the time we got around to watching the sales pitch, I was so mellow that I would have bought a green cheese franchise on the moon.

Fortunately the item for sale was a one bedroom two bath (actually would sleep six) unit with a wonderful Jacuzzi, on the sixth floor overlooking the Gulf and the Beach with no green cheese anywhere to be seen. To the frustration of the sales company I bought the thing with my corporate “Green Card”, which saved me from the interest charged by Time Share Developers (at that time anywhere from thirteen to twenty one percent). I was half surprised when American Express approved it, and would have had a heck of a time explaining that expenditure to the University if I hadn’t been able to quickly get other financing to pay the bill on time. Our time included Memorial Day weekend, so it was an easy unit to exchange or rent, and we didn’t get to use it often for awhile since we were both teachers and Georgia Schools were still in session for Memorial Day.

Panama City Beach was both beautiful and sleazy at that time. The main beach roads are Front Beach Road and Thomas Drive. Both, at that time, had gorgeous elaborate resorts on the beach side of these roads with, what I would call Myrtle Beach operations on the lee or non beach side. There were hundreds of small shops and medium restaurants with tee shirts, air brushing, sharks in aquariums, the odd alligator, sharks teeth, seashells and almost ANYTHING else you could imagine The most prominent National Restaurant chains that were available were fast food joints. With all this, there was a “small” tourist trap feel to it that was nice.

Fun and relatively nice Restaurants were the one at Anderson’s Marina and a big one built as an old ship (called, strangely enough, The Treasure Ship.) Since we have been able to come down here every year (retirement) we have assiduously shopped for restaurants. (It is not hard to guess from looking at me that restaurants are a priority.)
When we travel, we usually try to avoid the national chains (Applebee’s, Sonny’s BarBQ,
Po Folks, Shoneys, Golden Corral,Olive Garden, etc.) and try to eat in places where we find something new and unique to love. Probably the only thing we haven’t been able to find in Panama City Beach is a restaurant that we really love. (probably the closest is one in down-town Panama City called, I think, The Captains Table.) As we went through Panama City coming to the beach this week we passed a “Black Angus” restaurant. Although it seems to be a chain, we hadn’t eaten there before so we determined to cross the bridge coming back to try Black Angus. We did it last night. Big mistake!!!. I ordered a prime rib, Janet some garlic grilled shrimp. The salads were fine, a variety of greens and lettuce, good dressing, and there were a few tasty little dinner rolls. The entrees were a real disappointment. My “prime rib” was an inch thick piece of boneless deli-roast- beef. I could still see the “rind” from the deli packaging around the edge. It had been warmed up nicely, apparently in a microwave, for there was no sign that it had been placed near real fire. Really the best thing I can say about it was that it was tender and it had a nice horseradish sauce. I had eaten a piece of beef in a Ruth’s Crisp Steak House a couple of weeks ago, and probably shouldn’t have eaten something that might compare to it so soon, but deli style roast beef was too far beyond the pale, that afternoon, I walked through the Publix supermarket, and there, in their deli, was the exact cut of meat that I received as Prime Rib at the Black Angus.

I tasted some of Janet’s shrimp, and, probably because I was disgusted with the prime rib, her shrimp tasted “frozen”. I hope it was my imagination, but serving shrimp that isn’t fresh in a restaurant beside the Gulf of Mexico is just too much. At least we succeeded in striking Black Angus from our list of possibles for the future..

More about our Panama City Beach experience tomorrow. (or whenever)