1975: Dinner at The Miller’s

One of the first lessons I learned in life is that nothing’s as bad or good as anticipated, that in life there can be quite a gap between the ideal and reality. Nowhere was that deduction more valid that it was in missionary service. As I started my two-year bicycle penance I imagined that my service would include:

  • Working in tandem with equally motivated companions
  • Spending the bulk of my time teaching truly inquisitive individuals
  • Fitting into each community as a recognized and accepted member of the clergy

Reality was somewhat different as the work routinely involved:

  • Struggling to motivate culturally backward companions on their first experience away from the Intermountain West.
  • Spending many, many more hours knocking on doors than teaching people
  • Surviving the social food chain, spending an inordinate time avoiding dogs while knocking on the aforementioned doors.

It was one-third of the way through my mission that I learned another great life lesson:  Any form of illness seems infinitely more serious when you’re three thousand miles away from the family doctor. Such was the case when I contracted the Port Chalmers strain of the flu shortly after I transferred to Skowhegan, Maine early in the winter of 1975. Getting sick right after the transfer was very disorienting as the move to Maine had been most welcome – after eight months in Lynn, Massachusetts life in an urban area had worn thin and I was eagerly anticipating both a change of scenery and an opportunity to recharge my spiritual batteries while turning a new leaf in my service.

I had actually anticipated this new area as I already knew a little bit about Skowhegan after dating a young lady from the area while I was enrolled at Ricks College six months before starting my mission. I was also delighted with Skowhegan’s more northerly location and abundance of trees and snow which made the area feel like my home in Alaska, a similarity that extended even to the floorplan of the local meetinghouse (identical to the one back home) and the rustic nature of the service projects the congregation engaged in. For example each Saturday morning we would cut and haul firewood for less fortunate members and it was during one of those charitable expeditions that I became aware of the family doctor life lesson referenced above.

The day had started nicely enough as we chopped and hauled away, but when I developed a queasy stomach and slight temperature my companion and I headed for home long before our normal 12:00 noon quitting time. By evening my temperature had soared to 102° and I was making regular trips to our bathroom to engage in what is alternately referred to as

  • Barfing
  • Doing the Technicolor yawn
  • Worshiping at the porcelain altar.

I threw up so many times that at one point I began wondering if I needed to check for a lung or some other organ coming up with everything else. Unfortunately, the projectiles kept projecting until early Monday morning when my misery eased for approximately thirty minutes as my body changed gears (and orifice) and I began to deal with:

  • Montezuma’s revenge
  • Rocky Mountain quickstep
  • Trouser chili

The misery went on for another four days, my only respite coming about early Wednesday evening when I collapsed on the hallway floor, dehydrated from the non-stop hurling. Fortunately as the week progressed the intensity of my visits to the bathroom began to ease off and by the following Saturday it looked as though we’d be able to honor a dinner invitation extended to us by the Miller family, stalwart members of the local congregation and parents of the aforementioned young lady I had known at college the year before. Ever the trencherman, my companion was relentless in his insistence to make it to that dinner appointment no matter my condition, but even before the illness I had been hesitant as their daughter had expected more out of the relationship than I, and ended up with bruised feelings…so I wasn’t sure what kind of reception I’d get in their house.

(The fact that their other child would be at dinner and happened be one of the toughest highway patrolmen the state of Maine had on its roster may have been a factor in that reluctance as well.)

As the day progressed the tummy rumbles lessened but did not cease, so ever the erstwhile ROTC cadet I carefully planned the quickest route through town on our area street map. Skowhegan straddles the Kennebec River at a point where several highways merge to cross the waterway by way of a set of bridges connecting mid-stream Skowhegan Island to each river bank. In addition to those road bridges there are two foot bridges, one a former railroad bridge in the center of town and another connecting the Island with the southern bank at a location some distance to the west of the automotive bridge. To reach the Miller’s home we would be walking from our apartment on the northern side of town to the first island bridge, then after crossing we’d veer to the right to the footbridge which conveniently connected to the southern shore not more than 100 yards from the Miller’s home.

I figured it would take us no more than a half hour (45 minutes at the most) but as we started walking a sobering thought came to mind, no doubt jostled loose from my memory by the military aspect of my pre-walk map reconnaissance. It was a quote from the 19th century Prussian strategist Moltke who opined that “No plan of battle ever survived contact with the enemy”. Having been holed up in our apartment for the week neither one of us had a sense for what the weather had been like so we were both surprised when instead of negotiating either freshly plowed or snow-free we would be trudging through sloppy slush that could easily double our walking time.

Unfortunately, dwindling finances required a trip to the post office in the hope that a check from my dad had arrived, a detour to the east that added a further fifteen minutes to our journey, however true anxiety didn’t set in until we slushed off from the post office and  I felt the dreaded URK! in my lower tract that I had hoped to avoid, so we picked up the pace only to be stopped by our district leader just as we reached the first bridge. He and his companion were on their way home after spending the day at a leadership meeting in Augusta and in his zeal to avoid spending seventy-five cents on a toll-call later that evening he took the opportunity to briefly pass on an important change in our weekly reports (something about ink color), “brief” being defined as “forty-five minutes.” When they finally drove off to the east it was colder, darker and I’d already been through three butt-clenching URKs! while we’d been standing shivering in the snow, and as we stepped out smartly across the first bridge the rumbles continued.

Midspan I knew I wasn’t going to make it as the URKs increased in both intensity and frequency. For an instant I thought about turning around but I didn’t know of any bathrooms available before we got home.  Prospects for immediate relief were bleak at best as the few structures on the island consisted of a volunteer fire station, a small park, and church with an attached residence, all of which were closed and dark save for a single light burning above the fire station’s front door. With no other comfort in sight I veered toward the station but as I turned toward it there came an ominous double URK! from my midsection that my companion could hear ten feet away.

I knew I was doomed.

In a panic I turned towards the clergy house set to the side of the church and tried to trot as quickly as I could with my fourth-point-of-contact tightly clenched. Not a light was burning in the place but as I slowly bounced closer I could see that the basement garage door was ajar so I adjusted my trajectory accordingly.

 What followed as I reached the garage door happened in split-second increments:

  • I stepped through the door into the dark basement
  • Located a stack of firewood against the wall
  • Concluded that stack of wood was a reasonable substitute for an outhouse seat
  • Launched myself towards the nearest stack
  • Reached for my belt buckle

….at which point my luck (and sphincter control) ran out.

For the next week arguments ensued in town: Had there been a sonic boom from a low-flying jet or had there been an explosion in one of the mills?  I was just very thankful that no one had been home in the house above my improvised rest stop and that it was both cold and dark as we walked back to our apartment. During the entire trip my companion never ventured closer than ten yards to me and when we did get home I went straight to the bathroom, stopping only to ditch my wallet and shoes before stepping straight into the shower fully-clothed.

The aftermath

Since the seventies, polyester (“double knit”) clothing has endured no small amount of criticism for the use of colors not found in nature and for having all the breathability of Saran Wrap. People forget the fabric’s ability to hold a crease forever, to resist wrinkles and (in this case) repel stains while cleaning up with soap and water. As nasty as I looked (and smelled) that night I was able to wear that same suit the following week with no ill effects…or odor.

Never long on empathy my companion grumbled about the meal we’d missed during the long walk home and continued to snivel until the Millers appeared at our doorstep with covered dishes holding our dinner. When I called later to thank Sister Miller we had a pleasant conversation that put to rest the worries I’d had about the abortive romance with her daughter the year before. I also learned from an article in the newspaper she’d used to cover our dinner that my case of the flu had probably run its course and I needn’t worry about a recurrence of symptoms.

Nevertheless at my first opportunity I sat down again with a street map and marked the location of every public restroom within city limits

,

1973: Taking One for the Team

Fall is my favorite time of year and I thought it would be a good time to share this story again,

David R. Deitrick, Designer

Goat picture

As I grew up my father’s changing employment situation had us moving around a lot and by the time I earned my high school diploma I had attended seven public schools. I went on to earn an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree and a Master of Fine Arts degree while attending three different universities and one junior college – and when you add those academic institutions to places where I have taught the total comes to sixteen schools with which I have had extensive experience. Of all those bastions of academia Ricks College (now known as BYU-Idaho) was the best, with the fall of 1973 being my best term of my entire collegiate career. I made the honor roll with a 3.8 GPA while carrying 19 credit hours, I was actively involved in the establishment of the first ROTC detachment set up at the school, held multiple responsibilities in my church congregation and earned a small…

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2020: Getting Started

I’ve spent the last couple of months wrestling with one simple question:

How do I get started again?

I’ve been stalled creatively ever since the pandemic hit and have been unable to get much in the way of writing done. A good friend has passed it off as yet another COVID-19 issue but I’ve been already housebound for the last year or so isolation is old news and I doubt there is  a connection. If anything  shelter-in-place has been pleasant as it has given me more  with my Beautiful Saxon Princess than usually is the case.

Granted, I have a lot going on:

  • The spondylitis has gone into the next phase/level/whatever which translates to elevated pain levels – just walking has become much more difficult
  • We’re collectively trying to lose weight, not for cosmetic reasons but for the simple fact that all my other medications aren’t very effective. The less I carry around the less pain I have to deal with.
  • With sixty-seven years behind me it is a whole hell of a lot harder getting fired up to do anything, especially with the political chaos that surrounds us.

There are some people  who would consider my life to be heaven – to be able to just sit around and watch videos all day long – but for me it is a living hell. I’m one of those frustrating people who actually likes to work. I miss the burn I would get after walking for miles and (to quote Tom Bodett) I miss the way my hands would ache after swinging a hammer all day long.

“I WILL NOT QUIT” is still my war cry but at times it sounds hollow. My first task will be internalizing the fact that getting back up to speed is not going to be a rapid process, which brings me full circle to a creative project of mine dating from this time in 1989. It was one of my first efforts combininb 100% brushwork and the “long/skinny format” and I dubbed it “Getting Started” as it captured  the essence of the frustration I felt at the onset of just about every painting I’ve ever made

.…which is what I am feeling with life in general right now

Getting Started

For Miriam

We spent part of the month in a “social distancing times two” situation when my Beautiful Saxon Princess was tested for Covid 19. Our family physician was concerned about symptoms that came to light during a regular check up so our family spent our days lurking in our individual lairs – BSP kept our bedroom while I camped in the studio while Meghan and her family pretty  much had the run of the rest of the place.

As most of my collectible “stuff” is located in the studio I was able to avoid feeling sorry for myself but after 42+ years of marriage its hard to sleep alone. Long ago I found out that doing something for someone else is the best mood elevator EVER so I spent my time putting together some Tinkerbell art for my grand-niece Miriam.

Modified Tinkerbell art that is.

Life had dealt Miriam a pretty flat hand of cards and she spends most of her time immobile. Speech and vision problems isolate her even further so video provides most of her entertainment. She loves the color and motion of “chop-socky” shows like Inframan and has a particular fondness for Tinker-Bell so I came up with posters for her depicting Tink as alternately a Rambo-type adventurer and a crew member from the original Star Trek series.

2020-07-02A TrekBo2020-07-01A TinkerBo

1958: Bremerton Magic Pixie Land

I appreciate the support you’ve been giving me through this lean time. For various reasons both my literary and visual creative output has been fairly dismal but folks have continued to read and follow the column so I dug down for an old classic for now with the promise of new material to come.

Thanks!

David R. Deitrick, Designer

I have an extremely sharp memory. Not only can I remember back much further than most people, but I can remember with much more detail. This does not always endear me to old friends, especially those old friends who are now pillars in their communities and may have sown some wild oats in their youth that they’d just as soon forget. Sometimes old memories are just as hard for me to deal with, especially old fearful memories. I struggle with asthma and upper respiratory illness a lot and it is very common for me to flashback on similar situations when I was very young; I can remember all too clearly laying on my bed alone in a dark room coughing my throat raw, hot on the inside from the exertion but also feeling cold and clammy on the outside from vaporizer mists when the water had gone cold.

Brrrr. I’d…

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Spoons

Spoons

It should be no surprise that summer is my least favorite season. Despite the years I’ve spent in Tennessee I am still an Alaskan boy at heart with climate preferences like those of a golden retriever – I’m happiest when it’s no warmer than forty degrees and my feet are wet. I’m also one of a very small group of people whose autoimmune disease symptoms became more painful when the weather gets warmer….which means that as summer heats up I feel progressively worse – when July rolls around my days involve a lot of just laying around reading and trying to mentally “will” autumn to appear in August.

Despite my penchant for speculative subject matter in my art my taste in reading material is fairly mundane. Currently on my Kindle you’ll find the following books:

  • Confederates in the Attic
  • The Year 1000
  • The Mound Builder Myth
  • The Color of Law
  • Empires of the Sky
  • Drums Along the Khyber

Most of these books are historical works, but sprinkled among the titles from times past you will find books about spoons, specifically spoon theory –  an idea that has very little to do with silverware and everything to do with communicating the challenges and discomfort brought about by the  daily battle with  autoimmune diseases. It’s a wonderful concept brought about by Christine Miserando and you can read about it at length at http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com.

Spoons are markers used in allocating/assessing how much you can get done in a day despite the dramatically reduced energy level and equally elevated pain levels that come with autoimmune problems like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or in my case anklysosing spondylitis. You start out the day with a dozen spoons, and every action – and I mean EVERY action will cost you one or more spoons. The allocation of twelve is purely arbitrary but I found I was able to calibrate my spoon expenditures rather quickly. Getting out of bed costs one spoon, getting dressed is another one, climbing stairs takes two spoons and going to church takes three…so it’s not hard to see how you can run out of spoons rather quickly.

I’m barely scratching the surface of this marvelous communications tool and I highly recommend you check out Ms. Miserando’s website and read her ideas first hand.

 

 

 

Bright Note in A Dark Symphony

I haven’t been writing much lately – on top of the pandemic I’ve been struggling with serious mobility issues, the combination leaving me with an ill-defined feeling of dread similar to that brought on by those ominous usually-written-a-minor-key passages in a movie’s soundtrack that precedes something really scary…

..,but amidst all this ominous foreboding we had a wonderful respite in the form of my daughter’s wedding. It was a very small and informal event, with just enough structure and content to launch a young family into this journey called life.

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“…let’s give him a big hand!”

Living with an autoimmune disease like ankylosing spondylitis has meant living with chronic pain and impaired mobility, but I was surprised, yea alarmed when the muscles in my hand and forearm started to uncontrollably spasm and twist into a claw-like flex. Dark thoughts of tetanus came to mind and at one less-than-lucid moment I wondered if I’d become mind-controlled by the Skeksis from Dark Crystal but good sense returned and I began to research for a solution to my manual woes. It turns out that the flexing and arching and “owwing” is a real thing – it’s known as a carpal spasm and can be brought on by overwork and/or the lack of sufficient calcium or magnesium in my diet. By limiting my time at the drawing board and knocking back an extra yogurt each day I’ve been able to curtail the attacks to a large extent.

…which is just as well.

Since my childhood there has been a dramatic increase in the use of hand gestures as part of human communication far beyond the sign language between cowboy and Commanche that I witnessed each week on television. Simple movements such as an index finger drawn sharply across a larynx (“killed”) or a hand cupped to an ear (“listening”) have been joined by American Sign Language for use by the deaf, gang signs adopted into general street use, and other communicative gestures borrowed from sports and military. The use of nonverbal communication has increased to the point that it is no longer safe to just idly wave your hands. For example while coming to grips with these carpal spasms I have:

  • Been slapped by a deaf lady for signing an indecent proposal
  • Accidentally called out  a gang member
  • …and I may have inadvertently flipped off ET

The one time I did try to respond to communicating via hand signals it turned out that the lady in question was just trying to dry her nail polish…which is why despite years of conditioning via the military I now walk about with my hands in my pockets.

1971: Descendant of Beowulf

(I had to simplify things for the title to  this last peek at my upcoming book – I had so many friends, cousins and sons that I had to resort to sketching wiring diagrams before typing up the titles) 

It was a commercial made up of clones with Robert Redford’s doppelganger putting his best Sundance moves on Katherine Ross’ twin sister while a sound-alike band sang a jingle set to the tune of Santana’s “Evil Ways”:

You got a smoke that’s something else Win-chester.

A whole new taste and straight your way.

It’s something else Win-chester”.

Cigarette advertising on television was officially banned as of January 1,1971 but the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company was pushing the issue with Winchester – a small cigarette-sized cigar that used a loophole in the new law to continue their on-air promotion of tobacco products. It was a maneuver that would become more common as we got deeper into the “Me Decade” of the 1970’s, a narcissistic side-step of accepted norms in an effort to increase profits.

Other developments in 1971 included:

  • Broadcast standards for language and subject matter were pushed further with the premiere of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking comedy/social commentary All In the Family.
  • Resistance to the Vietnam conflict increased to a 60% disapproval rating and triggered bombings in the US Capitol with the unauthorized release of the Pentagon Papers, a government document that revealed that the Johnson Administration had systematically lied about the conduct and progress of the war.
  • The Uniform Holiday act put all federal holidays on Monday.
  • To the delight of young people all over the country the age to both vote AND drink was lowered from 21 to 18.

Events for the state of Alaska likewise ranged from the monumental to the trivial:

  • In December President Nixon signed the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act into law.
  • Nuclear testing continued at Amchitka Island out at the end of the Aleutian chain.
  • Public television finally arrived in the state with the establishment of KUTV channel 9 at the University of Alaska campus in Fairbanks.
  • …and a new shop building was opened at Kenai Central High School located across the parking lot to the south of the main building. In line with the trend at the time toward vocational education the new complex included an auto shop, a carpentry shop, a drafting classroom, and a student supply store.

1970: Or Classmate of Brother of Friend of Son of Beowulf Junior

(carrying on with excerpts from my next book)

Can they do this?

Can they legally print a picture like this?

It was the LIFE magazine retrospective covering the previous decade and the image in question had been taken during the height of craziness surrounding the Democratic National Convention the previous year and in the middle of the crowd it depicted a shirtless young man “flipping off” the photographer/viewer. It was a photo that captured the essence of the times and while it seems a fairly tame image for current standards that conflict between content and reaction was a perfect metaphor for the era as the media had us all convinced that the freight train of societal change was threatening to derail at any time.

It definitely looked like things were changing, with some changes definitely on the plus side:

  • Earth Day was established on April 22d of that year.
  • The voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
  • The federal government put an end to commercial whaling.
  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) was signed into law.
  • We got Monday Night Football!

…while other changes were not all that great:

  • Both superpowers continued with above-ground nuclear tests with one of the main sites being (gulp) – the Aleutian Islands.
  • The space program stumbled with Apollo 13’s near disaster.
  • Militant groups including the SDS and the Weatherman Bomb were setting off explosions in cities and universities.
  • The invasion of Cambodia dramatically broadened the scope of the war in Southeast Asia.
  • At Kent State in Ohio, National Guard troops opened fire on student protestors with fatal results.

As for the Peninsula; without the influx of fire-fighting money like we had the previous summer, 1970 seemed economically stagnant – at least for young people. The school district was able to scrape together enough money for the high school to insure that the cafeteria where we’d been eating sack lunches for the past year was finally going to have a functioning kitchen, but other cost-cutting measures threatening to severely curtail operations and activities.

It was in response to a vote on proposed school appropriations that the four-page broadsheet dubbed “The Peninsula Clarion” started appearing in everyone’s mailbox. No one knew who was publishing it, but it was obvious that whoever they were, they really, really, really did not want the school bond to pass.