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

,

1975: A Better Christmas

I have yet to utter my traditional Yuletide greeting (“I >bleep< hate Christmas!”) but I have found that to be the case as I have been  drifting through this emotional wasteland known as December as I have every year since 1966.  You’d think with my Arctic upbringing I’d at least like the weather, but I don’t. It just seems like the recurring irritants of life intensity during the closing of the year, things like:

  • Financial strain
  • Homesickness
  •  Disagreements with my Beautiful Saxon Princess over correct holiday traditions
  • …the fact that every disaster in my life has happened during the closing-of-the-year holidays

I’m not kidding. Disaster seeks out my Christmas like a starving eagle circles a bunny burrow – and we’re not talking about minor things like a stubbed toe or getting the Power Droid instead of Carbonite Han Solo in my stocking. We’re talking major life-changing events such as:

  • My father dying
  • My mother dying
  • Narrowly avoiding death while totaling my dad’s car
  • Losing a job (more than once)
  • Disfiguring facial surgery
  • The unexpected end to an engagement
  • Revocation of flight status while on active duty

All these (and more) happened between Thanksgiving and MLK day, so please excuse me for flinching when I turn to that last page in the calendar.

It wasn’t always that way. I can remember Yuletide seasons in Little Shasta Valley and Anchorage that were truly wonderful but as I started into my teens the line on my Joyeux Noel Index started inching down until it hit rock bottom in December of 1973, the year I spent the holidays with my grandparents right after my engagement folded. Grandma and Grandpa had stopped the tree and gift routine years earlier so when I showed up at their doorstep on the morning of December 22d they really didn’t know what to do with me. Christmas consisted of dinner and a surreptitious glass of wine at my Uncle Roy’s vacation cabin on Donner Lake.

1974 wasn’t much better. I was in the seventh month of my “bicycle penance” – missionary service that by its innate spiritual nature was supposed to sew my broken heart back together, but it just wasn’t happening.  The city I was working had the same name as my former Best Friend (Lynn, Massachusetts) and I was training a new missionary with a bad attitude who took his frustrations out on me. The weather was also most uncooperative; I had envisioned a picture postcard New England holiday with white snow drifts blanketing cozy salt-box homes with colorful lights blinking in the windows; what I got was a gritty industrial city where rain came as often as snow, creating an environment that:

  • Soaked you to your skin in the space of minutes
  • Slushed up the roads, making just the act of walking around a chore
  • Gave those people we would tract out another great reason to slam the door

…all of which added to the extremely self-absorbed attitude I already had. We were also collectively balking at a new proselytizing procedure the mission president had just introduced so the result was a totally wasted Christmas. I spent the day grumbling around the apartment feeling sorry for myself and making the day a contender for the worst Christmas of my entire life.

Christmas of 1975 was a little different; sometime during the previous twelve months while walking the width and length of New England I’d grown up a bit and became a little less self-absorbed.   I had just been transferred to the small country town of Littleton, Massachusetts and assigned a problem elder for a companion, though I soon learned that Elder Neyland’s problems were more a question of ability than attitude. He had multiple severe learning and social disabilities – to the degree that he would have not been called on a mission under the criteria used for today’s missionaries.  It was like being teamed up with a thirteen-year-old cousin – the one with Asperger’s Syndrome –  and within three days it was obvious that negotiating the last two weeks in December was going to be a bumpy ride.

Still –  the morning of December 23rd didn’t seem all that different when I got up but then I really wasn’t interested in doing anything other than wasting the next couple of days away. Then as I was daydreaming at my desk the phone rang and pulled me back into consciousness by the voice of my mission president calling to confirm a day-trip I would be making to FT Devens in January to attend to an ROTC scholarship application. After exchanging information and confirming dates he hesitated for a minute, and then said, “While I’ve got you on the line I’d like to talk to you about your situation”.  I rolled my eyes – having President Ross rattle off the list my character flaws was not my idea of fun – “by this point in time you’ve undoubtedly that discovered Elder Neyland is a little different from most other missionaries.”

I groaned inwardly – “a little different” barely scratched the surface o but I continued to listen as President Ross went on to talk about Elder Neyland. It was actually important information: Neyland was getting little to no support from his parents, he was functionally illiterate, and his personal challenges made him so difficult to live and work with that changes in companions and areas happened more often than usual for him. Ross went on: “As I was considering his situation in light of the holidays I realized that there had to be one individual that could get him successfully through his first Christmas in the mission field – and when I turned to the assignment board your tag literally fell off the wall.  I felt strongly prompted to move you to Littleton for the holidays.”

  At first, I felt mostly disbelief tinged with cynicism; up to this point in time President Ross and I had mixed together much like oil and water, but as a good portion of my aforementioned “growing up” entailed learning to simply shut up when needed, the balance of my conversation with the mission president was uncharacteristically productive. After ringing off I stayed sitting by the phone and thought through the situation very carefully. Since turning twenty my life had been a series of disasters and while changing that trend had been one of the major reasons I’d gone on a mission it still seemed like my road in life had more than its share of land-mines. I’d read once that the definition of insanity was the act of  repeating the same actions yet expecting a different outcome. Maybe babysitting Neyland would change my luck.

My change in direction kicked off at 5:30 the next morning when I got up early and made Elder Neyland pancakes for breakfast. For most of the day we kept close to our regular schedule, but I made sure that we worked in the more heavily decorated parts of town and as we tromped through the slush I’d prompt him to talk about his family celebrated Christmas when he was a child.

I continued cooking for him for both lunch and dinner, playing a cassette full of Christmas carols during both meals, then we spent the rest of the day taking cards and presents to people that we had been teaching. Upon our return home we helped our elderly land-lady trim her tree until 10:30 when I all but barricaded Neyland in his bedroom so I could set up Christmas for him in our front room.

I was thoroughly exhausted when I turned in, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind, so I got up and sat at my desk and tried to alternately read scriptures and a facsimile copy of the first edition of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol. That lasted all of seven minutes, so I traded the books for my two best friends; Messrs. Paper & Pencil. At first, I started sketching, but in between images of linebackers, Iron Man and the starship Enterprise I started listing some of the thoughts bouncing around in my head:

  • Teaching abstract theological doctrine might be a good part of my job description but it wasn’t giving me much job satisfaction in return.
  • In contrast, doing something for another person – rendering service – most definitely punched my job satisfaction buttons.
  • Giving service to someone I wasn’t too terribly fond of in the first place did an even better job of punching those buttons – and made it easier to be kinder in the future.
  • For the first time in months – maybe years – I felt…happy!

I’d like to say that the clouds opened, and heavenly choirs stared singing praise to my faith and wisdom but all I could hear was the dog barking Jingle bells on our land-lady’s radio downstairs…and when I was able to shove my cynicism aside I had to admit that despite the lack of presents or attention from my own family it had been a good day

…and possibly the best Christmas of my life.

1975: Attack of The Casseroles!

It was a marvelous opportunity to start over, to re-energize myself. After spending close to eight months (a third of my mission!) dealing with the challenges of missionary work in Lynn, Massachusetts I was finally being transferred to Skowhegan Maine. That little mill town would prove to have its own set of challenges and rewards, but I loved being there, if for nothing else because people both in and out of the congregation seemed to latch on to me as well. I’d like to think the esteem came from my excellence as a teacher and diligence in the work, but looking back it probably had something to do with pity and the fact that I came from one of the very few parts of the nation that could get colder than Maine.

When I first arrived I was a I was a little unsure– as I left Massachusetts everyone told me that “Maniacs” were very stand-offish and that I would not be accepted for at least the first three months…which kind of confused me when the first Sunday in town had me praying for an arm sling after being rather energetically greeted with energetic handshakes by everyone in the congregation.  I was a bit confused because the members of the Skowhegan congregation were every bit as friendly as the ones I had left behind in the Lynnfield (MA) ward.

The light dawned after my companion and I had been working in the area for about a month and our arrival at meetings on Sunday began to resemble a VJ day ticker-tape parades down Madison Avenue. The nay-sayers in my first area had been correct and my reception had been a bit cool when I first arrived; it’s just that the Maine version of standoffishness had the same warmth as the Massachusetts version of high regard.

…and it wasn’t just the congregation. The townspeople in general were just as warm; merchants would give us discounts, post office personnel would make sure we got our packages quickly, and clergy from other faiths were more likely to trade funny sermon stories than contend with us over scriptural interpretations. There have been very few times/places where I felt so loved, but there was one time when I was almost loved if not to death then to a state where I wished it.

It was in the early spring at the second of two evening events at the church space two weeks apart. The first was a general dinner/social event but the second was an open house than Elder Miller and I had organized. This open house was the proverbial Big Deal – we’d worked overtime the preceding month preparing displays, inviting speakers and scheduling musical numbers, all of which was happening in conjunction with the dinner I was missing while conducting the event.

As I said I was well-loved in that little congregation and shortly was beset by a cluster of Relief Society sisters, each one holding their casserole and ladling a portion of it onto a plate that had mysteriously appeared in front of me. I didn’t want to offend anyone so I took of bite of each one – and I have never encountered such a wide array of tastes before in my life. Most of casseroles had a basic savory taste but some were salty, some were very tart and some obviously prepared by a cook of Italian extraction. A couple of them had an odd, almost gamey taste that I had heretofore only found in venison, but in this case was mostly likely TVP1. I bolted the contents of the plate as fast as I could after which my Miller and I wound up the event, took down the displays, cleaned up the multipurpose room and went home.

I was so tired that I was asleep the minute my head hit my pillow…but less than two hours later I was awake – awake and doubled up with the worst stomach ache I had ever had in my life. The stomach ache soon morphed into nausea and threw up so hard I thought I saw my socks come up. Then the “distress in the lower tract” started and I spent thirty minutes out of every hour on the commode.

It wasn’t until the Relief Society President checked on me the next morning that I figured out that I had contracted food poisoning. It had to have been one of the casseroles at the open house the night before so we checked around to make sure no one else had shared my fate…and fortunately no one had. We considered other possibilities but it always came back to the open house and when we got a second call from the Relief Society president the mystery was solved.

When women in the ward would prepare a hot-dish or casserole for a social they would cook it in a bread pan.  I’m not sure how the custom started; it may have been a cost-cutting measure but then I’d often see a family bring in more than one bread pan so it may have been a way to inject some variety into the meals. It certainly was a savior for families with several small squirmy children that would have had real trouble transporting a full sized casserole dish at the same time.  Lastly, it also may have been a tactic to speed up serving because so many pans could be heated in the meetinghouse oven at the same time.

…which is how my tummy trouble came about.

When everyone arrived for the regular church social two weeks earlier they all placed their bread pan casseroles in the oven, but when it came time to serve the food one of them was left behind – and sat in the unheated oven for two weeks until our open house. At that point the oven was again filled with the small pans, but this time ALL of them were removed and the contents served, including the one that had stayed behind a fortnight.  To my misfortune I was the only one to each part of that dish – I had to eat so quickly that evening that I passed off unusual smell or taste to (again) TVP.

I really couldn’t blame anyone for the incident. The members of the congregation were guilty of nothing worse than enthusiasm and I probably should have paid closer attention to what I was eating. Unfortunately I am by no stretch of the imagination a gourmet of any type. For me food is simply fuel and my idea of haute cuisine is extra vinaigrette sauce on my Jimmy John’s #5 so a moderate difference of aroma raised no warning flags.

The bottom line was that everyone really liked/loved Elder Deitrick – and if two hours of tummy trouble was the price for that esteem I would call it the bargain of all bargains.

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1 TVP Textured vegetable protein – an economical meat substitute that was very popular during the recession-ridden Seventies

 

1975: Mid-Winter Butterfly Collecting

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Skowhegan Maine.

I read the letter from the mission office again – Skowhegan Maine. The irony was enough to deflect a compass needle. After nine months in my first area I was finally getting a transfer to what would probably the most awkward area for me in the New England States mission – (er) the “The Massachusetts-Boston mission”. Six months earlier a more uniform system for  naming stakes, wards, districts and missions was adopted to make places easier to locate  but the new names lacked a bit of charm. Charm was the least of my worries though – a little more than a year earlier as a student at Ricks College I had become involved in a brief romantic misunderstanding with a young lady from Skowhegan and I wasn’t looking forward to the icy glares and barbed comments of her family and friends in the local congregation .

My worries were in vain; the area hadn’t had any missionaries for a couple of years so my companion and I had lots of work to keep us diverted . As was the case with most missionaries we spent most of our time tracting. Known in our mission as “dooring”, tracting entailed walking from front door to front door making cold-call approaches to whoever answered the door…which made for a very wide range in responses. I was just winding up the first third of my mission and so far while tracting I had been:

  • Threatened with a shot-gun.
  • Quizzed for two hours about numerology and alien invasion while standing on a doorstep in103 degree heat.
  • Propositioned by a nubile young lady clad in a marginally secured robe made of a very loose knit.

…none of which was likely to happen this icy month of January in Maine. Going from door to door usually meant doors that never opened to sub-zero temperatures. Oh, from time to time people would talk to us – especially when they found out that my home was in Alaska, but we soon found out that their interest had more to do with meeting someone from a colder-than-Maine locale than any interest in theological discussions.

It was also a mill town, with most of the people working in hard physical labor during the week so the last thing they were looking forward to on a Saturday morning was the sight of two young missionaries on their door-step. Soon after my arrival in town we received a mission bulletin instructing us to make Saturday mornings our primary tracting time reasoning that success in teaching improved when we met with entire families on Dad’s day off. I complied, but it had me wondering if I was the only one in the mission who had ever worked a “grown-up” job that wore you out so badly that weekends were little more than recuperation. Unfortunately the first Saturday was a disaster – the threats and caustic comments were so hard to take that Miller and I stopped knocking on the fourth door and trudged back to our attic apartment to come up with a better plan.

It turned out that the men of our local congregation had an ongoing service project clearing land for a local farmer. The wood was cleared, cut and divided into bundles and then either given to welfare aid recipients to heat their homes, or sold with profits being donated to the welfare program. As missionaries we were technically not part of the congregation and not obliged to help with the program but the locals would often drop rather broad hints about the tremendous help two strapping young men would be with such taxing labor, and it was when I was considering the latest “suggestion” the answer came to me:

  • We would help cut, haul and stack the wood on Saturday mornings.
  • The men from the local congregation would invite non-member friends to work on the project as well.
  • With those men working alongside us we could strike up low-key conversations and thus be able to report our activity as “father contacting time”.
  • The wood got cut, welfare recipients got assistance and we got smiles from our mission leaders for “working the program”.

It worked well for the first couple of weeks and those wood-cutting sessions earned us a lot of credibility when the locals saw that we could and would work and that I knew my way around woodsman’s tools. However, even though I had extensive experience with saws, axes and chain saws the congregation leaders stayed between us and any of the edged and/or power tools. No one wanted an injured missionary on their watch

Not that it would have been easy to do. As we went out on one mid-February it was “wicked cold” as they say it in New England and we were all bundled up in several layers of clothing to provide insulation against the sub-zero temperatures. The sight of all those cutting tools triggered my typical knowledge nerd response and I couldn’t help but see my clothing in the same light as the quilted cloth armor MesoAmerican warriors used as protection against the obsidian edged swords favored by the Aztecs, only in my case the quilted cloth armor looked suspiciously similar to a blue air force parka, bib overalls, flannel shirt, sweat pants and woolen long johns with galoshes over sneakers serving as boots.

I was shaken out of my reverie by an indistinct oath – the farm owner was kneeling over his chain saw where it was stuck in a tree. The weight of the tree he was cutting had shifted and put a bind on the blade; instinctively I reached over and pushed on the tree to shift its weight and free the saw’s blade. We couldn’t really talk over the bbrrrraaaappp! of the chain saw but it was pretty obvious that he was going to pull his saw out and start on another tree so I stepped back to give him room to move. At that moment we both kind of stumbled and sloshed around, during which I felt a bump on my shin. When he finally got past me I looked down and saw that all that shifting around had kicked up some mud…then I looked closer and realized that it wasn’t a reddish brown color I was seeing, it was just plain red.

Blood.

I spun around checking everyone for cuts, and then I happened to look down at the snow around my own feet.

Blood.

I started to get a little light-headed and knew that I was going into shock so I told Miller what was going on and started walking toward the house, my thoughts and surroundings swirling into that odd sort of compressed existence I call Tardis-time. Outside of my brain and body things were happening at a lightning-fast clip but inside my thinking and perceptions had slowed down to a sedate, manageable rate. I was able to clearly see everything going on, evaluate the information coming in and devise a workable plan for getting everything “fixed”.

I was feeling like a merry-go-round rider on his fifth ticket when I got to the kitchen but when people crowded around I calmly remarked “I’m going to be OK but I am going into shock for awhile”, put my head down as close as I could get to my knees and silently thanked the Lord for the advanced American Red Cross First Aid training I took the year before. Once my head was down I was able to surrpetiously inspect the wound and breathed a sigh of relief when I found out that it was much, much less serious than I had expected.

When the chain saw came back it hit my leg, but instead of hitting the back of my leg and chewing into my calf muscle the blade hit the front and bounced off the tibia, fibula or both.  I gave the wound a preliminary cleaning and wrapped it tightly after applying a fairly sloppy butterfly closure, then after consulting with the bishop we went back to the apartment to change into our regular suits before trying to find some treatment.

…which proved to be difficult. We hadn’t been totally forth-coming with the mission office about participating in the Saturday morning project, and while they were happy with our teaching numbers this was all happening during an era when full-time missionaries were discouraged from doing that sort of hairy-chested heavy labor type service.  Going to the emergency room would mean getting approval from the mission office so that was ruled out. As a military retiree’s dependent I was eligible for treatment under CHAMPUS but it appeared that there wasn’t a health care professional on duty at the time that knew what the acronym meant, much less the procedures required to get authorization. There was supposed to be a retired doctor in town that would treat missionaries free of charge but a quick phone call ruled that option out (he was wintering in the south of France).

….which is why I ended up sitting on Sister Harris’s table with my pant leg rolled up to my knee and grimacing while she cleaned the wound and closed it with another, more professional “butterfly” closure made out of surgical tape. The process of getting patched up wasn’t nearly as unpleasant at the stern lecture we got – Joyce was our surrogate aunt in Skowhegan and we could always count on her to give a totally unvarnished opinion, which in this case was very negative. She had been concerned about us working on the firewood project from day one  for the precise reason I was sitting on her table at that moment – someone could get hurt. However, as I got down from the table she gave me a light cuff on the shoulder and remarked that our willingness to get down and dirty with physical labor had gone a long way in establishing creditability in the town and our congregation.

With one look at the dimming light in the sky as we left the Harris home we decided to call it a day. As Miller and I started trudging through the snow we talked about the events of the week – and especially the day – and wondered how we could “safely” account for all the time on our reports. It was at that point that Miller came to a complete stop in the middle of the street, turned to me and said”

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!”

I stared at him dumbly.

Again (though not quite so agitated) ” Deitrick, what are you doing?”

“Well, I guess I’m walking down a very icy street, and just narrowly missed falling on my butt.”

Miller went on: “You just had your left shin chopped open with a chain-saw. Why aren’t you writhing in agony and screaming in pain?” (Prior to coming to New England Miller was a pre-med student and was prone to hyperbole when it came to medical issues.)

….but he did have a point. The laceration really didn’t hurt all that much. As we shuffled our feet in the snow for a minute or so and talked about the events of the day, our   conversation evolved into the sort of thing that you assume happens quite regularly on a mission but in fact rarely happens – a spiritual experience. We talked about why were out in New England knocking on doors. We talked about the people that would be warm that night because of the firewood we helped provide…and we talked about a Father that would spare a young man serious pain.

….then a car passed by at a high rate of speed, splashed us with very wet snow and the moment was gone.

Music: Barangril

The order that I posted “favorite songs” the other day wasn’t exactly in any sort of ranking – but it was close. Reasons for Waiting is definitely right up there. Barangril is too.

Let me establish right now that I liked Joni Mitchel before Court and Spark, but I somehow missed out on Barangril at first, finding it by accident three years after it was released on For The Roses . One day in the fall of 1975 while I was filling up a cassette tape one prep day  afternoon I ended up with a bit more tape than song, so on impulse I flipped on the FM radio and simultaneously gave the tuner dial a flip and  the record button a jab. It just happened to start taping about 30 seconds into Barangril – and I instantly loved that song. The trouble was the sound quality was not so good so I was unsure of the lyrics and when it ended they went right into another song and artist without giving out any sort of identification. It wasn’t until I went home the next summer that I found out the name of the song and bought the LP.

The mental snapshot I have when I hear Barangril is the view to the east from my bedroom in Littleton, Massachusetts in December of 1975. It was cold that year and the ice-fog often frosted the trees like the poganip did to the spruce trees back home. Our apartment was the second story of one of those rambling 19th century New England farmhouses that decorate calendars that are usually stacked ten high in the Logan airport gift shop – so there was already plenty of positive ju-ju for me….and when the sun would rise and peek through those frosted tree trunks and branches I would get a light show just a teeny bit less spectacular than I would get back home…