1970: ‘…the name is Deitrick. David Deitrick!”

Gospel scholars teach that the Savior conducted his ministry while he was in his thirties but based on Matthew 13: 55-57 I think he was seventeen. This particular scripture refers to an incident when Jesus was preaching to the people in his hometown, and their less-than-warm reception was: “Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary …Whence then hath this man all these things? And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, a prophet is not without honor, save in this own country and in his own house” ….which is precisely the reaction that I got as young man when returning to my hometown when I accomplished anything!

“Who does this kid think he is?”

As I aged it didn’t get much better; I went directly from being June’s Boy to Holly’s Brother to Lynne’s Boyfriend to Lori’s Husband, rarely having an identity of my own. Respite from this labeling came only during events that kept me away from home for an extended period of time. Only then did I have a chance to reinvent myself and escape from my own inherent tackiness.

The summer of 1970 gave me ample opportunity.

It helped that I had gained a bit of confidence during the preceding spring. I had lucked into taking a beautiful young lady to junior prom and while any hope of post-dance relationship wilted as quickly as my boutonniere the experience of having a Katherine Ross wannabe on my arm for an evening gave a boost to my confidence and relative eligibility with other girls at school.

What’s more my height gained a couple of inches and my waist lost some, I cultivated both a totally bitchin’ set of sideburns and a nice carpet of chest hair but there were issues concerning my teeth. Two front teeth had been damaged when I was eight and were still discolored to a degree. I felt very self-conscious so I had devised various coping mechanisms:

  • I told people I was a vampire.
  • I stopped smiling for school pictures.
  • I borrowed stand-up routines from comedians like Robert Klein and Dave Steinberg, hoping that the jokes would draw attention away from my mouth.

None of which seemed to be effective going into the summer of 1970, which was otherwise stacking up to look like three great months living outside of the aforementioned stereotype. First I was to attend Boy’s State which was followed shortly after by a church-sponsored Youth Conference in Anchorage. When that was over I had an extended gig in Seward working for a contractor replacing the roof on the high school and when that was over – football season!  It was an incredible line-up , but it wasn’t what I had on my mind the most.

You see,  I wanted to be James Bond.

It was just past the crest of Bond-o-mania during the dark times when all the movies could offer was George Lazenby looking like a kid in his dad’s suit but fortunately I had discovered  Ian Fleming’s original James Bond novels. While Sean Connery definitely had style Fleming’s written descriptions left me with just as much of an impression and as I was trying to solve my dental aesthetics issue Fleming’s use of term “cruel mouth” piqued my curiosity.

 As first I thought that maybe it had something to do with kissing too hard but eventually I determined that it referred to something like the pouting lower lip on the face of Robert Lansing, star of ABC series of Twelve O’clock High). I gave it a try, though I can’t remember how sticking my lower lip out was supposed to hide two teeth directly under my nose. I decided to lose the lip after Mom kept asking me if I’d caught one in the face while playing dodge ball.

Setting up a mock state government in the all-male environment of Boy’s State gave me little time or incentive to worry about my appearance. It wasn’t until I left for the summer’s second event – Youth Conference – that my teeth became something to worry about again.

Youth conference was an annual event when Church kids ages 14-18 gathered together from Anchorage, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska/Susitna valley for three or four days of workshops and activities. The stated goal of the conference was spiritual growth1 but to be totally honest my own goal was getting acquainted with young ladies and for once I was successful. Early on in the conference I became reacquainted with Ellen, a girl from Fairbanks that I had met at a previous youth conference. With the iconic 007 theme running through my mind I coolly reached for her hand and we paired up, spending the balance of the time being a bit more exclusive than the chaperones may have liked.

They would have been even less happy had they noticed us slipping out the door during workshops on the next-to-the-last night of the conference. Again channeling Sean Connery as best as I could, I suggested that we walk home instead of waiting for rides; earlier in the evening Ellen had not-so-subtly let slip that her host family lived not far from the stake center and as I knew Anchorage fairly well I figured the walk to be a good opportunity to “get better acquainted” and still get her home in a timely manner.

She knew the address was north of our location (“…maybe on West 16th Avenue…) so we set out in the almost-midnight-sun that is a June evening in Alaska. We’d walk a little. We’d talk a little. Tease a little but never getting into any real trouble.  but when I happened to look at my watch I was alarmed to see that it was 10:00 PM! I began to doubt Ellen ’s sense of direction but she stuck to West 16th avenue as a destination until it finally started to get dark, which in summertime Alaska means it is about to rain or really, really late.

At this point we were in a part of town that I didn’t know as well and I started getting edgy, mostly because I didn’t want Ellen to get in trouble. I finally admitted defeat and did something that no one in their right mind will do in Anchorage of 2017…

 I knocked on a door and asked to use their phone.

To this day I have no idea why that lady let me in. Maybe it was the fact that I was with Ellen and we were both dressed semi-nice. Maybe it was the subtle perfume Ellen was wearing. Maybe she was just being charitable. Mostly I think it was the fact that no matter how hard I tried to channel James Bond and have a “cruel mouth” I’m just a nice guy and it shows. Whatever the reason she let us stand in her entryway while I dialed my friends to come get us – and then let us stay there until we were picked up.

 The teasing was merciless on the ride back home and doubled in intensity when we dropped off Ellen and found that she was staying at a place not more than a block away. She’d transposed “east” and “west” and didn’t know Anchorage well enough to orient herself correctly.  

It was all coolness and sly looks the next day as we finished the conference and went our separate ways. Shortly afterwards I started the roofing job in Seward which turned out to be one of the hardest things I had ever done in my (then) short life. It was extremely hard and dangerous2 work; between the dislocation and fatigue I was feeling pretty emotional and made an idiot of myself writing letter after letter to Ellen , all of which went unanswered. I called her a month later and while she maintained that she’d written at least one reply it was obvious that I had been a “summer thing”. I folded my ego up and moved on, permanently retiring the “cruel mouth” look in the process.

1972: I was back to Fairbanks to spend the Fourth of July weekend with my Best Friend.  While we were at a formal dance I was left unattended during a “nose powdering break” when a sudden wisp of a perfume I hadn’t smelled in two years prompted me to turn… to find Ellen coolly standing next to me. We had no more exchanged brief greetings when my Best Friend returned from her break; she smiled at Ellen then led me out to the dance floor for a waltz3. I was surprised at her calm demeanor until she hissed through a smile “if she makes one move for you and I’ll scratch her eyes out”.

1976: I ran into Ellen while changing classes at BYU. It was a pleasant surprise but seemed like something out of a Harry Chapin song (“…whatever we had once was gone…”)

2017:  We tend to view the past through rose-colored glasses and while I’d like to think that with my razor/laser memory I am a bit more objective than most but in one instance of looking back there is no nostalgic tint to vision at all. It was better back in 1970. I get newspaper headlines from the Anchorage Dispatch (formerly the Anchorage Daily News) via email and I have been distressed in that the hottest stories of this past year has been the unusually high murder rate.

Of particular concern is a playground area called Craters of the Moon where at least six people were killed there during an alarmingly short period of time in 2016. Why am I mentioning this? Craters of the Moon is just south and down a slope from the house where I made that call from in 1970. Had I knocked on that door this last summer I would have at best gotten a face full of pepper spray and at worst .45 reasons why I shouldn’t have knocked on the door.

—————————————————————————————————————————-

1I put an honest amount of effort into the workshops. It was during a scripture chase there that I first encountered the scripture from Matthew about prophets and home towns that I used in the introduction

2This was before OSHA and child-labor laws put limits on the hours and types of work for kids

3 We were really good at waltzing, having been on a dance demonstration team the previous year.

Music: On The Threshold of a Dream

( I have to warn you what follows is much longer than my usual posts about music…but then this album is one of the most important bodies of music in my life.)

(1) Moody Blues On The Threshold Of A Dream 01 In The Beginning – YouTube

Nothing beats a small town when it comes to rumor-mongering, and the folks running the local music store were being mongered more than usual. They were all members of, or friends with, a long-time Peninsula family, and at various points of time in the summer of 1970 I heard that at least one of them was:

  • Dealing drugs
  • Receiving stolen goods
  • Pregnant

…the last option being extremely doubtful seeing that the group running the store was overwhelmingly male, the only female on staff was a middle-aged aunt that started working in the place well after all the gossip started. I didn’t care – I was caught up making my break between two-a-day pre-season football practice sessions as leisurely as possible, and a post-burger stroll through the store seemed just the ticket.

I hadn’t shopped there since the preceding spring, and the only visible sign of distress was a noticeably large SALE box holding albums marked down to $1.00. Surprisingly enough, there were several top-sellers in the stack, but none of them posed any threat to the prospect of a second hamburger until a tree-branch with ears floating in the middle of a midnight blue square of cardboard caught my eye. Red letters in a modified Arnold Bocklin font skewered me with The Moody Blues and On The Threshold of a Dream – and while none of the songs on the back cover were familiar Moody Blues AM hits, such as Nights in White Satin or Ride My See-saw, all the titles hinted at being listenable, so I forked over a buck and walked out with the album later described by a little sister as “the record with the weird tree on the cover.”

The rain soaked us during the second afternoon practice, and washed out all thoughts of that new record, so it wasn’t until I painfully climbed up to my loft later that afternoon that I recalled the purchase. I was too sore to climb back down the ladder, but one of my sisters blessedly retrieved the record and cued it up on my stereo while I laid on the carpet and tried to mentally will the lactic acid out of my muscles. That mental effort almost blocked out the cosmic hum at the beginning of the first track leading into a restrained synthetic crescendo, but the subsequent ethereal catechism alternating the question/response of human to computer dashed all thoughts of passive listening:

I think

I think I am

Therefore I am I think

Then in the dystopian mood of speculative fiction popular at the time those tentative words are pushed aside by a mechanical voice identified elsewhere as the Voice of Establishment:

Of course you are my bright little star…

Human and computer trade words until both are abruptly supplanted by a third voice that contradicts the mechanical response with wise words ending in a phrase typical of the times:


…and keep on thinking free.

I sat there stunned. I had been expecting some pop kissy love song, but was instead blindsided by philosophical commentary that I would have expected from an episode of The Prisoner or an Arthur C. Clarke story, but before I could gather my thoughts I was musically slapped on my other cheek by the fanfare of guitars and drums of the second track, Lovely to See You. It was an irrepressibly upbeat tune that quickly dispelled any dystopian mood left by the poetry that opened the album, but just as my toe started tapping along with the beat, the song smoothly blended into the slower cadence of the more melancholy third track entitled Dear Diary, which sounded so different from the preceding selections that I flipped the record cover to see if I’d inadvertently purchased a greatest hits or K-tel collection.

The change was so abrupt that I stopped for a moment to extract background information from the stunning gatefold album cover and equally dynamic lyrics booklet. However I became almost immediate confused when the grid-like arrangement of individual portraits and figures in the group photo facing each other across the open interior didn’t match in number. Determined to solve the mystery, I read down the roster:

  • Justin Hayward: Guitar
  • John Lodge: Guitar
  • Ray Thomas: Flute
  • Graeme Edge: Percussion
  • Mike Pinder: Keyboards (organ & Mellotron®)
  • Tony Clarke: Engineer

Armed with this knowledge, I went back to connect each band member with the songs they wrote/performed, and in the process pieced together the fact that Tony Clarke wasn’t a member of the band, but instead was the guy that organized things and got the music recorded correctly. It was a job that I knew little about, but even with that lack it was obvious the wonderful sound quality and the superb manner in which the songs all worked together more than deserved acknowledgement. It was a complex task as each song was a reflection of its author’s personality, which explained the buzz-kill brought on by the somber Dear Diary as it followed the extremely upbeat Lovely to See You.

The acoustical whiplash continued with the quasi-country tune Send Me No Wine on the third track, which in turn seamlessly led into the electric introduction of To Share Our Love, a number that quickly had me wondering if I’d taken one too many hits to the helmet during practice earlier in the day. I could swear I was hearing two songs playing at the same time; a mid-range tune and an almost-falsetto parallel song with a slightly different but supporting message, but it turned out that was exactly what was going on when I checked the lyrics booklet. It was fascinating stuff, but the complexity came with an almost physical effect, which combined with the consequence of back-to-back practice sessions earlier in the day made me extremely tired. I considered just turning off the stereo and going to bed, but in my truest OCD manner I held on till that last track on the first side…and I was glad I did because So Deep within You was a perfect stopping point.  While the song itself was an entreaty for communication, Mike Pinder’s commanding tone made me think of the “Let’s All Go to the Lobby” intermission clips at epic movies – it was a good time for a short break, which was perfect because I needed time for proper digestion of:

  • The cheese and mustard sandwich that I made in lieu of a supper that had gone cold.
  • The fundamental question haunting me, “What the hell am I listening to?

…after which I wasted no time getting back to the music that had me so enthralled. Until recently my album purchases had been limited to “Greatest Hits” compilations or Beatles albums, which given the chop-job Capital Records did to the original EMI playlists, weren’t that far removed from that first category. On the Threshold of a Dream was something completely different: none of the tracks fit the 2:45 AM radio hit format and each song sounded completely different from all the others, yet fit together to tell a story that the listener felt rather than read.

By this time serious fatigue had set in, causing me to start the “bob & nod”, so after placing the needle down on the “B” side of the album I crawled up on the bunk built into the sloping wall of my loft. I had meticulously read the lyric booklet, so it was obvious that the careful acoustic guitar chords and soft vocals that started Never Comes the Day marked it as a Justin Hayward tune. He was already my favorite out of the bunch, but I wasn’t prepared for the effect the song had on me as it built to a crescendo:

If only you knew what’s inside of me now

You wouldn’t want to know me somehow

I sat up so quickly that I damn near knocked myself cold on the low ceiling tover the bunk, so I laid back down and let the music wash over me. Taking to an entire album so quickly was a novel thing for me, but Never Comes the Day was hitting so close to home that it was almost uncomfortable. At seventeen I had reached a crossroads where self-fulfillment intersected with transpersonal commitment, leaving me frantic for a way to balance finding my direction in life with responsibilities for, and expectations of, those around me. Mr. Hayward was coming up with some pretty good ideas, and he making music that seemed like answers to me, words that were “stealth scripture” – necessary knowledge or truth from a Higher Power that would have been otherwise rejected by an audience had it been presented via traditional organized religion.

…then once again one song faded into the next, and I was listening to Lazy Day, another folksy Ray Thomas tune that seemingly extolled the delights of a lazy Sunday afternoon before introducing a parallel lyric line bemoaning the tedious sameness of workaday life. The tune was very similar in tone to his earlier song on the first side, and while I loved his work on the flute, I wasn’t sure if I’d want to spend much time Mr. Thomas in person. In those pre-Prozac® days I was just beginning to recognize depression’s effect on my life, and the downbeat nature of Ray Thomas’ work wasn’t helping…

I almost didn’t pick up on the soft singing and acoustic guitar work of the third track, Are You Sitting Comfortably, another Justin Hayward composition that washed away any angst the previous track may have brought on. I had just started learning about my Celtic heritage and the idea of a historically correct King Arthur, so the lyrics about Camelot, Guinevere, and Merlin the Magician combined with Ray Thomas’ haunting flute was particularly meaningful to me. It was all very happy-making, but as the track ended on a high flute note seamlessly blended into Mellotron music I fell again into a Moody Blues blindside attack:

 When the white eagle of the north is flying overhead

 And the browns, greens and golds of autumn lie in the gutter dead

I don’t know if it was Graeme Edge’s rich baritone voice, the faint Mellotron keening in the background, or the powerful lines of the poetry itself: I sat up a bit too quickly and bumped my head a second time in response to poetry that could have been tailored for me personally. The album was rife with multiple levels of symbolism, but these spoken words combined dream imagery with the cycle of both an individual day and the entire year, which in turn brought to mind the changing of the seasons, and my favorite time of the year — fall.

I hadn’t felt that way before moving north. California’s climate is temperate to an extreme, and autumn had just been something on a calendar involving new crayons, new television shows, and Halloween. The idiosyncrasies of the South Central Alaskan climate are such that fall starts in early September with the countryside exploding into yellow, gold, orange, and the occasional splash of red, and it’s the only time of year with reasonable weather set against a backdrop of equal parts of day and night. Starting school meant regular days for a while, but there was always the specter of winter and the menace of long nights lurking just over the horizon.

Then as softly as a sundown the backing Mellotron merged into a subtle introspective melody entitled Have You Heard?

Now you know that you are real

Show your friends that you and me

Belong to the same world…

By now the blended transitions are expected and the music eases into the beginning of The Voyage before slowly transforming into something like the soundtrack to a movie, musically taking you through a magic door. A hauntingly slow minor key melody is joined by a flute, then jumps into a rumble, conjuring dream images of running through dark forests, narrowly escaping barely seen dangers, but then the rumbling becomes less intense as piano notes move up and down the scale, the intensity slowly increasing to a more forceful, more frenetic level, before dropping off to a reprise of Have You Heard and returning full circle to the cosmic whistle with which the album began.

I was stunned. I had never heard anything like it – ever. While it was true that I had previously enjoyed both Rubber Soul and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, neither Beatles masterpiece so thoroughly embraced the idea of the concept album as the album I had just heard – or reached its level of meaning. The music had touched me on several levels, becoming important enough to warrant going through two vinyl copies, two cassette copies, a compact disc, and a download, giving me ready access to its stealth scripture throughout my life.

Quite a bargain for just a dollar, eh?

LCHR 1954-2020

She was the girl with multiple nicknames:

  • Samantha (Stevens)
  • Honey (West)
  • (Doctor) Venus

Golden-haired girls were in short supply at Sterling Elementary in the mid-Sixties so it seemed like anytime a blonde would show up on television she would be tagged with the character’s name the following week…but for the other fifty one weeks of the year we knew her as Linda Christine, third of four children in the Hansen family living diametrically opposite from my home on that great circle made up by Robinson and Scout Loops in Sterling, Alaska. 

I carried a torch for her for most of 1966 but as time went by and my Napoleon Solo/U.N.C.L.E.- inspired swagger failed to win her heart our relationship morphed into that often more valuable state known as Good Friend. We’d bounce ideas off each other, share new music, deliver post-mortems on our respective romantic entanglements and just before I left for college in 1971 I lived my seventh grade dream when we went out on a pleasant albeit very platonic date.

I went on to my life and three-fold career while she went into nursing and family life with one of the finest men I have ever known. We would touch base from time to time over the next fifty years and every meeting was equally warm, as if no time had passed, but sadly the time for base-touching is past as she passed away a few days ago. With anyone else I would be ranting about the cruel timing of her demise but if you knew Linda you’d appreciate the symbolism. She is/was one of the most sincere women of faith I have ever met and given the nature and rapid progress of her illness It doesn’t surprise me that she left this mortal plane so close to the anniversary of the birth of our Savior.

She was that nice.

Let me put it this way: you know that stereotypical fundamentalist Karen character that the popular media keeps throwing at us? The narrow-minded, judgmental harridan warping scripture in twisted attacks on just about everyone else?

Well, that wasn’t our Linda.

Linda Christine Hansen Robinson was the anti-Karen, and such a fundamentally good woman that we will all be poorer for her going, but at the same time we are that much richer for having known her.

1964: Uneasy Perch for a Lame Duck

It stood out just enough for me to push the brake pedal on my morning Facebook crawl:

“Established titles! For just $49.95 you can own one square foot of Scottish land which will entitle you (as a landowner) to be addressed as “Lord” – or as the Scots say, “Laird”!” I went on to read that your not-quite-fifty bucks would buy you one (1) square foot plot of land on an estate in Scotland; a unique/numbered plot where they’d plant a tree if you so desired. Topping off the deal was your choice of either a digital or hard-copy version of a personalized certificate of Laird status.

Despite my strong distrust of Facebook sellers it was enough to make me pause for a moment before deciding to save my $49.95. The advertisement was very specific in noting that there was no substantive title of nobility transferred and I’d already been down that particular genealogical road with my Mom’s nonstop assertion that her maiden name (coincidentally “Laird”) was somehow proof that her family came from a line of failed Scottish nobility.

…but I still had to smile as I read about the “wee” plots of Scottish land for sale because there had actually been a time in my life when buying land in one square foot increments had been a very attractive proposition.

May 1964

I was a lame duck.

…a lame duck Woodland Park Elementary fifth grader that is. Normally summer was a great time for a kid, especially during the relatively rain-free summer of 1964 in Anchorage. It was a time for running and playing with my buddies until late in the still-sunlit evening, all the while discussing the events of the past school year and speculating on the school year to come, but  with my family’s impending move to Sterling down on the Kenai Peninsula all such discussions came to a screeching halt.…and it wasn’t just the move that bothered me. After two years of sharing a room with my three younger sisters I finally had my own digs, and even if it was just an alcove portioned off from the front room with two book shelves I was content with having my own space to set up the blue and yellow Roman soldiers I’d ordered off the back of a comic, and display models with a reasonable expectation of their survival. Rumor was that I’d be bunking with my little sisters again after the move south and I wasn’t looking forward to that.

I was caught up in those unhappy thoughts when I happened to see a pair of posters in the hallway of the church the next Sunday announcing construction of a new meetinghouse on Maplewood Street on the east side of town. Several adults were gathered around the first poster talking about the project but I was transfixed by the chart on the second placard labeled “Building Lot Purchase” which depicted a section of land divided up into numerous small squares of various sizes, each annotated with a dollar amount varying proportionally to the size of the square.

The group of adults slowly got larger as more and more people took note of the posters and I was slowly but surely edged away. I could hear snippets of conversation including such phrases as “stake center” and “fund raiser” but I tuned them out. In that continual suspension of disbelief underlying the thought process of all eleven year old boys I had found a solution to the impending move to the Kenai Peninsula and the loss of my personal space. I was going to buy my own place to live.

FOR the next few weeks I went from house to house on Barbara Drive, looking for chores to earn money for my budding real estate empire. I took on any chore offered to include raking, sweeping and on one occasion disposing of a small dead animal which brought in just over a dollar each week which I then turned over to the fund-raising committee on Sunday. As I marked off each square on the chart, I took great care in keeping my purchased lots together, even stooping to the stratagem of erasing and moving initials of other purchasers that appeared inside the boundaries of my proposed estate in the southwest corner of the main lot.

The process gave me a purpose during the summer as my parents came and went on medical trips and attended various camps as we slowly packed for the move. Never long on praise my mom and dad both commented each Sunday on my faithfulness and generosity which I brushed off through my preoccupation with surveying old crates in the garage for use in cobbling together a plan for a small cabin large enough for a sixth grader to lay down in.

 It wasn’t until mid-July that I actually got to see the site of my future kid-stead. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday morning and members of several congregations had gathered at the lot covered with medium height birch and spruce trees typical of south central Alaska. The perimeter of the lot had already been cleared which allowed quick access to my personal area of interest. As I sat down on the moss mentally building my new home I noticed a group of men clustered in the middle of the lot, blueprints in hand and pointing out corresponding areas on the property. It was as I observed their purposeful movements and overheard bits of their discussion that I realized the situation might not be as I’d imagined – there were entirely too many “shuns” in the conversation, words like:

  • Construc-tion
  • Founda-tion
  • Dona-tion

…and the internal Stukas started their strafing run through my insides as I finally tumbled to the fact that the church hadn’t been in the micro-real estate business after all, but had in fact been conducting a fund-raising effort to raise the purchase price for the site of a new central meetinghouse.

Summer allergies provided a reasonable excuse as I started sniffling in disappointment until I remembered with relief that no one had been aware of what I had been doing…no one, that is except maybe my dad, a suspicion born out when the next couple of weeks saw me slowly regaining the money I had inadvertently donated towards the building project. Normally Dad was thrifty to a fault, hanging onto to every penny so tightly that Abraham Lincoln’s eyes bulged… but there were soon several instances when he would uncharacteristically give me the change after a small purchase or pay me for a normally un-paid chore so that by the time we made the actual move my losses had been made good.

As it was I didn’t have much time to mourn the loss – within weeks we were starting a new life 65 miles to the southwest in the tiny hamlet of Sterling on the Kenai Peninsula, and when later visits to Anchorage had us attending church in the beautiful new meetinghouse, I was more interested in the girls than my lost dreams of home ownership.

…but to this day there is one particular parking spot in the southwest corner of the lot where I will park even if I have to walk through snow or rain to get to the building.


1975/2020: A Better Christmas

(… the other Christmas story I re-run each December ( as opposed to the possible-reindeer-on-the-roof story I ran last week…and like I mentioned earlier even though life has seemed like a train wreck in slow motion 2020 has given us a much more fulfilling holiday.)

I have yet to utter my traditional Yuletide greeting (“I >bleep< hate Christmas!”) but I have found that sentiment to be drifting through my head as I have been drifting through that emotional wasteland known as December  – as I have every year since 1966.  You’d think with my sub-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:

  1. Financial strain
  2. Homesickness
  3. Disagreements with my Beautiful Saxon Princess over correct holiday traditions
  4. …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 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 doing 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 making 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 shoved 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.

1976 Beads

It just seemed like a good time to run this one again. While these “year-link” posts were all written to be used as chapters in a book there weren’t originally published here in chronological order. We’re getting closer to publication so I’m re-posting a couple of them in proper sequence to give you an idea of what is coming up.

Thanks

d-

David R. Deitrick, Designer

Kenai Central High School was not on the leading edge of popular culture in the 1970’s, but I had no idea how benighted we were until the Yearbook Issue of National Lampoon came out in the spring of 1971. It featured a parody of a 1950’s high school yearbook and as we leafed through the pages I was surprised to see that the Eisenhower-era fads, slang and dating customs Lampoon was mocking were the same ones we participated in. Even though television had been showing us how to look like other American teenagers of the time, our behavior was twenty years out of date.

College brought me a little more up-to-date, though attending the University in Fairbanks, Alaska still had me on side roads instead of the cultural freeway… My hair got longer. I dressed a bit differently and when I fell in love I did something I thought I…

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“Hello?”

“Anybody there?”

I’m a semi-shut-in (if that’s a thing) so I’m used to my horizons being clipped short and using Amazon for shopping…but from where I stand it’s not just the mall, church of my grandson’s school that seems deserted – it’s feels deserted here as well. I can’t speak for all of my other word-crunching friends but for me personally – I’ve never had such low readership figures, looks, likes whatever you call it. I hope it’s just quirk brought on by the virus and that as time goes on we all get back to reading and commenting.

To better days!

Late Night Lament Revisited

(With apologies to Moody Blues percussionist/poet Graeme Edge for stealing his title – it was just too perfect for this post. This was composed a few nights back when I woke up in searing pain at 2:23am – I will try to edit it down to something understandable)

While experts say that late night use of personal electronics interferes with sleep, I’ve found that they can be either a blessing or a curse. I’ve kept track of the efficacy of painkillers over the years and found that they fail 12% of the time, which means that I face a one-out-of-a-dozen chance of waking up in pain that is not eased, making that particular night seem much, much longer than the few hours it actually covers. It’s that point that I’m glad to have a smart phone or tablet handy to provide some distraction.

Most of the time it involves listening, as in :

  • Listening to old radio programs; classics like Dragnet or 21st
  • Listening to LT Theo Kojak bellow “CROCKER” while working a homicide case.
  • Listening to Gordon Lightfoot or the Moody Blues take me to simpler, less stressful times or a more spiritual place.

Most of humanity has no concept of living in chronic pain and I have to laugh at those who suggest that I wean myself off my meds and just pray more. It’s hard to understand a life that entails living in the present and just wanting to escape the pain for a few minutes. You think it’s tough enduring the commuter coyote sitting next to you on the train? The one with earbuds in and singing along with their iPod for the entire trip? Try coping with level 6 or 7 pain in your back, hips and knees for hours on end.

It’s even more difficult because of the years I defined myself by the miles I could walk, the mountains I could climb and the adventures I would find on my way. Now my adventures consist of laughing along with the cast of NewsRadio or listening to Days of Future Past in the middle of the night while I watch the moonlight and shadows make a new landscape and pray that blessed sleep will soon come and let me roam in spirit over those new forests and oceans.

Sunday Will Never Be The Same

Spanky and Our Gang was just an inch-and-a=half too successful to be considered a one-hit-wonder but their presence in American culture was cut all too short when lead guitarist Malcom Hale died unexpectedly in the fall of 1968. With tunes like “Lazy Day” and “I’d Like to Get To Know You” the “sunshine pop” band’s positive message provided a welcome respite during those times when social upheaval dominated the news media, but  I will always remember them best for what was arguably their signature tune “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”.

…which is probably why I’ve been playing it a lot lately.

Sundays are definitely not the same for me at this stage of my life, when making sure that my I-Phone is plugged in and charging has a higher priority than making sure my shoes are shined and trousers ironed for work tomorrow morning – or simply being able to make it from my bed to my papa chair prompts the same sense of accomplishment that completing a 5K did when I was younger. That same physical limitation has also transformed church attendance from being almost a habit into to an eagerly anticipated/much appreciated opportunity for spiritual transfusion on those rare days when we can get there.

…but then again some things are not so different. It’s distressing to see heated demonstrations devolve into street violence, but at least the anti-fa and alt-right aren’t bombing each other like the Weather Underground was in the habit of doing fifty years ago.

Life has stayed the same inside the walls of our home as well. Even though my Beautiful Saxon Princess and I are battling our respective autoimmune issues our feelings toward each other are just as warm – no, even warmer as they have always been and we have children and grandchildren around us that share those same feelings, all of which make our home a haven from the craziness

Sunday may not be the same – it’s harder in some ways but in it’s better in the ways that matter.

 

2019: Fractal-blessings

Even though it has been in use for over thirty years fractal is a word that remains a little ambiguous to me. Oh, I’ve read many definitions to include that by the Fractal Foundation1: A fractal is a never-ending pattern. Fractals are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop… Fractal patterns are extremely familiar, since nature is full of fractals: trees, rivers, coastlines, mountains, clouds, seashells, hurricanes, etc.”

 …all of which is incredibly informative but a bit unwieldy to use in composition or conversation so I tend to think of fractals as: lots of little bits that all look alike and are used to make larger things that look like the little bits. I also use fractal as a found word2 for descriptions that lack a more exact term, a situation that has come about since my mobility became limited and my pain level increased. I am very goal-oriented and tend to think of life in big-picture terms, but I have had to learn to set fractal-goals and recognize fractal blessings.

Where I used to meticulously map out each week in terms days filled with interlocking blocks of time filled with work or appointments I’m now happy to make it to the bathroom and back unaided. Where I used to take my comfortable home life for granted I am grateful for the individual efforts of each member of my family. Instead of just plopping into a chair I am grateful for that one perfect pillow that isn’t too soft or too firm. I read and reflect on each name/like under the FaceBook posts.

Instead of a general “it’s all good” I’ve become more aware of – and more thankful for – each good thing in my life no matter how small.

The fractal-goals and fractal blessings.

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Notes:

  1. A for-real  New Mexico-based non-profit organization advocating math and science education through the use of fractals.
  2. See 2019: Found Words