Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Growing Up in Himni, Utah - Episode 13

# 13 – Szhungaelzee

Mitch Warner and I and few others were cleaning up the stage after the School Play our senior year. We just about had things tidied up when somebody (Hall of Famers won’t like the lack of a specific name.) kicked a roll of masking tape across the floor. Somebody else kicked it back and the game of Szhungaelzee was born. In seconds, four chairs were set up, as goals, at opposite ends of the bare stage and a full blown scrimmage was underway. Not entirely original, Szhungaelzee was played with the feet, like soccer, with a puck (the masking tape) like hockey, preferably on a hardwood floor. We had a ball that afternoon playing, developing rules, strategy, technique and terminology.

We were on a mission! Before we went to bed that night the game had been named, the puck had been renamed the Raquephrat, the rules had been committed to memory and two teams had been formed. It was commonly agreed that most sports had been buried so deep in rules that they had become stodgy and mechanical. Szhungaelzee’s rules were bare bones at best. We considered Sunday shoes as required equipment. A slightly rebelious way to thumb our noses at the school coaches, who were constantly whining about the gym floor during dances. We threw it out though, knowing we’d never find a place to play if we did. The number one rule was: All comers are welcome! We didn’t ever want Szhungaelzee to become elitist and political like High School sports had become.

Can you sense a tone of bitterness here? You should. There were a lot of us who were bitter about showing up every Friday night to worship the chosen few. In fact that’s how Szhungaelzee got it’s name. We used to sit in the stands at the ball games and make up our own cheers. Stuff like, “Lean to the Left, Lean to the Left, Lean to the Left again, rah (or was it raw?)!” At which point the one farthest on the left made like he’d been shoved off the end of the bleachers. Good fun. One day Mitch showed up with a new one. He’d heard it in a movie or read it in a book somewhere. It was a cheer from some college named Shelgamy. It went, “”S” Stands for Shelgamy, “H” stants for Hit. Shelgamy, Shelgamy, (clap) (clap) (clap).” Anyway, Mitch couldn’t, for the life of him, remember Shelgamy so in order to render it for us he came up with an invented college named “Szhungaelzee!” It was irreverent I know. That was the point. There were no intramural sports. There was no E in PE. Only the elite got a real shot at playing ball of any kind. We were synical about the whole athlete thing and this was our subtle statement about it all. Anyway, when we played Szhungaelzee, the cheer was implied and the whole thing represented a sneer at the establishment. This was the late sixties after all.

The next day the stage was locked, the gym was occupied and we were dying for a quick game during the lunch hour. The new Himni High had a hall just for the Arts department. It dead ended at the band room. It wasn’t all that wide, but it had little traffic, so it worked. Douglas Winger sneaked one past Pee Wee Lundquist, our goalie, and the Raquephrat slid out into the main hall. Douglas, who was Himni’s pre-eminent scholar and kept a pretty low profile at school, was in hot pursuit. He was already developing his famous sliding swoop and attempted to use it to bring the masking tape back into play. He slid on his side out into the main hall intending to hook the Raquephrat with is right foot and swoop it back the other direction. Just as he made the hook though, Mrs. Celestia Hopewell’s right foot stepped right on the tape. Douglas was already looking back in our direction. I guess there wasn’t time for him to see the horror in our faces. In what seemed like slow motion (which hadn’t been invented yet), Douglas swooped. Celestia went one way and the puck went the other. After we gathered Mrs. Hopewell up from the floor, she marched us all the to office. She was kind enough to acknowledge it was an accident, but we were forever banned from playing Szhungaelzee in the hall.

Pee Wee attended the Grant Ward and his Dad had a key to the building. We got permission to use the gym at the church and scheduled our first game for the following Thursday. The Raquephrat Kickers defeated the Anti-Jocks by a score of 12 to 7! Each team consisted of six players. Pee Wee was our goalie. The spread of his two size 12 feet left exactly the width of a roll of masking tape between the pop bottles we used as goal posts. It was hard to get one past him. The most exciting part was the turn out! There were probably 80 spectators. Three more teams were organized by night’s end. Another signed up the following afternoon. We had a league!

Lew Hopkins was Student Body President that year. I don’t think he ever joined a team, but he showed up every Thursday to cheer us on. On Friday mornings, when he did the announcements over the intercom at school, Lew would read the Szhungaelzee scores. This drew more excitement and before long we had huge crowds showing up Thursday evenings at the Grant Ward Cultural Hall.

Then problems began, especially at my house. (Mom and Dad were both on the faculty.) The establishment was not pleased. It began with the coaches and my dad. I guess they felt threatened. I guess they thought we were encroaching on their turf. Maybe they feared economic repercussions. Like Communism this cancer had to be erradicated. Initially, they tried to “talk sense” into us. It was quickly obvious that wasn’t going to work. Threats followed. Still we played on. Then one night we showed up at the church to find the key no longer worked and a note on the door indicating the “brethren” had determined that they could no longer permit our activity. Liability and law suits were not a concern. Those were the days when the troop rode to camp in the back of the Scoutmaster’s pickup truck. We checked the other meeting houses with the same results. We had been black balled!

When I got home that night my father and mother were not speaking to one another. Dad, who’d seemed pretty puffed up for about a week, looked pretty humble. I’d heard a heated rumble in their bedroom the night before. All I could make out was Mom saying, “…it’s good clean fun!” and something about “…a bunch of self agrandizing bullies!” Nothing was ever said to me, but I’m sure Mom didn’t approve of his strong arming us kids into submission. It helped to know Mom stuck up for us.

And so, Szhungaelzee died. Perhaps it’s just as well. I might have gone pro and ruined my whole life with fame and lavish excess. Since then, while the jocks waste countless hours couched in front of ball games on TV, I enjoy days and days hiking on the mountain. While they hobble around the golf course on aching knees, I backpack in the Grand Canyon. While they relive their youth by yelling at their kids on the little leage field, I fly kites with mine. They got what they wanted and, in the end, so did I.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Focus on Living

We had a staff meeting this morning followed by lunch and bowling at the Dinah Bowl.  There were seven of us.  None of us had bowled in years.  I can't imagine how long its been for me; 30 years I suppose.  I seriously considered skipping that part.  It was, after all, optional.  I knew I'd be a lousy bowler and embarrass myself and seriously considered the silliness of even making the attempt.  I wasn't that bad.  I rolled a few gutter balls and made a few strikes and even a couple of spares.  We all had a good time and the food was right respectable.  I came away with a better sense of who and how my co-workers are.  I clearly gained a better fondness for each of them.  A couple of people who seemed quite intimidating were just as clutzy and insecure about their athletic prowess as I was.  Good experience.

When I got a chance later on I picked up a wonderful book I'm reading, and in the course of my reading encountered this observation:
"...I have become better at writing than living...:"  (Juliet from Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)
That little statement hit me right between the eyes!  I spend a lot of time writing - observing and writing, and it is easy to substitute that for actual living.  Writing by nature invites me to become a spectator of life rather than a participant in it.  And it seems the more I write the more I lean in that direction.  Today's experience reminded me that I've got to concentrate on observing while I'm living rather than doing it instead of living.

Another factor is that it is to easy to live virtually rather than literally these days.  I've become a orchard virtuoso of sorts with my Farmville farm on Facebook.  It is so satisfying to harvest all those crops and build my virtual empire.  Meanwhile, my literal empire is dwindling.  Clearly another case of sitting on the sidelines of life instead of actually participating in the game.  Some of each is probably appropriate but I've simply got things out of balance of late.

I wonder if age has something to do with it.  Bowling never actually hurt before.  There again, it may actually be an outgrowth of the sedentary nature of writing.  So making a new year effort of living more may make me more active and less likely to suffer when I am.  So off the sidelines I go.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Wonderful Christmas Time

Christmas was significantly pared down this year, what with the economy and all.  That is the material part of it.  The spiritual, joyful, grateful, together part of Christmas seemed greatly enhanced as a result.  I think it was one of the most pleasant Christmases in memory.  There was nothing spectacular, nothing even remarkable.  I think it's beauty lay in it's simplicity.  That and in it's little sacrifices. 

One daughter drove eight hours to be here for two days, just to turn around and drive home again.  Another daughter, concerned that the little ones might have to do without much this year made enormous personal sacrifices for her neice and nephew.  Another daughter, whose budget was tight, still motivated us to reach out to folks less fortunate than we.  Our youngest, who still lives at home, did all the decorating and ran so many errands. Mom chose to give a gift of livestock to impoverished third world recipients in our name.  We couldn't have been more pleased.  A niece and nephew who've been strapped by enormous medical expenses and much illness during the year were recipients of a cash gift given in Grandmother's name.  What wonderful choices, to recognize our own abundance and share it with those in very real need.

My brother's family all gathered too.  Seven couples and 19 grand children.  To take a little pressure off the house they went sleigh riding and then reserved the recreation hall at the church for a meal, games, singing and mingling.  We were included.  I'll never remember the names of all those neices and nephews.  It was so good to meet them though and observe their wonderful little personalities.  Their parents are raising them so well.  With a generation like these growing up we have the prospect of a bright future indeed.

We have so very much to be thankful for.  Sweetie and I were quite dependent upon the others for rides to and fro as our car is still in the shop from last week's collision with a deer.  Every one has been so helpful and gracious in our time of incovenience.  We never had to miss a thing.

I was so impressed with one of the local radio stations.  For the past couple of weeks they've been running a spot reminding us that Christmas is about our Savior Jesus Christ and encouraging us to love and care for those less fortunate than ourselves.  How refreshing that was amid all of the advertisments encouraging us to spend our money on this or that commercial, must have.

More than any Christmas in my recollection, this year, I have felt Peace on Earth.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Of Nephi's Broken Bow

Last evening, on the way home from Grandmother's house, we hit a deer.  It smashed up the front end of our SUV pretty badly.  We have friends who operate a body shop not far from the accident scene.  We limped the wounded Yukon over there and parked it.  The kids gave us a ride home and offered us their truck for meetings in the morning.  We've been a one car family for years.  Now, for the time being at least, we're a no car family.

Things might appear to be pretty bleak.  We still haven't recovered from our flooded basement of two years ago, I'm mostly unemployed and debts are mounting.  Now this.

I experienced this new set back in relative calm.  No one was injured, except the poor deer.  We were rescued in short order and as I write this I can still think of myriad blessings to count and be thankful for.  I have no idea how we're going to emerge from all of this.  Maybe we won't.  Not at least for a long time it appears.

As I ponder these things I can't help but think of Nephi's bow.  The story tells us that Nephi broke his bow.  It doesn't tell us how.  That part would be interesting to know.  However it happened Nephi's brothers were furious with him.  Anyway, it was a major setback as they now had no means to provide food for themselves.  It had to have been discouraging.  They were, after all, on the Lord's errand.  They were bound for the Promised Land as they had been commanded.  Everyone murmured except for Nephi.  Instead, Nephi went to work making a new bow.  He didn't blame the Lord, in fact he took the blame.

Now, my circumstances are far from being as bleak as Nephi's.  I still have a comfortable, warm home, food to eat, a comfortable bed.  I have no cause to complain.  I am not perfect, in fact I think I required some humbling.  I get a little stiff-necked now and then.  This incident certainly has made me think about that.  The decline of my prosperity has been continuing for quite some time.  It may not be finished yet.  Nevertheless, the answer is not in money, or things, or relief from obligation.  The answer lies in humbly trusting the Lord and submitting, with cheerfulness, to whatever He sees fit to inflict upon me.  I have lessons to learn in mortality and God seems determined that I learn them.  That alone should be cause for great rejoicing.  I have a Father in Heaven who desires to teach me what I need to learn in order to return, not only to live with Him, but to become like Him.  What a great and marvelous blessing that is.  My task is to trust Him through the thin as well as the thick things of life.  My task is to be submissive and thankful in all things.  My task is to remember Him, not only in the hard times but in the good times.  The thing is, I don't always remember and  last evening's little experience has served as a reminder.

I've been having a pity party of late.  I've spent an inordinate amount of time feeling sorry for myself - murmuring, if you will.  That is such an ungrateful, graceless thing to do.  Not only must it offend a kind and generous God, it is self destructive and incapacitating.  No wonder my prosperity is in decline.  God does not sustain us in our doubts and fears and complaints.  He sustains us in our trust and love and gratitude.  I am clearly in great need of sustenance and need to remember in whom I have trusted.  Nephi's creation of a new bow, was not the solution to his dilemma.  God was the solution to his problem.  The fact that Nephi made his bow was simply an indicator that he still trusted God and was willing to do his part in finding a solution.  I must more earnestly seek employment, but in the end it is God who will provide.

My wrecked vehicle can serve as a reason to re-inflate the balloons and spike the punch of my pity party or it can remind me of my dire need for a loving, providing, forgiving, sustaining Savior.  Today, I choose the latter.

Friday, December 18, 2009

When the Means Becomes the End

Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve has likened the fullness of the gospel to a piano keyboard. He has told us that a person could be “attracted by a single key,” such as a doctrine he or she wants to hear “played over and over again. … Some members of the Church who should know better pick out a hobby key or two and tap them incessantly, to the irritation of those around them. They can dull their own spiritual sensitivities. They lose track that there is a fullness of the gospel … [which they reject] in preference to a favorite note. This becomes exaggerated and distorted, leading them away into apostasy” (Ensign, December 1971, pages 41–42).  ...Beware of a hobby key. If you tap one key to the exclusion or serious detriment of the full harmony of the gospel keyboard, Satan can use your strength to bring you down.  (Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall, Elder Dallin H. Oaks, BYU 18 Stake Fireside, June 1992)
Now, I'm going to get some flack for this, but I'm going to say it anyway.  I think Elder Packer and Elder Oaks, quoted above are right on in their assessment of a tendency that is quite common in the Kingdom.

My first real exposure to is was as a Scout Leader.  Typically, men go into Scouting reluctantly, if not kicking and screaming.  Getting them trained is like pulling teeth.  Still a goodly number do get trained, go to Wood Badge and catch the fire of the program.  It gets in their blood.  Round Table Meetings and return trips to leadership training as trainers add fuel to the fire.  For some Scouting becomes everything.  I was called to various Scouting positions much of my adult life.  What I've described happened to me to a large degree.  I still love Scouting, it is a good program, good for boys and good for men.  The problem becomes when Scouters play only that key on the gospel keyboard.  It is not only annoying to others it is spiritually dangerous to the person.  I knew one man who was seriously struggling over whether to be buried in his Temple clothes or his Scout uniform.  A clear case of the means becoming the end in one confused mind.  These brethren were often heard criticizing the Church for corrupting Scouting or not allowing it to function as it was designed.  They seem to have forgotten that the Church selected Scouting as a means to their own ends, not to become the end in and of itself.

When I was called away from Scouting, I was treated, by this type of Scouter, as traitor to the cause.  They repeatedly approached me with attempts at "guilt tripping" me back into the program.  "You're a Silver Beaver*, for crying out loud, how can you turn your back on Scouting?"  They never seemed to understand my explanation that while I gave 100% to Scouting when I was there, I am now giving 100% to my new calling, which is also an important facet of the true church.  It has been ten years now, since I last served in a Scouting position and I still detect bitterness among some of my brethren for abandoning my post.  I did not abandon it, I was called away from it.

What I learned in Scouting has enhanced my performance as a husband, father, grandfather and in my current church service.  I'm thankful for that experience.

Now, I've seen this same sort of single keyed focus among people who serve in other corners of the Kingdom.  Genealogy, Temple Work, Missionary Work, food storage, and Word of Wisdom, to name a few.

Last night I discovered it again at my LDS Addiction Recovery Meeting.  My regular group has become more and more disconcerting to me.  I couldn't put my finger on the problem.  I just have become uncomfortable there.  I haven't attended for a couple of months.  Not that I think I'm cured or anything.  I expect to need support in my recovery, for the balance of my life and perhaps beyond.  I've just been traveling and had other obligations so I haven't been as faithful as I ought to be in my attendance.  Anyway, I think my long absence made the changes more obvious and last night it became apparent to me why my heart has been unsettled at the meetings. For too many, especially the leaders, the program seems to have become the end rather than the means.  I can see why this might happen.  Anything that has made such a big difference in someone's life attracts a great deal of loyalty, even adoration.  Perhaps this is what blinds us to the danger of singling out that one thing and ignoring the rest of life.

Like too many Scouters became more loyal to BSA than to the Church, many at ARP appear to be more loyal to AA than to the Church.  Like the Scouters who concerned me; too often I hear ARP participants, complaining and criticizing the way the Church operates the program while praising Alcoholics Anonymous.  They too, seem to have forgotten that the Church chose the 12 Steps as a means, not as an end.  More and more meetings quote from the Big Book and less and less from the Scriptures.  It was not always thus.  Last night, for the first time in my recollection, the leaders didn't even get the scriptures out of the library.  For some, the program is becoming more important than recovery.  I can't help but wonder if they're not just switching addictions.

I said before that I expect to need support from a 12 Step group for the remainder of my life.  But, I don't expect to be defined by it.  I am an addict.  But, I am also a husband, father, grandfather, servant of the Lord, friend, employee, lover of life.  I am not about to let my addiction define my life.  I'm getting flack for this.  Warnings that bordered on threats were issued at last night's meeting.  That's only going to make me more reluctant to attend.  But worse, it makes me worry about my friends who've been doing so well.  With Elder Oaks, I pray our strengths don't become our downfall.

Now, let me say, that while these things worry and concern me.  I'm talking about people I love and admire, who've overcome enormous affliction.  I don't want to seem critical of them, just concerned for the direction they seem to be going.  I wish I knew how to call it to their attention without causing more harm than good.  Any advice?

*An award that was premature, undeserved and unsought

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Growing Up in Himni Utah - Episode 12

The Omner Valley Jr. High, had been the High School before the new one was built. Before it was the High School it had been the Omner Valley Stake Acadamy. It was built in about 1915 and showed it’s age. It was a three story brick structure. Holes had been drilled through the walls and long pipes installed with large plates on the outside of the brick. These were intended to bolt the whole place together. A large tube had been retrofitted to the northside third floor as a fire escape. The upper entrance was always locked to keep us from horsing around in it, so we’d climb up from the bottom and slide down anyway. We always wondered if the person with the key would be there if a fire ever occurred.
OVJH had a combination auditorium/gymnasium. The gym floor doubled as a stage. The auditorum seating, including a large balcony, accomodated the entire student body and half the town. If you sat too far to the left though, the curtains hid the basketball bankboard on that end. Same thing on the right. Butch Farley’s gang loved sitting in the balcony with pea shooters during basketball games.
It was in that auditorium that I saw the second most amazing athletic feat of my life. My pal Ronnie Hulet was probably the greatest, natural born athlete I ever met. He never went out for sports, to the dismay of all the coaches, but the things he could do were legendary. In Omner Valley Jr. High, he was fastest up the rope, impossible to hit with a dodge ball and could do triple the pull ups of anyone in the eighth grade. One day I walked into the auditorium just in time to see him standing on the rim of the basketball hoop. He dived, and I mean head first, on to the bare hardwood floor. I thought I was watching a suicide attempt! When he reached the floor though, he completed the slickest roll you ever saw and came up standing on his feet, a broad grin spread clear across his face. The coaches forbade Ronnie from ever doing it again; but secretly they bragged about him every chance they got. The funny thing is, he never played sports because his Mom didn’t want him to get hurt.
The school got a new English teacher that year. Her name was Miss Cornelia Green. She was reported to have been an accomplished journalist with the Chicago Tribune. No one could ever explain though, why an accomplished journalist would leave her career in Chicago to teach brats at Omner Valley Jr. High. She was a big boned, manly woman. She dyed her hair blonde. The dark roots of her coarse tangle of shoulder length mane were always showing. She had little cosmetic talent and her make up looked like it amounted to weeks of layers. It was often caked on so thick it cracked, as did her bright red lip stick. She had a black mole right on the tip of her nose which always managed to shine through by noon. Quite frankly, looking back, I honestly wonder if she wasn’t really George C. Scott hiding out in the Witness Protection Program.
Miss Green managed no degree of classroom discipline. This was not for lack of effort. One time she went to smite me on the back of the hand with a ruler. I managed to catch the ruler and we shook it between us for a few moments before she let her end go and retreated to her desk. She would storm from commotion to commotion feigning fury but wasn’t a good enough actress to pull it off. Her storming was amusing to watch though. You could see the frustration building up, then she’d rock way back on her heels as if winding up and would launch her enormous body forward in a thundering charge. More than once the teachers on the floor below had sent up delegations to plead for less commotion from our room. Their, biggest complaint? “It sounded like a herd of cattle stampeding across the floor.” We soon learned that there wasn’t a mean bone in her body and instead of loving her for it we took horrible advantage.
Finally, about half way through the year, she gave up on trying to teach us anything and resorted to reading stories and books to us. She hoped at least to pique our interest in literature. Mostly, she selected wonderful stuff and I for one, sat in wrapt attention as Sherlock Holmes or Robinson Crusoe or Jean Valjean’s adventures paraded across the stage of my imagination.
Ronnie Hulet, on the other hand, had a very hard time sitting still in any situation. To do nothing but listen to Cornelia Green read for an hour was torture for him. He’d have gladly taken P.E. seven periods a day, where he’d surely have received straight A’s. Sometimes he’d cope by drifting off to sleep. Along about the end of April though, when the weather was warming up nicely, the compulsion to be outside running overtook Ronnie. Right in the middle of Red Badge of Courage, he stood up and screamed, “I’ve had it, I can’t take this anymore!” Whereupon, he dashed across the room and dived out the second story window!
Miss Green staggered, her eyes rolled back and down she went. It was not a pretty sight. For one thing women and girls wore dresses to school in those days. When she came to, it was Ronnie who was fanning her face with a file folder. She thought she’d halucinated the whole thing. And I realized that this was the premier athletic accomplishment I’d ever witnessed.
Ronnie Hulet moved away the next Summer and I never heard of him again. Cornelia Green never returned to Himni after that year either. They say she went back to Chicago and journalism. I keep hoping someday she’ll write her version of the story. I’d like to close my eyes and listen to her read it.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review - Breathless by Dean Koontz

What do you do when you're right in the middle of a good book, and Sweetie hands you Koontz's lastest novel?  I don't know about anyone else, but for me, it's drop everything and read!

This one, while not my favorite Koontz novel, by far, was pretty darn fun.  Four different stories don't come together until the last couple of chapters.  Four stories that seem utterly unrelated.  One story is a new twist on Koontz's nasty bad guy.  He's bad, too right, but he's also a bungling idiot.  Best laid plans gone completely wrong.  Of course the bad guy is a politician.  No surprise there, when did politician's best laid plans go any other way!  And, of course the politician has a tantrum when things come to their logical conclusion.

You're going to really love Dean's extensive treatise completely disproving evolution.  Careful though, I don't want any fundamentalist Christians getting too excited; there is logic involved.

Of course the central theme of the book is that things are not necessarily what they seem and that even science is evolving at such a rapid rate that we can hardly count on anything we think we know.

If you'd like to think outside the box for a few light breezy hours, pick up this book.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Why Not Me?

There are reports of so many strange unexplained phenomena.  Here and abroad unusual things transpire and are even witnessed by thousands sometimes.  How is it that I never get to see such stuff.

This week a spiral light appeared over arctic Norway.  It is pictured above.  Now, wouldn't that have been cool to see?  Back in the sixties several friends of mine, even some of worthy repute, saw UFO's in our valley.  I stayed up night after night watching and never saw a thing.  I've been to the Northwest, but never saw Sasquatch.  I've been on the Skinwalker Ranch but have never seen a skinwalker.  I've been in a haunted house but have never seen a ghost.

Do I somehow repel such things?  I've long wanted to attract strange occurrences, but the harder I try the worse I do.  I wonder if I had one front incisor removed if that would do the trick?

Now, in the interest of fairness, I have seen some pretty neat stuff.  I once saw a meteorite cross the sky that was seen from California to Colorado and from Mexico to Canada.  That was pretty neat.  Just not neat enough to be unexplainable.  Just a couple of weeks ago I watched the International Space Station cross the sky followed by the Space Shuttle.  I was moved by what that represents, but it made sense and was identified.  I'm interested in the stuff that can't be explained.  Mysterious stuff is a lot more fun and of course, mysterious.

Am I forever doomed to see swamp gas as just swamp gas?  Must I take peyote to see skinwalkers or be drunk to see UFO's?  It just doesn't seem fair that I have to miss out on all the fun.  Why am I relegated to a world that just makes sense?  Does that make sense?  I'm crazy too you know!  I want in on the action! 

Maybe I just don't have a well enough developed imagination.  I'm going to work on that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What The Heck Is An LDS Clock?

According to Deseret Book's TV ad this (drum roll please) is a LDS Clock!  So does this mean it is eight years old?  Has it been baptized?  If I buy one do I need to have the Ward Clerk send for it's membership records?  Does it tell time by a gift of the Spirit?  Will my Home Teachers give me a better report if they find one sitting on my mantel?  Do I need to get a mantel?  Does it chime when its time for Family Prayer?  How much more to I have to pay for it than a Gentile Clock?  Does a Mormon Clock keep better time than, say, a Catholic Clock?  If I don't buy one is my Temple Recommend in jeopardy?

My question for Deseret Book is this, "When are you going to start selling Chia Pet replicas of the General Authorities?"

Up In The Night

I'm rather stuck in an adjustment period.  I worked the graveyard shift last night and will do so for five out of the next seven nights.  The transition is always hard.  I went to bed when I got home this morning but could only stay asleep for three and a half hours.  That isn't enough to sustain me very well tonight.  Writing is going to be my primary means of staying awake.  I don't have many duties.  Just a bed check every 15 minutes.  It will be easy to nod off if I'm not very careful.  I think I'll keep this particular post open and report my progress and maybe some of the antics I have to pull in order avoid getting fired for sleeping on watch.

I think, in the long run, I'll prefer to work graves.  It is quiet, will afford me plenty of time to write and once I'm adjusted, shouldn't cause too many problems schedule wise.  It's moving back and forth from days to nights that is the biggest problem.

Sweetie and I watched the Grand Finale of  The Biggest Loser this evening.  Dan won!  I was so thrilled for him. He lost over 55% of his original body weight, that's over 230 pounds!  All of the participants did amazingly well.  It was so inspiring to see the transformations they made, not only in their bodies, but in their emotional and spiritual health. I think I'll have to work out some this evening, both to burn a few calories and to help me stay awake.  I can also see that I need some emotional and spiritual assistance and hope to gain in that area as well.  I've been highly unmotivated lately and really need to get going on a program of productivity, creativity and progress.

Currently, I'm working part time.  I hope this changes to full time soon.  I need the consistency in my life that regular employment affords.  I wish it were different, but right now, at least, it is not.

I've spent a good productive couple of hours writing on my book Revelation.  I have to get up every 15 mnutes and do a bed check.  I only have one child in my charge this evening.  So it's all pretty easy.  The hard part is staying awake.  I did a few jumping jacks moments ago.  That helped.

My book is getting exciting.  I rarely know much in advance, where the story will take me.  I have a general outline, but the details are always as big a surprise as though I were reading what someone else wrote.

I had to quit working on my book.  Can't think well enough to create.  I did manage to write about 3000 words though and I over came a pretty big obstacle in the plot while I was at it.

It is going to be very good to do this with a good night's sleep under my belt.  I have managed to stay awake though.  I'm glad of that.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Tribute to Lester Draper

Lester Barton Draper passed away on November 22, 2009.  He was 65.

Les was my first cousin and pretty much the standard bearer for the family.  He had gone for a bicycle ride and suffered a heart attack while riding.  He was found still astide his bike, lying at the side of the road.

Les was the only one of our generation who had much memory of our Grandpa Eph.  We loved hearing him tell stories of his boyhood alongside Grandpa on the farm in Provo.  He reminded me of Grandpa.  Both were short and a bit portly in their old age.  Both died of heart failure.  Both were jovial and gregarious.  I was always grateful to be around Les and his cheerful nature.  Everyone who knew him knew Les loved and enjoyed him or her.

Les had the most endearing laugh.  It was such a delight to hear his joyful laughter that you just longed to be funny enough to make him do it again.  Les was funny enough for all of us.  We didn't have to make him laugh, he made us laugh.  I would love to have a bottle of that delightful sound that I could open and enjoy at will.  At the luncheon, I listened for it.  I hoped to hear him laughing from the other side.  It never happened.  I hoped the his son or brother, might somehow sound the same.  No such luck.  Les' signature giggle went with him and we'll have a long wait before we hear it again.

Lester was an outfitter.  He would take folks on horseback outings.  He was the whole package.  He was a ferrier and could keep the horses shod.  He was a great camp cook.  He loved to play the guitar and sing.  He'd done a lot of research digging up old cowboy songs and loved to share them.  He was an excellent carpenter and was often out helping people with this project or that.  He did a lot of work on Christmas projects for people.  These are all service opportunities and avocational activities.  Careerwise, Les was a Driver's Licence Examiner.

He was a member of a couple of bands and played a lot around Central Utah.  Every Tuesday he was found at the Old Folks Home entertaining.  How he will be missed there.

When Lester's brother spoke at the funeral he quoted Elder Jeffery R. Holland.
"And always there are those angels who come and go all around us, seen and unseen, known and unknown, mortal and immortal."
Then he reminded us that Lester was an angel, a seen, known and mortal angel.  How very true it was.  The funeral was attended by Bishops in suits and Cowboys in jeans.  Lester had been an angel to us all.  At the funeral Kate gave me a copy of a CD Les recorded of some of his songs.  I enjoyed them all the way home. One is about a Cowboy who has died and gone.  A phrase in the song says that it would be wrong to question why, "it's just that some of us don't know how to say goodbye."  The only way I can stand to say goodbye is to imagine Les and Grandpa each elboing their way through heavenly crowds for a chance to gaze into each other's eyes and be embraced in each other's arms.

Meet Rosetta

When we go to an unfamiliar city we commonly take a hop on hop off tour.  It's a great way to learn about the city, identify things we want to focus on and a convenient way to get around.  Even though this was our second trip to Chicago, we thought this to be our best transportation option.  We were glad we did.  Especially, when we got on Rosetta's Trolley.

We loved her tour.  She was so informative.  She was so opinionated!  Rosetta had an opinion about everything.  When we passed the US Mint, for example, she told us not to bother taking their long and boring tour.  "You can still go in and get a bag of shredded money, but don't take the tour," she insisted. 

While Rosetta never told us her last name, I feel certain it has to be Stone.  Rosetta Stone, a perfect name for someone with such clarity of position and communication.  We could better understand all that was around us because of the lens Rosetta let us briefly peer through. 

Rosetta had us in stitches the entire time.  When we passed Soldier Field, she called it an abomnation!  She echos the sentiment of most Chicagoans who think it disgusting that the rennovation eliminated thousands of cheap seats making it harder for regular folks to attend Bears games.  "Besides it looks like an ugly space ship crashed in to the middle of the colloseum!" she declares.

"Shopping on the Miracle Mile will cost you 30% more, than if you shop downtown." Rosetta tells us.  "If I catch you shopping on the Miracle Mile, I'll run over you with this bus!"  "I only bring you up here to show you how many people there are who have more money than sense!" Rosetta quips.

It is clear that Rosetta loves her Chicago, her Cubs, her cultural treasures.  Still, rediculous was her most commonly used modifier.  The rediculous Bean.  Oprah's rediculous $45 million dollar appartment with Cashmere carpet.  The rediculous hole where the Chicago Spire was supposed to stand.  The rediculous prices at this restraunt or that hotel.  The rediculous kid wearing shorts.  I loved that there was no vitriloic voice in her use of rediculous.  It was more a tone of adoration. It was like saying, "I love how silly you are."   It was as if rediculous was an essential ingredient in the joy that is Chicago.

We finished our tour with Rosetta at the Willis Building.  That's what the sign on the building says anyway.  Rosetta refuses to call it anything but the Sears Tower.  When someone pointed out that the building's owners ought to be able to call it what they wish she shouted, "What chu talking 'bout Willis!"

A Few More Impressions of Chicago

You know, I've visited a lot of big cities and have liked them all.  You may find that shocking as I'm a small town boy at heart.  Still, there is something about a big city that appeals to me too.  I've been in New York, Manila, Tokyo, Montreal, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong, Vancouver and Washington DC.  All have their charm and appeal.  You won't find me dissing on any of them.  Even so, I have to say that Chicago is a big favorite of mine.

Chicago is clean, but so are Tokyo and Vancouver.  Chicago is vibrant but so are Manila and Los Angeles.  Chicago is diverse but so New York and San Francisco.  I think Chicago is a cut above the others because of the sheer joy it exudes.  People in Chicago are upbeat, friendly, boisterous, opinionated and enthusiasically joyful.  It is in their faces, their places, their food.

Chicago is a hard place to live.  I was glad to see it in the winter.  Winters are harsh in the upper midwest.  It gets cold and the wind blows.  There in the city, with all the sky scrapers, fierce canyon winds develop.  Blowing off the lake with frigid humidity and sometimes serious force, the wind is tough to reckon with.  You have to bundle up in Chicago.  Couple that with the fact that people walk in this grand city.  Back home we dash from the house to the car, from the car to the store, or work, or school, or church.  We're only out in the elements briefly.  In Chicago, with precious little place to park, people don't drive.  They take the bus or train.  Often that requires a few blocks of walking to reach a destination.  There is no Mall downtown.  If you wish to go shopping, plan on being in and out of the wind and cold as you move from store to store.  Even on the Miracle Mile, which might be a shopper's paradise if you were rich, the sidewalks are filled with people braving the elements as they move from store to store.  It's amazing! 

Chicago is a family place.  Little mother's with bundled up kids are everywhere.  In the stores, restraunts, out on the sidewalks people with kids, bustling around like they're having the time of their lives. Perhaps Christmas time brings out more folks than normal, I can't say.  But, it became quickly clear, that cold and wind do not deter these hardy people from enjoying abundant, active lives.

Chicago is known for its food.  We, of course, could only scratch the surface.  We enjoyed Chicago style hot dogs at Portillo's on the North Side.  Served on a poppy seed roll, this hot dog rejects ketchup for mustard, neon green relish, onions, peppers and a dill spear.  It is a delicious combination!  Even the dog itself tastes better than any I've ever had.  Another night we ate, mostly for convience, at the Hard Rock Cafe.  It was good as always, but typical, so for desert we walked across the street to eat chocolate cake made with Mayonaise.  I don't like Mayo all that much, but is sure enhances chocolate cake.  I'd like the recipe.

For lunch on our first day we went to the Walnut Room at the old Marshall Fields department store, now Macy's.  Chicagoan hate that Macy's had to put their name on their long time establishment; host to so many memories and traditions.  One tradition is to eat at the Walnut Room.  Especially at Christmas when a 40 foot Christmas tree graces the elegant, yet cavernous room on the seventh floor.  Crowds were gathered, but wow, could the feed a lot of people!  The menu was tempting from top to bottom.  Sweetie chose a Walnut Room tradition that dates back to it's inception in 1890, chicken pot pie.  It was delicious.  I wanted a little adventure and selected Swedish meatballs.  Made from beef, pork and veal and served in a wonderful light brown sauce and adorned with Lingon berry preserves, this delicacy is priceless!  We went back the next day for more!  Their Asiago encrusted chicken was superb as well!  I'll bet they seat 300 people in that room and the place was busy from morning until night.  A Christmas fairy wanders the room, sprinkling pixie dust and granting Christmas wishes with a poof!  Old and young, everyone was having a great time!

Too cold and tired to do more walking, we spent a great afternoon in the Shedd Aquarium.  Their sea mammal show was delightful.  Beluga whales, Pacific White-sided dolphins, a California Sea Lion and a cluch of pengins deligted us all.  This was the first show I've seen with White-sided dolphins.  Their grace and agility far exceeds the Bottle-nose.  They were a wonder to watch!  The big show tank, set with Lake Michigan as the back drop, seemed to extend right into the lake through enormous windows.  What a top notch facility, with wonderful displays and a refreshing respite from the cold.

The architecture in Chicago is beautiful, diverse and a great source of local pride.  I love the skyline all of these buildings present.  You'll be interested to know that the Sears Tower is now the Willis Tower, another change Chicagoans reject loudly.  The stories associated with the city's buildings are amusing and worth taking a tour to hear.  I love stories.  I enjoyed stories of the buildings and the city's history.  As I watched the multitudes of people moving about I couldn't help wondering about their stories.  I wish I could hear every one.  All of these wonderful people and the city they have built around themselves seem to have open arms saying, come, be part of us, bring your story to the table that is Chicago and lets celebrate together! 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Jury Duty

After a madcap trip from Chicago to home in two days, I'm now sitting in a jury box in the courthouse - waiting.  The bailiff has treated us like cattle at best, as though we were the criminals.  They showed us a video that enshrined jurors as representative of all that is good and right about our free society.  But in reality they treat us like fodder.  It's hard not to resent that. Maybe I'll suggest that Bailiffs have some hospitality training or experience on their resume.  Not likely, probably too much to ask, to expect them to distinguish jurors from criminals.
In principle the video is true.  The right to a trial by a jury of your peers is critical to the maintenance of our freedom.  In practice there doesn't seem to be much corollary.  Perhaps the number of potential jurors who try to shirk their duty may influence their attitudes as well. Today's pool doesn't seem to be that way too much.  Maybe the judicial system has grown to resent that it is citizens like us, not they, who have the final say in the case before us.  Most judges I know are pretty certain they know how things should turn out.  It would be easy for them to be put out that a bunch of "numb skulls" get to decide for them.

I'm quite certain this was the case on the previous occasion I served on a jury.  The judge at that time was clearly in the camp of the prosecutor.  Yet the jury decided that the prosecutor didn't make his case - to the consternation of the judge and many others.   Who wouldn't resent a jury that would defy the court and let the accused go free.

The defendant just walked in.  While I'm convinced I could give him an impartial trial, I do know him and much of his history, so I'll probably be dismissed.

The judge should be here soon.  Better sign off for the moment.  I want to look good for this, I'd like to be selected.

Still waiting....

Well, another observation.  The Defense Attorney looks sleazier than his client.  That ought to have more influence on the jury than anything he might say in his client's behalf.  I think his client might do better if his attorney cleaned himself up or better yet, recused himself.  Not that any of this will influence my decision on the verdict; or anyone else's for that matter, the Prosecutor looks pretty rough too.

They sure do drag things out.  If they would just ask us a more general question regarding anything that might influence our decision in the case many of us would be forthcoming and lots of issues would be cleared up significantly more quickly.  The judge informed us early on that the wheels of justice have traditionally turned slowly in this country.  What happened to the right to a speedy trial.  There is certainly nothing speedy about this process. Obviously, the judiciary will claim they are in compliance with that Constitutional edict, but it is equally obvious that they have the power to decide which clock and at what rate that clock is used.

They told me I could bring my laptop and that WIFI would be available.  WIFI is not available, perhaps only in the court room, we'll see.  Anyway the other potential jurors are either jealous or shocked that I would have the gall to drag it out and start writing.

Oops, I just slowed down the process considerably.  The judge finally got around to asking a question that should have been asked first of all.  "Is anyone here personally acquainted with the defendant?"  I raised my hand and was called upon.

"Do you affirm that you are acquainted with the defendant?" the judge asked.

"Yes, sir."  I replied.

"How did you become acquainted with the defendant?"

"I was a volunteer at the county jail and the defendant was an inmate there at that time."

As soon as I said it I knew I was in trouble.  The attorneys asked to approach the bench.  After some conversation there the judge called a recess and met with the accused, his attorney and the prosecutors in his chambers.  I'm writing while we wait.  I'm pretty sure this isn't going to be good.

They're back.....

Sure enough a mistrial has been called.  I thought the other jurors or the judge or attorneys would look at me, maybe even scold me.   They didn't.  The judge simply declared a mistrial and dismissed us.  As I walked out I passed the bench and apologized to his Honor.  He took the blame saying, "It is my job to anticipate such problems.  Your job was to be honest and you were."  I was grateful to be let off the hook.  I wonder if my name will henceforth be stricken from the jury pool.  Clearly it is important that the jurors not know that the defendant has previous convictions, which might influence their verdict.  Having volunteered in correctional facilities for nearly 10 years now.  It is likely this problem will come up again if I am called to be a juror.  Not good.  Expensive.  Now the wheels of justice must move even more slowly for this man.

Outside the snow is falling.  As I walk to the car I detect a festive spirit amongst my fellow travelers.  For them I made jury duty quick and painless.  At least a lot more so than it would have been.

Sunday, December 6, 2009


The heater in the Jeep doesn't work.  Yesterday was such a nice day that we didn't notice.  Today, we woke up to snow, wind, cold and miles to go before we were finished.  We'd discovered the lack of sufficient heat after sunset last night.  We bundled Sweetie up in coats and blankets and endured a few hours of cold travel.  Today was worse.  We endured it for a while but eventually broke down and bought a sleeping bag, hand warmers and additional socks to help us bundle up better.  Sweetie could barely move she was stuffed in so tightly.

We were both amazed at the number of deer we saw north of Baggs, Wyoming!  Thousands!  They have built a tall fence along the roadside so they weren't a threat.  It was wonderful to see so many, including several very large bucks, right near the road.

We had a nice supper in Craig and were home before 8:30.

As we rounded the corner I could see Christmas lights and thought they were Karl's.  I groaned to think I had that project ahead of me.  As we drew nearer though I could see that it was our house and yard that were all lit up!  Katie had surprised us!  I can think of no better Christmas gift she could have given me.  It was such a joyful relief to see that, so beautiful and well done.  She'd even decorated inside.  Nothing left to do but enjoy it all and love the sweet person who did it for us!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

North Platte, Nebraska

Galena, Illinois, pictured above is a beautiful town.  As picturesque as you'll find anywhere.  Now we have another place we'd like to return to and spend more time.

Well, we have Kristi's Jeep, it runs well but needs some work on the heater.  We made it safely to North Platte this evening.  We'll get some sleep and head for home tomorrow.

You can't believe how beautiful northern Illinois is.  Farms and rolling hills that rival any I've seen anywhere!  What a lovely day we've enjoyed.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Photo Problems

I've upgraded to Windows 7 and now my computer doesn't recognize my camera.  I'm working on a resolution but in the meantime, our travel photos can't be shared with you.  That's too bad, but I'll have a visit with Bill Gates and see what can be done.  Too bad we didn't go to Seattle.

Today was a lovely day in Chicago.  We ate in the beautiful Walnut Room at Macy's.  The store used to be the famous Marshall Fields.  I enjoyed my first Swedish Meatballs and absolutely loved them.  Such a wonderful combination of flavors, topped with Lingonberry preserves.  There are apparently some awful things to eat in Sweden, but meatballs are clearly an exception.  There was a 40 foot tree decorated in the middle of the room.

Next we walked over to browse Kriskindle, a wonderful set of little German shops set up in a plaza in town.  Christmas ornaments, cuckoo clocks, strudel, charm.  We had a great time browsing the shops, all nice little wooden structures.  Snow began to fall.  Bon Hiver!

We took a little bus tour of the city.  We'd done this on our last visit, but it was great to do it after dark with all the beautiful Christmas lights.  A couple of blocks from the hotel we ate at Portillo's.  A wonderful diner with Chicago style hot dogs that were simply wonderful.  It's so amazing that something simple as a hot dog could be so good!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chicago, Chicago

We arrived in the dark and rode to our hotel in the rain.  Rain is good!  Much warmer than snow!  The Embassy Suites are awesome.  Thank goodness for Priceline.  Anyway we're tucked in nice and cozy and hoping to rest up for a great day tomorrow!

It's Hot Down Here!

Got a few minutes to kill in Phoenix.  Holy Cow we had a lot of great views flying here from Salt Lake City.  It was cool to see Capitol Reef, The Henry and Little Rocky Mountains, The Water Pocket Fold, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Zion, Grand Staircase/Escalante and The Grand Canyon all from the air.  Not unlike looking at a map and yet with such breathtaking detail.  So glad we had such a nice clear day for the scenery.  Now I have a crick in my neck but it was worth it!

I am always amazed at the number of people who never look out the window.  The majority had their heads buried in a paper or book or were fast asleep.  I wonder if they're jaded or just afraid of heights.  I cannot imagine myself ever tiring of this preposterous, audacious thing we call flight.  It is amazing that we willingly, calmly climb into a 100 foot long tube and entrust ourselves to a pilot and a cluster of mechanics and engineers  Add to that the fact that some, like me actually get a kick out of it.  My sensible self keeps suggesting that I am certifiably crazy.  I've never made any secret of that!

They're calling us to board our flight for Chicago.  Now we'll fly off into the coming darkness.  Up, Up and Away!

Under Way

We're sitting at gate A-4 in the Salt Lake City airport watching folks depart from our plane. In an hour we'll take their places and fly off to Phoenix, where we'll switch planes and fly to Chicago. I don't know if I can blog on the plane, but hey, we'll be flying over country I've driven three times in the past month and I'd sure like to be watching for familiar sights. Of course we'll cross over the Grand Canyon too, I suppos,e and that should be fun to see. The skies are clear so we ought to be able to see the expanse of the Uintah Basin and the marvels of Canyonlands out our chosen window.

Sweet Katie dropped us off a bit ago worrying about us. We worry a little too. Out baby is out there driving on the freeway all by herself. She has been the best driver though, so there's little to fear. She's bright, careful and alert. Sure hope she has a fun day shopping, visiting cousins and driving home.

It was quite interesting going through security. We had a bottle of lotion and a tube of shaving cream confiscated. It would be nice to have been better informed about what we could bring and what we couldn't. Booklogged was a little ticked, but, not wanting her to be mistaken for a terrorist, I calmed her down as quickly as possible.

They call it NEWS, that blather being broadcast above my head. It's more like gossip and is meaningless drivel which reminds me why I don't watch broadcast news. What Tiger Woods does with his personal time is Tiger's business not mine or anyone else's. The evening news devotes more time to the Biggest Loser than it does how Congress shafted us in some new way today. Staying informed about anything of consequence is a major challenge in today's world of spun sugar news that has no substance, just looks pretty and tastes sweet. Too much of the world is that way, cardboard shacks with glitzy facades.

See ya, in Chigago.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Just A Quick Note

Our daughter Kristi dropped by yesterday to tell us she has purchased a Jeep with the steering wheel on the right, to be used in her new job as a Rural Mail Carrier.  The rig is located in Galena, Illinois and the delivery fee alone will cost her $1620.00.  That seemed a bit outrageous to us and we thought we might save her several hundred dollars by flying back there and driving it home for her.  We've purchased air fare to Chicago and will leave tomorrow.

We think we'll spend a day enjoying Chicago and then do what sightseeing the weather permits on our way home.  We have to be back by Monday, so we won't be lallygagging around too much.  I'm interested to see what it's like to drive from the opposite side of the car.

Once again, we'll be posting our travels on The Folks Aren't Home, so please feel free to follow along.

As for me?  Another glorious chance to spend some time on the road!  Can't ever have too much fun!

Life is such a series of surprises.  You never know what's next!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Going Over the Road

I'm never happier than when I'm going over the road.  November has been a cornucopia of blessed opportunities to do just that!  Early in the month Booklogged and I took an 1800 mile journey through Southern Utah ending up with a visit with our daughter Aly in Las Vegas.  The very next week SpiderTracks and I made a 1000 mile journey into Southern Utah and Arizona.  This past Saturday was spent driving 500 miles to Richfield to the funeral of my wonderful cousin Lester.  That journey was accompanied partially by my sisters Hazel and Wendy.  Yesterday, I discovered that Wendy had left her purse in my car, so my other Sister Lee Ann and I made a 300 mile hop out to Provo to return it.  Somebody complained that it was too far just to return a purse.  After driving to Newfoundland, nothing is far.

For me travel has little to do with the destination.  Even alone.  I simply love driving down the road watching the world go by.  Accompanied by good conversation, driving is even better and more fun!

Let me describe Saturday's trip just to give you an idea of what makes me tick.

I am up and away by 6:00.  I pull out of Vernal in the dark.  As I drive past Sundance RV's nice, but abandoned dealership I rejoice that I am no longer a salesman.  I shake my head to think that the huge building will soon become a mortuary of all things.  I say a little prayer, thanking God that Wayne and Pam are, so quickly, out from under the huge and now unproductive mortgage it represents.

The sky is clear and the stars so bright.  Orion, my favorite constellation has already set in the West.  I don't often stargaze in the morning so the sky seems quite unfamiliar to me.  I make plans to get up early one day to take a better look at the morning version of the winter night sky.

As I pass through Ft. Duchesne my thoughts turn to Bobby, Dixon, Aloin, Gloria, Willard, Henry, Ernesto, Francis, Nick, such good Ute friends who call this place home.  I also think of John, when I pass his old house and hope he is well and still in recovery.  I love that they widened the road up to Hilltop.  I hope that will reduce the number of fatalities at the treacherous intersection with White Rocks road.

I stop in Roosevelt to fill up and wash the car at the Chevron station. Their car wash has better pressure that the one in Vernal.  A zip through McDonald's drive through and I'm on the road again.  Dawn is beginning to appear in the East.  As I pass by Gale's Office Supply I can't help wondering about Brad.  What on earth took place in his life that would lead to such monstrous choices.  I wonder how he's doing in prison.  I hope someone is teaching him the gospel.  I hope he is responding.

Two lovely swans are gliding across a sewage lagoon outside Duchesne.  They've frequented the place for about a year.  It must be okay for them, health-wise, but it still makes me uncomfortable to think about.  It seems so contradictory to see such beauty in a place of corruption.

Driving up Indian canyon, I notice the spot where we nearly wrecked on our way to Disneyland.  How would the world be different now if we had died that day instead of living on for twenty years.  I guess we wouldn't care.  Would anyone else?  I guess Karen wouldn't miss having Megan in her Kindergarten class, if Megan had never been born.  But then I guess we all miss stuff all the time that we don't know about.  The potential of our life's experience is so infinitely vast and yet we are really exposed to so very little of it.

I always look for deer and elk as I travel the canyon.  I seldom see any.  It gets prettier and prettier as the elevation changes.  All building to the crescendo of the vista out over the Avitaquin.  This time I pull over to take a lingering look.  Such a wild, remote, beautiful, untouchable place.  I've gazed into the vast mystery of the Avintaquin many many times, but think I shall never set foot inside.  Somehow, it seems like my presence would defile it.

I pass the road to Argyle Canyon and smile about the excursion Steve and I took to Nine Mile that culminated there, after dark beneath the brightest view of the Milky Way I had ever seen.  If you've ever driven over Douglas, you can't help compare it with Indian Canyon.  There are a few differences and many similarities.  On this day I am thankful for the differences.  Indian isn't nearly so scary as Douglas.

Just North of the Power Plant above Helper is a place I always get the willies.  Don't know why.  Steve and I passed there three weeks ago in the dark.  Today I am glad the sun is up.  Willies aren't usually so bad in the daylight.  Less scope for imagination I guess. Darkness is a blank slate upon which the mind can paint some pretty scary pictures.

This is my third trip through this part of the country inside this month.  I think it odd that circumstances bring such things about in clusters.  So many choices which suddenly resolve into one distinct reality.  Across the mancos clay beds south of Price I see pump jacks for oil wells and remember Lanny's shenanigans as he sank half of Deb Cassida's equipment in the mud trying to get his own rig unstuck.  It all transpired right here where a little water and a lot of clay can make such a huge mess.  Castle country has it's own beauty as if the Lord wondered how many variations He could create with off-white.    

My first trip down Hwy. 191 to I-70 was with Merrill and Jo.  I was 16 and they were taking me off to see the world.  They lived in San Diego.  A pretty good place to start.  We stopped to attend church in Emery.  Steve and I thought we had never seen such pretty girls as attended meetings that day.  I wonder if Shawn Bradley had been born there yet.  (I just looked it up, he was born in 1972, six years later.)  Maybe he's the son of one of those pretty, distracting blonds in our Sunday School class.

And so my journey goes, memory after mile, past Ferron and a bygone family reunion and Salina Canyon and a well location we once surveyed there.  "We will have these moments to remember," another Lanny sang as we had to climb a huge mountain to find a section corner for an otherwise easy job.  I can't see that they ever drilled that well.  I've got a fossil back home to commemorate the day.  I wonder if I'll ever clean out the carport and find that leaf imprinted stone again.  Maybe not if I don't stay home once in a while.

I've never really poked around Richfield.  Three weeks ago we drove down main street.  Knowing Les' funeral will be here is all the information I have.  The place can't be that big.  I find four LDS chapels, none are right.  I finally stop at Albertson's and the produce man looks up the obituary for me.  Nice guy.  In this small town, how does he not know Les?  I can't imagine he is a stranger to anyone.  It's only a few blocks to the church and the parking lot is jammed.  Matt greets me at the door.  Genuine Matt.  The first of uncountable hugs and tears.  Les doesn't look good.  They never do.  Life looks good on most everyone, death doesn't.  It is hardly Les lying there.  He'd rode that old body pretty hard.  He'd never treat a horse like that.

Ty's family prayer, is so sweet, familiar, tender, down home. 

The funeral is and isn't what I expect.  Cowboys in blue jeans and bishops in suits and everyone in between.  There was un-judged room for everyone in Lester's life and this cosmopolitan crowd proves it.  There are two things we all have in common though, Les and tears.  Even the toughest hombre weeps for the loss of this great, kind man.  A son, a son-in-law and a brother speak.  Granddaughters sing/sob so sweetly.  And finally a recorded song is rendered by Les himself.  It is so good to hear his voice.

Kathleen, so courageous, so bereft gives me a copy of Les' CD.  I want to pay for it.  "He loved you," she tells me through tears, "he wanted you to have it." Just like she tells everyone else.  The grieving momentarily done, we assemble at the church as we always do; eat ham and funeral potatoes, reconnect with friends and family and days gone by.  Cousins we haven't seen for years, a sister from across the continent, shirt tail relations we only see at weddings and funerals all connect through one unique and special friend on a special day, to celebrate his life.  I imagine Grandpa Eph elboing his way to the front of the crowd so he can be the first to welcome Les to another family reunion.  What fun it would be to see both sides of the veil.  We look at one another and wonder who's next.

Brad brought the girls down from Provo, I get to take them back.  We're the last to leave.  There remains a bit of Dad in us, obviously.  Wendy and Hazel and I load up and head North.  We stop in Salina at Mom's Cafe for pie.  We don't need it.  I'd just feel like I'd cheated myself if I were this close didn't stop.  Her pie is that good.  We bump into Santa Claus on the way into the cafe.  He gives us each a candy cane and poses for a picture with Hazel.  It is so good to see him well and happy.  Hope I never have to go to his funeral.

Belly up to the Mom's bar we sample each other's coconut creme, German chocolate and blueberry sour cream pies.  They're delicious!  Such a small sacrifice for such a fine treat!  Wendy slaps my hand away from the check and pays the bill.

Great conversation makes the trip to Mapleton vanish into thin air.  We have so much catching up to do.  We seem to talk faster and faster as we begin to fear we'll run out of time.  Wendy changes clothes in Mapleton while I promise Connie I won't stay away so long next time.  (When I see her again on tomorrow's trip, I remind her that I've kept that promise.)  We drop off Hazel in Provo and have a quick bright visit with Gary and Brooke.  Brooke is not a little girl any more.  I don't get here often enough.  Wendy and I drive to Orem to see Uncle Merrill and Aunt Jo. They aren't home.  (They are home on tomorrow's trip and so it goes.)  So I drop of Wendy at Todd's and head for home.  It's dark and the streets are amazingly empty.  It is then that I remember the BYU/Utah game is underway.  No wonder I have the city all to myself.  As I tune in to the game I decide to drive past LaVell Edwards Stadium to take a look.  Cars are parked along the Parkway all the way to Orem, a silent representation of frenzy.  The stadium is packed.  Somewhere in there are John and Courtney.  The radio tells me the game has ended in a tie, 20-20 (not representing visual or visionary acuity, in my book).  I can get out of town during the overtime and still beat the rush of traffic!  Cars are parked along the Canyon road nearly to the canyon.  Who are these people and what has become of their sanity?

I gas up and get back to the car in time to hear the victory screams.  Blue has beaten Red 26-23 and already there is controversy, vitriol, agony and ecstasy and smiling, I think, "a billion Chinese and I don't even care."

I wish there were still fruit stands along the road.  I wish this every time I pass this way.  I wish there were still orchards in Orem and Edgemont.  I wish Utah Valley hadn't changed; maybe I'd come back more often.  I even miss the steel mill.  Maybe if all that were still here, I would be too.  And so would Les, and Mom and Dad and Grace and Bart and Grandy wouldn't be in prison and I could pick apricots with Grandpa Eph.  So many choices, so many changes.  So many possibilities become fixed and hardened reality.  By the time I've slipped this deep into the melancholy of wishing though, I'm on the new canyon road and I can't imagine anything nicer!  The hard reality of all this concrete, streamlined beauty brings me back to the present which is so, so fine.  There is no better time to be alive than right here right now.  I stop in Heber for a soda and then drive off into the darkness of an option filled, possibility laden, journey of joyful surprise.  All of which isn't in some distant place or time, but right here, right now, in this car, on this road, in this most blessed reality.

I pop Les' CD into the stereo and listen to his sweet wispy old voice sing cowboy songs all the way home.  I can hardly believe how he yodels!  Before long, it is good to be home in Sweetie's arms and then crawling into a nice cozy bed.  The concrete of today is curing nicely in the forms of my choices, and looking forward to a fresh pour tomorrow, I drift off to sleep wondering what it will shape up to be.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Having a Ball!

My daughter Kris has been hired as a part-time rural mail carrier by the Post Office.  Rural carriers have to provide their own vehicle.  Kris will be acquiring a vehicle that can be driven from the right side, but in the mean time she needs some one to drive her left sided Liberty while she makes the deliveries.  As I have the time and inclination, I volunteered.

Having been in the delivery business I am able to help her get familiar with her route and free her up to handle the mail.  Everyone, including her supervisor agree that this is a great way to get started.  The initial task of learning the ropes is challenging and stressful and this takes a bit of the edge off of that sharp learning curve.  I find it fun to compare the Post Office's methods with those of UPS.  Plus, I just get a kick out of being out and about once again, a life style suited to both Kris and I.

Best of all is the chance to spend so much meaningful time with my precious daughter.  I admire her so very much and just don't take enough time to be with her.  For the next few weeks we'll spend several hours together and I am just grateful for the privilege.

Years ago, when I was bound for the military during the Viet Nam war, I had a concern that it could yet be a long time before I saw my brother.  He had left on his mission shortly before I returned from mine.  Now I was leaving for war before he returned from his.  I called his Mission President and requested an opportunity to visit him on his mission.  I explained the circumstances and also my awareness that he had a duty to perform.  I assured him that I had white shirts and ties, a regulation hair cut, the discussions memorized and a current Temple recommend.  I intimated that I would be willing to labor as a missionary, if he would grant me a visit.  He called back a few hours later with an unforgettable, YES!  Brad and I had a grand week together on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation serving the Lord and refreshing our life long friendship.

While what Kris and I are doing is not as unlikely as what Brad and I were able to do, it is no less special and miraculous to me.  I cherish this opportunity to work with my sweet daughter.  She is doing so well in her new career and I am so pleased to see her earnest devotion to duty, her bright attitude and her quickness in learning so many new skills and rules.  She is awesome and I get to witness it first hand!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Some Things Don't Make Sense

Dixon and I went to Midweek Activity at the Detention Center last night.  We had a marvelous time.  There were 15 kids in DT and five in O&A.  We did entirely different things in each group. We had to, because of the disparity in the numbers.

Both groups were so well behaved and had so much fun.  It's incredible!  You need to understand that Dixon and I are not some kind of charismatic, dynamic duo.  I am a homely, sixty year old fart with a pot belly and Dixon is a crippled up old Indian with a speech impediment.  What could two old duffers like us possibly have to offer a room full of juvenile delinquents?

The Staff say these kids look forward to our visits all week.  I can see in the Staff's eyes that they are as bewildered about this phenomenon as I am.

In DT we played the sign game.  Each person in the circle chooses a hand sign to represent themselves.  Play begins by a person giving his sign and then the sign of another in the circle. That person must immediately give her sign and then the sign of another, who must respond by doing the same and so on. Anyone who misses their sign or delays the passage of signs, must move to the end of the line.  The object is to advance to the King/Queen's chair.  We had a ball, laughing and trying to trick one another into flubbing up.  Such a simple parlor game; something you don't imagine hoodlums enjoying.  Yet there is no sense that they are just putting up with this, they were genuinely having a great time.  At the end, after sharing Ding Dongs, a quiet girl who looks like she has a chip on her shoulder volunteers to say a sweet heartfelt prayer.  They express their genuine thanks and we bid our fond goodbyes and another evening of surprise comes to an end.  I've been doing this for five years and this kind of reaction never ceases to utterly amaze me.

Over in O&A it is the same.  Three kids have just shown up there to join a couple of "old timers".  All three had hoped the judge would let them go home after a few weeks in DT.  Instead they are dealing with the dismaying blow that they must face another six weeks confined in Observation and Assessment.  They will eventually adjust and even come to love O&A.  The staff there are great!  The opportunities to learn and grow are abundant.  For now though, they are bitter and down-hearted.  Again, two frumpy old duffers turn up.  For three out of five, the activity is an unexpected, unwanted, additional bump in an already bad day.  They join in because they don't yet know they don't have to.  They try not to have fun playing Farkle, but a lucky roll of the dice and they're hooked.  They can't believe we already know their names.  Their confused, quizzical looks fade into relaxed enjoyment.  One little girl scoots up closer to Dixon, not afraid any more.  Ding Dongs are graciously accepted.  A boy jumps up and collects everyone's wrappers.  A girl who's had weeks of difficult adjustment to a structured environment surprises everybody, by offering a long, sincere closing prayer. Hearts are touched.

After five and a half years of this duty, I admit I sometimes have to drag myself down there, but I hardly touch the ground each time I leave.

I can think of only one explanation for all of this.  It has to be the only explanation because it is the only thing Dixon and I really have to offer.  There is only one thing that could build such a sound bridge over such wide gaps of age, interests, cultures, abilities and values - a thing called love.
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