The Road Trip

 

The Road Trip

If someone wrote an instruction manual on how to live life and they separated the “what to do” from the “what not to do,” my life would be the model for the “what not to do” category.  I have made a lot of dumb decisions and I have made a lot of mistakes, but there is one decision that turned out to be an exceptionally good decision, and I have had ten years to validate that fact. I don’t know if meeting Janeen was an accident or divine intervention, but I can’t take any of the credit.

I had been divorced from Nancy about seven months when I was given an ointment from my dermatologist to treat a mild itch on my back.  Realizing I could not apply it to my back myself, I began to think I should maybe meet someone who could rub the ointment on my back. I was lonely, but I had not wanted to open up my life to the scrutiny of anyone else and face that much reality.  The divorce had been devastating for me; I was not in love with Nancy, but I just did not believe in divorce.  My father died when I was only seven, and I did not want my kids to grow up without a father.  I also did not want to have some other guy raising my kids. That is why I remained married to Nancy for 36 years.  Whenever I was asked why I had gotten a divorce after 36 years of marriage, I would respond with, “A serious case of procrastination.”  Actually, the divorce was not my idea, but Nancy’s idea.  I was the defendant and I gave her everything.

Nancy had controlled our social life, and our only friends were those who had allegiance to her.  She had alienated my two sisters and she had been working successfully for years to turn my kids against me.  I was totally alone. I was still an emotional wreck from my failed marriage and I had had little involvement with people since then. I had never been able to share my emotions with another person, and I did not know why I would ever want to, but I needed a friend and someone to love.  Since my divorce, I had focused on healing mentally and physically, but primarily I had only worked on my physical health.  I was either working out at the gym or taking long bike rides almost every day and trying to eat healthy food.  I finally worked up enough courage to try and meet someone.

I was not into the bar scene, and church was the only place I really had contact with people.  I was still attending the same ward I attended before my divorce, but my ex-wife had gone inactive so there did not seem to be a problem, and I had only been attending that ward for about a year before we split anyway.  I had not been attending my ward long enough to distinguish between women who were sitting alone because they were single and those who were sitting alone because their husbands were “on the stand.” I had also never been in the habit of looking at women’s hands for wedding rings.  On a Tuesday, in late July, I signed up with an Internet dating service called LDS Mingle.  I filled out a long questionnaire about my outlook, objectives, likes, dislikes, and I even took an extensive personality profile test to determine my personality “color” within the criteria of the psychologist and author, Dr. Taylor Hartman.  I turned out to be blue and white, which meant I was a do-gooder and a peacekeeper. These personality traits must have come from 36 years of trying to keep the peace and doing the best I could in a rancorous marriage.  There are also red people, who are power brokers, and yellow people, who are fun loving.  In the space for, “What I wanted in a companion,” I wrote, “I want to be with a woman who wants to be with me as much as I want to be with her.”

The site matched my criteria with potential candidates whose criteria matched mine.  My profile was then sent to the potential candidates, and whoever was interested in me could respond.  I received several responses from all over the U.S. and Canada, but one response from a woman who also lived in Sandy caught my eye.  I emailed her back, saying we had a lot in common and should possibly meet.

Great Legs
Great Legs

She was very attractive and I could see she had great legs because one of her profile pictures showed her in a tennis outfit. Her legs were the first thing caught my attention.

The very next Sunday, for the first time I went to church with female companionship on my mind and I took notice of the organist.   I had never really noticed her before, probably because I had not been looking before.  I thought she was pretty cute except for the funny glasses she was wearing.  That same afternoon, after church, I got an email response from the woman in Sandy I had noticed on LDS Mingle.  She said:

“We do have a lot in common, more than just interests and outlook.  In fact, I saw you at church today. I was playing the organ.  I looked up and saw you in the congregation.  I couldn’t believe it! I would love to chat with you. We can do it by e-mail or I’m on the ward list.  Hope to talk to you soon.” 

She had recognized me from my profile picture on LDS Mingle, but I did not recognize her—probably because women don’t go to church in tennis outfits, and even if they did, her legs were behind the organ. I replied six minutes later saying, “Oh my gosh! I saw you playing the organ.  I was even thinking about you and how attractive you were. (I did not mention the glasses.)  I definitely think we should meet.”  I was surprised that of all the candidates from the Internet site, I would connect with someone in my same ward.

I called her immediately and we arranged to meet for lunch downtown at Market Street Grill the next day.  We had a great conversation over lunch about life, kids, our exes and divorce, and I took in her beautiful eyes, her smile, her wit, and her cleavage.  We ate salads and I left my avocados on my plate.  She told me later that she loved avocados and really wanted mine, but she did not yet feel comfortable enough with me to ask for them, but since then, she gets all of my avocado slices.  I felt some definite electricity between us when I put my hand on her back and she reached around and put her hand on my back as I walked her to her car.

Janeen had a pool in her back yard, and she asked me to come to her house the next Wednesday for a swim and I agreed. When I arrived at her home on Wednesday evening, there were several other people at her home including her daughter who lived there, her married son, his wife, and his wife’s father.  The daughter was in the house and the rest were sitting in the hot tub as Janeen and I got into the pool.  I do believe they were there to check me out and possibly to protect their mother in case I turned out to be the king of creep. We talked for a while in the pool and then, as we hung on the side in the deep end, I said, “I want to do something.”   I leaned over, pulled her in close, and kissed her long and hard on the lips.  Speaking of hard, she could tell from my swimming suit that I was attracted to her.  She could not wait to tell all her single girlfriends about it the next day.

We got together several times a week after that, either for lunch, dinner, or hanging out in my apartment.  Her daughter living with her made my place more private.  She must have had some bad experiences with Internet dating because she asked to see my divorce decree to see if I was really single.   There was one evening when she came over, and after we had been kissing on my bed, I reached over her and turned on the stereo.  I had Johnny Mathis ready to go (I knew she loved Johnny Mathis). She got up, went into the kitchen, and without saying anything, grabbed a banana from a fruit bowl.  She seductively peeled it and slowly put the banana into her mouth, bit off a little in a very sensual way and put the other half in my mouth.  The symbolism was strong, and I was so aroused that I wanted to hold her and never let go.  I was hooked, in love, and in her house a few months later, I said, “Why don’t we get married?”  There was no ring, no kneeling, just an idea for consideration.  She thought it was a good idea and did not say no, so did that make us engaged?  I guess so.

* * *

It had been nearly a year for me and eight years for Janeen since our divorces from similarly abusive spouses.  Since then, Janeen had tried dating a few guys, including some other guys she met on the Internet, but had never developed any lasting relationships, and Janeen was the first woman I had dated since my divorce.

Four months had passed since we had met.  The Thanksgiving weekend was approaching, and Janeen suggested a road trip to St. George for the weekend.  We had never been further than Park City together where one afternoon we did some shopping and visited the No Name Saloon on Main Street. The greeter asked us our names and gave us a temporary membership in the name of Don and Janeen Halverson.  We got a kick out of the guy thinking we were married because we had only known each other for a month.  That slip of paper ended up on the wall in my apartment until my ex-wife saw it and tore it down, but Janeen replaced it with a copy.

I was apprehensive about a road trip because for years, my ex-wife and I could not tolerate being together in a car for any extended period of time, nor did we ever go out to dinner together by ourselves.  We always took separate vacations unless other people were included and she needed a husband along for window dressing.  Most of my vacations were spent traveling around the country, and even Japan on one occasion, to attend BMX races with my two sons, which Nancy never attended.

Nancy’s took vacations to to Egypt, Hawaii, Scandinavian cruises, usually with with her friend Betty, from Japan, whom she met in Hawaii while attending a business development seminar.  She did not say so, but I found out later that David Isom, her boss at the law firm where she was the administrator, accompanied her to the seminar, and “Betty” was an alias for David Isom.

Traveling to Southern Utah was commonplace for me as a child.  Before freeways, there were only two routes to the south, U.S. Highway 89 and U.S. Highway 91, and they split at a town called Levan. Both routes were mostly two-lane roads passing through towns about every 20 miles because that was the normal distance a horse and buggy or wagon could travel in a day when those towns were established and travelers needed lodging.  Highway 89 went on the east side of the mountains through Sanpete County where my father was born, and 91 went on the west side of the mountains through Iron County where my stepfather was born and raised, and where we went to several really boring family reunions in his home town, Parowan.  Highway 91 became I-15 in the late 50s or early 60s.  Southern Utah has some interesting scenery, but it can get tedious if you travel the same routes regularly.  The worst part, however, is Utah County.  I do not ever remember a time when I-15 through Utah County was not under construction.  Either they just can’t get it right, or the Governor has too many friends in the road construction business.

Travel with Nancy had not been enjoyable, so I did not know what to expect when traveling with Janeen.  Nonetheless, we left for St. George late morning on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

I was surprised to see how pleasant it was to be in the car with someone when there was not friction.  There were no long periods of silence, no “constructive criticism,” and no complaining.  (I have often said, “If I was alone in a forest and said something, and Nancy was not around to hear it, was I still wrong?”)  We enjoyed the music and scenery and munched on some goodies we had packed in a cooler on the back seat, including cold turkey sandwiches with lots of cranberries and pieces of chocolate pie left over from Thanksgiving dinner.  We had brought some CDs, and I discovered she and I liked a lot of the the same music, in particular The Carpenters.  I love Karen Carpenter’s smooth alto voice, but my ex did not, and we could never listen to The Carpenters.

As we drove I began to realize that life could really be different from what I experience in my last marriage and that I could relax and be at ease with a woman and there was nothing wrong with seeking that kind of companionship.  There was a moment in the car when Janeen sat back and put her foot on the dashboard in such a way that reminded me of another couple I had ridden with over 30 years before who were very much in love and the girl did the same thing. It was a small thing, but to me it was a sign of comfort, trust and love—a powerful sign.  Not long afterward, I realized that Janeen enjoyed being with me as much as I enjoyed being with her as I had said I wanted in my profile on LDS Mingle. I had not experienced that for many years, if ever. My previous marriage was always a competition, never a partnership.  There were too many hidden motives, manipulations, and never enough trust for such a comfort level as I was experiencing with Janeen.   Janeen and I had both been co-dependent support for our sociopathic exes who were incapable of this kind of honesty and mutuality.  It was a catharsis for me and a whole new way of thinking of what a relationship could be.  Janeen’s “baggage” had cooled over the last eight years so we did not share the same level of apprehension.

I told Janeen about one trip to Southern Utah I took with my family when I was a child. We traveled Highway 89 one summer to the Grand Canyon and stopped to see the Glen Canyon Dam while it was being built.  I was fascinated with the huge cement buckets that were being used to pour the cement for the dam. The guide said that the flow of cement was so fast that if a worker fell into the cement as it was being poured, they could not stop the operation soon enough to get him out.  They just left him in the cement, and unfortunately, there were already several men buried in the dam. This and the scale of the construction process required to build the dam left a lasting impression on me as did the Grand Canyon.

In addition to the reunions in Parowan, we took several trips to California when I was a teenager.  We usually spent the nights in tents in campgrounds, and we actually camped out on Doheny Beach one summer.  That was significant to me since I was a fan of The Beach Boys, and they mentioned Doheny Beach in one of their songs.  On each trip to California, we stopped to see Zion National Park and drove through the tunnel-like road with view ports that looked out on the beauty of the park.

Janeen and I stopped at Zion National Park, but we wanted to get to M & S Jewelry in St. George before it closed, so we could not spend a lot of time there.  Many of our friends have condos in St. George, and Janeen had lived there as a child when her father owned a motel on St. George Boulevard for a few years.  It was fun to see the familiar sites, including the motel where Janeen lived and made beds, and the rock on the top of the hill overlooking the town that she and her brothers would climb. We also made a point of stopping to see the St. George Temple that my great-grandfather helped build.

I bought Janeen a silver bracelet with an Amethyst stone at M & S Jewelry.  After the jewelry store, we checked into the Fairfield Inn, had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and went to the outlet mall to do a little shopping. Shopping was something we liked doing together.  Janeen bought me a dark blue wool jacket and I bought her some sheets.

The next morning as we thought about what to do, we decided we had already seen everything in St. George of interest so we headed to Las Vegas.  The canyon between St. George and Mesquite is always an interesting drive, especially with my lead foot.  We tried to think of what it was that our friends liked about St. George, and to this day, have not come up with anything except warm weather in the winter and that jewelry store. We live six miles from Snowbird where I always have a season pass, so why would I want to spend my winters in St. George?  Besides, the summers are way too hot.

We were almost to Las Vegas when nature called.  I thought I could wait until we got there, but I was wrong.  I got off the freeway at a convenience store and figured I would make it, but the restroom was occupied.  The anticipation of relief that was not going to occur made it all that much worse. I waited for a while, but some guy must have been in there reading the morning newspaper.   I went back out to the car to see if there was any other alternative, and from the look on my face and my body posture, Janeen knew I had a serious problem!  She handed me a paper cup and said she would look the other way.  We were engaged, but not familiar enough for that.  I was utterly embarrassed, and Janeen was laughing hysterically and did not quit laughing for what seemed like forever.

Our next adventure was the Fashion Show Mall on the strip in Las Vegas, and we were delighted at the sales they were having that weekend, particularly at the high end stores we do not have in Salt Lake City such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.  This was before the economy crashed, and they had a lot of good merchandise to clear out at 60-75 percent off.  It also started a trend of me choosing Janeen’s wardrobe for her.  She liked the clothes I select for her,  so since then, I do most of her wardrobe shopping.  I love it when I recommend something, she likes it, we buy it, and she wears it.  We did some Christmas shopping, and we ate lunch at the California Pizza Kitchen, but I had to keep going back to the car to keep up with the BYU/Utah game that was being played and broadcast on KSL.

We drove back to our room in St. George for the night. (In case you are wondering, we behaved ourselves even though we shared a room.) We stopped at Bryce Canyon on the way home.  I had not seen it since I was a kid, and Janeen had never seen it.  We loved Bryce Canyon and thought it was an amazing experience. There was snow on the ground and no one else around as far aw we could see, which added to the mystery of this surreal experience.  We have been back to Bryce Canyon during the summer with the crowds, which is wonderful, but entirely different.

I found I loved traveling with Janeen because I loved being with her.  We enjoyed the road trip to Las Vegas so much that we repeated the Las Vegas buying spree for the following six or seven Thanksgiving weekends and began staying in Las Vegas instead of St. George.  We did venture out to other malls in Las Vegas, but most of them were disappointing outlet malls with little we wanted to purchase. We only went to a few shows and I was never good at gambling.  I would set a limit on how much I would lose and stop when the money was gone, and it did not take long.  We basically went to Las Vegas to shop each Thanksgiving weekend until the economy tanked, and the clearance stock tanked along with it.

Bridge over Hoover Dam
Bridge over Hoover Dam
Hoover dam from the bridge
Hoover dam from the bridge

On one of those trips, we took a side trip to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead.  The road to the dam was narrow and slow, but as we got close to the dam, we were able to see far above us the beginning of a huge suspension bridge being erected.  I marveled again at the immensity of the project.  We drove across and walked on that bridge a few years later. Walking along that bridge so far above the ground is both breathtaking and frightening. It reminded me of the time I visited Glen Canyon Dam when it was under construction.  I think I was making a connection between the two times in my life when I was comfortable; when I was a child and now, bypassing that first marriage

The first road trip with Janeen was more to me than just a road trip.  It was an awakening to a life I had always been denied.  I had a glimpse into what freedom and comfort was available in a relationship where there was trust, honesty, and selfless love, a feeling with another adult that is similar to the feeling I have when my granddaughter falls asleep in my arms.

A New Beginning

A New Beginning 

I had been divorced about seven months when I was given an ointment from my dermatologist to treat a mild itch on my back.  Realizing I could not apply it to my back myself, I began to think I should maybe meet someone who could. I was divorced, but I did not believe in divorce.  My father died when I was only seven, and I did not want my kids to grow up without a father.  I also did not want to have some other guy raising my kids.  I was still an emotional wreck from my failed marriage and had minimized my involvement with people since then. I had never been able to share my emotions with another person, and I did not know why I would ever want to, but I needed a friend and someone to love.  Since my divorce, I had focused on healing mentally and physically, but primarily only my physical health.  I was either working out at the gym or taking long bike rides almost every day and trying to eat healthy food.  I finally worked up enough courage to try and meet someone.  

I was not into the bar scene, and church was the only place I really had contact with people.  I had not been attending my ward long enough to distinguish between women who were sitting alone because they were single and those who were sitting alone because their husbands were “on the stand.” I had also never been in the habit of looking for wedding rings, so I signed up with an Internet dating service called LDS Mingle.  The site matched my criteria with potential candidates whose criteria matched mine.  My profile was then sent to the potential candidates, and whoever was interested in me could respond.  There were several responses from all over the country and Canada, but one from an attractive woman who also lived in Sandy caught my eye.  I responded back, saying we had a lot in common and should possibly meet.

The next Sunday, I went to church with female companionship on my mind.  I was still attending the same ward I attended before my divorce, but my ex-wife had gone inactive so there did not seem to be a problem, and I had only been attending that ward for about a year before we split anyway.  That day I took notice of the organist.   I had never really noticed her before, probably because I had not been looking before.  I thought she was pretty cute except for the funny glasses she was wearing.  That same afternoon, after church, I got an email response from the woman I had responded to on the Internet.  She said, “We do have a lot in common, more than just interests and outlook.  In fact, I saw you at church today. I was playing the organ.  I looked up and saw you in the congregation.  I couldn’t believe it! I would love to chat with you. We can do it by e-mail or I’m on the ward list.  Hope to talk to you soon.”  I replied six minutes later saying, “Oh my gosh, I saw you playing the organ.  I was even thinking about you and how attractive you were.  I definitely think we should meet.”  It seemed surprising that of all the candidates from the Internet site, I would meet someone in my same ward.

I called her immediately and we arranged to meet for lunch at Market Street Grill the next day.  We had a great conversation over lunch about life, kids, and divorce, and I took in her beautiful eyes, her smile, her wit, and her cleavage. I already knew she had great legs because one of her profile pictures on LDS Mingle showed her in a tennis outfit, and her legs were the first thing that drew my attention to her.  We ate salads and I left my avocados on my plate.  She told me later that she loved avocados and really wanted mine, but she did not yet feel comfortable enough with me to ask for them.  I felt some definite electricity between us when I put my hand on her back as I walked her to her car, and she reached around and put her hand on my back, as well.

Janeen had a pool in her back yard, and she asked me to come to her house the next Wednesday for a swim. When I arrived at her home on Wednesday evening, there were several other people at her home including her daughter who lived there, her married son, his wife, and his wife’s father.  The daughter was in the house and the rest were sitting in the hot tub as Janeen and I got into the pool.  I do believe they were there to check me out and possibly to protect their mother in case I turned out to be the king of creep. We talked for a while and then, as we hung on the side in the deep end, I said, “I want to do something.”   I leaned over, pulled her in close, and kissed her long and hard on the lips.  Speaking of hard, she could tell from my swimming suit that I was attracted to her.  She could not wait to tell all her single girlfriends about it the next day.

We got together several times a week after that, either for lunch, dinner, or hanging out in my apartment.  Her daughter living with her made my place more private.  There was one evening when she came over, and after we had been kissing on my bed, I reached over her and turned on the stereo.  I had Johnny Mathis ready to go (I knew she loved Johnny Mathis). She got up, went into the kitchen and without saying anything, grabbed a banana from a fruit bowl.  She seductively peeled it and slowly put the banana into her mouth, bit off a little in a very sensual way put the other half in my mouth.  I was so aroused that I wanted to hold her and never let go.  I was hooked, in love, and in her house a few months later, I said, “Why don’t we get married.”  There was no ring, no kneeling, just an idea for consideration.  She thought it was a good idea and did not say no, so did that make us engaged?  I guess so.

 

The Bubble People

 

 

The Bubble People

My LDS mission was coming to a close, and I was looking forward to returning home.  For two years, I had been teaching LDS doctrine to the English, and now that part of my life was coming to an end.  I had been looking forward to returning home, holding a girl in my arms and feeling her body next to mine, and having my own car to drive; but returning to school, earning money, and dealing with the looming draft gave me cause for apprehension.

For two years, I had been doing exactly what I was told to do every hour of every day.  I had no financial issues. I just studied and taught the gospel and enjoyed England and the English people.   I had adjusted to the arm’s length policy regarding women, and I managed to live without parental control.  Although I had to rise at 6:00 am each day and work 60-80 hours a week, life had been easy.

I had dated several girls just before I left home two years ago, but Nancy was the only one who kept writing. I had taught skiing and she had been in one of my classes the winter before I left.  We dated that summer, but mostly we talked on the phone,  sometimes for 3-4 hours at a time.  I could be myself with her since she was from the other side of town and younger than me, so I was not at risk socially with her.

The first few months of my mission she wrote long letters faithfully every week that must have taken her hours to write.  She wrote the things a missionary wanted to hear, such as how much her seminary teacher liked her and how she prayed often and long.  I enjoyed writing her, too, as often as I could.  We even fantasized about getting married some day.  We created fantasies about lives we imagined.

Eventually the letters became less frequent and less lengthly—both hers and mine.  I figured she was just busy and had less time to spend on the letters, but there was comfort in knowing I had a girlfriend who would be there when I returned.  I did not want to think I was no longer the love of her life; she never said she wasn’t.  Even though I received just one or two letters during the last six months of my mission, I wanted the comfort of believing she still loved me.

When I got off the plane in Salt Lake City after spending a day or two with my sister in Kentucky, Nancy was there along with my family to greet me.  I noticed she had put on some weight, and she told me later that she had gained the weight on purpose because she wanted an excuse to explain why I did not want her if my interesting had waned.  It seemed like totally illogical thinking, but how could I begin to understand a girl’s mind?

The next few days were busy.  I had to meet with church leaders to finalize my release from my mission, I had to meet with a neighbor across the street who had recommended me for a job with a florist delivering flowers, I had to meet with the florist,  I had to finalize my registration for school which started the next Monday, and I had to register for the draft. I had left on my mission early so I could arrive home just before classes started at the University to avoid being drafted.

I had arrived home on a Wednesday afternoon, and by Monday I had a job, a full load of classes at the University of Utah, and on top of that, Nancy wanted me to drive to Granger to see her every day.  (Did she really want to see me or did she just want me to have no time to see any other young woman?)  The next few weeks were insane.  I wanted to study hard and do well in school, but with working, school work, and having to drive from the east side of town nine miles to the west side of town to see Nancy, I was having a hard time and something had to give.

My parents were not helping either.  I am sure they understood my frustration, but instead of talking about it, they just made demands.  I had to be home by 10 pm and by midnight on weekends.  I was 21 years old and I had adjusted well to living away from my parents, and I did not need that kind of hassle on top of everything else.  I had told them that Nancy had mentioned getting married, and their response was to threaten to not let me have any of my money if I were to get married. They had control of my money while I was on my mission and still did.

I had always had some kind of job ever since I was old enough to have a paper route, and by the time I left on my mission, I had saved enough money to pay cash for a new car.  I even had it picked out, a new Pontiac GTO.  When I returned from my mission, however, I found that my parents had a new car and I had $400 in the bank.  I was surprised to find out that those checks I received every month while in England had come from my own account. So I was broke, too—real nice—one more thing.  I was angry, but I was never allowed to be angry. It was not so much that I paid for my mission, but that it had never been discussed if I would pay for my mission.

During the first two weeks of classes, Nancy came to the University and attended my mythology class with me a couple of times.  One of those times, after we said goodbye,  and without her knowing it, I followed her to her car; and when she got in the passenger side of her car, she leaned over and kissed a guy who was sitting in the driver’s seat.  He had evidently been waiting for her while she attended mythology with me.

So what did that tell me?  Nancy had another boyfriend.  I did not know then that they had been lovers while I had been on my mission, but I did not expect her to have “sat home like a toad” either (an expression we used back then).  How could they still be lovers when she wanted me to come to see her in Granger every evening?

I could not handle it.  I had to ignore it.  I could not deal with a breakup at that time.  For two years I had assumed I had a girl in love with me, and now I find out she is two-timing me.  I did not want to have to go through the process of finding another girlfriend. I just did not have the energy.  Obviously, love is blind. I did ignore it.

I had been home just over three weeks. On the 7th of October, Nancy and I were at a concert at Skyline High (where I had attended) to see a group called “Up With People.” My parents were out of town for the weekend, so Nancy and I went to my house after the concert where we ended up on my bed. We had a saying regarding sex that as Mormons we could do A, B, C, D, E, but not F.  We had gone through E, but I figured we had not done F when Nancy said that it counted as F—and that we indeed had sex. I was confused.  I had never had sex before and was she right?  The guilt engulfed me. I did not think we had intercourse, but  it didn’t matter; we had come close enough.  Every sin I had ever committed came back to me.  I felt worthless, a sinner, an embarrassment to my family and to myself.  The pressure of the last three weeks compounded my apoplectic consternation.

Nancy suggested we just go to Nevada and get married.  It was a totally insane idea, but it may be a way out.  I would not have to travel to Granger every evening. I could get out of the house and out from under my parents’ control.  Much of the insanity would stop.  What were my other options?  There was always Vietnam. The army would take me in a minute. I may die over there, but how bad would that be; I would not have to get married.  Just moving away from home for no apparent reason would mean a direct confrontation between me and my parents.  I would have to tell them I did not want to live with them.  It would be a big crack in their idealistic glass bubble to find out that I was not and did not want to be one of the bubble people. There was something in my upbringing, some kind of control that I did not fully understand, but it kept me from considering just moving out for no “acceptable” reason. I could not talk to my parents about this, and there was no one else.  All my friends were on their own missions.

Nancy viewed me as her ticket out of Granger.  She hated living in Granger on “the west side,” she hated her abusive father, and she hated her impoverished family, so she set a trap.  I suspect that her attraction to me was motivated not by love but by her desperation to get out of Granger.

I figured, “What the hell!” We decided to go for it.  We gathered some of my clothes and some food from the kitchen, including a roast from the freezer, and my collection of old pure silver half dollar coins.   I took Nancy home and she grabbed some things and climbed out her window (a classic elopement scene—where was my camera?).  She went to a friends house and borrowed a ring, a veil, and a little cash and we headed out for Elko, Nevada.

We got as far as Wendover where half the town is in Utah and half in Nevada.  I did not want to get busted for taking a minor over state lines (Nancy was only 17 years old) so I made her get out and walk when we crossed the state line.  We found a cheap motel and got a bed for the rest of the night.  We climbed in bed together. I did not know Nancy was not a virgin, but I soon found out. She seemed to know a lot more about sex than I did.  While we were in bed together, she explained that she was not a virgin and that she and Eddie (the guy in the car) had been sexually active for quite some time.  I was a virgin however, and I had no idea of what I was doing.

We had sex for sure that night.  It was awkward and very disappointing.  I remember thinking, “This is not that great; what is the big deal?  I have committed this huge sin for this?  Is this what I have been working so hard to avoid these past few years?  If I had known it was like this, I would not have had to worry so much about it.”  “The anticipation is often better than whatever is being anticipated,” is not an uncommon phenomenon. It was disappointment fueled by anger, betrayal and a sense of hopelessness, and being totally alone emotionally.

We did not talk about it in the morning.  We just had breakfast, got in the car, and headed across the Nevada desert for Elko where there was a Justice of the Peace on duty all weekend long for idiots like us.

I learned that the girl I loved only existed on the pages of her letters—a misrepresentation of the girl she actually was. Why was I running off with this girl when there were other girls?

My first day home I went to visit a very attractive girl, Mary Billeter, who lived in my ward and whom I had know most of my life.  I had had a crush on her since one evening when I was about 15 and rode with her in a very crowded car.  She had to lay across the laps of four boys in the back seat.  Her legs were on my lap, and I had no place to put my hands but on her legs.  I held my arms in the air for a few seconds, but that looked , so I laid my hands on her legs.  Her legs were smooth, firm, shapely, and the most marvelous thing I had ever seen and especially felt.  I did not know Mary all that well, but I certainly fell in love with those legs.  It was one giant step in my sexual awakening.   Mary was pleased to see me, but she was leaving in two days to attend school in Switzerland. Unfortunately, there was no chance for a relationship with Mary.

Dana Howarth was in my linear algebra class at school.  She was from Idaho and I liked her a lot.  I had not asked her out, but I was looking forward to someday having the time to, and she seemed to have an interest in me.

Then there was Sandy.

In London, just before I came home from my mission, I was in the mission home speaking with the mission secretary about my reservations for my flight home. I wanted to visit my sister and her family who lived in Murray, Kentucky, a small college town about 80 miles North of Nashville.  He recommended flying from London to Washington D.C.  and then on to Nashville. That sounded great to me since I had never been to Washington D.C., and I asked if he could arrange a layover to give me some time to see the sites. He said I could arrive in the evening and out the next morning. I could at least see a hotel room.  There was another missionary, Elder Doug Marriott, standing nearby who was from Washington D.C.  I asked him if he could recommend a good hotel there.  He and some of the other elders laughed, but I had never heard of a Marriott hotel so I was none the wiser.  He just wrote a number down a phone number on a piece of paper and told me to call his father when I got to the airport.

My companion and I were living with a member couple named Hammond in Greenwich, and I told them of my plans to stay in Washington D.C. on my way home.  There had been an attractive young woman  in the Greenwich branch named Sandy, who was a good friend of our landlady, and who had just gone to the United States to be a nanny.  Just before she left, she and I had sung a duet with guitars together for a church program.

When I got off the plane in Washington D.C., I was surprised to see Sandy at the gate.  I had not known she had gone to Washington, D.C. to be a nanny, only that she had gone to the U.S.  We talked for a while until after the last shuttle had left and I needed a taxi. I was alone with a very attractive young woman in the Dulles Airport.  I was still a missionary and would be until I met with my Stake President after I returned home.  The arm’s length rule still applied.  This was a bit of an awkward moment.  I needed a hotel room, but what about Sandy?  She and I in a hotel room together?  I had barely enough money for one hotel room and a taxi.  I could not afford two rooms.  She was way too attractive to share a hotel room with and still be a missionary, but the way she looked at me let me know that a hotel room was just what she had in mind.  She had the most beautiful blue eyes, long blond hair, a body to die for, and although I had honored the arm’s length rule, we had become good friends while practicing our singing and guitars together.  I had feelings for her.  If this was only some other time…

I remembered the phone number of Elder Marriott’s dad, so I called him and told him I was a friend of Doug’s and that Doug had told me to call him to recommend a hotel.  We talked about the mission for a few minutes, and then I told him that a young lady from England had met me at the airport.  He was a Stake President himself and he asked me what gate I was at and told me to wait and he’d be right there.  It did not take him long to arrive, and we climbed into his Mercury station wagon. We were making small talk as he drove, and I asked him what line of work he was in.  He said he and his brother were in the hotel business.  The timing could not have been more perfect because at that moment, we drove past a large 20-story building with “Marriott” on the top.  I said, “Is that one of yours?” He replied, “Yes, that is one of ours.”  Then I knew what those elders were laughing about when I asked Doug Marriott if he knew of a good hotel in Washington D.C.

I mentioned to Brother Marriott that I had wanted to see some sites, but my flight out the next morning did not leave me much time.  So after we had dinner in one of his hotels (The waitress did not give him a check; he just gave her an account number.), he drove us by some of the sites.  The city was beautiful at night, and I loved seeing the monuments, the capitol, and the stunning beauty of the city.  We drove by the side of the White House, and I asked him to stop the car so I could take a picture.  I got out of the car, grabbed my tripod, ran out onto the lawn to set up for a timed exposure photo, and as I was setting up, I was suddenly swarmed by secret service agents.  I guess it is not a good idea to set up a tripod at the back of the White House.  I had to explain who I was and what I was doing, while noticing how Brother Marriott (I guess I should refer to him as President Marriott) was in the car laughing.  I got away without taking any pictures, or going to jail, and we ended up at the Marrott’s home where Sandy and I were properly separated and chaperoned. The next morning his wife took me to the airport, and I assume she took Sandy home.  It would be a long time before I ever had the opportunity to stay in a Marriott Hotel, but not too long before I saw Sandy again.  She was not going to give up that easily.

Nancy and I were in my old 14-year-old Plymouth and I was pushing it a bit too much (95 mph) when somewhere in the middle of Nevada, I began to hear a knocking sound in the engine.  I pulled into a  service station, and the attendant said it was a rod knocking.  I had blown my engine just as I was about to  blow my life.  It would still run, but I had to go slow.  This was one more bad omen.  The car had about 100,000 miles on it, and cars just were not made to go any further than that in those days.  My father had once told me that he would never want to own a car with more than 50,000 miles on it.

* * *

That Plymouth had been a great car.  It was a plain, light green sedan with a flat-head 6 cylinder engine, but I loved it, and it was very reliable, so I guess you could say it loved me, too.  My mother had purchased the car in 1953 just after my father died. It had only 6,000 miles on it.  It had become the second car when my mother married my stepfather, and after I got my drivers license the June before I turned 16, I became the primary driver and was responsible for its maintenance.  I had installed new seat covers, replaced the tires, shock absorbers, installed a rear speaker, and a new battery.

The battery should have been replaced earlier before the winter of my senior year of high school, but I was tight on money.  On cold mornings I had to push the car to get it started.  I parked it on the street in front of our house that had a slight incline towards the rear of the car.  I would get in the car, turn on the key, put my right foot on the clutch, and my left foot outside the car to push the car backwards.  After one or two pushes with my left foot, I would release the clutch and the car always started.  I did that all winter long.

It was great in the snow, too. It was made of heavy steel with a relatively small engine, so the weight was evenly distributed. Even though it was conventional rear-wheel drive, I did not hesitate to drive it up the canyon to Alta when there was 8 inches of new, unplowed snow on the road.  It made it up with no problems, passing several cars that could not make it up.

For a while, the car had a front-end problem.  It would begin to shimmy at about 50 mph.  One evening I was late for a date with a girl attending BYU in Provo, about 50 miles south.  I did not have the patience or the time to keep it under 50 mph, so I just let it shimmy up to about 85 mph when I heard a kind of pop.  It stopped shimmying at that moment and it never shimmied again.  I was told it had something to do with king pins somewhere in the front end, but auto mechanics was never my focus.  I was just happy the car loved me enough to fix itself.

The car had an emblem on the dashboard with an image of the pilgrims’ ship Mayflower (I still have the emblem), so my friend Jim Wilson called my car “The Mayflower,” and the name stuck. We called it the Mayflower from then on.  Now the car was offering itself as a supreme sacrifice in an effort to save me from a huge mistake.

* * *

We finally arrived in Elko.  The first thing we did was to go to the Justice of the Peace.  We first had to get a license before we could get married, but there was a problem.  Nancy was not of legal age; we could not get married without written connect from her parents.  How many times did I need to be told that I was making a bad decision?  Here we were in Elko, Nevada, with a blown engine, very little money, and we couldn’t get married.  We found a motel room where we could go and figure things out.  I had to pay more for a room with a kitchen because of that damn roast we grabbed from my mother’s freezer.  We also had to buy a pan to cook it.  That roast cost  us a lot of money, but grabbing it was not the only dumb thing I did that weekend.

We discussed it and decided to call Nancy’s parents.  My parents were still out of town.  Nancy’s parents did not even know she was gone; they just thought she was sleeping in.  I only heard one side of the conversation, so I don’t really know her mother’s reaction, but it must not have beed too bad because they agreed to have a permission document notarized and put on a Greyhound bus going to Elko.  They were probably happy to have her gone without needing to pay for a wedding.  The document was not going to come soon enough for us to get married on Saturday; we had to wait for Sunday.  When we got in line for the Justice of the Peace after getting our license, the couple ahead of us was drunk and the couple behind us was expecting a baby any day from the looks of her.

Nancy’s parents set out on Sunday morning to meet us with the idea that maybe our car would not make it back.  We met them half way.  I did not dare drive the car over about 50 mph, but it made it home. That evening in Nancy’s parents house, we began to think of real world issues like where we would live.  We all laughed when Nancy’s little brother said I could sleep with him.  As it turned out, Nancy’s grandmother had a vacant room in her home near the University of Utah that she normally rented out that we could have for $35/month.  I was making $30/week and Nancy’s dad owned a service station and he offered to gives us our gas.  Nancy was working for a hamburger joint part time. I figured we could make it for a while.  We had to share a bathroom with some old guy we had never seen, but the price was right.

I was wondering what my parents would say.

* * *

My parents’ lives were governed by a stifling set of religious ideals.  There was always  pressure to live up to the expectations set by the leaders of the church, the scriptures, and my  parents.  Anyone who did not meet those standards was severely criticized.  If I ever slipped up, my parents said it was either someone else’s fault or it was not discussed at all.  As a child, my parents did not want me to play with Jimmy Morton because he said “gad.” I could not play with other boys whose mothers worked outside the home.  As a teenager, my stepfather once found a Playboy magazine in my room.  He took me into the fruit room, a small cement room under the front porch where we kept all our food storage, to confront me with my sinful behavior lest my mother should see that evil magazine.  I almost laughed at the drama of the fruit room scene, but the fear of criticism along with the the severe criticism of others who likewise erred is partly what kept me in line.  We lived in a kind of religious bubble that kept the rest of the world out.

Once when I was about 8 or 9 years old, I was asked by my Sunday School teacher if I had chores to do around the house.  I said, “Yes, I take the garbage out.”  Someone (likely an old lady who was hard of hearing) overheard it and thought I said, “I clean the coffee pot.”   “Good” Mormons do not drink coffee.  It hit the gossip mill, and my mother heard it from someone in the ward and she was humiliated.  It became a scandal, and I was drilled as to what I had said.

My mother took me to Utah Bank and Trust when I was 5 years old and had me open up my first bank account to “save for my mission.”  Since that time, the subject of my saving for and paying for my mission was never discussed.  If we had discussed the money, of course, I may have had a problem with it or I may even have questioned it.  That would put me outside the bubble; I would be a disgrace to the family that I did not want to give all I had to the work of The Lord.  It would have broken the crystalline structure of the perfect family of which we fervently subscribed to in all our communications within the family and without.  If such a fact were exposed, we would be a disgrace as perceived by all their friends in the church and the bubble would be broken.  My parents could not take that risk so such things had to be ignored.

I cannot remember ever being counseled as what to do when confronted with temptation or how to deal with moral slippages. I had no brothers to talk to, only two sisters, a totally anal stepfather, and a frustratingly obedient mother.

I remember similarities when my father died of polio when when I was 7.   When I heard of my father’s death, I remember faking crying because everyone else was crying and it was expected of me to cry.  I also remember thinking a lot about what it was going to be like not having a father and how my life was about to change.  I remember very strong emotions, but I had to fake crying.  I was told that my father died because he was too perfect and he had more important work to do on the other side, but what was more important than me having a father? I did not want to die young, so then I did not want to be that perfect, but I dared not say anything and reveal the illogic of what I was told. I guess I learned at a very young age that you did not express emotions; you suppressed them or acted them out in some other passive way.

Young Mormons go to Sunday School and Primary every week from the time they are three years old until they are about nineteen or go off to college, join the army or get married.  In all those classes they are taught how to prepare for one thing.  For boys it is going on a mission.  For girls it is temple marriage.  So what about after that?  What about the other 60 years of life?  Should we, just maybe, have been prepared for that?  Either life is over when the mission is over or we should just figure it out ourselves. That is where I was, at that time of my life.

The bubble phenomena is supported in most every church classroom—Sunday School, Relief Society, Priesthood meetings and even Primary.  Teachers are required to stay strictly with the material in the lesson manuals from which the “ideals” are  taught.  Members naturally don’t want to talk about the problems they are having in their lives in front of all the other members, so they just nod and try to find something in their lives that conforms to the principles that are being taught  so they can contribute to the discussion.  An instructor may be telling women in a Relief Society class how putting stickers next to their child’s names on a chart may encourage that child to read the scriptures, while some women in the class are more concerned with keeping their children out of jail and off drugs.  There will be no discussion of how to deal with drug problems.  Those problems are ignored.  They have to be ignored; they are not in the lesson manual.  It is assumed that gospel principles have been taught to their children since they were three years old and that those principles have been practiced constantly and taught in the home during Family Home Evening, and as a result, there are no drug problems. This unlikely scenario often carries over to everyday life and some people make the assumption that, if it is not discussed in class, it will not happen and behavior or circumstances outside the lesson manual never need to be prepared for or discussed in the home.  For those people, life goes along fine as long as family issues never fall outside the lesson manual boundaries.

This was my mother and step-father’s life.  My mother had taught Relief Society classes for years. Our family never ventured outside the lesson manual.  She had never needed to deal with drugs or even alcohol and tobacco.  Except for Jimmy Morton saying “Gad” and the Playboy magazine I carelessly left out, life had been easy for her—until now.

* * *

When my parents found out that I had eloped that weekend, it was a far greater blow than I had expected.  My parents life had just collapsed.  The bubble had burst.  They had never experienced a tragedy like this one.  My mother was so upset she could not get out of bed for a week. I had eloped, I was married to that girl from Granger they did not like.  They called her Peek-a Boo because she wore her hair in her eyes.  We were not married in the temple, and everyone would know.  So now I was not as perfect as my father had been, and there was no escaping or ignoring that fact (good, I may not die early).  Either my mother or my stepfather called my bishop; he called me, we met, and he suggested I get an annulment, and he could make the arrangements.  I should have listened to him, but I told him I had made a commitment that I had to live with.  That just added to my guilt.  I talked to my parents very little for several weeks.

Nancy’s grandmother’s apartment was in a good location and roomy, but Nancy did not like sharing a bathroom. Nancy had an old Chevy, older than my old Plymouth.  My car was still running with the piston rod knocking, but neither car could make it up the hill to the University.  We needed a new apartment, a new car, and a good kick in the pants.

 

 

 

 

The Mission Call

 

The Mission Call

Ever since I can remember, I was going to go on a mission for the Church. It was expected of every Mormon boy to plan on and save for his mission.  I had my first bank account before I turned six, and it was for my mission fund.  My father, mother, and stepfather had all served missions.  I never questioned if I would go.

I anxiously awaited the response from my application for a mission to find out where in the world I would go and if I was to learn a new language, which would mean two and a half years instead of just two years. The letter came and I was called to serve in the British Mission with headquarters in London. I was pleased. It was a foreign country, but I was not going to have to learn a foreign language.  I was also leaving earlier than I expected. I was going before my 19th birthday, so I could immediately enroll into the University upon my returning to avoid the draft.  A gap in time between the mission and school would very possibly put me in Vietnam.

The first week of the mission we spent in training in the “Mission Home” in downtown Salt Lake City.  We heard lectures from general authorities as well as basic training as to what is expected of missionaries such as keeping women at arm’s length, always being with your companion, writing our parents weekly, referring to the male missionaries as “Elder” and the female missionaries as “Sister,” getting up every morning at 6:00 am, and praying every morning and evening.  It was all Rah! Rah! and would have put any Amway rally to shame. It is no wonder Utah is the multilevel marketing capital of the world.

My companion was Charles Manley Brown, a grandson of Hugh B. Brown, a counselor in the first presidency of the Church.  He was an okay guy, and I had fun saying my companion was Charlie Brown.

I went on my first commercial airline flight to New York City and then on to London. We arrived in London at about 10 am the next morning.  We were picked up and allowed to catch some sleep for a few hours in a small hotel before we were taken to the mission headquarters in South Kensington that afternoon.  I was surprised to see several guys from high school when we arrived at the mission headquarters including my District Leader and Zone Leader.

After buying a used bicycle for four pounds from a missionary who was going home, I was dropped off where my new senior companion was staying in Herne Hill just over the Themes in South London.  He was introduced to me as Elder Bradley, but as the van pulled away and we were walking into the house he said, “Just call me Phil; I hate this Elder stuff.”  Our room was on the top floor of a large home owned by a friend of our mission president.  Board and room was four pounds, ten shillings a week (about $13). My parents sent me $100 a month, but I could usually get by on $80.

After dinner we went out to call on people whom Elder Bradley and his previous companion were teaching. The first door we knocked on was answered by an attractive young lady in a negligé who said, “Hi Phil.”  Elder Bradley had an awkward moment and asked if she still had the book he had left for her (the Book of Mormon).  She had to think a few minutes and then remembered it.  It made me wonder just how “arm’s length” that relationship was.

The arm’s length thing was to be an absolute rule.  It had to be.  At 19, missionaries are at the peak of their sexual drive and away from home for the first time and without supervision other than a “companion.” The Church just cannot have their representatives dating or even flirting with young women when they are preaching the gospel.  In one English branch of the church I attended, there were 90 members on record and the Church owned property for a chapel, but only two members were at the Sunday meeting.  The cause of this extreme fallout was a missionary who had had a sexual relationship with a young lady in the congregation.  Sexual relations would cause a missionary to be excommunicated and sent home dishonorably, bringing disgrace to himself and his family.

I had been indoctrinated as to the seriousness of the arm’s length rule and was shocked to find out my companion who I was to be with 24/7, and who was to be my mentor, was acting in such a way. Should I report him, or should I let it ride and see if it goes any further?

That first evening, Elder Bradley (Phil) showed me which bed was mine, and when I pulled back the covers, I noticed the sheets which once had been white were now a light brown.  I asked how long it had been since the sheets had been washed. Elder Bradley scratched his head and said, “Well, I’ve been here five months and they haven’t been washed as long as I have been here.”  We had rules and we could not wash the sheets until the next Monday, which was our “diversion day” since washing sheets was not missionary work. I was not surprised when I got sick.

So here I was, sick, in a different part of the world, away from home for the first time in my life, sleeping in who knows what, and my companion was destroying every image I had of what I should be doing there. My mother had always changed my sheets once a week. They were always clean and white, but now I had to crawl between these filthy sheets.  I had planned on keeping arm’s length from girls, and I was actually looking forward to not having to deal with the dating scene. I think now that I should have reported these problems and not ignored them, but I was raised to ignore problems. I was actually more concerned with staying arm’s length from the brown sheets!

In our family, a mission was part of an idealistic, unyielding code of conduct to which obedience was assumed and expected. Any deviation was either ignored or was someone else’s fault. We never discussed problems, so we never gained any experience dealing with them.  We never discussed the issues around dating and how to deal with girls, so I became afraid of them.  Everything I learned about sex I learned from scout camp or my friends. Socially, I belonged in kindergarten.

Eventually I got to a chemist(pharmacist) who gave me something called “The Mixture” which helped reduce my trips to the toilet.  I eventually washed the sheets and managed to get by for a couple of months when I was assigned to another companion.

Another few months later I was transferred to Ashford in Kent County.  The leader of the district that covered all of Eastern Kent was my companion, Elder Yeates.  He was strict, a strong contrast to Elder Bradley.  For example, sometimes we would take the entire district to London in our van (all the other Elders rode bicycles) for a meeting or an evening in London to see a play or movie, and it would take us until 5:00 am to take all the Elders home.  Since we had to get up at 6:00 am, Elder Yeates said it was pointless to even go to bed, so we would study until it was time to get ready to start the normal day’s activities.  This lack of sleep was exacerbated by the fact that I had a low thyroid condition, which I found out about years later. I remember falling asleep while standing on porches, driving, or while siting in an investigator’s warm living room.

The next summer I was transferred to Margate, a seaside resort town on the northeast corner of Kent.  We were at a picnic hosted by the local members when it began to rain.  In England people say, “If you don’t like the weather, wait ten minutes and it will change.” Someone raised a large plastic tarp, and we all climbed under to wait the obligatory ten minutes. While under the tarp, Sister Karchner, a beautiful wife of an American Church member, put her arm around me in some kind of embrace.  Suddenly, those 19 year old suppressed hormones hit me like a tidal wave. I did not know what to think, let alone what to do.  She was probably twice my age, married, but suddenly much more attractive. Nothing was said, and nothing further was done, but the feeling remained with me and dominated my thoughts.

It was very difficult for me as a young man to deal with all these emotions.   I was unprepared for such reality.  The extremes between Elder Bradley and Elder Yeates.  On one hand a total disregard for rules and on the other hand extreme adherence to rules to the point of sleep deprivation.  Then there were the thoughts of being sent home and the disgrace it would bring next to the flattery of an older woman showing desire for me added to my confusion.  Knowing that women (not just young girls) were off limits made it all that more titillating.  I thought of Elder Bradley, and what I thought of him, and it helped calm me down and put everything more in focus.

It was not the last time a married lady would make a pass at me, but I matured enough to deal with it. I don’t know what ever happened to Elder Bradley and I never saw him again, but missions are like that. You are with a person day and night for several months and then you never see him again. Each new companion is a new adventure.

Miniatures

Miniatures

I spend hours every Christmas putting together a miniature village as part of our holiday decorations.  I enjoy my village and I imagine my involvement in the lives of the tiny people in the streets and behind the windows of their houses.  The village can be anything I want it to be, and it does not change unless I change it.

Miniature figures represent reality as images of people, buildings, landscapes, machines, tools, and other living or nonliving things.  They allow the creation of a simulated reality that can be manipulated, controlled and viewed in its entirety.  They can simulate proposed alternatives and “what if” situations, or they can provide an environment where fantasies can be played out in a world where rules are followed and people behave as expected.

Miniatures have been used for various purposes for thousands of years.  Miniature soldiers were found in the tombs of the Pharaohs. Paintings in miniature were popular among the Persians about the 13th century and continued until the mid 1800s when the practice almost died out as photography was developed.  Those artists tended to abandon miniature painting for photography.

The earliest recorded doll house was made for Albert V, Duke of Bavaria, between 1550 and 1579. It was a copy of his own residence and became known as his “baby house.”  Charles Dickens referred to a doll houses in Cricket on the Hearth, 1845.  Doll houses increased in popularity in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries.  The furniture and interiors of the houses reflected the lifestyles of their owners, and many were made purely as collectors’ pieces with contents made by craftsmen.

Brightly painted toys carved from wood were often sold by peddlers and street traders in the early 19th century.  In the late 19th century, these toys were replaced by toys stamped out of tinplate.  Many of these toys were clockwork and were developed as a sideline of watchmaking. In the 1930s brightly painted diecast cars were introduced in Britain, and that was taken to a new level in 1961with Mattel’s Hot Wheels cars which had low friction wheels that could send a car over a further distance with a single push.

One of the largest markets for miniatures is the movie industry.  The fierce Tyrannosaurus Rex in Jurassic Park was actually about 18 inches long.  The Hogwarts castle in the Harry Potter series is only about 12 feet high.  In “Back to the Future III” when the train was pushing the Delorean time machine along  the track, that train and Delorean were actually much smaller models. Those sexy helicopter crashes that are so popular in movies involve small models, usually no more that 12 inches long.  In these scenes, the speed of the film is slowed to make the movement look realistic.  This is most noticeable in shots of ships on ocean waves.  A small model ship floating on waves looks silly in real time.

Most collectors of miniatures are adults, but children are raised on toys.  Toys help children develop their social and cognitive skills and help them identify their roles in society.  There are a lot of studies to determine why boys like cars and guns and girls like dolls.  Some people think it is the parents who create the preferences and some think it is hormonal.  Extreme gender-oriented toys may have a negative effect on a child’s development.  The Barbie Doll tends to make girls think negatively about their own bodies.  Guns tend to make boys more aggressive.  Some studies show that the kind of toys a child plays with has an effect on the child’s intellectual development.

 

Parents of grown children should look in their storage boxes. The original Barbie Doll is worth now about $8,000.  An original 1933 edition of Monopoly will bring $146,000.  A boxy sea-green Matchbox sedan, the 1966 Opel Diplomat, will bring $9,000.

How many battles have been planned and recreated with miniature soldiers, tanks, guns, etc?  How many shopping malls and office buildings have been created in miniature before actual construction has begun?

Whatever the motivation,  miniature models, toys, and Christmas villages offer whatever anyone wants from it.  They offer a controlled environment at a  reasonable cost.  They also offer hours and hours of fun.

 

 

 

 

The Village

The Village

The village appears to be centered around a central park with an abundance of trees surrounded by stately mansions and community buildings reminiscent of Savannah, Georgia.  The time seems to be near the beginning of the twentieth century, before automobiles, but after electric lights.  The time of day must be dusk since lights are visible behind windows, but it is not really dark.  The liveliness of activity indicates that it is not yet time for sleeping.

A steam locomotive leading a passenger and freight cars is stationed on the tracks outside a depot near a large hotel.  Prosperity seems evident since the homes are mostly large, two-story structures abounding with gingerbread, verandas, picket fences, and brick walkways.  Just this year, the town has increased by 15 more buildings—homes, stores, and offices. In addition to the mansions, you see a town hall, church, school, fire station, and several small shops with shoppers on the sidewalks carrying packages wrapped as gifts.

Within the park in the center of the town is a frozen pond with ice skaters dancing in pairs and as singles to music from a band playing from beneath a covered bandstand.  Brilliantly decorated Christmas trees stand tall, as tall as the houses, on either end of the park. There are dogs playing and birds singing, and there is even an organ grinder with a monkey on a leash holding a cup for donations.  A man is visible on an arched bridge over a stream holding a child watching the skaters.  Carolers bring a feeling of warmth, friendliness, community, and peace in the small village.  Near the edge of town is a dance hall with a different kind of music and livelier people.  Just outside the town is another iced-over pond with more skaters frolicking; there is a small hill with sleigh riders enjoying the winter’s covering of soft white snow.

One can only imagine the stories behind the lives of these people.  Are they all as happy as they appear? What is the basis of their economy?  The homes have families with all the struggles of living and raising children.   Some may be enjoying the happiness of seeing their children grown and with children of their own—happy and successful.  However, maybe some homes have children who have not been heard of for years.  What sorrow must be behind those doors.  What can you tell from your view of this village?

The stories within the village are generated in the hearts and minds of the viewers.  These stories will be different for each viewer; the village scene is a canvas on which each viewer can paint his/her own stories.  The names of the people and their level of happiness will change from one viewer to another.  What advice would you give these people?  Is anything real in this village?  Only as real as the thoughts in your head or the yearnings in your heart.

This village is alive and active from mid-November to mid-January.  In the spring, the ice does not melt. The rest of the year the village is in boxes in the loft in my garage.  It is my ceramic Christmas village.

It all started when, at a family gathering, I mentioned I once had a Christmas village as part of the Christmas decorations earlier in my life.  My sister-in-law offered her village.  She was more into crafts than villages, but years earlier she had painted and glazed some village items in a ceramics class.  She had also purchased a small train set and a skating rink with the idea of building a village, but everything had remained in boxes for many years.  She said  I could have them if I wanted.

I set them up that next Christmas.  The skating rink mechanism was about two inches high to allow for the magnetic mechanism that made the skaters skate and the music play.  The train track was not really enough and I did not like the skating rink that high.  It needed a lot more work.

The next year I cut a hole in a large 4′ x 8′ piece of plywood for the skating rink with a frame underneath to support it.  Now the rink was down where it belonged.  I bought more H.O. scale railroad track to go around the entire sheet of plywood, and I took great care to lay it out as evenly as I could.  I painted the top of the board white, but that was not enough.  I needed a three dimensional surface to simulate snow, so I ventured into a craft store to find just the right material.  One of the most difficult tasks was going into the craft store.  I associated craft stores with scrapbooking.  The first time I went into one, I felt similar to how I felt when, in Chicago’s O’Hare airport, I walked by mistake into a crowded women’s restroom.  I felt like I didn’t belong.

All year long, I look for new additions to my village, and with each addition, I think of more stories.  Each new character has meaning to me with a life of ups and downs like mine.  I picture myself in every home, office or shop, and I visualize what may be happening inside.   I love the stories that come to mind.  I enjoy finding new buildings and accessories, and my wife loves the dance hall.  It looks right, but it plays “Jingle Bell Rock,” making it not true to the period.

At Thanksgiving, I move the living room furniture to make way for the village.  I bring in the main board from the garage, clear off the other tables, and spend many hours setting up the village.

The grandkids have fun with the village.  They entertain themselves for hours creating their stories by moving the pieces around, running the train, peeking in the windows of the houses, and dancing to “Jingle Bell Rock.” It is interesting to find where things have been moved after they are through,  and I can only imagine what stories they created.  Their joy alone makes it all worthwhile.

My daughter-in-law just gave me nine new buildings with dozens of people, trees and other accessories.  I purchased five more buildings myself, along with more people, signs, etc.  Now I am up to about 40 buildings and hundreds of people, animals, and countless trees.  The village has expanded to four tables, and now I have the problem of connecting the train to the other parts of the village, which is a new pre-occupation and challenge.

 

Last Rites

Last Rites

It was early in January, about 5 am, when the family began to gather in my mother-in-law Jan’s room in the memory care unit. When we reluctantly moved Jan to a care facility eight months prior, we tried to make her room warm and inviting and as much like home as possible. The furniture was all from her home. The pictures on the walls were of her family and were the same pictures that surrounded her in her bedroom at home—all grouped by families. Jan could gaze around this room and feel familiar.

Jan lay peacefully in her bed, but this time was different. MSNBC was not playing on the television. There was no discussion of politics, family dramas, or the familiar family humor, but the thermostat was still set uncomfortably high at 78 degrees. Jan had passed away just an hour earlier. As family members arrived, there was little of the sorrow typically exhibited when a family member dies. After the usual greetings, the discussions centered on the remarkable events of the past few days.

Three days prior, she was taken to the hospital when she was found unconscious in her room with no vitals signs. When my wife Janeen arrived at the hospital she was awake, more lucid than she had been in months and she said, “They’re going to bury me tomorrow or the next day.” Remarkably all her family was able to visit her over the next few days. At times it was difficult to understand her through the oxygen mask, but over the next two days she told everyone that she had seen David, her husband who had died 45 years ago, (she had never remarried) and that she was going to die in about two days. She was 90 years old, and was happy about the prospect of dying.

The mood was ambivalent. Along with her declining physical health, she had suffered from dementia and had been miserably confused for months, but she now appeared to be thinking clearly. The hospital ran some tests, and the doctor said death was imminent. To our surprise, however, her condition improved and we moved her back to her room at the memory care center. That evening she lay in her bed knocking on the wall and commenting on how beautiful it was where she saw Dave and how happy she was to be joining him. We stayed with her until late that evening but we finally went home. She was probably anxious for us to leave so she could die in peace.

Due to Jan’s dementia, we were accustomed to her uttering strange things that made little sense, but this time she was right on. Even thought she was well enough to be released from the hospital, she had predicted her death to within one hour.

We were notified of her death and returned to her room. Janeen’s sister said, “Isn’t that just like Mom to wait until we all left before she dies.” Jan was always very independent and did things just the way she wanted.

While visiting that next morning, as her remains were in her bed, I asked to have the thermostat lowered. and one of her grandsons rose and lowered the thermostat. It was like a ritual signifying her death. Everyone looked at each other and realizing the significance. She no longer needed the room overly warm. She was gone.

There was no reason to grieve, Jan had seen to that. She had prepared us all, had returned to say good-bye, and let us know she was going to a much better and happier place. So instead of talking of how we would miss her, the talk was about how much happier she was and how happy we were for her. Although the thermostat had been turned down, The warmth of the small room had more to do with the united feeling of tenderness shared by everyone in the room.

Janeen loved her mother. She had shared meals with her mother twice a week for the previous 29 years and I had gone too for 10 years. Janeen wanted to be with her mother even after death. She sat on the bed and instead of being uncomfortable with death, wanted to touch her, feel her hands and feet, her face, and torso. She kept commenting on the temperature of her body, how her hands and feet got cold first and her stomach stayed warm longer. There was no crying; there was only peace and the finality of a long life having been surrounded by a loving family.

I had enjoyed a comfortable relationship with Jan, but I was new to the family. Janeen and I had not been more that 10 years. When I married Janeen, Jan was my advocate. and would defend me, even when I did something dumb like unintentionally spraying Round-UP on the lawn and killing a large triangular pattern of grass. However, I was turned off by the idea of touching a dead body, but Janeen seemed to be saying goodbye in a physical manner. Her caresses showed the love she had for her mother as if she was saying thanks for a good life, thanks for a family that had kept close throughout the years, and thanks for all the love and support whenever it was needed. It was as though she was calming a crying child as if to say, “Everything will be fine—there is no need to worry—you will be alright—we will be alright.”

Other family members also went to Jan’s bedside, but no one spent so much time there as Janeen. Janeen wanted it to last so she could cherish the moment and the memories. She wanted to review her life with her mother, to revisit all the hardships such as when her father had died suddenly from a heart attack, and her divorce. Then there were the good times, the marriages, and the births of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After a few hours I began to think of what comes next. Who shall we call? We need a death certificate, a mortuary, funeral plans, obituary. I mentioned it once or twice, but I was told there was no big hurry. “Let us enjoy these last few minutes with our mother.”

Our Food Ritual

Our Food Ritual

I live with a beautiful and talented wife, Janeen, who is a good cook. Each of us was married previously to abusive and domineering people, and as a result, we are not accustomed to making decision because they were always made for us.  Rituals, including those related to food, have a strong influence in our lives as they ease the decision-making process.  Neither of us wants to instigate anything that the other may not want to do, eat, or observe.

We have several food rituals.  For breakfast we have eggs one day and cereal the next day.  I cook the eggs(scrambled with salsa) or prepare the cereal, and every day Janeen makes protein shakes.  On weekends we may branch out to pancakes or French toast, and we always have something special if any of our grandchildren have spent the night.  Janeen and I only eat warmed pure maple syrup with berries, sliced bananas, and Cool Whip on our pancakes, but we maintain a large bottle of the imitation syrup for the grandkids since they want their pancakes swimming in syrup.  If we are in a hurry, we have the “tennis breakfast” that got its name when Janeen played tennis early on Saturday mornings.  It consists of toast, jam and scrambled eggs.  The real food ritual, however, is our Sunday dinners.

Janeen has four children from her previous marriage who all live within just a few miles of our home, including one who lives next door.  All are successful, have families, homes, busy lives, and many friends.   The first and third Sunday of every month, they join us for Sunday dinner to enjoy their mother’s cooking.  They are invited to join us every Sunday, but they have other parents, in-laws, and friends to spend time with, too, so every Sunday is not practical.  The grandchildren enjoy playing together, so having them all come on the same day is better than having them come when their cousins are not here.   The family room inside our home has one corner dedicated to indoor toys for the grandchildren.  First and third Sundays was agreed upon years ago, and the ritual has continued ever since.  In the summer, the Sunday dinners are moved outside in the shade next to our swimming pool that is kept close to 90 degrees during the summer months by our solar panels.  Our pool house includes not only the pool equipment, but a kitchen, bathroom, and storage area for the large number of pool toys for the grandchildren.

This Sunday food ritual has continued down from generation to generation.  Janeen’s mother hosted the dinners until old age made it hard for her and Janeen took over, but Janeen’s mother always joined us until she passed away about one year ago.  Janeen’s mother lived with Janeen’s sister, Julie,  who has never married and is included in the Sunday gatherings.  Janeen’s sister, however, joins us every Sunday.  The food ritual with Julie and her mother included not just Sundays, but lunches every Saturday at a local restaurant.  Janeen always made more than enough food, and Julie and her mother became dependent on leftovers they took home for several dinners during the following week.  We maintain about a hundred plastic containers in our pantry for transporting those leftovers.  There is also enough food left over for two or three evening meals for Janeen and me throughout the week.

With about 16  people, there is a birthday close to most of the dinners, and the one having the birthday can choose the menu.  They all have their favorites and they get what they want.  Some are on diets, but the diets do not apply to Sunday dinners.  There is no evidence of dieting or even healthy eating at our Sunday dinners. Pigging out is the norm. Healthy eating is for the other six days of the week.

Our Sunday dinners keep the family together.  The ritual with the Sunday dinners is not just for eating.  Dinners are a time for communication, expressing love, teaching, planning, building relationships, and recreation. We have a large home with plenty of room for them to relax and for the grandchildren to play.

The Sunday dinner ritual has helped me personally become accepted into the family.  When Janeen and got married ten years ago, I was the new guy—the guy who is intruding into their close family circle. The best thing they had to say about me was, “He’s not bald and he doesn’t have a big pot belly.”  I have since been able to break down that barrier.  I am now accepted into the family circle.  Some of Janeen’s kids even calls me “Dad” and I seem to be the favorite “grandpa.”  They come to me for advice; they ask me for my help in various ways.  Just this winter, I have taught five of our grandchildren to ski.  When the family is together, we share stories, tell jokes (and in my case, obnoxious puns), plan vacations, and talk politics—sometimes TOO much politics.

Last December, three of Janeen’s kids and their families spent a week with us in Hawaii.  We have a membership at the “Grand Wailea” on Maui.  Everyone of the kids purchased memberships there, as well.  We are planning a combined trip to Lake Powell this summer and  a return vacation to Hawaii—all families together.  These plans are made at our Sunday dinners.

How many families can boast of a relationship like this one?  Without these rituals, how often would we see the family?  These relationships are in stark contrast to the relationship we have with my four children from my previous marriage.  Janeen has never seen some of them, and we have never been to any of their homes.  I have not seen some of them in years.  My youngest daughter got married locally this last August, and security guards were hired to keep me from attending the wedding.  The lack of a relationship cannot be blamed on the absence of Sunday dinners, but on a sociopathic ex-wife—and that subject is best left for another story or perhaps an entire autobiographic novel.

 

On August 3, 2013 I posted the following on Facebook.

My daughter Julie is getting married this afternoon at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City. I asked her via text message if she would have a problem with me attending. She said I could not attend because of “big emotions” of some of the people there. (My ex wife, Nancy, I am sure)

They are so freaked out at the idea of my being there that they asked my bishop to tell me not to attend. They even mentioned hiring special security guards to keep me out. Can you believe it?

The only possible reason I can think of for this infantile behavior is that Nancy is terrified that I may tell my kids the other side of the story behind our divorce which they have never heard.julie wedding w jason

Here is a photo of my son Jason walking my daughter Julie down the aisle.  I should be there instead of Jason.  I wonder how she felt.  What is more important than having her father next to her at this time? What would make a young lady reject her father so?  Ask the one who hired the security guards.

There will be much more to come on this sub ject, but in the mean time I am going to share the short texts I submitted in my Creative Nonfiction class at the U.

Watch for “The Other Side of the Story.”

I welcome your comments.