Uncle Pete's Memories, Uncle Pete, Patmos Planet, PatmosPlanet, PatmosPlanet.net,

Uncle Pete's Memories


My grandmother at the end of her life could recount things in her childhood in detail: where all the neighbors lived, all of their names, and events that happened.  She died in 2001 at 91, but before she did, I’d go and visit her in the nursing home.  There she’d tell her stories, and then five minutes later she’d tell the same story again, same exact words, same inflections, same gestures, and same shrugs. It was like instant replay on the tube.  Come to think about it; I responded with same exact words, same inflections, same gestures, and same shrugs. Well, I thought I’d write down some of my memories from time to time as I enjoyed school things, mostly in elementary, and junior high, and very little in an academic way in high school.  I didn’t care for the school part of “high school.” Stay tuned.  By the way, I did get an F in English my senior year, so proofreaders are welcome.

My grandmother at the end of her life could recount things in her childhood in detail: where all the neighbors lived, all of their names, and events that happened.  She died in 2001 at 91, but before she did, I’d go and visit her in the nursing home.  There she’d tell her stories, and then five minutes later she’d tell the same story again, same exact words, same inflections, same gestures, and same shrugs. It was like instant replay on the tube.  Come to think about it; I responded with same exact words, same inflections, same gestures, and same shrugs. Well, I thought I’d write down some of my memories from time to time as I enjoyed school things, mostly in elementary, and junior high, and very little in an academic way in high school.  I didn’t care for the school part of “high school.” Stay tuned.  By the way, I did get an F in English my senior year, so proofreaders are welcome.

My grandmother at the end of her life could recount things in her childhood in detail: where all the neighbors lived, all of their names, and events that happened.  She died in 2001 at 91, but before she did, I’d go and visit her in the nursing home.  There she’d tell her stories, and then five minutes later she’d tell the same story again, same exact words, same inflections, same gestures, and same shrugs. It was like instant replay on the tube.  Come to think about it; I responded with same exact words, same inflections, same gestures, and same shrugs. Well, I thought I’d write down some of my memories from time to time as I enjoyed school things, mostly in elementary, and junior high, and very little in an academic way in high school.  I didn’t care for the school part of “high school.” Stay tuned.  By the way, I did get an F in English my senior year, so proofreaders are welcome.




Strange as it may seem, I have a clear recollection of walking to Mt. View Elementary School to register for kindergarten. From Dean Way, one had to get over to Dewey Avenue and west to Hillside, then over to Mt. View Road and on up to the school.  At that time, Dewey down to Streeter Avenue wasn’t in yet, and it was probably a little more than a mile to school this way. My little brother was pushed in a stroller, and as we got to the crosswalk at Streeter in front of the school, the crossing guard lady, with her white hat, red vest, and two crossing flags in hand, instructed me to walk between the yellow lines. “This sounds like a fun game,” I thought, and proceeded to pick one of the parallel yellow lines to walk between; you know, down the center of the left line like a tightrope walker.  The crossing guard began flapping her red flags in the air like a fretful hen as we crossed, trying to steer me between the two lines, but was unsuccessful.

For some reason, this reminds me of the time at Sierra Jr. High when Mr. Roach, the Algebra teacher, filled in one day for another class.  I was acting up, I guess, and he told me to stand outside the classroom door and “count the cracks in the bricks.”  Well, this sort of thing never happened to me before - getting kicked out of class.  And while facing the brick wall, I wondered which brick I was supposed to count the cracks in, and how would Mr. Roach know if the count was right or not.  Or worse, what if he knew how many cracks were in the brick and the count was wrong.  Luckily for me, he never asked.  Other teachers passing by on their way to the office wondered why their usually behaved student was staring at the wall outside of class.  Little did they know I was on a mission. 

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Even before I went to kindergarten, I took up smoking at 3 years old.  After transplanting from Minnesota in 1953, the family moved into a converted garage on Indiana Avenue for a while, whose main residence was made of twelve-inch diameter stones.  It was there, before we got over to the house on Dean Way, that I pleaded with my mother to smoke a cigarette.  She obliged and took me to the next door lady who smoked to teach me a lesson.  The neighbor thought it a good idea, too, and lit one up.  They tried to get me to inhale the fumes, but the efforts were futile.  Nevertheless, evidently I got hooked right then as I had the craving for twenty-nine more years.

Later, on Dean Way, several of us kids about the same age, 5 or 6, found it no easy task getting ahold of a nicotine stick; however, desperate children do desperate things.  We looked around and found cigarette butts pretty easy on the road and used a magnifying glass to light them, as matches were hard to come by.  Other times, if we were lucky, we’d sit on the corner of Dean Way and Phoenix and wait for someone to flick a butt out the window.  It was always appreciated if they were still lit, but there was a lull in the foraging for several years until high school.

You know, the first cigarette you try after not having one for a long time smells pretty good, but after that, it’s never the same.  Starting at sixteen I would go to a little family grocery store on Magnolia, toward the Parent Navel Orange Tree, and buy Benson and Hedges 100’s or Winstons for 22 cents a pack.  Back then it wasn’t expensive to get a case of lung cancer, and lots of people were doing it.  There was a certain kind of teenager that smoked, and my alter ego wanted to identify with them.  You know, one of the tough guys:   Car racers who hung out with girls one only hopes to get entangled with (without their mother finding out); the bunch who drank beer and Red Mountain Burgundy for $1.25 a gallon, and got drunk and threw up in the trunk all night long having fun.

A lot of my smoking took place at the back gate of Ramona where you could avoid the long arm of Mr. Krogh, the attendance officer, by being one foot off the school property on the field between the school and Hardman Center.  However, I never had any friends out there to hang out with, as my real friends in Madrigals were the churchy, clean cut (cough cough) kind. I figure this smoking business was probably some sort of rebellion against authority, as I got lectured from an early age about smoking making you stink, your clothes stink, your breath stink, your house stink, your car stink, and also the lecture on how I had plenty of time to think about girls.  (Are parents for real?)  As time progressed, I took more chances smoking in the car and racing down the road at high speed with all the windows opened, even in the winter, to air it out.  How could they never figure it out?  It made you stink, your clothes stink, your breath stink, your house stink, your car stink, and about the only thing I thought about was girls. 

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His name was Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down and lived two houses over from me.  He also had red hair and coupled with that name probably says a lot, and he created a memorable event in kindergarten.  (I wasn’t going to give his name but how could I resist?)

One day Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down came to school wearing a Superman costume complete with cape.  It wasn’t one of those cheap Halloween costumes – it was real nice – the kind of Superman outfit us kids envied and he wore it to school!  This was the same time the television series “Superman” was a big hit, and we were ecstatic if our mothers would safety pin a towel around our necks enabling us to fly, arms stretched out in front, for truth, justice, and the American way.

Well, I think we were surprised he got to wear his costume to school, and the teacher didn’t say a word until nap time.  It was then that Superman got up, and like a bird, or a plane, took off and out the classroom, which was right next to Streeter Avenue, and rocketed down the sidewalk, cape flapping behind him.  Evidently the teacher, Mrs. Ainsworth,  felt she couldn’t catch up with Superman, faster than a speeding bullet, and more powerful than a locomotive,  and made a beeline out the door to the office to alert the principal, Zoe Brown, that one of her charges had flown the coop.  I can image Mrs. Brown asked the panicked teacher as she dialed the authorities, “Can you describe what he looks like?" “Why, yes,” the teacher responded. “He’s wearing blue body tights, red boots, red jockey briefs on the outside of his tights, a large red “S” on his chest on a yellow background, a red cape, and he has red hair too.”  “And what’s the student’s name?” “Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down.”

I guess the Superman TV series left an impression on me when I was small.  Some twenty-five years later, while working at the restaurant I managed, I heard someone addressing me while I was looking downward, froze still and said to myself, “Now isn’t that something? That sounds just like Jimmy Olsen, the kid reporter on Superman.”  Then I looked up with jaw-dropping surprise and noted, “And it looks just like Jimmy Olsen but with gray hair!”  It was him all right, Jack Larson.  More on red-haired kids to come  

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Well, before going on, I might as well tell you that I was traumatized in English even before having an English class, and I’m handicapped.  At the age of eleven or twelve, a certain adult told me I wasn’t college material. The reason?  I couldn’t spell.  Yes, folks, I’ve hidden it all my life, and if there were a Misspellics Anonymous, I’d have to go to those little weekly meetings and confess, “Hi. I’m Pete, and I’m a misspellic.”  You see, I could memorize for spelling tests, but off the cuff spelling was not my forte.  Of course, it’s not really me that has the problem; it’s the English language that makes no sense and the jerkmeisters who standardized the spelling.  Before that, it was okay to write in your own impressionistic way.  You know, “If u ken reed dis ann undrstan what eye mean, den itz good enuf speln 4 u ann me, rite?”

I was not only handicapped in spelling but after advancing to junior high, I realized I was handicapped; ah, I mean, challenged in knowing parts of speech and diagramming sentences. To me, diagramming a sentence would be like learning why one triangle is congruent to another in Mrs. Eads’ geometry class two years later at Ramona.  Who wants to know and who in their right mind cares?  (I lucked out with a D from her.)

One day the 8th grade English teacher had me come to the blackboard to diagram a sentence, but nobody knew I hadn’t a clue about such a procedure though I wanted to - especially then.  So, I did what any young man might do in a desperate situation while standing at the precipice of humiliation – I turned to humor to deflect attention away from my handicap.  Hesitantly I grabbed the chalk and made the initial long horizontal line; started cracking jokes about this and that, and got my fellow students in a festive mood.  After an excruciatingly long time, it seems, and the atmosphere exploding with hilarity, the teacher figured it out.  Yes, I was the village idiot, and so she had me quietly sit down and said nothing.  Things got worse, though.

At Ramona in the 10th grade, I had Maurice Mercer for English.  He was a “90-day Wonder” in World War II (officer candidate school) and hoped to make us literary wonders in 9 months.  Well, there were also spelling lists to memorize; one word being scintillating which I remember still, having used it from time to time, and which was just corrected by my computer.  But before spell checks on computers, I had to look words up regularly in the dictionary, knowing I’d have to look the same words up again for the rest of my life, but I got educated along the way.

In the 5th grade, for example, I’d look up words relating to sex because my school buddy, Robert Hart, had told me about the facts of life (a repulsive thing to contemplate at the time), and the dictionary was the only way to learn more. Kind of a love/hate sort of thing: like going to a horror movie not wanting to be scared to death, but wanting to be scared to death at the same time.  Then when my folks sat me down in the 7th grade to tell me about the strange custom of human copulation and reproduction, my vocabulary on the subject was better than theirs.  However, this combination of dictionaries and research abilities would pay off down the line when I took the Health Science course at RCC at 32 years of age and got the highest grade on the aforementioned subject out of 120 students.

Remember how they posted the results on class tests then?  It was on a printout with your school ID number, your percentage correct, and what the breakdown was for grades. My fellow students (mostly ten years or younger) crowded up to see their results and pointed, “Hey, look at what they got!  Wow!”  I knew it was me and had made a pact with the Lord, being a new Christian, that I would give him the praise for any good grades received because he compensated for my handicaps.  As a matter of fact, for the time at RCC, I aced everything except for one history class in which I got a B.  No telling what you can do with the help of the Lord or what handicaps you can overcome.  Back on Mr. Mercer’s English class…

Our desks were half on one side of the room facing the other half on the other side of the room for part of the year, with a large space between, or in a U-shape.  And so it happened one day while we diligently penned our assignment, I happened to look across at some of my classmates, who, evidently, were mimicking my writing style.  It was the style adopted by many small children, where you jut your tongue out your mouth to one side enabling you to steady and steer your hand as you write. There they were… my soon to become ex-friends, girls, unfortunately, vibrating with hysterical excitement that they had gained my attention and proceeded to fill me in on what I looked like - with no small gestures.  It was traumatic at the time, but I’m glad you did it D.  At least, I got that one quirk corrected, I hope. (Didn’t put your other initial down because someone might guess right for sure; but if you confess, I’ll write it down with gratitude, as only your friends will tell you if you have a booger hanging out your nose, or you’re steering with your tongue. Right?)

Saving for a future entry: THE COVETED F AWARD

P.S.  If you read the last entry, you know this is not an easy task.  Be Patient:) 

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For some reason, some of us used to make fun of red-haired girls in elementary school.  I don’t know why.  Frieda, my grandmother, had red hair, and I always liked her, even though she didn’t put up with bad behavior from grandchildren.  She was not the spoiler that grandmas are so often, and when we got a birthday card in the mail, she might have a quarter taped inside.  Conversely, the other grandma would slip in a crisp one dollar bill; but remember, a quarter back then was made of real silver and had intrinsic value. Grandma also had a mouth full of real gold dental work which looked pretty nice.  You know, not only something to stare at in curiosity but shiny and happy looking, which went well with her red hair and fair complexion.  And even though I’ve had only a few cavities to fill over the years, if they were in the back of my mouth, I’d get silver fillings instead of white composition, wishing I could afford gold ones.  (As a side note, my childhood dentist told me some time ago that the fillings he put in my mouth probably cost $5 apiece back then.  This proves dentists have become true alchemists and are turning - not lead into gold - but silver into gold, which still works out good for them.)

Anyway, while visiting Grandma in Minne-SO-ta in 1957, my brother and I thought we invented the first trampoline, which was the bed in her spare bedroom.  We knew to keep the door closed during laboratory testings, but, unfortunately, one day Grandma opened the door and busted us.  “Your mother never did anything like this when she was a little girl!” she pronounced, while shaking her finger from that 4’ 11” frame, and glaring with an eye squinting half shut, pursing her lips afterward.  Then Grandma proceeded to the linen closet and took and hid away the marbles in a squatty Skippy Peanut Butter jar, and I have never seen them since.  It was that red hair, probably, that made her that way.  My other grandma, for the sake of equal love time, had almost dark kinky hair when young that turned white and insisted I call her by her first name after she turned 91 - LaVawn.  She liked her name a lot, but everyone in the world was calling her Grandma by that time. Everyone.  She called me Pete, and I called her LaVawn.  It was great.

For some unknown reason, like other minorities are pestered, we pestered red-haired girls, one of which was probably the sweetest little girl in the world.  Her mother dressed her like a doll for school every day, and I don’t think she even had freckles, but pretty creamy porcelain skin.  She happened to live on the other side of the chain link fence at the extreme east end of Mountain View’s playground. But rather than walking a circuitous route to school (Stearns to Jurupa to Grand to Streeter to school), her folks hollowed out a spot under the school fence in their backyard and pulled it up a bit for her to scoot under.

There was also a more athletic and taller girl with red hair, and I have to divulge her name as done with Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down because it’s pertinent to the story.  Hopefully, she doesn’t sue me as I don’t have anything bad to say, and maybe she has kept her maiden name a secret and wants to keep it that way.  Loretta, her first name, was approaching the borderline of names to make fun of, but I don’t know why.  Her surname, however, was Philipovich – Loretta Philipovich - need I say more?  But even with her athletic build, which girls had in times gone by, we still bugged her, keeping an arm’s distance away.  Now tell me, why do kids or even adults have these prejudices?  Maybe it’s like the Bible says, that “God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”  In other words, man is born with a sinful nature. Wouldn‘t think that by watching the news, would you?

This prejudice thing is like the new student we got one year, The Russian, who looked like Vladimir Putin, but with thicker hair and a crew cut.  In the middle of the year The Russian was introduced to the class as an immigrant from the Soviet Union - and to be nice to him.  Right.  So as soon as possible about thirty of us got him in the middle of our welcome committee on the playground, and taunted him for being a foreigner.  He was trapped and pleaded for us to be friends with him until we children and grandchildren of immigrants let him go.  Welcome to America, Comrade! I felt bad being a part of this, but you know how peer pressure can be.

There are different kinds of peer pressure, like pedestrian street crossings in Minnesota compared to pedestrian street crossings in Jersey City, New Jersey.  If you’re from Minnesota, you might stand on the corner when the red light is stuck for an hour or two with no traffic, and not cross over because of peer pressure.  Then after the long wait, find another way to “legally” cross over.  But in Jersey City, not so: it works the opposite there. If you stand at the corner when the light is red, everyone else will be crossing and playing a lethal dodgeball game with traffic.  And then after a while, feeling like a country bumpkin from Minne-SO-ta, you’ll succumb to peer pressure and go for it, by golly. Wheee!  [Hey, after writing this four years ago, I just saw the pun a couple of sentences back - Dodge ball -  in car traffic!]

The bottom line of the story is…  When the red-haired girls we made fun of in elementary school grew up, strangely they turned out to be beauties for the most part, and coincidently had long memories.


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Maybe you read somewhere that everyone becomes aware of their own nakedness and shame when they are small children.  I have a recollection of that event and think it was even before kindergarten at Grant Elementary School downtown. Scores of mothers had taken their children to its auditorium (maybe a pre-kindergarten requirement), and we stripped down to our undershorts and had some sort of physical: height and weight were taken, and maybe hearts were listened to.  What I do remember for sure was how I felt very uncomfortable in just underwear even if we weren’t bare butt naked. After this, I developed a case of Peepin’ Pete Curiosity.

Anyway, at Mt. View School, there was a smaller room between the two kindergarten classes which included two toilet stalls for us kids.  The one on the left had a picture of a little girl on it with a dress and the other of a little boy with pants.  Of course, we weren’t reading yet, but we understood which one we were and which stall to use.  At the time back in 1955 this was a no-brainer.  However, it is not the case now, and, evidently, there are those who are in confusion about which sex they are.  Where I live, and maybe it’s the same in your state, if you reach high school and don’t know if you are a male or female, you can receive school counseling at taxpayers’ expense to help you figure it out. Even back in my kindergarten class, we kids could look at a litter of pups and point out which ones were boys and which ones were girls, or cattle or horses or people for that matter. Not today.  I guess a little boy who becomes aware of his manhood might wonder, “Am I a girl trapped in a boy’s body?”

Well, one day Nancy Gross went to the little girl’s stall, having never received What-Sex-Am-I counseling, and I followed behind to the boy’s.  I figured, now that I had a case of the Peepin’ Pete Curiosity, I’d stand on the toilet and take a peek over the top and see what was happening on the other side.  (Boys will be boys.)  Must have been a bit noisy in my quest, though, and as soon as I looked down and peeped, she snapped her head back, and we made eye contact.  Caught and feeling guilty of violating her privacy, I retreated and blurted, “I didn’t see anything! I didn’t see anything!”  This is the second most memorable event in kindergarten after the day Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down flew the kindergarten coop.

Nancy Gross was born January 23, 1950, and died August 18, 1965, from leukemia and I went to her funeral.  Amazingly three days ago I found what appears to be Nancy's death record and 1956 Photo and am publishing this today on the said anniversary.  (Think that’s coincidence?)  She was my first school friend in the early days, and she lived nearby off of Hillside Avenue. We had watched the televised official opening at Disneyland together at her place; rode our bikes together; had lunch at each other’s’ houses for several years, and swam at the Beachcombers Club, which was on Streeter Avenue by the railroad tracks.  We were on the swim team too.  And on the subject of nakedness, or close to nakedness, while on the swim team for several years, I couldn’t wear those little skimpy nylon trunks after I got older for embarrassment. Times change.  When you were young, you were ashamed of your nakedness and wanted to keep your clothes on in public, but later on, down the road, you might get insensitive about it and want to keep them off.  And talking about Grant Elementary School, I read Ulysses S. Grant is reported to have never had anyone see him naked after he was a small child – even his wife – and he fathered four children.

Nancy got tall in junior high, and her complexion got bad, probably because of her condition; and later she didn’t attend school because she was off somewhere being experimented on at a children’s hospital.  No one ever told her what she had, and no one ever told her she was going to die.  And at the first funeral I attended, Nancy’s funeral, I remember her family was up at the front on the right side hidden behind a veiled section.  After the service, we all stood in line to pass by her coffin, and I saw my little childhood friend laid out, ravished by cancer, and looking like a 90-year-old woman beat up and starved to death. They say she weighed 60 lbs. but I don’t have a clear picture of it in my mind anymore and don’t want to either.

Ending on a lighter note, let me tell you about the second time I got a curiosity peep, but by invite.  One of the girls, maybe in the 2nd grade, asked if I wanted to look down her sweater.  I thought it a good idea and responded in the affirmative; so she concocted a plan.  When we both got up in class to collect some books and take them back to the bookcase, which had its back to the class, she would show me.  We two grinned and gathered the books, kneeled down behind the bookcase, which was about thirty inches tall, and there she pulled her sweater down for me to inspect her wares.  (Girls will be girls.) 

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It was a sad situation at Mt. View Elementary School after realizing we were not going to have Show & Tell any longer.  It seemed like every day, up until the 5th grade, there had been an opportunity to get in front of the class and tell something that happened at home or at school.  You see, Show & Tell had fulfilled an inner need for me to be an entertaining historian and make my classmates smile and laugh.  Without Show & Tell, it made things lifeless and institutionalized like Mrs. Eads’ geometry class, which may have encouraged me to take up smoking regularly.  Luckily, for a while, to compensate for the loss of Show & Tell, there were the reports I gave Boy Scout Troop #8 after a weekend campout. Some of these memorable events were not told in front of adults, though, such as the time we put out a campfire one night with our natural and personal firefighting equipment, creating a green plume of odious steam which had an adhesive property.

At Sierra Jr. High, I started experimenting with writing to express myself in lieu of Show & Tell.  When it came to the speech contest every year in English (that dreaded subject), I searched in vain to find a minimum length piece to memorize, but nothing appealed to me, especially the memorization part.  Consequently, I wrote my own.  One year it was a ghost story I heard at camp, “The Mad Cook of Emerald Bay.” Well, since I wrote it, it was easy enough to memorize, and it gave the class a good scare at the end.  More importantly, however, the teacher never questioned the text or the author’s name, Unknown, after I submitted it for approval.

I was envious of those who could memorize for the speech contest, and even today I can recall two presentations.  One was by Dick Heers, known at Mt. View as "Dicky."  He recited Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Bells” while clacking his head side to side as he spoke the word bells, as in, “To the tolling of the bells, Of the bells, bells, bells, bells.” I don’t think his clacking head with the bells, bells, bells was a conscious thing; just a natural gesturing generated by his poetic talent. And then there was Elaine Tavaglione doing an animated award-winning “Little Orphan Annie.”  I can still picture her face radiating with joy as she told us Little Orphan Annie had come to her house to stay, An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away… 

Perhaps I should mention I must have liked bubbly Elaine so much, I hatched a plan to toilet paper her house, and bought twelve rolls and hid them somewhere on the proposed route.  So, around 1 a.m. I snuck out the house, picked up the stash and did the deed.  She thought it beautiful, but evidently, her dad didn’t, because I was very good at throwing the rolls with a spin, high into the front yard trees where only time and rain would remove the steamers.

At Ramona High, other experimental writings would be produced, such as the draft of a flyer composed for “Pearson’s Backyard Nudist Camp” which I got busted for by my parents.  “What does this mean, son, ‘Free extras for girls?’” Also, I became a letter writer but with adverse consequences on occasion.  For instance, I had a girlfriend in Hawaii (MC not MJ) and another in California at the same time. And as it happened, the girl in Hawaii sent back all the many letters I had sent her, including one I had sent to the girl in California.  For 15 years I could never figure out how the girl in Hawaii got the other girl’s letter – dah.  Finally, the latent genius in me reasoned I had put a letter in the wrong envelope, or, was it two letters in the wrong envelopes?  (Still working on that one.)  Well, I could go on about such things, but let it suffice to say the academic world of the English language was a mystery to me, and finally, I received The Coveted F Award.

Wanda Wolf was a high school English teacher with naturally red highlighted hair, and maybe she knew by instinct I had made fun of red-haired girls in elementary school.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to her in the American Novel and Shakespeare classes.  Mrs. Wolf would walk up and down the rows of desks and dramatically read passages from books and plays, and I learned three important things from her.  A synopsis is what you ought to buy if you want to understand anything in a Shakespearean Elizabethan English play.  A real Shakespearean actor pronounces the French name Jacques (zhahk) as Jay-quees.  And you should not use the alternate British spelling of color (colour) to test the teacher, thinking her marking it “SP” in red ink will have no effect on your essay’s grade.

Well, come the end of our senior year, Mrs. Wolf instructed us to write on a piece of paper what grade we thought we would get and turn it face down.  Hoping beyond hope, I scratched a D- and turned it over.  Then, casually, like taking a stroll in an English garden on a sunny spring day, Mrs. Wolf moseyed down the rows of desks where she had captured my attention so many times before, reading passages from The Catcher in the Rye, Lady Chatterley's Lover, and Romeo and Juliet.  Momentarily she stopped next to each pupil, looked at their paper after being turned up, and made a comment only the student could fully understand.  Finally, Mrs. Wolf strolled, stopped, and stood next to me, and I turned over my D- and heard those often thought of words since she spoke them to me so many years ago…  “Not quite.” Of course, not quite a D- doesn’t leave much else; and yes, that’s when I fully understood I was going to receive The Coveted F Award and did.

Coincidently, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my high school diploma to this day, though it is alleged to exist in the family achieves somewhere, which are not held by me.  In other words, I probably didn’t really graduate: there is no diploma, and they’re keeping it a secret from me and the rest of the world out of shame!  But maybe, on the other hand, I was issued a diploma - as a charity case: the graduation board knowing I had already enlisted in the Marines, would be in Bootcamp 12 days after graduation, shipped to Vietnam in six months,  and be dead soon anyway.  Dead?  Me?  Not quite.  I had to learn how to write this stuff.

P.S. I read in Mrs. Wolf’s obituary, “Wanda's first love was serving her God.”  I like that.  As a matter of fact, her funeral was conducted in the same place I was baptized at some thirty-one years ago.  If I hadn’t earned the Coveted F Award, I might have never looked her up, and am glad I did. 

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Perhaps I was with Steve Halvorson and Bob Hart that day when we were 11 years old and escorted over the railroad tracks by Andy.  He was the friendliest crossing guard, didn’t wear the official uniform most of the time, if ever, and in the hotter months wore a t-shirt, shorts, and sometimes a straw hat.  He was also tanned as dark as any white man could get.  Then turning right and walking west on Dewey Avenue, where a few years before we had picked up tar to chew when the road was being paved, I got a case of untimely intestinal distress: I had to poop. 

Now isn’t it funny what words are acceptable and not acceptable for feces?  You know, in the Christian world we generally won’t say shit because it’s a bad word, but we will say poop because it’s a good word, and cute for adults to use.  (By the way, have you ever seen cute adult poop?)  As a matter of fact, to keyboard in the s-word makes me cringe, even though I was the second biggest cuss-mouth in the United States Marine Corps.  Times change.  Also the word pee is okay for Christians to use,  but piss is not, which ironically is a Bible word, “So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that pertain to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.” (I Samuel 25:22)  This refers to little boys, who happen to, or like to urinate against walls when getting the chance.  And the p-word gets some preachers P.O.’d, as a matter of fact, because they must do verbal gymnastics to get around using it in certain passages, as they do with shittim, a type of tree and wood. 

Listen, I got the real scoop on poop from a church secretary once, Pauline, as she explained being raised in rural Illinois.  The farmers, she said, used the s-word freely because they dealt with all kinds of it, all the time, every day, and the s-word was not offensive to anyone, and she wasn’t offended by it either.  I was shocked to hear this emission from my pious friend of many years, but took her comments under submission, and at some point her logic eventually changed my way of thinking.  So, now I’m not as offended, and on occasion use the s-word myself, because it has more weight than poop when used sparingly for exclamatory purposes; especially to those who wrongly think you’re not serious about something.  And, as you know, fecal words have degrees of intensity: going from the lowest intensity, which is poop, to crap, and then on to the s-word.  Unfortunately, some people are so full of it, the s-word has lost its value as pithy punctuation, and you wonder what fetid cesspool sludge is fermenting in their muddled minds.  And, interestingly, the s-word in Minnesota is snow, and is a different substance altogether: cold, odorless, comes from the sky and not from the anus, doesn’t need to be treated as toxic, and disappears all  by itself come March or April.

Linguistically there are different types of poop, if you’ve thought about it:  bull poop, chicken poop, horse poop, and human poop, to name some; and all sorts of other descriptive words and phrases have been extruded to describe this byproduct of digestion.  Now, you take your bovine poop for instance: there are cow pies, cow paddies, and buffalo chips, most named after foods for some reason, and not unlike the fruit of the horse’s patoot which is the green road apple.  Well, I could dump on you all day if you’d listen, butt getting back to Uncle Pete’s newest entry from the anals of history, I must pinch this side note nugget short by remembering it was Shakespeare who once said, “An excrete is an excrete, and an excrete by any other name would smell and reek,” (taking some poetic license of course).

Well, as the three of us made our way down Dewey Avenue – Doo-ey Avenue?  Is this for real? – my lower colon was bellyaching to expunge  its contents, so I turned to the only thing I knew to deflect attention away from my standing at another precipice of humiliation – humor.  Smiling and gesturing with gyrations and jerks, I fought the painful and pressing urge; my friends puzzled by the new comedy act I was trying out.  Then I came up with a last-resort idea to buy some time, though I was still a half a mile from home. “Maybe,” I reasoned, “if I walk backwards fast enough I could keep it all in,” basing this thought on the G-force principle.  So, then, backwards at a fast clip I continued smiling and gesturing with gyrations and jerks.

Sadly, though, I must report the effort did not work, and soon felt heavy doo drops filling and pulling my underwear alarmingly low, and becoming cold tacky blobs of clay.  Yes, I had poop-n-ma-pants.  But on the other hand, my deflecting antics had worked: my friends knew nothing of the crisis, and the purged beast did not escape the elastic lined corral of my jockey shorts.

So, I figure everyone has had some crisis as children, and have seen others deal with it.  For example, as I turned around one day at Mt. View School, I saw a 10-inch puddle under the chair of my classmate.  After asking him if he wet his pants (because he wouldn’t ask the teacher to go to the bathroom on a prior occasion), he replied, “I’m just sweating a lot.”  Another time, another boy evidently had eaten a truckload of watermelon for breakfast, including the seeds, and vomited a black polka dotted red tide on the walkway between classrooms.  And lastly, there was the girl who spun around and around on the chin up bars with a big hole in her undies, of which we notified her.  In her case, she pridefully pretended not to care and kept spinning around and around and around to our amusement.


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I was raised unknowingly by Ben D. Bollinger for three years in Madrigals seeing and hearing him more often than my folks.  Of course, Mr. Bollinger didn’t know he was a surrogate parent for me and others, as he was only twelve years older, and was just doing his gig at Ramona High until he could move on to bigger and better things.  And, by the way, if you ever get a chance to look at annuals, you might notice he used the same photo year after year, even after he got that space between his front teeth fixed.  We deduced it to be his high school graduation picture.  Madrigals was the last class of the day, and usually, we stayed an hour or two extra to practice and be an ensemble worthy enough to perform all over Southern California, Mexico City, and Hawaii.  I’d like to tell you how I got into “Mads.”

In junior high I did pretty well in grades, though only in the X group of Sierra Junior High’s Rat Laboratory.   As you may recall, if you attended, students were divided into the XX, X and Y classes, and I plan to whistleblow on their experiments later.  Well, continuing: When making out the initial schedule for Ramona, evidently I was under a delusion and signed up for only college-prep sort of courses.  You know, the going-to-get-serious delusion without being led astray by such mundane things as music.  Providence had other ideas, though.

As it happened, after checking into Mrs. Eads geometry class the first day, Emmitt Smith bore the message Mr. Bollinger wanted to speak to me after school.  “Ah oh,” I thought, “I’m not even in his class and already in trouble.”  Later we met in his office, and he asked why I hadn’t signed up for any music classes.  He said he wanted me in Madrigals, but I needed to be in Concert Choir too.  Of course, I was pleased to be singled out but had recent memories of those older Madrigal kids coming to Sierra’s choir room to sing.  They were practically grown up; the guys even shaved, some of the girls looked like real women, and everyone sat rigidly on the edge of their chairs, almost as straight as TL would sit a few years later in the group.  (Danny Read and I figured she must have had a board strapped to her back when she was born.  All in fun, TL.) Anyway, my schedule was changed, and I got into Madrigals with no audition and not having to take Concert Choir that year, along with the only other sophomore, Linda Baker.  By the way, Linda won the girl’s best penmanship award in the 5th grade, but she’s probably too modest to bring it up now, humbly wanting to avoid fanfare and fame.   I still disagree with the boy winner, however, and am holding a grudge.  His last name was Baker, also, and they got a new pen for a prize.

Probably Kermit Otteson, the vocal music teacher at Sierra, had given me a reference for the Madrigals.  He personally knew my parents, lived on the same street for a while, Dean Way, where he had fallen off a ladder breaking both arms.  On occasion, my family went to the nicer dinner houses where he played the piano and sang in his gravelly voice, with head shaking to produce a vibrato.  Bollinger, who was always looking ahead and scouting for future Madrigals, was probably told by Mr. Otteson I had a good voice, was a good student, been in the school operettas, and came from a fine family, thinking there was some kind of genetic inheritance in the latter.  Little did they know about the mutant gene.

Being just 15 years old with the mature and multi-talented Madrigals - the likes of Jim Shepherd, Marti Green, and  Karen Tetamore - was extremely intimidating, and they all had great adult voices, good grades, and could sight-read music.  So, I’ d take my sheet music home, poke out my part on the piano, and practice, practice, practice, to the abandonment of college-prep sort of courses, and felt like quitting many times, being overwhelmed by fa la la’s.  I even tried imitating a fellow Madrigal, Gene Riley.  He was the black guy who was two years older with a velvet and airy Nat King Cole voice, but with more soul.  Psycho.

Then, after the first semester and showing Mr. Bollinger our grades, he took me aside and said mine weren’t up to Madrigal standards (B average) and was in jeopardy of being dumped.  But the notion of being dumped and relieved of suffering chronic inferiority strangely appealed to me. However, he kept me in though my grades deteriorated, proving I was a Madrigal by divine intervention, and nobody could do anything about it even if they wanted to.  I was destined to become Bollinger’s disruptive class clown, and his charity case, all at the same time: a charity case not unlike the charity case of the Ramona High School graduation committee that would issue me a diploma if they ever really did.  (See: “The Coveted F Award.”)

Nevertheless, I am glad he kept me in, as the alternative would have been worse during those crucial teen years, and being in Mads affected my adult life in different ways.  By influencing what music I listened to and songs I wrote; being able to put on a public smile and airs when needed as a city councilman, and singing 16th and 17th-century chamber songs to my Marine Corps Flame Thrower buddies in rice paddies, jungles, and atop isolated mountain bunkers in Vietnam.  I’m sure the other Devil Dogs enjoyed, “Fire, Fire My Heart;”  the lyrics of another, “Sing we and chant It, while love doth grant it.”  And the more contemporary, ”In Frisco Bay there lives a whale, they feed her pork chops by the pale, by the pill-box, by the wash tub, by the bathtub, by the schooner.  Her name is Sara and she's a peach, but don’t leave food within her reach, or nursemaids, or babies, or chocolate ice cream sodas…”  However, our Flame Thrower theme song was of a different genre, the contemperary and fitting, “Light My Fire” by the Doors.

I found Mr. Bollinger on the internet several years ago at his Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, and wrote him a letter expressing my appreciation for the three years in the Music Department; singing madrigals in Vietnam; and, though not talented like his other progeny, to have been comic relief for him and the group.  I suppose there are and will be other things to say about the Mads entertaining behind-the-scene performances, such as, “The Madrigalian Blue Flame Club,” the Beverley Hills Madrigals, and the infamous “Mexico City Seven.”  (Don’t worry, some names have been omitted to protect the identities of the guilty.) 

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I’ve read somewhere that the male brain doesn’t mature until 25 years old, so, that’s probably why I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.  Also, this physiological fact is utilized in military science for the draft and volunteers.  As they figured correctly, if a young man‘s brain isn’t developed fully and shy a few bricks of a load, he is unwittingly susceptible to the call of military service. Kind of like a child being seduced by a pedophile using candy and other allurements to get what they really want.  Also, another fact is, young unmarried men are more desirable for service because they do not have the strong family bonds of wife and children to consider in the event they are killed, maimed, driven nuts, held POW for years in tiger cages, and/or poisoned by experimental vaccines, defoliants, and depleted uranium.  Sought out much of the time, however, are those not considered college material, known as cannon fodder: useless people that are inexpensive and are forced to deliberately fight against hopeless odds to achieve a strategic goal.

But ironically some of the undesirables for military service are the college educated and clever enough to get out of the draft or combat, keeping their DNA prevalent in society’s gene pool to fill political positions in Congress and the Presidency.  One of the well-known slippery serpents was George W. Bush, a Yale Skull and Bones member, and stateside National Guard pilot during the Vietnam War whose daddy was a Congressman.  Another, William Jefferson Clinton, an anti-Vietnam War protester and Rhodes Scholar far away in Europe, who would have probably zipped over to the USSR seeking political asylum if drafted.  And The-World-is-Gonna-Get-as-Hot-as-Hell (and it will) Al Gore, the Poodle, a son of anti-Vietnam War Senator Albert Sr., drafted and discharged early after serving 141 days in Vietnam as a “journalist.”

Well, having a few bricks shy, I thought about joining the Marines from the time I was 15 years old.  After all, they’re real men and becoming a real man would somehow neutralize and nullify those many unmanly moments in the past.  You know, like the time in kindergarten…

While having a quiet time lying on our towels one day in kindergarten, a nearby classmate told me I wasn’t really there, and only my skeleton was there.  I denied this over and over, but soon other kids joined the mantra and I wimped-out, got up, weaved my way around the others on the floor, and told Mrs. Ainsworth the teacher.  Then to my humiliation, she took my report lightly and told me to go back and lie down. 

Another time came in the 1st grade after decorating Easter eggs and putting our initials on them.  At the end of the day, Miss Brown sat at her desk (where she had been a beautiful teacher up until that point), selected an egg, looked at it, and called out the initials of the student.  Hearing the familiar combination of letters relating to the artwork, the owner of the egg, marched up to her desk and retrieved it to take home.  In time, she picked up my egg and called out the initials, “PP.” Then all of a sudden her fawn-like eyes opened wider with mouth grinning broadly, her pearly whites framed by full lips, and called my initials again and again as I walked up the center aisle to her desk, “PP, PP!”  This caused the class to give way to cackling, having been egged on by the formerly attractive Miss Brown.  Even years later, others would use my initials to their comedic advantage as a fellow employee would, when handing the shift over to me, say, “It’s all urine, PP.”

Now, when you add in the other embarrassments - total ignorance of diagraming a sentence in front of the class, caught steadying and steering my pen with my tongue, and being a white boy singing 16th and 17th century chamber music with more soul than Nat King Cole - of course you’d want to be a Marine!  And, as my Platoon Commander would insightfully tell us in Bootcamp, “You joined the Marine Corps because you’re all f***ed up and have something to prove to everybody.”  This is an exact (minus a few letters) quote from Staff Sergeant Schmidt, and it was true.  But in regards to choosing the Leathernecks, the tipping of the scales was the Marine Corps Dress Blue Uniform: gaudier than the Army’s, but less antiquated than the Navy’s bell bottoms and Crackerjack jumper top with reverse bib and patriotic thirteen button fly.  I heard it said, “Give a young man a high school marching band uniform, some stripes, and some medals, and he’ll gladly give his life for his country,” and they’re right. 

So, having to wait a few years to sign up with the chummy recruiter at the downtown Post Office on the second floor, I discussed the prospects with my friends.  Some had brothers in the Marines who told them Bootcamp was a real challenge, dehumanizing, and recruits were subject to beatings by the Drill Instructors.  Of course, these reports strangely appeal to those who want to prove their manhood via masochism and become one of the few and the proud.  And even though the news at the time was replete with weekly body counts of them and us; and local guys dying like Debbie Boyer’s brother, Donald William Boyer, Danny Wayne Jeter, Dennis Nye Hudson, David L. Tiffany, Edward Robert Raymond III, and fifty others from Riverside, I enlisted.  Twelve days after high school graduation I entered Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego, California, June 24, 1968; determined as a personal goal, not to be slugged by my Drill Instructor.  (To be continued.) 

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After arriving in Los Angeles the day before going to Bootcamp, I recalled going there four months earlier to be evaluated at the Induction Center for Marine Corps enlistment.  I’d taken the Greyhound from the quiet suburban and manicured city of Riverside, checked into the designated flophouse and met the four or five other guys I’d spend the night with.  So, having nothing to do, we took a stroll around the neighborhood which was crawling with activity, like cockroaches carry on with when there is no light or exterminator around.

The street was creeping with prostitutes offering their services; there was public drinking and drunkenness, and someone vomited the contents of their stomach on the sidewalk unashamedly: evidently a common occurrence and unnoticed by others.  Then, walking by a restaurant’s picture window, flies could be seen alive and dead, sporadically dotting the display of old fried chicken, adding a savory element to entice customers in for a bite.  But being a choir boy from suburbia, I had never seen anything like slummy LA before; didn’t know such places existed in America, and seriously started to wonder why I was joining the Marines to defend this mess.  After a while, we headed back to the hotel and took the elevator up with an old woman who had colorful dollops of blue and red smeared and cleaving to the crinkles of her sagging face and lips.  I wondered if she was a prostitute and who she’d get for a customer.

This reminds me when Dan Read and I were in Bishop, CA, and one night about 1 a.m. we went to Jack’s Waffle Shop to get a bite to eat.  Well, way back then it was common for waitresses to wear short skirted maid’s uniforms with a little hat, and it was that way at Jack’s.  However, our counter waitress was very much a senior citizen and with extremely long earlobes.  Not that elongated earlobes are particularly rare on old women, but the thing that had made them long was so apparent – huge and heavy snap-on earrings.  Maybe she was in a quandary trying to hide her elephant lobes with the very things that made them gigantic in the first place.  It was so surreal, Dan and I were simultaneously taken by the sight and figured we had been teleported to another time zone - an alien one at that - and hastened out into the night without placing an order.

Well, back on the evening of the June 23, 1968, the second and last time at the Hotel del Infierno, things were different.  I was by myself in a room, even though the two years older Don Walters from Ramona had convinced me to go into the Marines the same day as him.  He was somewhere around, I guess. Anyway, that night it was markedly quiet on the street for some reason, and later I had, what I am now calling, “The Jacob Experience” when God visited me in the room.  Just to make it brief at this point, I was feeling pretty guilty for what I had done the night before, and was sure God was in the room making me feel very uncomfortable about it; consequently figuring I must have become a Christian, or, at least wanted to be one.  (This would actually happen fourteen years later.) It was sort of like a death row prisoner getting a case of jailhouse religion before walking the last mile and through the green door to be electrocuted for a capital offense.  Then, five stories below on the street, a Latino fellow was having a bad time and loudly sobbing somewhere in the darkness, “Aye-yai-yai!”  All the sleepless night long he groaned his case to no relief as I listened through the large and opened screenless window, wondering how many people had inadvertently fallen out, or intentionally jumped while listening, listening, listening to a plaintive “Aye-yai-yai!”

After a boring next day at the Induction Center, we boarded a bus headed for the San Diego Marine Corps Recruit Depot and got there around 8 p.m. A Marine with a Smoky the Bear hat boarded the bus, and with a growlin’ and a howlin’ from the bowels of hell ordered us to “Move! Move! Move!” and line up on the yellow footprints outside.  This fond greeting and procedure was followed by us entering a building with several civilian barbers enthusiastically shaving our heads; being told beforehand to point to any moles or other growths to be avoided during the ritual.  Soon we were off to another building to receive a set of clothes and boots, including the yellow sweatshirt with the emblazoned red letters “U.S. Marine Corps” with its globe and anchor.  Herded yet to another room, we stripped off the civvies and put on our new government issues; packed up the old, and addressed the box to wherever home was.

About this time, one of the recruits started whimpering and wanted to call his mother, which was not exactly Marine Corps etiquette.  He also informed the drill instructors his recruiter didn’t tell him it was going to be like this; whereupon, the Drill Instructors tried to make him or break him on the spot via the old tried and true method of public humiliation at high decibels.  Lucky me, I had a heads-up on the making of a Marine and was not shocked by it all.  Afterward, we were given some preliminary marching instructions and went off to our new abodes: small Quonset huts called billets that housed about twelve recruits, with a wall locker and trunk for each.  Then we were given the bunk bed making lesson.

Well, I’d been making my bed at home practicing for this very moment since watching TV’s Gomer Pyle USMC.  Shazam!  Confident that my rack (bunk) could bounce a quarter off the tightly stretched wool blanket, I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep after being up for two days, as it was pushing midnight.  After a while and standing at attention, the Platoon Commander, Staff Sergeant Richard J. Schmidt (a Camel smoking 5”7’ man who coincidently resembled Gomer Pyle’s Sgt. Carter) swaggered over to each recruit and stopped to give an assessment of our bed making efforts.  Surprise!  Surprise!  Surprise!  He pointed out that my mattress was not flush with the outside steel frame of the  bed, punctuated his findings with a rapid fist into the solar plexus, and said, “We’re not going to do that again, are we, Private?” (Gol-lee, Staff Sergeant Schmidt, so much for my personal goal of not being slugged during Bootcamp, which lasted only three hours!)  We continued to stay up all night learning the basics of a recruit, and at dawn marched to a deserted part of the base, and lined up for a corpsman to slither through the ranks and push a white pill into our hand to swallow.  Then miraculously we were revitalized and in no need of sleep anymore.

My second personal correction occurred in a couple of weeks on the drill field while the platoon was standing at attention.  Evidently my feet were not lined up with everyone else’s, and Staff Sergeant Schmidt got in my face as Drill Instructors do, and elaborated on his observation.  He addressed me as “Private” and was about to attach my last name to it, but realized he hadn’t nurtured a personal relationship with me yet, and looked for it stamped above my right breast pocket.  From that time forward Sergeant Schmidt called me, “Private Pearson” and never forgot.  He then went meandering behind my back and struck two mighty blows to my heels with his boot.

The last time Staff Sergeant R. J. Schmidt and I had a personal one-on-one was when we were at Camp Pendleton, up the coast forty miles, for two weeks rifle training.  All eighty of us were housed in a large dormitory room on the second floor, with a three-sided glass-walled office for the staff.  After a few days of firing on the range, anyone who had shot below a certain score that day was put on the dreaded “Black List” which was taped to the glass wall facing us.  On our own initiative, we were to visit the Platoon Commander that evening and have a little chat.  Wanting to get it over with sooner than later, I asked permission to enter his office, and in a fatherly sort of way, he asked about my shooting.  After I had confessed to putting the wrong adjustments on the sights, he rose up from being seated, smiled and said, “Well, we’re not going to have that happen again, are we, Private Pearson?” When I replied “No, Sir,” he hit me in the solar plexus bull’s eye almost knocking me down though I was flexed and ready for it this time.  He proceeded to talk some more using the term “are we?” several times, and fired off two more perfectly aimed slugs, encouraging me not to make any more mistakes.  I didn’t, and shot Sharpshooter a few days later.

Now some people will think these are criminal assaults and batteries, and they are, but the military is in the business of making murderers out of young men for the defense of the nation – not choir boys.  I use the word murderers because murdering is what really goes on in wars: young men are sent out to murder each other before being murdered, in contrast to police officers who are sent out to keep the peace and apprehend criminals for courtrooms.  And now, even though I know the military is inherently this way, I try to remember when hearing about soldiers and Marines urinating on enemy corpses, or cutting off an ear for a souvenir, or raping and pillaging and torturing, or even holding POW’s indefinitely in secret prisons, or not so secret prisons - it’s just part of the activities that go with murdering, and we shouldn’t be so surprised. 

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James Michael Aston: The True Story 

I’d already been on a couple operations the first two months in Vietnam, and in March 1969 began the third, Operation Eager Pursuit I & II, which would mean a month with no showers, clean clothes, or hot chow.  We were trucked to a starting point and headed out through elephant grass and rice paddies at a very fast clip, but unfortunately, and unexpectedly, I had to carry a flamethrower.  It weighed 72 lbs. when filled with the napalm mixture.  Had I known about the flamethrower, I might have cut down on some of my other baggage.  All total there was about 100 lbs. to tote, and it was pretty miserable walking as fast as possible trying to keep up with the riflemen, and at the same time scanning immediately ahead for mines, booby-traps, and punji pits.  After a while and becoming dishearten, I was hoping to set off a mine to end it all, but somehow managed to keep alive, keep on my feet, and keep on packing on.   And sometimes, if we got a chance to rest for a brief moment, it wasn’t worth the effort to get up from sitting down, so I’d just stand and bend over a bit to reposition the load.

There were several memorable events that month while the company was offered as bait for the enemy to bite on with their bullets.  Being bait was when we made sweeps in the area affording the Viet Cong an opportunity to set ambushes, which in turn would give away their position for us to fire upon; or occasionally we might unexpectedly stumble upon them.  However, we were in the enemy’s backyard, and they had the advantage.  (They won the war, you know.)

My three man flamethrower squad had been attached to Hotel Company, and we didn’t socialize much with the others; but one day, I thought to go over and talk to a guy who was in a 60mm mortar squad.  I have a clear recollection of initiating the conversation as only a mindless teenage Marine could do.  His name was Aston, a Texas high school football player, and I did most of the talking and told him about my trip to Dallas a couple of years before, visiting relatives in nearby Arlington.  I remembered he didn’t smoke, which was a rarity, was quiet and polite, and not like many braggadocios big mouthed jarheads.  Afterward, I felt very immature and humbled by his demeanor.  How unbelievable it would have been if we could have peered into the future thirty-three more years and see his little sister marrying me, the choir boy.

A lot of bad things happened that month: several were wounded, and some killed having never entered into the prime of their life or physical and mental adulthood for that matter.  The most memorable event, however, was the day the young man mentioned was killed on March 19, 1969, three weeks before his nineteenth birthday.

It was a hot spring day in the Quang Nam Province somewhere southwest of Da Nang.  The sky was clear and blue with a few whiffs of white clouds floating high above.  It was also quiet, the air was still, and at that moment, the enemy wasn’t biting the tasty American morsel dangled in front of it.  At some point we got to take a break from the sweep as the commanding officer, somewhere far ahead, was figuring where to cast his wiggly human worm next.  The column was stretched thin on the trail, having put fifteen or twenty feet between ourselves to avoid multiple kills by incoming rounds, grenades, mortars, mines and booby traps, and my squad just stopped and sat down on the trail to rest in the open.  We didn’t want to take a chance of going off to a comfortable spot and setting off a booby trap.  Fifty feet or so ahead in a shady scrub of trees and elephant grass, the 60mm mortar boys were hidden from our view.

When it was time to get up and move out again, an explosion went off in the scrub, and I watched as someone’s flak jacket, helmet, and pack went flying twenty or thirty feet into the air above the vegetation.  No attack ensued, and we figured someone set off a mine or booby trap, which was a common event, and a medevac helicopter was called in to pick up the two wounded and the one dead - Aston.  After about forty-five minutes the chopper came and hauled them away, and we packed up again to move out.  In a few strides, we were at the exact place the mine was detonated, which was estimated to have been four or five pounds of high explosives.  It was a shady place for the mortar guys to stop, and they probably got off the trail a bit to sit comfortably in the grass.  However, that may have been their mistake.  We noted the torn and bloody gear left behind, and the smell of human blood and tissue putrefying in the heat and humidity, tainting our memories with an unforgettable smell.

Later that day the mortars’ squad leader, who wasn’t wounded, told us the details.  He said Aston was sitting down with the rest of the guys, and after being ordered to move out, he was getting up and set off the mine.  The explosion peeled off the front of his torso, exposing his organs like the plastic Visible Man Models children use to learn about anatomy, as he was directly over it on hands and knees.  Aston absorbed the major force of the blast, was killed instantly, and two others were wounded.  His squad leader also said, the day before, he had a talk with his guys about a morale problem, and encouraged them to put petty personal problems aside.  And while making that point, he asked each person individually, “And how would you feel if Aston got killed?”  I suppose he used Aston because he was the least likely for anyone to harbor ill feelings toward.  In other words, they’d feel terrible if someone like Aston got killed, and should feel the same way toward anyone else.  Well, Aston got killed the next day, and the squad leader figured he had jinxed him and was going to put him up for a medal.  This might have also been an attempt to try and soothe Aston’s soon to be grieving family back home in Wichita Falls, and maybe the squad leader would want someone to do the same for him if he was killed.  Upon hearing the plan, my friends and I were surprised, understanding full well Aston hadn’t done anything heroic.  Then, thirty-two years later, after I found Aston’s family and let them know I was there when he died, I read on the internet a citation for James Michael Aston awarding him the second highest honor in the Marines for bravery, the Navy Cross.  Maybe you’d better read the government’s official account on the above link.

There is an important point to be made here that may not be obvious to some.  Just because someone was awarded a hero’s medal, the heroic act may not be true; and just because someone wasn’t awarded a hero’s medal, a heroic act may never be known.  I feel, therefore, since both of Aston’s parents have passed on now, the true story ought to be told.  This is not meant to take anything away from him, but to honor him as one of many who have given their young lives for a cause they may have believed in.  But more importantly, to remember they all were real people and precious family members, and not just another statistic.  Also, I like to consider, if Aston hadn’t set off the mine, it could have been me or someone else who did.  And maybe in some mysteriously pre-ordained plan of God, Aston did give his life for us.  This Nancy

 comes to mind now, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

To shed some more light on Aston’s death, I found three other guys on the internet over thirty years later who were there, besides my two friends.  One of them was also in Aston’s squad, but not wounded, and was violently catapulted up and backward in the blast.  At the time he thought he was dead because everything turned black - he couldn’t see.  Then he figured he was alive but blinded; eventually realizing, however, it was viscera covering his face and obscuring his vision.   He went on to tell of his nightmares every night, for decades, about Aston’s death and was permanently disabled because of it.  The second Marine said he thought it was the Afro-American who was killed at first because Aston’s face was either burnt or blackened from the smoke of the explosive.  And a third guy, farther away in the column, said Aston’s boot thudded down right in front of him.   Interestingly, this Marine pleaded with God at that very moment to get him out of Vietnam alive, and if he did, he’d serve him the rest of his life.  I guess the Lord heard his plea, and he made good on it, eventually, some nine years later.

So, after the month-long operation, a request for Aston to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor was made.  Then the Marine Corps investigators would come from time to time and interview the supposed witnesses again and again, but couldn’t find enough evidence for him to receive that highest award.  They did, however, give him the Navy Cross instead.

Finally, I would like to say this about Mike Aston, my brother-in-law…

The Lord has used Mike in many ways over the last forty-four years:  in his family’s life; in the lives of his schoolmates who knew him well, or not so well; at memorial services and high school reunions; on The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Wall in Washington DC; smaller memorial walls that travel the country; and several Vietnam memorial websites.  Also, he has been used in the story, “What life is All About” and in a poem and in a song.  Even after almost a half century,  I am still brought to weighty and painful sobs and tears to write this, and hope in a small way to have been able to share the burden of his death with those that loved him, and still love him.

If you click on  What Life is All About you can read some more about Mike: how he affected other people’s lives, how I came to marry his sister, and how you can know it’s true about the Jesus Christ in the Bible.  And don’t forget to go to the slide show and song about Mike on YouTube! It’s my favorite, and you old folks out there might appreciate the photos from way back when.  Thanks.

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One of the times I visited Danny in the Bay Area was around 1976, and each visit was an adventure.  What I remember that particular time was staying up all night and learning sign language.  You see, Danny was a professional interpreter for the deaf then, and maybe still working on his Master’s Degree in Art.  He was so good at signing, deaf people didn’t know he wasn’t deaf.  So, in my all night lesson, he taught me the alphabet, numbers, days of the week, lots of individual words, slang terms, and this little story to tell…

“Last night I drove to San Francisco and went to church.  And I read the Bible and prayed to God.  And later I fell in love with Jesus.”

Of course at the time that was just a joke for a couple of unbelievers to use as a practice piece, but it would prove to be somewhat prophetic a few years later.

Danny was my best friend of all the friends I have had, starting in High School, and he lived a couple of blocks up on Sunnyside.  In the morning he’d come over to my place; we’d have a cup of coffee and then walk or ride to Ramona High.  After graduation, Dan went north to the University of California at Berkeley, and I went south to the Marine Corps Bootcamp at San Diego.  Nevertheless, we stayed in contact and wrote each other as he studied the art of painting, and I studied the art of war; and about a six weeks before I went to Vietnam, I visited him up at Berkeley.  He called Berkeley “Berserkeley” and for good reason.  For example, directly across the street from his dorm was an apartment building where a woman liked to do stripteases for the boys from time to time.

What a contrast Dan and I were then.  He was growing out his almost kinky hair which would become shoulder length, and I flew up in my uniform to take advantage of the half fare for the military and had a crewcut, but those kinds of things don’t come between friends.  He was slimming down from his roly-poly physique on an unintended and frugal diet of popcorn and got down to proper weight after a while.  As a matter of fact, I don’t really picture him like he was in his youth though I think he filled out a bit in later life.  Anyway, he took me around his campus and bought me my first cappuccino, and then we visited a Madrigal friend, Jennifer Lewis, at her dorm at San Francisco State’s Mary Ward Hall.  Back then we couldn’t go up to her room to visit, and met down in the lobby.  I noticed when using the restroom there, the graffiti was at a slightly higher level than what is generally found at service stations; the latter usually composed of meager two word exclamatory sentences starting with F.  The collegiate bathroom wall had things pinned on it like, “Rumor has it that the girls at Mary Ward Hall are getting horny.  Are we going to take this standing up?”  And the calculations of a would-be Einstein, “The angle of the dangle is equal to the heat of the meat.”  (It’s just history, folks. I gotta tell it like I was impressed by it at the time.)

While I was in Vietnam and Dan at Berkeley, we had a continuous correspondence, and he told me about the war protests at home, adding the latest antiwar flyers handed out in the Bay Area; and I told him about the war they were protesting about: bullets, bombs, and booby-traps.  I suppose my buddies and I wouldn’t have known anything about the antiwar sentiment without his updates.  Good thing we got them, though, as we had a little forewarning of the hostile reception we were to receive back home.  Dan and I regularly visited and wrote when not living in the same towns until 1982.  And whether through letters or face to face, he was about the only person you could have more than a superficial conversation with; not like FaceBook where you can have intimate intellectual relationships with your 300 friends all at the same time.

Eventually, my tour ended in the Nam, and we met again over at my folks’ house; Dan with his new Berkeley accent, sounding somewhat like Chatsworth Osborne, Jr. from the Dobie Gillis Show, and my deeply ingrained Marine Corps vocabulary any drill instructor would be proud of.  In front of my family in the living room, I unthinkingly greeted Dan, “How you doing you olmf.”  Ooops!  Like I said before, I had the second worse cuss mouth in the Marines: first place going to one of our replacements at Dai Loc Pass outside of Da Nang, who looked like he was 15 years old.  I think he could cuss a nonstop string of verbiage forever without redundancy, and I wondered if he practiced a lot in private, or did it just come naturally?  So, I took up practicing a bit myself, not wanting to fall too far back in the shadow of his linguistic brilliance.

Anyway, after I got out of the Green Machine (a veteran at nineteen) Dan was taking a break from college, and we took a trip to Hippiedom for a while. He already had an ear pierced, so he pierced mine with a threaded sewing needle holding a potato behind it, and we hung a 3 inch hooped earring in our left ears, with a roach clip dangling from the top that swung in the middle of the hoop.  We also wore navy pea coats picked up at the Good Will or Salvation Army; bellbottoms with braid trim on the bottom of the bells and hand embroidered light blue work shirts; went around barefooted a lot, and sat on the floor or carpet instead of furniture.  One time I remember going over with a few friends to Barbara Chapman’s house, and she, still standing and bemused, asked, “Why is everybody sitting on the floor?” Crazy.  Five years later, I re-pierced my ear and wore my wife’s earrings sometimes, but would lose them occasionally.  Well, that was okay for me because I only wore one at a time and didn’t need the other, but it’s not good for marital harmony.  “Did you wear one of my little pewter mushroom earrings again?  I can’t find it!”  I had met her, my future ex-wife, when Dan took me over to some friends’ house shortly after returning from Vietnam, a 16-year-old dressed in jeans, tie-dyed t-shirt, and no bra.  Love at first sight.

Somewhere in the summer or fall of 1970, Dan, Tracy Hovland, a young couple with a baby, and I rented a house on 6th Street.  The small unheated, but neat bungalow, was sandwiched between the freeway daisies and ice plants next to the east side of the 91 in downtown Riverside, and several train tracks in the railroad yard paralleling Vine.  Lots of parties, drinking and smoking, went on; and being good Samaritans, girls were offered a place to spend the night if they didn’t have a place to stay.  But as much fun as it may have seemed to be, we were missing something in the life we were living, and searching for it – The Thing of Life - whatever it was.

This quest was played out one night when Dan, Tracy and Kenny Kaufman and I got the brilliant idea that only hippies could get, and hurried outside to look in the bushes next to the freeway, to see if a message was supernaturally written in the foliage. We hoped it would tell us what the thing-of-life was.  (Perhaps this was a subconscious reference to Moses meeting up with God at the burning bush.)  Anyway, outside the house no burning bush was found, and it was dark except for a streetlight playing a silent game of shadows on the rustling leaves of a shrub - but no message appeared.  Later, one of the thing-of-life seekers, Tracy, would be killed in an alcohol-related automobile accident at nineteen, and Kenny killed himself by suicide at twenty-five by burning a hibachi in his room that sucked up all the oxygen.  After a few months, Dan and I cut our hair and moved to Bishop, CA with my girlfriend’s family.

For those who didn’t know Dan well, he was a macho risk taker sometimes, even though he may have been stereotyped as a chubby cherub.  He took life-threatening chances, for instance, in his dad’s white Scout.  As I remember, he had borrowed the Scout for a long time, and the impulsive artist in him painted a 2 ft. by 2 ft. black star on each door to the amusement of law enforcement, I suppose.  One day we were driving a primitive dirt road in the Sierra Nevada Mountains high above Bishop, and Dan spontaneously pulled the Scout off the rough road to fearlessly cross over the steep mountain side horizontally.  He stressed the four wheel drive in a dangerous balancing act, barely keeping us from tumbling down the rocky precipice to almost certain death below.  I think he enjoyed terrorizing me this way, smiling the whole time, as he did on other occasions.

Well, I could probably go on for a long time about adventures with Dan.  Let’s see, like crashing on the Harbor Freeway in LA at 1 or 2 a.m. after a Madrigal performance in his folks’ Rambler; visiting his relatives in Mexico City on another Madrigal trip; our three week, 9,000 mile excursion around the country in a new 1970 Toyota Corolla, a car I bought for $1,923 that got 40 miles per gallon; or dropping in on his dad’s art studio with a live nude model; our cats Lolita and Jezebel; his kidney stone attack and subsequent catching the little critter some months later, keeping it in a pill bottle; and working as handymen at the Rocking K Guest Ranch “located just two and one-half miles out West Line Street where you can wine and dine in the fine cuisine of Everett Merritt”- but it would take too long to tell. (My Grammarly grammar checker just had a fit about the last “Wordiness” sentence, but it’s staying, nevertheless.)

Well, after I met up with the Lord under difficult circumstances in 1982, I wrote Dan and told him what happened, and we exchanged letters only one more time, and had a twenty-four-year lull.  I understood Danny’s lifestyle would be in conflict with my new one; nevertheless, he was always my all-time best friend, and I even middle-named my son after him.  So, after I could operate on the internet in 2001, after an initial three-week life and death struggle with the thing, I’d search for Danny and many others.  And as it happened in 2006, I got an address on Danny and sent him a note and the story I wrote, “What Life is All About.”

At that time, Danny and I had an email correspondence briefly which I reviewed recently, and realized I came on pretty strong in Jesus Christ and eternity.  At first, I felt bad about it.  However, I have since figured the timeline, and Danny was soon to find out he had melanoma cancer; and maybe coming on strong was the right thing to do.  After all, who else would have told him about a heaven to embrace and a hell to bypass, but his former best friend - whether he wanted to hear it or not – even at the expense of not rekindling a friendship after so long?  You know, Danny died shortly after his 60th birthday.  I learned about it by regularly checking on Google searches, and also found a blog he kept until a couple of days before his death.  Progressively he had become debilitated, was put on strong pain medication, told to use a walker, and there was nothing else modern medicine could do.  His friend closed the blog for him by saying, Dan had died in his sleep at home.

I’d like to leave you with a parting quote from Dan that he emailed to me on 11/3/2006, about a year and a half before he found out he had incurable cancer …

“One of my favorite memories about you and me is when we were at the beach.  I don't remember what the occasion was.  Maybe just a bunch of us went down to the beach one day.  I think it was Laguna.  You and I climbed out on some rocks to explore the little tide pools etc.  Suddenly a huge wave came in, and we found ourselves up to our waists in water.  We grabbed each other for stability as the water pushed in and then sucked back out.  We were, I think, scared to death, but then we laughed.  It's a good metaphor for what happens in life when sometimes you are in danger of being knocked over and drowned, and you grab onto your friends or whoever, and you all help each other stay on your feet.”

I remember this vividly as we were almost swept out and away into the depths of the Pacific Ocean north of Laguna, with no beach to swim to for a mile, if we could.  And if we hadn’t had each other to lock arms within an embrace during the tugging recession of the wave, we’d been shark bait for sure.  It’s kind of that way in life at the end, but there is no one for you to hold on to while being sucked into the blackness of an unknown eternity because death is a solitary experience – unless you know the Lord.  Marti Stout, our school companion, and Madrigal sister, the only girl to ever slap me when I had it coming, died about the same time with melanoma cancer, and Sam Beal too - but they knew the Lord.   You never really know, do you, when it’s your time to go?

Friend, now you ought to go to Steve Zappe’s website, The Ramona High School Class of 1970 Page, and then to the Deceased link; or go directly to the Deceased, and note the folks who have already died in his class alone.  It’s sobering!  Listen:  Only your best friends will tell you the truth about Jesus Christ and ask… “Are you ready to meet the Lord?”  If not, remember – God loves you.  Read your Bible.  The truth you are looking for is in there, or the truth you are trying to avoid.

Here’s some bio/obit info on Dan Read, my best friend. 

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As I was looking at the 1968 photo of the Ramona High Madrigals Singers down south of the border, I cannot help but think the infamous Mexico City Seven has been underestimated.  As I study their familiar mugs, accompanied by personal and sometimes intimate memories, perhaps it should have been the Mexico City Ten.  But, maybe the Seven has only to do with those who confessed to the use of the oldest recreational drug in history while representing their school and nation at the International Rotary Convention.  Yes, the illegal underage imbibing of alcohol contained in - cerveza.  You know, beer, brewski, suds, John Barleycorn; that effervescent libation that motivated the cheerful builders of the pyramids, and lubricated the vocal chords of chamber singers for hundreds of years.  Aye-yai-yai! 

Well, maybe you don’t want to dig up an old corpse to look at, but a little sober cadaverous self-examination ought to take place now, exposing what was behind those sweet little Madrigal smiles, those flowing angelic gowns, and those fancy pleaded and studded tuxedo shirts.  You were just a typical everyday teenager, unlike the prissy picture most have painted for their gullible children and grandchildren.  Yes, some may get hopping mad about exposing the busted-for-beer episode, but it ought to be told.  And let’s not forget to mention the chaperones partying hardy with their cocktails, questionable late night activities, and smoking Cuban Cigars, which were, and are, illegal for United States Citizens to possess even out of the country.  The Mexico trip was one big party for adults and students alike.  Whoopee!

I suppose most of us were interested in alcohol and took opportunities to try it out.  In my case, the first taste of the stuff was at seven at my grandparents’ when the ol’ boys down in the basement were playing poker and drinking beer.  Well, my little brother and I got to be the bar waiters, and fetched and opened the cold ones, and took them downstairs.  Then we got a tip and took the empties away.  But being raised in a prohibition house, we wondered what beer tasted like.  It smelled alluring, and I began pouring out the residue left in the bottles into one of the empties.  After a goodly amount was accumulated, I tipped the bottle up and let it flow into my mouth.  But something was in it!  A thick substance was rolling around my tongue and teeth, and in flash deduced I had been filling up the Copenhagen spit and phlegm bottle.  However, like trying to smoke my first cigarette unsuccessfully at 3, I got hooked.

As time passed, I figured making some alcohol would be easier than buying it.  So, around 15 or 16, and being a natural researcher, I consulted the World Book Encyclopedia on beer, wine, and whiskey, and thought to make some applejack; bought a gallon of apple juice, yeast, and built a makeshift still.  After mixing the brew and sealing the jug, I put it up in the attic and let nature take its course.  The next day after coming home from school, I could smell the concoction wafting from the gable vents outside the house.  And inside was a wet spot on the ceiling of my bedroom where the busy fungi above were ingesting sugar, and expressing alcohol and pungent CO2, after blowing the top off their container.  Well, somehow I got the place aired out and put the hooch in the cramped crawl space under the house before my parents got home.  Then, for distillation purposes, I used a large peach can with a small hole cut in the center of the top, attached some copper tubing, and distilled it over a can of Sterno.  But after a while, I gave up the project to let future archeologists figure out what the device was.  Good luck.  I think Bruce Didier was with me when I bought the tubing, and he knew of my plan and failure.  On another occasion, I tried to convince him that we could dress up like Arabs with fake beards, and go to a restaurant which sold beer and wine, and get a fix that way.  He, being more of a sound mind at that particular time, wasn’t too encouraging.  By the way, his wit is the inspiration for the title of this historical document.

I met with drinking success in Mads and was able to quench my curiosity, as well as others.  Once I got lucky over at a Madrigal girl’s house, and she let me sample her folks’ liquor cabinet extensively before we went to a performance.  Well, just to give you a hint who the babe was, she was older and the most beautiful girl in Madrigals and Ramona High, and my biology partner in Mr. Clair Cessna’s class.  And the same year, one of the older guys got me a fifth of Vodka, and I toted it around the campus in my coat, showing it off to schoolmates, and taking a swig every now and then.  Also on the plane flight to Hawaii (Madrigals again), I snatched a glass of champagne off a stewardess’ tray as she passed by.  And (I can’t believe I did this) went into a Waikiki liquor store one night in my tuxedo, and bought two bottles of champagne to drink on the beach with some of our Kailua Madrigal friends.  I guess all this is said because it leads up to the Mexico City Seven and beyond, though I don’t remember the details much anymore, unlike the famous Blue Flame Event.

As it happened, the Mads were singing at the  Auditorio Nacionals, the center of the Rotarian convention activities in Mexico City; and like so many performances before, it was just another mechanical gig, especially after being in the group three years.  You know, like walking and singing to the stage in couples; and Bollinger telling the same jokes, with us responding with the same pasted on smiles and chuckles like we never heard them one hundred times before.  Well, what little I recall were the several beer concessions selling large paper cups of cerveza for one peso, which was eight cents then.  We knew we could get away with it because we were smart, and being dressed up helps to conceal your criminal activities, like many bankers, preachers, and congressmen, and we were 1800 miles from parental supervision.  Unfortunately, the next day a rumor had it that SG had finked on us, and we all had to meet in a room in a circle; Bollinger wanting to know who we were, and how many we had.  So, somewhat in pride, I confessed downing six beers, and having only about five weeks to go before Bootcamp, didn’t give a hoot anyway.  He chewed us out, the Mexico City Seven, in front of the whole group, and threatened to send us back early - but a game was afoot and we knew it. Was he really going to ruin his reputation and start a scandal back at Ramona by sending us home early?  We weren’t that estúpido.  One bright lad said, in effect, we had suffered from a mindless case of Bollinger-adoration, reminding him of his wild shenanigans at USC: implying we were only following in his footsteps as our role model.  I think it worked partially, because some of the chaperones, including Mr. Krogh, the attendance counselor, were there as witnesses, and those stories might have leaked out if we had gotten the boot.  Anyway, no disciplinary action was taken, and the identities of the Mexico City Seven are safe with Pete Strobl and me; the latter being readily accessible on FaceBook and his personal websites below. Now to more important and enlightening things…

Seriously:  Some people may have seen a meteor shower, and some the Aurora borealis, and some the launching of a space shuttle from Cape Canaveral; but they’re nothing compared to the first time I saw the actual live ignition of human methane in the hostel we stayed at in Mexico City.  And for those who are non-academics and want to be kept in the dark, you can skip the next two paragraphs and proceed to the last, if you can.

It was free time in the hostel’s small male dorm room, and because boys will be boys (before they were put on Ritalin for being testosterone infused), locker room mentality was manifesting.  Well, one of the lanky tall guys was strutting and carrying on in his white jockey shorts as I watched from my vantage point on a top bunk.  He was all fired up and animated about something he proposed to show us and got down on all fours on the floor.  Then, forthwith, a brave and courageous volunteer got on his knees near the brief clad rump of interest, extended an unprotected hand to the rear end of said Madrigal, and lit a match in the immediate vicinity of his eliminating orifice.  Having a natural interest also in science and poised in attention with head pointing like a bird dog, I was flabbergasted to witness his escaping intestinal wind igniting in a long and volatile blue flame, which was forever photo flashed on my mind.  I had seen the light, so to speak, as he had produced that which I had never thought possible or even considered.  This was an illuminating moment in Madrigalian life, and certainly an uncanny foreshadowing of my occupational specialty in the Marine Corps, the M2A1 Portable Flame Thrower. “Come on, baby, light my fire...”

Well, let it be said that a certain unnamed individual was so aghast by this phenomena, he took the first opportunity after returning home to personally run the experiment and verify the results.  So, while sitting on the throne, and at the appropriate moment, a match was lit and dropped into the porcelain test tube below, which, unpredictably, worked better than anticipated.  Va-Boom! 

Some interesting links to review:

Large Madrigal Mexico City Photo for Minute Inspection.

Medium Size Photo of the Above.


Bottom-End, Writings from Musician Pete Strobl

U-Boat 15  Pete Strobl’s historical blog submissions from Franz Strobl’s diary, his grandfather, a submariner during World War I.

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The Shoplifting, The Burglary, The Lie & The Stogie

The Shoplifting 

I have to admit my first theft was at 5 or 6 years old and perhaps under the influence of Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down.  You know, the neighbor kid who came to kindergarten one day in his Superman outfit and took off running down Streeter Avenue during nap time.  Well, I don’t remember for sure if he talked me into doing it, or if he had stolen anything himself, but he did say it was possible to take things from stores by hiding them in your pocket.  Yes, folks, my first crime against society was shoplifting at the Sears and Roebuck when it was still downtown, and I sure hope the statute of limitations has passed so I can confess and move on with my life.

Sears was on the other side of the street from J.C. Penney’s, and this was before anyone had invented the mall or big spacious buildings with acres of parking lot all around.  I don’t remember much about Sears, other than the actual spot where the crime took place; but I do recall the resounding wooden floors of Penney’s, not unlike the old-fashioned country markets that were still around.  The markets might have had a real butcher shop too, wooden screen doors that banged loudly when they closed, and pieces of candy you could buy for a penny.  These mom and pop businesses were also the original neighborhood convenience stores, but they had personality.

Well, on the day of the Sears shoplifting, the seed of criminality was sprouting; and as my mother got in line to buy her things, there were knick-knacks displayed near the cash register like they have now, tempting one to purchase just one more thing - or to steal, in my case.  There, in a bin, were loose balloons, which were unusually large and colorful, and a big temptation for someone who had decided to live a life of crime.  I suppose I must have known how to blow one up or wouldn’t have gone over the edge as I did.  Well, the balloons were close to the floor, and all the adults were up high above not minding me, I thought, and I took one of the balloons and put it in my pocket.  However, for some reason, I had the impression my mother saw me commit the offense in a glance but didn’t say anything.  Maybe this is like mothers of mass murderers who can’t admit their sons committed the heinous crimes for shame; or worse, it might reflect on their child rearing abilities or lack thereof.  Or maybe it was like the time when I was an adult and saw the police chief’s kid pocket something in a cluttered stationary shop while looking at me, and I couldn’t believe my eyes - literally.  Anyway, I took the balloon home and waited until my brother and I were put to bed that night, and the door was closed.

After a short time, I got the bootie out and blew it up.  It was huge, bigger than my head, and the biggest balloon I’d ever seen.  Then all of a sudden my mother walked in and I was caught without a chance to cover the monster up as if an enormous spherical bulge in the bed wouldn’t give itself away.  “Where did you get that balloon!” she demanded to know.  Well, maybe I lied at first like any felon, but when you’re only five or six, it’s hard to keep up the lie under pressure if you haven’t practiced a lot.  So, I confessed it was stolen from Sears.   Well, I got a lecture and she thought I should go to the store, return the balloon, and tell the manager what had happened - but it never came about.  Lucky me.  This, however, was not the end of my criminal streak, and soon I turned to burglary to satiate my lust for sin.

The Burglary

I’d like to say the devil made me do it, but if I remember correctly, it was another idea of Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down.  I really don’t blame him for my crimes, though, but he did have red hair and was a kindergarten escapee.  Anyway, what lead up to my first burglary, or attempted burglary, started while playing in a field of grain that grew between Dewey and Mountain View Avenues back then. (Dewey Avenue being also mentioned in the POOP-N-MA-PANTS episode.)

Well, one day we went way over to the Mt. View side of the field, where the railroad tracks were, to take a look around.  Having no pennies to lay on the tracks for a train to run over, we put rocks instead, and maybe some walnuts too, and then went over to the farm adjacent to the tracks.  On the property was an old storage building or garage and we snuck in to see what there was to swipe. Of course, being amateur burglars, we didn’t have a lookout posted or a wheelman for a getaway, and soon the farmer’s wife discovered us.  She gave us a scolding, and then did (what probably one wouldn’t do today) put us in her car, made us tell her where we lived, and took us home and told our mothers.

The Lie

The next thing I’d like to get off my chest happened in the 3rd or 4th grade when I lied to the elementary school principal.  This is the first big one I got away with.  There I was, running down the sidewalk of the classrooms after school was out, past the kindergarten classes, and didn’t make the sharp left where the school buses drove into their entrance.  Consequently, I flew out and stopped in the path of an approaching bus.  The driver slammed his breaks hard to keep from hitting me as I froze there watching the front end of the bus becoming an imposing titanic object.  Then the driver, no doubt scared to death, jumped out and physically hauled me to Principal Zoe Brown’s office; informed the secretary of my deed, left me, and hurriedly went back to his bus.  This was the same principal who was notified when Donald-Brown-Ask-Me-Again-And-I’ll-Knock-You-Down had flown the kindergarten coop.  She took me into her office and wanted to know what happened, and without hesitation, I told her someone pushed me out into the path of the bus, trying to play the victim.  Isn’t it amazing how lying comes naturally to everyone?  It’s what we call the “sinful nature” and doesn’t have to be taught, and you get better at it with time and practice.

The Stogie

Having already written about smoking a cigarette at 3 years old, I should also mention my first puff on a cigar at five or six; evidentially the experimental years in many things.  As it happened, a certain unnamed individual had received an “IT’S A BOY!” cigar at work, which probably was cordially received and taken home to his alcohol and tobacco prohibition abode.  Well, said individual took me outside, and we sat on the stoop in the back like bad boys do when wanting to be out of adult sight, and he lit the contraband and handed it to me to take a puff.  It was a simple and brief incident but became a bonding moment between a big person and a little person.  Of course, when you remind some adults about these bonding times later, they remember it didn’t happen, and the bond is unraveled forever.  Let’s see now… don’t you have to remember it happened to remember it didn’t happen?  Anyway, adults, especially parents, can be like that, and may not want you to remember or know their mistakes, their frailties, or their having to deal with common temptations like everyone else; and worse, succumbing to those temptations.

This reminds me after I became a Christian and moved from the left coast to the beast coast and did some evangelical work.  As it was, I had the hankering to test out a tobacco torpedo (and did a few times) having remembered their aromatic allure when the Rotarians lit one up back in the past.  This was before service clubs let women into their conclaves to sour and put a damper on a good thing for real American whiskey lappin’ cigar chompin’ men.  (You don‘t see men trying to bust their way into the La Leche League, do you?  Let the comments flow!)  Anyway, for some reason, macho Rotarians back then liked dainty and cheery 16th and 17th-century chamber music and had the Ramona High Madrigals over often to sooth the savage beast within; and after lunch they’d take out a cigar and some of us enjoyed the second-hand smoke.  So, being over forty by, this time, I still wanted to smoke a good stogie, even though a good one may smell like barnyard hay, fresh compost and road apples hand rolled into one organic cylinder.  This appeal for the cigar, I am sure, has to do with an American inherited fondness for other times by Southerners and Blue Belly Yankees like myself.  You know, before Big Brother started herding us like cattle, forcing us to buy health insurance, and trying to control our personal habits and drink sizes too.  So while walking down a street in Manhattan near the World Trade Center, before it disappeared a few years later, I passed by a cee-gar store for rich boys where the clerk wore a suit and tie; went in and bought an imported one for five bucks.  There, in one of the Big Apple’s small parks, I sat down on a bench and bit the end off like a hungry barbarian, lit it up, and figured being 3,000 miles from my hometown nobody would see me.

Previously, however, I had unexpectedly bumped into high school friends hundreds and even 7,800 miles away from home.  Take Stanley Cain, for example, a guy a year younger and a fellow Boy Scout in Troop #8.  On my only trip to the PX in DaNang while in Vietnam, I ran into Stan walking around not even knowing he had enlisted in the Marines.  Small world.  There was also the bump-in with Cindy Lisonbee in a Sacramento elevator nine years after high school; and Joe Guzzetta in a restaurant, and Pat Morison in a Safeway in Bishop.  There have been others too.  So, knowing there was that uncanny possibility, I felt vulnerable sitting in a public park and hastily destroyed the cigar puff by puff.  And then on another occasion, somewhere else and not quite finished destroying the evidence, one of the few people I knew from Jersey City passed me by on a busy sidewalk.  So, in the panicked imagination of my mind, I willed myself invisible and tried to believe they couldn’t have seen me, though they had displayed a look of startled recognition.  Then coming home after the cigar sabbaticals, the woman I was married to would sniff me lots: trying to deduce a story from the lingering evidence, no matter how many showers or times I had brushed my teeth.  

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I don’t know when it was when you realized you were going to die, but I was about 7 years old.  To many people the thought of their own death is very depressing, and they put it out of their minds or deny it will ever happen to them.  One of my grandmothers was like that.  Probably the whole 51 years I knew her, she said she was going to live to be 102, but she lacked in her prophecy by 11 years: it kind of snuck up on her.  Actually, it sneaks up on everyone in a way, whether you’re planning on going or not.  One day you’ll take your last breath here, feeling good or feeling bad, and then you’ll take you next breath in eternity – where ever that is for you.

Well, there I was in the backyard on Dean Way when I had the revelation about my mortality and was saddened to think, “I’m gonna die!”  As I thought about it more, I began to understand when that day would come, the people who knew me might feel bad, but they’d keep me in their thoughts as they lived on.  In a way, I figured I would be alive in their minds - for a while.  But as time would pass, they too would die, and eventually, all thoughts and evidence of me would die with them; and life would go on for thousands of years, and nobody would know that I was ever here. 

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As a kid, I was a snoop, so there wasn’t anything that wasn’t discovered from the attic to the crawl space under the house.  Even for a couple of years as a lad, when visiting other homes, I could hardly wait to use the bathroom and look in the medicine cabinets.  Not that I was going to steal something or did, but it was a thrill to discover some new thing.  So, now, you’re probably not going to invite me over to your house; but if you do and I have to use the powder room, you’ll be wondering what’s taking me so long.

This snoop business started after finding out there wasn’t any Santa Claus, and the presents were bought beforehand and hidden until the fabled fat man was to show up.  But before learning this truth, I’d try to stay up Christmas Eve, stand on my bed and look out the window to see Santa and his team of reindeer.  We’d also set out a plate of cookies for the jolly o’ elf, and the back door was left unlocked for his entry, as we didn’t have a chimney in sunny Southern California.  Paradoxically, while looking out the window, I’d try to see Jesus’ Star of Bethlehem also.  This, the holding of two opposing beliefs in the mind at the same time, is a recipe for insanity, and you can add two other conflicting ingredients, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.  So, maybe you were told about these individuals, and when then figured out it was a lie about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny, you deduced it was a lie about Jesus Christ too.  This is called syllogistic reasoning (whatever that means) and may subconsciously account for those raised in Christian households going astray, caused by the intermingling of faith and fiction. (Thank you, Ken Dalton, for a word my wife cannot pronounce.)

Well, my first big successful snoop was at 11 years old, after making it known I wanted an archery set for Christmas, having been captivated by the television series The Adventures of Robin Hood.   Not being ignorant about Santa at this time, the snoop began snooping around the house to see if the bow was hidden somewhere, and it was found in a long unwrapped box in the folks’ closet.  However, on Christmas day, it wasn’t under the tree, but finally, it was brought out, and a surprise was manufactured.  Also on this Santa Claus business, as a young man spending Christmas Eve with those who had little children, I got on top of the house where there was a real chimney.  So while up there making such a clatter with prancing and pawing upon the roof and ho-ho-hoing down the chimney, I could hear the little ones below almost choked and stroked-out with excitement, “He’s here! He’s here!”

As a snoop, experimentation was done with a portable reel to reel tape recorder bought with some of the money earned by painting the family house for $1.25 an hour; knowing how to clean the brushes well, but not knowing much about the painting part.  However, after 50 years with the persistence of a Michelangeloian, I can do a good job now having learned some of the tricks of the trade the hard way and by Google searches.  (On Michelangeloian: Pridefully I figured I’d given birth to a new word in the English language, but not so.)   Anyway, the state of the art amateur recorder cost $50 in the summer of 1965, and was about 14x8x3 inches, and I hooked up the alligator clips that came with it to a couple of telephone terminals outside the house and taped my brother on the phone.  Also, one could record a conversation in the den by attaching the clips to the TV’s speaker using it as a mic.

Luckily the telephone snooping knowledge came in handy many years later after finding someone had made long distance calls on my account while living in an apartment house on Stotts Avenue.  After noting the charges and figuring the guy below had accessed the line on the outside of the building, I called the phone company.  They said it was impossible for someone to make calls outside the house on my line because they had to be made from my phone!  I told them any child with a half a brain could make a call from the outside of the house.  Well, after finding me an unsatisfied customer, they were compelled to check it out and found the downstairs neighbor had called his relatives, with the same last name, on the line outside.  The phone company then came out and installed a lock box terminal and didn’t charge me for the calls.  It was, however, easier to fix my $600 long distant billings in New Jersey made to Pakistan and Egypt than in the Riverside case.  Evidently illegal long distance calls to Arab countries are more common than to Corona, CA.

Well, I guess I’m still a snoop of sorts but for loftier ideals.  Since getting some computer savvy back in 2001, I have tried to find many of my past friends and schoolmates to tell them “What Life is All About” and have been pretty successful.  For instance, all but one or two of my Vietnam Marine Corps buddies have been found, but some have died since the war, probably from Agent Orange poisoning.   Other found friends, however, and even enemies, were glad to reestablish contact, and some were not; but by letting them know what life is all about, is what it’s all about for me.

Now looking at my people snoop files, there are 138 active at this time, but there have been many folk that have little or no info out there in cyberspace.  Also, it’s amazing how many have died just a year or two before a trace of them was found. So, I am still a snoop, but now a snoop for the Lord.  By the way, are you ready to meet the Lord?  Well, if you are or if you’re not, remember… God loves you and to read your Bible.  (Snoop job accomplished in your case.)

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I guess you could say I was raised in a religious home because we went to church once a week, polished our shoes, and knew how to double Windsor knot a tie by 12 years old.   We also said a little prayer before eating together but never in private, “Dear God, thank you for the food we are about to eat and bless it to the nourishment of our bodies.  Amen.”  (Almost fanatical, I’d say.)  Well, I don’t think that was much different than a lot of households then and now – religion is just something people did and still do, I guess, for a variety of reasons, and you can pick a church to suit your fancy and your fanny.

There is a distinct recollection of us kids discussing different religions one day at Mountain View Elementary, remembering for some reason Marilynne Poulsen in particular.  (She’s the girl that came to school with a white inner tube built into her petty coat to make it stand out like a hooped skirt.)  Most everyone had a religion to compare with the others, which were actually Christian denominations.  What impressed me most about their religions were the can'ts.  Some said we can’t smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol; some said, we can’t dance; some said, we can’t go to the movies; and some said, we can’t drink coffee or cokes, or eat meat, or pledge our allegiance to the flag.  Ronnie Milburn was in the last category, though he’d stand up for the pledge but without his hand over his heart or say the words.  I didn’t think any less of him for it, but kind of admired his individualism; and besides, he had slicked up black hair like Elvis that counted a lot in my book.   Right now I’ve got to make a little side note...

For the longest time, I thought your heart was above your left nipple, kind of at the upper chest level.  The reason for the impression was when we learned to pledge our allegiance to the flag, the female teachers would put their hand on their breast on their chest instead of putting it where your heart really is.  Maybe they subconsciously instilled some other female traits along the way.  I don’t know.  And talking about nipples, where I live in the North Woods when it gets chilly, some of us may say, “It’s a little nipply out there.”  Perhaps that’s where the expression nippy comes from – nipples!

Anyway, all my school mates had a religious label to go by that sounded pretty good; you know, like Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, and Lutheran.  However, I went to the Congregational Church and didn’t know what we called ourselves, having never heard it mentioned.  Was it Congregationalist?  That sounded too multi-syllabled for me and a good reason not to be one.  And besides, we didn’t have any can’ts that I knew of, and consequently, I developed a case of can’t envy after hearing the restrictions of my friends.  All we had to do at the Congregational Church was put on our good clothes once a week, and smile and shake hands with the minister after church.  He had giant raven wings for eyebrows and wore a sinister black robe with oversized red sergeant stripes on the baggy sack-like sleeves.  Then after church and standing in line, the Congregationalists filed past the minister and told him what a good sermon he gave, shook his hand, and he’d shake mine and say I was a good-n-husky fellow that would grow up to be a football player.  Evidently his pipeline into the celestial realm wasn’t connected, though, because I was destined to become a high school choir boy instead of a football player; and about the only football game I can remember today was when USC’s O.J. was playing against UCLA.  I wonder what The Juice is doing today?  (Maybe 33 years.)

It’s funny how things go in the religious world.  The liberal Congregational Church I attended until 18 went homosexual several years ago; even solemnizing (sodomizing?) same-sex unions.  I’m not that surprised, I guess, as the only other two adults I know who went there as children became homosexuals.  And as you may have noticed, I don’t use the word “gay” because gay is what the homosexuals use for themselves and among themselves, and I’m not a homosexual.  Are you?

Now listen:  Homosexual bashing is not what is going on here because homosexuality is just one of many sins that fall under fornication like pre-marital sex, adultery, incest, and bestiality.  (For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, you know.)  Homosexuality, however, just gets more press in the Bible than the other sex sins.  In Scripture, homosexuals are called sodomites, and they are depicted as violent people, and are an example of society in its final days before self-extinction, no matter how sweet or limp-wristed they may seem to be.  (Genesis 19; Judges Chapters 19 and 20)  This is why the military has accepted and even caters to sodomites enlisting now, because they are a violent bunch; violence being a good trait for soldiers, sailors, and marines to have, as the military is in the business of killing And one more thing, you can’t be in God’s church and be a sodomite. 

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When I was a little kid, we heard teenagers were smoking marijuana at Fairmont Park and had their car windows rolled up to keep the fumes from escaping – and they’d be laughing a lot.  This was before most cars had air conditioning, and only a looney having a good time would have his windows rolled up when it was 100 degrees out.  So, we kept on the lookout to see a bona fide derelict but never did.  Other than that, we didn’t give marijuana a thought until we got educated about it in school.

Along with sex education at Sierra Junior High (which made us think about such things more than we would have otherwise) we saw drug education films.  One flick was about the model high school guy who got good grades but started smoking cigarettes and moved on up to marijuana.  As it went, he began to hang out with the lower rungs of society, and he evolved into a pot head, a liar, and a bad student.  Well, one day he and his new friends stole a case of coke from a little market like they had back when soft drinks came in glass bottles and were shipped in reusable wooden crates.  These guys were laughing and so stoned out of their gourds while walking down an alley after the heist, they took the bottles and broke the necks off against a brick wall, “not even feeling the broken glass cutting their mouths as they drank the sodas down.”  (A close paraphrase.)  There was also another scene where the same student was staring in the mirror after inhaling the devil’s weed and turned into a werewolf.  Sounded like pretty bad stuff to me, but didn’t know anyone who ever tried it until high school.

A few years later, one of my German II classmates told me how drinking vodka and smoking grass was like an orgasm; but he was in drama, and, oh well, what would you expect from a drama student who went around speaking like Richard Burton all the time.  (You remember the guy in the film turning into a werewolf when looking in the mirror after smoking pot?  The drama student ended up playing monsters in horror movies! )  Another student, a fellow Madrigal, told me of trying marijuana, and I thought his experimentation was crazy, even though I had been singing under the influence of alcohol (S.U.I.) more than once in our performances.  It is hard to say which is worse, though, alcohol or marijuana because alcohol was the first recorded recreational drug in the Bible; and you can read about some of the initial accounts which have to do with homosexual rape (probably), incest, and what can happen at those intoxicating birthday party bashes.  (Noah in Genesis 9; Lot in Genesis 19; and Job’s children in Job 1)

Of course, marijuana is not mentioned in the Bible, but one could cite its use like the sin of drunkenness, which is the altering of your brain chemistry for amusement purposes.   And if you never thought about it, the main reason marijuana is kept illegal in America, is for all that tax-free money to be made.  This is why the Federal and most State legislatures are dragging their feet on legalizing it for recreation or medicinal purposes because many of them would have to start declaring the proceeds on their income tax forms.

Well, after I got over to Vietnam, we were assigned to bunker duty on top of remote mountains on occasion, and some of the guys got taken up with whatever dope there was, but my squad stayed clear of it.  One reason drugs were used is because bunker duty is probably the most boring experience one can have, with only brief moments of unplanned terror thrown in to mess with your mind.  Drugs and alcohol took the edge off these life and death situations we found ourselves in as teenagers, which most of us were.  By the way, did you know the average age of the killed in action over there in the Vietnam War was 19 years old?  Pathetic.

For a time, my squad was given one of two towers at the Hill 10 compound outside of DaNang to occupy and live in.  The floor of the 8x8 living quarters was about 24 ft. up a ladder, and the plywood walls inside were sandbagged.  There was also another ladder that went from the enclosure through an opening in the ceiling to a 50 caliber machine gun emplacement on the roof.  However, none of us had ever trained in firing a 50 caliber, as was true about other weapons we sometimes used: it was on the job training for the most part.  Now just for an interesting side note…

When we took over the tower, it was overrun by cockroaches at night. So, “Mr. Science” had an idea.  He thought we could take a #10 can and put some sugar in the bottom as bait; set it against the wall at night, and the little critters would fall in and be trapped.  Well, in the morning we had about a hundred of the beasts crawling and churning in the can, and they couldn’t climb up the side.  These 3/4th of an inch red roaches were a lot smaller than the 3-4 inchers that frequent expensive airport hotel rooms in the U.S.  (Been there, seen that.)  Then Mr. Science took some C-4 plastic explosive, which is the consistency of modeling clay, and rolled a rope of it to rim the top of the can.  Knowing that C-4 only burns when a flame is put to it, instead of a blasting cap, he lit a match to the C-4, and we watched it burn with an intense blue flame; whereupon, the roaches became highly agitated as they unsuccessfully tried to escape their oxygen depleted tin coffin.  In a moment, they gasped their last breath and lay piled up and motionless.  Voilà!  Mr. Science’s Bug-Be-Gone C-4 Cockroach Eliminator had worked well.

One night some of the guys from the other tower came over to visit.  They were stoned, and one fellow had some Darvon from a corpsman; he’d been smoking weed, and maybe drinking too, and feeling no pain.  Well, I was offered some Darvon and stupidly took the pill(s).  Our visitors then went on top of the tower with the 50, and after a while an arm was lowered through the ceiling offering me a joint to smoke, and I did.  Well, I got high and tried to analysis what was happening to me with the combination of Darvon and marijuana.  I wondered if the painkiller was working, and chewed on my arm a while.  Seemed to be.  Would I have hallucinations like I’d heard about in the Junior High film?  Nope.  Would I sing better under the influence?  Yep.  So, loudly in the middle of the darkness at Hill 10, suspended in air in the middle of the Vietnam War, I was singing 16th and 17th Century Madrigals, Concert Choir numbers, and lots of Frank Sinatra thrown in too.  Boy, did I sound good!  But after a while, the thought entered my mind that if we were attacked by the enemy, I was in no shape to cope, and then I got plenty scared.  Unfortunately, there was no getting off the trip until the trip was over.

My next puffs would happen after coming home and trying to fit into the hippie world, but I didn’t care for all the paranoia that came with the high and settled down with alcohol.  However, there was never just having a beer for me – it was a six-pack; there was never just having a glass of wine – it was a bottle.  Do you get the picture?  But looking back now, I think my saddling up with alcohol was just self-medication for post-traumatic syndrome after the war, and the inability to cope with life’s problems and challenges.  At 32 years old, however, and after I had fallen off my high horse, I re-saddled up again with the Lord Jesus Christ, and found I lacked the desire to drink.  And now, some 31 years later, I still don’t care to drink, but if you are going to imbibe, that doesn’t bother me a bit.  However if you get drunk, it will bother God a lot. “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.” 

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Believe it or not, one of the class clowns was a small town elected official for a spell - me.  This is clear evidence of the mindless ignorance of the American voters: signifying it would become high time for dictators to arise and take control and monitor every aspect of our lives as they do now.  You know, like Edward Snowdon’s whistleblowing has revealed.  If Americans voted for me to be a city councilman, evidently they could not be trusted to defend themselves from a tyrannical government, via the second amendment; to post a blog entry, via the first amendment, or to order the right size soft drink in a New York City restaurant.  Sorry about that, folks.

As it happened, a woman who wanted to be a mover-and-shaker in town suggested I should run for one of the two openings on the city council.  I don’t know why she thought so, other than I might be someone she’d keep in her pocket for favors down the line.  Of course, I was well qualified having never read a thing about the goings on of the city, or sat in a town meeting, and was a sagacious twenty-eight year old.  Consequently, it seemed a good idea to me and immediately pictured this as a stepping stone to the Presidency of the United States.  I figured being a city councilman would give me plenty of time to learn the ropes of politics, and then I could run for the House of Representatives and Senate before the White House. (Perhaps that brief experimental marijuana smoking had caused some brain damage after all, in contradiction to what President Obama has to say about pot probably being less dangerous than alcohol.  This, his diagnosis, was announced to the frustration of his own Drug Enforcement Agency Chief.)

So, with the would be mover-and-shaker’s encouragement, mixed with my delusions of grandeur, I went through the process of signing up to run.  Of course, I found it helpful to attended council meetings to see what it was all about; jumped through the hoops of being introduced at senior citizen lunches, and tea parties; and met up with the severe stage fight I would suffer from.  The first line of my prepared speech televised locally went, “Ten years ago I was serving YOU in the rice paddies and jungles of Vietnam…”   This, however, was before being a draft or combat dodger was in vogue and military service was not a liability.  It was also during this time I met the city council members, and the ones not up for re-election at the time were friendly in advising me on campaigning. One, in particular, an older gentleman named Pearl Dee Cook.  Yes, the man’s name was “Pearl” but he went by PD or Dee.  (Your guess is as good as mine.)  This interesting character had also been a major in the Army and served on a rich beach city’s council in Southern California.  Dee kept a scrapbook on his life of newspaper articles that he liked to show, and took every opportunity to say something in the council meetings, which would be written down in the minutes and attributed to him.  He also kept a short prayer tucked away in his wallet in the event the a local clergyman was not available to open the meeting with an invocation.

Well, as strange as it may seem, I was elected to one of the city council seats because people thought of me a nice young man who was like their brother, or son, or grandson.  This ability to fabricate a wholesome façade can be attributed to being in Madrigals where we learned to look and act like neutered Mormon missionaries.

And so it went, the newly elected councilman not so craftily bluffed his way through a couple of years at the dais while toting a Samsonite attaché case around town.  He was also known behind his back to the businessmen as, “That son of a bitch with the briefcase.”  This accolade was bestowed upon him after he started an initiative to take away the money their private chamber of commerce received from the motel bed tax, a fact unknown to most of the community then.  Generally, though, the electorate thought the councilman was a pretty intelligent guy because he didn’t say much at the meetings (paralyzing stage fright, you know), but this assessment was dispelled whenever he opened his mouth to taste his savory shoe leather.

Anyway, to make a long story short…  The councilman’s aspirations to high office were thwarted when he fulfilled the ancient proverb, “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." 

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I only knew a few people while growing up as a kid and young adult who said anything about God from a personal point of view.  You know, the religious type you usually don’t want to hear from anyway.  And even though we went to church most every week, there isn’t anything, in particular, to remember except boring, boring, boring, and the intestinal storm that almost killed me…

There we were at the First Congregational Church one night to watch a dramatic performance by Byron Light, the minister at the time, in a one man act as a soldier at Christ’s crucifixion. Kind of a Hamlet soliloquy sort of thing.  It was spooky; the lights were dimmed to simulate the three hours God put a damper on the sun.  The Reverend Light was a short, stocky guy who made a good enlisted man, officers being leaner and taller I figured, and had an appropriate crew cut too.  Coincidently, his regular black ministerial robe worn on Sundays had three gigantic red stripes on the arms, so maybe played the military part with an NCO’s pathos while costumed in armor.  Strutting around the platform, he made comments about Jesus and his death while gazing at a full-size cross draped with a cloth on the horizontal beam.  We had never seen his legs before or since.

Well, as indigestion would have it, developing in my lower intestine was a hurricane class five which was suppressed mightily as it built up and backed up; but the more it was suppressed, and the portal of doom battened down, the worse the pressure got.  I was determined, nevertheless, not to let the furious methane monster loose, and luckily wasn’t sitting with my parents, but with my 5th or 6th grade Sunday school classmates.  So, I did what any young man might do in a desperate situation while standing at another precipice of humiliation – I turned to humor to deflect attention away from my predicament.  There, out of sight of parental supervision and about four pews from the front, while Reverend Light was gesticulating in his armor bedecked physic, I was laughing and cracking jokes, wiggling in pain, and making a herculean effort to keep my cheeks together, like immovable granite boulders, until the pain subsided – and it worked!  This, my friends, is the untold miracle, and probably the only one that ever happened at the First Congregational Church, Riverside, California, Eighth and Lemon.  Back on track…

At home, and elsewhere, the only thing we heard as kids about God was the rub-a-dub-dub-thanks-for-the-grub meal time prayer.  However, there was an older girl in Madrigals that has come back to memory, and her name was Kay Wantland, who talked about God and Jesus Christ.  Her dad had been a preacher who had died, and she, unlike most of my friends, lived with her mother in a duplex on Jurupa rather than a single dwelling house.  During our conversation, I authoritatively pointed out Jesus never said he was God; but can’t fathom where I ever heard that from.  However, after over thirty years of Bible study, it is amazing how often the Lord Jesus plainly stated he was, in fact, God.  She was one of the two people I recall being a witness for him.

I also remember Kay for leaving some of her clothing in the folks’ 1966 Volkswagen one day.  You see, in Madrigal Singers, we might change into or out of our performing clothes and take the others home.  Well, Kay had left a few things in the back of the bug, such as a garter belt during those pre-panty hose days.  So as things went, I usually never got caught for the bad things I did, but this time was called outside to the driveway to the VW and had a few stern accusatory questions asked about the feminine apparel.  Spontaneously, using another technique to deflect attention away in a potentially negative situation, I played the mindless fool and told the truth, and said I’d better call her up right away and find out if she noticed her nylons weren’t staying up lately (or something like that) and made a beeline for the phone inside.

The other Christian witness I heard from was a girl also.  I don’t remember her name now (Kathy?), but have written about her in the story “What Life is All About.”  I hired her because she was nice looking and had previously checked her out working as a box girl at Safeway, having alternative motivations of course.  Well, soon after she started to work, she told me about Jesus Christ and how he had taken her away from an old life and given her a new one.  Wow! The first time in my 30 years I remember hearing a conversion testimony from anyone, and was somewhat impressed and took note.  I keep searching for her on the internet to tell her, “Thank you.” 

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I have thought about it for a long time – if I should tell about some of my school girlfriends.  You know, after 50 years or so, one starts to get some insight about what Proverbs says on the subject, “There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not: The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid.”

Nothing Ever Came Of It

Somehow for some reason, I picked a certain classmate in the 2nd grade to be my girlfriend, and for three years referred to her as such, though I don’t think I ever told her about it.  (Didn’t know one was supposed to.)  Well, during that time I was one of the most innocent kids in the world, and only liked her from that naïve and pure perspective.  Was it necessary to tell her she was my girlfriend?  What difference would it have made anyway?  She was special and unlike any of my other friends, boys or girls.

Her name was Marchand Johnson, and she told me how to spell Marchand: March + and.  We probably met each other in Mrs. Ainsworth’s kindergarten class back in 1955, but I can’t say for sure, not having seen the class photo in maybe 40 years.  I do remember her in a Brownie uniform, though, perhaps in the 2nd grade, and you know how a girl can be alluring in a uniform.  Anyway, she was a blond and like most of the girls at the time, was more muscular than they are today; probably because we played outside a lot.  Marilynne Poulsen, on the other hand, was what one might call a tomboy; was lean and sinewy, and wouldn’t hesitate to ball up the muscle in her arm and show it off.  She was also feisty and probably not afraid to fight.  Marilynne was mentioned earlier as the one who wore and displayed an inflated tire tube in her petty coat one day, and no one gave her a bad time about the unique accessory.  Probably afraid to.

Marchand, a French word we pronounced Mar-shan, was also a quiet girl who was preoccupied with horses and galloped herself around the playground, and would neigh and whinny and reply in horse language if you asked her a question.  I also remember after playing some baseball with David Reeves and the other guys, going out of my way to see Marchand who was prancing about the field, having put some dirt on my face, to make it look like I’d been playing hard to impress her.  Well, perhaps it was after Robert Hart told me the facts of life in the 5th grade, my way of thinking would forever be changed about girls and my innocence was gone.

Talking about Robert, in the 7th grade at Sierra, we were walking around the campus with our arms draped over each other’s shoulders at the school carnival, and some older boys called us “homos,” whatever that meant.  So, being a natural born researcher, I went home to the only research book available at the time, a dictionary, and found and figured out the answer.  Homosexuals were people of the same sex who liked each other like I had come to like Marchand of the opposite sex in the 2nd grade.  By the way, Robert and I quit walking around like that, and I never got over the natural inclination to like girls, and still think it rather queer about homosexuals.  It’s not homophobia that I have; just haven’t had my brains washed by the idiot box starting with Threes Company and all the other Hollywood sitcoms with their token homosexuals and DeGeneres stars (degenerate?).  If you don’t think there is a devil, watch what you will, but the TV has changed a whole country’s morals and mind in a generation.  Sorry if you lost yours along the way.

As it happened, it came back to my remembrance a few years ago of the time at the Beachcombers Club when I kissed Marchand on the lips one time.  I don’t remember how old we were, 5th, 6th, or maybe 7th grade, but nothing ever came of it.  Maybe she was shocked.  Maybe she didn’t like it.  Maybe nobody knows the way of a man with a maid. C'est la vie!

Anyway, just in the last few years, Marchand has a special spot in my memories as the only “girlfriend” I ever had with the purest motives, and figure she wouldn’t sue me for telling this story because she may not even know most of it happened anyway.


She Dumped Me 

In junior high we were taken in by every fad that came along.  For girls, there were empire waist dresses, pink lipstick and whatever else.  They’d also patch the runs in their hose with clear nail polish or a little wad of bubble gum to keep the snag from getting worse, but what did Mrs. Browdy (?) think about it.  She was the matronly looking dean of girls and had a stack of braided hair piled on her head like she walked out of pioneer days.  And if a girl’s dress was thought to be too short, Mrs. Browdy would have them get on their knees in her office to see if the suspect garment touched the floor or not, because touching the floor was the correct length.  Girls who were in love would write their hoped-for married names over and over again on a piece of notebook paper hundreds of times. Yuck!

With guy fads, for me anyway, it was Converse tennis shoes, wearing wool Pendleton shirts on the outside of your regular shirt as an outer garment, Madras shirts, red ties and red socks at some point, tie tacks and Jade East Cologne.  I usually had to suffer public humiliation, though, by wearing or using cheaper imitation brands; but over the years have gotten over it, and am not mindlessly taken in by fashion fads, but more by value.  As a matter of fact, my favorite place to shop is the trend-setting Sally’s, known to most as the Salvation Army, where I bought a like-new snowsuit for $15 last fall.  Sometimes I come into luxury things every now and then, though.  Take that bottle of Herrera Cologne my wife gave me which lasted 12 years, but during that time, it was supplemented by clearance stuff at K-Mart.

The Beach Boys were very popular back in the early 1960’s and then came the invasion of England with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.  The girls had stacks of trading cards of their favorite groups and rock stars and hauled them to school every day.  Over at one girl’s house, I shockingly watch as she played a Beatles number on her little portable record player, and while sitting on the carpet of her living room, screamed and squirmed like a maniac in what may have been orgasmic pleasure.  Also, there was the physical exam we had to take at Sierra, given by a crusty looking retired physician, who reminded me of Lionel Barrymore in the old Doctor Kildare movies of the 30’s and 40’s.  He checked us males for hernias and may have never washed his hands between molestings.  Well, we guys knew it was all going to happen before hand and joked about turning our heads and coughing for the doc.  It seems amazing, now, that there was no parental supervision for this, and how Uncle Sam’s nieces and nephews are nothing more than livestock to be managed like one manages cattle on the farm. (Ever notice the editorializing?)

Anyway, during these budding manhood years, some of us went girl crazy, and it became a principal preoccupation, and I got a liking for a bubbly hairdoed brunette.  Of course, there were lots of others in those junior high days, but she was the one; and since there were so many others, my mind might be a little muddled in the details.

 Perhaps it was in the 7th grade it all began, and maybe I wrote her a note to test the waters and signaled my interest with batting eyebrows like Groucho Marx.  Well, she responded in the positive to the semaphore, and it felt good to have a girlfriend who knew I liked her; and soon she pressed me to get her a going-steady ring.  You see, girls would get one in high school, a class ring from their boyfriends, and they’d either put it on a chain around their neck or wrap some yarn around the shank to allow it to fit the finger.  So I bought a bulky silver ring with a large blank face on it from Steven Halvorson for $5.  Also, I gave her (or someone else) a Navy metal shooting badge in the shape of an iron cross which was stolen from the ol’ man’s personal mementos.  This is somewhat like the Garden of Eden incident when Adam knew it was wrong to eat the forbidden fruit, but he wanted to make his wife happy more than he wanted to make God happy.  By the way, if one of you still has the iron cross after 50 plus years, maybe you can get in touch with me.  Thanks.

We talked for hours on the phone till my ear hurt, and what we conversed about – who knows - and I wondered if anyone on the party line was listening.  She didn’t live but a few blocks away, and sometimes I’d go over to her house, and we talked on the sidewalk that ran midblock between her street and the next.  Soon I developed a hot hankerin’ to kiss her.  So I did what any young man might do who hadn’t been in love this way and practiced on my pillow for some time.  Well, eventually it came to pass that the practice paid off, and I got hooked on kissing girls; as many as possible.

From then on my teenage mind became so testosteronically infused that the one big reason to try out for the yearly operetta was for all the kissing going on behind the stage curtains.  (Thought I coined another word in the last sentence – nope.)   Randy Seol, a year or two older, was in one of the operettas, and went on to be in the psychedelic rock group, The Strawberry Alarm Clock, and is still playing a mean drum or twenty.  When Sierra’s yearbooks came out, I would go over the student photos and take a satisfying tally of the girls I’d kissed.  This was back when boys didn’t kiss boys, and girls didn’t kiss girls unless they were rightfully hiding in the closet.  By the way, one of my great-uncles told me the only girl he ever kissed was his future wife when he was about 24 years old.  Sweet.  In my case, the monogamy gene didn’t kick in until later life.

Well, what also comes to mind about the one was when there was a miss popularity contest of some sort at school.  You see, if you liked a certain girl, you bought a ticket that cost a nickel or a dime and gave it to her.  So figuring I could stuff the ballot, I gave up my lunch money for a while and bought several to give to her, and she was one of the winners though not first place.  Wish I could have come up with more money.  Later she gave back the ring in a huff, though.  I think she let me know somehow at some point, that since we were going steady, I should take her out on a date.  But I’d been warned about being too young to think about girls; so going on a date would have been out of the realm of possibilities at that time.  She dumped me.



After leaving Sierra Jr. High and starting in at Ramona, I felt very insignificant and musically emasculated after being drafted into the Madrigal Singers.  However, this did not abate my interest in girls.

Back then, for some reason, we males may have thought we were the aggressors, but over the years and through experience, I understand females have a different method of being predators: they may be smaller, but they are slyer.  (Probably a sexist/racist/ hate crime to say that now.)  I don’t think I had a steady girlfriend in the 10th grade, but occasionally had a kissing encounter, and most were a year or two older.  As a matter of fact, later in my junior year, it was very common for senior girls to have younger boyfriends.  Well, the older girls may have preferred the younger guys because they had less experience than the same-aged ones.  You know, maybe the older girls thought they could handle the younger guys better, knowing from experience and by comparing notes.  This was probably the case when I went to the Junior-Senior Prom with my older biology partner mentioned before.

If there ever was an unbelievable stroke of luck that happened to anyone in the dating arena, it was me.  As remembered in "Madrigal He & She Nanigans," my biology partner was the most beautiful woman at Ramona.  I say, woman, because she was full grown in junior high with finely chiseled features like a model; and if she were taller, she could have made it to the top of that profession if she wanted to.  But like I said, she had brains and probably figured brains would last longer than her good looks.

Well, out of the blue someone told me she wanted to go to the Prom with me, but, of course, couldn’t imagine why. Maybe she needed comic relief from all that studying.  Maybe she was hounded too much by guys her age and older.  Maybe there was an unseen crazy side of her that could be unleashed with me.  However, later I figured she also had a yen for tall blond and blue eyed guys, this being in contrast to her 5’2” frame, dark chocolate hair, and smoky topaz peepers. (Not that I remember.)  Well, I asked her to be my date, and she said OK.  So, we doubled with Dan Read and Pat Morson, and Dan managed to get his uncle’s Oldsmobile Electra, which was big and bulky, and comfortable like a Cadillac.  However, we only spent a few moments at the prom, but more time at dinner, driving around, parking and making out; and getting on first base with a grown woman was a mind-boggling event.  Yes, I was the beast-on-a-leash for my biology bud, but maybe I was too tame for her, come to think about it.  Then one day, the following fall, she needed a lift to her dorm at SC.  And when we arrived, one couldn’t help noticing the boys’ high rise dorm across the parking lot from the girls'.  The boys had most of the curtains opened with several telescopes on tripods aimed at the girls’ dorm while the targeted windows had most of the curtains closed.  More importantly, though, I was walking on the same university campus OJ Simpson was going to and playing football for.  That reminds me…

When OJ was on trial for the murder of his ex-wife, someone pointed out if they wanted to get jurors who didn’t know anything about OJ, all they had to do was subpoena his teachers.  That also reminds me when watching his expression as he tried on the gloves at the murder trial; he looked more surprised than anyone that they didn’t fit.  I have always liked OJ though, and hope he gets out sooner than later on his latest episode.

And so it began in Jr. High that most of my girlfriends, and then wives, were in the big IQ department, bigger than me, which is more evidence that truth is stranger than fiction.  There was an exception to this phenomenon, however, which was the one with the shrugged shoulders and a flat head.  You see, whenever you’d asked her a question, she’d shrug her shoulders and say, “I don’t know.” And then when you told her the answer, she’d slap her forehead and exclaim, “Oh!”  (No, it’s not Dianne Feinstein, but she’ll recognize herself if she reads this.)  Anyway, in regards to the high school girlfriend, I’ll only mention four amusing things.  One being the foreshadowing of her future occupation based on our relationship.  And, of course, you won‘t get it if you don’t know her, but if you send me just $20 through PayPal, I’ll fill you in.

Well, having gone girl crazy by twelve, and thumbing through the Sierra Junior High yearbook to count the ones I scored a kiss with, was not good preparation for marriage, as bad habits are hard to break.  And so it was with my steady high school girlfriend: I still played the field.  Probably the rationale for a cheat like me was, before one is married all that cheating doesn’t count. Right?  It’s like guys and gals are still virgins because they did everything but the horizontal mambo or had some latex between them as they danced.  Folks, virgin means not sexually touched, which is a lot more than you ever thought of before, isn’t it.  And while I’m on the subject of way-back-when, if some of our high school friends got pregnant and had to move away to have their babies, they weren’t any different than most of the rest.  They just got caught with evidence too big to hide.

Now the high school sweetheart may have figured this out from another story, but while she was the steady, I had met a girl from the Kailua High Madrigals (Hawaii), and was writing to her and to the steady at the same, while the steady was away for part of the summer.  Well, evidently I sent the steady girl’s letter to the one in Hawaii inadvertently, and the girl in Hawaii replied by sending back all the letters I had sent her, plus the wrong one.  (Took me 15 years to figure this out because of a possible form of lexdysia and/or that IQ gap.)

Another funny thing, or not so funny, was when we two were washing dishes over at my folks’ house.  So there we were, me washing and she drying and simulating a real life marital situation.  And during this preview of wedded bliss, she, smiling very cutely, handed an item back to me which wasn’t washed well.  This was a first for me; being corrected by a girlfriend or any girl, and found myself surprisingly annoyed, but nevertheless kept on washing on and smiling on as if I weren’t affected at all.  It’s a macho thing, not the façade of not showing any emotion, but the internal reaction.  Boy did she luck out after we went our separate ways.

Now for the final thing, I would like to share on this last girlfriend episode…

You know, there may be one reason you ought never to ask the other person why they love or like you because you may find out something you do not want to know.  Well, that situation happened when I asked her that question, and she told me, “You’re funny.”  So much for being handsome, intelligent, or talented.  Well, the plain truth was, I wasn’t sad or happy about the answer - I was shattered!  I don’t know why, though, seeing being funny was my way of striving for social acceptance for most of my life.  Anyway, luckily I got over it five months ago after forty-six years.  “How so?” you may ask.

There I was watching a weightlift guy on YouTube, and he was talking about what really attacks girls to guys.  (By the way, I’ve been pumping iron for five years now and am known as “The Incredible Bulk.")  The number one answer to what attracts a girl to a guy is not muscle or mind or money - it is a sense of humor.  Hmm!  So, a belated thanks for the compliment and hope you see that sense of humor in this story too. 

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Like most guys, I didn’t consider reading the instructions until all attempts to put my life back together had failed.  For over a year, after losing my family through divorce and being expelled from the small town where I was a city councilman, I spent the late night hours watching Tom Snyder’s The Tomorrow Show, Gene Autry westerns, and old Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.  It was a hopeless situation.  Hopeless.  When I got up the next day, it became a battle of boredom fought with cigarettes, and going down to the Sire's Bar & Grill on Magnolia for a few beers, or by buying some Carlo Rossi Chianti to take the edge off.

Anyway, I was also attending the First Baptist Church every Sunday with the folks, and wearing the same camel colored hand-me-down sports coat every week, like when I wore the same suit each Sunday at the Congregational Church as a kid.  The church scene wasn’t much help during that depressing year because I already knew church was pretty much theater: like the first Easter service I attended after returning home from Vietnam some twelve years earlier.  You know, put on your nice clothes, sit in a sanctuary (auditorium), and receive a bulletin (program) of the cast of characters with an outline of the acts and scenes.  On the platform (stage) were the ministers (actors), religious props, spotlights, a sound system, and in some cases ornate costumes. The congregation (audience) was passed an offering plate to pay for the show, and season tickets could be purchased on the installment plan (the tithe).  And before the service began (the performance) there were usually announcements, a warm-up act of singers or musicians; and after the benediction (The End) the actors mingled with the audience to solicit compliments.

I also figured if most church goers had been raised in India, they’d probably be Hindus; or in China, Buddhists; or in Turkey, Muslims, and haven’t changed my opinion on that subject.  And thinking back, most of the kids I went to school with had been instilled with only superficial religious do’s and don’ts; but in high school, many professed they were “saved.” This usually happened when they were 7 or 8 or 10 years old, but a different age when they were later baptized, and mighty proud they had been dunked.  This is like Roman Catholic kids are about their first communion or when they got a string of beads to pray with.

Well, one guy on the church staff, Fred Edwards, took me out to Bob’s Big Boy at The Plaza for lunch and told me, “God loves you.  Read your Bible.”  So, hearing this was like when you can’t get the newly purchased lawn mower put together without reading the directions, and you finally breakdown after you breakdown, and get out the instructions to do it the right way.  So I started reading the New Testament over and over again, wondering if the Jesus in the Bible was for real.  In my case, though, I didn’t need to be convinced step by step that I was a sinner, or driven down the “Roman Road,” because I already knew the turn for the worst days of my life was of my own doing.  As a matter of fact, when things began to crash down around me, someone led me in a sinner’s prayer, and said all I had to do afterward was to write my sins down on a piece of paper, burn it, and all would be forgiven and forgotten.  “Good Luck, Pete,” I thought, “How much paper will you need, and how in the world are you going to remember all those sins?”  But after Fred told me God loved me and to read my Bible, I felt impressed, while reading, to believe or not believe that Jesus Christ was really God’s Son.  And if he was God’s Son, I was going to follow him the rest of my life and do what he wanted me to do, whatever that was.  It was a case of a desperate man searching for an Almighty God to bail him out.

Believing in Jesus Christ was a solitary and simple non-theatrical experience in the den when it happened to me, and not in a church building or a crusader’s coliseum; and what preaching I heard was from Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.  So, I decided to pass over an invisible boundary by faith, having never read anything about an altar call, with every head bowed and every eyed closed; or slipping up a hand for the evangelist to see and count; or praying a sinner's prayer; or walking down an aisle to shake the preacher’s hand, because, I hadn’t read about those things in the Bible or ever would.  I just believed it was true about him and he was going to save me, or nobody was.  And at that precise moment someone else was occupying the same space I was taking up in the universe, and he was in me, too - the Lord Jesus Christ.

This scripture comes to mind what Jesus told his disciples before his death, how he would manifest himself to them, but not to the world, after he went away to the Father, “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.”  Yes, I knew that day he was for real and in me; and he had miraculously made me into another person, and someone I did not want to be in a million years – a Christian – a born again new creature.

Folks, it is no theory that you must be born again to see the kingdom of God or some cute terminology recited by mindless parishioner parrots who have no experiential application of the term.  A new life had begun for me, and he was the potter, and I was the clay.  Old things had passed away, and all things became new. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving my soul! 

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So, at 32 years old I found out it was true about the Jesus Christ in the Bible.  Wow!  Needless to say, I was excited to begin a new life in the Lord after spending the previous one in spiritual ignorance.  Of course, not knowing much about the faith, I kept reading the Bible several hours a day.  No longer was Christianity just another religion practiced by old flatulators and pickle suckers: it was for real, and I was anxious to start working for Lord.

Some of the first things I noticed in the Bible were people being baptized immediately after believing the gospel.  However, in my case, I had been told I was baptized in the Congregational Church when I was about three, but for some reason that didn’t sit well with me.  First and foremost, I didn’t remember it, and probably didn’t have a choice in the matter.  Also, a Congregational baptism is when the minister takes a finger or two of holy water and dribbles it on your forehead.  This practice is just fooling around with the word baptism to suit a denominational fancy and fabrication and is not the real thing.  Baptism is immersion in water, dunked, and now I call the dribble instead of dip method, sprinkle-ated.

Also in scripture, the first precedent for immediate baptism after believing was on Pentecost when 3000 souls were baptized, and no baptistery was on hand to expedite the procedure.  Somehow they got it done, though, God providing a way. Other examples are the jailer and his household being baptized in the middle of the night, and the eunuch Phillip baptized on the side of the highway.  And I suppose if one cannot be baptized for some reason, like the thief on the cross, the Lord Jesus has been baptized for them already when John the Baptist baptized the body of Christ in the Jordan River.

So, figuring one should be baptized sooner than later, I wrote a note to the pastor of the church, Ken Dalton, who then called me up to make an appointment to talk things over.  I guess he wanted to interview me and see if I had the real stuff or not or was I just trying to make my mama happy; or had I been hooked by of one of those missionary daters.  You know, the girls who go out with an unchurched guy and are determined to have him join their church for marriage down the road.  As a matter of fact, most all religions use, and don’t mind using, wiggly women as bait for evangelistic outreaches, whether Catholic or Protestant.  And as you probably have noticed, the two most important recorded weekly activities at the typical church are the headcount and offering tally – both of which are increased by successful missionary dating.

Well, not being a mindless teenager by this time, or having been influenced much by an institutional church, my only examples of doing things as a follower of Christ were in the scriptures.  However, this proved to be difficult for baptism and in many other areas.

After the pastor had interviewed me (and passing the test evidently), he explained the next Sunday was communion Sunday and not a good time for a baptism, so he’d baptize me the following week. Also, I would be sent some instructions for the event that would include bringing a towel and an extra pair of underwear.  Of course, the immediacy part was out the window, and I wished I could just head down to Newport Beach, an hour away, and fulfill as soon as possible the commandment, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.”  Having also a fertile imagination, I used my natural gift of sarcasm and pictured John the Baptist setting up appointments at his little desk in the wilderness to interview the thousands who had flocked to hear him preach.  But before he’d proceed with their baptisms, he’d send them instructions to bring a towel and an extra pair of underwear, and make them wait until the week after Passover.  This postponement would be necessary as most everyone would put a roast or ham in the oven Passover morning to be ready after temple, which ought to end by 12 o’clock sharp if John B knew what was good for him.

Well, when the day arrived, July 12, 1982, I went to the church office to wait with the other baptismal candidate, a young man in college, but he was getting nervous and cold feet at the last moment.  I tried to reassure him that it was the right thing to do, and getting baptized now was better than later or never.  So we went to the dressing room with the pastor and donned our t-shirts and shorts or pants while the pastor put on his waders.  Then we took turns being dunked in front of the congregation, stepping down into the immersed stairway into the baptistery. 

As it happened, the pastor had asked me to say a few words at my baptism during the interview a couple of weeks before, probably noting that I talked a lot.  So I thanked my folks and the Lord for the respite during the previous year and a half of difficulties, got in the proper position while pinching my nose, and let the pastor lay me back down under the water.  At that point, everything went into slow motion.  And as he expertly lowered me backward and let the water rise over my body and head, it seemed my momentum stopped with my nose still protruding out of the water, and I wondered if the Lord was holding things up because I wasn’t worthy.  But finally, I fully submerged and came up out of the water and almost heard God’s voice notifying me, and the congregation, that I was one of his sons.  It was a wonderful feeling of acceptance by my new forever Father.

Afterward, in the dressing room, there was a atomospher of giddiness and joy - as if we had taken a few slugs of Baptist contraband - and the pastor revealed his waders had leaked, and his underwear was wet.  “Does anyone have a pair of dry underwear I can borrow?”  This, he inquired, as he had yet to conduct the rest of the service and give the sermon.  Happily I volunteered my pale blue bikini briefs, for which he was grateful, and the newly baptized went to the pews and the bikini boy to the pulpit.  Of course, I visualized him wearing the stylish underwear for the rest of the service, and his secret was safe with me and anyone that would listen to the tale.  Later he sent a thank you note along with the borrowed garment.  How could it be otherwise: my whole life, and in many other sober situations, were accompanied with humorous tidbits of circumstances.

Another story about the pastor happened one summer day when the air conditioning unit was out in the sanctuary...

You know how it goes at churches; the temperature has to be 68-70 degrees on Sunday morning, especially in the summer, so the men can wear a suit coat or sports jacket and be comfortable, and women can be fashionably overdressed when it is boiling hot outside.  (Colder for some fellowships where they have lots of big people.  I know this after spending a total of seven years as a church janitor, where we had to keep the thermostat locked lest it was constantly adjusted.)  Well, it seems the men had taken their coats off, as common sense would dictate, and the pastor, feeling somewhat out of place and looking like a homeless person wearing all the clothes he owned at the same time, offered an excuse for wearing a coat in the inferno.  He explained:  While at the seminary as a lad, he was told the only preacher who could take his coat off while preaching was Billy Sunday: an early 20th-century evangelist, who demonstratively gestured, stomped around on the platform, and tossed chairs about while working up a gymnast’s sweat.  Shortly after the pastor’s explanation, he began to succumb to the heat, grew faint, and had to take a timeout and take his coat off to complete the service.  This clerical coat ordinance is practiced by many other denominations like the Salvation Army.  Their preachers, however, are allowed to take their uniform coat off if it is too hot, but never the tie.

This reminds me of the missionary who went to the tropical highlands of Angola in 1920 and said they always wore a tie in the mission field, preaching or not; even while trekking in the bush looking for an antelope to shoot for dinner, or kill a lion who had been intimidating a village.  And for some reason now, I wonder about the Roman Catholic priests on hot days and all those vestments; and if they have a catheter bag strapped to their leg, seeing how ballroom gowns must be cumbersome and time-consuming when having to use the restroom.  Anyway, after being baptized, I was on my way to take Billy Sunday’s place and Jimmy Swaggart’s too.  Here is a brief obituary link on Kenneth A. Dalton who was 61 years old the day he baptized us.  Now I’m older than that.

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Maybe you have come across people who are going to heaven because their uncle was a priest, their brother was a minister or their mother was a nun. (wink)  Actually, I’ve heard this type of claim several times when I’d go out street witnessing, dressed in a fisherman’s vest stuffed with gospel tracks, or door to door with a friend.  But I don‘t go door to door anymore because the Lord Jesus said not to, seeing door-to-door evangelists are like door to door salesmen.  You know, they are usually domestic missionaries for a denomination (a religious corporation); devised a plan to talk you into buying something you weren’t in the market for; want you to make a decision without thinking about it, and after you are converted to their church, which is not the Lord’s church, they hope to extract money from you for the rest of your life.  We Christians are not 501(c)3 non-profit (non-prophet) door to door salesmen, who “compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”  Some of you reading this, however, have been suckered into institutional churches and have become institutionalized.  “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues,” as the Lord says.

Anyway, my Uncle Emil Pearson, a 10-year-old when he came from Sweden, and Aunt Daisy, born in England, were missionaries in Angola for 46 years and were my handy spiritual references before I knew the Lord.  When asked about my religious status, or wanted to seem properly spiritual, I’d say, “Well, my great uncle and aunt are missionaries in Africa.”  And after they retired and moved to Seal Beach, California, we’d visit them when I was in high school, and later as an adult.  They didn’t press me about the faith, but on one occasion when they were visiting in Riverside, and I was alone with them out on the driveway, Aunt Daisy asked about the girlfriend I had – what was her religion?  Well, grasping for something that would sound like a right answer, and knowing that the girl’s family had been Mormons at one time, I said she was a Mormon.  Then Aunt Daisy, not exactly a diplomat while shaking a finger, said, “Ah ha!” and gave her diagnoses, “Peter, we know that the devil has been after you for years!”  Boy, was I shocked to hear this, talking about the devil as if he was a real person; and totally ticked off Uncle Emil was just standing there not reeling her in.  Well, come to find out some twelve years later, she was right about things, but I still don’t care for the way she scolded me while Uncle was stoically standing by and not saying a word.

And now, after some time, I realize that they, as many married people, are a team like the bad cop/good cop players, where one is hardnosed and the other is easygoing, but they are actually working together.  I didn’t figure this out until a few years ago about my own parents, one being the softy and the other the hard-n-crusty; but if it’s not the man who is hard as nails, it’s the man who is using his wife to do the dirty work.  (Ahab’s Jezebel comes to mind here.)  This marital tag team is somewhat like businessmen using women under the benevolent guise of being a woman’s libber.  Shrewdly they get a woman to work harder for less money, have her dish it out and take all the flack, while hiding behind her skirt or pant suit, without having to be the jerk of a boss that they really are. (After all, they hired her.) Sorry girls, the truth is, the head of the woman is the man.  But this fact is not a suggestion, a request, or a commandment by a misogynist apostle: it is just the way it is if one is a believer or not, and whether you believe it or not.  (I Corinthians 11)  And another thing, most married people will stick together, right or wrong, over their parents, children or anyone else.  And that’s probably the way it ought to be, seeing the marital bond is the strongest family bond and the only one the Lord did not come to set a variance against, directly or indirectly until death do ye part. (Matthew 10:34…)  Even Ananias and Sapphire, who lied about the percentage of an offering they gave to the church, were supernaturally excommunicated on the marital plan, by sudden death, being co-conspirators.

Uncle Emil had lots of stories about Africa starting when he went there in 1920, so I enjoyed hearing about these things.  There was hunting; trekking through the countryside for ten days to the nearest railroad head; building bridges, schools, and smokehouses, and eating a steak cut off and cooked from a Zebra he killed while out in the bush with the natives.  However, they thought it not a good idea to put Zebra on the menu, even though they were starved at the time: a Zebra barbecue was taboo.  Curiously, though, after roasting the African viande de cheval (horse meat), they asked, “How is it, Mr. Pearson?  The Zebra meat?”  He responded while chewing, “Why, it’s very good!  Would you like to try some?”  So, as it turned out, Zebra is a tasty meal to anyone when they are hungry, taboo or not.  Well, after the Lord Jesus saved me, I became more interested in Emil’s spiritual insights; so when visiting as a Christian with the folks, I’d waited patiently for some manna to fall from heaven.

As it happened on one occasion, I noticed Emil’s Bible was next to me on the end table, and casually picked it up to thumb through the pages, suspecting he had scribbled plenty of enlightening notes within.  After all, he had been a Bible scholar for seventy years, a linguist, and had personally made two complete translations for a parallel Bible, in Luchazi and Portuguese.  However, I was shocked in my diggings not to unearth any gems at first.  But finally I found several repetitious phrases he had underlined in the first chapter of Genesis, “And God said... and it was so.” There they were, just like that without the words in between the phrases underlined.  Initially, I was disappointed to find so little, but this was short-lived, for what better thing to remember from the Bible scholar than - whatever God says is the way it is:  no matter what anyone says, or what anyone thinks, or even how it appears.

On another visit to Emil's, I proudly told him I had bought a commentary by Adam Clark, and he responded by saying, “Oh, I'm way beyond commentaries.” This innuendo was understood right away; meaning, he had a real personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ - direct – and not through the local pastor, a popular preacher, a church, or a commentary – a relationship like the big boys have with the Lord. 

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What’s your choice after becoming a Christian if you want to know anything about the faith?  Well, for me, having gone to the Congregational Church until 18 years old, I didn’t learn much, or at home either, except how to double Windsor knot a tie and polish my shoes.  So, after the Lord saved me, I was mighty hungry to know the things of God, but maybe it was an asset not being brainwashed by institutional religion.  Nevertheless, frustration was met as a new believer because the only education available was attending the regular church services, and Sunday school classes offered by classification, none of which were for me, a single adult.  However, I do remember attending one of the young married Sunday school class gatherings at a home.

So there we were, getting educated in the things of God by playing a game; the men having to take off their shirts for some reason and pass an orange by their neck to the necks of the women. Wow! Out of the Baptist frying pan and into the fire.  I already had enough bad habits the Lord had to get out of my system, and now at the Sunday school function, it was a prelude to strip poker and wife swapping.  If you don’t think it was the beginnings of sex play, read Ezekiel Chapter 8 and find out what really is going on at the temple/church building: a religious theater where one can give or watch a performance while idolatry goes on behind the curtains.  It’s all in plain view, folks, and in front of the curtains as well, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.  Ezekiel was supernaturally given a tour of the place, and the priests were discovered to be practicing sun god worship, and it’s going on in church buildings today.  I’d tell you more about it now, but you couldn’t comprehend it, and wouldn’t want to know if you did - probably.

Well, it’s true; the Lord works in mysterious ways by saving the unlikely, and meeting and teaching them where they’re at.  So, while watching the idiot box one night, I was flipping through the channels and came across a Christian TV program on UHF.  There she was in living platinum, a woman having enough pigment on her face to paint a Picasso, with tears gulley-washing down her face and creating a Maybelline mascara wadi below each eye and cheek.  Even as a barbarian, I never thought much about makeup, and was going to surf on to the next channel, but stayed with it because she was talking about Billy Graham coming up next.  (Interestingly, Scripture mentions makeup exclusively in regards to harlots and other bad women: Genesis 38:6-30; II Kings 9:30; Ezekiel 23:38-41; Jeremiah 4:30; Leviticus 19:28.)

Anyway, I’d heard about Billy before, and thought I’d watch his crusader film in the next segment in spite of Sister Jezzie Belle.  Then one thing led to another, and I found Bible teachers on the channel, the likes of Jimmy Swaggart, Kenneth Hagen, Kenneth Copeland, and Fred Price, to name a few of those 10,000 instructors Paul talks about. (I Corinthians 4:15)  You see, they had answers to my questions, right or wrong, and I thought of them as heavyweights in the church, until realizing God had already provided us with the genuine heavyweight champions through his inspired, inerrant writings called Scripture.  Didn’t you ever think about it?  Martin Luther and Billy Graham don’t have their books in the Bible, or any of the other modern-day wandering stars.  But the New Testament writers have their books in the Bible and are still alive in Christ and ministering to us today.  Of course, a lot of people don’t accept the Lord Jesus’ apostolic authority, especially Paul’s, because they’re in a different church then God’s church, as it is written, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.”

After I moved on to the Nazarene Church and getting hired on as the janitor, the pastor showed an interest in me, thinking I’d be good for a preacher’s license, and said I could study under him along with the general education courses.  However, it was going to cost me $5 to put in an application, and, evidently, he wasn’t going to contribute to or anyone else.

Now Listen: The church might take up an offering for the hired and highly paid pastor, to get his daughter a plane ticket home for the holidays, or slip him a handsome cash bonus unreported to the IRS at the end of the year, but not five bucks for a new Christian’s education.  Perhaps the church board was swamped with such educational requests and afraid they’d bust the budget.  However, this spirit of paying as you pray, giving as you go, and handing it over as you hallelujah, was part of the lesson the Holy Ghost was starting to teach me about the contradictions of the institutional church.

This reminds me: When asking an old missionary (who spent his own meager funds bailing out imprisoned tax debtors from their colonial oppressors) if he did it all over again, what he would do differently?  He said the first thing he would do would be to start a Bible college.  This was an unexpected answer, and I, figuring the African natives were living pretty primitive at the time, couldn’t picture a Bible college being the priority.  But if you think about it, all you need for a Bible College is a Bible and the Holy Ghost teacher.  (I wonder if he would have charged them five bucks to register?)  Anyway, I didn’t come up with the $5 to apply for the Nazarene course, figuring God would hold it against the pastor and the church for charging fees to educate the ignorant about the Lord Jesus’ salvation, a free gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.  Later I would learn how to “take of the water of life freely.“

Sometimes, way back then, I used a lamp timer, hooked up to a television and tape recorder at the same time, to go off when a certain Bible teacher came on the tube.  This was done while I was at church cleaning 21 toilets, or catching a pastor carrying on with a secretary.  (Evidently a common interdenominational problem everywhere.)  And while doing my janitorial duties, I used a pair of radio headphones to listen to a Christian station, KMAY, hours on end, broadcasting on it myself a year or two later.  And then, while studying the Bible at home and having questions, I’d jot down the verse’s address, and if the pastor wasn’t around, used his library to look things up.  Well, after a while, I started to accumulate several translations of the Holy Writ myself, starting with a Gideon’s Bible I liberated from a waiting room at Loma Linda Hospital while visiting my friend Ed Orum one day.  Later I purchased a concordance, commentaries, lexicons and other things.

But now, after 32 years, I find the best thing to do is keep on reading the 1611 Authorized Version and using a good dictionary, plus a concordance online these days.  The word of God will explain itself in an order that the Lord wants you to understand, or he can drop answers to your questions supernaturally into your skull.  The dropped-into-your-skull method is especially exciting as there is no doubt the answer came directly from him!  It’s just like the Lord Jesus said about the Holy Ghost teacher, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." 

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“You'll be just like the rest of us." 

It was difficult being full of excitement about the Lord Jesus Christ in the sanctuary week after week while everyone sat sedately.  The pastor, on the other hand, was bubbling with enthusiasm, and on occasion, let the pew potatoes know it was alright to let loose with an “Amen” if they were so inclined, but it never happened.  I thought of it myself, shouting a Christian exclamation, but didn’t, as a spirit of oppression prevailed.  Besides, good Baptists don’t want to get emotional in the service and be misidentified as Pentecostal or Charismatic.  Anyway, the pastor could get away with encouraging such things, and maybe doing them himself, as he was on the stage and the others weren’t.  And maybe what enthusiasm he projected was genuine.  But then again, he was hired to be spiritual.  It was at this point I was afraid of catching what the congregation had - rigor mortis.  This was as good as confirmed one day when one of my Baptist friends from another church gave me this assurance, “Yes, you’re all full of excitement now as a new Christian, but someday you’ll be just like the rest of us.”  Look out!  Someday I was going to be like the rest of them? Dead?  “Let me out of here!” I thought to myself and started to make the rounds to other churches.

Luckily I met Carol Phillips whose age was a secret even the National InSecurity Agency couldn’t find out.  I met her at church somehow, and learned she attended and skedaddled from a Sunday school class to two other a.m. meetings; a different one at night, and one or two more during the week.  So, being without a car, it was to our mutual advantage to pal up for a while: perhaps, she having a man to talk to, and me opportunities to visit other fellowships.  Well, I don’t know how many we went to, but one morning she took me over to the Arlington Avenue Church of the Nazarene.  All I remember was the sanctuary was cold because the furnace was out, but heard some heated amens from the congregation.  Also, there was an older woman that would pull herself up by one hand on the pew in front, and wave her cane in the air with the other while shouting praises.  This appealed to me, and I also started to attend their singles home Bible study.

The home study was a diverse group, and I made some friends, and at the end of the meetings, everyone would hold hands and pray, taking turns going around the circle.  We were told if we didn’t want to pray, we could squeeze the hand of the one to the right, and they would take our turn.  Well, having never prayed but a little prayer at meal time with the family (though I had been praying in private), I’d squeeze the next hand in relief.  This avoidance of praying out loud in a group worked for a while until I attended the church’s Wednesday night prayer meeting several times.  They didn’t hold hands in a circle with the built-in escape clause, and one night the pastor asked me to pray the final prayer.  Well, as panic struck me like a bolt of lightning,  I stretched my hands heavenward in desperation, like Peter might have while sinking into the sea of Galilee, and let loose with a thunderous and adrenaline injected prayer.  Afterward, one of the seniors, Viola Johnson, encouraged me, shook my hand and said I did a real fine job.  I wondered if anyone sneaked a peek at my waving hands, though.  Talking about Viola, later she would be the piano player on my first assignment of holding a service over at the Olive Grove Retirement Community on California Avenue.

Maybe at this time I should clarify a point: Some 32 years have passed, and I have found one can never judge a pew potato by their actions or lack of actions in the sanctuary.  And if it’s true that the world is a stage and every player must play a part in the church theater, what Christian enthusiasm counts is what’s going on in one’s private life, off stage and away from the audience.  This thought is based on the principle taught by the Lord Jesus about giving, praying, and fasting in secret, because people may do these types of things in public to gain religious recognition for themselves, but the real Christians will do them in private for sure: it’s part of their born-again nature.  Like the old missionary told me about the time he was walking cross country alone for ten days to the nearest railroad head.  He said he enjoyed the trek in God’s wilderness so much, he took to shouting and leaping along the way while praising the Lord.  I was shocked to hear this confession from an outwardly conservative Christian, who was born way back when in 1897.  It was way back when Mark Twain, Buffalo Bill, and Alexander Graham Bell were still going strong; when men were men, women didn’t wear pants, and moms delivered the babies God had put in their wombs if it was convenient or not.

Also, Christians who are for real will take the devil’s existence for real and deal with him in private and public, as in the signs that follow new believers, “In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.”  Remember, it was when the Lord Jesus was alone in the wilderness, with no crowd to impress, that he commanded Satan to get behind him, and he did.

By the way, if you keep on reading and studying the scriptures, you won’t become like the rest of them.  Do I hear an Amen?

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I suppose you noticed these here memories are not in chronological order – and either is my thinking.  For some reason, I started recalling experiences with cars and trucks.  You know, Americans have a love relationship with their vehicles, and those of us who have a love relationship with our wives know that love comes with unexpected consequences.

I had a few consequences with cars and trucks that can be told now as the statute of limitations has passed.  Take the time I drove the family car, a white 1962 Ford Fairlane 500 in broad daylight from Madison Avenue to 14th Street on the 91 Freeway at 120 mph.  Of course, all of my vehicles have been taken to the limits, except the last one, which is probably an age thing.  Even the 1970 Toyota Corolla was pushed to its maximum, often and for long periods; a bucket of bolts when new, whose speedometer went to 90mph.  (I bought a red one because it was Marti Stout’s favorite color, and I see her obituary picture reflects that.)  A younger friend of mine, Tony Stevens, also drove the same freeway on his Kawasaki years later but said he didn’t know how fast he was going after 130 because he couldn’t look down at the speedometer any longer, which was probably a concentration thing.

Also on that Ford: I was racing it around and threw its automatic transmission into a lower gear while at high speed, and evidently a seal busted, for which I never confessed.  But one confession is when John Bangle (a Madrigal guy) and I were taking a dirt road in Riverside.  I tried to locate it on Google Earth between 14th Street and University Avenue, but things have changed in 48 years.  Anyway, I’d driven that way before, but decided to explore another road that soon produced ruts running parallel with the road.  So I did what anyone with a lick of sense would do and turned around to go back.  But when I did, the front tires dropped into a rut, and the rear tires fell into a rut, and the car’s body was only a few inches above the ground.  Then, while trying to get it out by rocking it back and forth, and panic eyeing me from not too far away to assist, the thought of having to call my parents manifested a stroke of genius.  We took the bumper jack out of the trunk and jacked the front end up all the way, which put the front tires above the rut.  Then, after revving the engine while in low gear and pushing on the brake, we let her loose, and the rear traction of the wheels catapulted us forward out of the predicament.  This worked well except for the lower lip of the bumper being slightly bent up where the jack had been engaged.  However, it was not small enough to go unnoticed, and I went home and confessed the incident.

Another memorable event was the time Dan Read and I traveled to New York and back in the Toyota on a 9,000-mile peddle-to-the-metal race for three weeks.  We plotted the 1970 summer journey from relative’s house to relative’s house, so we’d have a place to stay on occasion; and on the leg from Arlington, TX to Elmira, NY, I drove the first night.  Dan woke up some hours later and asked where we were, but I didn’t have a clue, not even knowing what state we were in.  I guess being somewhat brain dead from the lack of sleep, I saw a highway sign that looked good and took it for no logical reason.  Anyway, after Dan figured out what state we were in, we got back on the right road.

Also on the same trip, in Washington D.C., after parking in front of the White House and walking around, we came back to the car and found it had a flat tire, but the resident at the time, Dick Nixon, didn’t lend a hand.  This was when security wasn’t a gigantic issue, as Presidents didn’t have to worry much about masses of voters trying to kill them for a multitude of justifiable reasons.  And this reminds me of when the White House was being refurbished while Ulysses S. Grant was President.  It is reported he daily walked unescorted the several blocks to his White House office from his hotel, as passers-by tipped their hats and casually greeted him, “Good morning, Mr. President,” or “Good morning, General.  Of course, this was when Presidents thought of themselves as servants to the citizens, and not as Caesars that had to be chauffeured around in what they would eventually call “The Beast.”  (You Revelation buffs ought to take note of that.)

The Toyota, 40 miles per gallon miser when gas was 40 cents a gallon, was a substitute Jeep for me.  One day I left a good gravel road to cross over to a barely used sandy one, which appeared to pass through the sagebrush to a canal at Fish Slough in Inyo County.  This turned out to be a mistake; and trying to get back up onto the elevated gravel road from the soft sandy shoulder proved impossible, no matter how long and hard I bounced on down the shoulder looking for a place to get back up. Finally my former brother-in-law and I stopped, got out, and hoofed it the seven miles back to town for help.  This was also the same car I sold to a guy I worked with for $500, and a real steal of a deal for him.  And so it happened after I signed it over, but before getting the money, he left town in a day or two; but I’m still hopeful he will pay for it after 42 years.  However, it comes out to about $27,382 with interest, and perhaps I’m dreaming.  Where are you, Oakley Eugene Rowe?  It’s OK.  I forgive you.

One more thing about the Toyota:  It proved to be pretty water tight when stalled in a creek crossing until one opened the doors to get out and push it over to dry land.  But luckily the engineers had designed it with a couple of rubber plugs on the floor to let the water out.

Another vehicle was the ‘72 VW Bus, and this was during the stage when I got interested in auto mechanics for about 15 minutes.  You see, I had bought a book on VW engine repair and maintenance, and was going to start by changing the spark plugs.  Well, the manual said the spark plug ports needed to be cleaned before replacing the plugs, as it was an aluminum alloy head.  So, not having the right tool, I used a bore brush to sweep the threads a bit, but it fell into the cylinder.  Of course, this was impossible for me to get out, and I had to have a real mechanic tow it to his shop for the extraction.  (About the same fee for pulling an impacted wisdom tooth.)  Auto mechanics was a short-lived interest.

I also got the VW stuck in the same Fish Slough area mentioned above, as some folks have to learn by repetition.  It wasn’t a matter of trying to get up on the road again this time because it was stuck in the sand instead, but inspiration was soon to follow.  We let half the air out of the tires affording us more traction and off we went.  Perhaps I am writing these car and truck tales to encourage those who do dumb things, that there may be a way out of their dilemma if they think about it.  Then again, maybe you don’t get yourself in dilemmas too often.  My wife, for example, only had one minor incident which was when her 1976 Datson B-210 slipped on the ice and over into the gutter, but she pushed it back onto the road because it was so light.  (Or was it because she was so strong?)  By the way, this is not the first wife who got the same make and model year in the divorce.

Then there was the deer hunt in the High Sierras with some friends, including John Bellona, Clifford Gilbert, and the Queen of Downey, and I took the VW and John took a jeep.  Well, it got rather chilly that night, and in the morning both vehicles wouldn’t start, and the thought of trying to hike out of the wilderness several miles wasn’t too appealing.  So, we decided to drain the oil out of the VW because the problem was having the wrong weight oil for the below-freezing weather.  The plan was to start it up without oil but have it at the ready to pour back in as soon as it turned over.  Luckily it worked, and we were able to jump start the Jeep.

Well, there are other car and truck tales to tell, like spending a night below zero at a visitor’s center outside of Chicago in a toppered truck bed, curled up in two down sleeping bags.  And another winter wonderland experience of being stuck bumper to bumper in the hills of Pennsylvania on Interstate 80.  There we waited for six hours in the night for the snow plows to clear the road, while turning on the engine periodically to warm the cab.  Finally, they got the job done, and the stranded vehicles were so tightly packed together, I had to fold in the side mirrors when we finally began to roll.  And if I recall anything else, I might add it on.


A few minutes ago I was in the easy chair having a cup of tea, and two car license plates came to mind.  One was the ’62 Ford Fairlane mentioned above, which was PPW 666, and the unmentioned ’66 VW Bug in this story, which was SYN 040.  Both were appropriate for what they were used for in my case.  Of course, I went to the Congregational Church and wouldn’t have a clue about 666, but SYN, on the other hand, I had plenty of experiential knowledge about.

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Well, most of my Christian education and influence was coming from the TV channel I mentioned before, with the living platinum hostess and her sweetly matching appareled husband.  There was, for example, Arthur Blessitt who carried a twelve-foot cross around the world and handed out gospel tracts, and other street witnesses one could take a leading from, and so I did.  Janet Stone, a woman from the singles Bible study at the Nazarene Church, took me to LA a couple of times to the Free Tract Society, and I got several tracts based on different subjects and loaded them into separate pockets of a fishing vest.  They were used for customized presentations when going to downtown Riverside’s White Park, the Greyhound Bus Depot nearby, and on some of the adjacent streets.

White Park was, and is, a small, tidy city park, that transients and homeless people would take refuge in during the day.  It also had the reputation of being a place where hopeful homosexuals hung out.  Anyway, I‘d snag some girl to go with me to make my rounds, and engage people in a conversation about the Lord, like I saw on the tube.  One time I was talking to a pachuco, a Hispanic juvenile gang member, wearing a white t-shirt, baggy khaki pants, and a blue bandana tied around his head.  While giving my spiel, it seemed like he wasn’t paying any attention; just scanning to the left and right as if on guard for a foe, and not making a moment of eye contact.  And as I finished, I asked him the routine question, if he wanted to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his Saviour.  To my surprise, he said yes, and we prayed right there in public.  A couple of weeks later I saw him and his life had been changed dramatically.  He had dropped out of gang life, put away his gang clothes, and was living for the Lord.  And as with many other people downtown, I never saw him again - but I’ll see you in heaven, Amigo.

Another time at the park, when approaching a small group, there was a tattoo of the Virgin Mary covering the whole shirtless back of a guy, from the neck to the crack.  So as we got next to him, he turned around to display a 666 in ornate numbers about six inches tall tattooed on his abdomen.

One time at the bus depot, I approached a man about 45 years old, a regular sort of guy, and gave my name as I started a conversation.  When asking for his name, he said it was 999, and I said, “Don’t you mean 666?” And he replied, “You can read it any way you like.”

Also, for a while, I’d go to White Park and preach on Sundays after church, and play my guitar and sing, but usually, no one stopped.  Then one day, about 12 young men sat down on the grass and listened to the service.  This was very encouraging, and I would have come every week for twelve, or even one, but many churches will close their midweek or Sunday night service for lack of numbers.  Some will even shut down for football games! “Neither be ye idolaters, as were some of them; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.”

Maybe this park preaching idea came from a street preacher I’d seen some time earlier at the old bus depot.  As he was going at it one night, I stopped to listen while everyone was passing him by on the sidewalk.  What he was saying was very good, so I’d give an amen every now and then to encourage him, and after his message, he asked if he could pray for me.  I said okay.  He asked what gift I wanted from the Lord, and I told him.  So there in the middle of the sidewalk and people bustling by, he prayed, and I was transported to another realm.  My eyes were closed, and all I could hear was his voice, and then he gave some specific instructions about fasting.  Afterward, I walked or floated, the three miles home where I was accused of being drunk.

There was another evangelist at the park.  She was a thin woman about 50 or 60 dressed in a suit, sitting on a bench to get some sun, as she had been recuperating from an illness.  (I found this out later.)  She just sat there patiently and waited until someone stopped to say hello, and then she’d hand them a Gospel tract.  She was doing what she could do for the Lord and letting him make the appointments.

This reminds me of another woman evangelist, someone in her late 70’s or 80’s that was homebound and in bed most of the time.  She would read the obituaries and look up surviving family members’ addresses in the telephone book, and pen them a personal gospel message.  You never know who’s doing what in the church, but most are doing it without a parsonage or parsonage allowance, free utilities, telephone, and internet; without being provided home insurance, health insurance, and car allowances; or bonuses, birthday gifts, paid vacations, and retirement benefits; and seminars including airfare, hotel, and restaurant expenses.  And if you ever thought about it, all the wandering star evangelists, if they ever led someone to the Lord, was because of the efforts of someone else, years or decades before, who planted the seed of faith and prayed - but you’ll never hear about them.  However, the Lord knows about them, “For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.”

Now talking about serving the Lord without fanfare, take the steel worker at the Nazarene Church who did the 5th graders Sunday school class.  The reason?  He did so while leaning heavily on them to memorize scripture, because that is what was emphasized to him as a lad, and it paid off.  You see, one day, years after his 5th grade Sunday school class, and not a Christian yet, the ammunition ship he was on as a sailor caught fire, and they were ordered to get ready to abandon ship, mostly by jumping overboard.  Then all of a sudden from the past, a scripture he memorized in his 5th grade Sunday school class came to mind, enabling him to get right with the Lord before the ship blew up, or he had to jump, or both.  Well, the ship didn’t blow up and he didn’t have to jump overboard, but he did get saved from drowning in the lake of fire.

So, after making my rounds through the park and bus depot, I’d head back over to Market Street, and a couple of times I stopped at the adult book store next to the park to tell them about Jesus Christ.  (I see the shop is still there on Google Earth, and the naked truth is, it must be a record-busting business for being there so long.)  When entering into the porno shop the first time, there was a surreal white cloud filling the room.  Really.  All I could see was the clerk who sat at a desk sitting on a small elevated platform with the cash register, and everything around him and the shop was fogged out in white.  He was very friendly and I told him about the Lord Jesus and asked to leave some gospel tracts.  He said okay.  I also asked him if women came into the shop, and he said they were starting to do so lately, which was way back in 1983.  Things have gotten worse, however.  Now some women are crude, rude and tattooed like men; have day care hireling’s watch their children; compete with the male gender in smoking and drinking, and die prematurely of heart attacks and strokes in approaching equal and non-discriminatory numbers.  However, the next time I went into the porno shop, the white cloud wasn’t there, and I could see the magazine racks and whatever else, and started to get distracted; so I didn’t go in again.  And then there was the nearby bar across from the De Anza Theater.  It had red French doors with porthole windows, and I thought I’d swing in one day and tell them about the Lord.  But when I entered, it was the old familiar stale cigarette smoke and tinkling of glasses hidden in the dark room that coaxed me back out.  Now I must tell a little story from Marine Corps days when I preached in a bar at 18 years old, 14 years before getting saved and having a commission from the Lord.

It was in Okinawa, on the way over to Vietnam in December of 1968, where we stayed for a week before flying the last leg to Da Nang.  Well, over in Okinawa there was no minimum drinking age anyone cared about, and we, recent high school graduates, for the most part, took to the bars and some to the whore houses, like good patriotic American servicemen do.  It was during one of those nights on the town that I got discussed with all the debauchery going on, as some of the guys would be leaving one by one with a hooker for a $2.00 quickly.  So I slugged down several vodkas to build up my courage and proceeded to give a boisterous sermon about sin to the amusement of onlookers.  Talk about calling the kettle black.

In conclusion on downtown Riverside evangelism: I only got kicked out of the bus depot once by a security guard and chased out of the park by a city cop when Todd Stevens (also known as “XL”) and I were offering orange juice and donuts to the homeless.  Nevertheless, the word of God was distributed, and what the Lord did with it is his business: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.”  Also, there was the time I took in a homeless couple for the night from the park and drove them to a welfare building in Los Angeles the next day.  They said they’d been stranded in Riverside for two weeks and were trying to get to LA.  But the day after I took them into LA, they were back in White Park again.  It was never a dull moment downtown, and an education you couldn’t get at a seminary.

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From an F to an A

In an effort to get my life and mind back together after it spiraled cataclysmically down the toilet, I started to take a few courses at Riverside Community College in 1981 and met up with the Lord during that time.  As a matter of fact, the way I first developed a relationship with him was through college work, believe it or not.  You see, I was not born a genius by anyone’s imagination, but found out the Lord would teach me how to take notes, study, and take tests, and even what to write on finals.  I’ll give you my best example…

If you ever read the story, The Coveted F Award, you know that I had some weaknesses in the English language: couldn’t spell, or understand parts of speech, or diagram a sentence to save my bacon.  However, I was acing the subjects that made sense like Health Science, Business Math, and Astronomy, which have to do with logic and others that don’t, like psychology.  If you have ever thought about it, psychology is kind of insane, as one minute a particular condition is a mental illness worthy of the couch or the prescription, and the next it is just an alternate lifestyle to be embraced by society as normal.

Well, there came a time when I had to take an English composition class.  And even though I had the mentioned liabilities, I had been a pretty active letter writer, especially in Vietnam where I toted a dictionary everywhere, and maybe writing two hundred letters during my tour.  So, the first day in English, the teacher introduced himself to us.  He was a seasoned junior college instructor who could intimidate recent high school graduates, and laid down the ground rules for his class; a potentate and one had to do what he said whether it was right, or wrong, or obviously illegal.  (This particular psychological delusional disorder is called tenure.)  And what was his first edict?  You could write about anything you wanted to in his class except religion.  Oops, did I get the wrong teacher or what?  My new found faith was about the only thing I wanted to write about, and he was taking the wind out of my sails.   But there was one good thing – we could use dictionaries in class.

There was also a biology teacher at RCC, Cecil Johnson, who had an untreatable case of tenure.  In the introduction to one of his lecture classes, he said, “And all you virgins out there, I can smell you.  Get out of here!”  He was known to have carried a cadaver’s leg wrapped in a blanket on campus, and stopped students to let them take a peek at his “baby.”  Also, he had climbed up one of the tall palm trees at RCC to swing back and forth on, to show its flexibility and strength, and, evidently, a John Barleycorn dietician who advised one beer could be substituted for one slice of bread.  In other words, you could drink your bread.  He had also been a fill-in host for The Joe Pyne Show.  Cecil talked about days gone by, like the time in his college dissection class in human anatomy.  He said his cadaver was shared with two female partners who ate tuna fish sandwiches from one hand while poking around the formaldehyde-soaked deceased with the other, to nauseate him.  So one day, he inserted something into the male corpse’s genitalia, which was at full mast when the two girls drew back the sheet.

Anyway, I remember the first essay I wrote for my college English class, about 10-speed bikes, having one instead of a car at the time, and received my graded paper back with a C minus.  It was marked all over in red ink, like Cecil Johnson’s eyeballs may have looked on Monday morning after drinking a loaf of bread.  It wasn’t starting off well, and I was getting concerned that my A average was going to get compromised, but at least I was doing better than in Wanda Wolf’s high school class, where I earned not quite a D minus.  (The Coveted F Award.)  So as we learned to write in different styles, I inserted some “religious” borderline comments along the way to test the waters, and my grades started to improve.  One of the most helpful writing tips I got in class was to read your paper out loud to yourself before finishing, which I have always done since, and before giving them to my wife to read out loud to me.  Not only would I read my English papers out loud, but I'd also liberally use a red pen to make corrections.

Well, I was getting a grasp on this writing business, but knew if I didn’t get an A on the final, I wouldn’t get an A for the semester.  And when the day of truth came, the final consisted of writing in the different styles we had learned, but there was an optional extra credit portion, which one would have to do in order to score high enough for an A.  The extra credit essay was, “Why are you attending RCC and taking this English class.”  When I actually got to this part and thought of what I’d write, the presence of the Holy Ghost told me in a powerful way, to let the teacher know how Jesus Christ had saved my soul, and weave it in with the answer.  My eyes welled up with tears, and I was shaking a bit and got all choked up as I am now, because I knew it was him: the Lord in the classroom telling me what to write.  At this point, it made no difference if I passed of failed, because I was so overcome with joy, and the grade point average became unimportant.  So, armed with my handy dictionary and an erasable pen, I let her rip, knowing the Lord wanted the teacher to receive the personal message.

Later that afternoon after the final, I went back to the campus to check on the grades that were posted on the classroom’s door and found I had received an A for the final, and one of the two A’s for the semester.  And that’s how I went from an F to an A with a 14-year breather in-between English classes.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving my soul. 

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On the day of my baptism, I remember writing in my log, “I don’t know what I’m going to do for the Lord, but I‘m working for him the rest of my life.”  Then, perhaps within a month, while lying on the couch in the den where I got saved, out of nowhere the Lord spoke to me in a non-thunderous way.  And yes, it was audible.  He said he loved me and to feed his sheep.  Well, I guess I understood what he meant, and was very happy to hear from him.  However, it was the first and only time the Lord spoke to me in that way - so far.  And then, after getting the orders from headquarters, I got scared, thinking, what if it wasn’t the Lord and maybe I’d gotten a short in my brain circuitry.  Of course, that’s just like the devil’s boys do after you get some good news from God: they try to turn it into bad news.  This is when the shield of faith comes into play to quench all those fiery darts the wicked one shoots your way.  (Ephesians 6:16)

Just to make a point:  Perhaps most preachers say they were called by God (really by their mothers in many cases), but they cannot say what the Lord said when they got the call.  Mostly they had an inkling.  So, perhaps they should say they were inkled instead of called.  And then they go to school, apply and get hired by a state church, or even start their own church.  You know what a state church is, don’t you?  A state church is signed up with the state and the federal government to conduct a religious corporate business under the 501(c)3 non-prophet income tax laws.  And if they start their own church, their members refer to the church as belonging to their master.  They say, for instance, I go to Joel Osteen’s church, or I go to Greg Laurie’s church, or I go to Adolph Schicklgruber’s Church, whoever that is.  As for me, I think I’ll stay in the Lord Jesus Christ’s church and not start my own. 

By the way, the Lord’s church isn’t signed up with the state or federal government and doesn’t ask permission for two or three to gather in his name, or for a thousand.  And the Lord doesn’t require you to notify the church about your tithes and offerings with a numbered envelope because he already knows about it: “and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.” Some folks prefer IRS rewards, though, over God’s rewards.  State churches, however, are for religious people who want their baloney inspected to see if it meets approved government baloney standards; for those who want tax write-offs for their social club; and special tax breaks for their clergy that regular folk can’t get.  You don’t know about the latter?  Hey, you can even get a draft deferment if you are a clergyman.  And so, my friend, if you’re under forty, you might want to think about enrolling in a seminary to avoid the next war, and you girls can think about it too.  After all, women’s lib is going to afford you the opportunity to experience combat by conscription.

Also, people having their own church or synagogue based on a person or pet doctrine has been going on for a long time.  Take the Nicolaitanes named after Nicolas, the Lutherans after Martin Luther, and the Mennonites after Menno Simons; and those ol' time religions of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians, not unlike today’s pet doctrine churches too.  Look out!  There are Pentecostals, Catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Baptist, Nazarenes, Episcopalians, Presbyterian, for ever and ever.

Well, before my first regular preaching assignment at the Olive Grove Retirement Community, I got some experience doing Bible studies at the Nazarene singles home study.  One day the woman in charge called me up and was in a desperate straight for a Bible teacher for a month that summer – desperate.  She went on and on and on and said everyone else was on vacation, out of town, or committed somewhere else, before getting around to asking me.  The pastor, Daniel A. Penn, wasn’t available, or Dr. Stevens, or Dr. Barton, or Dr. Brodhead, or any of the other prestigious guys, and I was her last scraping-the-bottom-of-the-barrel resort.  Nevertheless, I agreed to do them, and probably not knowing at the time how to pronounce Malachi, thinking it might be like in an Italian madrigal word, Ma-la’-chee, and Moriah as Mo’-ree-ah.  Yes, she had been desperate for a substitute, all right, but I knew the real arrangements had been made by the Lord who called me.  Just like the arrangements were made for you to read this story.  And one more thing: As the fill-in singles’ Bible teacher, I was probably a step up from Balaam’s ass… or maybe not. 

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Pilgrim Pines in Yucaipa, CA was the summer church camp I attended for two years. (By the way, they have since gone homosexual, and you can check it out on their website’s homepage under “OUR MISSION.”)  Back then, the camp was for those who had completed the 5th or 6th grades, and for most kids it was the first time away from home.  They had modern bunkhouse cabins, but the showers and toilets were in another building.  Our parents were asked to write and send a letter to us before we went to camp so there would be something at mail call the second day.  (Pretty smart, I’d say.)  Probably some of us got homesick, and in the middle of the first night, one of the boys appeared to be sleepwalking.  He quietly walked to the glass door of the cabin, beat lightly on it for a while, and cried for his mama.  Then he quietly made his way back to his bunk.

Homesickness disappeared for all the activities they had, and there were girls too, which were a new interest. We learned at meal time that milk was “moo juice,” and the red berries in the forest had been used by the Indians for soap, and we memorized Psalm 1 as a group.  Also remembered is Cindy, a cute little brunette with bangs, and the song which we learned that bears her name. After our showers before the evening square dances, we lubed our hair with Brylcreem, like Elvis might have done.  Sometimes we squeezed the stuff into the teeth of our combs first, to drag it through and saturate our hair.

At Pilgrim Pines, I heard a ghost story one night, “The Mad Cook of Emerald Bay,” by a boy from Catalina Island, and it became the tailored tale I used for the speech contest a few years later.  The guys from the island were surfers, and I, not wanting to be out of the loop, utilized some of the popular surf jargon at the time, and launched a titanic story about being a surfer myself.  I told them how fun it was to lie on my surfboard out in the ocean and read comic books.  They asked what I did with the comic books when I rode a wave in.  Without hesitation, I said there was a plastic compartment on the top of the board to store and keep the comics dry.  And they, like cops interrogating the locally known and crazy serial liar, grilled me on other points to their amusement.

Well, somewhere during the week we sang songs and performed skits for one another.  And at the time, folk and novelty tunes were not alienated from the Top Ten Songs, the likes of "The Battle of New Orleans," by Johnny Horton and "Ahab the Arab," by Ray Stevens.  Anyway, one of the counselors taught my group such a song, "The Tattooed Lady," and evidently an old English hymn of the church.  One of the lines in the song attributed to Uncle Ned was, “I never” he declared, “seen such a freak so fair.”

And that’s the way it was back then – a woman having a tattoo was a freak, but none of us had ever seen such a woman, fair or otherwise. On the other hand, it wasn’t necessarily freakish if men had tattoos, as there were many battle-hardened World War II and Korean veterans around.  They had to get down and dirty and crude and rude to survive a hell on earth - to murder or be murdered.  And in downtown Riverside, some of those tattooed amputee veterans would sit legless and propped up on the sidewalk selling pencils, or play an accordion with a metal cup attached to the bellows, hoping a passerby would drop a coin or two to help them make ends meet.

Perhaps women have the same battle-hardened mentality today when it comes to tattoos - to murder or be murdered.  Many may think they are in a life and death struggle against their inconvenient babes in the womb; or in a firefight against the classical definition of femininity: that of being modest, delicate, and tender; the fragile vessels they really are, according to God’s word.  (I Peter 3:7)  Others may be in a trendy war against male authority.  (I Corinthians 11)

Girls, here’s what your tattoos will look like as they decompose and that ink spreads out under your skin, and what they didn’t tell or show you at the tattoo parlor - The future you.  (Might as well stop while you’re behind.)  And you boys, if you think you look cool with your tattoos now - Take a peek at your future physic.  No need to mention Leviticus 19:28, is there.

Hopefully, you weren’t offended by my little story, as it was written just in case you didn’t know some of the history and outcomes of tattoos. 

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One of the courses taken at Riverside Community College was World Religions taught by a woman pushing 40 years old.  The major religions of the world were focused on, such as Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and of course Christianity, plus some obscure ones like Zoroastrianism.  The teacher confided, early in the course, she had been a Roman Catholic and entered into a nunnery at sixteen, but bailed out of the whole church thing after a while.  Ironically, though, she added if she were going to pick a religion one day to follow, she’d probably choose Catholicism.  So I figured she had rejected Catholicism like many, because it didn’t line up with the Bible much, and maybe there was hope for her.

Anyway, during the Christianity section, the teacher mentioned a few things that were not true.  One of them, being, Jesus didn’t know when he went to Jerusalem for his last time at Passover, he was going to be killed – it was a surprise to him.  She also volunteered a theory why he was not heard of in scripture from twelve to thirty years old as he was off in India learning to be a yoga master.  And because of this, he was able to slow his heart to an undetectable level on the cross to feign his death, and subsequently be nursed back to health by his disciples.  Now anyone that has read the Gospels just a bit would know the Lord Jesus prophesied about himself being crucified at Jerusalem.  And then again, if it was supposedly true that he didn’t know, what was the teacher’s source of information?  She didn’t’ say, though she was sowing plenty of seeds of doubt and falsehoods to the mostly skull-o-mush recent high school graduates. Talk about a woman adding leaven to three measures of meal!  (Matthew 13:33)  This is one of the dangerous things about the teaching profession: educators, for the most part, have free unsupervised reign in their classes to indoctrinate students in their own personal philosophies, politics and religion; and this they may do a little or a lot.  This reminds me…

At Sierra Junior High we had such teachers.  One, for example, tried to convince us that Jesus was the first communist.  She said under communism everyone worked for the state and for the benefit of everyone else.  And if you made coats, for example, your coats would be distributed to those the state deemed in need, and you, in turn, would be given whatever you needed by the state.  She then brought up about Jesus saying, (really John the Baptist’s teaching), if a person had two coats, to give to him that had none. (Luke 3:11)  Therefore, she pointed out, since Jesus taught this, “Jesus was the first communist.”  How excited we were to learn this startling new fact from one of our insightful superior and entrusted teachers, who were helping to cultivate the future minds of the masses.  This was during the Cold War, and Communist were the chief security threat to the nation, and Christians, too, evidently.  Now the nation’s chief adversaries are Global Warning, the Bill of Rights, and anyone with common sense.

In high school, another teacher promoted situational ethics in his English class.  You know, majority rule without the benefit of ethics, law, or God. (Isn’t that called anarchy?)  One hypothetical situation he posed to the class was about an ocean liner that sunk, and left the stranded survivors on a raft bobbing up and down in the Pacific Ocean.  Each person had a station in life different than the other, but there was not enough food and water to last until they were all rescued.  So, we were to decide who to keep in the raft and who to throw overboard?  One was a teacher and another a doctor; some were old, and some were students, and one was a preacher, to name a few.  More than likely, though, the preacher was considered shark bait by most, especially if he wore a sinister black robe with oversized red sergeant stripes on the saggy and big baggy sleeves.  But there was one bright student who thought the minister should be spared to perform burials at sea as there was that distinct possibility. He could also do impromptu weddings for those who wanted to get hitched sooner than never, and, moreover, he could petition the Almighty for the chosen to be rescued as there are no atheists in foxholes or lifeboats.  Of course, in these exercises, right or wrong or morality isn’t an issue – just basic barbarian survival considerations.  You know, like the Nazis considering the Jews, the Communists considering the aristocracy, and Congress considering their constituents.

Then there are teachers more interested in reminiscing about their childhood on the taxpayer’s dollar than teaching.  One such math teacher in the 8th grade took us back to the past often.  For example, he recounted a time or two how he did his homework while riding the buckboard to school because the team of horses didn’t need supervision on the ride into town.  He also had a smoking problem or drank too much coffee with those cigarettes.  Several times during the year he called on the intercom for a relief teacher to take his place so he could get a nicotine fix and/or depressurize his bladder.

Well, for the whole course of my World Religions class, I prayed to be given an opportunity to tell the teacher about the Lord and her biblical mistake, and the class concluded without that happening.  But luckily I saw the teacher later after grades were posted; and seeing she wasn’t but a few years older than me, and not being intimidated by her Master’s Degree, I asked if she wanted to go to lunch.  So, she suggested an outdoor restaurant across the street from the University of California Riverside, and we meet there where I would wait for my opportunity to be a witness, and correct her about the scriptural mistake.  However, I didn’t take a Bible, thinking it might make my intent too obvious, though many students regularly toted the word on campus, which is probably a hate crime now unless it’s a Koran.  So the teach and I had lunch.  She told me about her graduate work at UCR and asked if I wanted to take a stroll through the multi-story library that held over a million books. And so we did.

As we walked down the main aisle of the first floor, she told me about the facility, but my mind was on spiritual things. Well, lo and behold, she led me into the stacks at some point on the left and stopped. And while her jibs were a flapping in the wind, I noticed directly in front of me a shelf of Bibles and was getting pretty excited the Lord had directed her to stop at that spot out of the million book library. But then, as I looked for a familiar Bible to pull out and didn’t see one, I grabbed a Phillips New Testament translation, which isn’t put together with chapter and verses like most. Finding myself perplexed, I desperately thumbed through and searched for the needed scripture while she talked. Finally, it was found, and I interrupted and pointed to, and read aloud, where Jesus said he knew he was going to be killed in Jerusalem. (Matthew 16:21)  And she, not batting an eye or skipping a syllable, continued with her guided tour and moseyed us out of the Bibles like teachers do when they’re confronted with the truth.

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My interest in Senior citizens began when I was 15 years old while visiting a shirttail relative in a nursing home.  His name was Bill Straw, great Aunt Daisy’s little brother.  As a matter of fact, he was gassed in World War I, “the war to end all wars,” and to die in short order, but our visit took place about 47 years after his predicted expiration date.  As my little brother and I entered the nursing home, ancient hoary heads in wheelchairs soon encircled and corralled us, holding and stroking our hands and telling us how young we looked.

Well, as it happened, some 18 years later I had a couple of hours after locking up the church buildings before going over to the Olive Grove Retirement Resort (now Wellbrook), an independent and assisted living community for seniors on California Avenue.  This was my first service to conduct, and I did a lot of praying beforehand.  The pastor had asked if I would be interested in taking turns with other churches to do a Sunday service there once a month.  It was to start at 2 p.m. and Viola Johnson was to help out.  She was the senior lady who played the piano in an old fashioned 1930’s style, smiling broadly at the congregation while her hands springingly bounced on the ivories, not having to look down too often.  Once she told me about being a racy pre-Christian young woman who took up ballroom dancing.  (If only I had been that racy.)

Shortly before the service, I walked the half mile over to Olive Grove not having a car at the time.  There, a half dozen or so gathered between the main entry and the dining room where there was a piano.  A few people remembered are Mary Jameson, Johnette the personal attendant to one of the residents, and Meta Schoneman.  Mrs. Schoneman used a walker with a tote bag strapped to the handlebars; and being on the cutting edge of technology at 82, she kept a cordless telephone in her bag before mobile phones or pagers were around.  Mrs. Schoneman liked to tell the story about literally seeing the fire of Pentecost fall on some believers one time as in Acts Chapter 2.

So, having acquired some experience hobnobbing with seniors at their functions as a city councilman, I introduced myself to the Olive Grove bunch, and we began the service by singing hymns followed by a message and prayer requests.  Afterwards, the old timers said they liked having the young preacher (33 years old) come over, and I enquired what church was coming next week.  They said the ones scheduled weren’t coming at all, so I volunteered in about a month to come every week and did so for the next two years.  It is a common occurrence (or should I say no occurrence) for churches to volunteer a Bible study or service, but the responsibility is not taken too seriously by some.  In case you don’t know, a lot of folk at retirement places, nursing homes, and board and care facilities, are entirely dependent on volunteers and visitors for spiritual support and friendship. However, there is usually no notoriety or paycheck for the volunteers, unlike hireling pastors.  By the way, did you ever notice in scripture,  Paul the apostle’s paycheck was no paycheck? (I Corinthians 9:18)  An interesting concept isn’t it.  Hey, you might offer that one to your boss to consider for your wages and I betcha he goes for it!  And then again, he might figure your elevator doesn’t go to the top.

An interesting side note: Several years after Olive Grove, I was helping out a guy at Manor House, another assisted senior living complex in another state, and led the song singing.  He had started a midweek Bible study and a Sunday service there on his own and was also a regular attendee at the church where I was going.  Well, for a couple of weeks he was to be out of town and asked if I would take over and do the service.  And so I did.  Then, after finishing their early service and making it over to church, the pastor asked me how many attended at Manor House.  I didn’t know, and strangely he seemed a little surprised and miffed about me not taking a head count.  Come to find out, he included the people at Manor House to his head count because one of his members was doing the service.  And besides, it made his statistics look better for the district superintendent. Funny thing, though, there were more people over at Manor House then at his service sometimes. This is also the same preacher who prayed the longest pastoral prayers every week I ever heard while we all stood and rocked side to side on our feet to keep from getting varicose veins or phlebitis.  One time, I looked at my watch when he began, and he finished 11 minutes later, but it probably wasn’t his record.  It’s a long time to listen to someone else pray, especially while standing on a hard floor, and I must admit my mind wandered onto other things.  Let’s see, there was the biblical example of praying the Lord’s Prayer that lasts about 30 seconds, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address which tops out at a little over two minutes.  Back on Olive Grove…

It seems if there isn’t much notoriety for a group and it has low numbers, many churches won’t do voluntary services.  As a matter of fact, I would invite some talented people from my singles Sunday school class to the service, but they never had time after going to lunch after church and taking the mandatory afternoon nap, I guess.  However, if their whole Sunday school class was in the mind to do a good deed, trumpets would sound, and they’d rally to come over and share their talents or abilities as pew potatoes.  On the other hand, unsung handicapped old saints like Brother Brodhead would come and use their gifts any time they could, and a child could be easily coaxed to play a tambourine while we sang.

Anyway, the small group at Olive Grove was a real church meeting, minus a paid clerical staff, choir, an organ, a big cross, and an offering plate.  Anything could happen too.  One time, Mrs. Schoneman had a call during the service ringing from the tote bag she had hanging on her walker, and stood up and answered her cordless phone.  And as she tried to listen and talk to the caller, I kept on preaching; whereupon, she interrupted things, and being rather annoyed scolded me, “Can’t you see I’m talking on the phone?”  (Sorry, Mrs. Schoneman.)  Another time was when the only man walked out of the service because I was too enthusiastic in my singing, and maybe by then I was accompanying myself on a guitar. Have you ever heard “Power in the Blood” raised up a half step each verse accentuated by a staccato stricken tambourine and a bit of uncontrollable foot stompin?  Win some loose some.  On Mary Jameson, there’s a special story about her on her name’s link.  She was the first person that contributed to the ministry.  And as time progressed, Viola and I ended up doing about five places a week including retirement homes, nursing homes, and board and care facilities.  The pay isn’t great for this sort of thing, but retirement is out of this world. 

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“Do you know my name?”

Before holding services at Olive Grove, I had a visitation ministry at Alta Vista Convalescent Hospital (now called Alta Vista Healthcare & Wellness Centre), on Garfield Avenue across from Hunt Park.  As it happened, Carol Phillips, who was mentioned in “You’ll be just like the rest of us.” had an aunt there and asked if I wanted to go visit.  Well, we went every week, and when those two got together it was mostly girl talk, so one day I took a stroll down the hall.  Back then I carried a big burgundy leather Bible everywhere, and the nursing staff thought such a person was pretty harmless, figuring he was clergy.  You know, someone once said, every Christian ought to carry a Bible with them everywhere they go – even if they have to carry it in a paper bag.  Well, I was a little bolder than that and open carried my M1611 (year of the King James Bible) everywhere, including the RCC campus.  So, being part of the Christian college militia armed with the word of God, we soldiers would fire off a “Praise the Lord” when passing and brandishing our weapons.  And sometimes, while walking on the sidewalk, a motorist might give a positive shout or wave to the Bible luggers - or is that lugers?

Anyway, as I went down and made a right turn at the nurse’s station on my self-guided tour, and came to the dining room, I found myself face to face with one of the residents.  She was dressed in a long white nightie, about 5’ 10” tall, with brown stringy shoulder-length hair parted down the middle.  Her skin was thin and sallow, with dark circles under her eyes, an enlarged forehead, and smiled with eyes bulging out a bit.  Actually, she made me feel more than a little uncomfortable, having never seen a person in such a condition.  And after I said hello to her, she asked in a soft high pitched squeal, while searching for the answer in my eyes, “Do you know my name?”  This was another reality check like I had when the Madrigals Singers went to Downy, CA each year to visit a specialized hospital with severely ill children and some adults; most dying with terminal diseases, or incapacitated by deformities, and others living their lives out in iron lungs.

Then, after leaving the dining room, I was overwhelmed to look down another corridor and see about twenty grandmas lined up on each side; backs to the walls and in their own little worlds for the most part.  In those days, there were not as many rules about restraining residents, and several had their waists and/or wrists tied to chairs or wheelchairs to keep them from falling out, rolling away, or hurting themselves or others. It was sobering: a nursing home was a warehouse for old people.  So every week I’d go over and visit everyone.  And as it happened, at some point, the activities director asked me if I would be interested in doing the Bible study once a week.  Talk about a set up by the Lord.  I told her I’d have to think about it for 24 hours but knew the answer would be yes.  So for the next two or three years, I was the resident pastor doing Bible studies, leading the singing accompanied by Viola, praying daily for everyone, and met all sorts of interesting people.  I’d like to talk about them, but it might have to be by increments.  So come back and check up on the folks at Alta Vista.  Let’s begin with…


The Teenager Who Picked Up FDR

I don‘t remember his name anymore, but can picture him quite well, and I’ll call him “Mel.”  Mel, who was in his 60’s, had a room in the east corner of the nursing home, and both his legs were amputated mid-thigh due to diabetes.  Like many of the other men, he had been in World War II, but in his case, he was a POW for the entire war after being captured on Guam, the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked.  At the time, Mel was taken prisoner he weighed 180 lbs., but by the end of the war, he was down to 90.  However, there was something more interesting than this.  It was the day, as a 19-year-old sailor, Mel picked up FDR, and for your info, FDR was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  He was a polio victim, and could not stand upright without leg braces, and had to have an attendant to hang on to while he shuffled a fake walk.

Well, there Mel was, down in the birthing area of his ship when Roosevelt was up on deck visiting, which was sometime before the war broke out.  All of a sudden a crewmate informed him he was wanted topside to take the President down the ladder wells. (“Stairs” for non-navy.)  So off Mel went, a young and fit teenager, and literally picked the president up in his arms and carried him down the stairs into the heart of the ship.  When Mel got to this part of the story, he was beaming with pride and awe remembering the event so many years before.  And while holding out his arms, like he had FDR in them again, he solemnly stated, “I held the President of the United States in my arms.  Right here in my arms!”  Later he got a letter of commendation from the White House and was very proud of it.  However, after he was taken prisoner, his commendation was lost forever.


Rex Chen

One day I met a new and young resident whose name was Rex Chen, but he couldn’t speak.  He was propped up in a wheelchair and was completely paralyzed except for voluntary head movements.  His little wife was sitting next to him, and come to find out he had been shot in the head during a liquor store robbery while he was the clerk.  Well, if I remember correctly, he and his wife were immigrants, and now they had this huge difficulty in their lives, and a little baby too.  Not knowing his prognosis, I figured it was pretty bleak, and he was going to live the rest of a short life in a nursing home.

Anyway, one day I invited him to the Bible study in the dining room and someone wheeled him in.  We had a very friendly group.  A lady who attended was a stroke victim, and one of her sides was paralyzed, but she managed to push herself backward around the place with the one good foot, and always had her purse in her lap.  Some women can’t be pictured without carrying a purse; you know, like my Grandma LaVawn, who was buried with hers in hand, an accessory known in old Minnesotan as the pocketbook.  Other residents at Alta Vista carried on with their lifetime habits too, like the little grandma from Russia, who kept busy brooming up and down the halls.  Another was a tobacco chewer who spit her swill into an empty one pound coffee can.  She usually had drool stains down the corner cracks of her mouth, but I didn’t fault her any, as I had chewed the leaf and dipped Skoal on and off for ten years as a young man.  That reminds me…

One time I was masticating some fibrous Beechnut Chewing Tobacco (about the size of a 3-inch sausage-shaped hairball like cats vomit) while sitting in the VW van waiting for the former wife to get off work as a dental assistant.  All of a sudden her dentist appeared eye level at the opened window.  Well, the wad of chew and spit in my mouth was quite substantial and keeping me beyond the abilities to communicate; so I did what I had to do without hitting him with a spray of syrupy nicotine, and swallowed the juice but not the wad.  We said our greetings and he moseyed on, and I wondered if a lethal dose had been ingested for as sick as I got.  And unfortunately, as you may or may not know, chewing and dipping tobacco has other consequence, too.  There is the plastering the side of your car or truck with brown stains; leaving unsightly spots on your shirts; getting your spit bottle mixed up with the one you're drinking beer from; and finding a girl you can French kiss whether it’s your wife or girlfriend.  But usually, your girlfriend will be more adventuresome than your wife - if you have a choice.  Also, a little-known practice of chewing is that cowboy etiquette demands if you don’t have a proper receptacle to spit in, like a spittoon in the house, you spit in the top of your boot.  And by the way, in the boot is okay, but never the hat.  And as I remember, country boys who smoke cigarettes do something similar when out visiting, or at home if their wives are looking, by tapping their ashes in their pant cuffs when ashtrays are not readily available; not wanting to seem unrefined by tapping them on the floor or carpet.

Well, at the Bible study there was also an old timer about my size who was always enthusiastic and shouted out amens, and others that I don’t remember so well anymore. So after Rex Chen was wheeled in I got pretty excited, having prayed for him at home. And as we looked at the word and sang songs, my heart was being touched by Rex’s impossible condition, thinking, how only the Lord could give him peace in his desperate situation, and abruptly stopped whatever we were doing. I looked and pointed at him and asked rather directly, “Rex Chen, do you want to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour?” and he nodded a solemn yes. Then I went over and gave him the Gospel, quoting the traditional scriptures, asking him the usual questions, and we all prayed together for him to enter into the kingdom of God. It was a very exciting moment in the Alta Vista Convalescent Hospital where revival broke out in the dining room; everyone aglow with smiles and the joy of the Lord.


Jack Floyd

One of the men at Alta Vista I never saw out of bed was Jack Floyd, and we visited him every week.  Actually, Jack was not talking to anyone and probably had dementia, but we’d say something encouraging about the Lord to him, knowing we all have a spirit that transcends this physical world.  Maybe we were communicating with the ol’ boy.

As it happened one day, we walked into the room, and Jack was with it: he was lucid and talkative.  This was exciting, thinking the Lord had opened up a window of opportunity to share the gospel, and he prayed to get saved.  Shortly after that he died (maybe within the week), and this ought to give hope to others who don’t know about their loved ones’ salvation.  Someone may have come by to help solidify their eternal destination with the Lord Jesus Christ before they passed on, and somehow you may find out about it later.

Take my mother-in-law, for example, Ruby Joyce Aston.  When she was a young woman with small children, she had gone to a church for a while and had been baptized, but I can’t say she was a church attendee the rest of her life.  Well, as her daughter and I took care of her the last few weeks of her life, and knowing she was departing into eternity soon, we wondered about her spiritual condition.  And during the last days, as she lay there in a hospital bed in her living room, we’d take turns sitting with her during the night.  On my shift, I talked about the Lord and ask if she was ready to meet up with him; went over the gospel with her and got some kind of positive response.  I told her the Lord was going to be picking her up soon, and sung “Sing Low Sweet Chariot” several times.  (Yes, even white boys can like, and sing, Negro spirituals.)  Well, as it turned out, the Lord was gracious, and she didn’t linger long, and Terry held her hand as her mother passed from this life into eternity, about 9 a.m. July 12, 2004.

And just for the record, when I worked for hospice a couple of years, I was asked to sing for a family in the living room.  My client, Dan, was a young man and had passed away in the bedroom an hour earlier, and his mom, dad, and several brothers and sisters were with him at the time.  So after we cleaned and dressed Dan in some clothes he liked, the mortuary picked him up, and his mother handed me the sheet music to “Danny Boy.”  She then gathered us in the living room to stand in a circle, and I sang all the verses a capella in a tenor voice.  It was a very solemn experience, nobody cried or sobbed, and somehow the Lord kept me cool, and collected, and on key.  Another time, another client and I composed a song together in the middle of the night (he the words and I the music), which was played at his funeral, and recordings sent to his friends and relatives.

So shortly after Joyce Aston passed away, we asked the Lord for some encouragement about her spiritual status, and got it unexpectedly one day while going through her paperwork.  She had been a secretary and taken notes at home on many things, and we found hers on salvation.  She had jotted down, “I accept Christ as my personal Savior by faith.” “Trust Jesus as my Savior.” “Sorry for sins.” “I surrender my life to you by faith.” “I believe you sent Jesus to die for me.” “Thank you for forgiving me.” It’s amazing how the Lord will let you know things you don’t know about.  So, we made copies of her note and send it out to her relatives to let her preach the gospel to them.  How many of you have a written down expression of your salvation?  Anyway, back on Jack…

As I was preparing to write this entry and searching the internet for information to verify my memory, I came up with some census data, if it’s Jack’s.  Well, lo and behold, Jack was listed as a Master Sergeant in the Army and a clergyman in civilian life.  A clergyman?  Was he already saved?  I don’t know.  Maybe he only pretended he was out of it when we came into the room to visit, thinking we were busy bodies.  As a matter of fact, I knew such a man in the hospital that would pretend to be in a coma every time his wife, who was also a patient, would wheel herself to come and visit him.  Or maybe Jack was like a lot of people who think they’re all right with the Lord because they go to church but are given a last opportunity to get it right before their appointed departure date.  Who knows?  Anyway, I have remembered this incident and Jack’s name for all these 30 years for some reason.

And speaking about people who think they are right with the Lord, but maybe they’re not, reminds me of Phil Lewis, a junior high school teacher.  Well, after I got saved I was over at Mr. Lewis’ house having known the family from high school days. On one visit he shared how he had attended church all his life,  was involved in church activities, but didn’t really come to saving knowledge and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ until he was in his 50’s.  He went on to say, if he had died before that time, he wasn’t sure if he would have gone to heaven or not.  Perhaps that is the way it is with a lot of church goers.  They were born into a denominational culture; been immersed in church life; adopted the language, the jargon, and the clichés; and had all the outside frosting that goes with religion, like on a cake made out of a block of wood.  How about you?  Just another religious knot-head who has never made contact with God, and gotten saved and filled with the Holy Ghost, even as sincere and devoted as you are?  Well, it’s not too late - yet.

So if any of Jack’s relatives come across this story about him, maybe it will be a blessing, knowing one of the last things he did before passing on was to confirm, or reaffirm, his commitment to Jesus Christ.  (Here’s an excellent website if you like to look up folks alive or dead.)


Joe Loveless

Joe Loveless is one of the unsung champions in the church but probably not too many people have heard of him.  On the other hand, we’ve all heard about “famous” preachers and musicians who have done many wonderful works in the name of the “Lord, Lord,” and written books and produced all sorts of other products which they hock from the pulpit, TV, and the internet.  Isn’t it funny?  They preach salvation is a free gift of God, but everything else isn’t; and you’ll have to pay as you pray, give as you go, and hand it over as you Hallelujah. However, Joe was not like them, and he was one of the best singers of the Lord I’d ever heard.  But before his story, there are some other interesting folk I met at the Alta Vista Convalescent Hospital.

Most of the residents sitting in the west corridor, when I first took a stroll through the place, were readily accessible to visit most anytime.  We just had to walk over and see if a conversation could be started.  There was, for example, a tiny, frail woman who rocked back and forth in her chair with her left hand held to her mouth; kind of wobbling it at the wrist with fingers scrunched together, her right hand holding her elbow up.  She was dressed in a thin sleeveless nighty and her hair almost gone with only a few strands left.  Well, we talked to her and found she was somewhat with it and would tell about her life if you asked.  I’ll call her, “Miss Jamaica.”  One time while talking with Miss Jamaica, a few of the nurses noticed and were surprised she could communicate, probably not ever having time to try themselves.  You never know what’s going on in people’s minds at the nursing home and might get the wrong impression from their outside appearances.  Let’s see, doesn’t the scripture say something about this? (I Samuel 16:7)

Anyway, one time we asked Miss Jamaica where she was from.  In a proper sort of British accent, she said she was born in Jamaica, moved to New York when she was a young woman and worked in a bank where she did an excellent job.  My friend jokingly asked, “And you worked there until they fired you for making a mistake, right?”  Whereupon she jolted straight back in her chair with a very serious expression, and stated sternly, “Absolutely not!  I never made a mistake.”  We settled her down right away and reassured her the question was in jest.

In one room was a man about 40 years old but we never saw him out in the hall.  He had been oxygen starved after a heart attack, resuscitated back to life by the paramedics, and was severely brain-damaged.  He was also forced fed through a gastric tube and would cuss mostly, sounding like it came from the bowels of hell, not that he knew what he was saying, but it was unnerving.  One of the nurses said they tried an experiment with him for a while when they attended him.  Whenever he would say, “God damn,” they would say back, “God bless,” and after a while, he’d parrot them.  However, it was a short-lived situation whenever they quit on their part. One time we entered the room, and from lying on his back, he bolted unexpectedly upright from the waist in a superhuman sort of way, like you might see someone popping out of a coffin in a horror movie.  Yikes!

On the other hand, Joe Loveless was of a gentle spirit and wheeled into the dining room for the Bible study every week.  However, one day he wasn’t there, and when we made our rounds through the place, we found him in his room. There Jack was: a little ol’ man in his 90’s, a ruddy complexion with a bald pate and a few red and white hairs on the sides.  He had on his street clothes while lying atop the bedding, shoes off, and curled up a bit on his side.  Well, he hadn‘t seen me come in as he was blind, and I stopped and was moved greatly to hear him sing an old hymn of the church, “I Need Thee Every Hour.”

Has anyone ever ease dropped on you unintentionally while singing or praying out loud to God?  Been caught?  Why not?  Of course, a lot of you are going to say you pray in your mind, but if you think God is for real and everywhere, why don’t you sing and talk to the Lord aloud when no one’s around like Joe.  And if a devil happens to come by and give you a bad time about it, you can give him a good rebuking.  However, if you are caught casting out the devil’s boys when you think you’re alone and are not, some of your so-called Christians friends and family might want to get you help, thinking you are beside yourself (mentally ill) like Jesus’ friends thought about him in Mark Chapter 3.

Here’s a verse of the hymn Joe Loveless was singing in secret, and I’m sure he understood the meaning of the words very personally.  Maybe we should call him “Joe Lovemore.”  I am dwarfed by his maturity.

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord

No tender voice like thine can peace afford.

I need thee, O I need thee

Every hour I need thee

O bless me now, my Saviour,

I come to thee. 

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Sunrise Garden Board & Care

Margaret Freeman

There was a handicapped woman who attended the Nazarene Church, and her name was Margaret Freeman.  Her mouth was pulled to one side which affected her speech; she wore old clothes, didn’t walk too fast, used a cane sometimes, and maybe she was 50 years old.  Margaret rode the church van to meetings, or someone picked her up in a car, and she wasn’t afraid to stand up in the service to praise the Lord or tell of her troubles.

One time the church was having a meeting in Eddy Anderson Fellowship Hall; and as the pastor officiated, Margaret interrupted, stood up in the back row of folding chairs, and told the pastor the devil was giving her a bad time.  Afterward, she just stood there, head bowed in humble silence, and the pastor, who had a slow speech cadence, slowed it down even more for handicapped Margaret.  He proceeded to rebuke the devil: like an adult giving a well enunciated stern warning to a 2nd grader for acting up in children’s church.  So, being a new Christian, I was pretty impressed that he would undertake the obvious cure for the situation, and Margaret silently sat down for about ten minutes. Then she stood up again, with her crooked smile, and announced, “He’s gone!  He’s gone!” and the pastor courteously acknowledged her report and went on with the program.  (By the way, to the pastor’s credit, he once stopped his Sunday sermon to separate a couple of teens who were misbehaving in the pews because nobody else would.)

The next day on the job as the church janitor, I was in the pastor’s office and excitedly mentioned the event of the previous night.  He recounted things from his perspective, and how he simply placated Margaret’s interruption to continue the service.  I was surprised to hear this as I knew the devil had been addressed and actually cast away.  It was also evidence to me that the Lord’s name, even wielded by the unbelieving, can cast out devils and do other miracles too. (Mark Chapter 9)

So, as time went by, I hadn’t seen Margaret for some time and asked the pastor about her.  He slowly shook his head while looking downward, and responded with that slow cadence of his, that Margaret wasn’t doing well and probably wasn’t going to be with us much longer.  Of course, I wasn’t taken by surprise, figuring she suffered some sort of stroke effects or other maladies and asked for directions to where she lived to see her one last time.  Margaret was at a board and care facility called Sunrise Garden on Philbin Avenue, now called Majesty Village.

Sunrise Garden was composed of one-story suburban buildings with small individual rooms for the residents.  It was a little run down at the time, but seemed like a peaceful place, and there was an outdoor swimming pool, a large living room in one building, and lots of greenery.  It was a community within the community of Riverside, and everyone had some sort of physical or mental handicap that prevented them from being self-supporting.  As I walked down one side of a building, Margaret was sitting on the steps of an entryway wearing slacks, a T-shirt, and holding a large thermos mug of coffee in her hand.  She looked a lot younger in casual clothes and recognized me right away and responded with her unique smile.  Actually, it was the fittest I’d ever seen Margaret and wondered who and why someone had given the false report about her health and impending death.  After talking to her, I found out she was of Italian decent and had a brain tumor removed when she was a young woman, which left her with a slightly distorted face.  She was very animated and congenial on her home turf and seemed years younger.

I met other people at the board and care and was warmly welcomed.  Some had facial tics from medication side effects; others were compulsive smokers with unsightly nicotine stained fingers and teeth, and some seemed completely “normal.”  One woman had a bald head, and her name was Mary.  She was about 30 years old and had had a brain tumor removed, which left a large scalpel scar carved on the side of her head, and her hair had all fallen out except for a few stragglers.  Sometimes she wore a hat to cover her head, but was not inhibited to go without one; used makeup and wore large earrings, so if she was hatless, she still looked like a woman.  Another resident was an inventor and businessman who was a manic depressive, and would work himself to exhaustion mentally and physically until he burned out.  Then he was put back into the board and care until he recovered.  The normal looking people may not have been able to cope with the ups and downs of life on the outside and found peace within the community.

Probably the oldest resident was Ivaleah Mae Cochran, the former wife of the preacher, who, coincidently, started the church I was attending at the time, way back in the early 50’s.  She was about 81 years old and stooped over.  She also was hard of seeing, wore a salt and pepper wig, and didn’t look too well cared for, but she had a kind spirit.  There is something she told me about churches that’s important:  She said churches were usually started by enthusiastic people, but the enthusiasm ran out after about 50 years as the original founders died off.  She went on to say it was during those years the congregation’s spiritual momentum stopped or rolled backward.  To me, it’s kind of like nations that are founded by idealistic and highly motivated political devotees; but after a while, corruption and the taking of bribes creeps in, and feeding pork to the electorate at the electorate’s expense becomes the major political business of those wanting to remain in power.

Well, it’s always nice to be wanted by someone, and I felt wanted by many of the people at Sunrise Garden.  So one day I went over to talk to the Filipino owner and asked if I could do a Bible study every week.  She granted the request, and being a good Catholic, she shared her beliefs as “religion is good.” This religion-is-good theology reminded me of Emil Pearson, who had been a missionary in the Portuguese colony of Angola.  Evidently missionaries were allowed to come if they built schools and educated the natives, and also taught the students religion.  However, the Portuguese government was very much Roman Catholic, so Emil had to make his spiritual points in a directly indirect way.  For instance, if he taught about heaven, he could not teach on the fallacy of purgatory, but would point out in scripture when the rich man in Luke Chapter 16 died, he went “straight to hell” without taking any side trips or detours.  But at our weekly Bible study at Sunrise Garden, we didn’t have to be too cautious in our presentation of the word, as we were not supervised by an intrusive government as we are now by Homeland InSecurity. 

There was also a thin fellow, maybe 65ish, but his age was disguised by well combed thick and brown wavy hair that came below his collar a bit.  He had a tongue tic that didn’t bother him, but it might bother you, which was probably caused by the taking of antipsychotic drugs over the years.  He told of going on a forty day fast once, when he was a young man, but panicked after the 40th day because he didn’t know how to break the fast. It was at that moment I understood why the first meal of the day is called break-fast.

As time passed, Margaret’s condition finally took its toll, and she was down at the county hospital. The last time I saw her, she was in bed in a dimly lit hallway and close to death, as overcrowded county hospitals aren’t noted for being Five Star hotels.  It would have seemed a tragedy for a person to be set aside to die alone, but Margaret was not alone. The Lord Jesus had been with her all the time and used her at the board and care facility to bless me and others. After all, he used Margaret to get me to Sunrise Garden in the first place, and it has left a lasting heartwarming memory.  And so, I held Bible studies at Margaret’s for a couple of years, and it was a complete service with singing, praising the Lord, messages, a baptism in the unheated pool, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.  At the last study, my friends expressed how they enjoyed the meetings, and I was humbled by their comments. Mary told me they liked the Bible studies because I could explain the scriptures simply, so they could understand. This was a high compliment, and I thank the Lord for the ability.


Anne was a regular attendee at the Sunrise Garden Bible study, and had been a neighbor of Red Skelton in Palm Springs; so I figured she might have or did have some money, but she was living a pretty austere life at the board and care.  She was also a chain smoker and her hands trembled, but she was always in a good mood and reminded me of the actress Lauren Bacall.  One time I was preaching on the Lord Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, when he commanded the tombstone be taken away and Martha said, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.”  Upon hearing this verse, Anne’s eyes became big as saucers; her jaw dropped, and she loudly interrupted the lesson, and asked in her airy aristocratic voice, “Does it really say that?  ‘He stinketh?’”  We all had a good laugh on that one.


One of the most memorable persons at Sunrise Garden was Betty, who only came to the Bible study one time.  She was quite a chain smoker, and I suppose she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and heard “voices” that depressed her greatly.  We’d always invite her to come in and be a part of the Bible study, but she’d only sit outside and listen through an opened window. 

One day as we came to do the study, we came across her seated in a lawn chair outside.  She was being tormented by the voices, rocking her body back and forth and crying, and I got emotionally stirred up and laid into the devils.  But then, after running out of words (if you can believe that), I felt compelled to continue, and started talking in a language I didn’t know, and finished up with, “In the name of Jesus Christ.”  Then Betty, who was sitting down, looked up, and her face was radiating and glowing with a peaceful smile.  Hallelujah! The Lord Jesus’ name above every name had shown its power again.  Well, as we were enjoying the victory, one of the attendants who had witnessed the event came over and reminded Betty, “Didn’t I tell you, Betty, God was going to send someone by today and deliver you!”  It was a great moment to see Betty, who was usually under fire by the enemy, relieved of her oppression, and we went down to the Bible study together, and all of us had a joyous time.

There were other facilities I had regular services at or filled in for others, like Grand Terrance Health Care, Chapman House, Cypress Gardens (?) and another board and care downtown.  At Cypress Gardens, one of the old timers taught me the hymn, “In the Garden” and his name was Bill.  He had no teeth, rubbed his hands liberally with Ben-Gay before putting on a pair of brown cotton garden gloves to help keep them warm, and usually was in a wheelchair.  He would stand and walk at times to help his unlikely buddy, a young woman who had had a brain tumor removed.  She was not as lucky as the Mary mentioned above, and maybe Bill thought of her as his daughter.

At Grand Terrace one time I asked the folks if any of them still wanted a nice house, fine jewelry, and a Cadillac.  Nobody was interested in those things anymore, as they had figured out from years of experience that life is just a vapor, and the only things that matter are the things one does in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

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As it happened, six or seven of us asked and got permission from the pastor to use the sanctuary one night a week for prayer.  And since I had the keys to the place, being the janitor, there was no problem of opening and closing and making sure it was secured.  Just for a side note on keys…

One time I was walking around the parking lot and found a peculiar tubular key.  Maybe it was during a church program when the general public had been invited, or the next day when I picked it up.  Well, I didn’t think too much about it, and since I was the unofficial lost and found department, took it back to my office, which was a 6x10 foot enclosed room in the large furnace room for the sanctuary and adjoining building.  If I found an item while cleaning, I’d keep it unless it was something like a wallet or money, which went directly to the office.  Then if someone called about a lost item, and it wasn’t in the office, the secretary would ask me.

On the peculiar key, I didn’t hear anything about it for a month or so and thought it might have been some sort of switch (but not a key) for a parking lot or tennis court light pole for some reason.  Well, one day the pastor (not the one mentioned above or below) asked if I’d found a key, which he described.  And sure enough, it was the one I had, and I went and fetched it.  He told me it was the key to the church’s safe, but nobody in all that time had asked if I found such a critter.  The safe, by the way, was used for the offerings before they were deposited at the bank.  Perhaps those in charge of collections and deposits were concerned if they asked me to be on the lookout for the safe key and found it, I’d make an illegal withdraw, skip town, and seek refuge in Argentina or Bolivia.

Back on track: Our little group prayed in the sanctuary and were some of the “tongue talkers” in the church; the types who gravitate together like they do in other fellowships that don’t believe in signs following believers.  (Mark 16)  Altogether there was about a dozen that I knew of, and most of us had the same conversation with the pastor when he asked us to become members.  It was during the private interview when we mentioned speaking in tongues, because, we didn’t want him to be in the dark if we were going to join his non-tongue speaking church.  Evidently his reply to all of us was it was alright with him as long as we didn’t tell the rest of the church that tongues was the only manifestation of being filled with the Holy Spirit.  Of course, that left the other signs of casting out devils; not being hurt if you drank any deadly thing; laying hands on the sick and seeing them recover; and taking up of serpents, as God told Moses to do.

In one of our sanctuary prayer meetings, everyone started praying in tongues which led to singing in tongues.  Well, as we began to sing, it turned into a supernatural celestial sounding choir, and each one was singing a different melody in a language we didn’t know, and somehow it all blended together in the most unique choral piece I’d ever heard before or since.  It was music piped in from heaven, and we were the living instruments played by the Lord.  And even while being directed by the Maestro, we could listen, in a detached way, to the heavenly anthem as it was produced effortlessly on our parts.

This reminded me of the time Bruce Didier and I had the opportunity to go listen to Louis Armstrong and his jazz band at the Carousel Theater in West Covina in 1968.  You laugh and ask, “How so?”  As it happened, Satchmo had about a dozen other musicians on stage; and as he played and sang, it was unbelievable what was going on with the other band members.  They were all simultaneously playing melodies independent of each other but somehow it all blended into one harmonious piece.  One could listen by following the individual parts or all the tunes at the same time.  It was happening the same way in the Nazarene sanctuary, but God was the inspiration, composer, arranger and director; and the sound was crystal clear, light, bright, and out of this world.

There is another point to be made here about the experience:  As revival and supernatural things were happening in the sanctuary at one end of the complex, satanic things were going on at the other.  In fellowship hall, there was a Santa Claus provided for the children, and a Halloween party complete with a haunted house setup in the teen building until objections were made.  Besides having Halloween parties, with little witches and ghosts running around the church property, the teens were bussed out later to spend as they got spooked at a professional haunted house.  This is not unlike adults in most churches who have to pay as they pray, give as they go, and hand it over as they Hallelujah.

By the way, if you don’t think Santa Claus is a concoction of the devil, just remember he is presented to children with the omnipresent supernatural ability to know when you are sleeping, to know when you’re awake, to know if you’ve been bad or good, so, be good for goodness sake.  And take the two words that make up the word Christmas - Christ and Mass - which doesn’t take rocket science to figure out.  The Christ in Christmas is Jesus Christ the Roman Catholic’s are re-murdering over and over again in their Eucharist, the Mass, as in ChristMass.  When the pastor was notified about Santa being in fellowship hall (in case he didn’t know), he sanctioned the activity by stating, “Santa Claus is the spirit of Christmas.”  Unwittingly, he was correct.

There is a bottom line here that ties it all together.  Even though there can be Christians in your church praying for revival in the sanctuary and experiencing the presence of the Lord, the church leadership might be inviting the devil in the back door to molest your children.  “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.  For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.”  

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George Gaines, the Evangelist

I didn't get to know George Gaines until he was up in his 70’s, but for the few years I knew him, he left a lasting impression.  Many years before, he had been ordained in a denominational church, but I don't believe he ever was on anyone’s payroll.  He was footloose and fancy-free without having to worry about pleasing a board of directors or a congregation that hired him.

During World War II, he and his wife Ann preached the gospel of Jesus Christ in San Diego to the troops preparing to be shipped out to fight the Japanese.  He said they led a lot of servicemen to the Lord because they knew they were going out to the Pacific to die.  Also, he and his wife had two businesses that I knew of.  One was a department store, and the other a restaurant called, “Grandma's Glory Barn.”  At the restaurant, they had gospel singers entertain the diners, but they may have been more successful in real estate, and I don't think they were hurting for money.

In later years, Brother George couldn't get around without a wheelchair, and much to his credit he was the kind of preacher you could call Brother George or just George.  He was a large framed man, maybe 6’4” or 6" but I never saw him stand up completely.  It seemed when he played football in school, he was a little more than rough on himself and others and was paying for it in old age.  Brother Gaines told me when his anger was unchecked as a young man, he could bodily take a guy up off his feet and fling him through the air.  However, his old football injuries, feeble legs, and bad eyesight didn't keep him down when it came to doing things for the Lord.  As you may remember, the Lord did his greatest work while being immobilized and crucified on a cross as he forgave us of our sins.

God gave Bother Gaines a new ministry one day while fishing from his wheelchair on the dock where his pontoon boat was moored.  As he sat with his line in the water, the Lord spoke to him audibly, and the conversation went something like this…

Lord: “George.”

George: “Yes, Lord.”

Lord: “I want you to write to every inmate on death row in America.”

George: “Yes, Lord.”

Brother Gaines would tell of this experience to groups and asked if they believed God spoke to people audibly today.  Lots of folk don't believe God does anymore, though their pastor tells them they had a “calling” to preach.  (Maybe it was in sign language.)  Of course, some people thought George was a little off for hearing from God in this way, and for his blunt comments too.  He'd even ask some preachers he didn’t think much of if they were called by their mothers to preach.

Well, Brother Gaines didn't know how he was going to write to all the death row prisoners in America, but he agreed to the assignment.  And so, the physically handicapped senior evangelist began “Life Row Ministry” with Ann.  Somehow George managed to get prisoners' names, and made a point to write back personally within 24 hours when he received their letter.  One night at his house at Canyon Lake, CA, as guests were celebrating their wedding anniversary, they asked where George was.  He was in another room writing to prisoners within the 24 hour response time he had set for himself.  There at a table he would drop his head down close to the paper and write in very large letters.  I also remember on several occasions, Brother Gaines would say some nice thing about his wife, look at his watch, and announce to the year, month, day, hour, and minute how long they had been married.  Maybe he included the seconds too.

And so, people became interested in Life Row Ministry and gave money to help with recording equipment, tape duplicators, cassette tapes, and postage.  And unlike most ministries, he let the Lord put it on people’s hearts for support without asking.  Several, including myself, were also moved to write to prisoners.  Brother Gaines would hand me a few names and addresses, tell me a little bit about them, and say they'd write to me if I wrote to them.  I had about 60 at one time, and because of his influence, several years later I had another prison ministry with my wife and got a thousand names through the internet in about 26 states.  Many of them wrote back, and we used George's example to respond in 24 hours.

Occasionally George would get an opportunity to preach at the church we attended, but not too many, as they weren’t sure about his frank and spontaneous comments.  For example, he injected in his burly booming voice during a Sunday school's discussion on alcohol, “I like my religion because I can drink all I want.  I just don't want to!”  He also made that same point about wife beating.  And when Jimmy Swaggart was exposed as a frequenter of prostitutes, he blurted out in class, “He’s no brother of mine!”  George was a unique preacher and liked being one, having to answer only to Jesus Christ.  He’d also write on the back of his envelopes to be mailed, “Jesus loves you!”

One of the things I remember most about Brother Gaines was when he was asked to speak at church about Life Row Ministry.  It was a night service, and on the platform was a banquet table for him to sit behind in his wheelchair with a long courtesy table cloth.  While squinting to see the congregation, looking through the glare of the stage lights, his text was from Matthew Chapter 25 when the Lord Jesus spoke about being hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison.  Well, as everyone in the pews was agreeing to "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” he stopped.  For a moment, Brother Gaines silently panned the congregation from front to back and left to right.  And as they were nodding in agreement with the point, he exclaimed, “And all you goats out there... I can see you nodding your heads!”  Then all the nodding heads creased, not wanting to be thought of as a goat, a phony Christian.  Having made his abrupt pronouncement, he radiated a huge smile of satisfaction, like a little boy who had just scared his older sister with a rubber snake.  Of course, the point he was making was, everyone can agree to do everything the Lord Jesus says to do by nodding their heads, but few agree by moving their feet.

Here’s a link to a Los Angeles Times article on George and Ann Gaines, 1985... Evangelist Reaches Out to Death Row  

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Eddie Anderson

Eddie Anderson was the volunteer minister of visitation at the church I attended for several years.  No wonder he had the job.  He was kind and engaging and in his 70’s.  He also had an honesty and innocence about him most of us lack.  And, at the midweek prayer meetings,  Eddie smoothly led us from one chorus to the next and gave a short testimony or two along the way.  Also, on Sundays, he introduced the visitors to the congregation in his personable manner.

I was the church janitor and sometimes he would drop by during the week.  Instead of parking his white Cadillac in the parking lot in the back, occasionally he would leave it running in the church's single lane entrance and slip on into the office close by.  But if others couldn't get in on occasion because it was blocked, I guess he paid for it, because he locked himself out of his car every now and then while it was running.

Eddie told me one reason he got to be financially well off was because he was nice to people.  When he was a young man, for example, a lady with a business near his said, “Eddie, I am going to sell my store someday, and when I do, I want to sell it to you for a good price because you have always been kind to me.”  Well, when she finally put it up for sale, he was able to buy it for that good price.  I guess it went that way a lot for him, and he had become a successful businessman.  And in his retirement years, he could be seen walking around downtown Riverside checking on his investments.

Eddie was always busy it seems, and for thirty-some years, he called on visitors and regular attendees to befriend them.  As a matter of fact, he took me out for lunch several times and told me about himself and things that went on behind the scenes at church.  Once Eddie smiled and informed me that a hundred pigs had given their lives to save his because only one pig out of a hundred had a good enough heart valve to replace the one in his chest.  Even though he would joke about it, he also made the serious comment that he had the valve for seven years and wasn't going have it replaced, though it was wearing out.  You see, it bothered him to hear that old pig valve squeaking as he silently lay in his bed at night.  (I think he actually heard it, too!)  Eddie also said his wife was going to be well taken care of after he was gone so he wasn’t worried about her.

After decades as the volunteer minister of visitation, the church insisted he receive some kind of pay for the job, and I think that was because of liability concerns.  He was against it, and of course, the few token dollars he received was nothing for a rich man.  But he took it, nevertheless, so he could still visit.  He also didn't like going to the board meetings any longer because, he said, they were filled with unchristian like behavior, and, what some might call, board members vying for the position of church boss.  Even the pastor said he could hardly wait to retire, get away from board meetings, and do the work of the Lord instead.  I wonder whose work was going on at the board meeting if it wasn’t the Lord’s work?

As mentioned, Eddie had a tremendous honesty and innocence about him.  One night at the midweek service, he told this story on himself…

He said he had gone down to take his written driver's test for renewal.  After picking up the test at the counter, he was directed to the testing area, and while marking the answers, he came to a question that he didn't understand very well.  So he took the driver's study booklet out of his inner coat pocket that happened to be with him, and as he thumbed through it, he came to the place in regards to the test question and proceeded to mark the right answer.  Then, after putting the booklet back into his pocket, he finished the test, turned it in, and happily found out he had passed.

However, on the way home, Eddie felt uncomfortable about taking the little helpful peek, and drove back to the licensing office.  And as it happened, he was able to talk to the same person he had taken the test from and confessed.  He also added he didn't want anything to come between his Lord and himself and wanted to make things right.  Well, I suppose the testing agent never had this situation happen to him, and he had to go and refer to someone else's judgment.  Upon his return, Eddie was informed that the test results had already been put into the system and to forget about it.  I remember as a new Christian I was very touched by Eddie humbly telling this story some 32 years ago. 

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Charles Linford Brodhead

We called him Brother Brodhead because he was a senior Christian and a bit more formal than the younger generation.  He was pushing 90 when I met him at the Nazarene Church; a small and bald headed fellow who carried a neck cushion device to put behind his head when he sat down in a chair.  Come to find out, he was from Pennsylvania Dutch country, but he lived with his son and daughter-in-law for some time in California.  In their home, he stayed mostly in his bedroom where he worked on his paintings of church buildings and towns, landscapes, old-fashioned covered bridges, and read his Bible.  Some of his things were always on the bed because he didn’t sleep in it at night but in the easy chair next to it.  He said because of his stroke in his 50’s, he couldn’t sleep horizontally because lying down made him dizzy.  His son had been an officer in the Navy, so Brother Brodhead got to travel to foreign countries, make friends, and corresponded later with those he met abroad hoping to win them to the Lord.

Brother Brodhead had been a professional truck sign painter back in the Great Depression when such things were done by hand.  At first, he just painted cars and told me how they’d float the paint on just thick enough to spread and flatten out without leaving brush strokes or runs.  Also, they did pinstriping too and used something like a yardstick to hold against the vehicles’ body and rest their painting hand on while they laid down a line.  (Some of these principles have been applied to my Michelangeloian house painting efforts.)  Later he was promoted to do truck signs.  Well, Brother Brodhead figured one day he was going to be asked to do the signing on a beer truck and was going to tell them he couldn’t do it in good conscience, even if it cost him his job.  And it did.

In spite of his physical limitations, Brother Brodhead kept busy at church from time to time with serious and humorous chalk drawings on large sheets of art paper.  He also customized his drawings for the group’s age; and afterward, he’d sit down, put the cushion behind his head, read the Bible, and give a corresponding message.

For many years, Brother Brodhead read the Bible four times a year in his easy chair in the small bedroom.  The last year he was alive he said he was going to pass on all the “begats” in First and Second Chronicles, so maybe that’s not a good thing to do. (Smile)  He also went to church when he could, and would say “Amen” during good preaching.  I liked visiting him at home because he talked about Jesus Christ all the time until he went to be with the Lord at 91 years old.  On the morning he departed, he ate his customary bowl of oatmeal, “and he was not: for God took him;” just like my Uncle Emil did after eating his bowl of porridge at 93.

Brother Brodhead had gotten saved as an adult in the time of the Great Depression, but had a job and trusted the Lord to take care of him and his family.  And during this period, he had a small life insurance policy, and every month the agent would come door-to-door and pick up the payments, as many businesses did back then.  Well, Brother Brodhead had no money for a payment one month and saw the agent coming down the street collecting, and was getting mighty anxious.  As the minutes passed, and the insurance man would soon be there, he exclaimed in exasperation, “You let me down, Lord!  What can you do now?”

As the agent grew even closer, Brother Brodhead heard a knock at the back door.  He went to open it, and there was the neighbor lady who inquired if he still had the painting she liked so much and was it for sale for what he had said.  He told her he still had it, and it was indeed for sale for that price.  So, as she handed him the money, the front doorbell rang.  He then went directly to the front door and gave the insurance agent the exact amount due which he had just received at the back door. Brother Brodhead felt pretty bad for not trusting the Lord and humbly asked for forgiveness.

Addendum:  A couple of days after posting this story, I was recalling when I had a Christian radio program and recorded Brother Brodhead read his favorite Psalm for me on KMAY.  He chose Psalm 91 and I was surprised how swift and lively he read it for a 90-year-old.  I suppose it’s because it was his favorite I managed put it to music some time later and even memorize it. 

Broher Brodhead's favorite Psalm 91 to Song

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Perhaps living in California gives a person a few more opportunities to see celebrities than other places.  Let’s see, for me there was Lucille Ball, Dan Blocker who played “Hoss” in the Bonanza TV series, Governor Ronald Reagan, and President Lyndon Baines Johnson to name some; but they were just sightings and not personal contacts.

Such was the case of LBJ when he came to Riverside campaigning in the 1964 Presidential election.  Johnson spoke outside the downtown Riverside Superior Courthouse where Bruce Didier and I were about 100 feet away.  As you may remember, he won the election and got us stuck in the Vietnam War, which made the military industrial complex richer by the human sacrifice of 58,000 dead Americans and 300,000 wounded.  Some in the crowd would later boast they shook LBJ’s hand, or they shook the hand that shook the hand of LBJ’s hand.  But maybe their boasting became an embarrassment, like having a Nixon for President sticker on your car’s bumper until you found out what he was like behind the scenes.  I knew a woman, for example, who had a Nixon sticker on her motorcycle helmet.  And after hearing about his secretly recorded cuss-mouth tapes in the Oval Office, rapidly scraped it off one night before she went on her next bike tour.

There was also another event not tolerated well by conservative folk, more than a decade before in 1960, which was exemplified when President Dwight Eisenhower made some comments about the new pop dance the Twist.  "I have no objection to the Twist as such. But it does represent some kind of change in our standards.  What has happened to our concepts of beauty and decency and morality?"  That sounds ultra-puritanical now compared to today’s President and First Lady trying to change our standards to embrace homosexual marriages.  Well, like it has been said, “You tried it. You liked it.”

I had a few closer celebrity sightings, namely Robert Wood the artist and Bob Hope, besides the already mentioned Jack Larson, who played Jimmy Olsen in the TV series "Adventures of Superman."


Robert Wood

Robert Wood paintings were popular land and seascapes that Dan Read, my best friend, and an artist, had diagnosed as one who had succumbed to commercialism.  Wood’s reproductions were so popular back then, there was one in every living room in America above the sofa, I think, or close to everyone.  And it is reported he had a hard time cranking out the originals fast enough.  (One of the nice things about writing is researching to find out, for example, the difference between sofa and couch for the last sentence.  Such are the thrills one has in old age.  My wife suggested I look up Davenport, however, which didn’t pass my mind at the time.)

My folks had a cheap Robert Wood seascape reproduction, but it had a nice maple frame to go with their furniture.  It was in dreary colors, though, and not resembling the one in the link.  Their print looked like a beach waiting for an oil tanker to run aground and spill 11 million gallons of crude on the shore.  At least the picture broke up the bare wall above the sofa, and later covered an actual hole, made for some reason I don’t know about or remember.  Maybe while pounding a nail in for the picture hanger after a paint job, the hammer missed its mark.  No, it wasn’t me.

As it happened, I was the chief cook and bottle washer at the Embers Restaurant in Bishop, CA around 1971 when Robert Wood would have been 81 years old, or maybe I was still the pot washer and pantry boy.  However, I got a meritorious promotion to “chef” after my predecessor was fired for secretly starting a delicatessen down the street.  Perhaps the big boss, John Morris, thought his chef might be in competition with the restaurant and wouldn’t give all his energies to the Embers, under the theory that a divided restaurant cannot stand.

We saw other celebrities at the restaurant like Go-Ahead-Make-My-Day Clint Eastwood before he was engraved with deep ravines on his sun-baked face.  In that situation, there was only one waitress who had enough moxie to wait on the spaghetti western star; the others too busy swooning.  Her name was Sarah Moss, who thought if she married me instead of Clint Eastwood, I could use her last name instead of her using mine, and I’d be - Pete Moss.

Also, of little note to most, was meeting Ralph Blum at the restaurant who had been under the tutelage of LSD guru Timothy Leary, a lecturer in clinical psychology at Harvard who counseled impressionable young minds to “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.”  Ralph wrote a science fiction novel called, “Simultaneous Man” and gave me a copy, but the only thing I remember was eating marinated raw fish with him one night at Lee Early’s Kamloops trout farm.  Later that night, someone was spotlighting and shooting at raccoons across a pond with a .22 rifle, as raccoon favor raw fish too.  Groovy.  Far Out.  However, I don’t remember anything about Ralph's book.  Back to Robert Wood…

One afternoon the crew was getting ready to open up the restaurant at 5 p.m., and a short and stocky unassuming gray-headed senior citizen with a crewcut entered in through the rear kitchen service door. He reminded me of Dan Read’s dad, a teacher who taught art classes to skull-o-mush teenagers.  Robert Wood was very pleasant and greeted everyone with a smile and small talk as he walked past the kitchen, dishwashing department, and through the swinging doors into the dining room.  When I was told who he was, there was also the following little story which I conveyed to The Robert Wood website some time ago.

Robert Wood lived a couple of times in Bishop, and one day he came in the back door before the Embers opened and told the Mexican dishwasher he had been hired on as the new dishwasher. Well, the dishwasher was an accommodating fellow but didn’t speak much English, and he issued Robert Wood an apron, and perhaps a paper overseas cap, and gave him lessons how to use the dishwashing machine.  But after some time applying his new trade, Robert Wood quit his new job and went into the dining room to eat, as he probably had to get home sooner than later and crank out another original.


Bob Hope

So there I was visiting the Eastern Sierra News Service in Independence about 40 miles south of Bishop, CA, around 1980.  They weren’t the typical news publication in the county, and many of the locals thought they were somewhat off the wall.  Perhaps the establishment didn’t care for deep digging investigators, in the same way, presidential candidates don’t care for newsmen snooping around in their closets like anthropologists.  The group had a slightly alluring spiritual quality, and I was still looking for the “Thing of Life” mentioned in another story.

One of the peculiarities about the news team was the guru-like editor John Heston, a former network news reporter and one-time freedom fighter in Guatemala.  The three women that hung around, or worked with him, had, coincidently, masculine names: Bennett, Pat, and Kenny, but perhaps Pat was called Patty mostly.  I had met John and Bennett Kessler when I was running for the City Council and knew nothing about city doings or government.  They made me feel uneasy when asking questions, but I figured they were former hippies like myself and would cut me a little slack.

So while I was visiting, they got a tip that Bob Hope was going to fly into the rural Lone Pine airport, get into a waiting helicopter to chopper out to a desert location, and film a commercial for Texaco.  So, we hurried the 20 miles to get there, and believe me, it was no secret because the local schools had turned out with the high school band ready to greet him with, “Thanks for the Memory.”

After we arrived at the sagebrush surrounded airport, Heston handed me his 35mm camera, after adjusting the manual settings, and told me to shoot away at the big time star.  Having not to think much about the camera, I had plenty of time to take in Bob Hope as we were only 2 feet apart.

While the veteran comic walked to the chopper, he was cordial and appreciative of all the folks who came to greet him, but he looked kind of eccentric.  First of all, I was stunned to see how short the 77-year-old was, even crowned with his stingy brimmed fedora, as I looked down from my 6’1”.  (Maybe an old age thing.)  But most peculiar was his thick makeup and heavily drawn eyebrows, with a not so subtle pancake makeup line on the back of his neck.  I felt sorry for the ol’ boy and thought he was trying mighty hard to look his younger self by the application of greasepaint; like hard of seeing senior women pile it on to look young, but end up looking like geriatric hookers.  And because older women sometimes can’t see well enough to paint the Maybelline on, you might want to take that into consideration when hiring a senior citizen to paint your rooms.  By the way, did you ever notice when old timers dye their hair black, it accentuates the creases in their face; but those who let their hair grow gray, it softens their character lines?  I don’t know how long it took me to figure out why Bob Hope really had on gobs of makeup.  Maybe someone told me later he was already had the stuff on to do the commercial.

Anyway, I was pretty much toe to toe with the famous comedian as I walked backward with the camera, which more than made up for missing him at the 1969 USO show in DaNang.  On that bygone day, my Marine Corps squad was about 24 miles west at Dai Loc Pass atop of a mountain ridge manning a bunker.

Bob Hope had been around for many years before Vietnam and entertained the troops during World War II and the Korean War, and it seemed like it ought to have been a rite of passage to see him.  But if you ever thought about it, USO shows are not seen by most of those fighting from foxholes or tromping through rice paddies. Their audiences are mostly made up of office pogues, and other support personnel who had clean clothes more than once a month, showers, hot food, and the luxury of an outhouse.  But the outhouses were not as luxurious as one may think because the receptacle under the bomb bay was a sawed-off oil barrel filled a third full of diesel fuel to burn later.  These metallic chamber pots also had hand holds cut out on the sides, and when they were full and well fermented, a lucky detail was assigned to hoist the sloshing containers onto a flatbed, and then drive them over to a remote place to set on fire.  Been there, done that.  As a matter of fact, the whole of DaNang had the odious and unforgettable bouquet of burnt diesel and human excrement wafting in the dingy brown smog they produced.

Luckily, though, some of us grunts weren’t totally forgotten when it came to entertainment perks.  One time after coming back from an operation out in the bush, there was a truck bed piled high with iced cans of beer to wet our wolf whistles as we watched a small low budget show.  Interestingly it was not made up of Americans, but a few Asians from Vietnam or some other country.  So, the recent high school graduate, who had spent three years as a choir boy, watched in amazement as the young women perform strip teases with tassels glued to their nipples, twirling them in opposite directions like propellers.  And if Bob Hope had been there for that one, he might have sung, instead, “Thanks for the Mammaries.”

Anyway, Bob Hope’s stop at Lone Pine took place when the news service was about to publish their Inyo County Newsletter, so we went back to Heston’s place where he hurriedly developed the film in the dark room.  Well, lo and behold, there was an outstanding photo to publish on the front page.  And after Heston moved his hands around the outside of Hope’s head while burning a print, he had highlighted the star’s portrait by darkening and softening the background area.  This was a long time before Photoshop was invented and it was picture perfect.

(An elementary teacher recalled the day from his perspective.) 

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The Rolls Royce at Sally’s 

When I was about 32 years old and a new Christian, I had a job as a church janitor.  It was a good place to work as there were fewer temptations to contend with; like drinking, smoking, cussing, and associating with some of the wild and crazy bunch.  But there are always wild women to contend with everywhere you go – even at church.  Anyway, as a mop jock, I made my own schedule at $4.25 an hour, minimum wage being $3.35 at the time, and began shopping at the Salvation Army, which we call “Sally’s.”  What a great place to accumulate a wardrobe, and there were lots of polyester Hawaiian shirts for a dollar or two.  You probably bought one for a theme party but never wore it again, and it ended up at Sally’s.  Thanks.  Well, I liked such shirts at the time, and since they were plenteous and cheap, I became a tropical fashion trendsetter.  And that lead to the Rolls Royce at Sally’s.

As it happened, I was downtown at the Riverside, California Salvation Army one day, and having completed my wanderings through the aisles, got in line to check out.  The cashier was waiting patiently on a young woman dressed in jeans and a simple top, who was looking in the glass case below the register at earrings, necklaces, and brooches, to add to her purchase.  These trinkets were attached to white cards with the price tag of 25 cents.  And as she was holding up the line to pick out this and that, I was getting pretty annoyed we had to wait on her poking around the junk jewelry to get her fill.  Finally, she chose and paid for her last bauble and left the store.  Shortly after that, I bought my stuff and headed for the door, and there she was preparing to get into her car – a newer two-tone blue Rolls Royce!  I cupped my hands in a megaphone and pointedly asked across the parking lot, “What’s a woman who drives a Rolls Royce doing shopping at the Salvation Army?”  She replied, “I can‘t pass up a bargain when I see one.”  It became clear to me, since she had a Rolls, probably all the junk jewelry she bought and wore was thought to be the real thing by her rich friends.

So, after shopping at Sally’s for more than 30 years, I have found all sorts of good deals.  There are pots and pans, glassware, suits, shoes, silk ties, tools, and knickknacks like the loon collection we’ve got going.  (Hey, don’t be rude.)  As a matter of fact, you may find a pair of new or practically new boots or dress shoes for a few dollars; the latter worn by some ol’ boy who just sat in his easy chair before he passed on, having never stepped out of the house.  One of my last bargains was a pair of virtually new black wingtips, and online they go for about $150.  My wife likes to shop there too and get some of those buying impulses de-pulsed at a low price.  Also, one can donate things back to the Salvation Army when tiring of them, if they’re still in good shape.  I was thinking of doing so with my cast iron cricket bootjack but saw on the Internet it’s worth a bit more than I expected.  Guess I’ll have to keep it for a while and let the executor of my estate take it back after I’m gone.  However, there is a liability to wearing shoes and clothes of higher value than your station in life, because people may think you’re wealthy.

Take the time I went to my new dentist not long ago, and he complimented me on my fine shoes while I was also attired in a nice shirt, coordinated tie, leather vest, and slacks -  all from the Salvation Army.  Well, I suppose people usually don’t dress up for the tooth-puller, but having few political or social engagements these days, I use the opportunity to continue my trendsetting.

And so, after the initial exam, “Dr. Painless” set up an evaluation and plan for all the services he could perform for my beautification and rid me of my short and squarish “Chiclet” front teeth which tilt backward slightly.  The plan, which would include crowning six teeth and re-sculpturing my gums, would cost around $12,000, and would be “fun” for him to do.  (By the way, he actually called my front teeth Chiclets.)  However, he was probably sorely disappointed after letting him know I was dependent on the Lord Jesus to supply any funds for such a fix; thinking to myself at the time, I wasn’t sure if his Bucky Beaver look was for me, having the Chicklet look since the 2nd grade.

And now, after writing this entry, I wonder if the lady with the Rolls Royce had picked up her car at the Salvation Army for a song, and I wrongly assumed she was well-heeled, “for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”

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“Doctor Pearson”

The first time someone called me “Doctor” was when I was doing a Christian radio program on KMAY in Riverside, 1984, which changed to KPRO in 1986.  Recordings were made on cassette tapes in advance and turned into the broadcasting office on Lincoln Avenue before airing on Sundays at 12 or 12:30 p.m.  It was a cheap $30 for the half-hour spots, owing to the fact that most Christians were at church or lunch at the time.  I hadn’t thought about a name for the program when I turned in the first tape; and since I was going by Brother Pete at the time, they announced the program as “Brother Pete.”  What a pain it was to do radio.

You see, some of us can blabber non-stop if there are people to look at, but just looking at a microphone was not my cup of tea but rather my cup of torture.  Viola Johnson was taped on the piano playing When We All Get to Heaven, and it was used for signing on and off.  Well, using a portable cassette player, in the beginning, it took about 6 hours to do the first half hour program.  And as time progressed, a dual tape deck was purchased to record and make copies for the multitudes chomping at the bit to get a Brother Pete tape.  But before the tape deck with a duplicator, I somehow patched three or four portable ones together and made copies that way, applying my phone tapping abilities from years gone by.  (See The Snoop)

Well, one day while dropping off a tape at the station, I got into a conversation with the young man who was the broadcast technician and asked how his relationship was with the Lord.  He felt a bit on the spot and responded by saying he didn’t wear his religion on his sleeve like some people.  (Like me?)  Anyway, at some point in our conversation he was going to address me, and perhaps wondered if he should respectfully call me Pastor, Reverend or Pope Pete, but he came up with “Doctor.”  I clued him in on the reality that I wasn’t a doctor of theology, divinity, or even of veterinary medicine.  And for those who want to be in the know, there is no one in God’s church who has a religious title tacked to his name other than the head of the church, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we are all brothers.  Unknowingly, but luckily for me, the technician from time to time would put one of my tapes on if there was an empty spot in the programming.  This caused a casual acquaintance at Harvest Christian Fellowship, Jerry Brill, to become my friend after he picked up an unscheduled broadcast floating through the air into his telephone one day.  The next time I was called Doctor was at a funeral, but let the ignorant remain ignorant.

The funeral was for Tim, a fellow I met at a nursing home on Magnolia Avenue.  As I made my way down a hall one day, I saw a middle age man with his upper body cranked up in bed with a book reading holder on his overbed table.  He asked if I could turn a Bible page for him, and come to find out he was totally paralyzed from the neck down.  Tim said he had been in an automobile wreck some 14 years before and had been paralyzed ever since, but it was all right with him because it caused him to meet up with the gracious Lord Jesus Christ.  He also mentioned he had a wife and children who came to visit, but they didn’t know the Lord.  So, I’d stop and see him whenever visiting and he was always upbeat and didn’t let his condition get him down.

One day Tim wasn’t in his room, and I was told he was in bad shape in the intensive care at the County Hospital and went to see him before he died.  Back then I could go anywhere with my Bible because folk thought only a real minister would carry one in public as many of the fake ones carry theirs in a  paper sack.  I was escorted to Tim’s curtained-off bed in the gloomy intensive care unit shared with several other patients and was surprised to find it run down, with electrical conduits and wires, tubes, plumbing pipes and equipment all over the place.  It was the same hospital Margaret Freeman died in mentioned in the story about her.

Tim was rolling his eyes around, while thrashing his head from side to side, and seemed to be in a delirium and unaware of our presence.  I talked to him and prayed and left, and assumed like everyone else, he was at the end of his life - on earth.  Some days later I checked in, and he was still in intensive care, but he was doing miraculously better.  He told me while he was seemingly incoherent, he was in a spiritual battle with the devil the whole time, and Satan was trying to keep his children and wife from getting saved.  Tim won.  Soon he returned to his nursing home and died sometime later, and I attended his funeral.

Before going to his service, I put on my brown $2 polyester suit from Sally’s (Salvation Army) and walked into the chapel toting a big burgundy leather Bible.  I was greeted by an Eastern Orthodox priest wearing a ballroom gown like a Roman Catholic Pope, and introduced myself as Pete Pearson and made small talk with him and other friends of Tim before the service.

Well, as the priest officiated and came to the end of his part, he asked if anyone wished to say a few words about the departed and I raised my hand.  When he called on me, I could tell he was trying to figure out what sort of religious title to attach to my name, seeing I was packing my M1611 AV.  He finally presumed to use, and call me by, the all-encompassing interreligious non-denominational and prestigious title Doctor Pearson.  As you can figure out, it’s a pretty smart thing to call someone by an elevated title they may not be, then to call them by a lower title they are not.  And besides, he probably surmised I wasn’t a Catholic priest, a Buddhist monk, or a Hindu teacher in a brown $2 polyester suit.  Then after going up to the pulpit to talk about Tim, I didn’t set anyone straight about the doctor business and have had a good chuckle about it ever since.

This reminds me of my Uncle Emil, a missionary in Angola, Africa, who published scholarly books on native philosophical sand drawings, like, The People of the Aurora; plus a bilingual Bible and two bilingual dictionaries.  In at least one of his book’s biographies written by the publisher, he was presumed to be “Doctor Pearson,” though it only says Emil Pearson on the cover.  But even though he was a gifted linguist, he was not a doctor of theology or divinity or of languages.  And one time while commenting about the use of Doctor Pearson in the biography, he said, “Oh, I know more about the subject than any doctor knows,” and never offered a correction to the galley proofs.  Interestingly, though, as a preacher, an evangelist, and pastor/teacher, when telling a story about himself from the past, evidently people referred to him as “Mr. Pearson.”  I never asked why.  Maybe he knew there was only one worthy to receive religious titles in God’s church.

Coincidentally while preparing this entry, I came across someone on the internet, John Wheeler, who mentioned Emil creating his own sand graph to show to the natives one day...

“After long observation of the sand drawings made by this people (which are important in their culture for communicating and teaching ideas), Pearson spontaneously sought to express to them, in their own symbolic 'language', the 'spirit or genius' of his own people.  His African friends were moved to silence. ‘What does this mean to you?’ Pearson asked.  ‘That is the spirit of the European,’ one of the Africans replied in awe.

“Pearson told one representative of this people that some Europeans did not believe in God and thought man evolved from apes.  Basically, the African replied that the Europeans may have evolved from apes, but God created his people.” 

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No Pref. 

Well, as I mentioned earlier, I had a “Jacob Experience” the night before being inducted into the United States Marine Corps.  And like a lot of people, my spiritual experience caused me to think I had become a Christian, but it wasn’t really going to happen for another 14 years.  It’s like some folk have a near death experience and see a warm glowing light at the end of a tunnel, and think how wonderful the afterlife is going to be after they finally croak; when actually, in their preview of eternity, they had mistaken the fires of hell for the light of heaven.  If only they had gotten a little closer and felt the heat!

So there I was in Bootcamp, a place where they turn choir boys into killers, and trying my best to be a good Christian killer by reciting the Lord’s Prayer; reading the complimentary issued New Testament; and restraining my cuss mouth by omitting Jesus Christ as an explicative and the always popular military phrase, Mother F***er.  Nowadays, I hear, military Chaplains are being instructed not to use the name of Jesus Christ in their prayers, but the use of the Lord’s name for exclamation has not been restricted for the enlisted.  Probably one cannot use Mohammed’s name in vain, though, as that might be politically incorrect and excite offended Muslims to cut your head off.

Unfortunately, during my brief year trying to be a Christian, I hadn’t a clue about developing a relationship with the Lord, having never been around practicing Christians much, and became the proverbial seed fallen among thorns.  On Sundays, for a half a day, we recruits could hang around our billets, write letters, shine boots, smoke cigarettes, and go to a church service if we wanted.  I’d go to the Protestant service in the base’s large theater, and sit silently suppressing sobs of homesickness while directing a movie in my mind of escaping from the Marine Corps Recruit Depot.  For those successful in getting over the fence, and wandering around the adjacent San Diego International Airport in a yellow USMC sweatshirt, their hairless white head contrasting against a sunburned face and neck, found themselves reeled in by the Shore Patrol.  Ironically after being caught, escapees ended up in worse circumstances and a longer stay in Bootcamp; not unlike escapees from prisons.

At some point in those early days of training, we filled out a form for dog tags including a blank for religion.  This was so the government could accommodate us with proper spiritual counseling if blown up, or to know what religious emblem to put on our memorial stone if killed in action.  (They’re thoughtful that way.)  So, I put down what any rational person would if they were a Christian, and wrote out Christian, not being a Jew, Buddhist, Muslim, or Roman Catholic.  However, when our coveted dog tags were issued, mine were stamped with “No Pref.” as in, No Preference for religion.  Everyone else, I think, had Baptist, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, etc., and I was a little more than upset they didn’t put Christian on mine.  However, I would find out several years later, the military and government dosen’t care to classify Christians as Christians, as only state religions are used for classification purposes, the likes of the aforementioned denominations and religions.  Denominations, after, all are actually state approved religions that conduct religious corporate business, known by their 501(c)3 tax exemptions.

It was while using VA benefits, and given a questionnaire to fill out some 25 years later, I found out about this classification business.  By this time, I really was a Christian, though, and one question asked about my religion.  Well, vividly remembering my experience before, I jotted down Christian again, and after receiving a permanent copy of my answers to review, I had been designated “Christian Scientist.”  Once again, just plain ol’ Christian was not in the category of accepted religions by the United States Government.  You laugh?  Laugh no more.  Check this link out that lists the religions of the United States Senators, and find out none of them are Christians, and maybe you ought to be more concerned than you are about the spiritual state of the State.  Also, there are religious statistics on the whole of Congress - not one of them being identified as Christian.  However, I see there may be hope as there are 58 members who are noted as “Unspecified/Other,” which may be the Congressional equivalent of No Pref., meaning, Christian.  Hope so.

Interestingly, while investigating some of the web pages about my brother-in-law, Mike Aston, who was killed 50 feet away from me in Vietnam at age 18, his religion is listed as No Pref. also.  Maybe this adds to the evidence, that, besides going to church and being baptized on his own as a teenager, he had instinctively put down Christian for his religion because he was one, and not the one I wasn’t way back when. 

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Emil Pearson: The Liberator

Part 1 

Uncle Pete’s Memories has been going on for about two years, and maybe it’s time to bring it to a conclusion, though I could go on and on as you have figured.  Maybe I will or maybe I won’t.  So, being a better man than me, I felt moved to write some more unpublished things about my great Uncle Emil Pearson, a missionary in Angola, Africa for 48 plus years.

Emil was born in Sweden and sailed to America in 1907 having his 10th birthday on the ship.  His dad had come earlier to build a house in the Minneapolis area for his sister.  His oldest son was already there, and two other brothers followed to test the waters, so to speak.  A good place to do that as there are 10,000 lakes, ten acres or larger in Minnesota.  Emil, his mother, and two sisters came over last.

When I was in New York City area several years ago, I took the boat tour over to Ellis Island and saw a memorial wall with sponsored name tags of immigrants who had been processed through the place.  Coincidently, a group of names were the same as Emil’s family, and I was moved and choked up to think of them being there about 88 years before.  They had come to America to use their trade as carpenters to build a new life in America.  The dad, Per (Peter), built everything from cradles to coffins in Sweden, and his family lived in a farmhouse by a lake, which had no indoor plumbing or electricity that I know of.  Also, Per decided to move because he didn’t want his boys drafted into the army to fight in Europe’s perpetual wars like America has now.  (By the way, the draft is coming again, and for you girls too.  Equal rights, you know.)  Well, after my tour of Ellis Island, the next docking was at the Statue of Liberty, but I was so moved and humbled with emotion, I just stayed on board and went back to the mainland to think about things.

Emil grew up and attended the University of Minnesota majoring in Electrical Engineering, and one day he felt the need to pray and asked his friends to pray with him. It was at that time he was called to be a missionary to Africa.  I asked him how he knew he was to be a missionary, and said he couldn’t explain it as he was up in the heavenlies, and when he came down, he knew he was to go to Africa.

Emil would meet his future wife while they were being schooled for the mission field, and at some point, he fell in love with the 4 years older Daisy Straw, an immigrant from England.  Well, one day in their relationship, he kissed her, having never kissed any other girl before, and they married shortly after that.  But before shipping off to the Dark Continent, Daisy was found to have a heart murmur and was told she might not be able to go to the mission field.  She informed her new husband and asked what he would do if she couldn’t go to Africa, and he replied he’d been called to go to Africa.  Well, the Lord made arrangements for her to go in spite of it, and I say jokingly, she died prematurely at 96 because of her heart condition.  They made it to Africa in 1920, and it was suggested Emil grow a mustache as he looked too young (23 at the time) to be a missionary, and had it the rest of his life.

From my observations, I think there are a lot of women who want to marry a nice Christian guy, but if he really is one, she might have serious second thoughts down the road.  You see, there is the conflict of him serving the Lord and trying to make her happy at the same time.  (I Corinthians 7:32-33)  However, Daisy worked out the situation beforehand and went to live in Angola with little in the way of modern conveniences.  It was so remote, Emil said, when a truck would pass through their mission station in the early days, they’d all run to where it had been to smell the gasoline fumes of civilization.  And their first child, Paul, who was delivered by Emil, died three days after birth for lack of modern medical facilities.

Dentistry was also performed by Emil with the aid of a book on the subject, and maybe that accounts for them having dentures.  In Daisy’s case, though, her childhood training to chew food twenty times before swallowing may have contributed to her lack of teeth.  Even her lower front dentures were ground down half way.  Emil’s dentures were in good shape and fit his narrow face well, not being broad and big in the front like Teddy Roosevelt renditions.  One time someone asked inquisitively if they were his own teeth because they looked so uniform, white, and natural, and he responded, “Why, certainly! I bought them myself.”  He and Daisy also taught their daughters through high school except for a few years in elementary schools, and afterward, they went straightway to college.  Edla Pearson, a polio victim on crutches, earned a Master’s Degree in Christian Education and taught school, and Regina Brandle became a medical doctor who specialized in treating leprosy.  Both of them were missionaries also.

Way back then, most missionaries were financially sponsored monthly by churches and individuals, and Emil and Daisy were pledged $425 a year each, which didn’t materialize in the beginning.  Emil said it was no matter to them because they were in Africa to preach the gospel.  Nowadays missionaries usually go to the large cities where most the people are; have every modern convenience and guaranteed salaries; plus, medical and retirement benefits.  I find myself in the former class like Paul the apostle, where my paycheck is no paycheck.  Nevertheless, the Lord has taken care of me better than I would have taken care of myself. 

Part 2

In the early days in the African mission field, evangelism was pretty simple as Emil would walk around the countryside and invite people to the church meeting.  In one of those services, a member of the congregation interrupted Emil as he preached, and said there was a herd of antelope nearby.  Well, not having much in the way of meat at the time, Emil passed the preaching off to Daisy and grabbed his gun to put some protein on the table.  However, as time progressed, Daisy managed a small farm, and they probably ate better than most Americans, having their own livestock, vegetables, fruits, coffee beans and other niceties in the tropical highlands, including a smokehouse.  Emil knew how to build the smoke house and other buildings, and was hired by the Portuguese colonial government to build at least one bridge.

Everything the missionaries wrote down in the native language had to have a parallel Portuguese translation to go with it: tyrants wanting to know everything you’re up to as Edward Snowden has revealed.  This accounts for Emil’s translation of a Luchazi/Portuguese Bible.  I guess his Portuguese was pretty good, too.  He said, one day as he was hobnobbing with a government official, the man commented, “Why, Mr. Pearson, I’d think you were Portuguese, but you speak the language too well.” (Emil liked to bring things up like this owing to the fact we have a dominant modesty gene in the family.)

Not only did Emil have to go hunting to supply the meat in the beginning, but he also shot more lions in the area than anyone else, as they were a fatal nuisance many times.  After receiving a new rifle from a supporter in the U.S., he wrote back to thank him, and said, while traveling down a road one day, they came upon a large lion taking a rest on the side of the road.  When the car was stopped, Emil got out with the rifle and shot and killed the beast, which measured some great length.  Emil said, even in the zoos, lions would give him a shiver as he was acquainted with their true nature of preying on people.  Then there was Daisy, who had an encounter with a leopard stalking her chickens one night.  If you knew Daisy, and her English bulldog tenacity, you could picture her defending the hens by standing guard in front of the chicken coop with her fists balled up; ready to knock some sense into the big cat.  And toward the last of Daisy’s life, she’d tell the same story over and over again about the girls’ school she ran.  The girls lived at the mission station, and one night Daisy heard music and carrying on in the dorm, and discovered, of all things, they were dancing!  Well, they had a lot of chores to accomplish before things got normal again.

So, after being in Africa for some 48 years, and substituting for missionaries on furlough a time or two later, Emil and Daisy retired, not wanting to leave because Angola was their home.  Emil was 70 and Daisy 74 at the time, and they actually had nowhere to go.  However, the Lord does provide for his own, and they were able to cash in a life insurance policy and buy a modest apartment in Leisure World at Seal Beach, California, from Daisy’s sister.  There Emil would continue to do translation work, write and publish books, and have a weekly Bible study for about 18 years in his home.  Somehow he ended up getting money from one place or another, and said he had more than he needed, and spent the extra funds on publishing the Bible and other writings.  One of the good habits he mentioned was to pay your bills as soon as you got them in the mail, and after doing so, he’d promptly report to Daisy, “Well, mother, I’ve paid all the bills off, and we’re out of debt.”

I suppose I could go on about several more things nobody would probably be interested in, so I’ll get down to the more important ones.  Emil’s daughter, Edla, said their dad had family devotions every day when they were children, by reading the Bible and making comments.  He started at Genesis and worked through to Revelation and started all over again.  After I got saved, he’d get out his Bible after a visit, put on a pair of handy glasses (sometimes Daisy’s black winged framed ones), and read a portion of scripture.  This was followed by comments and prayer.  I must have been impressed by this, and while living at my folk’s home as an adult for a couple of years, read the whole New Testament to them over a year’s time after dinner. (A healthy dessert for any family.)  Of course, back then I didn’t know much about the word, but I did know how to read out loud, and still do the same for my wife.  We do this virtually every morning before breakfast (New Testament), and at night after dinner (Old Testament) in the living room, which we call the Bible Room.  Sometimes, however, the spontaneous commentaries get a bit involved nowadays as the word of God excites and inspires one to speak.  How lucky the neighbors must be if they can hear the boisterous one carrying on at 5 a.m. Monday through Fridays before Terry goes to work.  I would like to say this about that...

I would find it very hard to believe that any Christian family doesn’t spend time together with the Bible.  Parents, you say Jesus Christ is your “personal Lord and Saviour,” but you don’t tell of that day-to-day personal relationship to your children, nor daily wash their impressionable young minds in the supernatural power of God’s word.  May I suggest you have a case of assumed salvation based on your church’s group plan, think you’re saved because you attend a meeting one or two times a week, tithe, are a Sunday school teacher and/or a board member; and of course, you don’t smoke, chew, or hang out with those who do.

Anyway, about Emil Pearson: The Liberator.  You see, when he went to that Portuguese colony in 1920 as a young man, he found the government taxed people as governments do, but many had no money to pay their taxes in the first place.  Consequently, they were imprisoned for use as slaves.  And, unfortunately, the imprisoned would never have the money to pay their European masters, and were stuck in a Catch 22 situation.  However, Emil said the taxes they owed were very little for him, and he paid off many of their debts.  Thus, they called him, "The Liberator," but more so, and for a different reason, after he gave them a Bible in their own language.

The last time I saw Emil was after I had gone over for a visit.  By that time his wife and oldest daughter had passed away a couple of years before, and his other daughter several years before that, not to mention all of his childhood family members and friends from so long ago.  As it happened, we said goodbye while standing on the sidewalk by the car on that bright and sunny day; his long white hair taking a tousle in the sea breeze, and we shook hands in the African style as we had for many years.  I said, “We’ll see you again next time, Uncle Emil.” But there was a somber look in his eyes as if he were silently telling me - he didn’t think so.  A short time later, Emil took his last breath on earth at 93 years old, for God took him.

Like Emil, there was a point in time that you were born, and there is a point in time when you will enter into eternity.  For the believer, you will take your last breath here and your next breath with the Lord - just like that.  You may be fit or frail.  You may suspect you have a few or several years left to go before the Lord calls you home, or you’re figuring God will at least let you see your children or grandchildren grow up, or you’ll surely get to take that trip to Europe you’ve thought about, or see another football game.  In fact, you could take that last final breath five minutes after you leave the doctor’s office and he has given you a good bill of health.  Truly, truly, it is appointed unto man once to die, and you already have an appointment made by the Lord for your departure, and there is nothing you can do about it.

You know, this Uncle Pete’s Memories business has always been the business of the Lord Jesus Christ as I write about myself and some of my experiences, mostly in a humorous way with occasional serious undertones.  But the intent has always been to try and contact many of you I remember from days gone by.  Hopefully, you, or someone else, has done an internet search and have found this website and heard the gospel of Jesus Christ, and made the right decision to take your first eternal breath with God.  Hope so.

The gospel truth is, Jesus Christ died for your sins.  He was tortured and murdered on a cross of crucifixion for you, so you don’t have to die for your sins forever.  And after the Lord Jesus died personally for you, he was buried and rose from the grave after three days.  Then he ascended to heaven where he sits upon the throne of God right now.  This, my friend, is the good news - eternal life with the eternal God - if you will receive it. 

God loves you.  Read your Bible.  The truth is in there, or the truth you are trying to avoid.  Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving our souls. 

The End

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