Jack & Lucky Chapter 11
The trip north to Torino was significant for what Jack did not do. He enjoyed being alone and quiet for a long period; that was not unusual. This transfer was a pleasant break from the hyperactive Elder Ballard. He was alone, if you can call mixing with thousands of noisy Italians being alone, but he enjoyed even this measure of solitude.
The train ran overnight to Roma with a switch to a modern German train to Firenze. Since it was against the mission rules to tour without permission, he was unable to stop-over in Roma; this time he obeyed the rule. The German train by contrast was luxury accommodations, very quiet, spacious and comfortable. During the three hour stopover in Firenze, Jack walked through the nearby shopping district, avoiding the Mission Office even though he had sufficient time. In retrospect, this is significant and might be one clue to a growing distance between Jack and his mission.
He arrived tired and stiff at about 10:30 PM. He had bounced and vibrated nearly the entire length of Italy. Even though Torino is the center for the Fiat auto manufacturing for all of Europe, much to the credit of the municipal planners, that fact is not immediately apparent. The well treed piazza’s and graceful boulevards were the only clue to a healthy, industrial economy.
I took a bus to the house. I was lucky the landlady was prowling around with her husband, so I got in. She cooked me a meal, which was welcome since I hadn’t eaten all day.
The other missionaries were already in bed so it was the next day before he met them. He was surprised and pleased to find his friend Elder Al Will working in the same town.
We have a pensione type apartment. Two other elders live next door. Elder Will and a new greenie Elder Camberlango, an American with Italian ancestry. My new junior companion is Julian Simons, he is seriously grouchy. That’s okay, I woke him late last night.
It was a pleasant reunion for Jack and Elder Will. He was back on his feet apparently, although he didn’t say anything about his healing process. He certainly didn’t mention his ex-girlfriend.
“Anybody got any ideas for lunch? I need to take a shower in the worst way,” Jack asked. Elder Will made the first suggestion: “There are several good tratoria around. They offer large servings cheap. One order of either spaghetti or lasagna is enough for one meal. I usually eat the meat entre the next time. They give you all the bread you can eat. The meat comes with a small salad, so in a good day you can get an adequate diet. We can get a shower at the train station afterward.” Jack observed silently that Elder Will had changed. That was more than he spoke in an entire day in Bari.
“I’m not picky. That sounds good. I need to pick up my bike too. Is the tratoria by the train station any good? I saw it last night. It’s close to the public showers.”
Elder Simons suggested, “I need to stop at a store to buy some stationery.”
“There’s a real department store called “Standa” here in town. We can go there on the way home.” Elder Will had a ready answer.
“How ’bout you Camberlango, you need anything?” Jack tried to include the new greenie in the discussion.
“No I’m okay. I’ll just look around.”
Jack continued, “I hope the water’s hot. I feel like using enough water for three showers.”
“I’ll never get used to drying with those coarse sheets they give for towels.” Elder Simons quickly established a pattern of seeing the negative side. He had the remarkable talent of finding something wrong with everything.
Elder Will defended this anomaly. “That’s the price of living in a foreign country, accepting unusual accommodations and different life styles.” It was as though he had taken what was best about Jack and incorporated that into his own personality. He had been much more fussy and taciturn before.
With no further delay the four missionaries walked the mile or so to the train station. They arranged their schedule as they went, accommodating all the needs that had been expressed.
Sometime during the last few months, the Mission Office abandoned the theory of scattering missionaries in many different cities. The new vogue was to concentrate missionaries in population centers where they could essentially reinforce each other. The synergism created by a local Branch with local members could help support their effort to attract investigators. Certainly the improvement in control did not miss their keen sense of management.
In Torino there would be four more missionaries arriving shortly so Jack and his companion had to move their abode to another location. They began looking for an apartment. Jack was an old hand at this game.
The local missionaries had been getting together for a language study class three times a week between 8:00 and 9:00 in the morning under the direction of Elder Herman, the District Leader. In addition to maintaining order and discipline it helped new missionaries. Jack was assigned the task of coordinating grammar studies and developed both beginners and advanced lessons.
The weather turned sour and Jack’s attitude matched according to his comment the next day, the last day of August:
After breakfast we tracted some. We started a little late and quit a little early to make up for it.
By September 1st it was raining frequently and this was always a distraction, even to the strongest work ethic.
One Saturday in early September the Torino missionaries went together for an excursion to the Matterhorn, “Cervinia” the chimney. They took a bus to the main lodge and Jack and Elder Herman decided to hike up the mountain. Elder Herman was built like Jack, tall and thin with the stamina of a long distance runner. By walking they could get a closer look at the local flora and fauna. The others purchased a ticket and rode to the top on the chair lifts.
Jack looked up in awe. “How far is it up to the top?”
“It’s only two thousand feet or so to the top of the first lift.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.” Jack was always ready for a challenge.
“I got some lunch in my bag. We can stop and share it on the way.” They were off walking up the hill.
With a sense of nostalgia in his voice, Jack suggested, “This beautiful green reminds me of the hills around my home where I grew up in Oregon, except we had a lot more trees.”
“We passed the trees on the bus, I think you were asleep. Now we’re well above the trees.”
The climb proved much slower going than Jack expected. Part of that was due to the reflective nature of the trip. Jack recorded some of his impressions in detail.
We made it to a small lake by noon and had lunch there, sharing the food Elder Herman had brought. Real pretty, baby blue lake! Then more walking up to another small dark blue lake…It was cloudy in the morning but beautifully clear in the afternoon after 2:30.
When we reached the top we paused for a moment and I realized how much can be gained when a person relaxes in silence in the middle of nature’s beauty. When I was in this state, my mind was blank of all coarse thoughts and I only absorbed and responded to my surroundings.
It doesn’t take a brisk walk up a hill to make a person appreciate beauty, but it doesn’t hurt. We should be able to realize the beauty in life all around us all the time. This feeling of appreciation needs to be cultivated, however. Even listening to smooth classical music or to the chaotic rhythm of Jazz can provide a relaxation equal to the peacefulness of nature. God’s creations have no more true art in them than many of man’s.
The beauty associated with a certain creation is of course relative to the beholder’s ability to absorb, or rather, realize. A certain person could find unlimited beauty in a leaf or an impressionistic painting, while another person can only see beauty in Jazz or modern abstract art. Today there was beauty in the minute flowers growing on the rocks among the lichen and moss.
The quality of ugliness can be found, but can be avoided. I am frequently surprised by the emotional impact of paintings or the song of a bird, the symmetry of a simple leaf. There is often beauty where I least expect to find it.
Some say that our character is portrayed by the works we create. It is more useful to suggest that these qualities of character are reflected in the works we accept as art. I know that I appreciate much more refined art than I could ever hope to create, so I hope the later argument carries more truth. Evidence for this can be found in the fact that it is our personality and character which determine what we will enjoy and how much depth of art we can appreciate from any certain object or event.
I like to spend time often thinking of nothing in particular and relaxing. Being on top of a mountain, far away from the maddening crowds lends itself to such meditation. But in truth, I can achieve this same sense by lying and listening to soothing music in a dark room with no visual stimulation.
On the lift Jack confided, “Part of my family heritage includes a doctor who emigrated from Switzerland. I feel a kindred spirit to the people who live around here and in Switzerland. I hope I can visit there on my way home. That’s still a long way off though.”
“I’ve heard they discontinued the policy of letting missionaries travel. There were so many that have gotten lost or in trouble they just make you go directly home.”
“Maybe that will change.” Jack, the eternal optimist.
“Look. There’s a chalet. It reminds me of pictures of Switzerland. Even though we’re still in Italy it feels like Switzerland.” Elder Herman was a kindred spirit, although the two didn’t directly share their most intimate insights.
“That must have been German that old guy was talking. He sure didn’t understand Italian.” Jack had tried to make conversation with a farmer he met earlier who lived on the side of the mountain.
“Well, we saw some dairy cows but we never did find Heidi. I was looking for a beautiful blonde mountain girl.”
Jack waived him off. “I’d settle for a St. Bernard dog now.”
“You can’t have everything. That crystal white mountain looks like a giant ice cream cone. There’s something about being so close to tall mountains or wide rivers that makes me feel thoughtful and like meditating.”
“Ya, I wish we had more time to just sit here and enjoy it.”
Elder Herman was equally at peace in this wilderness area. Their ride going down hill on the ski lift was over too quickly considering their sentiment. Considering their schedule, they barely made it to rejoin the group in time to ride their bus. They had only two minutes to spare and were the topic of much derision.
There was a baptism Sunday morning in an indoor pool they rented. Two people were getting baptized. Elder Will did one and a local member Hank Guerci performed the other. So the community of members was already growing. This didn’t prove the theory about consolidating missionaries but it didn’t hurt the argument either.
Jack was still plagued by an internal struggle. He was trying to get excited again but was haunted by a lack of religious conviction. He was a pilot with chronic air sickness.
I wrote a letter to the president telling him that I was weak in the faith. We’ll see what happens. I’m probably a below average missionary now.
During the study class Monday Elder Will and others complained about the need for such a class.
Elder Herman took up the topic. “Elder Lincoln how would you feel if we quit having this class?”
“I could live without it but I think it’s useful and important. We got bikes and the travel isn’t that big a problem.” Jack felt much more strongly in favor of meeting in order to exchange companions but it was strategically important to begin the argument on a low key. He had learned in Bari how obstinate Al Will could be when it came to other people organizing details around his life.
“How about you Elder Will?”
“It’s mostly a waste of time. We don’t get enough done anyway.” It wasn’t unusual for Elder Will to disagree with Jack, or visa-versa. This time he seemed to take it personal and their relationship cooled. He had changed from the previous comrade in argument.
Elder Herman came back, “We can fix that if we each try harder.” The typical idealist. Elder Simons had been coached by Al to express his opposition. “This class is too much trouble. We have to chase around too much as it is.” That was his characteristic negative attitude. Another elder joined the affirmative. “I’m for it. I think we need to help each other. It’s helpful to trade off companions.”
“We could still do that. The study class is just extra effort.” Elder Will was possibly trying to break away from Elder Herman’s weak control.
“We just got started here. Lets keep it up for a while to see if it helps.” Elder Herman was responsible for the success of the District and the classes made that more likely.
Jack decided to be more forceful to encourage Elder Herman to adopt his own opinion. “This meeting helps discipline people to keep on track. In order to achieve this we have to be willing to make some personal sacrifices. This should help Elders Camberlango and Riddle (another new elder) to give them a good foundation in the language.” Jack reasoned persuasively from his point of view as language instructor.
“Let’s wait and see. Maybe it would be better to meet around noon between 1:00 and 2:00. How about that?” Herman was vacillating.
There was an uncomfortable silence and palpable tension.
Finally Al broke the stress and spoke abruptly. “No. If we must, let’s keep it in the morning, we have to get up early anyway, if we have to waste time it’s better to waste this time than useful time in the middle of the day.”
“Okay,” Elder Herman assented weakly.
On this rainy day Jack and his companion came home early to wait out the storm, they had already suffered through a stressful human storm.
We made one appointment during the morning…After dinner we went to our appointment with a girl, Antonetta. We hope to baptize her, she was sincerely interested, besides she is beautiful.
Not everything was a disappointment on this dark Monday. The brief and casual contact with the attractive and charming Antonetta stood out in bright contrast to the rest of the routine. This situation gave inspiration and improved Jack’s attitude about his work.
Tuesday was another short day for work. It was Mutual and Jack had developed a skit for part of the entertainment. When the others arrived from work he introduced his latest project to them.
“I need you guys to help me with this skit tonight at Mutual.”
Al looked suspicious and mutinous as he took off his coat. “What do you have up your sleeve Link, let me read it.”
Jack handed him the papers. “There is a role in it for each of you so we need to divide up the parts.”
Elder Simons had helped Jack create the skit so he had a role already picked out. “I will be the hero, as long as it remains a non-speaking role.”
“That’s the whole point of a melodrama, to read and act out the story without dialogue. Like a silent movie.”
“This could work. But we have to change it a bit.” Al had processed the information and made an improvement. “I will be the villain, because it fits my character, and I will dress like a catholic priest. Camberlango has to play the role of the heroine because of the dark hair on his legs and arms.”
“I don’t want to dress up as a girl,” he protested mildly.
“Sorry buddy.” Al was taking charge and Jack let him, it was the price he had to pay to win his cooperation.
“You have to listen to your companion, he’s the casting director,” Jack affirmed.
“The hero, Simons, is a Mormon missionary coming to save the beautiful maiden, Antonetta (Camberlango), from the train track just in the nick of time.” Al described the action as he reviewed the script.
Jack’s enthusiasm was growing. “I will narrate and then switch and play the role of the train coming down the track. Feel free to correct some of the grammar in the reading part. I don’t want to make any more errors than necessary.”
The skit went over well. The hero, the Mormon missionary, saved the heroine, to whom Jack had awarded the name of the beautiful Antonetta, from the clutches of the evil villain personifying the Catholic Church. Jack narrated the classic American drama with the best Italian rhetoric the group could muster but like most jokes, you had to be there to appreciate it. The demagoguery against the Catholic Church fit right into the natural bias of the Mormon community.
We ate cake and punch. I was supposed to communicate telepathically with Julie this evening but Mutual ruined those plans. I have to apologize.
Antonetta might have distracted him.
Jack learned on short notice from Elder Herman that there was to be a Zone Conference on the next evening. That was quick notice but so be it.
The regional conference began at 7:00 on Friday evening.
We discussed problems and organization. We were all interviewed by the president.
Jack was circumspect about talking to the president because of the recent letter he had written. When his turn came he entered the small room nervously. President Downey didn’t smile, he looked authoritative and concerned with his white mane and long, solemn, over-stuffed facial features.
“I see you got my letter.” Jack struggled to project a smile. The president was holding the letter firmly in his hand.
“Yes. And I’m not the least bit happy about this. This is very serious.” His tone was more scolding than sympathetic.
“I thought it was best to be honest with you.”
“I appreciate that but what are you going to do about gaining a stronger testimony? You can’t let yourself slip into apostasy, you have to work on your own faith, I can’t do it for you.”
“I have been working and praying. But I guess I could make a more concentrated effort to fast and pray.”
“Well you don’t need to fast much. It’s better if you keep up your health and diet. But you can pray more and work harder. You have to concentrate on reading the scriptures. Do you read regularly?”
“Well, yes. But I do read other books too.”
“Lay off those and concentrate on reading and rereading the scriptures and subjects you’re supposed to be teaching. And keep it simple, don’t try to chase the answers to all the mysteries in the world. Just try to understand some of the simple parts of life first.” President Downey spoke in a rough, serious, very deep base voice.
Jack was puzzled by what he said. “Why couldn’t he maintain his faith and still investigate other books and ideas?” he thought to himself.
Jack didn’t expect President Downey could answer the specific questions which plagued him, which he had written about in his letter, so he didn’t ask the same questions over again. He resolved to put them out of his mind for a while and follow the president’s suggestion.
He told me to shake it off and go to work. I may do it. It was a productive conference so far.
This was essentially a repeat of the interview Jack had in Padova.
The president’s advice was more along the order of a visit to the woodshed. His blunt instructions dismissed any attempt by Jack to talk to him in any detail. Maybe that’s what he needed, just a kick in the pants.
Jack was going like a Yo-Yo. One week he was up-beat and working hard, the next down. There was another cycle that related to the changes of companions. Since this was over several months that cycle was too wide for him to analyze, although he knew it was there. A third, longer cycle, even more intense and overlapping these would take a turn and manifest results in two months.
All Jack could recognize was, this week he was down. Maybe it was the weather. Each time he cycled down, doubts increased, his resolve weakened and his dedication was eroded more.
The conference continued Saturday.
We had District reports, discussions and testimonies. I was the only one not to bare testimony. I didn’t feel the spirit of the occasion.
The conference adjourned for lunch. Jack went with a group to the tratoria near their pensione where they had been eating frequently.
“What are you going to order Jack? Spaghetti or Spaghetti?” At least Elder Will hadn’t lost his sardonic sense of humor.
“Today’s a beefsteak with salad day. I had spaghetti yesterday.”
“That meat is too tough for me.” The chubby Elder Simons was the gourmet food critic.
Al asked quietly, “How come you didn’t say anything during the meeting today Jack?” Al Will was the only one who paid attention to such details.
“I don’t know. I just didn’t feel like it. I tried to talk to the president yesterday and all he did was scold me. So I guess I’m still a little down.”
Elder Simons confided, “Did he ask you if you’re masturbating? He always asks me that. He must think I’m a sex fiend.”
“Not you Simons. Hell you look like a eunuch.” Elder Will gave everybody a bad time.
“Go to hell Al. You probably told him how you get up every morning at 6:00, right?”
“I don’t answer questions he doesn’t ask.”
“I guess I appreciate the social aspect of the conference more than the spiritual side. You guys are so pleasant and fun to be with.” Jack was the master of sarcasm. Elder Camberlango had been quiet as usual. “The president didn’t seem too happy. Is he always like that?”
“He was better than usual, I thought,” Al suggested.
Jack disagreed. “I’ve seen him happier. But I’m having trouble paying attention because my head is all stuffed up.” His cold was getting worse and he had a slight fever.
Off again to the conference, where we discussed Priesthood, Relief Society and Primary meetings. Then had refreshments.
It was a long, grueling day by the time the missionaries got to bed.
Jack pulled himself through the motions all week with frequent rests to help his cold. His morale hadn’t improved but his companion’s disposition improved markedly in direct proportion to Jack’s discontent. Elder Simons felt better when Jack felt worse, he improved from obstinacy to quiet complacency. Jack’s cynicism toward religion may have contributed to the sour attitude of his companion, except Jack could only see his own discomfort.
They did finally manage to find another apartment. It was a large single salon overlooking an attractive plaza. The room had windows on two sides and a high ceiling. It was spacious enough to accommodate six elders barracks style, each on single beds. There was a shared table in the middle, toilet facilities just outside the door but no cooking area. They agreed to take it even though it wasn’t perfect. They were all low on money and getting desperate.
Saturday, they moved into their new accommodations. Jack carried his luggage the ten blocks or so on his shoulders in several trips. Considering his low level of stamina resulting from his persistent cold, that was a significant accomplishment. It was all he could do to make it up the two flights of stairs on the last trip and he collapsed on the bed without unpacking.
Catastrophe struck Monday when Jack and Elder Simons visited Antonetta.
After lunch we went to an appointment and had an interesting experience with the girl Antonetta. Her mother kicked us out, politely but firmly. We had to talk in circles to explain our intentions but she was adamant.
This was nearly the same parental situation that had occurred in Bari with Rinaldo. Mormonism was regarded as an evil cult group by these staunch Catholics. These young people would remember their contact and maybe some day they would meet another missionary and be free to decide.
In this event Antonetta’s mother may have been shielding her daughter from what she expected were potential sexual advances. Certainly there is a strong component of sexuality in religion. Religion provides an intricate system of morals and guidance for sexual conduct. It also utilizes charisma for persuasion which is associated with sexual appeal or animal magnetism. So, possibly there is an element of wisdom in the action of the mother.
Since the mission had a basketball team, they planned to come to Torino to play. It fell to Jack to organize the details and find a suitable team for local competition. He began checking around at a gym and made a few calls during the day. The next day our two sports fans went to meet a local basketball team to determine if they were willing to play. They were, and even agreed to help with publicity. Jack sent the word to the Mission Office and the tournament was set.
Sunday, Jack ordained Aldo Griffa, a recent convert, to the Priesthood as a Deacon. This was the first time in months he had used his official powers of the Priesthood to any constructive purpose. The missionaries attended the other meetings during the day but still Jack was under the weather and didn’t feel like working. He managed to find enough energy to read, however.
During the evening meeting Elder Herman asked Jack to help him look for a church because he had been unsuccessful. Jack was better at finding places and getting things done than doing missionary work. He would dig and dig for information, not quitting at the first sign of disappointment. That same practical approach to finding converts, however, had yielded no results.
There was a pair of women missionaries in the community. They worked independently like Jack and the others. They spent extra time with women investigators but otherwise did much the same work as the elders. There was a district meeting on Wednesday and the sisters were in attendance.
We discussed plans and the need for the new church facility. The sisters brought some cookies they wished to sell. We jealously bought them. They were oatmeal, my favorite.
After the meeting we went for a shower. Great feeling being clean, in clean clothes.
His attitude was improving on the surface by the 2nd of October.
Still raining a little. We bought yogurt and fruit juice for lunch and ate at home. Then read and studied until we went out and saw comebacks. One appointment fell through then we gave three Screening Discussions in the afternoon. That really felt good for a change.
It only takes a little success to improve Jack’s spirits; he’s teetering on a fragile balance.
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