Jack & Lucky Chapter 6
Elder Jack Lincoln was on his way to Italy as a missionary for the Mormon Church. The group of 12 elders departed Salt Lake City Airport at 9:55 AM, traveled through Minneapolis leaving at 2:00 PM. They flew to Chicago on a whisper-jet…
…sure was noisy. We really got the treatment by the airline people; private waiting room, real nice. I bought an Alitalia shoulder bag. We had dinner on this flight, fillet mignon. This is a short day because we traveled east and lose nine hours. At Chicago I sent a card to Julie.
I woke up on the plane sometime this morning…I looked out the window over France and then Italy. The green and brown patch-work quilt of farms stretched endlessly as we gracefully hovered past in slow motion.
We landed in Milano around noon. We went by bus to a different air terminal, then we flew to Pisa on a two engine plane. I sent a card to Julie from Milano. We arrived in Pisa at 5:00 PM and met the mission president, Joseph Downey, and his assistants. They took us to the tower of Pisa…I climbed the tower, saw the chapel, the baptistery and the wall which also surrounds part of the inner city.
Jack was enthralled by the uniqueness of this new world. “You don’t really appreciate the size and power of these structures until you get close to them in person,” he said to no one in particular. Jack’s companions were equally awestruck. They were typical tourists, looking up with their mouths agape.
Elder Jackson, the First Assistant, pointed to the side of the huge chapel. “Look at that octagonal shape building. That is the Baptistery. By the design of it we figure it was used for baptism by emersion.”
“Ya, I see what you mean. Can we go look inside?”
“No, it’s closed off to tourists. We already tried.”
Elder Black, the Administrative Clerk, added, “I always feel like a returning hero to bring the true message of The Gospel and baptism by emersion back to these people.”
“Ya, right,” Elder Jackson assented.
The Baptistery was the only thing that really sparked a theological discussion in the group on their journey.
Then we drove to Firenze which was about 60 kilometer. We drove past some of the markets. The buildings are all dirty and in very bad repair. There are certainly a lot of statues around, lots of shops and stores. We are staying in the California Pensione. We got here and at 8:00 PM had dinner, spaghetti, omelet, salad, a real good dinner. Then I took a bath and went for a walk with Elder Goldman. We walked and walked until we had to ask for directions back to the Pensione. We got back shortly after 11:00.
September 7, at 10:00 went to the Mission Office where we were thoroughly oriented into the mission. We filled out some forms and received some rules and weekly report forms. We went downtown to lunch, but nearly got lost and only found where we were to meet after several inquiries. It’s difficult to ask for or interpret instructions when these are in a language completely foreign.
After lunch we went back to the Mission Office to be interviewed by the president.
President Downey has pure white hair combed straight back, a full, flabby face to match his overweight stature. He smiles easily but sparingly and takes his work very seriously.
He was a distinguished looking man as long as he didn’t speak, then he seemed rather common. He carried his bulk easily on his tall, 6′ 2″, frame. He had been a successful engineer and gave the grand impression of being a knowledgeable, devote Church Leader. He was sympathetic and made friends with the missionaries easily.
“Elder Lincoln,” he said as he consulted his notes, “how do you feel about coming to Italy after that long trip.”
“I’m really excited about being here. The plane ride and drive was more interesting than tiring. I may have to catch up on some sleep later on though.”
“This is a new mission you know. There is a lot of opportunity here and many challenges we can’t always anticipate. You will have to confront so many new situations so be sure to ask for help because you won’t be alone. We will try to give you all the help you need.”
“Learning the language will be the first challenge. I’ve studied French and Latin, maybe that will help.”
“I’ve been here for four months and still can’t speak very much. But you will do much better because you will be directly involved every day. So don’t be discouraged if it takes a little time to get your feet on the ground.”
“I’ll try not to.”
“I hope you meet with great success. Would you ask the next elder to come in?”
They shook hands, smiling and Jack was out the door, surprised the conversation was so short. The talk was encouraging but very general and even vague. Jack’s main response was to shrug his shoulders afterward.
After the interview, Jack went around town with Elder Goldman again.
We went to cash my check, and ran around town and didn’t get it cashed. At 6:00 we went to dinner with President Downey and family that consisted of one daughter about twelve years old and his wife, a slight built women. She barely said two words the entire evening, but she smiled nicely. I had lasagna or something with chicken fried steak or something.
After dinner Elder Goldman and I went shopping. He is a well built athletic sort, he’ll make a good business person some day managing his father’s fast food restaurants. I bought an umbrella for 2000 Lira and a brief case for 3000 Lira, reasonably good buys, good materials anyway. Then home and to bed. A big carnival or holiday was in progress all night. Some of the guys went to see it, I went to sleep trying to write my diary.
September 8. I was notified that I would be sent to Trento in the Alps to open a new city. [Jack would soon learn that Trento was near the Dolomite Mountains not the Alps.] I got up and ate in a hurry and rushed to the bank, and rushed to catch the train. Then we were off, first to Bologna then to Verona. I studied on the train…
Jack traveled with three other missionaries. He and Elder Hunt agreed to pair off as companions pro-temp, it made little difference since they all stayed together. Hunt had also been one of the “12 apostles” so he and Jack were well acquainted and got along well. He was thin and slightly taller than Jack, reserved with a natural wit and quick intelligence.
We met our companions only after a prolonged search. They had their ties off and were incognito mingling with the crowds for a while. They thought this was great sport, leaving four of us newcomers in a hopeless state of confusion, not knowing where to go or what to do. Finally, they emerged from the crowd and told us who they were.
This made Jack upset at Elder Cook. When they were finally introduced Jack suggested, “Your sense of humor must be warped by having stayed in Italy so long.”
“You guys sure looked pathetic.”
“Don’t look now but somehow we’ll get even.” This mild form of hazing seemed inappropriate to Jack. Their meeting had gotten off to a bad start.
“We wanted to see if you could tell the difference between Italians and Americans to test how well we have adapted to this country.”
“You’re supposed to help us avoid problems not create them.”
“You’re letting yourself get upset much too easily. Maybe it’s the wrong time of the month.” Elder Cook laughed vigorously at his own joke.
The group filed out of the station not entirely happy.
Then we went to their apartment. Two elders stay in Verona including Elder Hunt, one went to Udine and I came to Trento. From the apartment we went to dinner at a new member’s house with his family; spaghetti, pork chops, real good…
Church members, especially Italian Church members, were rare in Italy. Apparently this man who hosted the missionaries in Verona had been converted in Germany while there as a guest worker. He was a tall fellow with an outlandish goatee and mustache and an easy smile. He was generous to the missionaries because he enjoyed their company.
We left for the station but we were just in time to miss our train. We waited for an hour and got the next one.
Missing the train gave Jack another reason to be upset with Elder Cook. The two were off to a bad start.
The scenery along the trip into the mountains was beautiful. We saw lots of sport shops for skiing both around the train station and in the small villages as we passed in the train. The mission president is not strict in his regulation, so I’m going to buy some nice sport coats cheap. We’re staying in a hotel for 1750 Lira per person, kinda high but it’s okay for one night. Now exercise and to bed.
September 9. Elder Cook and I went out to find an apartment and make arrangements for dinner. We carried his luggage to our hotel, a different one than last night because this one is cheaper, but not much different. We went to eat lunch at the place up on the hill where we will probably always eat lunch [student cafeteria] our only full meal of the day. I’m sending for my vitamin pills right away. Then we hitch-hiked to the area which Elder Cook chose as our first neighborhood for work and got the layout…
Elder Cook was from a small town in northern California called Paradise. What an irony to leave Paradise and come to this idyllic setting. Torino is a bustling city in northern Italy, half way around the globe from Paradise, a paradise of it’s own. He transferred to Italy from his original assignment in the German Mission and had already been in the country four months. His grasp of the language was reasonably good considering such a short exposure. The two were not exactly compatible because of a very different approach to life.
The next day Elder Cook and Co. found a single bedroom in a second floor apartment tucked away down a long corridor in the back of a large building. The landlady was a rather ugly, unsmiling, widow dressed always in black. Elder Cook could barely understand her because of her thick Trentino dialect. Of course, Jack didn’t have a clue. She was confused by the more or less correct, literary Italian spoken by Elder Cook.
During the early evening of the next day Jack had an unexpected shock on the way to dinner. He had forgotten about a deep seated fear he had when he was a child. As they walked by a park, they passed a group of children playing under the supervision of two nuns. The Sisters wore traditional robes, all black, long dresses to the ground with white, starched fabric surrounding their faces.
At the first sight of the nuns, Jack had a slight elevation of his pulse and a reminiscent nervousness that recalled the fear he once felt. As a child he had been playing in a park on swings and slides when two nuns came into the area walking peacefully along the sidewalk. When the young Jack saw them, he began crying impulsively and jumped off the swing and ran into the surrounding bushes to hide. At the tender age of four he couldn’t control his fear reaction. Each time he peeked through the bushes the fear increased.
At that tender age Jack didn’t know what Catholic nuns were about, they were just like Halloween witches. There actions gave no special cause for this fear. He might have been taught from the perspective of his Mormon training that these people were somehow evil or representatives of the devil. Of course nothing could be further from the truth. More likely something unconscious caused this fear because he was never able to explain a rational basis for it.
While growing up, Jack rarely encountered nuns and never talked to a Sister directly. In Italy he would likely see nuns every other day and he simply had to put such an irrational fear aside.
Jack decided to turn his fear into a challenge of self-examination to determine why he felt that way. Each time he saw a nun he would try to discover any sub-conscious basis for his old fear. He stopped for a moment to watch. The peaceful manners and tender nurturing movements quickly erased any remnants of that old emotional legacy. With no special effort his fear turned into something of a fascination.
In the evening before bed Jack commented in his diary:
This seems like a week full of Saturdays. The days seem to be going fast. Each day we have traveled or organized or moved around or shopped and studied. We haven’t accomplished any missionary work.
He was chomping at the bit to talk to someone about religion other than his companion. Instead they were going in administrative circles doing everything else but teaching.
Jack mentioned his eagerness to his companion. “It’s been a whole week since I left the US and I haven’t made any contact with investigators. I expected things to move a little faster than this.”
“You greenies are all the same, all over-anxious. Don’t worry it will wear off. And, we will do some work soon enough. You new missionaries are always impatient with your own progress. You have to learn patience.”
Jack didn’t respond to this patronizing comment. He finished his preparations for bed and confined his complaints to his diary.
Lucky peered disinterestedly from the window of the drab green troop bus as he approached Ford Ord in California. The un-inviting terrain changed little as they entered the main gate.
The bus pulled past the PX contract service station, the post theater, commissary, post office and post exchange but Lucky didn’t appreciate the benefits these buildings would eventually provide. He did memorize the streets and routes as the bus progressed slowly to some unknown destiny. The general impression was distance and space. This was a rambling complex with wide areas of dirt between isolated buildings.
The bus stopped in front of one of many long, wood, two story structures which looked like dormitories, because that’s what they were. There were a few people wondering around the barracks area but no crowds of organized troops.
The bus driver stood with a clip-board in his hand. “You guys gonna be livin’ in one of these white barns for a while so get used to the idea. That open field out there is where you march, that’s the easiest thing you’ll have to do. First you have to figure out where you’re s’posed to be. I’ll read off your name and tell you your Company assignment and point you in he right direction. When you get off this bus you go to your building and if there ain’t nobody there then just wait. So you’re on your own and good luck. You guys are lucky cuz it ain’t as bad as it used to be when I went through here.” He proceeded to read the names.
When Lucky’s name was called he took his simple suitcase and left the bus. He headed toward the building indicated by the driver with three of the other new troops who had the same assignment. So far so good. No mass of troops, no yelling, no heckling. They walked cautiously looking around at the desolate, bleak surroundings making jokes about the parentage of the driver.
They approached the building sporting a sign, Company C, Troop B, the place looked vacant. When they climbed the few stairs and opened the door they were greeted by an empty building. There were three doors inside the front hallway, each was closed. They tested the two side doors and these were locked. The center door opened to an equally empty barracks area with empty beds arranged evenly on each side of the room. The beds were Spartan and unmade, composed of gray striped, cotton stuffed mattresses on dark green metal frames. Still no sign of humanity.
The silence was broken by footsteps from behind. Lucky and his companions turned to be greeted by a young soldier dressed smartly in a brown khaki uniform boasting a blue shoulder rope hanging loosely under his left arm.
“I’m Sparks. I’m your temporary troop leader. You guys are the first to come. Everybody else will be here before tomorrow night. In the meantime, you’re mine. We just have to wait here till Monday until the Sergeant shows up. In the meantime, you do what I tell you, which means we go to the movie tonight after dinner at the mess hall. I’ll break you in easy cuz I’ve only been here a month myself. This is my weekend duty, to baby-sit you new guys. Put your stuff on one of those bunks and we’ll go check in at the OD’s. That’s Officer of the Day. Don’t worry, you’ll learn all this new language pretty soon.”
Basic training was more waiting than work it seemed. Everywhere Company C, Troop B went they had to wait. In spite of Lucky’s questionable educational background and rugged youth he adjusted well to military life. He made it through boot camp. After the hair cut, forced marching, early wake-up and scrubbing showers, it wasn’t as bad as people made out. He just stayed clear of the sergeants and jumped when they said jump.
It was more like a sports camp. Much of the conditioning was organized around competitive sports. Lucky loved firing weapons. He couldn’t get enough of target practice and qualified in marksmanship easily. He even passed the obstacle course once his squad learned the secrets from Sparks. He told them how to use their legs and throw their weight. Waiting for hours at a time turned out to be the most nerve racking part of the job.
The first night in their first permanent apartment was a cultural shock for Jack and worse for Elder Cook. The bedroom furnishings consisted of two narrow beds with sagging wire platforms covered with a lumpy, loose cotton mattress. The mattress was surrounded by a coarsely woven sack-sheet that was closer to burlap than linen. The top cover on the bed was a down-filled comforter so thick it would keep a corpse warm.
Jack was unsure whether to sleep above or below the sheet since there was only one. He determined it was actually a sack so the only choice was to lay between the sheet and the comforter. Elder Cook hated the lumps and sagging bed frame after the first night and complained repeatedly about its lack of comfort. The landlady made the bed over each day no doubt thinking the bed was perfectly adequate. She pounded on the mattress after it became ill formed each night. It was no wonder many old people walked around in a permanent stooping position, they simply grew into the form of their beds.
The landlady was very frugal. She would only turn the water heater on when needed and charged extra for hot baths. Elder Cook had apparently forgotten to negotiate this issue of hot water with the landlady when they first took the apartment. He was very upset when he learned about the extra charges. He complained vehemently but the landlady was adamant. She maintained it was common knowledge that such extra charges must be paid. This became a serious bone of contention. Of course Jack was on the outside looking in and only heard Elder Cook’s side of the issue.
The best solution was to take a cold sponge bath each morning or evening as needed and once a week or more go to the train station to the public bath. For 100 Lira (about 15 cents $US) you could rent a towel made of the same coarse material as the bed sheets. You could spend as much time in hot water as you could stand or until you turned into a prune, whichever came first.
Just as the new apartment brought a new series of unfamiliar experiences, so the confusion with the landlady reinforced the impression of incompetence on the part of Elder Cook. Jack found both of these circumstances more humorous than annoying. Elder Cook, quite to the contrary, was enthusiastically annoyed by every discomfort.
Elder Cook was short, about 5′ 4″, much shorter than Jack. Because of this his clothes were baggy, his grey suit coat hung loosely and his pleated pants were baggy on his thin frame. His ludicrous attempts at humor and awkward personality gave the impression that he was an odd duck. In Italy, however, shortness was less noticeable.
Otherwise Elder Cook was a rather dull, simple and modest person with sharp, bony rather homely facial features. He had straight, light brown hair that no matter how many times it was combed or greased in place managed to stick up or out in the wrong direction. He greeted this first assignment as Senior companion with enthusiasm, relishing the thought of being in charge of another human being. He was uncomfortable with this new authority because he forgot, if he ever knew, that power must come from knowledge not position. He made decisions that seemed deliberately arbitrary, at best he was reluctant to give explanations and peevish about being asked. It was as if he operated with a chip on his shoulder, a Napoleon complex.
A cool Monday morning, September 12th, was the first real day of missionary work for Jack and his senior companion. By 9:00 they had finished their morning study and routine and were walking to what they had selected as the tracting area.
Jack asked as they left the lateria, “It seems rather early to be knocking on people’s doors, don’t you think?”
Both Jack and Elder Cook had purchased a small package of cookies and some awful tasting milk in a small four sided triangle shaped package. The idea was to cut one corner of the triangle and squeeze the milk in gulps as they walked. There was a silence as Elder Cook drank some milk.
“It doesn’t matter much. Whoever is home is up. If they want to talk they will, if they don’t they won’t. I have found it’s as good a time as any.”
“That sounds reasonable,” Jack agreed blankly as he crunched another cookie and washed it down with a swallow of milk.
The milk was better when it was taken in long continuous gulps. The only time the taste bothered Jack was at the beginning and ending of each mouthful. So it made sense to make the mouthfuls continue longer and thereby minimize the actual tasting.
“By this afternoon you should be able to say these few words of introduction at the door. The sooner you begin to talk, the sooner you’ll gain confidence and learn the language. I have written down this introduction and you should memorize it as we go along. Pay attention to the pronunciation as you hear me use the same words over and over.”
Elder Cook handed Jack a sheet of paper with some foreign words printed neatly across the lines and extending about half-way down the page. At least he had a very legible penmanship. He fancied himself a draftsman and had a fetish about creating neat productions.
Siamo due studenti Americani. Siamo qui in Italia come missionari per la Chiesa Mormoni. Ha lei interesa nelle cose religiose?…
As they continued walking to the neighborhood, Elder Cook read the first line of the door approach. Jack tried to repeat the words as best he could sounding like an American with a thick accent of course. In truth it was a rather poor beginning.
Elder Cook had purchased a half-size notebook and had prepared by drawing vertical lines on the pages. He wrote the street name on the top of the first page. Below that he put the house number of the first house they came to. This was a wealthy neighborhood with single family homes rather than high-rise apartments. They entered the metal gate of the first house. Jack followed as they approached the door of a grey, stucco, two story house that looked spacious even by American standards. There was a bell so they rang it. Nothing happened, no one home. They rang the bell a second time and again silence. Elder Cook wrote an “NA”, no answer, in the second column of his notebook. They would come back another time.
“Well that was easy enough.”
Jack had a tendency to use sarcasm as a beginning point for an attempt at humor. Elder Cook was more frequently annoyed than amused by this. He too often took it personally; that was “un-cool.”
“Not everyone is home of course. Read your door approach to me out loud.” Elder Cook was slightly irritated as they went out the gate toward the next house.
Jack accepted the suggestion and struggled with the words.
“Italian is a very easy language to pronounce.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“Just listen. Every syllable has its own sound with very few exceptions. The vowels almost always have the same sound: “a” is aa like in almond, “e” is a like in ate, “i” is e like in eat, “o” is o like in orange, “u” is oo like in super not supper. Not like English which must be a bitch to learn. So repeat it again after me.”
“I wish you could use other examples, you’re making me hungry.” Jack repeated the phrases dutifully, reading from the neatly printed paper. By the time he was half through the phrases, they were in front of the second house.
“That sounds better already.”
Jack turned the mechanical bell on the large varnished wooden door. This time there was some rustling inside, someone was coming.
“Listen carefully as I take this.”
“What else do you expect me to do?”
Then there was a sound from behind the door.
“Buon’ giorno.” A suspicious but cheerful response came from what must have been an elderly lady on the other side of the door.
“Boun’ giorno, siamo due…” Elder Cook repeated his approach speaking loudly to the closed door. They continued a brief conversation that Jack couldn’t understand. Then the lady was gone and the door was silent.
Jack smiled in condolence as Elder Cook turned to leave. “She’s the housekeeper and the family is out of town. She isn’t interested but suggests we come back in a week when the folks are home.”
Elder Cook wrote “CB” in the second column on the same line with the house number as they walked to the next house.
“Read your approach again,” Elder Cook coaxed.
Jack struggled but managed to at least sound most of the vowels correctly. “This is about like Latin, where each letter has a specific sound. I studied Latin in High School.”
“I guess so. I never studied Latin. I took German. You’re catching on fast. Try to memorize those first three lines so you can say them sometime this morning.”
At the next house they actually found an older man and his wife.
“Good morning, can I help you?” They spoke in Italian of course.
“We are two students from America. We are missionaries for the Mormon Church. We would like to talk to you for a few minutes about our religion.” Elder Cook delivered his message clearly.
The man smiled gently. “What group do you represent?” The wife left shortly after the introduction.
“The Mormon Church.”
“I’ve never heard of that. You say you’re from America? I have a brother that lives in America, in Brooklyn. You ever been to Brooklyn?”
“No. I’m from California.”
“You are really from another religion? We are such strong Catholics we don’t have any interest in another religion.” The man chuckled at the idea of talking about religion.
Elder Cook opened his book and showed him a picture of the Mormon Temple in Salt Lack City. “We have a very important message from a modern Prophet.” Elder Cook tried to challenge his resistance by showing him his door approach book with a picture of Joseph Smith. He explained about the new prophet. “And if there was such a new prophet wouldn’t it be important to hear what he had to say?”
That sounded like a fair question.
The older man smiled patiently and reached to take the notebook with plastic pages. Elder Cook resisted briefly trying to turn to the next page. The man took the book and turned for himself. He thumbed through the book quickly looking at the pictures in silence. He saw the picture of the Book of Mormon and handed it back without smiling.
“No, we’re not interested.”
Jack understood the “no” part. The man waived his free hand back and forth with the flat palm facing the two. No, he wasn’t interested so don’t waste your time, he said with his hand as he smiled and shut the door. Jack was just beginning to learn the sign language that was so pervasive among Italians. That was just one of the surprising and interesting details of this intriguing culture.
Jack felt a sense of disappointment realizing they had just been rejected by what seemed a reasonable, alert, clear thinking adult. They turned and walked across the street toward the next house. Elder Cook gave a recap but Jack had understood what had happened without having all the words translated. He turned his attention back to his memorization. In this business you had to expect a lot of such disappointment.
After another half hour of the same, they actually made one appointment with a middle aged woman who said her husband was interested in such things. Could they come back around 7:00 that evening. Sure. So Elder Cook wrote the appropriate note on the line of his book as they both moved on.
They continued this process for another hour when Jack said eagerly: “I think I’m ready to try myself.”
“Let’s hear.” Elder Cook stopped to listen.
Jack repeated the door approach nearly without error.
“That’s pretty good. Only it’s `miss’ instead of `mish’ in missionari. You can try the next house.”
Around the next corner they came to a tall apartment building with a locked door. There was a row of buttons opposite the names and numbers of each unit.
“I better do this.” Elder Cook pushed the bottom button and spoke into the microphone next to a small speaker.
Jack was relieved.
A squeaky voice came over the speaker, “Chi e’?”
Elder Cook yelled back a few words. Then the door popped open after an electrical switch activated a mechanical release.
“Always start from the bottom, then you don’t have to go so far up for the first door. Otherwise you are totally winded by the time you go up the stairs. Now you take it, okay?”
Jack moved ahead and up the stairs to the first door where there was a pleasantly plump woman in a flower colored dress waiting. By the time he reached the door he was breathing deeply and anxiously as if he had just climbed ten flights of stairs instead of one.
Jack smiled nervously and began his speech, “Siamo…” The woman squinted slightly and was visibly straining to understand.
“Da dove siete?” she interrupted. Jack was stumped of course, he just looked blankly, then looked at Elder Cook who had a silly smile on his face.
“Siamo Americani.” Elder Cook took it from there and repeated the rest of the explanation. Then the lady smiled and said there was nobody in her house that was interested. She closed the door rather abruptly.
“At least we got in the building.” Elder Cook offered this as encouragement as well as consolation. “That was pretty good for the first time. At least you didn’t stop half-way through with stage fright. Let’s walk up the stairs to the top of the building and you can try again.”
Jack repeated the words out-loud as they went up seven flights of stairs. They paused to catch their breath at the top.
“Say it again to me before we ring the bell.”
Jack repeated the message quietly, just a little slower and more evenly.
“That’s better. Just a little slower and I think they will understand better when you put more space between each word. It’s your turn again.”
Jack was into the thick of it now. He did each of the doors on the way down, the people seemed to understand. Only one said no right away. The rest asked a question and Elder Cook took over without any apparent success. By the time they finished the building it was 11:30.
“It’s time for lunch. If we leave now we can just barely beat the rush. You did good for your first day. You’ve got more guts than I did when I first started. Just keep working at it and it will come to you.”
Elder Cook tried to be helpful but his words had little effect. Jack still felt discouraged and frustrated by his inability to understand what he was saying, let alone what the contacts were asking. It would come in time. His eagerness worked against him, making him more frustrated than need be.
They walked to the highway toward the bus stop in silence as Jack read through the rest of the door approach text and repeated it to himself over and over. He was getting more confidence with the pronunciation as they stood waiting for the bus.
On the bus Jack recalled the visit with the elderly man so he asked Elder Cook, “Can I see your door approach book?”
After he examined the pictures in the book he asked, “Do you think the man thought you were trying to sell him a book?”
“We do sometimes. We charge 250 Lira for the Book of Mormon. Where can you get a book like that for 250 Lira. The best converts come after they have read the Book of Mormon.”
“Are you kiddin’ me? You really just try to sell them the book right off? That could really be an obstacle to someone who is frequently subjected to fast sales approaches. Why don’t you just loan the book for free if someone is interested?”
“I don’t have that kind of money, do you?”
“Not much but it wouldn’t cost that much. They only cost 25 cents a copy.”
Elder Cook was a little put off by getting advice from a Greenie. “Listen, I’ll do it my way and you can do it your’s when you get a chance and we’ll see who has better success. Selling books is one way we did it in Germany so we kept doing that when we came here. Try it your own way if you want. Next time we’re downtown you can buy a notebook and you can put your own pictures in it and write your own script. I’ll translate it for you and you can take it from there. Does that sound alright?” He was miffed judging by his petulant tone.
“That sounds fine. But I don’t have any pictures. I never thought to bring any.”
“They don’t have any such supplies at the Mission Office either. They’re not that well established. I had the same problem. I had to send home for mine.”
“I’ll have to send home for some then. Maybe Julie could put together some for me from old Church magazines.” Jack had told Elder Cook about Julie by this time of course.
“That sounds like a good idea.”
“It’s much more frustrating than I imagined not being able to communicate to anyone. I like the idea of challenging people with the story of Joseph Smith. I’d like to try staying away from any sales pitch to begin with. Anything that might work on Germans ought to be immediately suspect when it comes to Italians.”
Jack’s instincts were good. Italians didn’t have the same sensibilities as Germans. They required a much more subtle and gracious approach. They were usually turned off or offended by the direct sales approach. Eventually that idea of selling books was discontinued across the whole mission. But, it took more time to convince Elder Cook.
Jack found Elder Cook’s social awkwardness both an inconvenience and a nuisance. He was willing to learn and it didn’t matter to him who was in charge. It wasn’t any use trying to teach Elder Cook to be “cool,” that wasn’t something anybody could just change into. Poise had to be absorbed at an early age as a behavior pattern and social skill learned from parents and siblings. Even then children turn out differently, so there had to be a natural inclination as well. For whatever reason, Elder Cook had been deprived of both.
The college where they had been eating lunch was actually the Istituto Universitario Di Scienze Sociali, in Villanzzano, a small suburb of Trento. It was up the side of the valley surrounded by grape vines in a most picturesque setting. It was once a palace and inside the rooms were decorated with hand paintings on the ceilings and around the walls. Elaborate scenes from myths and religion decorated different rooms.
The courtyard inside the main gate entrance was a smooth red brick tile. Jack’s shoes clinked as he walked across the stones toward the cafeteria. He was wearing clothing that was obviously not styled in Italy. He had flat metal tabs on his heels to prolong the ware. This was an unusual contrivance for the Italian community and it caused curious glances and smiles from some of the students.
“I’d like to meet the director as soon as possible, so he knows who we are and so we can get permission to eat here.”
“That sounds reasonable considering we’re not students.”
“After lunch we’ll try to make an appointment.”
But, before they made it past the courtyard they were met by a thin, neat man with a pleasant smile.
“Buon Giorno. Posso aiutarvi?” He walked toward the two missionaries with his hand outstretched.
Elder Cook immediately expressed his desire to see the director. Good thing because this turned out to be the director, Antonioli Lino. Fortunately he spoke English very well with a very pleasant Roman accent. Now even Jack could join the conversation.
After a minute, Signor Antonioli invited the pair to join him for lunch. He apparently made it a practice to eat lunch with the students and tried to get acquainted with as many as possible. He was the director of operations without any teaching responsibilities. He made arrangements for the two to come any time for lunch and pay the nominal fee charged the public, about 250 lira. This is the same courtesy Elder Cook had found in Florence and Verona. As long as they didn’t proselyte the students directly and cause any complaints they could come for lunch everyday.
The meal was excellent. A huge bowl of chicken broth with small stars of macaroni, a plate of mixed lettuce, romaine and red leaf with a vinegar and oil dressing, and a plate of thinly sliced beefsteak with freshly steamed green beans on the side. Bread of course in the style of the province, large, round, crisp biscuits with a cut across the top. After dinner they discussed the mission effort in general terms and Elder Cook explained their entry into Italy.
Jack managed to get in a few words in edgewise, in English of course. He volunteered to explain the Joseph Smith Story in the words he had memorized only a week or so ago. That Mission Home experience was indeed a world apart and it seemed a year ago. He realized again how much easier it would have been to have gone to an English speaking mission.
Signor Antonioli was very gracious and smiled politely. He listened patiently to the zealous American who was trying to explain a story with which he was already familiar.
“I have already studied too much religion on my own. The more I study the more confused I become.”
“If you heard a Prophet of God speak today would you accept the Truth that he brought?” This wasn’t verbatim from the lesson plan but it was close. Jack always thought it made a strong argument.
“We have had many similar miracles in our country. Every Saint in the Catholic Church is connected to a miracle. Each teaches the truth from God. They are all prophets for deeply religious people. I think we should agree to discuss other matters for the time being. I’ll tell you about my country and you can answer some of my questions about your’s as we get to know each other. When it comes to religion, I’m afraid I don’t have much interest.”
“Maybe you’ll give us another chance to discuss this further at another time.” Elder Cook interceded, concerned that a tension might be building. He did not wish to let the conversation jeopardize their chance to continue eating meals at the cafeteria.
“I apologize for not being interested in the religious aspect of your visit just now. I can extend our hospitality and I respect your sincerity. Let’s continue to meet once in a while.”
“I’d enjoy that too. Can you meet us for lunch once in a while?” Jack relented too, sensing the strain. He was willing to let him off the hook for now.
“It would be my pleasure. And in a couple of weeks maybe you’ll do me the honor of taking a tour of the spectacular Dolomite Mountains with me. I have a car and maybe we can all go for a ride?”
“I’ve been anxious to travel through those mountains ever since I came to Italy. We haven’t had much time to tour, as you can imagine.” Elder Cook moved his books around with the intention of leaving.
Antonioli was a single man in his mid 40’s. He was even shorter than Elder Cook and of slight build, but when he stood he had a certain elegance about his carriage. He put his arm around the two as they walked to the main entrance. He confided: “My brother is a priest. He is frequently upset with me for not taking any more interest in religion. So it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to get serious about this religion when I have so little interest in my own religion. But we can share many other ideas.” He seemed genuinely apologetic.
“I am interested in your views about US politics, about its role in Vietnam and how people live in the US. I’m sure we will find many points of interest.”
“Thanks again for your help.” Jack was thoroughly enamored by this gracious personality.
The afternoon passed quickly and it was 3:30 by the time they departed. They made an appointment with Signore Antonioli to return on Thursday to present a copy of The Book of Mormon and a book The Church had prepared as a gift for celebrities. This was a missionary tradition and a routine part of opening a new city. They requested the opportunity to take pictures of the presentation so they could offer these to the local newspaper as a formal announcement to the community of their presence. Signor Antonioli acquiesced to this request as well.
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