Jack & Lucky Chapter 7
Jack stood in the hallway of the pullman style train car and looked out the window because the train was so full there were no seats. He was visiting with one of the new missionaries, explaining Italian culture as it passed by their view. Jack was attentive to the beauty as he encountered the many faces of the countryside.
“Look at the way they plant those trees in rows. That’s curious don’t you think?”
“Ya. These people must be real compulsive.”
Jack was surprised by that comment, he hadn’t interpreted the neat reforestation project in the same way. “You might be right. Now that you mention it, Italians possess other compulsive traits. In their homes, even the poorest maintain formal dining rooms…”
The greenie interrupted his analysis, “How long did it take you to learn the language?”
“I’m far from knowing the language. Three months from now ask yourself the same question. The more you learn, the more you recognize there is to know. I can get along all right but I just got my grammar book two weeks ago, so now I can work seriously.”
“Are people eager to listen?”
“Not most of them. But we always find a few who want to learn.” A long silence followed.
Jack headed for Bologna, enthusiastic, ready to teach and learn. He was entering one of the most productive and normal times of his mission. When they arrived at the station he helped the other missionaries find their next connection before departing to meet his new companion, Elder Bill Cates. Jack had been unable to contact anybody to make an appointment, since he had the address he got a map and just started walking.
The old cobblestone streets in the core area of Bologna created a charming atmosphere. The bricks were wet and slick from a recent rain so it was difficult to stay upright. The ancient buildings and palaces have an attractive character making this effort an adventure which more than compensated for the difficulty. Around each corner was some historic monument or statue. The central city had many elaborate plazas with fountains spraying water. There were two huge towers that stood vigil over the old ramparts and fortress walls.
Up one side street there was an itinerant out-door market. Jack walked the length of the market marveling at the variety of items at reasonable prices. He purchased a pair of fur lined leather gloves to protect against the onset of colder weather. It was already perceptibly cooler than in Firenze.
After about five hours of wandering, he arrived at the apartment and knocked on the door. No one was there. The room was located on the second floor with an outside stairway leading up to the door.
As Jack turned in frustration, a voice startled him. “You must be the new missionary.” Jack hadn’t paid attention to the young man waxing his car. He looked at Jack with a knowing smile.
“Ya.” Jack was a little surprised to find an American with a Brooklyn accent who knew about him already. “I’m looking for Bill Cates.”
“He left about an hour ago. Said he’d be back about now. Where ya from?”
“Just came from Firenze, I grew up in Oregon. Wow, that’s some car.”
“It’s sweet to drive.”
The two exchanged stories as Jack circled and inspected the car in admiration. He was an American medical student who drove a beautiful, white Jaguar XK-E type and he occupied the first floor. He just happened to be outside taking care of his car, which he did at least once a week.
It wasn’t long before Elder Cates came. He was an exceptionally handsome, athletic and mature person with a receding hair line. Elder Cates wore a wide, natural smile and the two hit it off right away.
“Hi there. You must be Elder Lincoln from the looks of your American clothes.”
The two elders shook hands and Jack looked down to see if he had a sign on saying “Mormon Missionary.” It was the white button-down shirt and wide tie; even more obvious were the American wing-tip shoes. Those were a dead give away.
“Ya. Fresh from Firenze and the Mission Office.”
“What’s the latest at headquarters? They figure out what I’m doing here yet? How do you like my car?” He pointed toward the Jaguar and laughed. Elder Cates moved toward the apartment door and Jack followed.
“They didn’t tell me anything negative. What’s your secret? Anything interesting?”
“Oh, just kiddin’. Everything’s fine here. This is a great city to work in actually. Lots of Americans and things to do and see. We even have a few people who want to learn about The Church.”
“That sounds great for a change. I’m ready to do some real teaching.” They entered into a hallway that was not much warmer than the outside. There were four doors and Elder Cates proceeded to the rear door on the right. “This is Home Sweet Home.”
“This doesn’t look so bad. I need to get my bags. I left them at the train station. I walked all the way here, I didn’t know how far it was before I started.”
“Gee, that’s a long ways, damn near 5 miles I bet. That’s your bed.” Elder Cates indicated the corner bed on the left.
There was a window between the two narrow, single beds. They would share the small closet on the right side. There was a writing table under the window which they would also share. This was just a bedroom in the home of a single lady who happened to be out of town.
“We don’t have any appointments this afternoon. We can hop on the bus and get your luggage and then get a bite to eat. Maybe later we can visit the other guys who work here. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds fine with me.”
Both used the toilet facilities across the hall. They walked the short distance to the bus stop talking easily, sharing biographical sketches as they rode to the train station.
Elder Cates was from Phoenix, Arizona and had completed one year of college there during three years of trying. He was one of the very first missionaries to come to Italy, just five months before Jack, so that made him already an old-timer. He had trained in the language school along with Elder Cook and agreed that Cooky was a weird sort, sincere but weird.
They picked up Jack’s luggage which he had left in a locker and returned on the next bus. After disposing of the luggage, they went to a nearby restaurant that had pizza as a specialty.
“This pizza is better than the ones they have in Trento.” Each pizza had an extra amount of olive oil on the top which gave it a special flavor.
“What do you expect, that’s practically in the wilderness of civilization. How would you like to buy a motorbike? I’ve been shopping’ around today and found a mechanic’s garage with several used bikes at good prices.”
“Well, I never gave it much thought. A regular bike would be okay for me.” They were sitting in the restaurant by the window watching people go to and from the local shopping district.
“You look like the biker type. So think big. I expect some day the president will make it illegal for anybody to buy motorbikes, except those who have them can use them. So I want to buy one before it’s too late.”
“I do have a little extra money. How much would they cost?”
“Not much in $US. About $55 would buy one in good condition. You should get most of your money out of it if you decide to sell it.”
“That sounds reasonable. Ya, that would be fun. Elder Cook had a Lambretta scooter and it was real convenient to drive around wherever we went.”
Jack hadn’t hoped to have a motorbike, the idea was intriguing. He remembered Lucky and his preoccupation with motorcycles. Of course a small motorscooter was a far cry from a Harley Davidson but the idea was the same: The wind through your hair and power of acceleration in your grip.
After dinner they returned to the apartment. As Jack was unpacking the other two elders who worked in the Bologna District came, Elders Pendleton and Warden. Elder Pendleton was the District Leader and the four of them comprised the entire district. Jack had met these two at the dedication ceremony but they really hadn’t gotten acquainted.
“Great, fresh meat!” Elder Pendleton was enthusiastic about meeting a new missionary he could teach or help corrupt, depending on which version of his story you believed. “Do you play basketball? We play against the American medical students sometimes and we could use some new talent.”
“Sure but I’m not particularly good. I can try hard.” Jack was a little confused about their priorities. They were more interested in his athletic prowess than how many lessons he knew or how well he spoke Italian.
They spent the rest of the evening socializing, talking about movies they had seen, the sights of the town, music and planning their future activities. There wasn’t any discussion about missionary work except incidentally.
Thursday morning they had to coordinate the necessary details of being in a new city. They registered with the local Questura which controlled the visas and monitored the whereabouts of any visiting foreigners. By the time they had lunch and studied for a while it was 4:00 PM before they began knocking on doors.
Jack recorded his eagerness to begin again.
…that really felt good. I didn’t even feel awkward with the language. We had pizza again for dinner then picked up laundry. We got together with the others to plan a schedule. I exercised again tonight, enough.
In the evening Elder Cates introduced Jack to yogurt.
“Do you like yogurt?”
“You are a country boy aren’t you?”
“You can’t expect me to know everything.” The deep creases between Jacks eyes were visible as he scowled.
“I keep a small stash on the window sill. You want to try it?”
“Sure. Why not? I’ll try anything once.”
Elder Cates opened the window and brought in a round cup containing a milk-white pudding.
“It keeps good here because it’s in the shade all day. It’s cold enough to preserve for a few days at least. I have some sugar or do you want to try it straight first?” Elder Cates took a spoonful straight just to prove it could be done.
“Straight. Why not? Does it taste good?”
“It takes getting used to. But I like it straight.”
He extended a spoonful toward Jack who took the thick white cream hesitantly. Jack smelled it, it had no odor. He took the whole spoonful into his mouth and as soon as he tasted the sour flavor his face contorted and puckered. There were creases of anguish all over his face.
“God! That’s awful! How can you stand that stuff.”
Elder Cates surrendered his disguise and laughed loudly. “I said it takes some getting used to. Add some sugar and take another taste.”
It took substantial courage for Jack to taste the yogurt again even after adding several spoonfuls of sugar. In several weeks he could eat that very sour, tangy, white, coagulated milk product without any other additives. He persisted because anything that tasted that awful must be good for you, Jack reasoned.
Part of the process of missionary tracting was to call back on areas where someone had already been. Elder Cates and his companion began doing this, using a book Elder Cates had received from other missionaries.
We called back on one man. He invited us in warmly and said he had been waiting for us since our first visit with eagerness. We talked to him and he was very willing to listen. As best we could we presented the first lesson in part Italian and part English, since he speaks a little English. We challenged him to be baptized very positively, which he seemed to accept, although there was a good chance he didn’t understand completely. We were really excited about him because he was the first person either of us had met in Italy that was so positive. After two and 1/2 hours we closed with a prayer which the contact, Signore Sibilla gave. We really feel that he has the spirit and that he will eventually be baptized. Hopefully on December 17.
After the meeting Jack commented to Elder Cates, “Now that is how it’s supposed to be done. You get someone interested and you stay right with it and challenge them to be baptized during the very first lesson.”
“I have to admit, that hasn’t happened so easily before. We have to hope it sticks.”
“He accepted the message of Apostasy and seemed to be very upset by his life in the clutch of the Catholic Church.”
“He was certainly receptive.”
One of the main arguments in the First Lesson used worldwide by Mormon Missionaries was to call attention to the defects of Christian faiths. Considering the context of this religious discussion in the heart of Catholic Italy it seemed especially appropriate.
“This teaching approach seems to work,” Jack observed. “It is a natural point of departure to describe the defects of the Catholic Church.”
“Most people think the `prate’ are corrupt and lazy so it makes an easy argument to explain how Mormons don’t have any clergy,” Elder Cates agreed.
“When you told him that every member has responsibilities and all members have families and the Priesthood and administer in The Church, that seemed to peak his interest.”
“Maybe you’re right. We can expand that next time and add more explanation to the Second Lesson.”
“He said that he was disgusted with the rituals and liturgy and expensive churches. So it made sense to expand on this comparison and explain about personal revelation and how each member is important in the eyes of God.”
The successful missionaries walked in the dark toward their apartment, sharing their overflowing enthusiasm.
“People either love the Catholic Church,” Elder Cates suggested, “and won’t talk or they hate it and agree with every negative thing against it. Many of those disgusted with this religion, unfortunately, aren’t interested in another. The Catholic Church pervades the entire culture and business environment. Some people are afraid of losing their jobs if they participate in another religion. So there is usually both interest and fear. Most people just have an academic interest, but Signore Sibilla seems to be really excited and unusually sincere.”
Jack agreed, reflecting on his recent discussions with the missionaries at the conference in Vicenza and thinking how wrong they were.
On Saturday the two missionaries went shopping for motorbikes. The first one they saw cost 30,000 lira. They felt they had to shop further and found another that cost the same, of equal quality but a different model. Jack purchased the second, a Testi with a 50 cc. engine. It had pedals to assist the motor and would start the engine on compression. It was light blue and had a package rack on the back and a plastic screen in the front for a windshield. It promised to be fun to drive and easy to manage.
Elder Cates decided to purchase the first motorcycle. It was a more conventional model, a scaled down version of a racing bike. So both elders had motorbikes and were ready to travel in style.
One unusual thing happened shortly after I bought the bike on the way to lunch. At an intersection a car pulled up beside me. Elder Cates went on the green light but I couldn’t because the car had pulled onto my foot. It didn’t hurt, it was a small car and only caught the side of my shoe. I wondered around trying to find the restaurant. We ran into each other later when he finally saw me.
That was an inauspicious beginning for Jack the motorcyclist.
Since this was D Day, the two drove around town looking at sights and shopping. Jack bought a shaver and other toiletries.
We showed off our new wheels to the other missionaries. They were all impressed.
Also in Bologna there was a group of fifteen new missionaries studying language. Sunday, Jack and Elder Cates went to join them for church meetings, then spent the day studying, eating, resting and translating teaching material for Jack.
Elder Cates had a girl friend waiting for him in Arizona the same way Jack did. They exchanged descriptive information.
“Do you think you’ll get married as soon as you get home?” Jack asked as the two were getting into their beds.
“I don’t know. People change. She’s great but we’d have to become reacquainted. Two years is a long time.”
“I can’t think of anything I’d change about Julie. She’s bright, pleasant, witty and has a strong moral character, besides being beautiful.”
Elder Cates reached over and turned off the last light. “She sounds interesting. Give me her address and phone number. I’ll call her for you when I get back.”
“No chance. You’ll be back long before me and I don’t trust you.”
“Hey now, what a way to talk. I thought we were friends?”
“Thinking about her gives me a lot of encouragement. I sometimes think we should have been married instead of my coming here.”
“We’re both too young for marriage. Wait until you’re thirty before you worry about that.”
Finally the two fell silent and drifted into sleep. Jack had never spoken as openly with any other male as he did with Elder Cates, with the possible exception of Lucky. They were becoming more like brothers than senior and junior companions.
Elder Cates and Jack continued teaching and enjoying each other’s company. This would be arguably the most pleasant time for Jack during his mission. He was enthusiastic about religion and enjoyed working with his companion.
This blissful state was to be short lived. By the end of the month Elder Cates received a transfer to Napoli to be a District Leader. He was ready for that kind of increased responsibility. It was difficult to part because they had only been together two weeks and had just gotten up to speed. That’s progress in the mission field.
Elder Cates left at 9:00 AM Friday, December 2.
We made the train easy. Another elder was on the same train, same car, traveling south, quite a coincidence. I was alone all day. Didn’t eat except cookies because I’m running out of money and haven’t received my check yet. My new companion came at 3:00 AM. Boy was our house lady scared. She got me up and I let him in. She was afraid to open the door.
Jack’s new companion was an Elder Green, a heavy fellow, tall with an easy going manner. Saturday was spent coordinating his arrival.
We ate lunch after we went to the market and saw a carnival. Then home and Elder Green checked on his luggage. It hadn’t arrived yet. We got stopped by a cop for ridding double on my single scooter but didn’t get a fine. Then, we went and talked to Elders Pendleton and Warden for a long time. Then to bed.
As circumstances would have it there was a rather long time between the last visit with Signore Sibilla and the next visit. This was unfortunate.
When we visited what would you guess? Instead of accepting a Third Lesson he sent us home. I was shocked.
Jack never understood what happened. It was apparently difficult for Sibilla to keep his interest after such a long time. Or possibly he was offended when Elder Cates left town without saying goodbye. Sometimes contacts relate more closely to people than to the religion itself. The charisma of an individual such as Elder Cates can be very magnetic. Elder Green, in contrast, is very drab and unsmiling. He gave a whole different impression, like a big kid. Old ladies seem to like him, however. Jack’s world had taken a very dramatic turn.
From California Lucky was transferred to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He excelled in mechanics school, diesel engines, electricity, you name it, if it had to do with motors he could understand it, he was a natural. He even made squad leader at school for a while and stayed after the course finished to help teach, until he got into trouble.
It was one of those glorious, clear winter days, cool but not freezing. One of those rare Saturday mornings when Lucky had no other duty. He was in such a habit of waking early that he was up and out before the chow hall finished breakfast. This was quite a feat on such a lazy Saturday morning.
After eating he returned by a different route just for curiosity. As he walked past the gym he noticed through the large window a lone person working out. The graceful, forceful movements caught his attention. He had never seen such power combined with such obvious beauty. There were two bars, one high and one low and this person who had the most perfect female shape he had ever seen was rotating around from one bar to the other with such ease that her motion looked like a bird in acrobatic flight.
Lucky watched from outside, entranced, gawking and not conscious that he was intruding. When the nymph landed like a feather’s descent he was captivated beyond explanation, his mouth opened reflexively and his breath ceased.
She saw the silhouette of the young soldier in his civilian clothes outside the window and at first didn’t think it unusual. She was used to being in the center of attention. She had to walk toward the window to retrieve her towel and sweatshirt, then she noticed the figure still there, apparently galvanized to the window. She raised her hand and gave a gentle, dismissive wave to what was at closer inspection a masculine, handsome face on the outside looking in.
Lucky hadn’t moved an inch for the last five minutes, it might have been five hours, he didn’t recognize the difference. When the dark angel in black leotards approached it seemed she was engaging his attention and thus inviting him to join her. When she waved he was both flattered and dumbfounded. After an uncomfortable pause he raised his left hand and held it at a silly angle like a scarecrow. Some instinct came to life and said: “Don’t miss this opportunity.” With great effort he made a circular motion with his hand asking permission to come in and speak.
Carol Amherst was amused by his emotional struggle, having been admired by other young men, too frequently. She usually paid no attention and didn’t encourage these overtures but something about what appeared to be a casual, masculine nature overcame her school-girl defense. She waived to him shyly, repeating his pantomime suggesting he could come in the door on the other side of the building.
Lucky’s apparent casualness was associated with hypnosis and when he moved out of view he stumbled awkwardly over a clump of grass and caught himself with his hand. He moved quickly around to the entrance before she would have time to escape and was greeted by a moist, tropical breeze as he opened the door. Lucky’s eyes were adjusted for the cool, bright, open sky so at first he didn’t detect the dark figure seated at the end of the bleachers. He felt a huge sense of disappointment.
Carol noticed his blind condition and waved her white towel to signal her presence in the shadow to the side of the huge window.
Lucky caught the white motion and walked self-consciously, circling on the edge of the basketball court. The grade school admonition, “Don’t walk across the basketball court in your street shoes!” echoed in his mind, colliding with the thundering sound of his heart anticipating this new liaison.
When Lucky arrived within talking distance he said stuttering, “I..I was just walking by…and..I..I saw you…and..I..I’m Lucky.”
Carol smiled and said with confidence, “So am I, most of the time.”
“No,..I..I mean that’s my name, Lucky,…Lucky Murray.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she blushed easily. “My name is Carol, Carol Amherst. I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“Well, I never have time to work out but I should.” That was a polite understatement. Lucky had never voluntarily exercised in his whole life.
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