Jack & Lucky Chapter 7, part 3
Chapter 7, Part 3
Being a Senior Companion didn’t seem to offer any particular benefits. You couldn’t just arbitrarily say what to do and when. Most of those decisions were dictated by circumstances and mission rules.
Elder Baldwin was still sullen and recalcitrant, he wasn’t doing anything extra to participate. He just came along. He hadn’t helped when Jack got lost. For Baldwin that incident proved his expectation that Jack was inept. Of course, he didn’t help even though he might have because he had been in that area previously. His was a subtle form of hostility.
That evening Jack tried to break the ice.
“What ever happened in Verona, anyway. That one time I visited for that conference it seemed there was a lot of tension.”
“No there wasn’t. We got along great. The only problem was that dick-head Zone Leader Fratelli who thought he knew everything. He thinks he’s god’s gift to missionary work. He called a meeting a few days after the conference and started raising hell. That’s when everything fell apart.”
“Elder Cook said he talked to him, maybe he put him up to it?”
“That dink Elder Cook is a real fuck-up too. Elder Milton is the only one that knew which way was up. Elder Lamont wasn’t bad. They talked to people the way the people wanted to hear. They were effective. They worked hard and played hard. They got into trouble because they played hard. So does everybody else, so what’s the difference?”
Elder Baldwin’s previous silence was withholding a lot of hostility which he was inadvertently transferring to his relationship with Elder Lincoln. “There seemed to be no end to it,” Jack thought. Maybe it was better for him to stay silent, so he let the conversation drop.
Jack hoped this tour in Brescia would be the nadir of his mission experience. “It could only get better after this,” he rationalized. He had to rely on all his inner reserves of enthusiasm to pull his way through; he was consuming this energy rapidly. Living with an unpleasant companion made everything so depressing. The miserable weather wasn’t cooperating, although it was normal for this time of year.
Elder Baldwin was either deliberately, or naturally, a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. He believed in the meanness and depressing nature of life and he was the single largest cause of unhappiness for Jack and himself. He just wasn’t trying to make it easy to be together because he was hostile toward anything to which he didn’t take a fancy.
The New Year’s celebration brought an enjoyable relief to the accumulating monotony and tension. It was the festival time of year and wasn’t good from the standpoint of missionary work. The pair bought two pizzas and shared half of each along with some cake and Spuma (orange soda). Two others, Elders Ballard and Vincent came to share the occasion and that helped the flow of conversation.
“This is an historic occasion,” Elder Ballard asserted with his usual flamboyance and held up the orange drink to which he had helped himself without feeling the need for an invitation.
“What’s so special about it. It’s just another year.” Baldwin was cynical as usual.
“I just turned 21 and I’m eligible to vote. I could legally drink and go to strip-tease bars, if I were so inclined.” Elder Ballard winked with an exaggerated effort and displayed a particularly well animated character.
“That sounds like a great way to keep the Spirit,” Jack scolded in jest.
Elder Baldwin added, “You have an unhealthy preoccupation with sex if you want my opinion.”
Elder Vincent was equally unimpressed. “He’s always cracking dirty jokes and gawking at girls on the streets.”
“I just can’t help thinking about what it would be like to get them in bed. At least I’m honest about it. You guys probably feel the same way.”
Elder Baldwin was still negative. “You’re all talk, since you’re probably a virgin just like the rest of us.”
Ballard was a rather tall, awkward and homely sort with a lot of pimples on his face. “How do you know? Maybe I’ve had some experience.”
“Right!” Elder Vincent said sarcastically with friendly disgust.
“Lets all make a New Year’s resolution to keep Ballard out of trouble.” Jack proposed a likely solution which he intended as a message to Elder Baldwin as will. “Let’s drink to that.” They all held up their orange drinks, including Elder Ballard.
Before midnight there was a loud report from some fireworks in the city. People took their celebrations very seriously around here. The off duty missionaries went out to find the streets teaming with people. They made it to a view spot and watched an impressive display of fireworks with a group of locals all celebrating the arrival of a new year.
The first day of the year was a Sunday and Jack had to give his first Sunday School lesson in Italian. He had spent a fair amount of time preparing and looking up words and such but his attitude had not improved significantly.
The lesson came off reasonably well. This day doesn’t seem any different than any other, oh well.
Missionaries lived a whole week of Sundays so that diminished the value of each Sunday and consequently the special nature of the first day of the year. There was a Sacrament Meeting in the evening with a testimony meeting and Jack blessed the Sacrament in Italian for the first time, assisting Elder Seaburg. He felt good doing something where he could read the words from a card without making embarrassing grammatical mistakes.
For Mormons there is the ritual of breaking bread and serving small cups of water to members in remembrance of the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus. This was like the practice of Eucharist in other Christian churches, except Mormons used water instead of wine. Since they didn’t allow members to drink wine in their daily lives, it didn’t make sense to include that in The Church ritual. Blessing the Sacrament was a job for the males in The Church who held the Priesthood. It took at least a Priest to do that. Teachers and Deacons could distribute the Sacrament. So it went.
After the meetings Elders Ballard and Vincent stayed for a while again.
Then we talked and goofed off mostly.
After the others left, and before going to bed, Jack “girded his loins” and resolved to discuss with Elder Baldwin how to get along better.
“I need your help Elder Baldwin. We have been working at odds. Is there anyway we can work together better?”
“I don’t know, you’re the Senior, you’re supposed to know.”
“I may be the Senior but that doesn’t mean I’m supposed to have all the answers. I need your help and that means you should be willing to give all you have to give. I hope you will do more than just coast along.”
“I’m keeping up. I don’t see what the problem is.”
“I’ve had four different companions and you’re the only one I haven’t been able to get along with. I want to enjoy this work and be friendly. I’d like to help you if you’ll let me and at the same time I want you to look for ways to help me.” Jack used a little freedom with the facts since he hadn’t gotten along well with either Elders Cook or Green but this liberty is forgivable under the circumstances.
“Well, I’m still here. That’s part of what I’m fighting in my own mind, whether to stay on a mission or not. I don’t feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I’ll think about it and maybe try harder. That’s all I can say.” The two fell into silence, both fighting their own demons.
Jack didn’t have a good response to that. This kind of frontal attack was unusual for him. He wasn’t the best at confronting and having arguments. Nothing was resolved but this brief discussion served to break some of the barriers Elder Baldwin had constructed between them.
One shouldn’t complain when things are going badly, they could always get worse as was the case with Elder Green in Bologna. It did get worse, with Jack and Elder Baldwin working the next two days in silence.
I was trying to find ways to share ideas. But in fact I don’t particularly like his personality nor does he like mine.
At least Jack recognized the problem and was trying to deal with it. He was trying not to let their personalities interfere with the work they had set out to do.
Some traveling missionaries came to town to discuss and share teaching skills. It was important to have inspiring examples of how to do this work. It was a relief when the two missionaries were able to trade companions for a full day.
It would have helped Jack even more to see how to teach someone from beginning to end, not just be told how to do it. There wasn’t much showing that could be done when the missionaries didn’t have the stability to find anyone really interested in pursuing advanced training. Jack hadn’t been in one place long enough to use the six lessons, he had only barely learned the First Lesson by memory. As Senior Companion he was supposed to show his Junior how to teach with the Spirit and lead discussions. Unfortunately, he had never been shown, he had been told. He was still teaching based on a theoretical concept.
Friday was a better day. Today we tracted and found some good people and were satisfied. Today is another festival. We found one family that invited us in to have chocolate pudding. We gave them the Screening Discussion. In another meeting a big guy wanted us to have some wine with him, naturally we refused. This happened frequently. He also introduced us to his friend who he thought might be interested too. Things went okay today. Not that bad.
So the work progressed in a more satisfying manner for several days. Elder Baldwin and Elder Lincoln were on talking terms again.
In Oklahoma Lucky had been seeing a lot of Carol Amherst. There relationship had grown more intense and he was invited to join her family for their New Year’s party at their home. After that night, their relationship came to a sudden stop because Carol wouldn’t return his calls.
It wasn’t that Lucky got too drunk or too intimate with Carol, although he would like to have done both, it was just something very particular about who he was that apparently caused the problem. He didn’t understand what was happening when to his surprise he received suddenly a transfer to another assignment PCS (Permanent Change of Station).
He asked the instructors at Fort Sill who knew Carol’s parents what the problem was but they didn’t have a good explanation. His co-workers had always treated him with respect because he learned fast and didn’t mouth off. He could look them straight in the eye with a scowl and talk calmly. He could hide his nerves like he learned from Jack. He knew they couldn’t hit him so he could act tough and forget his fear. He had earned his first two promotions in minimum time. He had been something of a teacher’s pet and then a good instructor’s assistant. He got most of the easy jobs until now, suddenly he was leaving.
One week after the party Lucky finally arranged to met Carol in the gym, after hours, as a last farewell get together. He hadn’t seen her since he received this rather abrupt transfer so he was desperate to say goodbye.
“This is terrible, Carol. I have to leave. I have to go to Louisiana. This is a real surprise because I was doing so good here, I thought they would keep me in the school.”
Carol was on the verge of tears. “I know and I’m having a terrible time with this because I think I know what happened.”
Lucky looked surprised. “What do you mean? God, I wish we could stay together for just a few more weeks. I don’t want to be separated from you. Can you come with me? Would you marry me?”
Carol started crying for real. She was trying to speak but coughed instead. “I…I can’t do that. I’m still in High School. My dad would never approve. That’s what I wanted to say.”
“What do you mean? We got along great, me and your dad.” Lucky bristled and stood stiff.
“I…I know…but I’m too young to get married and so are you. I…I think Daddy is the cause of your leaving. He’s an officer and he told me in no uncertain terms that he wants me to wait until I can meet someone who is an officer. This is so terrible.”
Lucky looked shocked. “But you don’t have to listen to that bullshit. You can do what you want. We can go away together if you love me.”
“No, it’s not that easy. I’m Catholic and you’re not, that creates a big problem too. I do love you but I don’t want to get married yet, oh God! I…I’m too young and too confused by my own emotions. That’s what Mom says and I guess she’s right.” Carol had spent most of the week since the New Year’s party fighting against these discussions repeatedly with her parents until they had finally convinced her. Now she was suffering from the inevitable conclusion.
“Geese, I feel like some kinda low class scum. Your dad is just too full of his own self-importance. He thinks he’s King of Shit. You’re just as bad with your high class ways.” The affection drained from Lucky’s voice.
“That’s not true Lucky.”
“I knew you always looked down on me.” He spoke with a sharp anger. “Why did you ever tease me with all that goodie-goodie two shoes stuff. I feel like a fuckin’ low-life criminal. Fuck! What do you people think, you’re God’s gift to humanity and enlisted people are serfs? Fuck you and the horse you came in on.” Lucky was well agitated and left in a huff without turning back or saying a polite goodbye to the best friend he ever had, or would have.
Carol melted, sobbing into a pool of her own tears. The tresses of her long black hair were wet and straggled over her face. She didn’t have the strength to leave or even stand for nearly an hour.
Most of the time Jack managed to get up by 6:00 AM which shows his underlying sense of dedication, theoretically.
I put my alarm at the foot of my bed so I have to get up to turn it off. Then we pray and I don’t have the heart to go back to bed.
Along the way Elder Baldwin is being more cooperative but not showing any spark of enthusiasm.
Wednesday the pair separated to work with the other missionaries in town. Jack worked with Elder Cox for the first time, then with Elder Seaburg, the District Leader. Elder Cox was a strange looking person who reminded Jack of a weasel. He was almost bald, had bad posture, was short, sloppy and was really uncoordinated. Underneath all those defects he had this clever sense of humor and he frequently made funny, self-deprecating comments.
Elder Cox had a deep, bass voice, incongruous with his appearance. He had been a radio announcer. He was a natural for that, considering his unattractive appearance and unique voice. He was quite bright about some things and totally naive about everything else.
…on our way he caught his shoe in the spokes so we took the peddle bikes. And today I made a great triumph. I learned to ride without hands, one of my life’s ambitions satisfied. We gave a half-first up through apostasy. But time will tell, I’m negative about him. Then lunch, and comebacks, tracting,… dinner then more comebacks…I got three letters one from Julie, yea. Jane (Jack’s sister) has written to me three times without a response, real good of her.
Even the pleasure generated from receiving Julie’s letter didn’t compare to the triumph of learning to ride a bike with no hands. There certainly wasn’t anything in the way of missionary work that could compete to make Jack happier. His experience with Elder Seaburg was unexceptional. He was a very bright, dedicated person but since they spent their time teaching, they hadn’t talked on a personal level.
Riding a bike with no hands is all in the knees, he discovered finally as such things go. He had been told the theory by his father who had long before related his own experience. So Jack knew the theory about the knees and how to balance but he had never combined the proper technique, balance and motion to succeed. Today he succeeded, for whatever reason and without too much trouble. It is strange how such bizarre events can elevate a person’s mood.
The work of tracting and knocking on doors was progressing slowly as usual but Jack had never been satisfied with this method of contacting people. The theory was that God would lead the missionaries to the doors of interested people, or vice-versa, if it be His will. So they were to trudge around the city exposing themselves to Divine guidance, hoping for a miracle.
Jack thought that he could intervene in this process and make it more efficient. He convinced Elder Ballard to help him establish a street meeting. To do that, they had to get permission from the local authorities.
We went out to try to get permission to hold street meetings. We talked to some officials getting the usual Italian run-around. We bought a couple of those official letter things for 400 lira. And finally applied at the Vigili (police) for permission to use a particular spot.
After the application was submitted the missionaries just had to wait and see if they could get permission.
Jack claimed he knew how to fix a pie so Thursday they met at Elder Ballard’s apartment to accomplish this all-American task.
We went but didn’t have time before we had to go play basketball at 9:30 in the morning. I managed to make up the crust mix, then off to play basketball.
While waiting for the bus we tried to attract Italians by looking down a grate.
The idea was inspired by the impression that Italians were particularly curious. This theory and stereotype contributed to Jack’s desire to develop street meetings. To test the theory Jack and Elder Baldwin stood over a covered grate and stared down through the holes and pointed but no one came, it had worked before.
Enough of this nonsense, lets play basketball or bake pies, do something constructive!
Then by bus to the Catholic gym and played ball. Also a couple of priests played with us. Not that bad.
Elder Ballard made arrangements to practice after meeting some of the people who attended the Catholic priest training academy. They were obviously a tolerant sort, willing to play with the competition. Elder Baldwin played surprisingly well for a small person.
Later in the day, after tracting and teaching, the six missionaries returned to the pie project.
Elder Ballard had received two cans of pumpkin pie mix for Thanksgiving, it had arrived in December. He had lacked the confidence to actually open the cans and had saved them until Jack volunteered to help. Then I mixed the pie mix while Elder Baldwin fixed the pie pans. We baked our pies with reasonably good success. It turned out real good. Just like a pumpkin pie should.
After the pies were cooked they shared one pie and the discussion shifted to the details of Elder Ballard’s sexuality once again.
“I have dreams about all these girls walking along the streets and I just pick one out and then we go do it.” Elder Ballard was describing his nocturnal experience.
“Everybody has dreams and fantasies. That’s natural and even healthy. You just can’t let that control or interfere with your life.” Jack tried to bring the discussion to a higher level.
“You’re just too excited all the time.” Elder Vincent found all this sexual response annoying.
Elder Ballard continued undaunted. “Lately I’ve had frequent wet dreams sometimes twice a night.”
“If you didn’t work yourself up so much in the day you wouldn’t have all those impulses in your dreams. That’s my guess.” Jack naturally played the amateur analyst.
Elder Baldwin chipped in his two-bits worth: “You’re just too sexually potent. Pity the girl that ever marries you.”
“I guess I’m ready for sex any time, at least I have the potential to be.”
Elder Vincent tried to protect his companion’s ego. “Everybody has wet dreams. Don’t you guys do that once in a while?”
“Sure. Not that often,” Elder Baldwin confessed.
A survey of the group suggested that Elder Ballard was the exception. The closest anyone came was Elder Vincent who admitted to a frequency of about every ten days.
Jack took his turn. “I seem to go about every other month whether I want to or not. I guess I’m frigid compared to you guys.”
Neither Elder Cox nor Elder Seaburg volunteered their stories. Seaburg had his nose in a book and wasn’t paying attention. Cox had just disappeared to bed earlier before the conversation progressed, or digressed, to that stage of intimacy. His story comes later.
All of this was being discussed in a rather boisterous and humorous fashion. It wasn’t any technical survey, just locker-room talk among the guys.
“You get those pimples from the same cause probably. You probably have a rather excessive supply of testosterone hormones.” Jack’s suggestion was a vague summary of information he had read and studied rather than being strictly scientific.
Elder Seaburg came into the discussion for the first time. “Our bodies just react to the chemistry they contain. Not much you can do about that except modify your thinking. But even the thoughts you have are largely due to that same chemical influence.”
This recitation of facts put a damper on the conversation.
After a pause Elder Ballard sighed, “You guys are lucky. I wish I wasn’t so frustrated.”
Elder Vincent warned, “It’s better to be frustrated than get sent home, which is what will happen if you act on your impulses.”
“You keep a close eye on him Vince, so he doesn’t actually get into trouble. Remember our New Year’s resolution?” Jack’s warning was more than just half serious and was intended again as a signal to Elder Baldwin. Jack would meet Elder Ballard again and have to take his own advice.
On January 20th, Jack occupied most of the day building a tripod to support a street sign. He constructed a poster covered with plastic that showed a few religious pictures, the best of which were those he had received from Julie. He lettered a few headlines for the board. It progressed quite nicely but they still hadn’t gotten permission. You have to be optimistic in this business.
One of the evening activities consisted of occasionally visiting President Larcher to give him English lessons.
We stopped by Elder Ballard’s for one of the pies and went together to dinner at the Larcher’s. We gave him another English lesson. We ate good, then helped him write a letter to President Downey, which was fun and enlightening. President Larcher was very complimentary about the American pumpkin pie.
After, we had a slow ride home in the dense fog and part rain. We went to bed late again.
The weather in Italy can be cold and miserable with a wet cold that penetrates almost any kind of clothing. Jack and Elder Baldwin both suffered in silence from this insidious discomfort.
Saturday the 21st was a special day because this was Julie’s birthday. Jack spent a good share of the day pining over not being with her. He was using some of the pictures and reading books she sent. She was connected with his activities in many different ways including the new basketball shoes he sported during practice.
Even with his intense feelings for Julie, Jack never developed the kind of sexual reaction Elder Ballard described. Love isn’t what produces wild sexual responses, at least Jack’s feelings didn’t produce those reactions. Even though he was attracted to her, he didn’t see her simply as a sex object or possession. It was a very different kind of passion, a raw, crude, empty lust that produced the obsession Elder Ballard experienced.
Sunday, Saturday in the US, Jack got up early to commune with Julie as he had done before in Firenze.
This morning I got up at 5:30 to communicate with Julie. She wanted me to write a poem to her during the same time she was writing to me. So I did. Not much of a poem, mostly a long letter. Then after 7:00 got ready for Church and made out reports. I directed the music today in Sunday School, besides giving the opening prayer, real versatile. We went to comebacks, real fine. I’m riding without hands and studying the dictionary, good practice! I’m careful though.
Before Sacrament Meeting the traveling elders came with some stuff and I got two packages which made me quite happy. One from Julie full of more books and stuff, including a nice picture of her. Then the other from Jane with a copy of “Marvelous Work and a Wonder” (a popular Church book). I was real happy especially about Julie’s portrait, she’s real cool.
The Brescia missionaries finally got the required authorization to set up a street meeting on a reasonably busy intersection. This was a modestly historic day for the Italian mission. It was the first known use of the Street Meeting as a technique to attract interested people.
This day was our street meeting day. Up and ready then over to Elder Ballard’s. Then we went to our corner. The street board looks good. We spread out. I took one corner, three others on one and then two on another. We worked good, but it was cold and everyone got cold feet. We passed out lots of tracts that also showed the church address. I gave three screens and got eight or nine addresses and even two from cops.
From this one activity they found enough teaching opportunities to last a fair week.
I had a hot chocolate with two men and a woman where I gave them the Screening Discussion. Real nice. About 2:00 PM we had pizza for lunch. We went in shifts. Before Lunch I went to a kids house and gave him a Screening Discussion accompanied by Elder Cox. And then one afterward to a man who was kind of a hard case. Then after 4:30 we went home. Elder Ballard and I went out again to a couple of meetings and gave presentations.
All totaled, everyone was enthusiastic about the results of the day’s effort. Those who thought they would be nervous confronting people in public were encouraged and felt no more pressure than if they were knocking on doors.
In the mail that evening Jack received a surprise. Here he was just getting up to speed and coping with Elder Baldwin’s personality, then out of the blue comes another transfer. What a disappointment not to be able to follow all the nice leads that developed from the street meeting. There were many people that could be taught here and Jack could see that Brescia would become a strong center for the Mormon community. But alas, he received instructions to move to Padova.
Elder Baldwin was being transferred too. He was going on a special assignment into the Italian speaking section of Switzerland. Jack had achieved three notable things if he hadn’t achieved friendship: he had protected Elder Baldwin from himself, worked hard to improve both their attitudes and helped prepare him to become a Senior Companion eventually.
Jack wasn’t disappointed to be leaving Elder Baldwin, that was the only consolation about the transfer. Later he learned that his effort to protect Elder Baldwin only postponed the inevitable.
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