Jack & Lucky Chapter 8
Jack transferred his records to the less than capable hands of Elder Ballard and was on his way to Padova. He received no special instructions, no encouragement, just a terse letter telling him where to go at his own expense. He was to be a Senior Companion again and was expected to provide leadership and teaching skills. Working in Padova would bring new challenges but the greatest challenge he faced was inside himself yet to be manifest, his own inquisitive nature.
Leaving the work that had just become interesting and productive was difficult. The transfer seemed so arbitrary from his perspective. It had happened before and it would happen again. All decisions the Mission President made were supposed to be inspired, like miniature revelations. It was all supposed to work for the best, maybe it would, no one would ever know for sure. Jack’s mind told him to make the best possible result, his emotions felt an insult.
At the train station in Brescia Jack found a new Time Magazine and spent the two hour travel time in peaceful solitude by ignoring the hundreds of other passengers milling around. He looked forward to Thursdays because Time would appear at the train station news stand. Human loyalties attach to those institutions that are predictable and give a pleasant reward for effort.
By escaping into this magazine Jack was changing his identity for a few hours. On the train he was aided by the shyness and abetted by the politeness of the Italian people who kindly minded their own business. He didn’t think about being a missionary, about being an American in a foreign land, about being on a quest for knowledge or religious faith, he was just traveling incognito through a vast and curious world.
By diverting his mind away from religion, Jack was being drawn by a strong inner will. This diversion will broaden and Padova is an appropriate venue for such intellectual activity because Padova has a rich history as a center for creativity. Inside Time there was a world full of exciting events each different than knocking on doors, a world which Jack coveted.
Jack carried his love for Julie close to the surface of his conscious because this love had become closely associated with his own identity. He had her picture in his Alitalia bag with a ripe pear and dry bread, cheese and ham, each essential for his life in its own way. More and more the thought of her was the one constant in his life, the one ideal that kept him going. She was in his mind when he got up at 6:00 AM so he stayed up to study. She was in his mind when he went to bed, so he rested comfortably until sleep overcame his weariness. No matter where he went he wasn’t alone because that vital image was there when he needed it. He probably didn’t need to be so dependent on such a comforting love but since it was there he became addicted. She, in her innocence, beauty and purity became a significant part of his motivation.
Jack arrived at the Padova station precisely at 2:34 PM. The train was on time for once. He retrieved his motorbike which arrived in good order and flew around town for a few hours of exhilarating freedom. The cool wind through his hair and sudden energy at his finger-tips charged his battery and woke him to the possibilities of a new city. The beauty and charm of this mixture of old and new metropolitan area courted him, as he surveyed the ancient buildings and inspiring statues. He met the city on its own terms, open, receptive, capable and inquisitive. He soon forgot his infatuation with Brescia and disappointment at leaving her.
He reluctantly descended just before dark to the address where the other elders were supposed to be. They were there, no problem, except they ought to have been out working. They had just moved into this flat with three large rooms and a kitchen. The two outside rooms were for church functions.
An Elder Pond was the Senior Companion to an Elder Jason. They were an unusual combination. Elder Pond was a normal person: nice looking, all-American boy, reasonably athletic and easy to get along with, fortunately.
Elder Jason was a special case. He was taller, had light blonde hair and carried an extra 50 lbs on his flabby frame. He was indolent and unkept, like an overgrown kid. but pleasant. He was the court jester, the mission Junior. He had been in Italy for 8 months and was still a Junior Companion and was likely to remain such for a long time. Both were fun to talk to and Jack made friends quickly.
The three contacted the landlord, an attractive, masculine man by the name of Marcelle. He is best described as a slum-lord. He owned a collection of perhaps the worst habitable buildings in town. Since this was a university town he had plenty of prospective tenants. If there is ever a movie about the missionaries in Padova, Marcelle would be a central character and be played by Marlon Brando. In addition to his building investments, Marcelle allegedly had a prostitution business along with other miscellaneous illegal activities. Jack never saw any details or proof of these activities but the suggestion gave Marcelle an interesting mystique.
The landlord was gracious to missionaries because they came with money. He took the group in his large Fiat to the train station to get Jack’s bags and delivered them to the other apartment. Elder Pond had arranged for Jack to move into the apartment he and Elder Jason had just vacated.
That arrangement was fine with Jack, he had already been a church janitor in Brescia and didn’t need to do that again. Apparently this smaller apartment had dependable heat, although it didn’t have hot water or a shower inside.
After Jack settled, they went to dinner at the university mensa.
“You wanna go play basketball? The court is just a short walk from the mensa, not far from our place.” Elder Pond spoke in a husky voice; he was the athletic one.
“Sounds good, I’ll dig out my shoes and stuff.” Jack had received a new pair of black, canvas Converse All-Star basketball shoes in the mail just after Christmas. He had made that request from Julie and she had willingly complied.
“Nice shoes,” Elder Pond observed.
They walked to the university with Elder Jason giving a steady orientation and commentary on the sights. They had an excellent meal for 340 lira (about 60 cents in $US.) The university buildings were stately, even magnificent but humble enough to allow them to practice basketball on a court open to the public.
“We play with different people each night, whoever is there to exercise.” Even the clumsy, corpulent Elder Jason made an effort to play regularly.
“This is an arrangement left over from Elder Lamont who was in Padova for five or six months. You and your companion are his replacements.” Elder Pond explained the heritage and importance of basketball in Padova.
“Lamont used his basketball prowess to win friends and contact interested students. That’s as good a way as any to make converts,” Jason suggested.
“What ever turns you on, I guess,” Jack suggested skeptically. “When Elder Seaburg was in Firenze he heard they were talking about starting a basketball team for the mission to go on tour. You should try out Pond.”
“No, I’d never make the team but it would be fun just to try out.”
“It would be glamorous to travel around like that,” Elder Jason spoke in a swoon.
“They would be trying to publicize the presence of the Mormon Church in Italy. That would be useful to make a few people curious. Like a big scale marketing campaign.” Jack didn’t expect to be selected either, so he never took the idea seriously. At best he was an average player.
During the evening Elder Pond played well. They all played with enthusiasm and were thoroughly tired afterward.
Jack’s new companion, an Elder Lester, was waiting when the group returned to the church apartment. He was a thin, dainty fellow almost as tall as Jack. He had been in Italy longer than Jack. He was not aggressive or ambitious and was still struggling with the language and only slowly learning lessons and such. He was quiet and withdrawn most of the time. He seemed genuinely willing to go along and at least try to be helpful, unlike Elder Baldwin.
Saturday morning Jack slept late but woke before his companion. After he stumbled over his suitcase on the way to the light switch, he checked his watch, 7:13. He looked at his companion and decided to let him sleep until he woke on his own. He left the light on, however, to help nature take its course.
Jack began cooking by boiling water for rice. He rinsed the rice in cold water to remove the white, starchy powder. There were invariably a few black kernels and even the occasional rock to be removed.
He noticed Elder Lester stirring and called, “Good morning. You want some rice?”
There was no response for a moment, then a groggy Elder Lester answered, “No.” He flopped his head away from the light and made no move to get up.
“You must have a great bladder. How long can you lay there without having to get up?”
Another pause. “I could have stayed here for an hour if you hadn’t started talking about it.”
“I think the toilet is clear. Just trying to be helpful.” Jack was holding back his laughter with a mischievous grin.
Moving slowly, Elder Lester got up and walked toward the door and shuffled into the hallway.
The water boiled quickly over the direct heat of the gas flame. Jack added just the right amount of rice and turned the heat to minimum. He covered the steaming mixture with a lid and left the kitchen to get dressed as the rice steamed. He hadn’t unpacked so he had to search for his clean clothing inside the open suitcase.
Elder Lester came back and complemented Jack dryly. “You must like to get up early.”
“It’s not even early. I usually get up at 6:00 to study. How `bout you?” Jack saw no reason to admit otherwise.
“I’d rather study in bed for a while.” He moved to the bed and wrapped himself snugly in his covers.
“This morning we should go to the train station to take one of those long, lugubrious, hot showers. Does that sound good?”
“Not right now.”
“I showered last night after basketball practice but since you traveled all day yesterday I just figured you’d like to freshen up.”
“Not right now.” He moaned again suggesting he’d rather not be bothered for a while.
“Hey if you want to sleep for a while I’ll just bugger around here. Don’t let me bother you. You want me to wake you at a certain time?”
“No thanks.” He didn’t move.
“Right. I’ll try not to make too much noise.” Jack enjoyed this subtle harassment. He had probably learned it from his brothers.
In a few minutes he was mostly dressed. He found his heavy wool ski socks to wear as slippers against the cold, uncovered floor. It was time to return to the kitchen, the rice was perfect. He found a bowl and spoon and poured a large glass of milk. He scooped half of the rice into his bowl and added sugar and milk. He pealed a banana and sliced it neatly on top of the rice porridge.
The rest of the rice would be saved for a later meal, maybe fried with eggs. He took his food to the shaky table near his bed and ate quietly while inspecting the Time Magazine further. The Soviets seemed to be ahead of the US in the space race.
After breakfast he began organizing his part of their room. When Elder Lester was ready they went out to purchase some food staples. Jack had begun the practice of cooking rice for breakfast while in Brescia. He reasoned that if the Chinese could live on rice so could he, at least one meal a day. Elder Lester didn’t like rice, in fact he didn’t like eating much of anything, he bought some fruit and nuts.
Their room was on the third floor and rather spacious compared to some of Jack’s previous accommodations. It was plain but this gave it the virtue of not needing to be cleaned. The outside of the building was a rundown wreak but that didn’t make any difference either.
Next to the small kitchen was a glassed-in porch that overlooked a central courtyard. The courtyard that was mostly a utility area consisting of a fuel tank for the furnace that heated the entire facility, and a dead tree. Not much of a view. Usually the air was clean and the sun shone in the window early in the morning. The other three sides of the courtyard were either warehouses with no windows or the windows were boarded so there were no visible neighbors.
Jack turned this porch into an office-study with Elder Lester’s acquiescence. He was willing to agree to anything. Jack took the kitchen door off its hinges to use for a desk top. He balanced this on four wooden boxes acquired at the nearby fruit and vegetable stand. He made some shelves with similar surplus materials and distributed his things around the small room neatly.
After his materials were established, he placed his elegant black pen on the desk making a nice office.
I wrote a letter to Julie and other things of less importance.
Sunday, January 29, 1967: I got up at 6:00 and cleaned, ate hot rice, then wrote in this book [diary]- or that was yesterday. Studied until we went to church at 9:00 for Priesthood Meeting which didn’t happen. Then Sunday School. I conducted the meeting and blessed the Sacrament. We had one of our local Italian members and one investigator.
It felt good to be part of a normal operating church service, even such a small one.
In the evening Jack reviewed with his companion the possible techniques to achieve success in the least possible time.
“What do you think the best way to start would be?”
Elder Lester looked up from reading Jack’s Time Magazine. “I don’t know. What’s wrong with knocking on doors?”
“I think we should do that of course. Maybe we could have better success if we tried a combination of approaches.” Again Jack was trying to make the mystery of discovery more efficient.
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“How would you like to try doing a street meeting like I started in Brescia? We got a lot of good contacts but I had to leave just as things were going hot.”
“I don’t care. Whatever you want.” He looked back at the magazine.
“I’d like to contact the university people too, to see if we can give a class on religion or make a group presentation of some kind. How about that?”
“Right. This basketball thing has probably been over-used. I don’t expect much benefit from that, besides that’s Pond and Jason’s territory. We can start tracting tomorrow using these old books. How does that sound? When we have a chance we can follow-up these other ideas too.”
Jack resolved to test several approaches to market this exciting religion.
Monday: We went down with the others to the Secretario Generale to receive permission for a street meeting. We have to come back. Then registered at the Questura, purchased cards to send home, then lunch…
Jack had to write a formal request to hold a street meeting. Since it was raining the two stayed in during the afternoon composing and translating this letter. Antonio, a new Church member had invited the two missionaries to visit. Jack hoped to get help with this street meeting letter from this pleasant student.
After dinner at the mensa, they walked in a drizzle under the ineffective protection of their umbrellas to his apartment. Jack tried to make conversation with his moribund companion.
“I hate having wet feet.” After a pause: “How ’bout you?”
“That goes with the territory I guess.”
“Ya. I suppose so. I’ve been looking for a pair of those rubber shoe covers like you have. You ever see any around?”
“No. My mother got these for me. But I guess I never looked since I already had a pair.”
A long silence.
“We should ask Antonio if he has any friends that want to hear about The Church.”
That wasn’t a question so his companion didn’t say anything. Finally they arrived at the house. They pushed the button at the main door on the first floor. There was no intercom, the door latch clicked. The two folded their umbrellas and walked up two flights of stairs.
Antonio was waiting at his door.
He was neat and slightly plump in a tight sweater and slacks. His black hair was combed tightly back and he showed a serious five-o-clock shadow over his rounded, smiling face.
“Hi, how you doin’?” Jack acknowledged with a wave of his hand, speaking in his easy Italian but still with a heavy American accent. He used the familiar “tu” since they had already met and established a rapport the day before.
“Not so bad. Come in. I’m glad you came.” “Thanks.” Jack handed his wet raincoat to Antonio, Elder Lester did the same tagging along behind.
“I’ve been studying my drafting.” He motioned toward the room that was obviously in disarray. “I study at the university part time. I want to be a designer and work for an architect or something interesting like that.” He had a drafting board in the middle of the small main room so they had to sit on containers and objects in corners as best they could.
“That sounds great.”
“You guys want something to drink? I have some Spuma, no milk, I think I’m out of milk. I don’t drink much milk anyway.” In almost every Italian house Jack was offered something to drink as a sign of hospitality.
“No. Thanks anyway. We just got through eating at the Mensa.”
“No, grazia.” Elder Lester tried to repeat Jack’s thank you, except with an “a” instead of an “e”. “Grazia” being the Grace of God, “grazie” being thanks. Antonio chuckled at first then caught himself. He carefully explained the difference to help Elder Lester.
“Where are you from?” Both Jack and Elder Lester described their background briefly. Elder Lester was from northern Utah, near the town of Logan and had spent one year at Utah State University near there.
Elder Lester struggled a little with the Italian words, the chance to talk on his own was a good exercise for him. Antonio was very helpful and considerate of Elder Lester’s difficulty with the language and coached him with the correct choice of words.
Antonio was 25 years old, single and had moved to the city from a nearby farming community. He served one year of military duty at the Padova barracks and stayed in Padova to work and study. He met the original elders through another acquaintance who played basketball. He was baptized just two months earlier. He had already given all his acquaintances an offer to hear about The Church and didn’t have any more prospects.
“Maybe you can help us with a project. We want to have street meetings and we need to write a letter for permission. Do you think that’s a good idea around here?”
“What’s a street meeting?”
“We take a poster with pictures and stand on the street corner, maybe near a park and talk to people as they come by if they want to stop.”
“Sure, that would be fine. It’s a good idea. You can meet a lot of people fast and they can choose for themselves if they want to hear more.”
“It worked well in Brescia where I just came from. Here is what I have so far. Maybe you can help me fix the wording?”
The group discussed the letter and Antonio made a few important grammatical changes, verb tenses and female-male endings and such. Italian is a complicated language. Jack had done well learning as much as he had on his own. After an hour or so they left. They returned in the wet drizzle to their warm apartment. It felt good to get home to shelter, even to such a shabby place.
The next day Jack gathered materials for a sign board. He had a lettering set to make headings for a new set of pictures. He had left his other materials in Brescia so he had to start over. He planned to do even better this time. Elder Lester was handy with the lettering machine, so Jack let him do that portion of the job after he wrote the words in longhand. Jack typed the letter of intentions and they delivered it to the mayor’s office.
During the rest of the day and the next they began tracting in the area where they thought the previous missionaries had ended.
We found others had been here before and decided to work in another area. We are riding bikes. My companion decided he could ride pedal bikes.
Elder Lester was afraid to ride the motorbike because he was concerned about being injured. Of course it was illegal, because it was just a small bike. Jack loaned the Testi to Elder Pond in exchange for two conventional bikes. Elder Jason owned a Vespa motorscooter so they were all paired evenly.
During the week Jack and Elder Lester went back and forth several times to the local Secretary General on their conventional pedal bikes, trying to get permission for the street meetings.
It is something riding a bike with one hand. I have to carry my scripture case and screening book in my left or right and brake with the other, or sometimes I go no handed of course.
Jack moved right into the second project by making contact with the Vice-Director of the University. They requested permission to post notices of a class about religion. The Vice-Director was a small, older man with a kind smile. He gave approval and helped by giving Jack a list of professors and addresses so he could send a notice to each.
When the missionaries returned home Friday evening, Jack began working on posters using his lettering set. The posters announcing the classes in religion to the university students seemed worthwhile, at least worth a try.
I began to make a Sunday School lesson on open mindedness. Then Church but no investigators came, oh well. I gave the lesson to the other elders anyway. We had a Sacrament and Testimony Meeting. I’m even fasting today like I’m supposed to. I won’t pay fast offering. I need the money as badly or worse than most people right now.
This “open mindedness” was the door through which Jack’s old doubts and questions came and went. They were out for now, but ready to knock at any time. The others weren’t as concerned about objective inquiry, challenging their own ideas, or modifying their decision tracks. It wasn’t obvious to the others nor to Jack that his mind naturally took a different direction than their’s. Being open minded didn’t have the same significance for them, they thought they were open minded.
Early Monday the two companions visited the Secretary General’s office again but found no progress on the street meeting letter. They were told to return in a few days.
They (the Mission Office) sent a new weekly report form out again. This time to my surprise I liked it, mainly because it was the one I sent as a suggestion. How about that! Then after lunch, studied and prepared the posters. Began to write the letter of request to the professors. Then comebacks and one appointment. Gave part of the First Lesson. I got a letter from Julie again which always makes me happy.
The days were busy from the moment of awakening until Jack finally collapsed at 11:00 in the evening.
During the mid-day Tuesday, Jack met Marcelle again. He was always pleasant and diplomatic. In addition to his other enterprises he has a used appliance store. Most of his appliances appeared to be very well used and it was questionable if they actually worked. He had provided a piano for the church meeting room and appliances for the kitchen. He could probably get anything they needed given a day or two to procure it through his underground channels.
Marcelle needed help with a letter. He had relatives in Brooklyn, so Jack spent an hour helping him write a letter in English. That was an easy letter for a change.
Julie was home for a visit during the semester break. She helped her mother do some house cleaning and other projects to keep her mind occupied.
After dinner she asked her mother, “Mom, would you mind if I went through some of our old Improvement Era Magazines to look for pictures I can send to Jack?”
“How is Jack doing? We should say Elder Lincoln, of course. He’s so far away from home in such a strange place. You haven’t told us much detail except `He’s fine’.”
“I get a letter almost every week, sometimes two at a time because the mail gets delayed. He had a cold according to his last letter, I guess the weather has been wet and cold, so he has to go out in the rain a lot.”
“We have a box full of Eras in the closet down stairs. Take whatever you want. That’s why I saved them for just such an occasion. Did Jack like his new basketball shoes?”
“He hasn’t mentioned them yet. Maybe they didn’t make it.”
Julie brought the magazines up stairs and put the dusty box near the kitchen table.
“What kind of pictures is he looking for? I’ll help you look.”
“He said he needed to make another street board or something for teaching. I sent him some in October for his `Black Book,’ he calls it, but now he said he needs some more and I used up all the good ones I could find from the girls around school and what I had.”
Julie and her mother sorted through the old magazines.
There was a silence for a minute. Julie’s mother looked over at her daughter and could see she was fighting back some tears.
“It’s nice for you to be so involved with Jack’s mission.”
“I just feel so lonely and helpless,” she cried as she put down the pair of scissors.
“Sometimes these feelings pass.”
She lost control and the tears fell freely. “There are so many things that could happen. Worse than that, he might just forget about me and meet some beautiful Italian convert.”
“I don’t think you have to worry about that with Jack. He seems as loyal as a hunting dog. He reminds me of your father when it comes to self-control. He can completely ignore his own comfort, work long hours and never complain. I think Jack is just like that.”
“He was assigned to be Senior Companion just before Christmas, so I guess he’s learning the language and doing alright. Now he has to make the plans and keep his companion going. That must be very difficult.”
“He’s designed for that kind of work. Don’t fret. You keep in touch and keep helping and time will go by so fast, before you know it he’ll be home.”
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