Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Our Yellowstone Trip - Swimming in Island Park


Following on yesterday's post, after going back to the cabin to change, we headed down to Island Park, Idaho - just a few miles away - to take the kids swimming in the North Fork of the Snake River.  The water was much to cold to actually swim in, but the kids had a lot of fun just wading in the shallow river and playing on and off the dock, pictured below.


The following short video clips just missed Levi running the length of the dock and jumping in the river at its end.  You can get a sense of his exuberance in the above photograph.  Before we knew it, he had charged down the dock and off the end.  The video picks up with him coming out of the water.  He, as well as all the kids, were just enjoying the heck out of themselves.



Things then took an even more interesting turn when Levi spotted a small fish near the dock.  Then, the hunt was on.


Mark upped the ante when he told the kids that he'd give $20 to whoever caught a fish first.  That's when things got really serious.  Nathan joined in and spent the next hour or so, wading up and down the river, trying to catch a fish with his hands.


Meanwhile, the Quads moved upriver, taking their search further afield.


When we first arrived, we were the only ones on our side of the river.  But we were eventually joined by a couple of families who appeared to be related.  One of the kids had a BYU T-shirt on.  At first, only the wives and the kids would come down to the river.  The three husbands kept their distance, standing in a group up in the parking lot, talking and looking on.  

I suspected that they were trying to figure out what the deal was:  why were two mature men with these five young kids?  I had noticed similar looks that morning in Yellowstone, at Old Faithful and at the Wolf and Bear Center, and I would experience it again throughout the remainder of our trip.  People would look at Mark and me, and then at the kids, then back at Mark and me, a quizzical look on their face.  I could just see the wheels turning in their minds and the conversations they were having with themselves:  "Could those guys be gay?  They don't look like brothers.  I mean, I've heard of gay couples adopting kids, but I've never heard of a gay couple with *five* kids!  What the ... ?"  I just smiled.



Finally, after searching for at least an hour, Nathan rose up from the water and yelled, "I caught one!"  By then, at least one of the husbands from the parking lot had apparently decided it was safe to come down to the dock, and both he and his kids were well aware of the hunt that was going on.  Everyone turned to look at Nathan.  These pictures say it all:



It was a fun, fun afternoon.  Such a simple activity that didn't cost anything but from which such memories were made!  

Finally, the time had come to head back to the cabin and heat up that Costco lasagna that we had brought.  We had a nice dinner on the deck of the cabin, then retired to the living room to watch Green Lantern together.  It had been a good day.


Monday, July 30, 2012

Our Yellowstone Trip - Geysers and Grizzlies


On Sunday of last week, we got a fairly early start after breakfast in the cabin and headed into Yellowstone Park for the first time.  Mark, who has been to the park a number of times, and I, who has heard about the crush of people who go to the park every summer, were both expecting long lines of traffic, but we were pleasantly surprised in this regard.  The line-up to get into the park was only a few cars long, and we encountered no serious traffic in the park that day.

Our main destination that day was Old Faithful.  Of course, I've heard about this geyser for as long as I can remember, and it surely must be one of the most photographed sites in the world.  We arrived in time to get a good seat right in front of the geyser and had about a 15-minute wait before she blew.  The kids were much more interested in an old buffalo who had wondered into the scene, however.






After catching this show, we went back to the car, past another bison wondering through the parking area, and discovered a pack of crows happily devouring a pizza that someone had apparently unthinkingly left in the bed of their pick-up.  

From there, we retraced our steps through the park, back to West Yellowstone where we stopped at Arby's for some lunch (since the Quads now refuse to go to McDonalds, unless it's for breakfast - a story for another time).  After lunch, we went to a wolf and grizzly bear wildlife center there in West Yellowstone.  It wasn't quite what I expected - more like a large zoo than an actual habitat - but it was still interesting.  Mark was taken with the grizzlies, and the kids were taken with the machine that turns pennies into oval pressed medallions.



We did see some wolves, but they were all snoozing at the base of trees.  Speaking of wolves, however, as we were walking around, Levi noticed some large buttons for sale that had pictures of the various wolves and bears in the habitat and he especially noticed that one of the wolves was named Joseph.  He excited pointed this out to me, and of course I had to buy it (for $2).  But then I thought it would be fun for Mark to have one as well, so we picked out one of the bears who was named "Kobuk."*  These two buttons now grace the door of our refrigerator, a constant reminder of our trip to Yellowstone (and Mark has a new nickname as well).


*(Kobuk and her sister Nakina were actually from a litter of triplets. Their mother and brother were shot and killed by a resident near the community of Delta Junction, Alaska, and they came to live at the West Yellowstone Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center in 1998. They were named by a West Yellowstone and Delta Junction elementary student who picked these names after the rivers near the bear's birthplace.)

Levi outside the Wolf and Grizzly Center

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Our Yellowstone Trip: Rodeo


We got away from the house at about 9:30 on Saturday morning.  We pulled off in Bountiful because Nathan needed to retrieve something from the house, and as we were driving up Orchard Drive about five minutes from the house, Mark turned to me and said, "Did you bring the keys to the cabin?"  If anybody ever had deer-in-the-headlights look, it was me.  It had completely slipped my mind - as it obviously had Mark's - to retrieve the keys to the cabin we were going to be using outside of West Yellowstone.

We were glad, however, that we had remembered the keys only 30 minutes from the house instead of three hours away.  So, we retraced out steps and drove all the way back to our house in Salt Lake to retrieve the keys, then we were really on our way.

Things went fairly well after that.  We stopped at a rest stop outside Idaho Falls for lunch, then drove on to the cabin on Henry's Lake, outside West Yellowstone.  It belongs to a colleague of Mark's who had graciously offered it to us for the three days we'd be up there.  I didn't know what to expect.  I had been told it was pretty "rustic."  But I was very pleasantly surprised.


It wasn't large, by any means, but it was very comfortable, with running water and a nice kitchen.


Plus, the views were gorgeous, with Henry's Lake to the south and the mountains beyond, with another big mountain behind us, to the north.



We arrived in time to settle in and make a spaghetti dinner before heading toward West Yellowstone to go to a rodeo.  This was a first for me as well as the kids.  It wasn't quite as large as I had expected, but it was still fun.

A line of riders in the distance as the sun was setting
Mark, who had a horse when he was a young feller, took the kids up close to see some of the horses.
Nathan posed in a cowboy hat borrowed from the cabin
We posed for a group picture before the rodeo started
The highlight of the evening for the kids was when they called out all the kids ages 4-8, then from 9-12.  Levi went out with the first group, whereupon the clown explained to the kids what they needed to do once a calf was released (grab the flag off the calf's tail).  These videos show what happened - first with the younger group, then the older group.  In the first group, Levi can be seen with the red shirt and beige shorts.  Esther and Aaron both participated in the second group, but I can't quite spot them.  Esther nearly grabbed the flag.



It was a fun evening.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Our Yellowstone Trip - Prelude: Handcart Days

The Quads in front of the Yukon and trailer on Friday afternoon, prior to leaving for Yellowstone

The five younger kids, Mark and I got back on Wednesday from a five-day trip that took us to Yellowstone National Park, Teton National Park and, on the way home, Jackson, Wyoming.

The odyssey started on Friday morning when I picked up the Yukon we had rented for the trip.  I mistakenly thought there would be enough room in the back for all our gear, so after some discussion back and forth, we decided to rent a small trailer to carry all our stuff, and it worked out perfectly.  Three coolers, two large plastic buckets of food and linens to use at the cabin, as well as three sleeping bags, two suitcases and three duffle bags!

I then drove up to Bountiful to pick up the Quads, then took them to the Bountiful City Park, where "Handcart Days" were in full swing.  For those who are not familiar with this celebration, July 24th is Pioneer Day in Utah, commemorating the arrival of the advance party of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley on 24 July 1847.  This is a big holiday here, and Bountiful has, for many years, had its own celebration around the same time, called "Handcart Days" - a reference to the immigrants to Utah who crossed the plains with all their worldly possessions on a handcart that was pulled behind them.

For a number of years, I/we have taken the kids to the Bountiful City Park because they have carnival rides and other games for the children.  

Levi climbing the "rock wall."
Esther taking her turn
Later that afternoon, we tried to find a place from which to watch the Handcart Days Parade, which started at 6:00.  Parades are really big in Utah.  I used to be in the evening Corn Day Parade back in Carmi, Illinois, when I was in junior high and high school band.   I also helped my little sister march in the morning pet parade (see below).  But I honestly cannot recall attending a parade any time after high school until the time we moved to Utah.

Me, Martha and Kelly our dachshund, Fall 1969
My first experience with a Utah parade was the Centerville Fourth of July parade in 1997.  This is when I was first introduced to the Utah custom of staking out a position on the parade route with lawn chairs, blankets, ropes, etc., well before the start of the parade.  I later witnessed the same thing in Bountiful, which got to be such a competition that people started staking out positions at least two days before the parade.  The City finally had to adopt an ordinance which prohibited this practice prior to 6:00 the morning of the parade.

Then there was the candy that was thrown from floats, causing kids to rush out into the street, scrambling to collect as much as they could.  At first, I thought this was fun, but it got to the point where I found the practice demeaning of my children.

Then there were the huge squirt guns fired into the crowd, which Centerville City finally had to ban.

Then there was the overly-showy displays of "patriotism."  It seemed to me that people were in a competition to see who could stand up first when the color guard was at least a block away.  This and other practices were very foreign to me.  Before moving to Canada, I considered myself just as patriotic as the next person, if not more so.  Then, when I lived in Canada, I was exposed to a restrained and more dignified patriotism:  Canadians are just as proud of and devoted to their country as Americans, but they express their sentiments in a more restrained, private and dignified manner.

When we moved to Utah, I became increasingly disturbed as the years progressed at the "nazi patriotism" that is evidenced here by many people.  People make a show of their patriotism, not - or so it seemed to me - out of genuine love for their country, but out of an ingrained sense that they not only had to demonstrate their patriotism for others to see, but consciously or unconsciously enter into a competition to be more patriotic than then next person.  

The other factor, of course, is that this overt, over-the-top patriotism goes hand in hand with the Mormon culture here, which breeds a very conservative political philosophy and treats patriotism almost like a tenet of their faith.  This was evidenced in countless ways on countless occasions.  It got to the point where I was just disgusted by it all and refused, for example, to put my hand over my heart when color guards passed at Cub Scout and Boy Scout events (held at our LDS ward building) or in parades.

The Quads at Bountiful City Park
But I digress ... but only slightly.

The kids and I had an extremely difficult time finding a place from which to watch the parade.  It seemed that every square inch of the street was already claimed.  But we finally found a spot that would give us a "second tier" but nevertheless reasonably good view of the parade. 

One of the main reasons why I took the kids to the parade is that two of my sons were planning to march in a contingent of "Helaman's Stripling Warriors," - a reference to a group of some 2000 young men that formed an army in the Book of Mormon.  A stake president in Bountiful - which I suspected was my old president and was later confirmed in this view - had decided it would be really cool to try to gather 2000 young Mormon men to dress up and be Helaman's Stripling Warriors.  He managed to get the other stake presidents in Bountiful and surrounding communities to sign on (no doubt with the imprimatur of someone at Church headquarters).

This would have been ok with me, but I started reading comments in various places on the internet about the preparation for this march.  One friend wrote that his son, in another Bountiful stake, was being pressured to sign a "contract" whereby he agreed to march.  I mean, I understand the need for commitment, but this was over the top.  

Nathan, my younger teenage son, was ambivalent about the parade.  He was going to march, then he wasn't.  I was supportive of whichever decision he made.  But he ended up calling me late Friday afternoon and told me that he wouldn't be in the parade.  He was obviously upset.  I later found out that a former bishop of our ward had paid him a visit at the house that day to try to talk him into going.  This is one of the things that I always strongly disliked about the Mormon Church:  it preaches "free agency," yet tries to force people to do their bidding, particularly the youth.  

In this regard, I was reminded of the editorial that had run a few weeks ago in the Provo newspaper about how people living in the vicinity of the Missionary Training Center (in Provo) were "invited" by ecclesiastical leaders (beginning with an apostle) to cease their opposition to the construction of a nine-story building on the campus of the MTC and "fall into line."  They did so.  See here.

My kids know that one of my very favorite quotes of all time is one of Thomas Jefferson, one of several inscribed in the Jefferson Memorial in Washington:


As my dad would have quipped, "Enough said."

My older teenage son was going to be marching, however, and though I am estranged from him and he from me, I still wanted to see him.  But I waited in vain - and later found out that the "Warriors" were the very last entry in the parade.  It finally got to the point where the parade route was so crowded and the atmosphere so oppressive that the kids and I packed up and left.  I vowed that that would be my last parade (Pride parades excepted).

The Stripling Warriors on the march

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Little Cottonwood Canyon: To the Top!


Yesterday marked a huge milestone in my cycling career:  I made it to the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.  This ride has the reputation for being the most challenging in the Salt Lake area, and as I've written before, it is just about the same distance and grade as the Alpe d'Huez in the French Alps, which has often been part of the Tour de France and which Mark and I will cycle in September.  The following elevation graph tells the story:  from the time we left the house until the top of the canyon, we limbed almost 4000 feet, and approximately 3300 of those feet were in the canyon over a distance of approximately 8.3 miles.


It was a tough slog in places.  But I made it.  The next challenge will be to cycle it again with less "breathers."

I had a great weekend with the kids.  I had Esther, Aaron and Levi overnight on Friday, then after a lazy morning, we drove down to Payson for their Scottish Festival.  While there, I had their pictures drawn by an "artist" for the princely sum of $3.


The kids probably had the most fun on the playground (below).  I was tempted, as we sat and listened to a couple of musicians, to think, "We need to get the most out of this festival.  After all, it took us an hour to drive down here.  It would be silly to leave after only 90 minutes."  But I squelched this voice in my head and instead said, "You know what?  We'll stay as long as the kids feel like; we don't need to see and do everything (not that there was that much to do).  We'll leave when we feel like it, even if after only 90 minutes."  I was rather proud of myself.


video

I picked Nathan up Saturday evening when I took the Quads home, and he ended up staying through Monday afternoon.  On Sunday evening, we had a nice dinner with our friends, Ben and Tina, which Nathan seemed to enjoy.  (If you look closely, you'll see one of the cherry pies I wrote about a week or so ago.)



Saturday, July 14, 2012

An Echo of Someone Else's Music

In Lourdes, fall of 1985

I have found myself recently, somewhat surprisingly, going through yet another phase of sifting and sorting, trying to make sense of my life. One of the things I have been doing as part of this process is going back through my old journals.

Oh! How I wish I had kept journals starting when I was in high school. But, alas, I didn't start one until just before I joined the LDS Church. Recently, I have been focusing on the period that covers the last few months of my mission, followed by the seven-month period leading up to my marriage to my former wife.

I wrote once on my former blog about these last couple of months in France:

My last area proved to be the most challenging of my entire mission. I was one of those elders who was called as an 18-month missionary, then we had a choice of whether or not to extend to the full 24 months. I had wrestled with this decision, but had ultimately decided to extend after an especially spiritual and uplifting experience in my previous area. Then I was transferred to missionary hell.  Why is life like that?

Well, ok, maybe hell is too strong a word. But my new companion absolutely drove me up a tree. I had never had a companion like him. Not necessary to go into details except to point out that he had – in spades – a number of character traits found among some missionaries/members that I was finding increasingly irksome. Narrowmindedness. A fixation with numbers, but no interest in people in where they were at. Condescension toward other religions.

At the same time, I was finding that, especially after going through the same-sex attraction struggles I had faced over the past six months, that I was dealing with a lot of self-identity issues. I had rejected a lot of my pre-convert self upon being baptized, and a process of re-integration had been going on throughout my mission. In this last area, I hit the wall. 

After being in my new area a month, I wrote the following in my journal: “I am going to keep trying, but I don’t know how much more I can take. I feel like I am in a prison and the walls are slowly closing in on me. The air is becoming shorter and shorter. I’m suffocating and I’m lashing out in desperate rage, trying to breathe fresh air, to liberate myself.”  

I had heard of elders simply walking away from missionary work to take breathers, and I considered it. One day at church, I almost did just that.  

By now, I had lost the “golden convert” halo that had been placed upon my head only 2-1/2 years before. I felt jaundiced, like I had been through a war. I questioned whether I wanted to be active in the Church when I got home. This was not due so much to my struggles over homosexuality; I just didn’t know if I was cut out for the regimented life that the Church seemed to require. It wasn’t a matter of faith so much as questioning whether I could continue to contort myself into something and someone that I was fundamentally not.

My struggles during this period of time were essentially about identity, not homosexuality per se. My attraction to men was only part of who I was. Rather, at this point in time, I was trying to recover who I had been before joining the Church. I was trying to understand who I really was.

I have written in the previous couple of posts about me reading Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund. I had started my foray into Literature a few weeks before leaving France by reading a book recommended to me by my last companion, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray. I followed this by reading Hesse's Steppenwolf. I was amazed, as I read my journal and read the passages from these two books that I had copied into my journal, at how much these passages still speak to me after almost 30 years, such as these words that Wilde had Lord Henry speak:
"... because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of someone else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's own nature perfectly - that is what each of us are here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty one owes to one's self. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion -- these are the two things that govern us."
I had never been very in touch with my self. I believe the genesis of this occurred as a result of the abuse I experienced as a child, then was later made far deeper by the dawning realization as an adolescent that I was sexually attracted to boys.  

When I joined the LDS Church, I think I felt that I could acquire a new identity as a Mormon. I strongly believed that the Church was true. Though this is a topic for another time, I desperately wanted, at that point in my life, some direction. Among other things, I truly believed the Church when it said that I could "outgrow" my same-sex attraction. Again, a topic for another time.

The important point for now is that I felt - like many, many converts before and since - that I needed to bury those parts of myself that were not conducive to the picture-perfect Mormon persona I called this "convert shock."  I had started, near the end of my mission, to come out of this, to make efforts to reconnect with the person I was before I joined the Church - a person my former wife never knew, not to mention my children. But these efforts were to be aborted and I would instead, during the months ahead, draw in some important respects even further away from the person I really was by getting married, jettisoning the plans I had been making for years to go to law school, and concurrently moving to my former wife's home in Vancouver, B.C.

This is why, at this point in my life, I am revisiting this period of my past: the last few months of my mission and the first few months at home - to discover why I was an echo of someone else's music, an actor playing out a part that I had not been written for me.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Millcreek Canyon Solo ; More Narcissus


I experienced another "first" yesterday in cycling:  I cycled up to the top of Millcreek Canyon by myself.  Mark had a work meeting, and it was supposed to be 104 degrees here by afternoon, so I decided to go ahead and go for a ride by myself in the morning.

The mouth of Millcreek is only about 1.5 miles from our house, but it is pretty much all uphill to get there.  I had wondered whether it would help me to warm up a bit by riding south for awhile on Wasatch Boulevard, then double back to the canyon - so I tried that yesterday, adding about 1.7 miles to the normal ride.

I'm wasn't sure if it helped.  My legs are still sore from that ride last Friday up to Big Mountain, or so it seemed.  There were several times when I wondered whether I could make it to the top.  That's why I've written that each confrontation with a canyon or other mountain ride forces me to deal with the question:  Who will win - the mountain or me?

I kept on going, and I eventually did reach the top.  (Yay me!!)  It was a beautiful morning and the temperature was very pleasant for the entire ride.

I was surprised when I got home and looked at my Garmin stats.  I compared yesterday's ride to our last ride up Millcreek, and even with the additional 1.7 miles, I was still a good two minutes faster this time.  In addition, my average moving speed was a little over 1 mph faster than last time.  So, even though it seemed to be as I was on the way up that I was going slower than last time, I was actually faster.  This made me feel really good. :)

In Pau, a few weeks before I came home from my mission in November of 1985
Meanwhile, continuing from where I left off in my last post, I quote more from passages of Hesse's novel, Narcissus and Goldmund, that I had copied into my journal in December of 1985:
"When a man tries to realize himself through the gifts with which nature has endowed him [explained Narcissus], he does the best and only meaningful thing he can do ... Whereas we are transitory, we are becoming, we are potentials; there is no perfection for us, no complete being.  But wherever we go, from potential to deed, from possibility to realization, we participate in true being, become by a degree more similar to the perfect and divine.  That is what it means to realize oneself ..."
These words spoke to me on several levels as I prepared to move on with my life after my mission.  For one thing, they spoke of me finally being able to go to law school after I had equivocated for years about going.  In so doing, I felt like I would be "realizing myself."

They also spoke to me about my desire to be alive.  "I'm glad to be young!" I wrote.  "I'm glad to feel closer to the beat of life, to be younger, but yet older and wiser."  

I cannot read these words now without sighing.  The optimism of youth ...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Remembrance of Things Past

Me in the Pyrenees in the fall of 1985
"I see aspects of what I know are of my true personality dancing around me 
as shadows from a candle flame.  But, I have yet to discover the key 
that will let the real Joe Broom out, that will permit me to see and become one 
with the person who is generating all the shadows I see dancing on the walls."

So I wrote in my journal in December 1985, a month after I returned home from my mission to France.  

I have recently started going through my journals, commencing upon my return home from my mission.  During my last two months in France, when I was stationed in Pau, I went through a period of deep introspection.  This introspection continued when I arrived home and started putting my real life back together.

One of the last pictures of me taken in France, a month before I wrote these journal entries.

Upon reviewing my journal from this period, I was reminded of my brief love affair with Literature.  "I'm reading Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse right now," I wrote on December 19th, "and it's stimulating my thinking.  I liked a passage of a dialogue between the two, where Narcissus is telling Goldmund:
'I am superior to you only in one paint: I'm awake, whereas you are only half-awake, or completely asleep sometimes.  I call a man awake who knows in his conscious reason his innermost unreasonable force, drives and weaknesses and knows how to deal with them.  For you to learn that about yourself is the potential reason for your having met me.  In your case, mind and nature, consciousness and dream world like very far apart.  You've forgotten your childhood; it cries for you from the depths of your soul It will make you suffer until you heed it.'"
I then wrote:  "Does this apply to me?  I wonder ..." Duh.

Four days later, I wrote:  "It's so wonderful how I have come to love literature, mainly because I see in literature that I am not mad - that others have lived through the same experiences as have I.  When I read a passage in a book that speaks to my heart, it's as if someone says, 'You're ok, go ahead.  You're on the right track.' These are the feelings I had when I read the following passage [from Narcissus and Goldmund]:
"It was shameless how life made fun of one; it was a joke, a cause for weeping!  Either one lived and let one's senses play, drank full at the primitive mother's breast - which brought great bliss but was no protection against death; then one lived like a mushroom in the forest, colorful today and rotten tomorrow.  Or else one put up a defense, imprisoned oneself for work and tried to build a monument to the fleeting passage of life - then one renounced life, was nothing but a tool; one enlisted in the serve of that which endured, but one dried up in the process and lost one's freedom, scope, lust for life.  That's what happened to Master Niklaus. 
"Ach, life made sense only if one achieved both, only if it was not split by this brittle alternative!  To create, without sacrificing one's senses for it.  To live, without renouncing the nobility of creating."
Before I continue with my journal entry, it struck me as I read this passage how prophetic these words were for me ... 

"I have often reflected that I myself seem to be a dual personality," I wrote.  Continuing:
"There is the thinker in me who is very cautious, very conventional and very removed.  This side of me has been dominant since early adolescence. [Note to file:  Why?]  On the other hand, I know that there is an artist in me, he who wishes to abandon himself to creative forces.  But, this person is terribly undernourished and afraid.  Every now and then, he gasps for air and he manages to stay alive. 
"Many of my struggles to this date have been caused by conflict between these two forces within myself.  As Goldmund states, however, it is seemingly impossible to strike a balance between the two.  I am, however, determined to make an effort.  I am determined to make a conscientious effort to nourish the artist inside of me ..."
Sigh.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

All Those Cherries


I have always liked cherry pie, but I didn't fall in love with cherry pie and Montmorency cherries until I got married and moved to Canada.  The reason?  My former wife's Aunt Kay.  She made the best cherry pies I had ever tasted.  The filling came from cherry trees in her back yard, the pie crust was always homemade, and perhaps the crowning touch was that the pies were baked in her old-fashioned kitchen stove.


This couple was unlike any I had ever met.  Kay's husband worked as a border guard at the US/Canada border crossings south of Vancouver, and Kay, trained as a nurse, dutifully stayed home to raise their two children.  In some ways, they were quite ordinary people, but in other ways, they were extraordinary.  I had never met a couple who had so many hobbies.  

Kay and Verne's house in White Rock, British Columbia in 1995.
  They purchased it furnished in 1953 and still had the same furniture 50 years later.

They both loved to travel, and they had an old van that they had converted into a camper, in which every summer they would take trips literally all over Canada and the United States.  Because they were into photography, they had literally thousands of slides they had taken on these trips as well as at various family gatherings over the years.  

The rear of Kay's house, showing part of her large garden.

Kay's husband, who was a Canadian paratrooper who had been captured on D-Day and spent almost a year in a German prisoner of way camp, was a Scout leader for many years.  He also collected butterflies, and his collection was proudly displayed in cases on the wall of their modest living room.  Later in life, he took up rock polishing.

Verne with his troop.  He is the leader on the right.
Verne reading to Adam, spring of 1992

Kay was not a whit behind Verne in her own hobbies.  She loved to garden.  Their home won a number of prizes for landscaping over the years (she once surreptitiously clipped a starter of ivy from Kew Gardens in England and smuggled it back home so as to be able to plant it in her garden), and she had a large vegetable and fruit garden in the back of their home that included two large Montmorency pie cherry trees. She also loved to read.  She had, for example, every single issue of National Geographic and had read them all - more than once.

Kay and Verne in their living room in 2000.  Part of Verne's butterfly collection is visible to the left, and part of their huge collection of slides is visible in the closet to the right.  They are sitting on their living room couch, which had come with the house when they purchased it in 19533.

My four older kids in Kay's kitchen in 2000. Note the propane kitchen stove behind them. This, too, had
come with the house. This and a hotplate were Kay's kitchen appliances used for cooking and baking.

As I said, I loved Kay's cherry pies, and she always brought one to a family gathering because she knew I liked them so much.  She also eventually let us pick a pail or two of cherries off her trees that we used to make crisps in the middle of winter or to use in Black Forest cakes or to make sauce for pancakes and waffles.  Yum.

About ten years ago, we discovered a place north of Ogden, Utah that grew pie cherries commercially.  The area between Ogden and Brigham City is famously called "Fruit Way," and Highway 89 is lined with peach, apricot, apple and cherry orchards, as well as farms that grow produce.  We started going up their and purchasing large pails of cherries which we then froze to use throughout the year.  The flavor was incredible, and they were far, far cheaper than those available in cans at the store (which also had little flavor).

Fast forward to last week.  I drove up to the place we had always gone to purchase a couple of pails of cherries for my former wife and the children and also to get some for Mark and me.  While there, I noticed that they had pre-cooked frozen cherry pies for sale for $10 each.  They were not doubled-crusted, but were more like a cherry glaze pie (with no sugar, at least according to the label).  I purchased one to try, and Mark absolutely loved it.  He suggested I go back up and purchase a bunch of pies to keep in the freezer, to be used throughout the winter.

So, that's what I did yesterday, taking a cooler to put the pies in.  As I drove up, I could see the older gentleman who owned the place, standing in his garage, where all the freezers containing the cherries are located.  He watched me pull my cooler out of the back seat and walk towards him.  As I got closer, I could see that he had a perplexed look on his face.  I walked right up to the freezer containing the pies and started loading them in the cooler.  There were eight pies in there.  I was going to purchase his complete inventory.

He walked over.  The perplexed look on his face had not become one of concern.  "What 'you doing?" he asked.  "I'm going to purchase all your pies," I replied, as I continued loading. 

"You're going to buy all those pies?" he asked, incredulous.  I replied in the affirmative.

"But what are you going to do with all those pies?  Oh my word, my wife is not going to be happy.  She hates making cherry pies."  The irony of this, on several levels, was not lost on me.  First of all, he was expressing concern bordering on panic that I was going to purchase his complete inventory - as if he wasn't in the business of selling cherries and cherry products.  Secondly, they had a cherry farm, and his wife hated making cherry pies?

"I'm going to freeze them," I replied, "and use them throughout the winter."  As an afterthought, I asked how long the pies would keep in the freezer.  

"Oh," he laughed, "they'll keep for a hunderd years!"  I wouldn't need them quite that long, but I was reassured that they would last for a number of months in the freezer.

"But what are you going to do with all those pies?" he again asked, nervously glancing toward the door into the house.  "My wife is not going to be happy."

By then, I had loaded all eight pies into the cooler and had gone over to another freezer to get another smaller pail of cherries to take home.  He looked at the pail, then at me, and with almost a look of desperation on his face, he pleaded, "Why don't you make your own pies with them there cherries?"

I laughed and said, "I don't make cherry pies."  The look of deep concern on his face persisted.

"My wife is not going to be happy," he again said.  "But I guess your money is as good as anybody else's."  I think it had finally dawned on him that the purpose of making the pies was to sell them, not for them to stay in his freezer, and he could just as easily sell them to me as to others.  But, I could imagine that he had made a deal with his wife that she make so many pies to sell throughout the season and that was it; no more.  Now, he was faced with a quandary.  Should he accept the fact that he had sold out and ask his wife to make some more, or should he just take the sign down on the pie freezer.  I'm sure this had never happened before.

"But what are you going to do with all those pies?" He hadn't given up yet.  Another nervous glance toward the house.  

I simply repeated what I had previously said, several times:  "I'm going to eat them."  I wrote the check, handed it to him and felt a bit sorry for him.  He looked crestfallen, no doubt dreading the discussion he would be having with his wife.  It simply didn't occur to him that he now had the opportunity to make even more money by selling more pies.

"Oh," he muttered, "my wife hates making cherry pies."

I smiled, picked up the cooler and the pail of cherries and headed toward the car.  The man simply stood there, holding my check, a dazed look on his face.