Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Cinderella is a Pumpkin

I was kind of annoying. That's just a fact. But she had this ability to get on my every last nerve. She was THAT girl. A teacher had a question and her hand shot up almost immediately. Her answer was always "the best" and about 2 weeks in I knew we were gonna be the best of friends....NOT. But it didn't just stop there. OOOOH NO. She felt it was her place to tell me and my friends how we needed to live our lives. Almost shoving her beliefs down our throats. Everything she did drove me crazy. We would play night games, and I found it immensely obnoxious that she had to be home by 9, not by her parents choice but by hers. This experience made my family joke that she turned into a pumpkin after 10 o'clock. Since that day every time she wears orange to church or anywhere my mom would begin to laugh nudge me in the side and point as discretely as possible to the middle pew. Every time I laughed I knew I should feel bad but I never did. The older I got the more tolerable she became but the more she tried to shove her believes onto me. Criticizing my appearance when I was WAY more stylish than she was and it became sort of a game to the rest of us. Sharing horror stories of things she had done or said. These experiences helped us grow closer together, a bonding agent to each of us. Then one day, it seemed to click to her. She gradually became less and less abrasive and almost, dare I say it? Cool. We all grew up and grew apart. Sometimes I run into her and we talk for a few minutes. Sometimes she says something, and it's just a little off and it makes me remember our younger days and I miss those days. Those simple frustrations that seemed  as such a big deal in the moment now seen through the tinted eyes of nostalgia.

The Golden Corral

You know the kind. The ones that don't speak up and don't get in anyone's way. Often misinterpreted as shy, the humble individual avoids talking of themselves. Engaging conversations are hard to find when all they want to do is talk about you and your accomplishments. How rude of them to put me on a pedestal. Just their presence in a conversation can make you feel like a boasting baboon. They might know the answer to the questions, but they let others have the opportunity to receive recognition. The humble person is also very boring with his/her wealth. They choose retirement and the Golden Corral over jet skies and sushi night.

I know one of these people. You know, the humble kind. We will call him Gerald. He was always happy and brightened everyone's day with his presence. He never argued with family, friend, or foe. Never had foes anyway. He enjoyed his modest home that he had lived in for thirty years. The man never complained and seemed more content than his neighbor with the Mastercraft. Happily married with twenty-three grandchildren and counting, the guy seemed to have it all except for a few things: Pride, sushi nights, and a jet ski.

Down the Window Crack

We were sitting in front of my apartment in his car, uncomfortably damp in our swimsuits after a summer night in the hot tub. I was making dumb conversation, not wanting to go inside and end the night.

“Let’s get drinks,” he said.

Thrilled he wanted to spend more time together, I suggested Sonic and we were off.

Waiting in the drive-through line we compared each other’s drivers’ license pictures while I worried his eyes would linger too long on my weight stat.

“Okay, let’s talk about something else,” I said, grabbing my license.

He put his license back in his wallet and took out his credit card. He rolled his window down because we were next in line to pay.

He snapped his card back and forth as he told me a story about his roommate. He gestured his left hand to emphasize a point when the card sailed away. 

There was a brief silence.

His face, always so collected, turned an endearing and entirely new shade of red.

“Did you just drop your card?”

“Uh. Yeah,” he said, leaning outside of the car to look down at the street.

“Do you see it?”

He kept staring outside and then felt down under his seat, but the card would not be found. 

"I'm sure it's here," I said with a nervous laugh.

“So," he said after a moment, "I don’t know how this happened…but I think it's down the window crack."

There was no way, yet it was true. He rolled his window up and down but the card would not come out. 

We lost ourselves in crying laughter before the car in front of us pulled away. I didn't care that I had to buy the drinks now; having an inside joke was worth four dollars. 

"I didn't even know that was possible," he said with a gruff laugh, rolling his eyes as he put the car in drive. 

We pulled up to the cashier with wet faces as he handed her my card. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Nu Start

"I can't wait to get off the mission and grow out a sick beard," he said, stroking his chin.

"But you don't really have any, you know, facial hair."

"No no, you just can't see it cause it's blonde," he argued, as I stared at his black, slicked, wavy hair. "Have you ever heard of a blonde beard?" he shared, with a tone of voice suggesting I was painfully ignorant on this long blonde journey known as life.

"No, I can see it alright, and I can probably count the hairs on your face on two hands."

"Whatever. You don't have nearly as much facial hair as other elders, you know. Elder Kent has way more than you."


This was typical car ride dialogue. Along with the time he ate a foot-long Subway sandwich in a minute. Or the time he picked the big security lock to his high school with only a credit card. Or when he benched 380. Or how he hates to write but he's had like 5 teachers tell him he's an amazing writer--a conversation usually started after I state my own intention to be a writer someday.

For this elder, the chance to go on a mission wasn't just the opportunity to forget yourself and serve others, but also the chance to forget your prior self and replace it with something better. With manufactured humility, he pulls out his Preach My Gospel, turns it to the front page where his list of baptisms are, and shares it with our investigators, showing that they too can join the list if they merely keep commitments. Inspired.

Yes, inspired. So inspired. Much like my mission president and his wife. And the mission president and wife of my Elders Quorum President. And the mission president and wife of our Elders Quorum Instructor. In fact, I'd wager that every mission president and their wife of every proudly proud returned missionary was so inspired, and so humble, and so amazing.

We love our mission presidents. We all do. It's why we collectively, internally "guffaw" whenever someone tells us their mission president was so amazing. We subconsciously arm ourselves with ammo to defend our own president, at the ready in case someone like, brings it up. Much like my missionary companion described above, they display their accomplishments for all to see--and when I say "their" accomplishments, I mean their mission president's.

"He knew so much about the scriptures."
"He just threw it down in meetings."
"He was a GA before he was mission president. So, you know."
"He was worth, like, 5 million dollars."
"He could read minds. Seriously."

To all mission presidents, everywhere:

"So inspired..."

The Ward Project

Sister Laura Rand is the ward project. The 60 year old woman with the mind of an immature 12 year old. Everybody loves her, but she is still a struggle to deal with sometimes. With an obsession for everyone else’s babies as well as small animals, she becomes quite the handful. But no one can deny her honest spirituality and good heart, although she does have her struggles.

 It was on a fast Sunday when I heard the crinkle of a big bag of Cheetos puffs in the pew behind me. There next to her jumbo bag of Cheetos was a big old bottle of Cherry coke. Leave it to Sister Rand to make fast Sunday that much harder for everyone else.

 She often brought small creatures into the chapel. Sometimes a hamster thing, but it was usually a bird that stayed perched on her shoulder. The day she brought the duckling was quite the event when the duckling peed all over her already dirty shirt. But she has come a long way. With help from the bishop and the relief society, she no longer brought the birds, or hamsters, or ducklings to church.
As a converted Jew, her old family traditions often come out. Despite a strong and unwavering testimony in the Restored Gospel, Pork is still a very bad meat to eat. We had her over for dinner often and pork was often on the menu. She was too busy enjoying it to notice it was pork. She loved to help prepare the table and the meal in a most charitable way. “Wash your hands before you set the table Laura!” says my mother. “But I showered yesterday morning!”, with a sincerely and very serious tone. Although cleanliness is next to Godliness, I know Laura gets as close to God without the clean part.

Not everyone has a sister like Alice-Anne

I ran my fingers across the soft black and white photo I picked up from lying in the corner my high school journalism classroom.

It was a typical school picture. The 90's puffy hair era was unforgettable and quite regrettable. Those fluffy bangs were like a rolling ocean wave above her forehead. I wondered how long did it take for the curling iron to singe them perfectly into shape. Or the ounces of hair spray to glue them together.  I couldn't avoid the shades of her over-used cheap purple eye shadow that was most likely applied incorrectly. Her braces. Did she think the same thing I did while in high school? Whoever escaped adolescence without braces was easily considered a goddess. Despite all of societies description of imperfection, I thought she was beautiful. And not just because she was my sister.

Meet Alice-Anne. She has a personality to match the uniqueness of her name. And a smile to match the goodness of her heart. Her high school fashion has since died, and now fancies in making homemade yogurt, having to-do lists, and goal lists to last a century, and giving every second of attention to her three high-energy children.

Even though she towers twelve years above me, her name, service, speech competition poise and journalism charm left a legacy on my high school. Twelve years later I was still walking in her footsteps in the journalism field, the mission field, and the BYU field.

Now, I still walk in her shadow in the field of life. And I plan to stay there.

Individual memories with Alice-Anne are fewer, considering she was exiting high school when I was entering kindergarten, but i'll always remember one afternoon conversation over a nice clean up of dishes. I was five and stubborn. I walked around like a queen with the 'show-only-not-to-be-used' quilt drag behind me on the kitchen floor. I unloaded the dishwasher. Knife for knife, spoon for spoon. She rolled her eyes I am sure. I made some terse comment to my other sister, Julia, who sat right above me in the hiearchy. That was me thinking I was so clever. Yet, I was wrong. Alice-Anne, being my mother in that moment, squared my shoulders and straightened me up. She wasn't happy. Okay, she had a right to be. She grabbed my hand, pulled me down the stairs and talked to me. Really talked to me.

In a matter of minutes, my sister had extracted me from my world of demanding and commanding. I was the master of that house--I reined with my five year old status. But here I was, sentenced to sit on the couch to listen to her lecture--which was quite good--she persuaded me to change my behavior within minutes of talking to me--no wonder she won the Oregon State Speech Competition.

I sucked on my thumb as she spoke. That my was security. I sucked my right thumb raw. Her words asked me to stop being so rude to my sister--which I could've have done just by doing so silently in my head. But her action showed such great love and concern, it brought about a change I wanted to make in my heart.

She told me the terms, and we made an agreement. I was to never talk so brutally to my sister again (oops, sorry Julia!). To make matters official, she asked that we shake on it. I looked at her outstretched hand. I looked back at my saturated sucked thumb, and smiled, "I really doubt you want to shake this," dangling my thumb high in the air.
"Good point," she said with a smirk.

I switched fingers, "How about just a pinky promise."

Thank you, Alice-Anne.

(this post was not exactly humorous but I think it fit for my mood tonight)

The Sick and The Afflicted

It's always this time of year when people start to pass the cold around.  Once one person has it, it can't be stopped.  Sydney got sick about a month ago with the classic cold.  Fever, runny/stuffy nose, sore throat, the cough, etc.  She had it for about two weeks and it went away.  During that two week period, we didn't know if she would have her voice one day to the next.  This amused Jessica and I as we continued to make her laugh....on purpose.  Laughing is good for the soul, yet it seems to have the opposite effect on sick people.  We started calling her "the sick and afflicted" roommate.  So this continued on for two weeks until she got better and we had no more amusement.  Then the karma came and boy did it suck.

Last week, Jessica started getting sick.  She had the same symptoms as Sydney, fever, runny/stuffy nose, the cough, sore throat, etc.  This progressively got worse as the week went on and by Friday she was out.  Full on sick AKA the Sick.  Friday night I was working the high school football game as usual.  We ended up losing and we had to hurry around and get things taken care of so we could leave.  As I was rushing back to get things taken care of, my shoes decided to go for a small joy ride which made me crash and burn.  I was barely able to get up and hobble to my car.  I got home and realized I had stairs I needed to walk up and that took about 10 minutes.  When I finally got inside and put my leg up, Sydney looked at me and said, "The Afflicted".  Alas, it came back full circle.

Mafia Mormons

Sitting in Sunday school I almost cringe every time that Peter would raise his hand. He never said anything that was wrong, offense or even inappropriate, but it was the way that he would talk. His voice would immediately increase in pitch as he would talk. It would become very soft and airy, and the content would always turn to some mission story. I have nothing against return missionaries or having them impart of their wisdom, but the way that they go about it make them seem like they are the most holy person in the room. It seems almost degrading just to be in their presence and hear them speak. I don’t want to have to strain to hear them speak, and then I don’t even want to participate in the lesson anymore because I don’t have anything that can top them. Church over for me as soon as he starts talking because he is always going to have the final word, so there is no point in even trying. His intentions aren't bad, but it seems more like he have something to prove. Missions change people’s hearts, minds, and souls, but why does it change the voices so many missionaries as well?

Without every fast Sunday Brother Falcone would slowly make his way to stand with his hunched back, slicked back hair and black pin-striped suit. It was inevitable that he would give a monologue about his Italian heritage and growing up in the slums on the east coast. The story seemed to be the same every week with very little variation. He would talk very slowly without looking out at the congregation, but instead he would stare at the base of the microphone while fiddling with the actual mic with one hand. The mic would making popping and scratching noises has his wingers would continue to connect with the mics surface and he would speak very softly, almost a whisper for a very long time. Then he would slowly make his way back to his seat. No one ever complained, but no one was ever really surprised by his reoccurring appearance each month. I don’t ever remember seeing him on any other Sundays, but without a doubt he would be there on fast Sundays. I always thought it was cool that we had a mafia member straight out of movie in my ward. He was so cool that everyone was afraid to tell to go sit down because he would be talking for too long. I was living life on the edge somehow through Brother Falcone making his appearances in church.

A Language of Her Own

The first time I saw Sydney I thought she was a homeless person. 

I was unable to decide if she was male or female. She sat at the kitchen table speaking with my mother as if they were old friends. I did the awkward hello that usually happens when strangers invade your house. She said something back and then pretended as if she knew me. She was shocked at how much I had grown and I was shocked at the fact that she wasn't some homeless person that my mom was giving dinner to.

She had an interesting tone to her voice, one that comes from being unable to hear what you are saying. Her voice faded in and out and it was hard to discern what she was saying. As she spoke with her guttural voice, she also spoke with her hands, mixing gestures with sign language into a unique language of her own.

The moment she stepped out the door, I turned to my mother and inquired about their relationship. Turns out she was a friend of my dad’s, from years ago. They formed a bond over their deafness. A sort of bond like that cannot be faked, because unless someone has gone through it themselves, they have no chance of understanding. I can still remember Sydney’s face as she said how sad she was that he was gone and that she hadn't even known until nearly eight years after the funeral.

As I learned more about her, my feelings and regard for this strange woman shifted from wariness and fear, to warmth and understanding. She was a survivor, a woman made rough by the trials of life, but with a heart that still beats warm under the thick skin she grew.

A lesson well learned, an outward appearance does not always portray the true depth of a person. 

A Bald Mans Worst Nightmare

I am bald. My hair line started receding at the ripe old age of 17 and continued falling out until there was nothing left at the age of 22. Since I have grown accustomed to no longer having hair I have also grown accustomed to the absence of little strands of hair in my personal space, especially my food. This became a problem when my sister in-law moved in with us for the summer. 

Kimber is a hair dresser and as you would expect is always sporting the latest updo, melt, wave or braid. Now don’t get me wrong, she has very beautiful hair. It is the kind that glistens in the sun and looks as if it should be spotlighted in an Herbal Essences commercial but because of her profession she doesn't seem to recognize the beauty of being bald.
I was excited for her to move in. We grew up in the same neighborhood and have known each other since the 5th grade, but that excitement ended the first night she decided to cut a “girlfriends” hair in our kitchen, right above the air vent. It seems that as she was chatting away with her friends doing “a little trim” the air conditioner turned on and blew strands of hair all over the kitchen.

Now I am a pretty easy going guy but when my wife makes me a tatter tot casserole for dinner and the first bite I take is accompanied by a long, black hair whose genetic code has no relation to any of the residence in my home, I go a little crazy. Once I pulled the long, greasy strand out of the once tasty meal in my mouth, I looked at my sister in-law and said “whose is this?” and she replied “oh… you know… just a friend’s!” and then went back to her meal as if there was no problem. I then replied “since I am such a nice guy I am going to let this slide, but please clean up all the hair when you are done cutting it” to which she rolled her eyes and said “yea, yea!”

The next day I had all but forgotten about the previous evening’s event and decided to make a sandwich for lunch. I took a huge bite and started to chew until I felt something foreign rolling around my mouth with the lettuce and turkey. I stuck my fingers in and pulled out another long, black piece of hair to which I rolled my eyes and thought “this is going to be a long, long summer.”

The LDS flirtatious boy

As time passes I always remember Orlando, a twelve-year old boy who used to be in my ward at church when I was a teenager. Orlando was a very charismatic boy who happened to have Down syndrome. Orlando always made the Sunday school much more interesting because he always had jokes about scriptures and funny ways to apply the doctrine. Of course the entire class always enjoyed having Orlando around, some of the girls were afraid of him because he used to run behind them asking for “A True Love Kiss”. Orlando used to be very funny while asking for a kiss, the way he ran exemplified a very well known French cartoon character “Pepe Le Pew” who was constantly seeking “l’amour” of his own. The thing I remember the most was when Orlando was convinced that the girls were flirting with him, even when they rejected. It is obvious that I enjoyed Orlando’s sense of humor while seeking for his true love. In addition, I always wonder how he came up with such a funny way to apply the scriptures to our every day life. For example, one day he came up with a LDS joke well known among Spanish speakers that talks about a vendor selling puppies to what he was saying – “Catholic puppies, Catholic puppies for sale”, then the following day the same vendor was saying -“LDS puppies, LDS puppies for sale”, on that day a cute little girl approached the vendor and asked- “Excuse me sr. why is that yesterday you were selling Catholic puppies and today you are selling LDS puppies?” Then the seller replied –“Because today they opened their eyes”. This and many other “white jokes” always makes me think of Orlando and his good sense of humor while I recall my magical teenage years.

Adding Letters

I sat in my desk waiting anxiously for the clock to reach 10am. Its monday morning and every missionary knows that monday morning at 10am your 8 hours of preparation for the week begin. Also known as 8 hours of freedom. I look over at my companion and his gaze into space of gratitude. He gently closes his scriptures and falls upon his knees. I am instantly forced to work on the Christlike attribute of patience. My fingers instantly begin tapping the desk, painfully I watch the clock go from 10:05am to 10:10am no 10:15. Finally he stands up with the most precious smile on his face. He says “give me a few minutes Elder and I will be ready too”.

By 11am we arrive to the library to begin our weekly emails home. The typing marathon begins with a limited time of an hour and a half to communicate the weeks events home. My mother doesn’t know that my new companion is EXACTLY SUPER 110% obedient to the mission rules that I am now 45 minutes behind in my email. She probably thinks that I have died or something. With 5 more minutes left in my emailing time I begin my last email in a mad rush. The time limit is now up and my companion is directly behind me arms folded with a look on his face of “Elder don’t you know that our time is up?” I don’t think I look that dumb but apparently I do. I proceed to quickly finish my email and log off. 

Ironically it takes us another 10 minutes to exit the library because he has to make sure that every living soul with two legs hears his grand and important message to bring them salvation. You think that is bad? You should join us for our 2 hour shopping at Walmart that should only take 20 minutes. My companion salivates at the multitude of people swarming around the store. He has been commissioned to make sure that every person he has the opportunity to talk to hears what he has to say. Heaven forbid we just be polite and smile at everyone on our one day “off” but no we must have a meaningful 10 minute conversation with each one. Without sharing more you just know that the 8 hours of what should be a break and a taste of freedom is actually the hardest day of the week.There is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. This fine servant of God has added letters to the law. 

The Road

My dad is in the front driving intently, without having slept in a couple of days, and my oldest sister is in a deep sleep towards the front of our 15 seat van. The contrasting image blares at me from my past. The road trips with the family are some of the most amusing times I have ever experienced while traveling in cars. Dad sits in the front with his headphones on to block out all the noise from my siblings and I. We travel to visit when the sun goes down and the stars come up. As the road goes on my dad keeps trudging forward like a captain of an army. He does not stop and does not turn back. The car is starting to smell like everyone’s body odor and my brothers disgusting toots and feet. Going through state to state to reach the destination by morning, my dad is focused to get there before we all wake up and become needy like newborn puppies and there mom. 

Michelle my oldest sister sitting close to him is deep in her sleep and starts to sleep talk occasionally. She abruptly sits up and yells “Dad Dad Dad Dad Dad Dad Dad” constantly until my dad cuts through his focus and pulls over to the curb asking Michelle, “ What do you need?”. The family’s attention is drawn to the front seats wondering why Michelle is screaming, and why we are pulled over. Michelle wakes up from her deep sleep and also wonders why the van stopped. You can almost hear my dad’s eyes rolling over as he turned back onto the highway like a loyal captain to his army. We all go back to sleep now that it is around the middle of the night and my courageous dad keeps driving. He drove us a few more miles until we all here “Dad Dad Dad Dad Dad Dad” once more coming from my older sister. That was the start to one of my family’s extensive road trips. More rolled eyes, more miles, more snoring, and lots of good times on the road.

The Envelope

2013. The year of sisters getting mission calls. Everywhere I looked there was someone with a large white envelope bursting with good news. My friend Kellie was always so excited for them, clapping and cheering with such enthusiasm that I couldn’t seem to muster.

That night it was Jackie’s turn to open her call and so we as good members of the ward walked across the hall to support/satisfy our curiosity. As a rule, it didn’t really matter if you knew the person that well, everyone was invited to come over and watch that lucky one open their envelope.

 After about 12 of us were seated in the living room, Jackie brought out the envelope. We started guessing at the places and what language that letter would say. I yelled out Belgium and others were guessing somewhere in South America. We asked her where she wanted to go. And of course the standard “anywhere the Lord sends me, BUT if I had to choose I would pick Italy”. I had resolved to put on a better show this time and be super happy for her. If I was not vocal about my ecstatic joy for her then I was not supporting the missionaries. Finally she slipped open the envelope and started reading. “Sister Brown you are hearby called to serve in the Florence Italy Mission.”

My breath caught and I could not believe it, people very rarely got sent where they wanted to go. I started clapping and jumped up to give her a hug. It was so amazing and her prayers were answered for sure this day. “No way” and “Oh my gosh” were being tossed around the room. But there was someone missing in all the cheering.
I looked over at Kellie and she was smiling but not her normal gushing self. Suddenly I was suspicious.

The letter was fake.

The Opinionated Loud Whisperer

There was one woman in my ward that was very outspoken about her opinions. She had long grey hair, a constant scowl on her brow, and had a deep voice like a man.

Her comments in Relief Society had two crowds. The first crowd, consisting of about half of the women, held their breath and cringed in their seats, afraid of the damage she would do. The other half would excitingly turn around in their seat to give their undivided attention, with smiles playing at their lips, a gleam in their eye, and pens ready to write every word she said, that seemed to know something good was about to happen. That second group acted like it was the only thing that brought them to Relief Society, and if she didn't comment during that week, Relief Society had no meaning for them.

The best part, though, was during sacrament, when my family sat close enough to hear her comments about the members of the ward. When a member of the ward spoke about a scare she had with breast cancer, the mumble in the back row came loud and clear during the silence between speakers saying, "I highly doubt that." Or when a child ran off into an isle: "They need to have better control over their children." Or sometimes, "Wow, that baby isn't cute at all. She looks like her dad."

One Sunday, during a Testimony meeting, "Brothers and Sisters, I don't know if you know, but I am in charge of the Family History department for our ward. And I just want to say what a spectacular thing it is," she said in her deep voice that seemed to carry only two or three different pitches, "And the youth should really get involved in it. If the leaders ever need something for the youth to do, they can call us up and schedule a time for the Family History Library. I'll be there. And the adults should get involved in it too." And then she sat down.

There was no testimony. There was no typical closings that are common for Mormon speaking. The audience members didn't know if they should say "amen" anyway or just sit in silence. It was almost refreshing. After she sat down, she asked her husband, "Did I do good?"