January 17, 2022

Motivated to Speak French and Spanish

From a Traveling Man’s Diary
Diary Page dated:
  October 14, 2003
By:  John Guy LaPlante

Father Armand and Father Antonio would be so happy to behold me now. Father Armand was my French teacher at my old prep school years ago. And Father Antonio was my Spanish teacher. Those dear men tried so hard to make us good speakers in their beloved languages. They must have gotten an A+ for effort when they passed to the other side. “Parlez francais un peu chaque jour,” Father Armand would insist. “Speak French a little every day.” He suggested every lunch. Ha! Poor man. Father Antonio had a different pitch. “Learn 10 new words each day,” he would urge us. “Dies! No es mucho!”

Yes, this is me during Prep School days!

We adolescents thought it very mucho. Those gentlemen didn’t understand. They thought we were studying to learn French and Spanish. The truth? Heck, we were studying to pass their quizzes. But, oh, if they could see me now. I practice my French and Spanish just about every day. I’ve made more progress than they ever might have imagined. And I’ve found it so easy and pleasant.

I’m not studying hours at a time. No poring over books. No evening-school courses. No audio cassettes. No computer programs. They are all fine, of course. I’ve found a different method. It keeps me engaged a few minutes now and then. Sometimes at home, but also when I’m out and about, doing my errands. And none of it costs a penny. Pas un sou. Ni un peso.

My progress has spurred me on. Sometimes I’ve felt exhilarated. If only my old teachers knew. (Maybe they do!) I’m sure Father Armand would beam up there. And Father Antonio, I can hear him now. “Bueno, Juan!”.

Why were all of us boys force-fed these languages? Well, French for a good reason. All of us had French blood. We were the American-born kids of parents recently arrived from Quebec, come down here to les Etats-Unis for the usual reason…a better life. We were continually reminded ours was a fine heritage, and it was precious to preserve it. But Spanish? I’m not sure. Ours was a remarkable school, and maybe it—and Father Antonio—had a prescience. Maybe they had a hunch how important Espanol would become here and other parts of the world.

Well, you ask impatiently: What is your method? First, some background. As all of us know, we consumers are being flooded with stuff. Some made here, much of it in other countries. Mass markets for TV sets and cameras and faucets and just about everything else are vaster than ever – they’re international, in fact, particularly since NAFTA. This stuff is destined to be sold not only in the United States but often Mexico and/or Canada, and often in other countries as well. Rather than imprint the boxes in just one language, it’s cheaper and more effective to do so in at least two, and often three. In English, Spanish, and French. Aha! Now you have a hint of what I do.

You’ve noticed this marketing trend yourself, I am sure. Well, now it’s more than a trend. It’s a standard operating procedure. You probably read the English part, and ignore the rest. I focus on the French and Spanish. Not only what’s printed on the packaging. But if I buy something, the stuff inside. I roam through the operating instructions, the warrantee, the mail-back marketing questionnaire, the safety cautions…whatever is in there. Yes, sometimes dull stuff. Oh, I’m not compulsive about it. But I do it quite regularly. It’s simple. It’s fun. It’s practical. It’s today’s vocabulary.

The opportunities are everywhere. Not only at Walmart’s and Home Depot and Lowe’s and Sears and so many other stores. At the bank when I pick up a folder about CD’s. At the hospital emergency room when I read about payment arrangements. When I glance at the signs on a bus, or read about emergency procedures on a plane. Even my homeowner’s insurance policy! My new bread machine has recipes in Spanish as well as English. The usual combination is English and Spanish, but I find French is included more and more.

I started this innocently. I brought home a new VCR and noticed the instructions were in the three languages. I glanced at the French and Spanish to see how much I could understand. I realized these linguistic snippets could be little lessons. Gradually my vocabulary grew. I began to pick up grammatical differences…to see distinctive patterns in sentence structure. I found myself checking something in a dictionary, even in a grammar. Now and then I found myself buying a Spanish or French newspaper. It has become a wonderful game. And never boredom or burden.

This has motivated me in other ways. I have traveled to France and Quebec and Spain and Mexico. Oh, not just to speak French and Spanish. I went to have a nice vacation. But the chance to speak in the native tongue was part of the appeal. And it has permitted me to leave the trodden tourist path now and then for interesting places where I knew my English would not be very useful.

In Brussels recently I had a typical experience. I stayed at the Jacques Brel Hostel. Yes, Hostel — I, at my age! Being with younger people — in fact, young people — is fun. And it’s stimulating.

One night my roommates were Marc, a law student in Paris, and Rodolfo, a civil engineer from Colombia. Yes, one speaking French, the other Spanish…and both eager to master English, today’s premier world language. We had a good time, and the practice did us good. I was able to hold my own. I thought about this later. And I remembered my dear old teachers. How they would plead with us. Father Armand: “Just 10 minutes every day. S’il-vous-plait!” And Father Antonio: “Remember, 10 new words, Juan.” “Yes, yes,” I thought. “I’ve gotten the message. Finally. But you never told me it might be so easy. And so rewarding.”

Dandelion Odyssey – America on a shoestring

By John Guy LaPlante

I used to drive, oh boy did I drive. In 1993, my trusty Dandelion took me on an Odyssey all over the United States – on a shoestring!

I bought a used Volkswagen minibus camper – a nice sunny yellow, so I dubbed it “Dandelion” and began crisscrossing the country.

I wrote a column about my solo travels in the Worcester Sunday Telegram.

A few of those stories are included below.

Worcester Sunday Telegram, March 7, 1993 – page 1
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Worcester Sunday Telegram, March 7, 1993 – page 2
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Worcester Sunday Telegram, June 6, 1993 – page 1, page 2 not available
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Worcester Sunday Telegram, September 26, 1993 – page 1
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Worcester Sunday Telegram, September 26, 1993 – page 2
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I also wrote a bit about Dandelion in a Blog early January 2021:

My invention: MedGown

By John Guy LaPlante

This happened some 75 years ago.

I had gotten sick and my doctor got me admitted to our local hospital in Middletown, Connecticut.

In my hospital room, a nurse had come in. She told me to take off my clothes and then, gathering up my clothes, she had handed me a johnny to wear as a patient.

It was a completely routine happening. Every patient got a johnny.

I had been hospitalized over the years and when I checked in again, I was always handed a johnny to wear.

Every patient got a johnny to wear. Johnnies were the adult garment for any patient. Merriam-Webster had even put the word in its famous dictionary.

In this video, I demonstrate the original johnny.

Definition:  “johnny:  a loose-fitting gown opening in the back that is given to patients to wear during their hospital stay.”

One morning my doctor walked in to check me. I’ll call him Dr. Malcolm.

The hospital was a good hospital. It made sure that physicians and surgeons had everything they needed to do a good job helping their patients.

“Yes, it’s all very, very impressive, this high-tech stuff,” I said to him, pointing to an instrument he was using on me.

“But there is still one thing, Doctor, that is still old fashioned. Very old-fashioned, Doctor!”

He stared at me. He was wondering if he had heard right. “And what’s that?”

“It’s this,” I said, and pointed to the johnny I was wearing. The johnny that I had been told to change into when I got admitted. “Doctor,” I said, “this johnny hasn’t changed one bit in the numerous times I’ve been hospitalized.

“Oh, maybe the cloth is better. But it’s really the same, old Johnny. Take my word for it, please!”

Well, way back when I was was growing up and was just 20 or 21, I was given a johnny to put on.

I’ve had to go to hospitals many times over the years. Same old johnny every time. Oh, maybe the cloth is better now.

Dr. Malcolm was all ears.

“I did some serious thinking. Designed a new johnny. Had a seamstress make one, then another, then a third, each better. And finally came up with my current johnny, which I must tell you still closes at the back.

In this video, I demonstrate my invention, the MedGown.

“That’s the essential feature that has made the johnny so popular these many years.

“For one thing, you no longer have to walk around with one hand in back to keep your fanny covered!

Here are some of the other features I developed one by one.

“Johnnies did not have a collar. I included one. It provided a touch of fashion. Especially when you might be sash-shaying down the hall.

And you could turn it up, which provided a bit of warmth in a low-temperature patient bedroom.

I made the sleeves fuller. Nurses and doctors who came in to take a blood pressure reading, say, or do something else on the upper arm sometimes had to take the johnny off the patient in order to do that. No longer necessary.

And I made the sleeves longer, extending some four inches or so below the elbow. So many patients have bruises that they consider embarrassing. No more!

And hospitals could order them in several nice colors. Which patients would like. Especially when family or friends stopped by to visit.

And it also made my johnny warmer. Nobody complained about that, either.

In actual fact, my design’s important innovations became such a dramatic breakthrough that I applied to the U.S. Department of Patents and Trademarks to register the name I had given it. Which is MedGown.

Here, by the way, is proof of my getting it. Trademarked.Yes, spelled just like that.

Patient gowns / Medical gowns
owned by LaPlante John Guy
Trademark No. 87926116


I spent many months in my spare time promoting it.

To hospitals, doctors, and medical people, professionals. Manufacturers and sellers of medical equipment.

To individuals who wanted one of their own for the next time they might have to be a patient.

I even have the MedGown that I used to demonstrate it. I have been congratulated by Dr. Malcolm. But no buyers.

Very humbling.

Far better for patients.

Far better for doctors and nurses also.

Dr. Malcolm had been listening intently. Maybe he thought the old design was just fine. Maybe so.

Truth is, health professionals who have seen it have complimented me. Overdue!

What the heck is this Powerball raffle all about?

By John Guy LaPlante

I thought the State of California operates an annual raffle called the Powerball. Wrong!

Powerball is operated in some 40 states. But their state governments have nothing to do with it. It’s all free enterprise. For the backers, whoever they are, to maximize their take.

It raises money for this good thing and that good thing. No, no, no! As I just said, they do it to line their pockets.

Check to see if you won: https://www.powerball.com/games/home

Well, the latest just paid off with a winning jackpot of $699 million! Hey, that’s more than two-thirds of $1 trillion dollars! Unimaginable! True.

It is the fifth-largest payoff in Powerball’s history and one of the very largest nationwide. True.

Oh, the lump sum payoff will be just $496 million. It will be a full $699 million if the winner settles for that as one of the optional payouts. There are several amortization plans.

Now just think of the millions of tickets sold. The Powerball has 23,200 dealers. Some sell just hundreds of tickets. The price is just $2 per play. Some sell many, many thousands of them. True.

There were more than 281,000 other winners with smaller prizes right down to $5 and $2.

It is amazing how many rascals and swindlers Powerball has attracted. Police get many complaints. These crooks offer a variety of tempting schemes to known winners of Powerball to steal as much of their money as they can. You should hang up on these sweet talkers. Better still, tell them you will call the police.

Remember. Powerball is played not only in most of our states, but in other countries also. Our neighbor Canada is one of them. Again, their government is not part of the deal.

As hard as I’ve tried, I haven’t been able to figure out why it’s called Powerball. Yes, a ball is involved as a key part of the lottery. Some cynics say it’s a take-off on “Parable”, as Parable of the Gospel.

Now here is the real big news. Totally true. The winning ticket was purchased right here in little Morro Bay, population 15,000, which is where I now live, as many of you know. In my own place, with just a little help from my loving daughter Monique and her hubby David.

The October 4, 2021 winning ticket had the following numbers: 12/22/54/66/69

Maybe the person who won had bought just one ticket. Maybe dozens. As I said, raffle tickets are cheap, only $2 per. The best way to improve your odds is to buy many. Even better, many, many, many. Though your chances will still be slim.

Now notice the official wording again:  The winning ticket was sold here. That doesn’t mean the winner was somebody here in town. It could have been somebody visiting here from Timbuktu. Powerball doesn’t care. The more buyers, the better.

Just think:  There are 23,200 raffle dealers in California alone.

I haven’t been able to pin down how much this latest Powerball raffle has raised in California for its sponsors, or in the other states, or other countries where it is offered.

Now for me, the biggest news is that the winning ticket was bought at Albertsons, our biggest supermarket in town. Albertsons is just 15 minutes down the street. I’m a customer there.

And Albertsons will receive $1 Million for having sold the winning ticket. Again, this is because it is Powerball’s strategy to boost the number of outlets selling tickets.

I’ll bet there are a dozen other outlets in town, little ones, that are selling Powerball tickets.

I’ve been scratching my head to figure out who there might have sold the winning ticket. Certainly not the clerk in Produce. Or the one in Cheeses. Or the one in Wines and Liquors. So who? Who?

Albertsons is a national chain. Maybe the $1 Million will go to corporate headquarters. So it will wind up as just a small increase in its annual financial report.

KSBY News:  ‘Who was it?’ Morro Bay abuzz over winning Powerball Lottery ticket

It’s been great publicity for Powerball.

Another thing I’d like to know is whether the winning ticket buyer’s identity will be made public.

Maybe we’ll find out if So and So, the co-manager of our McDonald’s down the street, where I go every afternoon for my cup of coffee, is suddenly taking off for a year with his wife and kids, his family with mom and dad and brothers and sisters, her family with her whole tribe, for a one-year luxury tour around the world.

I think making his identity known would be very unwise, and for lots of reasons.

Anyway, for the last couple of nights I’ve been dreaming of what I would do if I had won that giant jackpot. That’s been a lot of fun.

What would you do? I think you too would find that fun.

One more thing. I’ve mentioned a lot of hard facts here. No way could I have come up with all of this info on my own.

The smartest thing I did was to look it up on wonderful Wikipedia, which is a free service, as we know. But Wikipedia asked me to make a donation. That suggested they would give me better service. They offered a choice of donations. The cheapest was $16.70.  An odd sum. I paid with my credit card. I like Wikipedia.

But even then I couldn’t nail down why the raffle is called Powerball, or what the darn Powerball is.

I’ll bet I’ll get an email thank you from Wikipedia tomorrow. Maybe with an explanation.

I’ve never bought a Powerball ticket. Not even at $2. Never will. Oh, sure, I’ll buy a raffle ticket from our Senior Center, or Library, or the local Rotary Club, if they ask me. But that’s my limit. And none of these use a Powerball.

My long and lovely life on two wheels, and most recently, on three

By John Guy LaPlante

I am now 92 going on 93. So this long story of mine goes way, way back, believe me.

I learned to ride a bike when I was 10. Which means I’ve been pedaling ever since I was in short pants.

My parents were immigrants from Québec, so French-speaking, of course. The trip down by train had taken only 16 hours. They were happy to have arrived in Rhode Island.

But there are so many differences. English! That was the biggest. But also differences in this and that and that. Not easy.

And hoping it would not turn out to be just a wild and sad pipedream.

For my folks it had been a smart move. Life had become much better in the town of Pawtucket.

I was their first-born. I was christened Jean-Guy. When I grew up and went off on my own, I legally changed it to the English equivalent, which is John Guy, as many of you know from past writings of mine.

They didn’t like my doing that, which was understandable. Sometimes now I think that changing my name like that was a blunder on my part.

Anyway, before long I had two sisters and a little brother. They all learned to pedal, too.

Pa had never learned to ride a bike. Neither had Ma. They had never had the opportunity up there. Never gotten to own a bike.

Well, they gave me a two-wheeler. Not one they had bought cheap. You know, second hand. No, no.

A beauty. From a store that sold bikes.

All high quality. Regular size. Balloon tires. Single speed. You braked by back-pedaling.

I was 10 years old in 1939. This Boy’s Bike is from the 1939 Schwinn Catalog.

All bikes were like that back then.

I was the first of us to learn to ride a bike.

But know what? This little kid was scared to get on and try.

Pa and Ma were awfully disappointed in that. They themselves didn’t know how to pedal a bike.

It’s my Auntie Bernadette–my Mom’s younger sister–who taught me how. She was good at making things happen.

She had asked fellow workers at the textile mill where she worked. And they had told her how to go about it.

She explained it all to Pa and Ma. No problem, she assured them. And that’s what she told me. No problem.

“Ten minutes, Jean-Guy, and you’ll be riding your new bicycle. Just10 minutes!”

“No! No! Auntie! I don’t want to!”

She chuckled.

“Get on, Jean-Guy! Just, just get on!”

What to do? Well, I got on.

Then holding me tightly, and running along at my side, and finally deciding we were going fast enough, she let go. And I kept rolling right along. All by myself. No problem.

And instinctively I learned how to slow down and stop and get off without falling.


So, using me as an example, it became a lot easier for my little sisters and kid brother to learn.

That was many, many, many years ago.

Well, in a few months, I will be 93.

In all these years I have been riding a bike. Have never stopped.

Wherever I’ve lived, in several states, and in fact in a few other countries. Even after I learned how to drive a car. And I’m still pedaling.

But for some 15 years, it has not been on two wheels, but on three. I no longer pedal a bike. I pedal a trike.

There has been a downside to this. I used to be able to put my bike on my car and just take off. Not possible with a trike. Too bulky.

But some months ago I gaveup my auto license. No more driving for me. I felt at my age it was the smart and prudent thing to do.

I gave my car to my grandson Thomas who needed it.

Nice thing about that is not having to look for a parking space the way I used to.

But I’m still pedaling. I certainly don’t need a license to do that!

Over the years I have lived in many states. Especially Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and for some years in Southern California. And close to 10 years now I have been living in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast. Just a few minutes from my loving daughter Monique and son-in-law David.

Years ago I taught her to ride a bike, also her brothers Arthur and Mark, and before that even their mother Pauline.

And oh, I’m also the one who also taught all of them how to drive.

But now I no longer bike. I know that sounds strange.

Now I trike. Yes, I have a tricycle. Three wheels instead of just two. This is far more stable for an old man.

Most of you haven’t seen me in a long while. You’d be surprised. These days I walk with two canes, one in each hand. Yes, sir.

It’s nothing to be proud of, I assure you.

And in all my waking hours, the truth is I wear a little electronic gadget that dangles on my chest. I pay a monthly fee to use it.

Why? Well, If I happened to fall, it would send a message to a central office that would get me help. I mean 24/7!

Of course, my trike is far more stable than a bike. And certainly far more practical.

By the way I believe mine is the only trike in Morro Bay. That’s one reason I get so many stares as I pedal along.

These days it’s my son-in-law David who takes me shopping for groceries and such.

But I use my trike for smaller purchases, such as from our big Albertsons supermarket nearby.

Recently one of its managers surprised me. Told me it was perfectly okay to pedal my trike up and down all the aisles. No problem. That was very nice of him.

Until then, I used to ride my trike into the store’s lobby, park it there, then get off and push one of its shopping carts up and down the various aisles to pick up the items I needed.

No more. How about that?!

I do get a lot of stares but most people understand.

I said that my trike is far more practical than a bike.

It has a big basket in the back. Can carry smaller purchases from neighborhood shops. Also books from the public library or back to the library.

Of course I use it to go to our nearby bank and post office and senior center, drugstore and other places.

And every afternoon I head to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee.

So on my trike I am a familiar sight to a lot of people. Most don’t know my name or anything about me. They know me just as the “old guy with the trike.”

And oh, my big news. You’ve heard about electric bikes, I’ll bet. Not motorcycles. Electric BIKES!

This is big news. I should have told you earlier. I apologize.

Well, I was able to buy a kit that cleverly converts my pedal trike into an electric trike.

Everyone knows me as the “old guy with the trike.”

And in a few seconds, by the push of a button or two, I can convert it from a power-driven tricycle to a foot-powered trike. Wow!

This is what I do of course at Albertson’s.

There was a time when I moved here that I could pedal my bike down the hills to the “Embarcadero,” which is what our bayfront is called.

But I couldn’t pedal back up. The hills to get home were too steep. I would have been inviting a heart attack.

We have many hills in Morro Bay. No problem.

There is no need to but I’ll bet that my motor-driven trike could get up to the top of just about any one of them.

Well, all this has been about bikes and trikes. If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably be interested in what I’m going to write about now.

It’s about a bicycle thing that I have seen nowhere else. I repeat, nowhere else.

It’s our Morro Bay Bike Park. I don’t know all the little details but it’s something the City is very proud of.

It seems to be a co-op thing between the City and a number of bicycling enthusiasts.

It was built on a hillside of some six to eight acres about a mile or so from where I live.

The Bike Park is an arrangement of dirt ramps and bounds and twists and jumps.
Visit the Morro Bay Bike Park on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorroBayBikePark/

It’s having been built on a hillside was all-important. You’ll understand in a minute.

The Bike Park is an arrangement of dirt ramps and bounds and twists and jumps.

I understand that it was designed by a professional who has planned a number of such bike parks in communities here and there across the country.

This is the only one I have ever seen. Here’s how it works.

If you are driving with your son or daughter and their bike, which is usually the case, you drive to the top of a small hill. There’s a parking area up there.

No charge to park up there or to use the bike in the park. From there you can look down on the whole park.

You take your son or daughter and their bike to the top of the course. It’s about a hundred feet below where you have parked.

And down they go. Down to every ramp and bound and twist and jump. One after another. It’s amazing how fast, and how exciting it is to get from the top to the bottom.

Most riders want to do it several times. So they have to walk their bike back up to the shop to do it again.

Going downhill from beginning to end gives them the extra momentum, the extra speed to make the ride right down to the bottom so much more exciting.

I’ve found it great fun to watch them.

I’ve seen dads and moms eagerly snapping pictures of their kids as they fly down from one thrill to the other.

Oh, sure, some of the riders are young adults.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dad trying the course by himself. He gives the shove-off and that’s it.

Of course, now and then some ramps and bounds and twists and jumps need some fixing, and it’s the dads and bigger kids who are depended upon to come and do the fixing.

Everyone pitches in.
Visit the Morro Bay Bike Park on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorroBayBikePark/

On school days very few get to use it. Or when the weather is so-so.

On a nice busy Saturday afternoon, you might see only 20 or 25 people up there.

Now a little P.S. for you

Coping with serious old age is not easy. Take my word for it.

There’s no great trick to doing it.

I think what makes it possible is the ability to cope, adjust, cope, adjust, and to just keep doing that one / two.

I’m trying to do that. And I take pleasure in managing to do it.

There is far worse than becoming deaf. Far, far worse, believe me.

By John Guy LaPlante

Being born deaf, for instance.

In my last post, I told you about becoming partly deaf as I was becoming older.

I entitled it, “Oh, the woes of becoming deaf!”

And I talked about how awful it must be to be born deaf. That happens to some people.

And that made me think of a little girl who was afflicted much, much more seriously than that.

She was born not only deaf but blind.

She lost her hearing, her sight, and even the power of speech.

Can you imagine that?!

Her name was Helen Keller. She was born in Tuscumbia, Alabama.

A beautiful photo from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helen_Keller

Her parents were a solid, highly regarded couple. Later Helen had two siblings who were totally normal. How ironic!

Little Helen was born normal but was bowled over by this tragedy when she was less than two years old. After an illness of some kind. Maybe scarlet fever. Maybe rubella.

And it’s entirely possible that she could have lived with that long tragedy for the rest of her long life. She died in 1968 at age 87.

She did have one great blessing. It was the good fortune of having a young woman named Ann Sullivan constantly at her side. In time she became known as Annie Sullivan.

Annie became totally devoted to Helen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, week in and week out, till the end of her own life.

And so Helen became a highly educated, well-adjusted, widely admired, influential, famous lady who wrote books, traveled the world, met presidents, scientists, kings, famous people of many kinds.

She became famous to people not only in our country but around the world.

Hers was a tragedy so extreme that when she was a little child nobody could do anything to alleviate it or do anything at all to make her life even a wee bit better.

Surely some well-intentioned parents would have wished this little girl dead for her very own sake. Sounds awful, but true.

So little Helen never became able to see the sun or hear the outbursts of a mighty thunderstorm, or even say “Thank you!” to someone trying to help her.

Out of overpowering frustration, she would explode in a humongous tantrum time and again.

Everybody understood that. Who so afflicted would not explode like that?!

But miracle of miracles. Slowly, a little bit at a time, little Helen became able to transform those violent panic attacks and slowly develop into a happy person.

Would spend hours and hours spelling out the words of ordinary things into Helen’s palm. Words like cup and comb and milk.

The big moment came when Annie was washing Helen’s hands with water and Helen made the connection between the word water and the actual water. That was the great, great breakthrough!

Yes, it was miraculous.

Helen learned to write, became widely educated, and in fact graduated from college with honors. She began to travel and earn money to support herself.

She became an author whose books found a wide market. She was able to communicate with and impress people in audiences small and very large.

She learned braille and then to type with a braille typewriter, and later with an ordinary typewriter.

Always with Annie’s essential assistance, of course.

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan in 1888
Photo: Thaxter P. Spencer Family, New England Historic Genealogical Society [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Traveled all over the country and abroad, even to places like India and Japan to meet people of all kinds.

Of course, she could not see or hear any of the people she got to meet. Often she would run a hand over a person’s face to get an idea of what that person looked like.

She would book passage on trains and planes.

She amazed everybody who got to see her. They cheered for her, hugged her, blew kisses to her, prayed for her, remembered her as a heroine in her own right.

She made it a point to meet wounded soldiers and anyone young or old severely afflicted in any way through no fault of their own.

She did not hesitate to express strong opinions and take strong positions.

For instance, that most people everywhere are good people.

And that we should not go to war.

And that there is much, much good to be said about socialism.

She inspired them. Cheered them on.

She lived a long life of personal success and a positive influence on people beyond number.

You can read a lot more here: https://www.biography.com/activist/helen-keller

Yes, she died in 1968, a few months after suffering a stroke.

Ironically, Annie had gone blind in both eyes. Would you believe it?!

They were holding hands when Annie died.

You can get to know Helen in many videos on YouTube.

I was in my forties back then.

I never had the pleasure of seeing her but I became very familiar with her amazing achievements. Who didn’t?

As a young woman, Helen had one piece of amazing good luck that ran on for years and years.

That good luck was meeting and teaming up with Anne Sullivan. Who was also known to many as Annie.

Annie could not claim to come from a higher-up family like Helen’s.

Hers were just ordinary, hard-working Irish stock. Which made her more knowledgeable in the ways of the world, and far more sympathetic to what Helen was going through.

Annie was very smart. Extremely clever. Patient beyond words. Possessed of iron determination.

She was Helen’s teacher, mentor, archangel.

Slowly, one tiny bit after another, she was able to free Helen from the mental prison she seemed locked into for the rest of her days.

Many fine and determined and gifted teachers and trainers would have given up after a few months or a few years. Because what was expected of them was impossible to achieve.

Much of the time the job required she work at Helen’s side from morning till night. All week long, weekdays and holidays.

At Helen’s home in Massachusetts and at her side in all the school and college classes she took, and all the speeches and interviews she gave, and all her meetings with famous people, and whenever she was hospitalized and dealing with doctors and dentists and other specialists and wherever Helen happened to be, at home or in Chicago or Paris or Timbuktu.

Helen was Annie’s only pupil for decades. She served Helen for 49 years, until Annie herself died.

Helen became a movie star in a film about herself. It was called “The Miracle Worker!”

And also the prize-winning play by the same title.

Helen became Miracle Worker Number 1, and Annie Miracle Worker Number 2.

I was so fascinated by Helen Keller’s story that I decided to write about her for you. I was sure you too would be fascinated.

I wanted all the details I could get. So I went to our Morro Bay Public Library. And asked Librarian Nicole what the library might have about Helen, and Nicole went searching.

She reported to me that the library had two books, but they were children’s books. Which surprised me.

Nicole thought I might not be interested in seeing them, for that same reason, being children’s books.

But what the heck! I asked to see them.

I found them both to be fine books. Very interesting. Rich in detail, with a wealth of photos and illustrations.

And I understood why publishers would find books about Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan such good and important reading for children.

Of course, there are adult books about them in the San Luis Obispo County Library system, in which ours is a member library.

The two books Nicole lent me were “Helen Keller, Her Life in Pictures” with text by George Sullivan. A wide assortment of photos. Published by Scholastic Nonfiction, an imprint of Scholastic. 2007

Learn more on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Keller-Their-Own-Words/dp/0439095557

The other is ” Helen’s Big World: The Life of Helen Keller,” a fine text written by Doreen Rappaport, illustrated by Matt Tavares.” Beautiful paintings, no photos. Published by Disney / Hyperion Books, New York, 2012.

Learn more on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Helens-Big-World-Helen-Keller/dp/078680890X

By coincidence, both books have an extra-large format, being eleven inches high and ten inches wide.

I highly recommend both books to you.

Again, both books are rich with photos or illustrations. I hope to include a few for you.

But I was miffed by the publishers’ legalese warning that the photos / illustrations could not be used without permission.

Well, both books were published years ago. It would take me forever to get permission.

And if they squawked, I would argue that my blog would be wonderful publicity for them.

How about that?!

Oh, the woes of being deaf!

By John Guy LaPlante

I am totally deaf in my right ear and partially deaf in my left ear. I wear a hearing aid in that ear.

I have a lot of company. The latest statistic is that 37 million Americans suffer hearing loss.

It is the most common sensory disorder in our country. It affects more than 16% of our country.

We just take it for granted that everybody will become more and more deaf as they grow older. But kids can suffer from the problem. How sad!

How do I know that? I just read in the New York Times that President Biden by executive order has declared that hearing aids will be sold at pharmacies up to a level of $5,000 per pair.

Truth is you can buy a pair of hearing aids for $100 or for $10,000. Even more.

When I read that, I gave the President a thumbs up. Glad I voted for him. For that and other reasons.

A special one is that when I was serving in Peace Corps in Ukraine in my early 80s the then Vice President Biden was dispatched by Obama to hold conversations at the highest level.

One thing Vice President Biden did now and then was give a briefing to leaders and staff of our Embassy in whatever country he was dispatched to.

After his briefing he would offer to take questions from a few people in the audience.

Right now I am talking about the briefing that he gave at our Embassy in Kiev, which is the capital of Ukraine.

I was one of them. Lucky me. He noticed that I was not your typical youngish Peace Corps Volunteer 22 years old, or 28 or 35. I was 78 back then.

There were a couple of hundred people in the audience.

Anyway, he invited me to come down to the stage and I did that. He asked me how come I was such an old Volunteer and I told him.

I wanted to give back. And it appealed to me as a great adventure. And I wanted to write about it.

He could see that I was older than he was!

I had to keep it short and sweet. I knew I would be on the stage with him for only a minute or two.

He nodded. Smiled. Gave me a pat on the shoulder. And shook hands with me. And that was it. I left the stage.

But gosh, how proud he made me feel. I remember that moment to this day.

Many in the audience had cameras. In the next few days I received photos of that great moment from several. I was tickled.

One I liked a lot. I put it along with a few others that I worked with there in Kiev, on the cover of my book,”27 Months in the Peace Corps, My Story, Unvarnished.”

But why did I say “Unvarnished”?

Well, Peace Corps was very good but nothing is perfect, as we know.

It’s from those few fleeting moments that I got to see how caring and genuine a man President Biden was. And I have maintained that opinion of him ever since.

Now back to hearing aids. A couple of days ago when I saw him on TV explaining his executive order, I wondered, does he wear hearing aids?

Maybe he doesn’t. Maybe he does. Some hearing aids are so small you can hardly see them.

But to be purchased at pharmacies?!

I did not like that one bit.

Since living in Morro Bay here, I have patronized “Morro Bay Hearing Aid Center,” a small shop on Main Street.

They sell a wide assortment of hearing aids, some very expensive and some so-so.

They give expert advice, have fair prices, provide fine service.

They have gotten to know me well.

They know I don’t want to buy a pair. They know I need only one, for my left ear. I’ll explain in a minute.

Well, the President’s executive order could put that shop and many others out of business. Not good. I’m opposed to that.

Now I will explain.

As I look back, I felt I had very little hearing loss until about 15 years ago. My hearing was great.

Then one day I fell down a stairway headfirst and banged my head against a closed door. No broken bones, lucky me!

I managed to call for help and I was rushed to the local hospital.

The young doctor taking care of me called my daughter Monique to tell her what had happened, and of course she was shocked. She asked to speak to me.

The doctor passed the phone to me and I put it to my right ear. Which is what I always, always do.

I could not hear a darn thing!

I thought Monique and I had been disconnected, so I handed the phone back to the doctor.

“No, no, no!” she said to me. “Your daughter is on the line.” And handed me the phone again. Once more I put it to my right ear. And tried as hard as I could to hear my daughter. But I could not hear a thing.

That’s when I discovered I was deaf in that ear. What woe!

But very quickly the doctor tried to reassure me.

“Oh, please don’t worry,” she said. “I’m sure it will come back.”

It did not.

But with my left ear I could hear quite well. My right ear had gone dead.

Discharged from the hospital, I worried, in fact I was frantic. I quickly consulted an ear, nose, and throat M.D.

Guess what? He told me that if I had been prescribed a certain medicine by that doctor, my hearing probably would have been restored. Imagine my awful disappointment.

I happened to chat with a lawyer. He advised me that I had strong grounds for a malpractice suit. But I never followed through. Maybe that was very dumb on my part.

Now here is just one consequence of that great loss of mine.

Sleeping in bed at night, I have to be very careful. I sleep on my  left ear, which is what I have always done,  and thus my so-called good ear, the one in which I use my hearing aid when I am up and about, is muffled by my pillow, so no way could I hear my alarm clock when it goes off. So I make sure my so-called good ear is not totally muffled by my pillow. But it’s an imperfect solution, believe me.

Now more consequences of having only my left ear working, even with my hearing aid in it.

If I’m walking along on a sidewalk, and someone walking towards me says “Hello, John,” I can say “Hello!” back. No problem.

But if I can’t see him or her, I can hear that “Hello!” But I can’t tell if it’s from somebody behind me, or maybe across the street from me, or maybe even somebody calling out from a second floor window. I can’t tell who it is.

With two good ears, I would have what they call “directionality.”

Which is what you have, I’m sure.

Lucky you!

Again, with just one ear, I can’t tell who’s speaking to me. To repeat, it’s an awful loss.

But there are a lot of smart people around who have come up with solutions of one kind or another.

For one, think of people who are totally deaf from birth. They can learn to read sign language but very few people ever get to “speak” in sign language. So there are darn few people they can converse with.

I am sure that sign language is incredibly hard to master.

And very few people ever get around to mastering it. And they have to be able to use your kind of English — meaning there are so many dirty words and expletives and slang that you never, never heard, so how do you handle that with your sign language? Sounds utterly impossible to me.

But modern technology has provided another solution. But this one is limited in its own way because it involves surgery, which can be risky.

You may have heard of it. It’s quite new– a Cochlear Implant. A specialized surgeon has to put the implant in you. You choose to have that done because it’s the only option you have left. There is no other solution. It’s your only hope.

I know of one elderly lady who has had that done.

It seems to work quite well for her in her circle of family and friends. But there is a steep learning curve for both her family and friends who of course are the usual contacts she calls. I doubt that on her own she could call and make herself understood to a plumber or even her doctor’s office.

But suppose your insurance plan doesn’t cover that?!

Now let me tell you about another solution. It’s a remarkable invention called the CaptionCall telephone. Yes, spelled as one word as I just spelled it. And it is a telephone.

Using my CaptionCall that automatically converts what is being said to text I can read.

I’m very familiar with it.

In fact, I have two.

The CaptionCall is the size of a small computer. It’s just a foot away on a small table by the side of my favorite chair.

If a call comes in, I can turn up the volume very, very high. Which works fine for me.

But if that were not good enough for me, the CaptionCall automatically converts the conversation into nice big captions appearing on a screen. Imagine that!

But suppose somebody is calling in French, in which I am fluent. What then?

Well, I just called my CaptionCall phone, which has its own distinct phone number. And it just didn’t work.

Anyway, I have two of them. One by my favorite living room chair and the other in my bedroom.

And guess what? I was told they are provided free to California residents by a California government agency of some kind.

Then on Google I discovered there are other so-called Caption Call machines. $0 Caption Call phone and another is called the Alelo Caption Call phone.

It turns out that qualified individuals can receive one through the American Disabilities Act (ADA). Which is available to anybody in our country who meets certain criteria.

And that’s why I have never received a bill.

I am sure further things will be invented to make life so much better for people with hearing loss.

Think of what a miracle that was!

And shows what all out dedication and concentration can achieve!

And to say it again, people with normal hearing loss deficits like me, and maybe you, surely appreciate how fortunate we are to live at this time and in this place.

President Biden’s executive order to cover hearing aids for up to $5,000 purchased at a pharmacy to be covered by Medicare, as imperfect as that is, as I have already explained, is really a giant step in the right direction.

How fortunate we are to be Americans — Democrats like me who voted for him but even Trump Republicans or libertarians or people who never get around to voting for anybody or anything.

God bless America!

Around The World – Narrated with Photos

Have you read my book “Around the World at 75 Alone, Dammit!

Yes, I visited  20 countries and covered nearly 37,000 miles. I did it by plane, train, and bus for only $83 a day. And that covered even my medical shots and insurance!

Back in 2005, my good friend Matt Kidd helped me create a DVD that I narrated. On YouTube, you can see my photos and listen to me telling you about my many traveling experiences and adventures.

Part 1 of my photos and narration from my trip around the world.

Part 2 of my photos and narration from my trip around the world.

Part 3 of my photos and narration from my trip around the world.

Learn more about my trip of a lifetime in my book:

We get to see rare elephant seals close up!

By John Guy LaPlante 

Off I go with visiting family to behold an animal spectacle nearby it’s unlikely you will ever get to see.

That is, unless you happen to come upon an old issue of National Geographic or The Smithsonian.

I am talking of elephant seals.

Of course, if your community library is a good one, you might happen upon a DVD that shows it all.

We were going off by car to see why and how the elephant seals actually rook here every year.

But what the heck are elephant seals?!

They are sea animals that come up on shore for a few days to have their young.

They are called elephant seals because the males have a proboscis, a long snout that looks a lot like the trunk of an elephant but much shorter.

I hope to find a picture or two to show you. A video would be even better.

As I said, their rooking is quite a sight.

It takes place once a year on a Pacific beach some 40 miles up the seashore road from Morro Bay, CA.

Here is a photo of elephant seals from https://elephantseal.org/
They have a live beach camera and
online shop too: https://elephantseal.org/product/large-elephant-seal-plush/

As many of you know, I have been living here in Morro Bay for a few years, close to my daughter Monique and her husband David.

That elephant seal beach is some 10 miles north of the Hearst Castle.

The road goes right by the famous castle, luxurious beyond words, that was created by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst at San Simeon high on a mountaintop. It attracts tourists from all over the country and even beyond.

So that was quite an extra nice sight to get to see as we drove by.

The elephant seals return every year from the Gulf of Alaska to this very beach.

And here they give birth to their pups.

The bulls also mate with the cows, competing with other bulls for the privilege.

The bulls come back twice a year, in the summer to molt and in the winter to breed and birth calves, year in and year out.

Bulls and cows migrate to different places. Bulls to the Gulf of Alaska and cows to the great, wife-open Pacific, plunging back into the saltwater and heading northwest to where they came from.

And next year the elephant seals will return to this same little beach for a few weeks, in the summer to molt for a repeat of this drama.

In the meanwhile, nothing unusual will take place on this little beach. It will be similar to so many other beaches along the shoreline.

But every year some local people are so enthralled by this brief natural occurrence that they drive to this beach time and again to see this natural spectacle take place.

As for me, I’ve lived here in Morro Bay close to a decade now, or so it seems. All to be close to my daughter Monique and her husband David.

It’s about a 40-mile drive to that little beach above Cambria. It was only my second time to go. All to see that spectacle.

Destination: Elephant Seals!

Got to tell you there was no headline in the local papers that I’m aware of that proclaimed “The Elephant Seals Are Back!”

The fact is that my son-in-law David just knew this was the time. And he did not need a calendar to remind him.

He just loves living close to the ocean. He can see it from the front porch of his home here high on a hill.

In the morning he steps out onto the porch to take a look at the ocean.

More than once I’ve stood on that porch with him. And I’ve commented, “David, to me the sky is much more interesting than the water.

You know, the interesting cloud patterns. The Sun beaming down on the clouds, constantly changing the scene. And at night, the Moon rising above!!”

But David just doesn’t buy that.

Every fair day of the year at low tide when the sand has become hard packed, he power-walks on the beach, meaning he walks just short of running on it.

By the way, according to astronomers, it is the Sun and the Moon that determine all over the world how tides, high and low, will take place twice a day.

And thus at exactly what time in the morning it would be best for David to take his power walk on the beach.

But for him, I’m sure a half hour one way or the other would make zero difference at what time he should be out there to walk.

Well, we had relatives visiting us — my son Arthur and his dear wife Marita and their daughter Elise, who is my granddaughter, of course, all just arrived from far-off Florida. Arthur said he had other things to attend to. Or maybe he felt there wasn’t enough room in the car with my big folding / rolling wheelchair and all.

My daughter Monique had seen them several times before and was needed at her office.

Our guests did not ask to go see the elephant seals. They knew very little, if anything, about them. In fact, didn’t know they exist.

To repeat, David just knew they would be greatly interested in seeing the huge animals. Who wouldn’t be?

After all, they are an AAA tourist attraction.

And he took me along for the ride.

I felt bad for my son Arthur.

I thought he wasn’t with us because there was not enough room in David’s car, with my big folding / rolling wheelchair and all.

He was a good sport about it. Said he had some private affairs to take care of.

My daughter Monique didn’t come because she had done the trip before with David and she was needed at her office.

David’s including me was not easy for him, believe me. That’s because I now have a hard time walking unassisted at home, which is on a single floor, mind you. I now walk with two canes.

And just recently I wrote to you about my swollen-leg condition called lymphedema. My legs from my toes right up to close to my knees swell with fluid, becoming twice normal size.

What’s the cure? There is none. It’s not a sickness or a disease. It is a condition, life-long, sad to say.

In the morning I have to put on very, very tight compression stockings to keep my legs from swelling. Thank God there’s no pain involved in any of this.

No way can I put these on by myself.

David comes over in the morning and puts them on me. In the evening my daughter Monique comes and removes them, soothes them with a special lotion, and puts ordinary stockings on me for the night. This goes on seven days a week, week in and week out.

And so it meant that on this excursion David would have to push me in a  folding / rolling wheelchair — a fine wheelchair intended for nice, smooth, very even surfaces inside or outside.

“No problem, John,” he said more than once when he invited me along.

But I knew that he knew that this would be a huge job for him. But as usual he would make light of it.

So there would be four of us on this excursion. David and me and my daughter-in-law Marita and my granddaughter Elise, herself a grown-up adult.

David parked at the very end of the parking lot, as close to the viewing area as he could get us, with stern warnings posted of stiff fines for anybody bothering the elephant seals in any way.

But the seals’ beach was closed off to us by a heavy fence.

It was a cold gray day with a sharp wind. David had told us to make sure to wear warm hats and jackets.

The Pacific Ocean stretched out in front of us. There were just half a dozen other tourists there.

Probably first-timers, come from long distances probably to see the elephant seals for the first time.

By the way, this was not a nice, smooth, blacktopped parking area. This was very rough and uneven gravel.

David had to use a lot of muscle to push me up close to the viewing area.

The elephant seals were still out of sight. They were on a broad beach below us. We were on a mound looking down on them. There were more than a hundred of them.

Some were huge. The males. The size of a big pickup truck, so to speak. Some absolutely still. Then one would wake up and with a strong swish with one of its two flippers spread sand over itself.

The females were smaller, about half the size of the males.

One of the males would rouse himself and waddle to one of the females. To have sex, but that happened only in the winter.

Some of the females had pups at their side, and were not in the mood to be bothered.

It was that these elephant seals had to make a huge swim to get here.

Over the years marine scientists must have tagged some and found out that way. Maybe these studies are ongoing.

And these elephant seals swam to this very cove every year to give birth to their young, repeating the cycle year after year.

David told us this was not so.

There were other coves north and south of here.

Some elephant seals would make landfall at one of them, in time returning to more than one or two of them.

This cove was famous because it was close to the highway, and close enough for visitors like us to get to see them quite easily.

Others were in coves too far from any highway to make it possible for people to get to see them there.

For sure the story that the seals came back here every year was terrific for the local economy, with numerous motels and restaurants and shopping centers and gas stations and souvenir shops nearby.

Oh, on the way home a thick, cold fog had come in and there was no way we could see the world-famous San Simeon Hearst Castle high on its mountain top. What a shame.

Well, even with one difficulty after another, we had a wonderful time.

I am sure that my daughter-in-law Marita and my granddaughter Elise will never forget their visit here to the cove famous for elephant seals returning year after year to give birth to their young, repeating the cycle time and again.

For me what was most meaningful was that it was a rare family outing, from my point of view unlikely to take place again. I’m grateful for that.

A strange new medical problem have I!

By John Guy LaPlante

Yes I do. Now in my 93rd year on this planet, I have now developed a brand new medical problem.

It is called lymphedema.

It is not a disease. Not a sickness. It is best described as a condition.

Well, to me that “condition” has become a very definite problem.

I had never heard of it. I saw it happening but I thought it was a minor thing. It was annoying. It was unsightly and for sure I was increasingly concerned about it.

But no pain. Absolutely no pain.

I had thought it would simply take care of itself, like a cold, hahaha, and simply go away.

I will bet that you have never heard of it. And have never known anybody to have it.

But after I have explained it to you, please do let me know if you have some knowledge of it. But not personal knowledge!

I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.

I have just spent several hours online researching it.

It turns out a lot of people have it, men as well as women, and very often it has happened to people who have had cancer of some kind.

I have never had cancer of any kind.

It can affect people in different ways. Sometimes on one leg and one arm.

It affects me on both legs from right below my knees down to my very feet.

And I have just spent a month going to treatments at a lymphedema clinic in San Luis Obispo, California.

That’s the fair-sized city just down the road from my home here in Morro Bay.

The clinic occupies a small house, surely somebody’s home at one time. I’ve been there half a dozen times, always driven there by my daughter Monique or son-in-law David.

I have checked. There is no other such clinic within driving distance for miles around.

It seems to have a staff of four people, three of them trained, certified lymphedema therapists, plus an office gal.

I have traveled and lived in many places, here in the USA and in many places around the world.

It is the first time that I have become aware of such a strange problem, or of such a clinic.

Lymphedema has become such a personal worry that I have put aside my life story that I have been writing up of late — taking a break, so to speak.

I saw what was happening to me.

There was a terrific swelling of my legs, from my upper feet to my knees. Yes, it was happening to both legs, not one or the other. And equally.

It is most easily described as a huge ballooning. More than twice normal size.

When I was dressed up, this ballooning was concealed by my trousers.

I did not like it. There was no pain. Absolutely no pain. I thought that it would pass. And it took me quite a while to realize that this ballooning was the result of a buildup of fluid. What kind of fluid, I had no idea.

And the whole point of the treatment is to get rid of this fluid.

This is done by squeezing it out of your body. To this day I do not know how it leaves the body. There is no natural orifice for it. This has still not been explained to me.

The only thing that seems to make sense is that it is squeezed out like urine.

This will be my first question to my therapist on my next visit, which would be four days from now.

Actually, the condition was brought to my attention by my cardiologist. She is a very fine cardiologist.

I have a very slight heart problem. Not unusual for a person of my age. I was advised to go to her as a preventive, to forestall the need big time of truly needing an expert cardiologist.

She is the one who referred me to the clinic. In fact, the clinic sends her detailed reports of its findings and of any improvement I am making.

The condition is covered by Medicare, fortunately, but not of any items used to treat it, which can include medications and items of clothing.

In fact, I was given information on how to contact my local representatives in Congress and have them protest that this is an oversight not to be tolerated.

My therapist that first time was Jamie. About 30, I’d say. Very sweet. It quickly impressed me that she knew what she was doing.

Yes, David had driven me. As I’ve reported to you, I’ve given up my license to drive after more than 70 years at the wheel. A very, very sad day that was for me.

Never killed anybody, never injured anybody.

I am so, so fortunate to have David helping me in so many ways as I do my daughter Monique.

I am giving my 10-year-old Hyundai Sonata to my grandson Thomas in Florida, who needs a better car.

It barely has 70,000 miles on it and looks great.

Now back to my lymphedema problem.

My therapist Jamie had taken me into a small treatment room. David got to see everything she did. He’s retired, by the way.

I wanted him to see it all and I got my daughter Monique to take time off to come and see for herself as well.

Jamie had me lay on my back on a treatment table. She adjusted it to the right height for herself and for me. She had a long roller made of very dense plastic, about a foot in diameter and four feet long. She had me raise my legs and placed the roller below my knees. She spent several minutes examining my problem.

And told me that she was going to work to get rid of this fluid by wrapping the affected part of my legs with very long compression tapes.

They are made of a thick white fabric. About four inches wide and many, many yards long.

She started above my toes. Kept wrapping the band around my ankle and kept wrapping it up to just below my knees, one layer upon another, locking it in place by using a piece of very heavy tape. Then sent me home.

And that was it.

“I want you to come back in days for another treatment,” she told me.

I already have a hard time walking.

I use a 3-sided “walker”. I am sure you have seen such.

I use it with David at my side to assist me if necessary.

Sometimes I get along by using not one but two canes!

Just getting me into the front passenger seat of his car and buckling me in takes a major effort. As it did when we got back to Morro Bay and he had to assist me to get into my home.

I was exhausted. It was only three in the afternoon but I had been told to go right to bed and lie on my back with my legs positioned higher than my heart level. That was extremely important.

I have an adjustable hospital bed, which turned out to be a great assist.

David made sure that I was all set, said goodbye, and told me he would come back and assist me in the morning.

How fortunate I was to have him helping me!

I wasn’t accustomed to sleeping like that, flat on my back. I usually sleep on my left side. But finally, I fell asleep.

But then a great pain developed in my lower right leg. It was wrapped so tightly there that at one point it was cutting into me. As if by a knife.

Just my right leg. Not my left one.

What to do?! What to do?!

Somehow, I don’t know how, I managed to lower my hospital bed to its normal, not-in-use position, sit up on the side of the bed, and reach down to my right foot, and somehow release that huge band of tape that Jamie had so carefully put on.

What an enormous relief.

I was very, very worried. Finally, finally managed to fall asleep.

Since then I have been to the clinic six times.

I have met another of its therapists. There seem to be only three.

His name is Hasheem. About 45.

He used the very same technique that Jamie did. But he has a very special gift. He enjoys talking, talking, talking as he works, explaining in detail the right way and the wrong way of applying those compression bands.

Now they have shifted from the bands to extremely tight compression stockings of the perfect size for me. So, so compressive that they are very difficult to put on me.

And the last time I went, he told me they have done everything they can do for me. It’s up to me now to have the discipline to do this as long as necessary, perhaps even for the rest of my life.


That was a shocking thought, of course. Meaning that I might have it to the very end of my days.

No need to come back for another office visit, I was told. Only to come back if I have more questions or want to have my compression technique tuned up. They were straightforward about that and I admired that.

Since then I have had an appointment with my cardiologist. She told me she had been receiving detailed reports about my progress from the clinic and was very pleased.

By the way, if all this arouses your curiosity, do go online and check out “lymphedema.”

I have met a whole new world of information about it out there. I was amazed to see so much about it. How it affects people in different ways. Especially the photos. The photos are incredible. Beyond description

I have the condition in both legs. Well, some people have it in one leg and one arm, and there is no concealing it. And so many come down with it so much earlier in life.

I am so much better off than they are.

Obviously, very many people have a lymphedema problem.

I am just one of them. My lymphedema is far from cured.

I have no idea whether it will be a problem of a few days or a few weeks or a few months. Or for the rest of my life.

I have worked out a daily arrangement with my son-in-law David and my daughter Monique.

David is retired and Monique is still working.

They live 10 minutes from where I live.

Every morning he comes over to put on my compression stockings. I cannot do it because I cannot reach way down there and anyway I wouldn’t have the strength to adjust the stockings just right.

He has become an expert. He does that seven days a week for me.

As some of you know, I pedal a tricycle every day. Now electrified, meaning power-assisted, as you know. But it still requires some actual pedaling. This is very important to me because it is the only physical exercise that I get around to doing.

And my compression stockings must be adjusted just right. Otherwise, they cut into my legs as I pedal. David has become an expert at it.

Monique stops by on the way home from her office every day.

She removes the stockings, applies a therapeutic lotion to my legs, and freshens the stockings. No need to wear them in bed anymore.

This takes place 7 days a week, morning and night.

How very fortunate I am!

I do plan to keep you up to date.

I do intend to get back to my regular blogging. But I’ll give you an update if need be.

If you have lymphedema, or know someone who does, please tell me about it. That would interest me greatly.

Oh, I have not yet received a report from Medicare about this. It will be interesting to see how much the San Luis Obispo Lymphedema Clinic is receiving for its services.

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 4

By John Guy LaPlante

In Part 3 I told you how at the Worcester Telegram I did extra things for extra money.

For instance, starting a weekly column on camps and camping and writing it for 10 years.

I did another thing. Our Sunday Telegram had a section called House and Home.

Nothing new about that. Every Sunday newspaper in the country has such a section. True today.

On its front page, it would feature a detailed story with photos of a beautiful home, or of a home quite different in some significant way.

I would search for such homes in Worcester and nearby towns that we covered. And I did find one that was quite different. Quite interesting.

In speaking with its owner, he explained that yes, it was different and in a totally significant way. His story wowed me.

He told me that instead of having been built in the conventional way, one board at a time, so to speak, his house had been built in a huge shed where the carpenters built houses the way Detroit builds cars.

They adopted some mass production methods. And didn’t have to worry about rain or snow and lose a lot of time that way.

They would build the house in sections, load all the sections on a truck in a certain order, and deliver the house to the customer’s house lot.

Meanwhile, the customer could prepare. Build a foundation, say. Make sure electric lines were available. Put in a well, for instance. And so on.

The name of the company was Hilco, which stood for Hog Island Lumber Company, located in Philadelphia several hundred miles away.

Hilco had a catalog of house plans. You could study the catalog and choose the floor plan you wanted.

(I previously wrote a bit about Hilco: http://johnguylaplante.com/wp/2017/02/02/an-email-from-a-total-stranger-and-my-reply/)

Furthermore, it offered an architectural service. You could make any changes within the floor plan.  For instance, make the kitchen bigger by cutting the square footage of the living room. Or, instead of three bedrooms, you could change them into two bedrooms. And so on.

And Hilco would send you a new set of plans at no extra charge.

All of which saved the owner a ton of money.

Pauline and I were living in Webster, Massachusetts. About 20 miles from Worcester. It would take me close to an hour to get to work.

She was teaching in a public school there.

We had no children thus far.

We were thinking of buying a house in the Worcester area. Much closer to my job. But too expensive.

It turned out that Hilco would not be just another interesting story that I would write up.

Sure, I would write it up. But for the first time, I’d be writing up our house!

And here is how we would start.

Pauline and I would find a nice house lot, choose the Hilco plan that would work best for us, modify it if necessary, and set it up on our new house lot.

All big decisions!

So instead of looking for a newly built house ready to move in, we would be looking for a nice lot on which to build our Hilco home in the town of Auburn.

As I said, we were living in Webster and it took me an hour to get to work at The Telegram and Gazette then an hour to get home at the end of my day.

Now it would take me just 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.

We looked for the right house lot. We looked at several. Finally we found the one that was perfect.

It was on Millbury Road, a quiet, twisting two-laner that led to downtown small Auburn a mile and a half away. A full 15 or 20 minutes could go by before a car passed by.

There were just a handful of houses farther down Millbury Road.

But it wasn’t a house lot. It was an acre of a large dairy farm out in the countryside.

I looked up who the owner was.

He wasn’t just a farmer. He was a gentleman farmer, and there’s a difference. His name was Adna Cutting, and he ran the farm as a sideline.

I called Mr. Cutting and told him I wanted to build a house and would he sell me an acre of his land.

There was a very long pause. Obviously he was thinking a mile a minute.

Finally he said yes, but he would have to approve the house plan, of course.

That really impressed me.

To prepare for this, I had gone to the bank right next door to the Telegram and Gazette. I used to go there to deposit my T&G check.

Nearly all of us working at the T&G had an account there.

I was well known there as the editor of the Sunday Telegram’s Feature Parade. Bottom line, I didn’t have much of a problem arranging for a mortgage to cover everything.

I met Mr. Cutting at his farm on a beautiful sunny Saturday morning. On the very acre that appealed to Pauline and me. I was alone with him.

We sat on a boulder under a huge oak tree. Nice and shady.

In the northeast I could see the taller buildings of downtown Worcester.

Around us, Mr. Cutting’s prized Golden Guernseys were contentedly munching the grass.

Some 500 or 600 yards to the south I could see his beautiful white barn.

It was really a showplace farm. Now and then teachers at the grade school would bring their little students to show them how the cows got milked.

I showed him the house plan of the Hilco Home we were going to buy.

And I showed him where it would be oriented on the acre we wanted.

He examined it most carefully, and he asked a question or two. I had carefully written out the details of the deal that I was hoping he would agree to.

I asked him to sign his name to this very important document. He read it twice. Slowly. Had no questions to ask me.

I gave him the check that I had brought along and handed it to him. He smiled and wished me the best of luck. And extended his right hand and shook hands with me.

I was delighted. There could have been no better way to complete our transaction.

Along Millbury Road was a stone wall that kept his Golden Guernseys from playing hooky.

He told me that on Monday morning he would have one of his workers come with a tractor and cut an entrance 30 feet wide to make what he felt would be the best place for a driveway for me. I studied the area and agreed that would be the best place for our driveway.

And there would be no charge for that!

I was tickled. I just couldn’t wait to get home and tell Pauline the whole story. Within a few days I made a deal with a local contractor to begin taking the first steps to put up our Hilco Home when it arrived.

The next day he contacted the Power Company to extend its service to our house lot.

Then he had a bulldozer in there preparing the foundation. It all happened.

The address of our Hilco home is 160 Millbury Street, Auburn, Mass. It’s a beauty.

Yes, Millbury Road has become Millbury Street.

You can Google it.

As it turned out, over the years we had to modify it to meet interesting new needs.

I will be telling you all about that in a minute or two.

Pauline became a public school teacher in Auburn.

Our three children, Arthur, Monique, and Mark, were all born there and graduated from the Auburn Elementary School and High School.

One day I heard that at the next Auburn annual Town Meeting a new director would be elected to the Auburn Public Library. I ran for the job and was elected.

It was the only time I have run for a public office.

I thought we directors would talk about books. I thought that would be important. Nothing doing!

What we talked about was should we find a new janitor, or should we increase fines for lost books, or should we put in two additional handicap parking spaces. Things like that.

Anyway, what was really astonishing was the key role that lovely Hilco Home got to play in our lives for some 20 years.

Especially when I decided to go into the public relations business as well as fundraising for non-profits.

I’ll be getting to that in a minute or two.

Oh, I should tell you that living closer to Worcester led to some other very nice experiences.

On the east side of the city was a very long, narrow lake. It was called Regatta Point because college sculling meets were held there. Holding regattas.

Sculling has very little to do with the wind. It’s several athletes sitting one behind the other in a long, narrow boat and propelling it by using two short oars.

The lake was perfect for that. But it was far more difficult for anyone to sail up the lake and down again because it was so, so narrow.

And that’s why Regatta Point Community Sailing was called that.

A membership cost just a few dollars. Regatta Point would teach you how to sail, and then after you had passed a technical test, starting with proving that you could swim at least 100 yards, you could go there at any time and take out a sailboat for an hour or two.

It had a dozen sailboats, all identical sloops. Know what a sloop is? No?
I suggest you look it up in your dictionary. You might like to learn to sail one.

When I heard about it, I went and interviewed Alan Fearn, the very capable manager and a very capable sailor. And I wrote a long article about it for Feature Parade Magazine, along with half a dozen photos.

And that’s how I got the idea that I would enjoy learning.

I had learned to swim as a kid, so no problem there.

But tacking and jibing and running in a stiff and shifting breeze were a different matter, and I flunked the first technical test. Very embarrassing. I had to retake it. This time, I passed.

Practice makes perfect, as we know, and I got the hang of it.

My three children, Arthur, Monique, and Mark, all took sailing lessons there.

I took a great interest in Regatta Point Community Sailing as a fine and worthwhile program. And I thought the world of Alan Fearn.

I was invited to join the board of directors and one year was elected president. Then re-elected for another term.

The officers and directors were all working people. So meetings had to be held at Regatta Point on Saturdays. That was no fun. They wanted to be out sailing.

And Alan Fearn was tied up running the program. 

So I got the idea of inviting them to my Hilco Home in Auburn on a workday evening, along with Alan. They thought that was a good idea.

One more thing. A few years earlier, at a different lake, I had become a competent canoe oarsman.

Sailing and canoeing, along with swimming, were interests of mine for many years. In fact, at one time I owned and enjoyed a sailing canoe. That was really something!

One year I even built one. Once I proved to myself that it would really float, I held a nice big party and broke a bottle of champagne over its bow. I had invited 25 or 30 friends to see me do that and enjoy the party.

By the way, I could also row my canoe. That was always quite a workout.

If you know anything about rowing, you know that you can’t tell where you’re going exactly. There might be a rock in the water straight ahead, or a log or something.

One day I went to an auto junkyard and bought a nice pair of rear-view mirrors. You know, one for the left side and one for the right side.

And used them on my canoe when I went rowing. They were so wonderful that I should have patented them!

Anyway, what was really astonishing was the key role that lovely Hilco home played in our lives when I got into the public relations business as well as fundraising for non-profits.

I built up an impressive list of clients, as I told you.

I would write up a press release, for instance. Or I could develop a fundraising plan, say. I could do that just about anywhere — wherever I could use my typewriter.

And then hand-deliver the press release to whatever editor or reporter or radio station director I felt I had the best chance to “sell it to”, so to speak.

Or get them to write a feature story about it. My client would love that!

Or if I had developed a fundraising plan to some business or institution, I could go to the president or board of directors and present it.

It might get approved then and there.

Oh they might demand some modifications.

I would get paid for all that, of course. That’s what they paid me to do.

But often some supporting materials would be needed.

A newsletter. Or a four-page or a six-page booklet.

I would type up all those myself.

In the case of that New England-wide 

Franco-American Fraternal Society in Woonsocket, RI, that awarded me a scholarship, I developed a bi-monthly tabloid newspaper.

The Union Saint-Jean-Baptiste d’Amerique (USJB) was founded on May 7, 1900 in Woonsocket, RI. The USJB was a fraternal organization for Franco-Americans living in New England, and other states with large Franco-American populations. The USJB promoted the social and moral welfare of its members, helped their sick and poor members, as well as the relatives of deceased members.
Source: https://library.assumption.edu/unionstjohnbaptiste

For the Town of Shrewsbury School Department, which became one of my clients, I would prepare a four-page tabloid for the beginning of each semester.

So for all these, I would do the writing plus the layout of the text, the columns, the headlines, the photographs, the captions, and for every page of course.

Then I would send this off to whatever printer I felt would do the best job.

I would get the printer’s bill, mark it up a bit, which was all kosher, and send it on to my client.

Then I got a terrific idea. I would expand my services. Do everything I used to do plus everything the printers used to do for me. Right to the final product.

I could even prepare a mailing list for my client, pay for the postage, and even get all the copies to the post office for the date my client had specified. I made a list of the staff I would need to get all that done.

A secretary. Maybe a writer who would do rough drafts under my supervision. A designer to make my booklets and reports and tabloid papers look good with the right typeface, the right headlines, the right photos and captions, maybe even a colored ink or two to make my black- and-white tabloid more impressive.

And I would need typesetting equipment. Maybe even someone to process film and make beautiful photo prints I needed for my publications.

But where to do this? Yes, where?

This could run into a lot of money. 

That’s when I thought of our Hilco home in Auburn. On a quiet country road. Just 20 minutes from downtown Worcester.

Our home had an extra-large two-car garage under it. Large windows for sunshine and fresh air in nice seasons. And It had a large parking space for several cars.

I and my family would continue to live in our home. That would now be the second floor.

I would convert the garage into an attractive office with an attractive front door for my workers and occasional clients.

I even built a large separate room at the rear of the house, not visible from the street.

I mapped out a separate office for myself, one for my secretary, the typesetting equipment, and the other work that would need to be done.

This would now be the first floor. Our residence upstairs would be off-limits to my staff.

I would build a separate, attractive three-car garage 150 feet back, with a large loft with big windows where I could store seasonal equipment.

I would park my car inside in the first space, Pauline would park hers in the second, and the third would be for our lawn mower and snowblower and our kids’ bicycles and sleds and so forth.

Steadily I got more and businesses and institutions to work for. Two banks. A co-ed Catholic prep school called Marianapolis in Thompson, Conn.

Seven hospitals, would you believe, including the Conn. Natchaug Psychiatric Hospital.

Also St. Francis Home, a Catholic institution for assisted living operated by a community of nuns.

Also AdCare Hospital in Worcester, the largest hospital for alcohol and drug abuse care in southern New England.

After getting my staff started, I would go off to visit my clients, hoping to return for lunch.

In some cases, for clients many miles away, I might not return till 3 in the afternoon.

Pauline would continue to teach in the Auburn Elementary School. And our three children would go off to the Auburn Elementary or High School.

The day came when I needed even more office space.

I built a large addition in front of the office I already had. Very attractive with a handsome office door, and large picture window with matching shutters and flower box. 

Very quiet. No close-by neighbors. The Auburn Town Attorney told me it was okay to build that big addition.

And this time Adna Cutting, the gentleman farmer, did not ask to see my plans.

My business prospered. But then changes became necessary.

Some good, some not so good.

By the way, if you are curious, you can still get to see the Hilco Home that I started out with, and the additions and other changes that I made one by one as my business expanded. Even my three-car garage.

Just Google “160 Millbury Street, Auburn, Massachusetts.”

Yes, Millbury Road became Millbury Street.

And the Golden Guernseys are still there, I believe.

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 3

I never dreamed I’d live and work in so many places. Part 3

By John Guy LaPlante

Two weeks later I started working as the editor of the little Thomaston Express, circulation 1,650 or so.

From the May 27, 1954 paper.

A one-year subscription cost $4.50 in advance. Six months, $2.25 in advance. A single copy, 10 cents.

I planned to spend one or two years at the Express. I started on the 1st of July and left just before Thanksgiving, quitting over a dispute with the publisher.

I will call him Dominic Grimaldi. He spent most of his time selling ads and doing PR for the paper at the Town Hall and the Thomaston Businessmen’s Association.

No way would the Express win any prizes as a great small-town newspaper. It was a so-so weekly like countless others across the country.

The first thing I needed was a room. I had no car. There was no bus. It had to be within walking distance.

Dom told me about Mrs. Riley’s. She was a widow. She would take in one or two boarders.

I introduced myself. She had a bedroom for me. She would provide linens and towels. The charge would be $11 per week. And for $1.50 she would serve me breakfast 7 days a week. I said okay and put $12.50 in her hand.

She was a nice lady. She served me a good breakfast.

I lived at her place from my first to my last day in Thomaston.

The first thing Dom did was introduce me to his workers at the Express.

It was in a gray, shingled single-story building that at one time had been an auto garage, I think.

It was one block back from the very impressive Town Hall and the great big Thomaston factory building one block away.

Thomaston was named for the great Seth Thomas, clockmaker. Now it accommodated different little shops and businesses.

In its day, Seth Thomas Clocks was the biggest manufacturer of clocks in the United States.

The workday at the Express started at 8:00 a.m. and ended at 5:00 p.m.

The first worker I met was Arnold, about 50. A nice guy. He was the Linotype operator. Highly skilled. He set the type for everything that went into the paper, meaning stories and ads.

Then Gus, about 60. He put on a leather apron when he came to work in the morning and took it off when he went home at day’s end.

He was the compositor. Most of the time he had a dead cigar in his mouth.

He would gather everything that Arnold had typeset and fill every page with it. Big stories with big headlines. Lesser stories with small headlines. Any photos that had to be included, with their captions. Obituaries if there were some. Big ads and small ads.

He would lock all these in very tightly in heavy steel printer’s chases.

And then turn them over to Max, 45 or so. He was the printer. All business.

When Dominic introduced me, Max just nodded and kept on working.

The paper was a 16-page tabloid.

Max would print the less important pages first, and the most important ones last to accommodate any late-breaking news.

He printed the pages on a big flat-bed press. Four pages at a time per side. Then the set of two pages would float over a long pipe perforated on one side with small holes. Each hole had a jet of gas burning. The flame would dry the ink.

If one set of two pages went over too slowly, it would catch fire.

Max kept an old broom handy.

When that happened he would say “Goddam!” and beat out the fire with his broom. Then clean up the mess and start anew.

I saw that happen more than once.

Then the pages would be folded in a way that made them pages 1 through 16.

Oh, I also met Tony. He was Dom’s much younger brother. I liked him. He was fun. Liked to joke. He would go pick up an ad. Sweep the floor. Help bundle the papers at the end of the press run, tie them into bundles, and deliver a big bagful to the Post Office and to stores big and small around town.

On the first Monday morning, Dominic introduced me to key people at the Town Hall.

The all-important first selectman (mayor, so to speak), then the all-important town clerk, and then the all-important police chief.

We printed on Thursdays. On Wednesday afternoon I went to all these people to gather any news.

Then I would begin writing all this up, then deciding where I’d put them in the paper with their headlines and photos and captions.

It was a lot of work.

Anyway, after all those introductions that morning, Dominic took me to the White Fence Inn for lunch. Right there in Thomaston. Deluxe. One of the best-known restaurants for miles around.

White Fence Inn, Thomaston, CT

He seemed to know a lot of the customers. He introduced me to a few. He talked seriously with some, joked with others. Would have a waiter seat us at one of the most prominent tables, and hand each of us a very elaborate menu.

I did not know what some of the dishes were. Oh, well. We had lunch and chatted. Then he picked up the tab. I got to find out that he ate there often.

He would invite me to lunch there every 2 or 3 weeks. Always picked up the tab. I got to know some of the regulars.

After that first lunch, he drove me around town. Showed me the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. The big supermarket.

The biggest employer was the famous national Plume and Atwood Manufacturing Company. It made a variety of items out of brass, big and small. Its huge rolling mill was in Thomaston.

In the various neighborhoods, the Express would have a correspondent, invariably an older woman, who would type up items of things happening in her neighborhood and send it in.

Oh, getting back to Dom, I did not know what my salary would be. He told me $60 a week. Far less than I expected. He saw me frown.

I told him that I would do a first-class job. Guaranteed that.

Dom said if I did a first-class job, he would give me a raise.

“A good one?” I asked.

He smiled. “Of course!” And patted me on the shoulder.

I went right to work.

I made many changes.

Once in a while I needed a photograph. There was a portrait photographer in town.

He did wedding pictures and graduation pictures and such.

His name was Milo Puwalchek. We had a deal.

If I needed a photo of some kind, he would take it.

And for that he would get a credit line, “Photo by Milo.” That helped build up his studio business.

He became my best friend in Thomaston.

Heading back to my list of improvements, I removed all ads from the first page. Wrote a strong editorial for Page 2 every week, sometimes two. Started a weekly column called “EXPRESSions by JG” — two or three-paragraph tidbits about town. It had a high readership.

And I came up with a feature story every week.

In fact, I came up with a standard format for the Express that repeated every week. Big stories on page one. Editorials on page 2. Obits on page 4.

Sports on page 6. And so on.

Readers got to see that this was a professional operation.

I was very proud of what I had been accomplishing.

I felt Professor Hill would be tickled that he had recommended me.

As Thanksgiving was approaching, one afternoon before quitting time I went to Dominic and asked him about the raise he had promised me.

I expected a raise of at least 50 percent.

He smiled. “Yes, John. You have done a good job. I’m really pleased that Professor Hill recommended you and I hired you.”

“Thank you, Dom. I’m happy to hear that. But tell me. How much will I be getting?”

“Of course, John. $10 a month. Effective at the end of next month. You deserve that, John.”

Only 10 lousy dollars! I couldn’t believe it. I wondered if I had heard right. He smiled again and nodded.

I was angry. He could see that. Told him right off that I would leave in two weeks, just before Thanksgiving.

I was thinking, hoping he might make me a counter offer. He did not.

Wait until my sweetheart Pauline hears about this! No way could we even think of getting married.

I finished up. Cleaned out my desk. Said goodbye to Mrs. Riley and the gang at the paper and took off.

I felt Dominic had been very dumb in letting me leave.

After my first 2 months at the Express, Pa and Ma had driven to Thomaston to see how I was doing. They were very pleased.

Now I’d have to go home and tell them the bad news. Brown University had been bad news to them. Now the Express was bad news.

Anyway, back home with Pa and Ma in Pawtucket, I would be able to go visit Pauline once or twice a week. She lived in Putnam, Connecticut, a 45- minute drive.

Pa and Ma had bought me a nice car. Every Saturday afternoon I’d head to Putnam for the evening. 45-minute drive.

Pauline was no longer bringing up the matter of a wedding date.

But then I heard of a weekly newspaper for sale in Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

I began checking that out.

Woonsocket was a bit smaller than Pawtucket. It had a good daily newspaper, the Woonsocket Call.

It also had a weekly newspaper that was a mishmash of junk. For sale cheap.

I talked to Pa about that and explained how I would change it into a picture / feature weekly. I felt it would be a big success. He had grave doubts. Was far from enthusiastic. But I talked him into it.

He had a first cousin, Hervé Théroux, an immigrant like Pa who had become very successful. He was the owner of the largest general insurance office in the city. Had many important contacts.

Pa would arrange a meeting of the three of us in Mr. Theroux’s office. It happened. I made my pitch.

I would change the paper completely. I would not fill it with news stories. No way could I compete with the Call in covering the news.

I would fill the weekly paper with feature stories, which always get high readership. I was good at feature writing. And high readership would attract high local advertising. I felt it was a win-win.

Pa and Mr. Théroux looked at one another. Silence.

Then Pa spoke. “Well, Hervé, what do you think? Be honest now.”


“Well, Arthur, I think Jean-Guy maybe has a good idea. The Call is often a bit dull. Most days I get through it in just 15 or 20 minutes.”

Then just small talk for 10 or 15 minutes.

Then Pa said, “Well, thank you, Hervé. We do appreciate your advice. Really do. Now we’ll go home and think about all this a bit.”

Finally I convinced Pa to buy the paper.

It had no printing facility. The printing of it was farmed out to a newspaper in Providence, which printed it on the side.

Pa would cover the printing bills for six months. By then its new high readership would have increased circulation substantially and the paper could support itself.

This was the headquarters of the fraternal society in Woonsocket,  Rhode Island, which awarded me a scholarship to study at Assumption Prep School and College for 8 years.

And later, when I was the publisher and editor of the Woonsocket Sunday Star, I rented office space on the third floor of this building.

I rented a two-room office for it on the third floor of the home office of the St. John the Baptist Fraternal Society. Which had given me that scholarship to Assumption. They knew me there.

I retained the make-up editor from the old newspaper. His name was Gerome. He was also a good photographer. I hired a secretary, Rita, about 26.

I bought a Justowriter like the one I had learned how to use at the Burroughs office supply store in Boston. Taught Rita how to use it. She learned fast.

What I was desperate for was a good advertising man.

One day a man walked in and introduced himself. I’ll call him Franklin. Had 25 years of experience in newspaper advertising. He would work at zero commission for the first eight issues. Wow!

I renamed the paper “The Sunday Star.”

Dennis, the man who every weekend packed bundles of papers in his small truck and distributed them to various stores and sale spots in the city, would continue to do that at a reasonable price .

Perfect. Off to a great start.

I had heard of a pilot with a small plane at the local airport who would tow advertising banners over the city for an hour or two. His name was Greg.

I met him and worked out a deal. I would write a story about how he had learned to fly and do this banner towing.

A story with pictures illustrating the various steps in getting all this done.

It would be fascinating. Readers would love it.

Gerome, my makeup editor who was also good with a camera, would take the pictures.

Among other things, Greg explained he could tow a banner with 24 letters and spaces.

Meanwhile, Franklin would go out and sell ads for the new paper. He said he loved the new editorial format I had designed for the paper and it should be easy for him to generate substantial ads for our first edition.

Of course I clued in Pauline about all this. Finally we could get married!

Only one thing could go wrong. Bad weather on flight day!

I decided flight day would be on Easter Sunday.

My very first edition of my paper, The Sunday Star, would already have been distributed to stores and other sale spots. People, very curious about this new paper, could buy a copy and read about this fantastic new feature-story newspaper with the big, interesting new ads.

Well, all that happened. Or so I thought.

Easter morning was bright and beautiful.

I arrived early. Found a good spot to observe the sky. Kept looking and looking. Finally found the little plane towing the big banner: SUNDAY STAR REBORN TODAY.

I was so, so proud of having thought up that fantastic stunt and staging it.

Greg kept towing that banner around until he nearly ran out of gas.

But sales of that first issue of the Sunday Star were few.

That’s when I realized a lot of people had never noticed the little plane up there towing the banner. They were in church. Or at home. And for some, Easter meant just that. Some people didn’t have a clue about “reborn today”.

Pa and Ma never got to see it. Cousin Hervé Théroux never got to see it.

Pauline was not able to come and see it.

Anyway, at our office the Justowriter was perfect for what we were doing for this type of work.

Franklin kept coming in with big, bright new ads and I was delighted with all that.

But advertisers were not sending me checks for the bills I was sending out to them every Monday morning.

It was all a fraud.

Franklin would tell an advertiser he would run an ad free. And when the ad started getting results, as he was sure they would, then the advertiser could start paying for the ad.

Franklin had never told me that was the deal he offered advertisers. And they considered it a good gamble.

One day Franklin stopped coming to work. He had skipped town or something. I never saw him again.

Pa had kept on paying the printing bills.

Pauline was aware how desperate the situation was.

She was working in a bank. One day she gave me an envelope with $700 in it. All her savings. She wanted to help. Wonderful of her.

In seven months my Sunday Star was dead.

Pa had made a terrible mistake.

He should never have let me start the Sunday Star.

I was good at feature writing and using the Justowriter, but I was too inexperienced at running a business. That was the sad, unvarnished fact.

I kept living at home with Pa and Ma. Things were very tense there.

Ma just wouldn’t talk about the Sunday Star fiasco. And she worried Pa was developing a mental breakdown. He had lost a pile of money in backing me.

I was very worried about him also. My poor Pa would sit in his rocking chair and brood, brood, brood.

And I wasn’t proud of myself. Anything but. The Thomaston Express had been nothing I wanted to boast about. It had been a huge flop.

I hoped that Professor Evan Hill would never get to hear about it.

I went more than three months unemployed. I was glum and depressed, too. Awful!

Pauline was being patient and understanding. But she wasn’t sparkling. Far from it. And there was no wedding date being set. Or even talked about.

When and how would things get better? Could they?

Well, they did.

Remember my dear Aunt Bernadette? The one who’d lend me her car to get to Brown? Who went out and bought a desk and desk chair for me?

Well, one morning she stopped by and noticed how glum I was.

“Come on, Jean-Guy, ” she said. “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s go for a little ride.” I nodded. Off we went. But it wasn’t just a little ride.

She suggested we go to Worcester, 40 miles away, and see what was happening at Assumption, where I had spent eight years, as you know.

In downtown Worcester, we passed by the big Worcester Telegram and Gazette building. Right across from the big City Hall.

She was excited. “Jean-Guy, go on in. See if you can talk to an editor. Or whoever speaks to people looking for a job. See if you can put in an application!”

And I did that. I spoke to an editor named Frank Crotty. He had me fill out an application. Looked it over.

Said to me, “We have an opening for a county reporter. The starting pay is $50 a week. Would that interest you?”

“Yes, sir!”

I went to work at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette two weeks later.

At that time the T&G was quite a paper. It was included in the list of the 100 largest newspapers in the United States — at the lower end of the list, but still.

Dominic at the Thomaston Express had paid me $60 a month. The T&G would be paying me nearly four times more, just as a county reporter. And I worked for the T&G some 12 years in a variety of jobs.

I started as a county reporter. Quickly became a bureau chief directing several county reporters. Then also began running a second bureau simultaneously.

Directed the news operation in two small cities, Webster and Southbridge.

At that time Pauline and I married, started a family, and even had a very nice home built for us in the small town of Auburn, just a 20 minute ride from The Telegram and Gazette.

Frank Crotty, the editor who had hired me, was fascinated by artists with easels and paint brushes. He would do a great job of interviewing them and writing them up. He would do one every five or six weeks and I’d buy them for our Feature Parade magazine.

Began writing freelance stories for the T&G’s Sunday magazine, “Feature Parade.”

Soon became a staff writer.

The editor was Fred Rushton. We got along well.

We got along well. One week I got an exciting new idea.

Wasn’t sure how he’d react but hoped he’d love it.

I had never been beyond the Hudson River. I was itching to travel all the way to California and back and write about all that.

By then Pauline and I had two little kids. Our son Arthur was nearly 2 and our daughter Monique about 1.

Pauline holding Mark in 1963. He was born after our camping trip.

I had become good with a camera.

I got a folding tent trailer and I had a new car.

I had a two-week vacation coming up. I asked Fred if I could take an extra 6 weeks off at zero pay.

I told him I would love to travel and write features and illustrate them with photos that I would take and send all this back to him to publish.

I suggested a first story.

Just 200 miles away in eastern New York State was a small town called Worcester.

That would be our first stop. I would interview people there, see what the main industry was there, find out how things were going, and take pictures.

I had gotten a small portable typewriter.

I would type up my story and mail it back with the undeveloped roll of film.

We would do this all the way to California.

In Hollywood I knew of an actor who had grown up in the Worcester area, and was becoming well known as a character actor appearing in successful movies and earning a darn good living. I remember his name — Jaques Aubuchon.

I had made arrangements to interview him.

We got there. He was pleased to welcome us. It was a pleasure to interview him.

Then he walked me through the studio where he was one of the actors appearing in a new movie.

I took photos, greatly enjoyed interviewing him, typed up my story, and mailed it all back to Fred in Worcester. He promptly published it.

But during much of that, poor Pauline had to watch our little Arthur and Monique, and be patient about my interview ending soon. She was a darn good sport about that.

Fred was delighted in getting my stories and publishing them. And was good about paying me the going freelance rate.

Oh, going way out to California and back and returning we would visit national parks and monuments and I would write a separate series of articles about them, with photos.

Well, it all happened.

And remember, we were camping out every night. Setting up our folding tent trailer, sleeping in it, closing it in the morning, cooking many of our meals outside on a campstove, and hoping we wouldn’t run into bad weather.

We had some scary moments, such as the time we encountered a huge bear in Yellowstone National Park. It came close and sniffed but then turned and ambled away. Wow! What a relief!

We kept running into folks touring like us and camping out like us and I got to see what a popular family sport camping out could be.

So on the side, back at the T&G, for extra money, I began writing a weekly column called Camps and Camping that got published in a different section of the Sunday Telegram.

And I wrote that column for every Sunday for 10 years, without missing a single week.

But one week I had to write it from a hospital bed at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester because I had come down with something that had to be checked out.

Back at Feature Parade I had resumed working as the principal feature writer.

The fellow pointing with a pencil is me when I was editor of feature Parade Magazine

I did stories all over Massachusetts and beyond. Cape Cod. Newport, Rhode Island. MIT. Wrote up famous people.

But Fred Rushton was not feeling well and he retired early. I was chosen to become the new editor of Feature Parade.

I had been getting my paycheck every Friday for the week’s work.

Now as the new Feature Parade editor and new T&G executive I would get a raise, but I would be paid once a month, in advance.

I wondered about that. Why in advance?

I had a friend who was an executive. I asked him why.

“John, don’t you see? The Montreal World Fair is being held there that year. I spent 10 days up there and wrote numerous stories about that.

Pa was good company. And he enjoyed seeing how I went about it and later reading the feature stories I wrote.

He became quite proud of me.

Poor Ma. She had little interest in my being a writer and editor. She really wanted me to be a doctor. Oh, well.

It seems odd but I left the Telegram and Gazette to do public relations work at my old alma mater, Assumption, and the St. John the Baptist Fraternal Society that had given me a scholarship to attend Assumption.

At Assumption I became the Director of Public Relations. And a year later, I got a big promotion to Director of Public Affairs, which included the all-important fundraising that is essential to any non-profit.

(By the way, you may not be aware of this, but very recently Assumption College legally and officially became Assumption University, with a greater variety of course offerings, majors, and degrees.)

That experience in PR and fundraising at Assumption led to my starting a public relations practice of my own, with my own office and staff. Which turned out to be quite successful.

In time I got to represent a Catholic Prep School, a Catholic assisted living institution, a couple of banks, more than a dozen hospitals, including one that became the leading alcohol and drug recovery hospital with an outpatient program in a radius of more than 100 miles.

It all happened because of my dear Aunt Bernadette, who prodded me to go in and apply at the T&G.

She had no idea that would lead to so many good things.

Bless her!

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