July 21, 2019

Dr. Upchurch is retired now, but not quite

By  John Guy LaPlante

Some 35 years ago, when I was living back in Worcester, Mass., I became quite ill.

Dr. Upchurch and husband “Tak” and grandson. Retirement is nice. But so is MAVEN, she found out.

My family doctor, at a loss, referred me to Dr. Katherine Upchurch, a rheumatologist at then Memorial Hospital.

All my doctors had been men. She became my first woman doctor.

Very thorough. She asked questions, checked me out, ran tests. And came up with a diagnosis of temporal arteritis. I had never heard of that. Not a good thing. I’ll leave it at that.

She put me on Prednisone. A massive dosage. Told me I might need 3 months or so to lick the problem. Well, it took 13 months.

Finally my monstrous rheumatology problem was over. What a relief.

Dr. Upchurch was a wonderful doctor. I had been very blessed to have been referred to her.

Well, she had gotten to know me quite well. She knew I was a journalist and writer.   She got to see some of my articles as they got published.

When I started my blog, she became one of my readers.

As you know I blog on this and that. On whatever happens to pique my curiosity. My posts go off to many people.

Now and then she would send me a comment.

I enjoyed her comments and would email her a quick note of thanks.

For some time she had been signing off as Dr. Katherine Upchurch, professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. A five-star med school.

She had started teaching there even before my illness.

Now she had risen to full professor.

I found that impressive indeed. It indicated that her skills as a diagnostician and case manager had become widely known to the large medical community there and had led to her eminence at the school.

There were some 125 physicians and surgeons on the faculty. But only a handful were women. And she had risen to the very top. My!

Well, not long ago I got a note from her that was particularly nice. I emailed her back that we had a lot of catching up to do. Possible to have a telephone chat?

She said she’d enjoy that and sent me her cell phone number.

We had been on a Doctor Upchurch / Mister Laplante@yahoo.com basis. We were now on a Kathy / John basis.

I called her and she filled me in. She told me she had recently retired from clinical practice, a few years early, mostly as the result of a strange accident.

And that her husband, Dr. Ronald “Tak” Takvorian, a medical oncologist, was still practicing at Massachusetts General Hospital.

About that accident. She was out walking her dog, a big mixed breed, using a retractable leash. He suddenly bounded forward and pulled her down hard. Her right collarbone was broken and all the nerves to her right arm and hand were seriously damaged.

Though improved, she continues to have very bothersome symptoms.

After almost over 45 years, it was time to start enjoying the flowers. She resigned her clinical position, but she made sure that her patients had other rheumatologists to continue to provide care.

Though retired from practice, she hopes to teach at UMass in the future.

When I asked, she told me she was delighted to have become an M.D.

How had that come about?

“Oh, I always enjoyed school. Back in high school I found I was good at science, and I loved people!  And that’s what eventually led me to Duke Med School.”

It had worked out wonderfully well. Now she was enjoying her new leisure. More time with her children and grandchildren. Traveling and so on. All the while continuing to slowly recover.

“And know what, John? Something very marvelous came up. I found a unique way, a really wonderful way, to continue working a few hours a week as a doctor. A way I learned of a few years before retiring but in which I’ve become more involved in recently ”

“My! What’s that?”

She chuckled. “You’ll be surprised. I’ll send you an email about it.”

I got the email within a couple of hours. She called it “My claim to fame!”

What it was was a link to a PBS Health Hour of last October.

I didn’t waste a minute opening it. Found myself looking at a program entitled “MAVEN meets the Peace Corps!”

That really struck me. I served in Peace Corps. A full hitch in Ukraine.  Knew she had never served and Peace Corps. ???!!!!.

Well, I put 2 and 2 together. MAVEN made that Peace Corps comparison to make itself better understood.

Peace Corps was about helping needy people in other countries.

MAVEN is about helping Americans in great medical need. Folks who don’t have insurance or money for advice from top specialists.

Doctor Upchurch was a star of the show. She didn’t call herself a star. The show didn’t call her a star. But that’s what she was, a star.

So exactly what is MAVEN? It stands for Medical Alumni Volunteer Expert Network.

It was founded by Dr. Laurie Green of San Francisco, an Ob-Gyn, back in 2012 when she was president of the Harvard Medical School Alumni Association.

And here’s what MAVEN is about.

Even with Obamacare, there are many people who are left wanting.

Oh, they may get to see a primary care physician but what they need is a fully credentialed specialist.

Often it takes a long time to secure an appointment. They may not have coverage. May not have the money. May not have transportation to get to the specialist.

Well, many retired specialists are delighted to be out of the trenches after many years.

But they like the idea of keeping their skills sharp, all while helping people in great need who just can’t pay or who don’t have access.

When first founded in 2014, MAVEN volunteers actually saw patients remotely through a platform known as “telehealth.” This is becoming more widely used in medical care today.

Now, though, in order to best utilize volunteers (to make it possible, for example, for them to use their skills in states where they don’t have licenses), MAVEN physicians confer online with primary care physicians. They answer questions they may have about their patients and the diseases which affect them.

Primary care physicians can even review lab results and X-rays and CAT scans with specialists from MAVEN.

MAVEN doctors also teach caregivers via teleconferencing!

Dr. Upchurch told me she had given a conference to nurse practitioners in Idaho, all the while sitting in her own living room!

Finally, MAVEN volunteers also mentor primary care providers who work at subscribing health centers. They do this to make sure they take time to take care of themselves and don’t burn out! .

In the PBS show, Doctor Upchurch is shown teleconferencing with a primary care physician.

Also seen is another telehealth conference with another volunteer specialist.

How dramatic and wonderful!

Now, here is the link to that show. Click on it and you will see exactly what I got to see.


Yes, Doctor Upchurch called it her brief claim to fame.

I beg to differ. Back in her long years in active practice, she had many, many claims to fame.

And that’s why whenever I’ve received an email from her, I have instantly recalled how she had patiently, tenaciously used her skill for many months to save me from a very, very nasty illness. And permanently.

So again, thank you very much, Doctor Upchurch. Excuse me. Thank you, Kathy.

Keep it up as a MAVEN volunteer!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


How much would this house sell for where you live?


By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — A few days ago I received a super-sized postcard. You know, junk mail. For sure many households here got that postcard.

That’s a picture of it up above.

Realtor Jack A. Franklin was using this postcard as a way of marketing it. A quite effective way, I thought.

He certainly got my attention, although I am not buying. I’m all set.

The card gave its address. Descriptive details. And the all-important price. Wow! I whistled when I saw that price!

Immediately I thought of other places where I’ve lived. Massachusetts. Connecticut. Southern California.

And wondered, “How much would this house bring back there now? More? Less? About the same?”

And I got another idea. A terrific idea. I’d send this picture to you, my readers. Ask you the same question. You live in lots of states, lots of cities, lots of towns. What would the price be?

It would be fun. And you’d learn a lot about Morro Bay.

Of course, to answer my question of how much, it’s important for you to know more about Morro Bay.

Well, it’s a nice small city of 10,000. Nice in many ways. Quiet. Peaceful. Located right on our beautiful harbor, with the vast blue Pacific beyond it.

In fact, I can see the Pacific from Morro Bay Boulevard, which is just around the corner from where I live. The harbor is just a mile or so down the hill. And just beyond is the open ocean.

Of course, the harbor and beaches and ocean are big magnets that draw lots of people. Morro Bay is great for fishing, sailing, motorboating, paddling, water-skiing, swimming, sunbathing, picnicking, kite flying, bird watching, photographing otters and other wildlife. How about that?!

Yes, we’re a small city, so yes, we have a variety of neighborhoods, and not one really bad.

Of course we’ve got everything you would expect. City hall, police station, fire station,  churches, schools, library, chamber of commerce, senior center, banks, shops and stores big and small, restaurants of many kinds, doctors, dentists, other professionals. All within easy reach.

We’ve got lots of hotels and motels because this is such a big tourist and vacation center.

And just 15 miles south is San Luis Obispo, a beautiful city of 45,000 with stores and restaurants and services and amenities of so many kinds.

We have a state university and a community college, hospitals, museums, on and on.

The weather right here is a big plus. Never any snow or ice. Never the sizzling summer temperatures of communities just 20 miles inland. And usually a breeze is coming up off the ocean.

So the bottom line is that Morro Bay is a very appealing community.

No surprise that lots of  people relocate here, younger people and a surprising number of retirees.

It’s why my daughter Monique and her husband David live here. And that’s why I live here now.

And because of all these positives, it’s no surprise the cost of real estate is high.

Sorry to say this, but somebody with an ordinary job just can’t hope to own a house here. Even with a second income. It’s a sad reality.

Now about the house Mr. Franklin is selling.

The first thing I did was to tape over the advertised price on the postcard. It’s under the yellow oval with the left and right sides snipped off. See it down on the bottom right?

Now here is specific info about Mr. Franklin’s house to answer my question to you of how much. It’s all on the back of the card.

He says it’s located in a highly desirable neighborhood.

It has two bedrooms and two baths with what he calls a bonus room off the living room.

Also has a wood-burning fireplace and built-in bookshelves.

A large living room and large dining room. A vintage dining table that can accommodate 8 to 10 people.

Spacious kitchen with all the expected appliances, and fine condition throughout.

Beautiful hardwood floors. The whole interior freshly painted.

An extra-deep one car garage with washer and dryer included.

But it has special advantages, he says.

From the living room and master bedroom, you can see Morro Rock. That’s the huge dead volcano that juts out of the ocean right at the entrance to our harbor. Morro Bay is famous for The Rock, as we call it.

Well, who wouldn’t like a house with a beautiful view?

He cites other desirable assets.

“Fantastic location for walking to The Rock. Also the Embarcadero.”

That’s the scenic road running along our waterfront. More than a half mile of it is lined with a great variety of restaurants and shops.

“Also an easy walk to beautiful Morro Strand Beach. And it’s just a hop and a skip to Morro Bay Golf Course, Black Hill hiking trails, and the Museum of Natural History!”

He wraps it up as follows: “A very, very special home! Do not miss this opportunity!”

So, friends, what is the price that he’s advertising?

Oh, I should mention one more thing. In a phone call, I was discussing this very question of how much with my son Mark.

He lives in Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. He and his wife Stacie are professors at the University of Wisconsin there.

Madison is a lovely city and very livable. A great place to live.

Mark said to me, “Send me the picture, Dad. With the taped-over price. I’ll give it a shot.”

So I emailed it to him. The next day I got his price. “Less than $200,000.”

I called him back. “Interesting, Mark. Thank you. But it’s selling for a lot more than that.'” And mentioned the price. He was shocked. Does this give you a clue for your answer about the price?

On the other hand, you, perhaps living where real estate prices are extremely high, may shoot back a price higher than Mr. Franklin’s advertised price.

I’ve emphasized how expensive housing is here.

Well, by a happy happenstance, I just read an interesting story about this very subject.

It was in the Tribune, the daily newspaper that covers San Luis Obispo County.

The front-page headline was:

‘SLO homeowners need two jobs

That pay well, and 2 of them”

Many locals call San Luis Obispo SLO. Like “slow.”

A shocking headline. It’s backed up with a long article. I have boiled it down to its salient facts. You’ll learn a lot.

It is by two journalists. They reached their conclusions by citing the government and industry data bases they consulted.

Here is their story with the fat cut off.

I am printing it in italic to make it stand out for you.

By Lindsey Holden and Kaytlyn Leslie

Everyone knows how difficult it can be to purchase a home in San Luis Obispo County, so who exactly can afford to buy one?

The county’s median home price hit $640,000 in May, which is a new record for that month.

The quarterly median price, released in May, was $602,000.

Home buyers would need a median salary of $126,680, which would allow them to make monthly payments of $3,170, including taxes and insurance.

The Tribune used the county’s quarterly median home price data, as well as other data to determine which jobs would yield the minimum salary needed to buy a $602,000 house.

The average annual salaries were determined using 105,100 incomes reported to the state every quarter.

Some occupations don’t report employment numbers, depending on the size of the workforce and other factors.

The salaries are averaged, so they’re all likely employees working in the industry’s described who had more or less money.

It’s obviously easier to purchase a home with two incomes, so The Tribune’s analysis included household incomes, assuming there are two equivalent wage earners by combining their salaries.

So who can afford SLO County homes?

San Luis Obispo County’s median household is $67,175. About 76% of the County workers cannot afford a $602,000 house.

This is reflected in the county’s biggest industries, including food service, retail sales and personal care which pay employees $25,000 to $31,000 per year. Those salaries, even combined, do not come anywhere close to the $126,000 needed for a median-priced home.

Home ownership is narrowly in reach for 24% of workers who can afford a $602,000 house with the help of an equivalent wage-earner.

For example, some high school teachers buying a house with an additional income would fit in this category, along with some people who teach at California Polytechnic University and Cuesta College.

Accountants, civil engineers, and correctional officers (big state prison here) could also buy a $602,000 house with the help of an additional salary.

Only about 1.5% of County workers earn enough money to be able to buy a house with just one salary.

Pharmacists, psychiatrists, and architectural or engineering managers all earn enough money to buy houses without another income.

So ends the article.

So now, friends, the moment has come. With all this info under your belt, how much do you think this house would bring where you live?

Please jot it down right now, before you go any further! Otherwise the game will be spoiled.

Put in your answer here:  $_ , _ _ _, _ _ _ .

Of course you want to see Mr. Franklin’s advertised price. I’ll show it in a minute.

But hold on. One thing concerns me. If I show you his price right now, you’ll see it and that may affect your thinking in coming up with the price for your neighborhood.

So I came up with a simple ruse.

For the real price, I have made his price bigger than it really is.  To discover his price, just subtract 2 from the first four numbers in the following: $894,700.

Have you done that? Great! Now you have figured out Mr. Franklin’s asking price.

Now compare this price with the estimate you jotted down up above. Are you higher, lower, about the same?

If you like, you can compare it with the median price cited in the Tribune’s analysis.

Now please do one more little thing. Please, please shoot back a quick email to me with the price you came up with for your neighborhood. And please add a few words of explanation for the price you came up with.

Feel good if you came up with a considerably lower price for your neighborhood, and it’s a nice neighborhood. You are fortunate.

Hope you enjoyed this. Thank you much!

I just thought of one more thing. Would you consider moving to Morro Bay? It might make sense for you.

For more info on our fair little city, just Google it. Or Bing it.

I just did that on both those search engines. Was surprised that Bing has more photos than Google. Videos!

Hey, one more thought. You may want to buy the house Mr. Franklin is selling. I’ll bet there’s some wiggle room in his price.

If you come to check it out, contact me. I’ll give you a great tour of Morro Bay. First I’ll take you to the Rock. Then lots of other good stuff. Show you anything special you’d like to see. Then at the end I’ll show you where I live. Morro Palms Mobile Park.

It’s such a nice place and a good deal and the living is so pleasant you might want to move in close to me. You’d drop all thought of Mr. Franklin’s house. Just two restrictions. It’s an adult community. And you have to be at least 50 years old. Oh! And I wouldn’t make a nickel on it.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~








Every day I see McD and BK duking it out!

Wow! What a fantastic, superduper car!



Here it is. Gorgeous, isn’t it?. Would you believe it was built when I was just a little kid?!  Wait till you find out how much it’s worth today. Amazing!

By John Guy LaPlante
Morro Bay, CA — I was taking my daily trike ride up and down the big parking lot at Albertsons
Supermarket. And I spotted it!
Gorgeous. A cream-colored two-door coupe convertible with a beautiful crimson top. Elegant
covered headlights. Not a ding on it.
A dream car!  The 2020 version of whatever make it was, it seemed. Right out of the dealer’s
showroom, for sure. Obviously $$$$$$$!
I was curious. What the heck make was this? A Mercedes? Maybe a Porsche? A Maserati?
Well, take a look at the photo that I took. What do you think it was?
I looked at the front of it. Went to the rear. Looked at the driver’s side. Finally the passenger
side. I couldn’t find the make anywhere. So, so strange.
I did spot a small emblem. Gorgeous. But it didn’t mean a thing to me.
A couple in their sixties approached with their groceries. The car caught their eyes, too.They
began looking it over. Studying it. Every side, just as I did. They were gaping. Like me.
“What kind is it?” I asked. “What do you think? I can’t spot the make anywhere!”
She shook her head. “You’re right. But it sure is a beauty!”
He was baffled, too. “No idea. Some rich guy’s pride and joy, I’ll betcha!”
“That’s what I think, too. Yeah, a very rich guy.”
They headed on to their own car.
I took out my phone. I wanted to take a picture. I’d send it to David, my son-in-law. He’s a car
guy. He might have the answer. For sure he’d be fascinated.
I was positioning myself to get the best picture of it I could, with the position of the sun and all.
When just then a man and woman showed up, also with stuff from Albertsons. And walked right
up to this very car.
What good luck!
Both middle-aged. He was a big fellow. She was on the petite side. He took out his keys. Was putting
their groceries in the car.
“Excuse me, sir!” I said. “I was about to take a picture of your car. What a beauty! But what kind is it? I can’t find the make anywhere.”
“A Ford!”
“A Ford! I’ve never seen such a fantastic Ford. What model is it?”
“No, no. Not a Ford. A Cord.”
“A Cord?  I’ve never heard of a Cord. Is this some new make! Like the Tesla?”
“No, no!”
“I’m sorry. I have a hearing problem. What did you say?”
“It’s a Cord. A 1937 Cord.”
“A 1937?!  Are you kidding me?”
“No. It is a 1937!” And he repeated. “A 1937!”
“A 1937! I can’t believe it. I was born in 1929. You’re telling me this car was made when I was
just eight years old?”
“Yes. If that’s when you were born.”
I couldn’t help myself. I had something exciting in mind, Well, to me.  l  told him my name. Told him how I’ve been a  journalist and writer. And how now I blog about things.  Write about whatever interests me and I think will interest my readers.

I told him, “I’d like to write about this amazing 1937 Cord of yours!”
They looked at one another. Weighing what I’d said.
I said I needed a picture to go with my article. A picture would be essential.
“Could you please stand next to the car?” I said. “With you in it that would make my picture more
interesting .”
They looked at one another again. Then came and stood by the car, but on my side of it.
“No, no,” I said. “On the other side, please. That way the whole Cord will be visible. I want to let people get a good look.”
They looked at one another again. Seemed amused. But they shifted over. Good sports.
I asked for a little smile. They smiled. Very nice. And that’s the picture you’re looking at now.
“Do you live here?”

They shook their heads. He said they were here for a get-together of Cord owners. It was being held at the Inn at Morro Bay, which is right on the Embarcadero overlooking our harbor. Very nice.
“Oh, so there are quite a few of you in town?”

“Well, a bunch. Some from quite a long ways. It’s a good time.”
Must be a small number, I thought. How many Cords can there still be around?
Anyway, I began telling them about myself, invited them to check me out online. Wanted to make them
feel comfortable. And could I call him at his convenience? We’d have a nice chat.
“I think you’d get a kick out of it. And it would be great publicity about Cord!”
They looked at one another again. “Certainly!” he said.
“May I call you this evening? At 9 p.m., say? Would that work for you?”
“Sure, that sounds okay.”
I handed him my pen and a card and asked for his name and number.
He wrote down “Bill.”  Just Bill. And his number.
I shook hands with him. And they got into their gorgeous Cord. He started it.
Such a soft purr. And they drove off.  She gave me a little wave. Very sweet.
Well, I thought they were the perfect couple to be driving that fantastic one in a million car.
One thing for sure. This must be the first ’37 Cord ever to park at Albertsons.
Well, I called Bill at 9 p.m. But he didn’t pick up.
Shucks. They might be busy. I left a message.
I called again at 9:30. No answer. Damn.
I checked his number. I was curious. It was in the 818 area exchange. That’s in the Los Angeles area.
In Glendale mostly. A very nice place.
I went to bed disappointed. You know, frustrated that Bill hadn’t returned my
In the morning right after breakfast, I looked up “the Cord automobile” on Wikipedia. Quite a
story. A short story but dramatic.

The Cord was a high-class, super expensive luxury car. Built in Cornersville, Indiana, by Everett
Lobban Cord. A man with big and quite revolutionary ideas.

He ran the business from 1929 to 1932, then again from 1936 into 1937. Such a strange gap. Well, financial problems. The Great Depression. Bankruptcy.

The ’37 that I saw at Albertsons was the 1938 model. It was called the 812 Cord. It became the best-known of the Cords.

It had a totally new look from what cars looked like back then. Streamlined. Futuristic. There was nothing else like it around.

It boasted a very powerful engine. It was said it could go a hundred miles an hour. Unfortunately there was no road it could go that fast on.

It had a lower suspension that made running boards unnecessary. Back then most cars had running boards.

Became famous for its advanced technology. A breakthrough 4-speed Servo shift. First front-wheel drive. Independent suspension. Covered headlights for an even sleeker look.

It was a sensation at the National Auto Show that year.

But because of production problems, only 1,174 got built for that model year. So Bill’s was one of only 1,174!

The company collapsed for the second time and that ended its history. But founder Everett Lobban Cord went on to make millions in the real estate industry.

I’d like to read his bio some day!

It’s important to remember that all that took place only 25 years or so after Henry Ford came out with his hugely successful Model T,  priced so low that just about any family could own one.

That was the real beginning of the American automobile industry.

But the Cord was marketed totally differently. To the very, very well-to-do.  I’ll bet Cord owners today must be very well-to-do.

By the way, I’m positive that Bill’s snazzy 812 is a total rebuild, with a ton of upgrades.

Why do I think this? Well, just think for a minute of all the mechanical improvements that an automobile today must have just to get registered.

Not only “little” things like rear-view mirrors and windshield wipers and seat belts and air conditioning but big, expensive mechanical components that we seldom think about and take for granted. Just as we should.

At one time in its history, maybe Bill’s had wound up in a junk yard. Somebody had recognized it and put it in superduper shape.

Anyhow, the first owner of Bill’s Cord paid $1,995 for it. That was the advertised price.

I just looked at an Inflation Calculator Table. It indicated that $2,000 back then would be $35,000 today.

But now Google says, and I quote, “A Cord in prime condition can fetch up to $150,000. And one in poor shape can bring $50,000.”


If only Mr. Everett Lobban Cord could hear that!

And that made me think that the other fellow back at Albertsons who was looking at Bill’s Cord with me was absolutely right.

He told me, “Just a rich guy’s pride and joy, I’ll betcha!”

Yes, sir!  I’ll betcha!  Just a rich guy’s pride and joy!

I wish I could check that out with Bill!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~






Comments and tips I got on turning 90. Boy oh boy!

By John Guy LaPlante

Turning 90 can be a quite rare and intimidating experience, believe me. Really worth celebrating.

You may live to find that out for yourself. I hope you make it to 90, too. In decent shape, of course. Like me. Lucky me.

I got nice presents. One of the nicest was receiving good advice.

The more good advice I get, the happier I am because I’m better off for it. You’d feel the same way.

Well, what’s interesting is that some of the folks who thought up these tips and comments became famous not became of their wisdom about growing old. But what they did for a living. You’ll recognize them. Some preferred to remain anonymous. Not sure why. Oh, well.

But you are not getting any younger either. Would you like me to share some of the comments and tips I got?

I assume you do. So here they are. They’re all short and sweet. Some will make you chuckle.

Old age isn’t so bad when you consider the alternative. Maurice Chevalier

 Men do not quit playing because they grow old. They grow old because they quit playing. Oliver Wendell Holmes

 The idea is to die young as late as possible. Ashley Montagu

Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes. Anonymous

 Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional. Chili Davis

 You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely. Ogden Nash

 None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm. Henry David Thoreau

 Everything slows down with age, except the time it takes cake and ice cream to reach your hips. John Wagner

 There is still no cure for the common birthday. John Glenn

 No man is ever old enough to know better. Holbrook Jackson

Old age is like everything else. To make a success of it, you’ve got to start young. Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t use alcohol anymore.  Anonymous

Old age is always 15 years older than I am. Oliver Wendell Holmes again

You are not old as long as there’s a little bit of whipper left in your snapper. Anonymous

Don’t let it get you down. It’s too hard to get back up. John Wagner again

 Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of 80 and gradually approach 18. Mark Twain

 It’s a matter of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. Anonymous

 Birthdays are good for you. Statistics show that the people who have the most live the longest. Larry Lorenzoni

 As you get older great things happen. The first is your memory starts to go. And I can’t remember the other two. Sir Norman Forgetful

 People ask me what I would most appreciate getting for my 87th birthday. I tell them, a birthday suit. George Burns

 Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been. Mark Twain again

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many. Anonymous

 Now the next two are by persons especially close to me. I’m keeping their names private if you don’t mind.

Ninety!  Oh oh oh!  Looks good on you, John! A dear Somebody

Thank you, John, for showing me how 90 should be done! Another dear Somebody

Now here is one by me. Yes, yours truly.

 Take it from me. The most wonderful thing about turning 90 is turning 90. And starting your 91st year, still smiling!  JGL

 And now if I may,

Which did you like best?

Do you have a bit of advice for me?

~ ~ ~ ~



My oh my! I am now in my 91st year. Wow!

By John Guy LaPlante

With 2 photos

Yes, I just celebrated my 90th birthday. Very nice but not sure “celebrated” is the right word. Maybe “bemoaned” would be closer to the reality.

I believe that it is my last decennial birthday. You know, divisible by 10.

Anyway, there’s been so much follow-up that I’m days behind in posting this to you.  Sorry! 

And fair warning: this is a bit longer than usual.

 First, you may be wondering.  Why this mini autobiography of mine?

 Well, at 90 my time is running out. When my parents died, I regretted I did not know more about them. So many voids in

                                                            Here I am, still writing after millions of words and articles and essays and posts beyond number. I’ve surprised myself.

their lives before they married!

So I got the idea of writing a mini story of my life for my family. And then realized close friends might also enjoy it. And my list kept getting longer.

So then I thought, why not publish it as one of my blogs? And here it is.

Quite a few of you out there know bits and pieces about me, and maybe more. If you and others who may know very little about me begin reading even just out of curiosity, well, you may find it interesting, and may even learn a thing or two that could be useful.

If you have no interest, no problem. Trash it. I’ll never know.

I say “My oh my!” up top in the headline because I never expected to live this long.

I was not born in a hospital. Nobody was back then. I was born in my Ma and Pa’s double bed. That was in our second-floor tenement in the three-decker at 18 Coyle Avenue in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. I’m surprised I remember the address.

I was their first-born.

Pa and Ma were immigrants from Quebec. Spoke French. They were in their mid-twenties. They had come down for the classic reason. A better life.

Separately, by the way. They met at a church social and fell in love.

The Toones, a kindly old English couple, lived on the first floor, and a Syrian family on the third floor. Strange name. I don’t remember it.

There was an Irish family across the street, and a Polish one two houses over. We all got along. No problem. This was America, Land of the Free, Land of Immigrants. So different from Quebec. And better, as Pa and Ma would tell me when I got older.

I started to pick up English when I went out on the street and played with other kids.

Pa and Ma’s English got better the same way. His got much better than hers. He got out and about much more, so she lagged.

But she got to read English easily. The reason was simple. She loved to read.

Now why I never expected to live this long. I was sickly. When I was about seven I got very sick. Ma was worried. Pa was worried. Pa told her to send for the old doctor. They had put it off because they were very careful about money.

How to do that? No phones back then. She went downstairs and somehow got old Mister Toone to do the errand.

Well, the doctor came. He was French, too. He asked questions, examined me. Finally opened his doctor bag, gave her pills for me and told her what to do. I did not get better.

Ma was praying to the Blessed Virgin for me. When Pa got home at night, first thing he’d do was come to me, put his hand on my brow and check me. Ma would be by his side. Anxious. I wasn’t getting better.

Finally Pa told her to get the doctor again. The next morning she went downstairs, knocked on the door, asked old Mister Toone if he’d go do that again.

The doctor came, talked with Ma, spent a long time looking me over, gave her more medicine for me.

He was frowning. He was resting his hand on my shoulder. Shook his head.

“Madame, I am sorry to say this. But I believe your little boy will not live to be thirty.”

Ma was shocked. I heard him clearly. But know what? Thirty seemed so far off that it really didn’t bother me. True story.

Gosh, have I fooled him.

But as the years rolled on, that notion of not living old sort of got locked into my thinking. Would I ever reach the ninety-plus that I am now?  That seemed as likely as my winning a zillion dollars in a lottery.

Of course I am delighted to have reached this very old age. And delighted about my life. I have had quite a few successes. But some reverses, of course, and some disappointments. Nothing is perfect, as we know. A quite happy life by far.

I was lucky right from the start.

I grew up in a loving family, as you can tell. Ma and Pa had more children. In fact, Ma had eight pregnancies, I’ve been

                                                                  Me on my wonderful and all-important trike. Fun, exercise, so practical. That’s my nice, comfy home, sweet home.


Four of us — two sisters and a brother — made it to adulthood. Our younger sister, Louise, died at 32. And Michael at age 58.

My sister Lucie and I are the only ones left. I am older by eight years. We are very close.  I’m pleased to tell you that she is a wonderful person. Doing fine in every way. She is so gifted. I’m going to write about her one of these days.

Oh, one thing that was propitious was that Ma had her sister Bernadette, who was a few years younger, living right next door.

She and her husband Jack never had children. He was Irish. Their becoming a husband and wife was extraordinary in itself. Such French – Irish marriages were rare. Anyway, they became our second father and mother in effect. How wonderful that turned out to be.

But what is remarkable is that I, the first-born, have lived the longest. How is that explained? I cannot. Life is so mysterious.

One thing for sure. One huge piece of good luck has been that in time I fell into a line of work that I have enjoyed greatly these many years. Interesting work. Fulfilling work. I will tell you more about that in a few minutes.

Pa became a successful businessman.  Yes, he and Ma loved us. They showed it in so many ways. They saw to it that I got a fine education. Far better than they got. True for Lucie also.

Pa and Ma had a different schooling in mind.

But mine was a strange education. My siblings were spared.  At age 10, for the fifth grade all through the 8th, I was sent to a Catholic boarding school for French kids like me. In English, its name would be Sacred Heart Academy.  Run by Catholic “brothers,” so called.

Pa and Ma would come visit for an hour on Sunday afternoon.  If they skipped a Sunday, Aunt Bernadette and Uncle Jack would come. Some kids would rarely get a visitor.  I’d come home for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and eight weeks in the summer.

Very hard the first two or three months. I cried a lot. But I adjusted. I still have an old yellow snapshot I found in Ma’s things when she passed. It shows me at graduation. I was the top student.  But there were only 41 of us in the class.

Why did they send me away like that? In our circle, that’s what parents did if they were doing well. Besides, they had been spoiling me. You know, the first-born.  In boarding school I would get the discipline I needed. It did do the trick.

Pa and Ma had lots of friends. Favorites were Mr. and Mrs. Dubois. Their son, Yvon, was two years older than I. They had sent him off at 13 to a school called Assumption. Again, that was a prestigious thing. They sent me to Assumption, too. It was 40 miles away, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

It was a Catholic school, of course. Established by priests come from France to educate the sons of immigrants from Quebec. You went to it for eight years. Four years in its prep school. Then four years in its college. Both on the same campus. In fact, all in the same massive four-story brick building. Some 350 boys in all.

And during those eight years, one half of your education would be in English, and half in French. You learned to speak, read, and write them equally well. I appreciate that to this day. The teachers were priests and laymen. You graduated with a bachelor’s degree.

Please remember this about Assumption because I became greatly involved in Assumption as an adult, as you’ll see.

I win a big scholarship.

There’s another interesting side to this story. Many immigrant families like ours belonged to a large fraternal society with a French name. In English it would be the St. John the Baptist Society.

It was a non-profit. It sold life insurance policies. If you bought a policy, you automatically became a member.

And with its profits, the St. John the Baptist Society would carry on good works.

One of its major ones was providing scholarships to the sons of members to go to Assumption. The scholarships paid for half of everything at Assumption for eight years. Half of tuition, room and board, even books. Imagine that!

Every year on a Saturday in June, the society invited sons of its members to take a competitive test at Assumption.

Notice, I said the sons, not the daughters. That’s how it was back then. So many things have changed for the better.

The society had members in all six of the New England states, so the boys came from all those states. Getting them to Worcester and back was a big challenge for many parents.

It turned out the boys were the best students from their parochial schools. Typically 300 boys would report for the exam.  It consisted of a three and a half hour test in the morning, and another just as long in the afternoon.

Every year the society would award the scholarships in proportion to how many members it had in each of those six states. Perhaps 4 for Maine, 3 for New Hampshire and 3 for Massachusetts, 2 for Vermont and 2 for Connecticut, and 1 for  Rhode Island, our state. So 15 in all.

Well, that year another boy from Rhode Island and I got the very same score. What to do? I suppose the society could have given the two of us a test and used that to decide the winner. But the society that year gave each of us a scholarship!

(Over the years the society gave scholarships to more than 700 boys. It also gave grants —  hand-outs – to just as many. Very wonderful.)

Life at Assumption was challenging indeed. What happened was that after just three months my co-winner from Rhode Island was so unhappy, so homesick that his parents took him home.

Much happened in those eight years. I adjusted easily because of my boarding school experience.

In the high school I did well. Made the honor roll regularly. Was one of the four class officers, though never president. In the senior year I made the National Honor Society. Not sure that exists today but it was a big deal back then. I won the contest to be the speaker at our big farewell student party.

In the college I opted for the pre-med package, which included physics, biology, and chemistry. Mostly because Ma hoped and prayed I’d be a doctor.

In the senior year I was elected editor of our small college paper, “The Greyhound.” That was the college mascot. Why, I never found out.

Well, I enjoyed every phase of that — planning, assigning, editing, and laying out the paper. To be honest, the editing was very light, just checking grammar and spelling.

We had just a tiny budget. No ad revenue because no ads. The school gave us just a few dollars. So we could put out just two issues, each with just four pages tabloid. It was hardly journalism but it made me think of what was involved in putting out a real newspaper.

My Long Island summer had a big impact.

Yes, I was thinking of becoming a doctor. But at the end of my sophomore year, something happened to change that. My roommate Gil was thinking the same thing. He had an aunt who was a head nurse at Long Island Hospital in Boston Harbor. It was part of famous Boston City Hospital.

Yes, it was on one of the islands in the harbor. So named because it was the longest island. From our dock we could see the Custom House Tower in Boston two miles away, the very tallest back then. Hah! Now the Custom House Tower is dwarfed.

The hospital was big, with many buildings. Had 3,000 patients. Tunnels connected the buildings because the winter winds were so harsh and snowfalls so heavy.

The hospital had its own little ferry. It made two round trips a day to Boston. Everything came and went by that ferry.

The hospital took care of people with long, late-stage illnesses. Most were old and most were poor. They got mostly custodial care.

Gil’s Aunt Marge, a head nurse there, got us jobs for the summer. She had worked there for 15 years. She went about her work with a kind of missionary zeal. A wonderful lady.

Gil and I shared a room again. We got room and board and a small salary. I don’t remember how much. Maybe $15 a week. But that wasn’t bad for 19-year-olds back then.

We wore white pants and white shoes and a blue tunic. Very natty. We were orderlies. I worked in a men’s ward of 18 beds and Gil worked in another of 18.

A ward would have nine beds along one wall, and nine on the opposite wall. Each   bed had a small side table and a folding chair for patients who could sit.

We would ladle out food to the patients who could feed themselves, and feed patients who needed to be fed. Everybody got exactly the same meal. But maybe red Jello one day, green the next. Between the beds was a long curtain. The curtains could be extended for privacy as needed.

We would give patients their medicines. Bathe them. Change their sheets.  If in bed 24 / 7, turn them over to forestall bedsores, so very painful. Put them on the bedpan. Empty their urinal. Give them a haircut. Do whatever.

Most of the patients were going to die there. They knew that. The hospital had its own cemetery. Patients could see it from the ward. No headstones. Just numbered bricks marked the graves.

In the evening we had one nurse for four wards. She was always very busy.  All nurses were women back then. One evening around 10 one of my old patients died. I was shocked. I had never seen anybody die.

What to do? I ran and found her and told her. She told me she would send a professional orderly. And told me to draw the curtains on each side of the man’s bed. I had already done that.

By the way, all the other patients in the ward knew what was going on.

The orderly, a big man of 50 or so, arrived with a gurney. He said, “You take him by the feet.”

I thought he would lift the old man by the shoulders. No. He grabbed him by the head. I was shocked again. We dragged him onto the gurney.

He covered the patient with a sheet and said, “Come with me.”

We wheeled the man to the morgue. And put him in a refrigerator. I had a hard time sleeping that night.

In our fourth week I was promoted. My new job was exciting. Every morning I’d round up four patients from different wards. Go with them on the ferry to Boston. Hire a taxi. Take them here and there for specialized services not available on the island. At the end of the day, I’d take them back to the hospital.

On my fourth day all went well and I got my four back to our ferry dock early. One of my patients was a big guy. He walked with a cane. Was wearing a jacket. The big ferry from East Boston pulled it at the dock right next to ours.

The big guy said to me, “Hey, John, my brother is chief mate on that ferry. I’d love to go see him. He’d be tickled.”

I looked at my watch. “Can you be back in 20 minutes? Not a minute later?”

“Sure. Thanks!” And off he went, tap, tap, tapping with his cane.

I kept glancing at my watch. He got back at the last minute. Now he had his jacket draped over his free arm. Something didn’t look quite right.

On the ferry I got them settled below. We started. I went topside to enjoy the fresh air and the sights. Approaching the island I went below to get them. The SOB hadn’t gone to see his brother. He was swigging a bottle of wine. Had gone to a package store. When I tried to get the bottle, he started swinging at me with his cane. I barely managed not to get hit.

On the island, the story spread. I was demoted. The next day I was back on the ward. Damn!

Long Island Hospital was a good place. Its intentions were good. Patients, it seemed to me, were getting decent care. Medical care was minimal.

Many things happened that summer. As you see, good and not so good. One of the good parts was that I learned a lot about life. And about myself.

Back at Assumption I set a different course.

When Gil and I went back to Assumption for the upcoming semester, I dropped out of the pre-med program in favor of liberal arts. Gil became a dentist. I was thinking of journalism.

My senior year was a big year in big ways. One was that I graduated magna cum laude. Another was that through a blind date, I met Pauline. She was a junior at Annhurst College, also Catholic school, run by nuns, for girls who were daughters in French families like mine.

She was a beautiful girl. Smart girl. Fine girl. It was my very first date with a girl. It was her first date with a boy.

We attended the junior prom at Annhurst. And she was chosen prom queen! I was smitten. And she seemed to like me. In a flash we were in love. And in due time married. And we made it for 25 years.

But what happened was that over the years gradually but steadily I changed. She did not. She remained that very same fine person. But, yes, I changed a lot. In good ways mostly, not bad ways. But quite dramatically. And that changed the relationship. Strange but true. I’ll get around to explaining major ways I changed. Please be patient.

We have had three children. Never lost a child. Arthur, Monique, and Mark.  All very fine people. All have doctorates. All well married with fine spouses. We have five fine grandchildren. Can it be any better than that?

Time heals. Pauline and I are good friends. Speak often. This is the wiser way. I’m so grateful that this is the way it has worked out.

Now in old age I live here in California close to our loving daughter Monique. Now Pauline lives in Florida close to our loving son Arthur.

And if need be, we both know our loving son Mark would have us in a minute close to him in Wisconsin.

Pauline and I are both having birthdays this month. I will join in feting her, and she will join in feting me. How wonderful that is. And so is our son Mark. We’ll be feting him.

Another big change.

But there’s another long chapter in my life, and many of you are familiar with it. Twenty-five years ago I met Annabelle Williams from Newport Beach, California. She had signed up for one week.

Long story. It became serious. We never married. In my writings I always referred to her as Milady Annabelle.

Part of the year she lived with me in my corner of the country, and part of the year I lived with her in California.

She played a key role in all my major undertakings for many years, participating when possible, cheering from the sideline when not.

What made it good? I have a one-word answer: Compatibility.

She became gravely ill nearly three years ago, spent many months in hospice, and died in early March. She was 87.

Thanks to Monique and David, I was able to attend her memorial service and memorial reception. They were at my side.

I wrote about this in detail after her passing. If you are receiving this, I’m sure you received that.

ECCC — a happy chapter in my life.

When I retired, I heard of an interesting place in Connecticut, The Episcopal Camp and Conference Center. Operated by the Episcopal Church. ECCC offered nine different programs. They would attract 14,000 people a year.

A big one was offering interesting one-week programs for adults. You would take academic courses. Not for credit. Just for the pleasure of it. It was called Elderhostel. A national program offered in many parts of the country which has morphed into big Road Scholar. ECCC has given up Elderhostel.

You’d also have fun swimming and canoeing on its private lake. Hiking through its forest. Square dancing. Meeting interesting people. Going on escorted excursions in that beautiful and interesting corner of Connecticut.

I signed up for one week. Loved it. I returned as a volunteer, doing this and that, no pay, just room and board.  I got to teach a course. Then became director of its Elderhostel program. It changed my life. I worked there for some eight years, seven months a year, April through October.  Small salary. In the off months, I traveled a lot. More about this in a few minutes.

There was very little religion in its Elderhostel weeks. Just grace at meals. And an elective evening chapel program. Zero pressure to attend but just about everybody would show up, even Jewish people who had signed up for the week.

I conducted the service three evenings a week. No way could I give a conventional homily. I talked about things that would be uplifting and meritorious, free of deep religious context.

My ping pong talk was typical. It went like this: True story, I enjoyed playing ping pong with Elderhostelers. In one game, I hit a ball so hard that I dented it. And picked up another.

“John,” my opponent said. “It’s easy to fix. No need to toss it.”


“All I need is hot water.”

I was curious. Took him into the kitchen. He drew a pan of very hot water. Tossed in the dented ball. In a minute or two, the dent disappeared.  It was as good as new.

In my talk, I’d conclude thus:  “In that game, both of us saw that dented ball. I saw failure. He saw hope. And proved me wrong.” And I’d whip that perfect ball out of my pocket and flash it. “The lesson is, Never give up hope!” People would applaud.

What was amusing is that I more than once I got a letter addressed by Elderhostelers to say thank you when they returned home. Letters addressed to Rev. John LaPlante or Father John LaPlante.

The director of ECCC was a remarkable man named Andrew Katsanis. He took the job as a young man right out of divinity school. It was just another so-so summer camp. Transformed it brilliantly. Ran it for 34 years – his life’s work. I am still in touch with him.

That was an adventure. One of fun, fellowship, and friendship. Marvelous.

And that’s where I met Annabelle Williams – Milady Annabelle. In fact, she would play the piano at our chapel services.

Anyway, I left Elderhostel when I turned 70. I loved the place and the job but it was time.

That set the stage for my years in Connecticut.

All that was in a beautiful and comfortable corner of the state. That’s how I became a resident of Connecticut, buying a condo nearby in the delightful town of Deep River.

Deep River was wonderful for me in a number of ways. For one thing, I became active in the local Rotary Club. In fact, was made a Paul Harris Fellow, named for the founder. Not a small honor. But that’s a long story in itself.

What’s been driving me all these years.

Now finally about the line of work that has really been up my alley these many years. That I have enjoyed since Day I, and that I still enjoy to this day.

I have told you that at Assumption I was thinking of becoming a doctor, changed my mind, and began thinking of journalism. Ma took all that very badly. Pa, too.

In my final semester at Assumption, I took the Graduate Record Exam, and on the basis of that I was accepted by both Clark University in Worcester, a very fine university, and by Brown University in Providence.

I chose Brown because it was an Ivy League university and I could live at home and commute to classes. I’d take courses mostly in economics but also in history and political science and get a master’s.  An Assumption prof told me that would be a smart thing to do for a budding journalist. Told me that in just 10 minutes or so.

Brown had a weekly student newspaper, The Herald. Although I was a graduate student, I wrangled a job and became the layout editor. No pay, of course but I learned.

As a graduate student I was not allowed a grade lower than B. I took a mandatory course in statistics. Totally based on calculus. Statistics is the branch of math that is a basic tool for economists

Well, at Assumption I had taken calculus. It followed arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, which we all took. But I was sick when the calculus course started, missed classes for a week, never caught up.

The Brown professor gave me a C for the statistics course. That was it. Goodbye, Brown! So humiliating. But please remember I had no intention of becoming an economist.

By the way, if I had been a Brown undergrad, my performance of half A’s and the rest B’s except for that one damn C would have been deemed very respectable indeed.

I fit right in at BU.

Anyway I went on as planned to Boston University for a graduate degree in journalism. Which was my career ambition, as you know. Brown did not offer journalism.

I was in my true element there.  Was scoring high. In one course a Pulitzer Prize editorial writer at the Boston Globe was teaching us how to write editorials. One week he assigned a topic and we each submitted another editorial.

“Where is Mr. LaPlante?” he said at the next class. I put up my hand.

“Congratulations, Mr. LaPlante! Yours is the best.”

Wow! But I’m sure one reason mine was the best resulted from what I had learned at Brown in economics and political science.

Oh, in a course on feature writing, the professor told us to write one. I loved photography. One summer I worked taking pictures of little kids and selling the pictures to their Moms. And I wrote that up and sold it to a magazine called “Profitable Hobbies.” My first free-lance sale — $34, I believe it was.

And I still had a specific ambition. It was to own, edit, and publish my very own weekly newspaper.

Oh, back at BU I had read of a small newspaper which was publishing “offset,” a technological breakthrough. And instead of using a huge, expensive Linotype Machine, operated by men after a long apprenticeship, it used a small, relatively inexpensive Varityper. It was just a bit larger than a typewriter. And anyone who could type could learn to use it quick. I was good at typing.

And lo! A nearby business equipment store was selling Varitypers and offered free lessons. I’d go after class for an hour every day. I got good on a Varityper. As you’ll see, this paid off in due time.

And Pa and Ma paid for much of that education and preparation. To say it once more, how fortunate I have been.

The truth is that this line of work, writing, although enjoyable and truly fulfilling, has never made me wealthy. But I found ways to supplement it. Today I have zero financial concerns.

Over the years, one thing I have noticed is that many people get into a line of work that they indeed enjoy. It pays well. May give them prestige. Maybe as a doctor, businessman, lawyer, scientist, or in some other fine field. Then retire. They are glad they chose that line of work. But they never do it again. I’ve never stopped writing. These days, I don’t make a penny from my writing.

Now let me give you a better idea of the ways writing has shaped my life.

First, right after I got my Master’s in journalism at Boston University I landed a job on a small weekly newspaper, The Thomaston Express in the town of that name in Connecticut. In fact, I was the editor of it.

That happened because of a professor who got to know me and had faith in me. His name was Evan Hill. Enormously talented as a teacher, a journalist, and a writer.

For one thing, he wrote freelance articles for some of our leading national magazines. He went on to become the founding dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Connecticut.

We had a spring vacation coming up. Professor Hill told me he had a former student who owned a weekly newspaper in Amherst, Mass. Home of the U. of Massachusetts, by the way. He told me that this young friend and his wife would give me room and board and give me writing assignments. And I did that. That was long before work – study programs.

And that’s how I decided I’d like to have a small weekly someday. I was young and idealistic.  I felt that a good, strong weekly can make good things happen in a small town. Which is wonderful, I still think to this day

Well, Professor Hill also knew the publisher of the Thomaston Gazette. His name was Del. And he knew Del was looking for a new young editor. Del liked young editors because they were cheap.

They would break in at his Gazette, then jump to a bigger paper.

Well, on Professor Hill’s recommendation, sight unseen, Del hired me.

Del was paying me $50 a week. Pauline and I were getting serious.  I was living in a boarding house. Eating cheese sandwiches for lunch. Trying to save a few dollars. He promised me a significant raise in 12 months if I did a good job.

I worked hard. Was covering the bigger stories. Was producing a feature story every week—a first on the Gazette. Even a weekly column. Gave the paper a bright new look.

One week a hurricane hit. Streets were flooded. Big factory closed.  I worked day and night covering that. Pauline happened to be visiting. She saw the passion I was putting into the job.

Came the end of the year. Del was pleased. I saw that. Every week he’d treat me to a pricey lunch at the White Fence Inn, the nicest restaurant in the area.

I expected my $50 would be doubled to $100. He gave me a $5 raise. I was shocked. What a cheapskate!

I learned more than I expected to at the Gazette.  For instance, those fancy lunches. The White Fence Inn would run a nice ad in the Gazette every week. But would pay not in cash, but in free meals, which Del could use any way he wanted to, such as to dine and wine a potential big advertiser. Or impress an editor still wet behind the ears.

But I had an ace up my sleeve. There was a weekly newspaper in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, That was just a few miles from Pawtucket, where I grew up.

I see a big opportunity.

That weekly was The Star in Woonsocket, R.I., close to my hometown of Pawtucket. But Woonsocket had a successful daily newspaper, The Call. The Star was failing. It was up for sale. Easy to understand why.

Well, here I saw my dream of owning a weekly coming through. My big chance!

Pa had become a successful businessman. Was doing great. I told him about The Star. He had grave doubts. Understandably so. But I convinced him. And Pa made it happen. He put me in business.

I knew The Star could not survive as an ordinary weekly. I changed it into a picture / feature weekly. Nowadays a type common all over the United States, but which did not exist back then. I renamed it The Sunday Star

I was 26 years old. I had no real advertising experience. Well, I managed to hire an expert. Don, age 54. Twice my age. He had been selling ads for 30 years.

He saw tremendous potential in my fresh concept of The Sunday Star. But what was terrific was that he would sell on a straight commission basis. Terrific!

I put together a small staff. Just five of us. A gal setting type on my brand-new Varitype machine (! ! !). A paste-up artist putting the pages together. A Gal Friday who was secretary, bookkeeper, whatever. A young fellow who did this and that. And Don was out hustling. Started bringing in ads, big ads and little ads. It was wonderful.

I worked hours and hours. Gave the paper a whole new look.

I met a young guy who flew a plane and towed advertising banners. I made a deal with him. I would write a feature about his fascinating business and publish it with half a dozen photos. He would fly a banner over the city until he nearly ran out of gas.

My new jazzed-up edition would come out on Easter Sunday. His banner would say “Sunday Star Reborn Today.” So appropriate. It was the maximum number of letters he could tow. And he did that. A beautiful blue-sky day. Anybody looking up got to see it. I was very proud of that. Still am.

I would have The Sunday Star printed every Friday by a big local offset printer. “Offset” was new technology back then. For one thing, you could print better pictures, cheaper, too

Hired a guy with a truck to deliver copies to stops all through Woonsocket for the weekend. Weeks were going by. I would bill for the ads but no checks were coming on.

I was living at home with Pa and Ma and commuting the 17 miles to Woonsocket. Pa was giving me a personal weekly allowance.

And of course Pa was covering the rent, the electric bill, the phone bill, the payroll, the printer, everything. He was upbeat. But started asking lots of questions. His smiles were drying up. He was chafing. Who wouldn’t be? I wasn’t sleeping well.

Then the truth dawned. Don had been conning me. He’d go to an advertiser, offer free ads as a starter, and guarantee they would be a good investment. And he’d keep me in the dark about that.

The business the ads brought the advertiser was not enough. There has to be continuity for advertising to work.

After five months, the game was up. That was the death of The Sunday Star. I felt I got hit by a brick.

Failure hits me again.

It was a huge humiliation for me. One more. Pauline and I had become very serious, so doubly humiliating in that way. But she stuck by me. An enormous disappointment for Pa. In fact, it plunged him into a deep depression. Poor Pa! I felt a ton of guilt. Rightfully so

He had done all that because he loved me. Had confidence in me. But, sad to say, it had been a gross mistake on his part. He was a sharp businessman. He should have seen I was not qualified. Had zero business experience. He should have said No!

Some six or seven months went by. I was still living at home. Being supported by Pa and Ma again. No income. Thinking of myself as a balloon that had lost most of its air.

Applying to newspapers. A lot of tension. A lot of pressure. I worried Pauline would ditch me. She stood by me.

One day my Aunt Bernadette said she was going to Worcester to see a friend. Invited me for the ride. Might do me good. In Worcester, we went by the offices of the big Worcester Telegram & Gazette. I got excited. Explained. She dropped me off. I went into the T & G. Applied for a job. A week later was hired as a correspondent. That was the first rung on the ladder there

Dear Aunt Bernadette!

And Pauline was so happy, too.

I was back in the very city Assumption College was in. I had been reading the T & G at the college. I knew the city well, which was good.

The T & G was a morning, afternoon, and Sunday combo. Typical of many big newspapers across the country. In fact, the T & G was on the list of our 100 biggest papers, close to the bottom, but on that prestigious list. There were 1,600 dailies back then.

It took more than 800 people to put out those three papers.

The T & G became a long chapter for me.

Yes, I started as a correspondent in Athol, a small town 50 miles from Worcester at the very western edge of the county.

Steve Preston, my bureau chief, said nice words about my work. Said those words to editors in Worcester also. A good guy. He was old enough to be my dad, by the way.

I started free-lancing on the side for the T & G’s magazine, Feature Parade. Some big Sunday papers bought a nationally syndicated magazine and just printed their own name at the top of the front page. Quite a few still do.

But the Sunday Telegram published its own magazine. Very good. It was estimated 200,000 would at least glance at it on a Sunday.

It had its own editor, assistant editor, two full-time writers, a make-up artist, and a photographer.  But it bought additional articles, mostly from T & G staffers who would produce them on their own time.

I enjoyed writing features more than reporting news stories.  They had more heft. Were more challenging, in my opinion. So I began scouting possible feature stories, writing them up, and submitting them to Feature Parade.

The editor, Mr. Frederick C. Rushton (I still remember!), snapped them up. That was a great vitamin for my ego. And I liked the extra money.

The features had to be illustrated with photos. I was a good photographer but did not have a professional camera. Steve had a big Speed Graphic, which was standard in the industry. A museum camera now.

He would let me use it for my news stories, but my features also. Mr. Rushton would use three or four to go with one of my stories. He’d pay $3 per. I’d give Steve $1.50 for each for letting me use his camera.

By the way, I was boarding at the Athol YMCA, just a block from our office. Not fancy but affordable. I had weekends off.

I had a car now, again thanks to Pa. On Saturday morning I would drive 80 miles to visit Pauline at home in Putnam, Conn. Stay at a hotel there on Saturday night, $3. No way would her mom and dad let me stay and sleep on the couch. Improper! I’d go to Mass with her on Sunday morning, have dinner with her and her parents, go out for a ride with her after that, then in the evening drive the 80 miles back to Athol.

After six months or so I got promoted. A big promotion. I was thrilled. I was made the bureau chief in another section of the county. Just like Steve Preston.

In charge of two full-time correspondents and four or five stringers. I was now making $80 a week. But I was still writing on the side for Feature Parade.

Then I got transferred to another section of the county. One day I wrote a news story that made the front page of the Telegram. All editions. My first. A big deal.

I make Page 1 all editions for the first time.

I covered Town Hall in the town of Whitinsville. One evening I covered a meeting of the Town Finance Committee. Present were just the committee members plus half a dozen citizens and me. E. Kent Swift – I still remember his name!—was chairman.

He was president and chairman of the Whitinsville Machine Works, big, big factory, a great many employees, national reputation. A big man. The committee had been considering the town budget for the new fiscal year.

He handed out copies to everybody, including ordinary citizens, but not me. I stood up and asked him for a copy. He refused me. He knew I was covering the meeting for the T&G. Well, his refusing to go public was my lead paragraph in the report I immediately wrote and wired to the Telegram.

It was a two-column headline on Page 1 the next morning. My first time on Page 1, all editions. Of course, I got copies and cut out my report to send to Pa and Ma and Pauline and Aunt Bernadette. Even Del back at the Thomaston Express. And saved copies for myself.

The T & G had a monthly in-house paper it mailed to all 800 employees, “The Gossiper.” I made the front page on the next issue. I clipped that out, too.

I would call Pauline one evening every week. From a telephone booth, depositing coins. One day she told me the pastor of St. Mary’s Church had told her he would marry us on August. 18! Wonderful news. I went to work with increased energy.

Fortuitously at that very time, I got a call from Mr. Francis Murphy (Frank), managing editor of the Worcester Telegram. None of us ever called him Frank. It was always Mister Murphy.

He told me there was an opening for a writer on Feature Parade. Did I want it?  I said yes!  Mr. Rushton, the magazine’s editor, had recommended me.

Now consider the following. The Telegram was the morning paper. Its reporters would work from 3 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Some would work Saturdays and Sundays. Some on Christmas and the Fourth of July. Some with a working spouse…teacher or secretary or such … would rarely get to see her. Their school children either.

On Feature Parade I worked Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. I proposed and wrote one feature story a week. Also did a few chores, such as editing the weekly food column. How wonderful!

I did stories all over Massachusetts and even central New England.  I would suggest them to Mr. Rushton.  All dailies within a hundred miles or so would swap papers. They’d pile up on a table on Mr. Murphy’s office. I’d check them every week. Prospecting for good stories.

I interviewed Scientists. Actors, Politicians. Beauty queens.  Business men. Authors (one was Evan Hill, my prof back at B.U., who by then was selling pieces to the Saturday Evening Post and such.) Fascinating work.

I’d phone them, arrange an interview, drive to wherever, come back, write my draft. Submit it to Mr. Rushton. He’d edit it. Make a suggestion or two.

Then I’d go back with our photographer. He’d take many photos, including some in color (new technology back then) as a possible cover photo. Sometimes he’d use multiple flash. I’d assist him with that.

At the same time I’d check with my interviewee to verify important facts, double-check everything, maybe pick up additional good info.

An interesting detail. I would use my car for the initial interview. The Telegram would pay my mileage and such. On the second trip, with the photographer, in his car. He wanted the mileage.

I wrote many cover stories. I reveled in the work. I’d save copies of everything of mine that Feature Parade published. I now have a bound volume with all my articles. It’s seven inches thick. Weighs pounds.  I have another, nearly as hefty, of my work as FP editor.

Being a staff writer on the magazine was the most varied and interesting reporting and writing on those three newspapers, in my opinion.

Pauline and I got married and rented an apartment in small Webster (4,000 people), where I had been bureau chief for that whole area of the county.

She got a job teaching at the town elementary school. Our son Arthur was born there. Also our daughter Monique. Things were going well.

I find new opportunities.

While on Feature Parade, again I found ways to beef up my take-home.  Pauline and I had taken up camping. It was inexpensive, wholesome, lots of fun. Equipment was getting better. State parks had campgrounds, but more private camp grounds were opening. Family camping was really catching on. We loved it. A big organization was thriving, NEFCA, the New England Family Camping Association.

One day I went to see Mr. Murphy again, our managing editor. Told him all this. Suggested a weekly column. He liked the idea.

He said, “But who will write it?”

“I will.” He said okay. My work week ended at 5 on Friday. I would stay at my desk and write my column. It was called “Camps and Camping.”  I had researched and interviewed for the column during that week.

I wrote it for 10 years without missing a Sunday. I wrote some 500 columns. One week I was in the hospital for something. I wrote it from my hospital bed.

One year I was the guest speaker at NEFCA’s annual convention. They gave me an award for promoting family camping as a fine and wonderful and commendable family activity. I still have that impressive plaque.

Oh, in covering those small towns, I saw a lot going on. For instance, big changes. In those small towns, in their early years, there was more interest in the town itself. More people would attend the annual town meeting, when big decisions got made.

Of late, some towns were having a hard time achieving a quorum. What to do? They’d have the fire chief blow the very loud firehouse whistle. Everybody could hear that. It meant, “Come vote!”

Well, I wrote that up and mailed it on spec to The Nation Magazine. A national magazine! The editor bought it. As you may know, The Nation publishes to this very day.

The Sunday Telegram also had a section called “House and Home.” Big papers still publish such a section. Every week, Nick Zook, the editor, would run a feature about a nice home on the front page, with a jump to an inside page. I produced many for him.

I’d find an interesting home, call the owners (some did not want the publicity), go look at it on my time off and turn my story in to Nick. He’d send a photographer to shoot a lay-out. That paid me $30 per.

Pauline and I had been thinking of owning our own home. We had been apartment tenants.  In fact, having one built. Yes, things were getting better. We had bought a one-acre lot in Auburn, very nice nearby town. Out in the country. Fresh air. A nice view. Pauline had started teaching in Auburn.

One day I toured an attractive home. The owner surprised me. Said, “This is a HILCO Home.”

“HILCO Home! What’s that?”

“Hog Island Lumber Company in Philadelphia. They build components of the house in a factory, then deliver them to your lot on a big truck. They have a catalog of plans. And a free architectural service. You can choose the plan and style you like best, then make changes. No extra charge.”

I told Pauline about that the minute I got home. Called the company. Asked for the name of local buyers. We visited three, asked a lot of questions, liked the answers. Bought a HILCO home and erected it in Auburn. More difficult than expected. That’s a long story, too. But with a happy ending.

“Have a nice photo taken of yourself.” 

Anyway I was very busy. Finding writing jobs that would fatten our savings account, and enjoying the work.

Fred Rushton, our editor, became ill. I sat in for him for nine months. No extra money. One morning with no pre-announcement he returned to work. I was astonished.  A month later, ill again. Out four months that time. I edited the magazine again. Felt I was making significant improvements. No raise in pay.

One day Mr. Forrest Seymour, a Pulitzer Prize winner who was our editor-in-chief, called and asked me to come up to his office on the fourth floor. The top floor of our building. Most of the executives were up there.

He said to me, “John, go down to the photo department and have them take a nice picture. We’re going to run it Sunday to announce you’re the new editor of Feature Parade.”

This was big news I was hoping for. I’d get a raise! But I didn’t want to seem crass. I did not ask how much. I said, “Mr. Seymour, does this mean and I can take Pauline out for a fine dinner?”

“By all means, John, you do that with her. Yes, do that.”

I was being paid weekly, at the end of the week. But now I’d be paid monthly, at the beginning of the month. Also I might get a bonus at Christmas.

I wondered about the new pay set-up. Getting paid in advance. Finally I asked another editor. He said, “John, haven’t you figured it out?  This way you can’t just up and resign. You have to announce you’re quitting, but still have to work a full month afterward. This way they have time to plan and adjust.”

Finally I got my first new paycheck. I didn’t want to open the envelope in public. I went to the men’s room. My raise was a mere $20 a week!  Appalling. Immediately I thought of Del back at the Thomaston Express.

And I was feeling I was as high as I was going to go at the T & G for a while. This although finally I was on the executive payroll at the T & G.

And I had a bad feeling. Then as now, my profession of journalism, as important as it was and is, paid terribly.  What to do?

I make a huge career change.

One Monday morning I got a call from Assumption College, my alma mater. I had been teaching an evening course there two evenings a week. But the call was not about that.

Father Babineau, the director of planning, said to me, “John, we’re growing.”  Which I knew.  “We need a director of public relations. PR people are going in to see you all the time to peddle stories. Could you recommend a couple?”

“Sure, Father. Be glad to. I’ll call you in a couple of days.”

I followed through.

“Father, I have the ideal candidate for you.  He knows PR, he knows the Worcester area, and he knows a lot about Assumption.”

“Who’s that?” I could hear his excitement.


And it happened.  I had been at the T & G for more than a dozen years. I gave my one-month notice and started in the next phase of my career.

I was there four years. I wrote and placed news releases. Started and produced the college magazine. Planned, designed, wrote and produced brochures and booklets. Was promoted to director of institutional development, which oversaw fund-raising and  I developed other ideas.

For instance, for Assumption’s 50th anniversary, I wrote, illustrated, and designed a special tabloid section for publication in the Sunday Telegram.  That got real attention.

My income jumped sharply. I had a one-month vacation instead of just two weeks. Free tuition for my children. Qualified for a fifty-fifty TIAA CREF retirement account (from which for many years to this day I have received a monthly check), enjoyed the work, and felt I was doing significant work. But it didn’t have the fun and excitement of my newspaper work.

One summer, enthusiastic about traveling and camping, I arranged for Pauline and me and Pa and Ma to tour a good chunk of western Europe in a small RV I rented in England. Wonderful adventure.

Back at work at Assumption, I wrote a five-Sunday series that got published in the T & G and also the Providence Sunday Journal.

Excellent though Assumption was, deep down I was bothered. I had failed in business — The Sunday Star. But I had a vision of another business– a public relations and publications consultancy.

I bounced it off Pauline. Very hesitantly. She could have said don’t be foolish. You have a good job. A prestigious job. Solid retirement plan. Free college tuition for the kids. All of which was true. So, steady as you go. But she gave me her blessing.

At age 42 I start business No. 2.

I started the business, at home, to economize. Alone.  It grew. I hired a secretary. Eventually I had a staff of five full-time in a very nice new office. John Guy LaPlante Associates, 5 State Street, Worcester, Massachusetts

Developed an excellent clientele. Ten or eleven hospitals, including a psychiatric hospital. A junior college. A Catholic prep school. Two public school systems. A very large nursing home. A couple of banks. Other businesses. Ran the business 16 years. I had two which remained my clients all those years.

One of my clients was a general medical / surgical hospital. It planned to morph into something new, a specialized hospital for alcohol and drug therapy and recovery. The president liked my ideas.  Invited me to become director of marketing. Urged me to come on board.

My three kids weren’t interested in my business – all became professionals. I was getting older. I said okay. Sold my business. Well, that hospital marketing job, so promising, fizzled. There were poisonous cliques. I was happy to leave after some 18 months.

I was in my sixties. That started my retirement. But I never retired in the conventional meaning of the word. I went on to new ventures.

As I look back, I see my life as a succession of adventures. I never intended it to be that. But that’s what my life turned out to be. But what is an adventure?

Well, here’s my definition. An adventure is an undertaking that stands a very good chance of success. That’s why we undertake it. But also a risk of failure. Serious failure.

Many attempts of mine have been successful adventures. The hospital marketing job was an adventure that turned sour.

The Sunday Star.  The T & G. Assumption College. John Guy LaPlante Associates. These were all successful adventures.

But this mini autobiography is getting far longer than expected. I have much more to tell you more. I’ll make things shorter, if you don’t mind.

What is wonderful is how books have changed my life. When I was in prep school, I read “Robinson Crusoe.” You’re probably familiar. Wonderful fiction.

Robinson, a sailor from England, gets marooned on a small tropical island. He’s totally alone there. He salvages stuff off his beached ship, slowly makes a life for himself, learns how to do this and that, years go by, discovers there’s another man there, a black man named Friday, more years go by, gets rescued and returns to England.

What an engrossing tale. What wowed me was how he persevered, how he used his wits, how he learned to do new things, how he never got discouraged, how he coped.

When I finished the book, I was a new boy. A better boy. I was inspired.

Numerous books have had a great impact on me.

On the side I start business No. 3.

At this time I came upon a new book, “How to Make a Million Dollars in Your Spare Time.” Buying and managing income properties. Sad that I don’t recall the author. I liked the idea of making a million. As busy as I was, I could squeeze out some spare time.

Following his instructions. I bought a six-unit apartment house and learned the business.  One time, at auction, I bought a hundred-year-old brick building, four floors, boarded up, It was just across the street from the side of the huge and majestic Worcester County Courthouse. I saw potential.

With the aid of a talented architect I converted it into nine condos.  A new concept back then. The one on the street floor became a new office for me. The one above became a lawyer’s office. Still is.

The neighborhood had been slipping. The building turned out to be very handsome. My project re-energized the neighborhood. At one time beautiful maples lined State Street. All gone. I got new ones planted.

Curious? You can take a look.  Google 5 State St., Worcester, MA.

Another time I bought a two-story building, added a third floor, and converted it into six condos. In time I had 27 units. That was an adventure.

Yes, I’ve had some successes. But my greatest success was one I never mention. Only a few people who knew me long ago, such as my children, are aware of it.

My success was inspired by another book.

When I was a young man, I was obese, very obese, to the point that I was declared 4F (un-usable) during the massive drafting of recruits for the Korean War.

The day came when I finally was able to lose that massive weight. And keep it off. The book was a 25-cent paperback, “Eat and Reduce by Dr. Victor Lindlahr.  Not “Starve and Reduce!” Without a doubt, the most important book that I have ever read, and I have read many, many.

Dr. Lindlahr told me how to do it. Made me feel I could do it. Assured me I could do it. And I did it. I lost nearly a hundred pounds. Yes, that has been my greatest achievement.

But somehow, mysteriously, deep down I am embarrassed, ashamed, about that painful time in my life. I’ve kept it mum.

I should gloat about my success, give talks about it, convince others by publicizing my experience that if I could do it, they can, too.

I should have written a book about it. I’m an expert on the subject.

I’ve never been to a psychiatrist. I should have long ago, to try to understand my shame, my hesitation. Not a pill psychiatrist. A talk psychiatrist.

I still have Dr. Lindlahr’s book on my bookshelf. To repeat, my most important read ever. He was not an M.D., by the way. He was an osteopath.

Yes, I have had big adventures.

Traveling around the world with a buddy for my 75th birthday was one. It took us a full year just to get the necessary visas. We started by flying to Japan. He quit after three weeks. How could I go on alone? Seemed impossible. But I did it. I completed that whole great, big, trip. That was an adventure.

Then taking a trip to a dozen Asian countries. My sister Lucie, wonderful gal that she is, accompanied me more than half way, to Bangkok. That was decided before we started. She had an event back home she couldn’t miss. That was an adventure.

Joining the Peace Corps at age 77 and flying off to Ukraine for 27 months, and having to study Russian (I was such a lousy student that I thought Peace Corps would send me home). And then at age 80 becoming the oldest Volunteer of some 7,000 in 75 countries around the world when 20 percent of Volunteers were quitting and coming home early, well, that definitely was an adventure.

You know, planning and writing and publishing a book by yourself is a daunting job. Most authors have an editor and assistants and often a consultant.

As mentioned, I have built a house. Well, I believe that writing and publishing a substantial book is more work than building a house.

Yes, writing a book is an adventure. I have had three such adventures: My “Around the World at 75, Alone. Dammit!” My “Around Asia in 80 Days, Oops, 83!” And my “27 Months in the Peace Corps, My Story Unvarnished.”

Why did I say “Oops, 83!” in the title of my Asia book?  Someone, I don’t remember who, went around the world in 80 days. I thought we could do Asia in 80 days. Oops, I miscalculated.

For the record, I have written another book, my very first, about our family camping experiences. Not published. Could not find a publisher.

Also another “Doctor, Help!” I began it 15 years ago. A detailed account of my experiences with doctors and hospitals and such over the years. Put aside half-finished because of other pressing priorities. Never resumed. So, a failure, you might say.

Certainly my travels over the years have been remarkable. Consider. I have been to all 50 states, some numerous times, some many times. I have been to 8 of the 10 provinces of Canada. And to Quebec and Ontario numerous times.

I have been to all the countries of Europe with the exception of the three Scandinavian countries up top. Some several times.  To France 10 times.

Mexico four or five times (during two summers I drove alone 15,000 miles through the country, up and down and from the Pacific to the Caribbean).

I have been to China four times. India twice. Brazil twice. To five countries in Africa, from Egypt and Morocco at the top right down to South Africa. Also the island of Cyprus. Also the Bahamas.

Of course I have had some scary moments. Have been robbed a few times. Was knocked flat on my face on a busy street by a drunk one frigid night in Ukraine. On a train in India – the only non-Indian aboard. I believe — I feared for my life. But here I am hale and hearty

Yes, these extensive travels, most of them alone, were an adventure. There were genuine risks.

One of the big lessons they have taught me is that most people in the world, of whatever race, religion, citizenship, or type of society, meaning capitalist, socialist, or communist, are good people.

Oh, I did tell you I have changed. Remember?

Not in bad ways. In good ways. Well, so I believe. Not because I was dazzled by a vision or hit by lightning. It has been a process.

How have I changed? Well, I grew up Catholic. I went to Mass every morning for years. Slowly I began questioning some dogmas. Today I think of myself as an agnostic.

I have two dear friends I went to school with years ago. They are priests. Good priests. This will be a shock to them. I’m sorry about that.

Again a book inspired me. It was John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley.”  Charley was his poodle. He bought himself a pickup camper, quite new back in 1960. And set off on a road trip all around the United States. His wife declined, so he took Charley.

On Saturdays he would pull into a campground, make friends with his neighbors and chat.

On Sunday morning he’d go to a nearby church. Just about any church, but of a different denomination every Sunday. Just to observe and learn.

I decided to do the same thing in my travels. I hit many churches. Did the same thing with Milady Annabelle later. She grew up Presbyterian. Her father and one of her grandfathers were Presbyterian ministers.

She enjoyed the variety of churches we checked out as much as I did.

In my travels in other countries I did the same thing now and then.

I’ve attended services in churches of just about every Christian denomination, even the Salvation Army – my latest has been our local Seventh Day Adventist church. Nice people. Vegetarians, by the way.

I’ve also attended services in a synagogue, mosque, temple, some more than once.

Going to church is a nice thing to do. People feel uplifted, whatever the creed. Feel a heartening togetherness.  Go home feeling good.

As for me, if I decided to become a regular, I believe I would choose the U-U’s – The Unitarian Universalists (Wikipedia!).

Here’s another 180-degree change in my thinking.

I have come to believe something that I never thought I would believe some years back.

I believed that we are born and we live our life and die when the time comes.

Now my thinking goes as follows.

Every day we make countless decisions. What to wear. What’s the first project at work. Where to go for lunch. What TV show to watch in the evening. And so on.

And as time goes on, big decisions. Where to go to college. What to major in. What first job to accept. Whom to marry. How many kids to have. On and on and on. All through life.

True of you, me, people all over the world.

So why can’t we make the most important decision of all? Which is when to die? That never comes up because it is so far-fetched, so outlandish. Many religions do not permit it. It’s a sin. We have no tradition of it. It goes against our culture. It is stigmatized.

I believe I have the right to decide. I believe you have the right.

I believe it can be a wise decision. Dying can be such a long and nasty process. Dying can be so expensive. Dying can be so hard on loved ones who have to take care of you until your last breath.

I know of two people who have checked out. In an easy and undramatic way.

One was Scott Nearing, an author I admired (Wikipedia!) He turned 100. Decided it was time. Went to bed. Stopped eating, but took water. He died in a month, his wife Helen holding his hand.

Another was an old Jain nun in India when I toured the country with my two Jain friends. (More about this in a minute.}  We visited her in a convent. She was in bed, very frail, but aware. A nun was sitting at her side, reading to her. The old nun was doing exactly what Scott Nearing did. People thought that was admirable.

I have no intention of taking my life. But who knows?

On this subject I have a little story I tell. Total fiction. It never happened. It goes like this.

I run into an old friend, Harry. And he says to me, “John, did you hear the awful thing that happened to Sam?”

“Sam?! What happened to Sam?”

“My God. A massive attack! The poor guy didn’t even make it to the hospital! And he was only 84 years old!”

Know what I think? Too bad. But that’s not a bad way to go.  May be perfect. Sam’s future might have been difficult indeed.

Another great change in my thinking.

Like most of you, I grew up eating beef and chicken and pork, but not fish. Pa and Ma did not eat much fish.

When I was 15 or so, I had a traumatic experience. Long story. I will keep it short.

Pa drove up to Quebec to visit his family and took me with him. They were farmers. They depended on that farm for all necessities to get them through the year.

Well, among their livestock was one great big hog. I loved that hog.

One morning I walked down to the barn and was totally shocked to see what was going on.

Pa was there with my grandpa and uncle Armand. Working hard.

They had taken my hog out of its pen and had tied a rope to its rear hooves. Had pulled it up high on a pole. Its head was down by my grandfather’s chest. It was squealing. Screeching for its life. Terrified. Grandma must have heard it up at the house.

Grandpa took a big knife and slit its throat. Blood started pouring into a bucket on the ground. Uncle Armand took the bucket up to my grandma. She had her big cast iron stove ready. She was going to make blood sausage.

Grandpa took his big knife and slit my hog’s stomach. All its entrails spilled out.

It was just awful.

What I didn’t realize was that they depended on that hog to get through the coming winter. One hog every year. I learned that long later.

That was the start of my becoming vegetarian.

Many years later I went to India for seven weeks with Sulekh and his wife Ravi, who were dear friends. They were Indians (Jains / Jainism is an ancient religion akin to Buddhism) going back for a visit. Total vegetarians based on their religious belief in “ahimsa,” absolute non-violence. Do not hurt any living thing! So I also had to be vegetarian for those seven weeks. It was either that or go hungry.

That clinched it for me. I got to like the food they were eating. And I liked the idea of not hurting any animals.

I am the only vegetarian in my family. They do not hold it against me although I am sure they find it strange.

Being a vegetarian is an excellent idea. A huge and proven benefit is that it’s a very healthful diet. It’s one reason I am doing so well at ninety.

Going vegetarian has been a great adventure.

I’ve changed in other ways also. And for the better.

Well, while I’m at it I’ll tell you about other beliefs that have surfaced in me and changed my lifestyle. You might call them core beliefs.

One is that a lot of people want the best of anything and everything. The best this and the best that. Even if they have to scrimp and save to get it. Even if they have to borrow.

I sometimes want the best, too. Years ago I was hot into photography. I was frantic to own a Leica M3 camera, the famous German camera that was the best 35 mm. camera in the world. Pricey, of course. I scraped up and bought one. But second-hand. Didn’t have the money for a new one.

But my splurging like that is quite rare.

Much wiser as a way of life, I think, is to settle for what’s good enough. Because purchasing “what’s good enough” is good enough. It makes for greater happiness.

Here’s another. Pay cash. Yes, as a rule of life. I learned that early.

Pauline and I were engaged. Her birthday was coming up. What to buy her? I bought her a complete set of Farberware pots and pans. Quite new back then. Practical, un-romantic me.

But I didn’t have the cash. I bought the set $5 down, $5 per month at an extreme rate of interest. I scrimped and saved and paid the balance in 30 days. That lesson endures to this day. (I believe Pauline still has some of those Farberware pieces. She knows how to make good things last!}

Of course I have borrowed money at times. Mortgages for real estate, for instance.

Well, I’ve had a Visa MasterCard for 27 years. I use it for big purchases and small ones. Use it every day, even just to buy a cup of coffee. It’s easier than using money. To the best of my memory, I have not spent a dime on interest in all these 27 years. That’s another of the things that make me sleep better.

Another belief is to take calculated risks. Notice, I said calculated. Because if you’ve really pondered it, there’s a good chance that you will succeed. If not, you will learn an important thing or two. And that will serve you well.

Another is, don’t be afraid of strangers. Everybody is a stranger until you say Hi.

Here’s one more. I have found that the great majority of people all over the world, regardless of color, race, religion, or nationality, are good people. The chance of somebody harming you is small.

Travel!  As much as you can. It’s very important. Travel is educational in countless ways. It will broaden your mind. Give you a broader view.  Will teach you so much. About other peoples and where they live, how they live, what they believe in, how they rule themselves.  Besides that, it’s fun.

To get the most of it, you have to live at their level. Stay in low-budget places. My first choices have always been hostels. You meet more people. Learn so much more. Make new friends

Eat in restaurants they eat in. Do not isolate yourself in a room on the 14h floor of a deluxe hotel and eat in its 4-star dining room, with the chambermaid and the doorman the only locals you’ll get to have a word with.

So at age 90, what is my life like now?

Well, I live alone in this nice, small city of Morro Bay (11,000 people) on California’s Central Coast where there is no ice or snow and no 90 degree summer days.

I live in a mobile home in a mobile home park restricted to people 55 and older. It’s called Morro Palms Mobile Park (we have palm trees). No children here.

There are eight or nine mobile home parks hereabouts. This is the very nicest, by any standard.  Including location, location, location. It’s convenient to everything important to me

I never imagined I’d live in a mobile home. In fact, I think I looked down on people who live in mobile homes.

But this is perfect for me. I have a living room, kitchen, dining area, bedroom, bathroom, and office. Have range, fridge, microwave oven, washing machine and dryer, all the bells and whistles.

I have made numerous improvements.

Matter of fact, all mobile homes in our little community here, are very nice. People are proud of them. You can tell by their plants and little yards. I consider mine one of the nicest.

I call my daughter Monique and her hubby David every morning at 8 or so to chat. If I fail to make that call, they’ll come here in a jiffy. They live just 10 minutes away. I see them often. Now and then they take me with them into San Luis Obispo. They invite me for dinner, always insisting on my taking home delicious left-overs.

One of my wonderful Christmas gifts from them every year is a monthly cleaning and straightening out. Very thorough.

They pull in and give me a gentle push out. And go to work with vacuum cleaner and mop and dust cloth through the whole place and then put everything back in tip-top shape for another month. How wonderful.

Oh, I must mention I am now totally deaf in my right ear and use a hearing aid in my left ear. Know what? Probably you do not. If you lose hearing in one ear, you lose directionality. With your eyes closed, you can’t tell whether a sound is from in front of you or back of you or left of you or right of you or from above you.

Your body balance is also affected. Our ears are also a sort of gyroscope that controls the balance of our body. I’ve learned that the hard way.

I have a hard time walking and walk with a cane. But at a supermarket, pushing a grocery cart, I’m steady enough to get all my shopping done.

I have had dizzy spells. Three weeks ago I had a bad one when I got out of bed and went crashing down on the floor, tummy down.  A small cut on my hand, but no broken bones.  I had an awful time getting back up. But my right hip is sore and I limp. I’m having that spot X-Rayed to determine whether I have a fracture.

For two years I have been wearing a Great Call fall alert device on my chest. If I fall, I press the button on it, reach a Great Call responder day or night who will swing into action. She has my profile, which tells her first to call Monique or David, plus other options.

And it has GPS sensitivity, can tell quite accurately where I am, at home, or in a store or anywhere else, even a hundred miles away.

Oh, I do exercises every day.  Physical exercises. Every morning for years I did a whole program of stretching exercises every day. Now I do them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and skip Sundays and Thursdays. I love Sundays and Thursdays.

And I do mental exercises, although writing ain’t a bad one. I do chess puzzles. I rewrite captions for the crazy cartoons the New Yorker Magazine is famous for.

And I write poems. Real poems. Limericks, for instance. Which to me means they must have a definite rhyming pattern, a definite structure, and most of all, must make sense. A lot of poetry is crap. I’ve sent my limericks and other poesies to family and friends.

In fact, just yesterday I got a limerick from an old friend, John Aschieris. Composed by him:

My occasional friend named LaPlante

Would never say that I can’t

The world he has traveled

He never gets frazzled

You might say he’s a true gallivant

Isn’t that nice of him? And wonderfully impressive?! Well, John is impressive. He’s a dentist, long retired in southern California. But does many good works. By the way, he’ll be surprised to see his limerick here.

For instance, he volunteers to help students at the local dental school who need a hand. For years he’s held a weekly clinic to advise parents about possible dental problems their Johnny or Sarah may have. And he writes classic limericks!

Well, I do one type of mental exercise for a while, then another, then another.

And every year I make New Year’s Resolutions. Some consider that crazy. I don’t.

For years and years I pedaled a bike. Now I pedal a trike.

In my seventies I took a spill. Sold my beloved bike. Now I have a beloved trike.

Yes, a tricycle. It’s safer. And it has a big cargo basket in back. It’s not perfect. It’s slower. Hills that were easy on a bike are impossible now. But it keeps me mobile.

I pedal to the library, the supermarket, the senior center, the bank, the post office, the drug store, McDonald’s or Burger King for my afternoon coffee, and other shops.

Oh, I can make it down to the Embarcadero, our waterfront. It’s all downhill. I can get down there in 10 minutes. But I can’t get back up.

I’m known as the old man with the bike. Always the bike, not the trike. I never correct them. Oh, well.

Our library is open five days a week and I’m there five days a week, mostly to read three of the newspapers. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Tribune out of San Luis Obispo.

Our Senior Center offers lunch five days a week. It’s a good lunch. I go every Tuesday and Friday. Usually 35 people or so. Four are homeless. I know them well, have a thorough understanding of what homelessness means. Truth is, I enjoy the fellowship as much as the lunch.

Have given several talks at the center. I taught a course there: “How to Write Tour Life Story.”  Sound familiar? Had no idea I’d soon be writing my own.

Have been signed up to address the RAMs (Retired Active Men) at their monthly breakfast meeting in June:  “Serving in Peace Corps in Your Old Age.”  These are active men. One or two may be inspired to check out Peace Corps.

Just recently I went on a bus excursion organized by the center to two interesting museums 25 miles away.  And wrote a report about that for the center’s monthly newsletter.

I do not watch television, which seems totally un-American. I do have a TV but use it only to watch an occasional DVD from the library.

I read in bed every night before turning off the light. Usually a book.

Recently a neighbor had a hospital bed for sale. I bought it just to make my book reading easier. It has a digital remote control handset. I use the handset to make the head of the bed go up or down, or the foot of the bed go up or down. Usually I use a combo. I love it.

More and more I dictate rather than type. For instance, much of this was dictated on my so-called smart phone. It became my first draft. There’s always a second, and a third. All in an effort to make my writing as interesting and effective as possible. “To write well, rewrite!”

Of course I am still writing and blogging. The blogging is getting more difficult because of the technology involved. Coping with this digital headache is as daunting as my studying Russian in Peace Corps was.

Our library is open five days a week and I’m there five days a week, mostly to read three of the newspapers. The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and The Tribune out of San Luis Obispo, the  beautiful major city 15 miles south of her which is our county seat.

I do not watch television, which seems totally un-American. I do have a TV but use it only to watch an occasional DVD from the library.

I read in bed every night before turning off the light. Usually a book.

Recently a neighbor had an electric hospital bed for sale. I did not need a hospital bed. I bought it just to make my book reading easier.

It has a digital remote control handset. I use the handset to make the head of the bed go up or down, or the foot of the bed go up or down. Usually I use a combo. I love it.

More and more, by the way, I dictate rather than type. For instance, all this was dictated on my so-called smart phone. Dictation is not as simple as it sounds but it works.

As you’re well aware, I am still writing and blogging. The blogging is getting more difficult because of the technology involved. For me this technology is a headache just as learning Russian was in Peace Corps.

Old, one more thing. This may surprise you. I am an inventor. I invented something that is protected by an official U.S. Trademark: “MedGown.” Yes, it’s a garment.

I am sure you are wondering, how is it possible to invent a garment? Well, let me tell you.

L0ng, long ago, back at Long Island Hospital, patients wore johnnies. That’s what a medical gown was called back then and still is. Here in California it’s called a medical gown.

When I was 30 I was ill and had to check into a hospital. or so, I had to go to a and I had to go to the hospital. They have me put on a johnny.

Five years ago in Connecticut I was hospitalized. Same old johnny. I decided to design one. It’s gone through several iterations. Everyone who’s seen it likes it, or so they say. I’m proud of it. Rightfully.

A month ago I was hospitalized again. The same old johnny!

If you’ve been hospitalized, I am sure you have the great pleasure of wearing one.

The old johnny was very practical.  One size for everybody. For man or woman. It has no collar. No pockets. No buttons. A couple of cords to hold it together. Very short sleeves, ending above your elbows. And just one size for most people. A small one for children. A bigger one for very fat people. Cheap to make and easy to launder.

Opening in back was a fantastic idea. Easy to put it on a patient in bed or to take it off. Easy for a patient to use a bedpan or a urinal. Or the toilet down the hall.

My MedGown is a vast improvement because of its six distinctive features.

It still opens in back, but you can walk without having to use your hands to keep it closed and keep your butt from showing. Still fits man or woman. Still one size for nearly all.

It has a collar. Lots of people feel cold. The collar can be turned up. And it provides a touch of style, which women like.

The sleeves are longer, six inches short of your wrist. Lots of people are embarrassed by purple spots on their arms. No longer a problem.

It has two pockets. You can carry your cell phone or cough drops or a pad and pen or a pack of tissues.

Behind each pocket is a slit. Easy for doctor or nurse to slip the wires through to connect you to this medical gadget or that one.

A big feature is that it’s easy to check a patient in any part of his or her body. The wide sleeves can be pushed up. From the back, each shoulder can be pulled down for easy viewing.

Easy for the same reasons when a patient has to go for an X-ray or a CAT scan or anything else.

One nice feature at the front bottom of the gown it a button. At the back side is a matching button hole. You can button the gown together. This makes it into a simple pajama. At night in bed when you toss and turn, this will keep the gown from riding way up to your belly button. As can happen with a johnny.

My MedGown is a real winner.

Me, a talk show host!

Oh, I nearly forgot. Here in Morro Bay I was surprised to find myself on the air every Saturday on a local community radio station, 97.3 fm. No paid commercials! Supported by contributions.  The station calls itself The Rock because of the huge rock – ancient volcano – that rises out of the sea at the entrance to our harbor.

At a dinner party I met Bob Swain, a retired chiropractor, who I found out hosted a weekly show on preserving good health on 97.3. He noticed I was a vegetarian. He interviewed me about that on his show. It went well.

I said to him on the air, “You know, Bob, being a vegetarian ain’t easy. In fact, there are three bad things about being a vegetarian.”

“There are? John, tell us about them, please.”

“Well, the first is that if you’re invited to dinner at someone’s home, you can say, ‘Please do not make anything special. I’ll be fine.’ But they always do make something special.

“The second is, if you go into a restaurant, you’re choices on the menu will be extremely limited. Maybe zero!”

“And what’s the third, John?”

“Everybody thinks you’re crazy!”

He laughed. But there’s a lot of truth in what I said.

A month later, a guest canceled and Bob asked me to fill in. This was about the fine health care Peace Corps Volunteers get. It went well.

Hal Abrams, the founder and director of The Rock, offered me a weekly show of my own. And I said yes. I’d interview people who had expertise on something or other, who were articulate, and listeners would enjoy our chatting and get something out of it.

Like an iceberg, 90 percent of my show was “under water.” It was a challenge every week to find a good guest discussing a subject that would be interesting and truly informative. It took being up on local news. It also took phone calls, even cajoling. It involved a warm-up section. Most had never been on radio.

Sometime to do a good job I felt I had to ask a difficult question. And to be fair, I felt I should not sock my guest with the question. I made sure to say I was going to ask it. Their reply was up to them. I had a couple who declined.

Back then I was living six months here, and six months back in Connecticut. In my absence a deejay played music.

When I returned for my third year, I noticed a veterinarian had taken over my slot. Lots of people have dogs, cats, horses. And he didn’t depart at the end of six months. Oh, well. That was an adventure, too, as modest as it was.

Well, I know this has been a long report. I’ve had a lot to tell you. Writing it hasn’t been easy. Should I say this? Or not? Am I creating a bad impression in some way? Or not? Will my readers think I’m bragging? Or not?  Have I overlooked something important? Or not? Will they think I’m nuts for divulging all this? Or not? Will I be sorry?

Chances are some of you will be bothered by this or that. And some won’t.

All I can say is, I’ve done my best. If you’re still with me on all this, God bless you. If not, I understand.

And now I’m finishing my third week of my 91st year. Wow!

Time marches on. And how!

My long, long adventure continues. It will end before long, of course. Hope I have a nice, quick, decisive heart attack. Whatever, it will be interesting to see how it ends,

I’ll send you a blog. Providing, of course, I can access a blogging app over there on the other side. Meanwhile, all the best to you!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~










This is all about peanuts, peanuts, peanuts.

By John Guy LaPlante

With 3 photos

Why all about peanuts? Good question.

Well, I eat peanuts every day, as peanut butter on my breakfast raisin-cinnamon bagel, then crowning it with banana slices. With a cup of black tea.

I also drop a few peanuts into my oatmeal along with raisins.

Peanuts in bottle, peanuts in shells, this is what got me musing.

And now and then I toss a few salted peanuts into my mouth.

Nothing surprising about this. Hey, I have read that 90 percent of American homes stock peanuts, most often as peanut butter.

Well, let me tell you about a recent stop at a new supermarket. I spotted a nice big bag of peanuts in their shells, mind you. It’s rare that I buy them that way. Jumbo peanuts. Lightly salted. And the bag had a plastic window. I could see the peanuts in the bag. Big. Beautiful. I tossed the bag into my shopping cart.

One evening, after dinner, I started enjoying a few of these beauties, cracking one open, then another, then another.

I wondered how they salt peanuts still in their shell.  No idea.

And I started musing about other things. When I start musing, I’ve got to watch out. Never sure where musing will take me.

Why was I going to this trouble of cracking, cracking? Why not just scoop up a handful from the bottle in my cupboard?

Well, because cracking them open is fun. Yes, fun, although afterward I’d have to brush up the shells.

Four peanuts — excuse me, four pods . Like us. Basically the same. Individually different.

And hey, I figured out these whole peanuts were costing me more than the peanuts in the bottle, with no need to crack, crack. No doubt about it. In fact, I’d have to buy three bags of them, maybe four, to get as many peanuts as a full bottle of them. These in the shell were no bargain.  Well, sometimes we have to pay more for our fun, don’t we?

Then I noticed some peanuts in the shell were larger than others. I could see that one pod – which is the right word, I’m told – had two peanuts inside. Another, three. A few, just one. How come?

Well, the pods are just like people, I thought. Basically alike. But individually different.

And that got me off on a Google / Wikipedia exploration of peanuts. Exciting. Fun. I got to bed two hours later than my usual time.

First of all, peanuts have a long history. The ancient Aztecs of South America grew them. They smashed them into a paste. A kind of butter. But not as good as ours. Less oil. No sugar.

Here in our country, I found out, peanuts grow just about exclusively in our southern states, but few south of Georgia or west of Texas.

I thought peanuts are peanuts. Hah! There are three main varieties, let alone subcategories. I read of one national dealer

The great black peanut scientist George Washington Carver.

who offers 60 varieties!

The three main ones are Runner peanuts, considered best for peanut butter, which takes 80 percent of the crop. Virginia peanuts, which are grown not only in Virginia, 15 percent. And Spanish peanuts so-called, 4 percent.

No way would I be able to tell one from another. Ditto you, I’ll bet.

Because they are called peanuts, many people consider them nuts. That seems to make sense. Not so. Nuts grow on trees. Peanuts are seeds, They grow in the ground.

Peanuts are an annual herbaceous plant. Live only one season. Farmers have to start over from scratch every year.

They look like garden pea plants but are part of the large legume family — those plants which grow pods.

They grow 1 foot to 1.5 feet high. About up to your knee.

It’s widely known that peanuts are much cheaper than nuts. One reason is that a single plant can yield 50 to 100 pods, and each pod can yield 1 to 5 peanuts. And they are down by our feet, not up in a tree.

About harvesting them, do not think of a farmer with a hoe working his way down a row, uprooting the plants and tugging the pods free and dumping them in a pail. No! No!

Think of huge tractors! Huge harvesters! I saw photos. Enormous!

Sometimes I worry about eating peanuts. Fattening! Not really. One cupful, which is a lot of peanuts, has 828 calories.  So says Consumer Reports, which is a pretty good authority on such subjects, don’t you think? It says, “That sounds high, but the fat is good fat.”

I am sure that like me, you call them “peanuts.”  But some folks in other parts of the country call them “groundnuts,” which makes sense. Others call them “goobers,” which makes no sense at all to me.

I’m sure that the best PR man the peanut industry has had over the years has been Jimmy Carter. Yes, our former president.

He grew up on a peanut farm run by his pa and ma in Plains, GA. Peanuts were a part of his daily life. As a boy he saw how they were planted and harvested, even spent time working in the fields.

He got to see what an essential part of the economy they were down there.

We know his story. It’s so well known. He went to the Naval Academy at Annapolis, served as a submarine officer, then after a few years quit and went back home to Georgia. To work in the family peanut business.

And that led to his interest in politics, leading to his becoming governor of Georgia, a BIG peanut state, and eventually being elected to the White House. Time and again we heard the story of Jimmy in Plains and peanuts, peanuts, peanuts.

Well, I told you how so much of the crop gets made into peanut butter.

But we also consume peanuts in other ways. Tons and tons are processed into peanut oil, which is used in many ways. Do you make popcorn at home? Long ago I found the best oil to make the best popcorn is peanut oil. I keep a small bottle just for that.

And peanuts are the basis of countless recipes. I Googled “peanut recipes.” I found one site with 235 recipes!

It’s surprising how much candy includes peanuts. Think of Butter Finger, Baby Ruth, Mr. Goodbar, Reeses NutRageous, Kracker Jack, and others.

Hey, there’s a National Peanut Board, supported by the peanut industry to promote the use of peanuts in every way imaginable. And there’s the USDA Peanut Lab, which is part of the US Department of Agriculture. Peanuts are a big deal. I had no idea they are that big.

By the way, what do you think is the most popular supermarket brand. My guess was Planters Peanuts. And I was right. Was that your guess? Be honest now.

But if there’s a single person who deserves to be honored with a big statue for developing peanuts into such a big deal, it’s George Washington Carver, 1864 – 1943.

I first learned about him back in history class in the 7th or 8th grade. Lots of people learn about him that way.  Such an unusual and interesting man. In fact, extraordinary.

He was a black man, in fact born a slave. Think about that! A rare black (back then) to graduate from the University of Iowa. He spent most of his long career at the Tuskegee Institute, a private, historically black school in Tuskegee, Alabama. Now Tuskegee University.

He was a botanist, agricultural scientist, and inventor. Wow! To repeat, born a slave!

He became THE expert on peanuts (and sweet potatoes and other plants). He gets the credit of discovering the importance of rotating crops — peanuts with corn and things — as the practical way to put nitrogen back into the soil and making the soil more productive.

Yes, and an inventor. One of his many pamphlets was “How to Grow the Peanut, and 105 Ways of Preparing it for Human Consumption.”  Imagine, 105 ways!

He’s the one who made the peanut a staple in our diet.

Obviously he was the first to concoct peanut butter. Many people think that.  But he did not. Quite a surprise. If  he had continued experimenting, that might have become his 102nd way.

Three people living far apart get credit for that. Who never met. The most famous was Dr. John Harry Kellogg, around 1895, the inventor of Kellogg’s cereal.

Did you know that’s why it’s called Kellogg’s? Which comes in various versions now, as we know.

But it’s that cereal that made him famous, not his recipe for peanut butter.

I will let you go to Wikipedia to find out who were the other two to figure out how to mix up peanut butter.

Professor Carver’s accomplishments were so great and his influence so profound as a scientist and a black man that it’s remarkable how many ways he has been honored ever since. There are cities and towns named for him, boulevards and streets, on and on, even a large ship. He’s in all our history books, not only for his extraordinary success, but also because he was born a slave. He’s really worth reading about.

What’s interesting is that he’s always written about as George Washington Carver. Never as George W. Carver. He always identified himself with all three names. Why the emphasis on “Washington”? Did he mean George? Seems so. Have any idea?

Well, I told you that when I begin musing I am not sure where that will take me. Now you have an idea. Hope you’ve enjoyed the ride.

And it’s time for lunch. I skipped breakfast this morning. So I think I’ll have what I would have had for breakfast.

If you don’t remember, it’s half a raisin – cinnamon bagel slathered with peanut butter and covered with slices of banana. But with a glass of milk instead of my morning tea. And an apple for dessert. Delicious. Nutritious. And not that monstrous in calories.

Thank you, Professor Carver! And Doctor Kellogg! And Johnny Appleseed!

~ ~ ~ ~






Meet my guest writer, Sulekh Jain

By John Guy LaPlante

I have written hundreds of these essays and articles. This is a first for me.

Yes, a first because it will be written by a guest author.  Unprecedented.  He is Sulekh C. Jain, Ph.D. His article is entitled “Highway to Heaven.”

Isn’t that intriguing? I’d love to get onto that highway!

I am publishing it because I’m positive his article will be excitingly provocative to people of open mind and liberal views. And my hunch is that you are one of these.

I don’t call him Dr. Jain. I call him by his first name, Sulekh. He has been my close friend for 43 years.  In fact he calls me Brother John. Yes, Brother John. That is part of his Jainism.

What’s that? Jainism is a very old religion, an elder cousin of Buddhism but different. Definitely much older than Christianity. Most Jains live in India. His family name is Jain. I’m sure you’ve noticed that. But some Jains do not carry the name Jain.

Sulekh is an immigrant to our shores. Here is a quick sketch of him. Well, not that quick because he is so

faceted in so many ways. I doubt you’ve ever met anyone who comes close.

Yes, he was born in Indi, in 1937. He went to university and studied engineering. Long ago he told me that the best students in India in those days became engineers. Those who couldn’t get into the engineering program became medical doctors. How about that?

Another interesting detail is that from high school on, his schooling was in English. Not in Hindi, which is the most widespread of India’s many languages, and which is the one Jains speak. In English because for Science, Math, Engineering, Technicity (that was the right word over there) and Medicine, English has been widely used in India.

He was a top student and was most fortunate, he says, to get a scholarship to study for a Ph.D.  in Mechanical Engineering in England at the University of Birmingham. You’re probably familiar with how England ruled India for many decades. Well, the relationship between the two was still strong.

That ended when the great Mahatma Gandhi gained India’s independence through peaceful determination. Without firing a single bullet! He was opposed to that. That momentous event took place in  1947.

Sulekh and Ravi married in 1961. Interestingly, that was a marriage arranged by his father and hers. “We believe love will come!” Sulekh explained when he saw my eyes open wide when he told me that long ago.

They also had two children, their son Anudeep and daughter Vandana. In 1966 they flew off to strange England together. He was 29.

Not only strange. So different in many ways, a leading one the climate.  Very nasty compared to the balmy temperatures of their upbringing.

The culture shock was exactly that. Very shocking. He wasn’t deterred. He got his Ph.D. in 1969. In less than three years.

Then a good fluke. Right then, through a connection he was accepted to the University of California at Berkeley for a Post-Doc!  That exclamation point is justified. He was 32.

Finally, after all those years of studying, he got his first professional job. That was as a research engineer clear across the country — at the Wyman-Gordon Co. in Worcester, Mass.  He and Ravi and their two kids settled in there.

In its business, Wyman-Gordon is famous around the world.  Its specialty is forging (shaping) metals, especially aerospace metals. It had 5,000 employees back then. Sulekh was in his element.

He rose through the ranks. He was there 12 years. At the end, he was a senior research engineer and the head of a staff of several engineers and support staff. He believes he was the only Indian in the whole of Wyman-Gordon back then.

He and Ravi and the kids became US citizens in 1975.  They were delighted to be here to stay.

During that time, by the way, on the side, he studied business administration at Clark University there in Worcester, earning a master’s degree..

Early in his arrival in the U.S. he became active in Jain affairs. At that time, there were hardly 5,000 Jains in the whole of the U.S. and Canada. Sulekh became a leader.

I met Sulekh in 1976 – 43 years ago. I had been the magazine editor at the Worcester Telegram and Gazette. We had become close friends. That’s a long story, too, and I’ll beg off till another time.

He had been telling me that one day he would take me to India. I’d just laugh. Impossible! Well, in 1989, one day he called from Cincinnati.  At that time he was a senior staff engineer there at General Electric Aircraft Engine Division.

Wowed me. Told me we’d be flying to Delhi, India’s capital, in December. Had made a reservation for me. That’s the most comfortable time there weather-wise. We’d be there seven weeks. I felt I had misunderstood. He had to repeat the whole thing. Wow!

But I was going to say no. We’d be there Christmas and New Year’s, key family holidays. Seven weeks in such a strange place!  It’s my daughter Monique who talked me into going. I’m enormously grateful to her.

By this time, Sulekh was the president of all the Jains here (about 40,000) of a central organization called The Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA).

Sulekh was going to India to meet leading Jains, give a report about Jains here, explain life here, and tighten the relationship. He was going with his wife Ravi. Their two children had started in medical school in Houston.

Must tell you Jains are a tiny minority over there in their native country. Less than one percent of the population of India. But Jains have always played a leading and prominent role in the affairs of the country.

We roamed through a great area of India, north, south, east and west.  Mostly we were driven by a hired chauffeur, five of us crowded in his little sedan, often on narrow and bumpy roads. Once we took a plane to save time.

We’d be two days in this city. Three days in that. In each  Sulekh would give a talk the leading l Jains. Always men, by the way. Sometimes there would be a hundred plus. Sometimes just 50.  It was all in Hindi. I didn’t understand a thing. But he’d mention a key word, such as Wyman-Gordon, or the Worcester Sunday Telegram, so I knew what he was talking about.

By the way, they’d al be sitting cross-legged on the floor. That’s the Indian way.  Impossible for me.  Somehow they’d manage to find a chair for me.

Oh, Jains have always been vegetarians. Very important for you to know that. It’s because they believe in ahimsa, absolute non-violence. Hurt, harm or kill no person, no creature of any kind, big or small, not even a mouse or an ant.  I was a meat eater. But it’s by living with vegetarians day after day, and having to eat like them, that I became interested in vegetarianism. So I have been a vegetarian for years now.

I mentioned how Sulekh and his family experienced culture shock in England. Ditto when the moved to the U.S. Well, I experienced it in India. You would, too. But it was educational, to say the least.

In vegetarianism Sulekh has topped me. He and his family are now vegans. That’s super vegetarianism. The selection of foods is much more limited.  No milk products, for instance. No eggs. But no problem, says he.

I spoke of the high role of Jains in Indian society. Well, I got to meet a justice of the Supreme Court of India because he was a Jain. I got to meet the editor of the Times of India, the most important daily newspaper with the largest circulation, because he was a Jain, and so on.

Of course, we visited the famous Red Fort in Delhi.  And the  Taj Mahal. The monument to Mahatma Gandhi. And many famous Jain historic spot including  a dozen Jain temples, magnificent edifices, unbelievingly beautiful,  often centuries old. The Jains have countless such temples, including striking new ones.

Of course, we saw the sacred cows roaming  the public streets. Saw full-grown elephants being walked through cosmopolitan downtowns. Saw snake charmers playing their flutes and getting their cobras to rise from their baskets and  shift back and forth, their fangs exposed.  This was old stuff to Sulekh and Ravi but so exciting to me.

We visited the country’s most important university where Sulekh knew a professor, a Jain of course. We traveled to the city of Bangalore, which even then was emerging as the capital of the growing digital industry. And met a scientist there, again a Jain. On and on. A fabulous trip.

When we returned, I wrote several articles about it. One was for the leading Jain newspaper in the United States, a report as a non-Jain describing his experiences in India. By the way. Sulekh told me we saw more of India than most of the Jains who had moved to America. Sulekh told me he had heard that good comments about my account.

Well, it so happened that I returned to India a few years later, during my solo Around the World tour. Traveled across the whole wide country, from Madras and Calcutta on the eastern side to Bombay, now called Kolkata, on the western side. By train. Yes, alone. A huge adventure. Had occasion to meet Jains I had made friends with while with Sulekh.

Our friendship has continued these many years. I have visited him in different parts of  the U.S. as he moved from job to job. Became very close to the whole family. For instance, had the pleasure of attending the three-day wedding of his son Anudeep in Houston in 1988. Yes, three days.

If anything, Sulekh’s interest in Jainism has intensified. It has become a passion, and that’s what he himself calls it. Now 82, he is retired, but he devotes his days to Jainism here, involving himself in a wide variety of Jain activities.

Once hardly 5,ooo, as I mentioned, the Jains now number some 140,000 in the U.S. and Canada. Of course, many are second and third generation now. It’s remarkable how highly educated and successful they are as a whole.

Among other things, he has raised funds from wealthy American Jains to fund chairs, professorships and post-docs in Jainism at 16 American universities. They include the Universities of California at Davis, Santa Barbara, Irvine, and Riverside; and at Loyola Mary Mount University and Cal State University at Northridge, and Rice University in Houston.

In  2005, he developed an annual program to send university faculty and graduate students to India, to learn about Jainism and immerse themselves in Jain life. And now high school teachers also. All made possible by dollar grants to cover nearly the whole bill. To date more than 750 men and women have had the experience. A number have published books and papers. Jainism is becoming better known.

More than once I’ve told Sulekh there will be a statue to him here. He has scoffed. It will happen. I am convinced.

In 2016 Sulekh became a published author with his book,  “An Ahimsa Crisis; You Decide!”

It is a remarkable book. He cites instance after instance of how some Jains observe ahimsa in fine ways.

By the way, that’s a word you must know. “Ahimsa” means non-violence. It’s just the opposite of “himsa,” which means violence.  Sadly, here and in India, many profess to be Jains because they are vegetarians but live their  lives by doing just the contrary– cheating in all kinds of outlandish ways out of pure greed.

Sulekh provides documented instances of acts of himsa. An incredible variety.Things that he has witnessed here and in India.  I read his book because I felt I had to out of friendship. I felt it would be abstract. Too philosophical. In fact, dull.  Was I wrong!  I found it hard to put down. And said that in a detailed review of it.

I also felt some Jains must be very angry with him for writing this expose. I still do. If so, it hasn’t crimped his effort.

Now here’s a wonderful thing. He makes a free digital copy of his book available at www.isjs.in. Do download it. You won’t be sorry.  I’ll bet that like me you’ll stay up late reading about these incredibly scandalous goings-on.

Sulekh and Ravi now live in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, largely because of its pleasant year-round climate.

Their son and daughter are now eminently successful medical doctors, Anudeep as a radiologist and Vandana as a radiation oncologist. I’ve known them since they were teen-agers.

I would be remiss if I did not mention  the  powerful influence of Jainism on our American culture.

Here is how it happened.  First, as I explained, Mahatma Gandhi was so influenced by Jainism’s ahimsa that it led him by peaceful means to overthrow British authoritarianism in India and to India’s total independence .

Then, Martin Luther King learned about this core Jain belief as practiced by Gandhi while studying for his doctorate at Boston University, and we know the dramatic wonders that his courageous preaching resulted in.

Sorry that this ‘introduction of Sulekh” has become so lengthy, but I simply had to give you all this detail about him.  So now, do read his remarkable story about a very real highway the likes of which you’ve never heard.

The Highway to Heaven in British Columbia”

By Dr. Sulekh C. Jain

Editorial Note:  Sulekh supplied a number of fascinating photos. Alas, technical difficulties forced a limit of just two, but they’re beauties. They give an idea of the marvels to be seen on The Highway to Heaven.

Three years ago, on an invitation, my wife Ravi nd I went to Vancouver, B.C., Canada, to participate in a three-day consecration ceremony of a new Jain temple there.

One day one of our friends took us to an officially named “Highway to Heaven.” It is a very wide and long street in Richmond; one of the main suburbs of Vancouver.

This street is home to more than a dozen very large, ornate, beautiful and palatial places of worship representing all the major religions of the world; all co-existing in harmony and peace. For me and Ravi it was a very eye and mind-opening tour.

In a world of headlines making us cringe from accounts of ideological extremism exalting the name of God through terror, there is another story of quiet religious harmony that exists right here in this backyard of one of Canada’s largest cities.

Richmond’s straight-and-narrow No. 5 Road, which runs through the agricultural lowlands of British Columbia’s Lower Mainland, has become the auspicious conclave of a thriving multi-faith community.

Richmond, an “ethno burg” of Vancouver, is a city of some 207,500 people.  It is also home to more than 60 mosques, temples, churches and religious schools of all denominations.

No wonder No. 5 Road has adopted the name Highway to Heaven with its many religious sites. The city’s large multicultural population is reflected here, through the diversity of exotic temples and places of worship which all encourage a peaceful coexistence.

Visitors will be fascinated by the cultures, history and architecture that mark the colorful houses of worship. Visitors are welcome to share in the spiritual grace and to experience the compassion and beauty found within each of these faiths.

Some of these houses of worship are big, spectacular and architecturally unique monuments. Many welcome visitors with open arms whether devout or not. It’s a true story of cultural community woven together out of the best values each faith represents.

Yes, the Highway to Heaven’s religious diversity is the result of a City Council rezoning initiative in 1990.

Since then, the faithful from more than 20 religious flocks have populated this three-kilometer stretch of asphalt with their halls of worship

Each place is colorful, rich and mesmerizing. One will feel like being culturally immersed into a unique chapter of Richmond’s myriad community.

Thrangu Monastery & Buddhism

Thrangu Monastery opened its doors in 2010 when it became the sole traditional Buddhist monastery in the Pacific Northwest.

With over 600 members and 20 monks, Thrangu attracts students and intrigued visitors from all over Europe and North America.

Upon entering, you are welcomed by a breathtaking 12-foot-tall, gold-leaded Shakuamuni Buddha. Vegetarian meals are often served after the religious services and visitors are invited to join in.

This monastery is literally next door to the Vedic Cultural Centre, a Hindu spiritual awareness center where a visitor may be offered Indian nuts and treats, and shown around the premises

Ling Yen Mountain & Subramaniya Swamy Temple

Also on our Highway to Heaven, one will find the palatial style Ling Yen Mountain temple, home to two worship halls and more than 40 monks.

Although smaller, the Subramaniya Swamy temple is one of a few places in Richmond that follows the Hindu religion. Here, holy rites include cleansing effigies in rose water and it is believed that prayers are answered instantly.

Visitors are invited to join in every Friday for Karthikeya Pooja; worship and recognition of spiritual growth.

Ram Krishna Mandir & Hindu Culture

Continuing the spiritual journey down the Highway to Heaven is the Hindu Ram Krishna Mandir, in the Vedic Cultural Centre.

As in emblematic Hindu culture, visitors will stride amongst many gods and goddesses adorned in traditional embroidered costumes and garlands.

Sunday morning Hindu worships include lighting of oil lamps, chanting mantras and a sit-down vegetarian meal after the ceremony.

The Vedic Cultural Centre invites the visitors to join in the offered meditation classes, recitals, ceremonies and festivals, all year round.

At the Nanaksar Gurdwara Gursikh Temple, a visitor can tour the Sikhtemple and be treated to free lunch. An all-volunteer full-staffed kitchen continues the Sikh tradition started 550 years ago by the first Guru Nanak of administering to the hungry. There’s always tasty vegetarian comfort food served with a smile and graciousness.

Ling Yen Mountain Temple allows the visitors to stroll through its tranquil and beautiful traditional Chinese gardens of the International Buddhist Society compound. These are spectacular and a must-see.
Read more at http://vacay.ca/2015/01/on-the-highway-to-heaven-in-richmond/#ixzz5hccpUhIO

A lot of attention has been focused on the Highway to Heaven.

Do these diverse cultures really interact with one another or is it just good press? Like neighbors everywhere, it took time to get to know each other.

Language barriers initially made connections challenging but real bonds have been formed.

Last year, the Highway to Heaven Association — made up of an interfaith council comprised of 20 different religious organizations — created and debuted a 42-foot float in the Steveston Salmon Festival Parade celebrating Canada Day.

Educational initiates have sprouted from this unique medley of theological communities.

Students from the Jewish Day School and the Az-Zahraa Islamic School exchange visits to learn about each other’s faith and have joined together to work on a community program for homelessness.

Need inspiration from negative news overload?

Get into the car and become uplifted through a visit to Richmond’s vibrant multi-faith communities.

They are waiting to welcome you into their homes of worship and they are very conveniently located near to each other.

Take a day out of your routine and join in services, stop for lunch or a book a guided tour, walk through exquisite gardens and get a personal insight to the major religions of the world in tiny Richmond.

Similar efforts are underway in Houston, Texas. On one major street called Synott Road (I call it Sin-Not Road)  is home to more than  15 places of worship (Hindu, Jains, Buddhist, Christians, Muslims and more) and still more are coming or being planned.

They all live and support each other and in fact share each other’s parking lots too.

Recently on a visit to Houston, I urged some of the main leaders there to petition the City to change the name  from Synottt Road to The Highway to Heaven.

Let us build such Highways  to Heaven in all cities and towns in the Unites States of America, Yes, it sounds like an impossible dream. But if Richmond can do it, other communities can!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~
















Off we go on a house swqp to France / Second half

By John Guy LaPlante

NOTE: Annabelle and I did this house swap nearly 15 years ago. I published this account back then. I recently decided to publish it again because I learned house swapping is more popular than ever. Not only to France. To many countries. I thought it might get some of you interested in a swap.

It was a great idea back then. A true win, win. It’s a great idea now.

I published the first half a month ago. I’m late in sending you this second swap because as we know, life has an irritating way of screwing up our best laid plans. Sorry about that.

Please remember that all prices mentioned are the prices in effect back then.

If this interests you, just Google or Bing “house swapping” or “home exchanges” in whatever country you have in mind and you’ll be off and running.

Poitiers , France —  Already Annabelle and I have been on our own for a week now and our house swap is working out fine.

Dr. and Madame Diaz – Paco and Mimi – whose large house is far bigger than we need – are now n my town house in Deep River, Conn., and happy. He’s a psychiatrist and she a professor of education. But he did send a frantic email back yesterday.  “Your place is an icebox!  How do we turn on the heat?”

Well, who expected such a cold spell in May? But really I should have explained how our thermostat works  It just wasn’t on my long check list.

Poitiers is a very old and famous university city. It’s a great pleasure to be here, so much history, so much culture, s0 French.

We’re getting used to their big VW van on the narrow streets and can now find our way downtown and back.  At the giant Leclerc’s – the French version of a Super Walmart – we know exactly where to head to get to the wines and cheeses, and then to the detergents and paper towels.

Downtown we know which streets are pedestrian streets – no vehicles allowed… just walkers. Wonderful.

We go downtown for two hours nearly every day, and always between 12 and 2. That’s because parking is free in those two hours, the lunch break. And we are lucky – we always manage to find a handicap parking spot.  What a blessing.  Annabelle qualifies because of recent surgery and, to our astonishment, her U.S. handicap windshield placard is accepted here.

Downtown Poitiers is a delight. It teems with pedestrians, which in our old-fashioned view is what a downtown is supposed to be like. A lot of people walking around make a downtown so much more interesting. And the downtown is dotted with truly ancient buildings.

The city’s great pride, the famous church Notre Dame La Grande, dates back to the 10th century. The cathedral and several other buildings go back nearly as long. It is common for buildings to be 300 and 200 years old and still be in daily use.

At the same time, right next to one of these antiquities could be a swanky, ultra-modern shopping galleria with gleaming escalators and sparkling shop windows.  Quaint boutiques and little shops line up shoulder to shoulder on the cobbled streets.  There is a regular outdoor farmers’ market, and there are street musicians playing for tips…and hopeful beggars, too.

On these sorties Annabelle and I split up for an hour or so.  She checks out these shops and I head for the Mediatheque. It is a striking contemporary building, which means it boasts plain lines and huge panes of glass. It used to be called the Bibliotheque, the Library.

But now it is called the Mediatheque to acknowledge its rich offerings of books but its many public computers and collections of CDs and DVDs. The French are really with it!

I like to scan the International Herald Tribune and Le Monde and La Croix, two of France’s big dailies.  Oh, I know I could read these in Paco’s study on the Internet but I like going to the library to read the real papers..  Excuse me, the Mediatheque. Not because there’s a shortage of books here in the house. I estimate Paco and Mimi have at least 5,000 books and 1,000 CDs and DVDs. I like to read the real printed papers.

I was in the Periodicals Room yesterday and I remembered Charles DeGaulle’s famous quote when he was having a big headache at the Elysees Palace one day. “How can anyone govern a country whose people make 350 kinds of cheeses,” he complained.  Well, the French seem to have that many periodicals also.  And that many varieties of wine. And bread.  Astounding!

This reminds me of prices here.  In my last article I complained about high prices.  It is still my impression that most things here are more expensive than back home.  Far more. But many cheeses and breads are much cheaper.  We bought a nice Camembert for 2 dollars, and good wines are available for 2 or 3 dollars per liter bottle.  (Sorry, I cannot find the dollar sign on this French keyboard.) And some for astoundingly more, of course.  In fact, I spotted a white wine for less than one dollar.  I could not resist buying it. I had to see whether it was drinkable.  It was.  I would buy it again.

Annabelle and I have discussed prices here a lot.  Who wouldn’t?  They look high for a good reason.  Let me explain.  Back home I will buy a meal in a restaurant for 15 dollars, let’s say. Then the waiter will tack on the 6.5 percent tax.  Then I will tack on the 15 percent tip.  But I will still go home thinking of it as a 15 dollar meal. Isn’t this your thinking, too?

Here the same dinner will cost much more…25 Euros, for example. That would be about 31 dollars. But when the tab is handed to me, it will have a tax of 19.6 percent buried in it…not as a separate item! And I will not add on a tip because here the service charge is also buried in the tab.  But I go home thinking of it as a 31 dollar meal.  Not a fair comparison. I felt I should explain this.

There is a reason for that huge 19.6 percent tax, by the way.  This is more of a paternalistic country than the U.S.A. is, with more generous social programs.  This week I talked about it with Dominique, a social worker.  He happened to mention he has 52 days of vacation a year.

I thought I heard wrong. 52 days…that seems incredible!

“No, that is what I receive,” he repeated.

That becomes very costly for the government.  And that is a major reason why many French goods are pricing themselves out of international markets.  They are too expensive for many people in many other countries to afford.  And a big reason why there is such a shocking rate of unemployment here, about 11 percent.

Still talking about high prices, I must say our strategy is hard to beat for cost-conscious Americans coming here.  It is to swap houses.  And cars. And computers.  The whole schlemiel.  No way could a wonderful vacation like ours become cheaper or easier.  The same is true for Paco and Mimi in Deep River, of course.

Sure, there is risk involved.  You could deal with a bad party and find your home a shambles when you get back.  That can be minimized with proper investigation beforehand. Yes, they might burn a favorite pot of yours on the stove, or run up a lot more miles on your car than you expect, but if you are going to worry about things like that, you might ask for a security deposit. Not a bad idea. Neither of us did that. As it turned out, it did not become a  problem.

A house and auto swap like ours cancels the biggest expense of a trip abroad.  So even high prices like those here have only a minimal impact.  Definitely recommended!

The big question all through France right now is the referendum which will be held at the end of the month on the proposed European Constitution. Twenty five nations in the European Union are all pondering whether to accept or reject the constitution, but France is one of the few putting it to the people as a referendum.

Here it is called the Oui ou Non Question, meaning the Yes or No Question. Yes if you are for it, no if you are against.   It is dominating everything — the media, public life everywhere, private conversations.

It is a complex matter, with much at stake. It seems to boil down this way. Vote Yes if you believe in an integrated Europe…one that may someday become a United States of Europe…even at the cost of some big sacrifices by France.  Vote No if you resent having to help support some of the poorer countries and fear giving them a vote equal to that of your own illustrious and powerful country.

It is a big question worldwide. The highest powers in our country are waiting in suspense and our markets…our stock markets plus many other kinds…are stalling as they await the outcome.

Annabelle and I hosted a small dinner two nights ago. Five guests. I was dumb and brought up the Oui or Non matter.  Renee, an elderly high school teacher, quickly pronounced herself a Oui.  Michel, the retired director of a museum here, let out a loud Non.  Within two minutes they were glaring at each other!

Right away I asked whether Annabelle had overdone the sour cream in her wonderful Boeuf Bourguignon, which she had not. I was so relieved when Renee and Michel both caught on. “Perfect!” they exclaimed.  I will not make that mistake again.

Our big outing this week was a drive to a hamlet called Chizelle.  It was a two-hour drive from here, just outside the city of Surgeres, which is on the way to the big city of New Rochelle on the Atlantic coast.  Actually we were going to La Rochelle.  That is where my paternal ancestor sailed from in 1665 to go to New France, which is now Quebec.

Why Chizelle? My son Mark spent six weeks there one summer in high school some 20 years ago.  He came over on a student exchange. He lived with a family named Gorioux.  They operated a large hog operation, raising hundreds of hogs for market.  The Goriouxs had six kids of their own, and Mark fell right in.

He worked with the others at chores and had plenty of fun on the side…picnics and bike hikes and visiting around.  A wonderful summer and a terrific learning experience.  He came home thinking the world of the Goriouxs.

Annabelle and I decided to stop by, without announcement.  We found the tiny village and the beautiful manor house and I knocked on the door.  A lady answered.  I mentioned my name, Monsieur LaPlante, and started explaining….

“Mark!” she said.  She remembered!  She was Madame Gorioux. She mentioned how Mark had left a farewell note on his  pillow the morning he departed to come home.

She welcomed us in.  We thought we’d be there for 10 or 15 minutes. Hello, how are you, au revoir!  When she heard we were on our way to New Rochelle, she insisted on putting us in their big Peugeot and taking us on a guided tour.  She even took us into the Museum of Discoveries, which we had planned to visit.  Wonderful afternoon.  When we got back to her home, Monsieur Gorioux was there.  Retired now, but still busy.  A friendly man with rosy cheeks and lots of good questions to ask about our country and people.

Well, they invited us back, and we returned on Thursday.  It was a holiday, and some of their kids, now adults of course, could come over and meet us, and with their little children.  Fine dinner.

Then I asked if we could visit the hog operation.  Christophe has taken it over from his Papa.  Christophe was Mark’s special pal way back then.  He took us to see it.

“It will stink!” he warned us.  Still I insisted.  Yes, it did stink, but everything was as clean and well-organized as could be.  A huge operation, with more than a thousand hogs, all in indoor pens. Christophe buys them when they are piglets only days old and keeps them for 180 days, when they are fat enough to head for their destiny.  New piglets arrive every week, and big hogs get shipped off.

They are fed a diet of blended cereals and other nutrients that pile the pounds on fast.  Excuse me, the kilos. It is all high tech and far more complicated and challenging than you would think.

Christophe, like Mark, headed off for university when he came of age.  “But I always knew this is what I would do someday,” he told me.

“It’s a tough business but a good life.  We live out here in the countryside.  It’s peaceful, quiet. Good for our children.  We will never be rich but we are comfortable. I am my own boss. It makes me feel good to do this work well. And I am helping to feed the French!”

Their farm has hundreds of acres of tilled fields. Right now the spread is devoted to peas, for livestock, not the people kind.  Christophe said he sows the fields in a four-year cycle…peas, then wheat, then corn, then colza.  I may not have the sequence right.  But the rotation is a science-based calculation, designed to raise the biggest and best crop year after year while always maximizing the fertility of the land. The fields are a thing of beauty,

In my first report I talked about the beautiful brilliant fields of colza around here, stretching to the horizon in some places. It is used; as I said, to make a delicious and cholesterol-friendly table oil.  I explained that in English colwa is rapeseed…something I was not familiar with.  Well, Len Poulin, one of my readers, very agriculture savvy, just sent me an email.

“We have colza oil here at home..  We call it Canola.  It seems the marketing people here thought that something called rapeseed would never be popular.  They came up with Canola. The Can part stands for Canada, where it’s grown a lot,  and the ola part for oil.”

I have enjoyed colza so much here that I was planning to take home a big bottle.  No need now.  Thank you, Len.

Got to tell you that France is beautiful and impressive in so many ways.  And with their big VW we did have a chance to explore the southwestern corner of the country we were in.  We drove to Paris one day, spent the next day touring what is one of the most beautiful cities in the world, came back the third. We took other tours, for instance down to Bordeaux, famous for its vineyards. And we enjoyed other wonderful meanderings.

Paco and Mimi did the same thing with my Buick. They drove all the way to Niagara Falls. Another time, down to New York City. And of course, here and there in Connecticut.

Yes, Annabelle and I went into this as an economical and wonderful win, win. And that’s what it turned out to be. What a great pleasure it is to think back on it!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Off we go on a home exchange!

By John Guy LaPlante

Oops, make that off we went on a home exchange.  To France!

By we, I mean Milady Annabelle and me back in 2005. We were of retirement age, of course.

We were innocents in all that. Now there are companies and clubs that facilitate pulling that off. They charge for their services but countless people decide it’s money well spent.

Are you familiar with home  exchanging? Well, thousands and thousands of Americans swap every year with people in countries all over the world practically. More than 180 countries!

They swap not only houses, but condos and apartments.

They swap with folks living in big cities and middle-sized cities and little villages. Whatever they fancy.

We swapped my condo for a palatial home. Well, nearly palatial to us. With a man and his wife in Poitiers, a centuries-old and prestigious university city in southwestern France. Yes, a condo for a big home!

We swapped not only our homes. We swapped automobiles. Computers. Everything except the ladies, I tell people with a chuckle.

How lucky we were! In two ways, the right couple and the right property.

Now an alert. I have much to tell you so I am presenting it just the way I wrote it up and got it published in a newspaper back then that I wrote for a lot. Which was in two lengthy and detailed reports.

You are receiving the first report now. The second one you will get in a few days. This will give you the time to mull if home-swapping would be a great adventure for you. As it wonderfully turned out to be for Annabelle and me.

If you’re curious, just Google or Bing “Home swapping” or “Home exchange.”

And know what? I got the idea and the opportunity while traveling solo in Chile deep down in South America. My oh my!

So, here is my Report No. 1.

Off to France for a few weeks.  Prices are sky high,

but our house swap is minimizing the sting.

I write this from Poitiers in France.  I arrived yesterday on the TGV – the super-fast train from Paris, a two-hour ride.  Being here is a dream come true for me.

I’m here on a house swap.  I’m swapping my small condo in Deep River for their very big house here. I’ve got the better deal. “They” are Fernando and Violette Diaz, in their late 50s, I’d say. Both retired. He was an M.D. with psychiatry his specialty, and she a professor of education.  They are being ultra-nice to me.

We’ll be together for 10 days, so I’ll have the advantage of a thorough orientation before they take off for my town of Deep River, Connecticut.

I’m here alone but Milady Annabelle will be joining me in a week.  She is visiting her daughter and family in Dallas. There’s another reason also for her arriving late. I speak French. She does not. She will come two days before Paco and Mimi – yes, we’ve reached the nickname stage – will fly off to Deep River.

“I’ll get to meet these wonderful people,” Annabelle says, “but I won’t feel like the odd person out.”

The three of us here have hit it off and already we’ve plunged into what is really a wonderful, never-ending conversation. It’s good for both of us, but better for me.  They are instructing me in everything – how to get around the city, where to shop, what things to see. And briefing me about so much – the history, the customs, the trends.  Already a terrifically enriching experience, as good as – in fact, better than I had hoped.  This will consume every day until they leave May 1.

I’ve tried to organize things for them back home. I’ve lined up people to help them – my sister Lucie, who also speaks French of course,  plus good friends. As many French-speaking friends as I can recruit. Paco speaks some English; Mimi does not.

If you speak French and would like to make wonderful new friends, please call them.  You will find my name in the Deep River section of the phone book. Paco will answer the phone. It’s that simple.

Yes, this is a dream come true. You see, Poitiers is the area where my LaPlante ancestor came over from in 1665. He was a soldier in the Régiment Carignan-Salières. They went to France, now Québec, to protect the small colony of 2,500 people from the fierce Iroquois attacking them from what is now New York State. They did that.

When the regiment was called home three years later, half of the soldiers decided to stick it out in Québec. Yes, very rough, especially in winter, and surely they would miss their families back home, but they felt the chance for greater freedom and opportunity worth it.

My ancestor married in New France. Far too few women there.  As the story goes, his bride was either an orphan or a girl of the streets,  shipped over for that purpose in a boatload by the King.  The bachelors stood in line on shore.  The gals stood in line on the ship.

The first one down the gangplank linked arms with the first man, then the second with the second, and so on. They walked over to the priest, waiting to hear their marriage vows.  That’s how it was done.

“God himself is selecting the two of you to become one,” they were told.  And that’s why I exist, of course.

That saga is one I’ve become well aware of.  It’s a prime reason I’ve long thought of coming here someday. There is a museum about that whole story nearby.  It’s at the top of my “must do” list.

My opportunity to come came up in a strange way.

I was on a day-long bus ride in Chile during my Around the World tour 15 months ago. Two more people got on, a man and a woman. Only two seats were left, one being next to me.  She sat in the other, and he plunked down next to me. The two of us soon had a grand talk going. In French. Told me he and his wife were here to do some light mountain climbing.  He said he was from Poitiers. I really perked up. Poitiers! Eventually I mentioned a house swap.

“Good idea,” he said, “but a person has to be sure about the person he’s dealing with.”

Yes, indeed. I got his address. Back in Deep River, my hometown in Connecticut that is right on the great unspoiled Connecticut River, I got to work. I began sending him info about how delightful and historic Deep River is , plus the endless opportunities  in the area. And behold! He and his wife agreed to swap. And we worked out all the details.

Now about my trip over here. I bought a round-trip flight Newark-Paris on Orbitz.com.  The best deal Orbitz suggested, definitely a good one, was on Continental for $549.

On Tuesday morning I took the commuter train at 9:15 to New Haven, and there changed to the train heading to Grand Central Station, New York, all for just $15 with my senior discount.  Then an express bus to the airport, normally $12, but only $6 for me.  So, quite a bargain for $21 in all.

To be honest, the train was grimy and the ride not smooth, in fact surprisingly rough for one stretch. The bus ride, right to the door of my terminal, was excellent.  A bonus was that the bus gave me more interesting views, particularly of Manhattan from the Jersey side of the Hudson. I must say Newark is a sparkling, marvelous airport. Well, I think so.

Our Continental Boeing was jammed but the flight excellent, the crew attentive.  I had ordered a vegetarian dinner not really thinking I’d get it on such a cheap ticket, but I did. We took off at nearly midnight, but I dozed only an hour on the six-hour crossing, at dawn just before landing..

A gray, cool morning in France.  That was a disappointment. Charles de Gaulle, a very impressive airport as you would expect in France, is on the outskirts of Paris. I felt it too much trouble to dash into the city, then dash back for my train.  That was okay. I’d been to Paris half a dozen times.

I had hoped to take a Eurolines bus to Poitiers, but not available. Eurolines is the Greyhound Bus of Europe, so to speak, but better. Most of the time I prefer buses, but that’s a topic for another time.

Paco had given me specific instructions: take the TGV, the very fast train, right from the airport to Poitiers.  I checked and on this day the TGV was the only choice. I bought my ticket but had to cool my heels for more than three hours, a long time. So I scouted, poking into various shops.  I read just about the full LeMonde, the great Parisian daily.

And I got into a couple of conversations.  One with a mustached Australian, in Paris on a sales mission.  Hoped his light French would be good enough. Another with a husky Norwegian with grimy fingernails but fine grooming. Told me he was just back from western Africa. He had  been summoned there to repair a big ship with a nasty diesel engine problem.

What struck me was his perfect English. “All Norwegians learn good English,” he said. “We begin at age 4 and keep it up all through school.”

Finally the train.  Superb.  Remarkably clean, remarkably smooth.  I didn’t feel it when it began rolling.  We cruised easily.  Much faster than 100 mph, I know, but I’m not sure how much.  It often does better than 150.  Much faster than our touted Acela.  A great ride.

The problem was that I had an assigned seat, one where I and my seatmate faced the couple opposite us.  That can be very bad if they’re not up to some conversing. These two were stolid.  After a while I didn’t know how to avoid the eyes of the fellow facing me. Bad, bad.

We made eight or ten stops. Interesting.  The land was flat.  This was the great agricultural plain, with magnificent fields stretching to the horizon.  I was amazed by vast fields aflame with yellow flowers.  So thick they seemed an endless, gorgeous yellow carpet.  Van Gogh would have gone wild with his paint brushes here.

When I asked, the fellow across from me told me it was colza.  Had never heard of colza.  My little dictionary told me colza was rapeseed.  I’m not familiar with rapeseed.  Used to make a table oil, Paco told me later.  The good kind, low in cholesterol.  Beautiful in the field.

Paco was waiting for me in Poitiers.  Big smile, hearty embrace. “Bienvenu!” he said. “Welcome!”  He led me to his big blue VW van and we got to his house in less than 10 minutes. Mimi greeted me with a big sunny smile.

Oh, I must tell you.   The train ride was twice as long but took me about 40 minutes less than my ride to Manhattan.  This was a much better train and ride, as I said. But it cost a whopping 45 Euros — $61.75, in fact, and that was after a 25 percent senior discount.  Remember, I paid $21 back home.  That was the beginning of my severe sticker shock.  So far everything seems far more expensive.

Here are two more quick examples.  A gallon of 87 octane gas is $8.75.  A cup of coffee is $2.  Remember, prices here are in Euros now.  The Euro and the dollar were even just a few years ago, when the Euro was introduced.  Today the Euro is worth $1.35.

Paco believes the Euro has led to this inflation, at least in France.  The Euro is the currency of the land in 15 countries, I believe. I plan to talk more about prices and the cost of living in a later report.

That’s what makes this house swap so wonderful. It makes our trip so economical and affordable despite the inflation.  As I mentioned, we’re also swapping cars.  I eat with them at their table.  At this minute Mimi is doing my small laundry along with theirs in their washing machine.

I am writing this on their computer in Paco’s study.  They’re always asking if everything is fine.  Couldn’t be better!

Paco and Mimi will love our low prices in Connecticut.  Low to them, that is, if not to us.  I hope they’ll live it up.

We’re hitting it off.  It’s early in the swap, of course.

Paco takes me out twice a day.  Sometimes we take his car. Most often we go on walks.

Poitiers is a city of about 80,000.  It is an old medieval city, heavy with history and rich with charm.  It has an acclaimed university, centuries old.  It has thousands of students.  Right now they’re off on vacation, and Paco breathes a sigh of relief. They’re great kids.  Just that it’s nice to have a break.

Poitiers is worth plenty of words, and I’ll pour them out later. For now I’ll simply say it’s a fine destination, perfect for what Annabelle and I have in mind.  Which is to soak up the very best of everything French for a few weeks.

Paco and I have been having wonderful talks.  We go on and on, about so many things.  Mimi is always busy cooking and puttering, but she’s constantly listening and often offers comments. Definitely a sharp lady.  She smiles and laughs a lot. Her students must have loved her.

A fine cook, too.  Honest French food.  A zucchini cream soup this noon, made from scratch.  Then two cheeses, a creamy one and a hard, nutty one, served with chunky bread and a salad of lettuce and olives.  With a robust red wine. Then a crème brulée for dessert.  Finally an espresso coffee. How good it is.

Paco cleaned off the table.  I offered to do the dishes.  I was serious. I wash the dishes, I mean by hand, in Deep River. Mimi smiled but said Non, Non, Non!  She was utterly serious, too. But maybe I’ll get her to give in.

Hope…and trust…are what this whole undertaking is all about.  So far, it couldn’t be better.  I’ll keep you posted.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Please remember, dear reader, that was back in 2005.

You’ll be receiving my second report in a few days. You’ll see in detail how Milady Annabelle and I made out on our own in Poitiers and environs. A bientot, as the French say. Until then!






Eyeglasses needed. One pair.

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — Our Senior Center in the lobby has a Lions Club eyeglass box.  About the size of a double-size shoebox.

It’s  for members to drop in their old eyeglasses when they’ve bought a new pair. Eventually a Lions Club member stops by, carries off the box, and leaves a new box.

The Lions Club does this to make eyeglasses available free to people who can’t afford a new pair. It’s a wonderful thing.

On my last visit I saw sitting there just yards away from me an old man. He needed a shave. His clothes and sneakers were scruffy.

Could be he wasn’t one of our members. Maybe just a gent who had heard of this and had come in hoping.

He had the box on his lap. Was trying on a pair, then another. Saving one pair, rejecting another. Till he reached the last pair in the box.

Mind you, in full view of people coming and going. So embarrassing, I would think. Not to him, it seemed. He was focused one hundred percent on his search.

Some of the glasses were for ladies. He skipped those, of course. One problem was obvious. He had to find not only the most appropriate lenses. But also the most appropriate frame.

Kept at it until he reached the last pair. Never glanced at me.

Finally he chose one pair and tucked it in his pocket. It made me think maybe he needed them only for reading.

Both the lenses and the frame were less than perfect, I’m sure. He was walking out with a compromise and was okay with it.

I wondered what the Lions would think of this. Probably that it wasn’t a problem. After all, that’s why they provide this fine service — to help poor people.

How they go about this, I have no idea. Maybe all their glasses go to Americans, but maybe to people in Haiti, or Timbuktu.

Anyway, as I walked out, I had one question on my mind. How could this be taking place in the year of Our Lord 2019, here in California, which has the six largest economy in the world, after the USA, China, Japan, and Germany.  Imagine that!

Well, one thing is clear. Unfortunately, it was obvious that old guy was one of those not doing so well in this great economy of ours.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Larry Truesdale, Scientist! And artist!

By John Guy LaPlante

with 5 photos

Morro Bay, CA — He truly deserves those two exclamation points.

In his early 70s, Larry is retired as a scientist. But not quite. He does it part-time. And as an artist, he’s also part-time.

Carole checks a paper Larry is editing that was submitted by a scientist in Vietnam.

Let me explain in a simple way. Imagine it’s a work day, any work day.

In the morning, Larry will be working at his computer as a scientist. He is an Associate Editor of ACS Combinatorial Science, a journal of the  American Chemical Society.  Its journals are top-tier, international journals. They have an international readership and papers are submitted by scientists in other countries.

Generally they are the preferred journals in  which to publish scientific discoveries.  He became an editor by invitation in 2010.

He’s also an emeritus member of the American Chemical Society after a distinguished career in chemical research and development.

In a few minutes, I will tell you about that in detail. I found it interesting.

Now imagine it’s that same day but in the afternoon. Now Larry is the artist. His medium is not paints or marble. It’s wood. This is why he calls himself an artisan rather than an artist.  He works on revealing the hidden beauty Mother Nature hides in her woods of the world.

But those who buy and even collect his exquisite creations consider him a true artist. I’ll also tell you about that in detail.

Now notice that I have not been calling him Dr. Truesdale although he did earn a doctorate  in chemistry. And he’s a scientist with a distinguished reputation nationally and even worldwide.

And he has done this concurrently at times with his work as an industrial researcher.

As you’ve noticed, I’ve been calling him Larry. That’s because just about anybody here who knows him at all calls him Larry. There’s absolutely nothing uppity or standoffish about him.

He’s a genial, friendly, sports shirt and jeans fellow who enjoys meeting people and chatting with them.

One of Larry’s early passions was scuba diving.  He began shortly after graduating from high school in Cupertino CA.  Nearly every weekend he would go diving somewhere along the California coast, initially focusing on Santa Cruz and Monterey and then expanding to all points south as he moved to San Diego and Los Angeles for his B.A. and Ph.D.

He became not only familiar with the underwater coast, but with its coastal communities. He chuckled. “Scuba diving played a major role in keeping me fed as a student.”

One of the unexpected lessons of all this was that the Central Coast became his preferred place to retire in. At first he thought it would be Pismo Beach. “With  the wisdom of years and the reality of expenses, I chose Morro Bay!”

How did I get to know him? Through his wife Carole, also very talented, but in different ways. She was a seasoned “talent” on 97.3 FM, The Rock. It’s our nonprofit, advertising-free community radio station. It’s called The Rock because of the huge, famous monolith at the entrance to our harbor .

Carole did a very popular weekly show. She called it “Let’s Talk Food and Wine.”

I was a new “talent” on The Rock. In fact, a tyro  talent. I hosted a show called “Gabbing with Old Guy John.”

The big question: what can this piece of wood become?  He’ll decide, then get to work.

Each week I’d gab with a local person who knew a lot about some subject of broad general interest. But who was also good at talking. Not  just say yes, no, or maybe.

And my show would air just before Carole’s. And because I was inept at running the “board,” you know, working the various switches and controls. Carole, bless her heart, would do that for me. That way I could concentrate on “working” my guest.

And through Carole, I got to meet Larry. I was so impressed that I soon had him on my show as a guest. We discussed health care, the pharmaceutical industry, and the Federal Drug Administration.  Listeners got a lot out of it.

A bit more now about hum. He is a native Californian, born in the Bay area (San Mateo). He did his undergrad studies at the University of California San Diego and earned his doctorate at the University of California Los Angeles. He then did a post-doctoral fellowship at MIT in Massachusetts.

He did all that heavyweight work under the direction of eminent scientists. Some world-renowned. “After 23 years of schooling and at age 28, I finally went to work at a paying job.”

He told me something I found extra interesting. ” In college I majored in chemistry and minored in economics. I enjoyed them both, John. They both dealt with big, real-world problems affecting millions of people.

“Finding real-world solutions to them is challenging. On the one hand, developing new or better projects. On the other, producing them more economically.

“So why did I choose chemistry rather than economics? Because it was an intellectual plus a hands-on activity.”

He got his first job in 1975 at Allied Chemical Central Research in Morristown, New Jersey.  The problems they faced were scientifically challenging, but the pennies per pound issues that needed to be solved were not what he calls 

Carole checks a paper Larry is editing that was submitted by a scientist in Vietnam.

“my bag of tea.”

After four years , he decided to join Hoffman LaRoche in Nutley, New Jersey. In their labs for six years he worked on vitamins and pharmaceutical drug products to improve human health.  This involved both doing and directing research.

Ultimately, over a span of 35 years he worked at four nationally known pharmaceutical companies and between those positions he helped start four new ventures.

He told me he was continually tackling bigger, forefront scientific and financial problems while taking on greater responsibilities.  Eventually he was directing a staff of 75 scientists and several multi-million-dollar projects in pharmaceutical technology.

His final 10 years were with Pfizer Pharmaceutical in their San Diego branch. There he was directing global projects with budgets in the hundreds of million of dollars. I whistled when I heard that.

By the way, during some of those years he was also an adjunct professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey and San Diego State University.

Meanwhile he was writing or co-writing dozens of learned papers, breaking new scientific ground. And giving invited lectures around the world.

”You know, John, all those papers had to be submitted to journals for publication. So now as an editor, I understand the nervousness and anxiety scientists go through to make their findings known to the world. I can feel sympathetic.””

Some of his exquisite pens. Carole checks for the most beautiful.

He’s also been a speaker at conferences for scientists. Sometimes THE speaker. He told me that one time he was invited to speak in Moscow, not just to Russian scientists, but to a gathering of European pharmaceutical scientists.

He noticed what I was thinking. He smiled.”Yes, I spoke in English. It was translated because my Russian is very poor.”

Now let me tell you about Larry, the artist.

He told me, “Back when I was in middle school I took what was called ‘shop’ classes. You know, where you get to learn the basics of carpentry, draftsmanship, wiring, auto repair, and so on.

“But sad to say, a lot of folks today don’t consider that very important classwork. I think that it is. It gives kids an idea of what they might like to do in life. Or not like to do.

“Well, I made a garbage can and carved a bowl. I was proud of them. And I did that with my hands. I liked that a lot. I thought it was a lot more important than building model planes and gliders, which was just fun. And that had much to do with my becoming a woodturner.”

But first, he became a woodworker. Still is. He took me to his home. A lovely, very modern, large two-story house. Lovely, take my word for it.

Larry did much of the work in modifying it to his and Carole’s tastes.

He moved walls. He installed doors. He built closets and shelves and cabinets. In fact, he built the fine open staircase to the second floor with wonderful cherry woodwork.

Well, now about his woodturning. He led me into his shop, a one-car garage. I looked around for a full three minutes.

Here are just a few of his creations. Notice the variety. And that  smile! A happy man!

The centerpiece was a massive lathe. The walls were lined with the largest array of woodworking tools that I have ever seen. All meticulously positioned.

On one wall, dozens of woodworker’s chisels with razor-sharp blades, narrow and broad, some flat, some curved.

In corners here and there, large stockpiles of assorted blocks of wood. Some lighter in color, some darker. Many of them exotics from many parts of the world. Many rare, many I have never heard of. All in readiness for whatever new project he might undertake.

My quick impression: Larry would need a lifetime, maybe two lifetimes, to transform all those blocks of wood into finished items.

First, he donned a woodworker’s jacket, making sure every button was fastened.

Then he said, “John, please stand back while I do this.”

Then he turned on the lathe. He already had a block of wood locked in the chuck. Now with his long woodturning tool precisely poised in both hands, he deftly positioned the blade against the block. A whirlwind of chips began to fly. Whew!

I got the idea. I saw the fine and precise way he would transform this raw block of wood into the final work of art he had in mind.

Later he showed me samples of his finished pieces. Some small, some large. Some of a uniform diameter, such as for ballpoint pens.

Some of compound diameters, such as for beautiful, one-of-a-kind salt and pepper shakers. Many embellished with exquisite inlays in various colors, some totally unique. Intended as proud possessions. Or impressive gifts. Or collector’s pieces.  He even had some beautiful Christmas ornaments made from rare woods and sea urchin shells.

It’s not surprising that an interesting assortment of his pieces are offered for sale at the Suite 1 Gallery on the Embarcadero down on our waterfront. Lots of tourists there.

Well, I believe my telling you only about Larry Truesdale, Scientist, would have been reason enough to justify this post.

And that telling you about Larry Truesdale, Woodturner / Artist,  definitely merits those two exclamation marks I added up top.







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