August 15, 2022

Now they’re up in Maine, homesteading. What?!

Richard and Maria on top of their new world, surrounded by their wild blueberries.. She picked the flowers on the way up. Visible are their home and barn, and far back, Lake St. George.

Richard and Maria on top of their new world, happy in their fields of wild blueberries.  Visible  below are their home and barn, and far back, Lake St. George. She picked the flowers on the walk up.

 

By John Guy Laplante     With 9 photos.

Liberty, Maine–Is it possible for two people in middle-age–late middle age –to change just about every aspect of their lives and find fulfillment in a new life style?

I said just about every aspect.  Here is what I mean.  To change the person they would live with.  Where they would live.  What they would do for a living.  How they would spend their money.  And so many other aspects that spin off from these.

Well, I know a couple who have done exactly that.  And I have just seen them up close in this new life of theirs.  Nothing on this earth is perfect, and that’s certainly true of human relationships.  But from what I have witnessed of these two, I would say they are happy.  In fact, surprisingly happy.

I am speaking of Richard and Maria King.  Richard is from Deep River, Connecticut, which is my town. Maria is from Poland.  They met online and then in Warsaw and quickly became convinced that they shared many aspirations.

By the way, he knew hardly any Polish.  She knew some basic English–she studied it in school, but only because she had to. She also speaks German.

Richard has been an architect for over 30 years, with a varied and interesting practice.  Maria was, as she puts it, a “paper pusher” for 25 years.  I think she was being modest. I have met her. I believe that her “paper pushing” was sophisticated and complex. They both had a yearning to simplify their lives and to become self-sufficient as much as possible.

They were married in Massachusetts in May 2010. Now, for a farm! On their honeymoon, they went to central Maine, really rural central Maine between Augusta, which is the state’s capital, and Belfast on the Atlantic.  It’s a land of tiny villages, old farms, and beautiful lakes. There is also a strong culture of supporting local food production—“localvoring.”

They had joined the Maine Farmland Trust, an organization that specializes in connecting farmers looking for farms with farms that are for sale.  Following up on a lead, they turned onto a thinly populated road in the back country here. They came upon a long-unused farm. Not exactly a farm. The place had only an old  cabin–a hunting cabin. An open floor plan finished in knotty pine. A kitchen and bathroom (including a septic system), but no running water. Only a wood stove for heating and a small gas stove for cooking. It did have electricity.

There wasn’t even a real driveway.  Just a field road winding six hundred feet up to the cabin.

they love their goats and their goats love them. It's that simple. Don't they look happy?

They love their goats and their goats love them. It’s that simple. Don’t they look radiantly happy?

But rising high behind the cabin was a hill that was a big field.  On that day, windy and overcast, they saw the whole field covered with native blueberry plants. They got excited by the wild character of the land and its rough rock outcroppings.

They strolled to the top of that hill.  Down on one side, less than a mile away, they could see the clear blue water of Lake St. George.  It’s a big lake, and is the home of a state park.  Beautiful. And off to another side they saw several nearby mountains and a very large one in the distance.  It’s only later that they found out it was the famous Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park, up by Bar Harbor–fifty- four miles away.

They were thrilled.  This was the place!

They bought the place, and, as Richard puts it, it didn’t cost them an arm and a leg. “I saw we could do it,” he says.   “It wasn’t just a crazy pie in the sky dream.”

“It was so, so beautiful!”  says Maria.  “Perfect!”

That was three years ago and they became permanent Mainers one year later.  Well, I just visited

A gift for me for the road--fresh-picked cucumbers and fresh-made cheese. That's the house, attached barn, and separate barn.

A gift for me for the road—fresh-picked cucumbers and fresh-made cheese. That’s the house, attached barn, and separate barn. All part of a plan.

them.  Their homesteading is far from over. They plan to do much more.  But what an impressive start!

The first months were not easy.

Said Maria, “Being here in winter without water. Can you imagine?

But we did enjoy aspects of it. A lot! And had fun sliding down the hill on a sled.”

They work seven days a week, 8-9 hours a day, with hammer and saw, pick and shovel, scythe, and backhoe, or whatever. They are true partners.  Maria works as hard as he does, and at the real physical jobs, too.

Here are some down-to-earth details.

The blueberries. It is not their cash crop (yet, there is a local blueberry cooperative interested in next year’s harvest), but they pick enough to freeze them for use through the winter. The remaining berries stay in the field feeding the coyotes, Canada geese, turkeys, maybe also moose (they have seen one recently in the field), and, oh yes, their goats!

The goats.  Visiting their new property in the fall of 2010, they attended the regionally famous Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine.  Lots of livestock to look at.  They became interested in the goats.

Said Maria, “Goats are so intelligent!  And social and emotional!”  Richard chimed right in.  “They are. We have a very close relationship with them. She’s right.  Goats and pigs are the most intelligent of all domesticated animals.”

They decided to get dairy goats to have their own milk and to make raw-milk cheese.

They heard of a goat farmer in Connecticut who taught goat husbandry.  They signed up.  Worked with him for ten weeks, five mornings a week.

A recent addition are these hives with thousands of bees--their essential partners.

These hives house their thousands of bees–their essential partners. Maria makes a special herb tea for them.

Learned as much as they could about goats.  When and how to feed them and water them.  How to milk them. How to de-horn them when necessary.  What diseases they’re prone to.  On and on.

Upon “graduation,” the farmer gave them $400 apiece for their labor, four baby goats and two bales of hay.  It was June 2011. The moment of the new start. They put the goats and the hay in the back of their Honda Fit and took them up to Maine.

That was the beginning of their herd. They now have eight, one buck, two wethers (castrated bucks) and five does.

Said Maria, “We are so happy to have them. In a way they are like people.  Each one has its own personality.  We’ve been very lucky.  We have nice goats.”

“Except for one,” added Richard.  “Nasty.  Very hard to put up with him. We had to put him down.”  He smiled wryly.  “He’s in our freezer now.”

One goat really caught their heartstrings.  Asher.  In one word, a darling. But only nine months old, he became gravely ill.  They took him to a veterinarian.  He said it was hopeless and they watched as the doctor gave him a fatal injection. As they told me about it, I could tell what a traumatic experience that was for them.

As they spoke, I got the feeling the goats were part of their family.  That’s really how they felt about them.

In the yard, we watched as the goats munched grass and moved around freely. They never go far off. Richard said that soon  they will breed two of the gals. Caleb, the buck, will be the sire.

“Then in five months we’ll have four new babies,” Maria said. “Maybe six.” She was so pleased about it. “Next fall we will breed all five of our does. Where should it lead? We will figure out when it comes so far.”

It was milking time.  “Come and watch,” Richard told me.  I followed the two of them into the attached barn. Richard had designed and built a milking stand.  He placed some goodies into a pan at the front and brought in a goat, which hopped onto the stand.  Her name was Lilith. She was so happy. Maria tenderly Lilith’s teats and began milking her.  It took only five or six minutes.

Smilingly she showed me the milk.  Very white, a bit bubbly. About a liter and a half. “Isn’t it beautiful?”  she said.  I just nodded.  I’ve never had goat milk, in fact, goat anything in my life. She added, “We drink it just as it is.  No pasteurization.”

Now about their construction and fix-up projects.

It's milking twice a day, seven days a week. They use the milk straight. No pasteurization.

It’s milking twice a day, seven days a week. And no holidays. They use the milk straight. No pasteurization.

They’ve made big improvements to the cabin. They’ve done a lot of finish work. Drilled a deep well, which was all-important. They now have a bathroom with even a big, big tub (a cattle watering tank actually).  They heat with their woodstove but have constant gas hot water.  And a small  kitchen. Comfortable furniture.

In one corner is Richard’s office complete with computer and Wi-Fi.  Maria has her own computer.  Many bookshelves loaded with books, and what a variety.

They had me sit down with them for dinner.  I’m a vegetarian, so they made it vegetarian.  Nice people. I suspect they may becoming vegetarians too.  A very tasty dish – pasta with stinging nettle. Maria separated the leaves from the stems with bare hands! She did not mind the stinging, after boiling the plant looses the sting.  Fresh-from- the-garden tomatoes with basil and Maria’s goat cheese, which I found tasty and surprisingly chewy. Red wine.   Plus lots of good talk.

The taste and the texture of that cheese Maria brought from Poland in her memory. Similar cheeses are made in the Polish Tatra (part of the Carpathian mountain range). Astonishingly enough the cheese  is formed by hand and molded in Maria’s own crocheting!

They’ve also done a lot of building.  Added a long, enclosed porch along one side of the house.  Added an attached barn for the female goats. It’s accessed through the porch, which makes it easy when it rains and in the winter.  Built a separate and bigger barn with a hayloft a few feet away.  They keep the goat guys there—important to keep them apart from the does.  And a couple of small outbuildings.

And three beehives!  They have thousands of bees buzzing around (each hive has between 40 and 60 thousand occupants) and making honey back there. “Bees are essential to mankind,” says Richard.  “They pollinate everything.  So of course they are essential to us here.”

At the grave of their favorite goat, Asher. Maria made the plaque with his name.

At the grave of their favorite goat, Asher. He died very young. Maria made the plaque with his name.

They look forward to harvesting some honey and some comb wax next year. By the way, Maria makes a special herb tea for the bees, which is fed to them by feeders in the hives. “It strengthens their immune systems,” she says. Richard added, “There is a worldwide problem with bees being killed by pesticides. We want to help them survive.”

They have a big garden near the house.  Maria has made it her very own. Vegetables. Herbs. Flowers. So many kinds of all of those.  She knows even the Latin names of many of them.  She uses the herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes. She’s making the garden bigger, turning over the earth with a spade. No rototiller here.  “I like doing it the old-fashioned way.”

As the three of us walked through it, Maria spotted a big fat caterpillar crawling through the grass. Pointed it out for me. “Don’t step on it, John!” I didn’t intend to.

Richard scooped it up with his hand. The little thing curled up into a tight ball.  Traumatized with fear, I suppose…if a caterpillar can sense such emotions. Gently he put it back into the grass.  We watched it move along. “A butterfly before long!” he said. “If it doesn’t become food for something.”

I noticed a big, shiny blue tractor parked off to one side.  With a front loader and a backhoe.  Obviously a major purchase.  Maria nodded and chuckled.  “That was Richard’s dream!  And his dream has come true here!” But it also was needed for digging holes in the ground and long tranches for pipes and foundation, for moving stones and small buildings, for establishing the driveway!

That long, curving driveway from the road seemed a problem, well, to me.  Especially in the winter.  “We shovel the snow,” said Richard.  “Sounds

Their studying never ends. Then they put it into practice.

The studying never ends. Then they put it into practice very satisfying.

strange, I know, but we even enjoy it.”

“How about that big tractor? Can’t you use that?”

“No, it doesn’t work out because the loader is rigidly fixed to the tractor and cannot  ‘ride’ on the driveway surface like a regular plow. It has a tendency to dig into the surface.”

What do they do for recreation? “We read a lot.  Sometimes I read to Maria and she reads to me.  We use our computers a lot, but we enjoy them, too.  In the summer we occasionally go swimming in Lake St. George.  We enjoy films and use Netflix extensively. We also view films at the Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville, which has ‘art-house’ aspirations and was one of the venues for the Maine International Film Festival last July.  But know what? Our daily work is really wonderful recreation.”

Richard does all the errands in one or two trips a week.  Maria stays at home. She smiles.  “I like it here!” She goes days without leaving the place.

It turns out Richard is still an architect.  On a small scale.  Projects keep coming to him, even from Connecticut.  It’s a 5 1/2 hour car ride on the Interstates each way.  “The telephone and the Internet make it a lot easier than it seems.”

In the morning, after I interviewed them a little, Richard said to me, “Let’s take a walk to the top of the hill.”  Off we went.

Up at the top, we had a clear view all around.  The sun was high and it was all very beautiful.  I could see Lake St. George.  A very nice sight.  Maria pointed East toward Cadillac Mountain, but it was too hazy to see it.

Turning around, we looked down on their homestead.  Their house–well, it’s no longer just a rude hunting cabin. It’s a real home. Saw the two barns.  Even the big blue tractor. And so many other things they have done.  Very impressive for just two years.  All the result of very hard work and real determination and passion.

One huge achievement, to me for sure, is how well Maria speaks English. Amazing. And the variety of her interests. I see this quite often. She emails me a comment about one or another of my blogs. She’s a lady of few words, but her comments are always interesting.

Walking back down, we passed close to a big boulder. Maria led us right up to it.  Attached to one side of it was a small sign with one word. “Asher.” I knew that was the name of their first goat. And what happened to him.

They had chosen the boulder and Richard had used his tractor to place it on Asher’s grave.

The dinner that they invited me to share with them. They both cook.

The dinner that they invited me to share with them. They both cook. I enjoyed every bite.

“Who made that nice little sign?”  I asked.  Maria said, “I did. Do you like it?  It’s a crocheting covered with fiberglass.  It should last a long time.”

Back down, I said goodbye, hopped into my van, and started slowly down the rough driveway.  In my mirror I could see they were watching me go.  I stuck my hand out the window and gave them a little wave, and they waved back.

On my way through tiny and quiet Liberty and onto the highway, I was very deep in thought.  I had been in on Richard’s bold dream from the very start. I watched it unfold one bit at a time, but then, far from where it was taking place up north.

And I wondered time and again, is this just another mid-life crisis, one that may have an unhappy ending? Now, from what I had just seen, I didn’t think that.

So again, dear friends, I ask you, is it possible for two people of strikingly different backgrounds and in late middle age to begin a challenging new life in a new part of the country and find fulfillment?  What do you think?

Well, up here in rural back-road Maine, it certainly seems so for Richard and Maria.

They have their own website (www.goatspiritfarm.com), which Maria maintains.

I just looked at it. They had not mentioned it. I found out when I got home and received an email from them.  It’s amazing, like so many of the things they’ve been doing. Wonderful text, photos, and design. Its name…goatspirit farm!  I suggest you take a look.

End

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange musings in a Quebec graveyard

This famous farmers market was my first stop. Very interesting. The next was even more interesting.

This farmers market was my first stop. Very interesting. The next was even more so.

By John Guy LaPlante

Saint-Dominique, Province of Quebec–As you know, I count a lot on Lady Serendipity to make my wanderings more interesting.  I never know when she’ll tap me on the shoulder, or why. But it’s always wonderful. It always leaves me hoping she’ll do it again soon.

Well, she tapped me again today.

I got on the road early this morning, made a couple of stops, and it was 1:30 p.m.—13:30 the way they keep time here—and I still hadn’t had lunch. I like lunch at noon sharp. That’s a hang-over from my boarding school days. My stomach was growling.

I was rolling through this  tiny town by the beautiful Yamaska River. I spotted a Catholic church–and its empty  parking lot. Saint-Dominique Church, a sign said, Same name as the town, which is common up here. Pulled in and parked as far back from the road as I could where it was nice and quiet.

Right in front of me, only a hundred feet away, was a cemetery.  The Saint-Dominique parish cimetiere. Not a problem. Nobody resting there would disturb me, I felt quite sure. And I’d try to be quiet.

Back 20 miles, I had stopped in Saint-Hyacinthe. A very old city but quite modern now. Impressively modern, in fact. I’ve been there a few times over the years. I’ve seen the changes. But what I visited and liked best every time was its old farmers market.

It’s been a farmers market—THE farmers’ market hereabouts—for more than a hundred years. In the same grand, handsome brick building with big covered verandas on all four sides. Right in the heart of the ancient quartier.   This is superbly fertile farm land with talented farmers and it grows tons and tons of magnificent fruits and vegetables. It’s famous for them.

There are plenty of supermarkets here now. They sell good stuff from anywhere and everywhere, as all supermarkets do and as we all know. But at this farmers market is where you shop for the very finest local produce.  Blue-ribbon produce. So I went again.  It was a must, though my needs as a solo traveler are limited.

When I went there as a boy with my father, there were a few cars and trucks parked around it, but lots of horses and wagons. I remember it vividly. This morning I easily found the market again but the traffic was horrific. Not a single horse and wagon, of course. But so many cars and trucks. I had to circle around for a parking space, finally got one. But a one-hour limit! Oh, well, no choice.

As usual, the farmers on the verandas around the building were manning their stands.  Such an abundance of wonderful produce. They were real farmers. I could tell by their clothes and their hands and their boots. Plenty of shoppers, too.

I walked through all four verandas and studied everything. I liked the apple man’s wonderful displays. Decided I’d come back at the end to buy some. I entered the old building.

Very busy, too. But what a change. These were not the butchers and fish peddlers and egg sellers of the old days. As usual, the long central aisle was lined with little stands. As always, they sold eggs or cheeses or fish or poultry or sausages or jams and wines. prepared foods. But they weren’t really stands. They had become boutiques. Fancy, classy, pricey boutiques.

A lot of their products were nicely displayed in fancy show cases, some refrigerated. Many things were beautifully boxed or gift-wrapped. The men behind the counters wore high-fashion chef’s outfits, or big striped aprons and super-size bow ties. The sales gals were dressed as country milk maids, but right off a movie set. and they and the  gals at the cash registers could have made it as starlets for sure.

I was startled by the prices. They seemed astronomical, well, to me. But plenty of buyers around. Some locals and some obviously tourists. The apple turn-overs were irresistible. I bought one. Just a small thing….a one-person, one-meal dessert. Just three or four bites. $4.50! Welcome to the St-Hyacinth Farmers Market 2013!

The cash register girl looked so cute in her outfit that I snapped her picture.  I think you’ll agree she’s cute.

She wowed me so much I forgot how much my turnover was costing me!

She wowed me so much I forgot how much my turnover was costing me!

Oh, I also bought a smidgeon of fine local cheese, some tiny, right-from-the-garden carrots, a bunch of gorgeous red radishes, and a small, crusty, wonderfully dense bread.  I know you’re thinking a bottle of wine, too. Nope. I had some fresh lemonade waiting for me in my van.

Plus  the apples I had spotted early. I’m an apple man. Always have been, always will be. I’ve always believed an apple a day is smart. And three even smarter.

That stand had apples so beautiful that I thought Eve must have bought the one she used to tempt Adam from this farmer. This guy’s apples were so outstanding. So perfect. All fresh-picked. From an orchard just five kilometers out.

And his prices were a bargain. The only bargain in the whole market, it seemed to me. $1.75 per pound for one or two pounds. But only $1.35 per pound for three or four pounds. Then only $1 per pound for five pounds. I decided on five pounds.  Apples keep well. Besides, five pounds would last me barely a week.

They were displayed on long tables. Nice white paper bags full of them.  Four different varieties.  No Macs,  no Baldwins, no Delicious, no Rome.  A beautiful display. Each bag had its variety of apples printed on it. The names didn’t mean a thing to me. These were all local Saint-Hyacinth varieties.

The grower was impatient. I knew what he was thinking. Why didn’t I decide? Was I just a looker?

Monsieur,” I said, speaking French.  “Five pounds, please. I’m from the United States.  I know nothing about these varieties. Possible to mix them?”

“Bien sur, monsieur!”  — “Of course, sir!”

He chose them all carefully, from all four varieties, one by one, packed them carefully, even to the point when a few might fall out. Which impressed me. Handed them to me with a smile.  I handed him a crisp Canadian $5 bill.  (Must tell you their bills  are so much more beautiful than our bills, and so much more high-tech!)  He smiled and wished me a good day. I did the same. Back toward the van I started.

Oh, by the way. The Canadian dollar right now is worth less than our dollar, so my gorgeous apples cost less that a dollar a pound.

I spotted a bookstore. Very nice bookstore. I put my goodies in the van and walked back to the bookstore.  Just 15 minutes, I told myself. Just to look at Canadian books, French and English. I was in there for 40 minutes or so. And walked out with two books that put me back $74. Well, I like to bring home nice souvenirs for myself.

But I was in that one-hour parking spot, and I was a half hour late. I kicked myself for taking so long. A $25 ticket would spoil things. But no ticket! And that’s why it was 1:30 when I pulled into that church yard because I was famished.

 

I sat in my tiny, cozy “living room” in the rear of my van and ate my delicious cheese and crusty bread with a couple of tiny carrots and radishes and my glass of lemonade. And half my apple-turnover.  Then I had a thought. That small turnover had cost just a few cents less than that big bag of apples that would last me days! Not a good thought.

I’d enjoy one of those fine fresh apples as a late afternoon snack, and polish off that extravagant turn-over after my supper.

As I munched and enjoyed, I studied the cemetery right ahead.  It had rained hard yesterday, but today made up for it. Blue sky, great puffy clouds, warm sunshine.  It wasn’t a huge cemetery. Just a nice small parish cemetery. A variety of grave stones, old and recent, on a gorgeous lawn. And on a mound in the center, a monument of Jesus Christ executed on the Cross, with his mother Mary and one side, and Mary Magdalene on the other (some scholars now believe she was Jesus’ wife).

And below him, but much smaller, another of the Virgin Mary, as an afterthought, for emphasis, I imagine.

I like to take walks every day, often several. This was perfect for one. Didn’t bother even to lock the van. Absolutely nobody live around. Made sure I had my camera in my pocket. And ambled over.

About 250 graves, I’d say, lined up as usual in row after row.  I walked every row. Every single name was a French name.  Quebec has become multi-everything, with thousands of new immigrants from many countries pouring in every year. But not one of them had decided to die in Saint-Dominique. Yet.

In fact, I noticed the name LaPlante on five graves. My father, Arthur Joseph, who had moved down to the U.S. around 1923 as a young man, had grown up in a village near here.  (My Mom came from one farther north.) Surely some of these LaPlantes must be kin to me. No easy way of knowing,  of course. I’d love to meet a few of them.

Some of the gravestones were unreadable because so eroded by time, and some were just a few months old.  It was so easy to speculate about some of those resting under the sod here.    One was a boy of three months, Gaetan.   Another was a lady of 97—who came to rest here in 1953. So she was born 159 years ago. Imagine that! With today’s medical wonders, she’d probably live to  age 140.

Some of the stones were as modest as modest could be.  And some so big, of marble so beautiful.  So pretentious, but that’s not a nice word. Well, I don’t think so. What were the stories of their obviously different occupants, here in a community so homogeneous?  They’d be so interesting.

Then I saw a monument with a quotation on it. An engraved quote. So interesting. And another with a different quotation. And another and another. They were a small number in all, maybe 30 or 40. Most of the stones didn’t bother to carry such a post script.  Never had I seemed so many headstones with a quotation in such a small cemetery.

Not one LaPlante headstone had a quotation. What to make of that?

I reached for my pad and pen. I always have them on me. No pen. Damn! No way could I memorize all these. I wanted you to see some of them. But I had my little camera. I snapped a picture of each one as I walked up and down the rows. It would be easy later to look at the pictures and type the quotations.

Well, here they are.  They were all in French.  I’ve translated them for you. Have tried to do a good job.

 

             ~ Lord, you have called me back to you. I leave those I loved so much. Take my place among them.

            ~ I rejoin those who loved me. I await those that I loved.

             On a woman’s stone:  ~  I loved you on Earth. I will love you in Heaven. I await you.

            ~  One day, we’ll all be united again.

            ~ Peace. Love. Friendship.

            ~ Together for life.

            ~  God lends us life and then claims it back.

            ~ I believed. Now I see!       

            ~ On the road to eternal life.

            ~ Consider the life that I begin, not the one I have left behind.

             ~ As long as memory of loved ones persists, they live on.

            ~ The memory of those who are loved never burns out.              

             ~ Watch out for all of us. Not clear whether this was addressed to the deceased, or to the Lord.

             ~ God gives us life then takes it back.      

            ~  To your hands, Lord, I return my soul.

            ~  The eyes that closed see again       

            Said of the man in this grave: ~  A man of courage. A free man.

            On the stone of a mother with a large family: ~ God reunites those who love one another.

           On the stone of a 20-year-old woman: ~  Your little daughter loves you. The whole family thinks of you.

          Two or three quotations of the above got repeated in slightly different versions. One was used four times!  So popular! Which one do you think it was? I’ll tell you at the bottom of this report.

            Well, it was clear to me there were no agnostics or atheists interred here. Certainly not if all of them were honest in the sentiments made public.

            As I walked along, I wondered. Who had decided on including a quotation? The man or woman buried here, or the spouse sharing the grave, or  one of their children left behind, or a brother or sister?

And who had written these beautiful and heartfelt sentiments? Yes, who? Was there ever a heated discussion in the family about the words chosen. Did one or another want something more religious, or shorter, or more sentimental, or simpler? Was there any quibbling about the length? After all, some of these cost a pretty penny to engrave in marble or granite.

But maybe all these quotations were available in a catalog in the office of the monument salesman. Is it possible that these quotations got chosen the way we choose a Christmas or birthday card?

Were they sentiments churned out by an anonymous scribe who got paid per accepted sentiment?  Each one with an indicated price? Maybe in some months some of these quotations were put on sale?  When business got slow. Hey, could be.

As I ambled around and snapped pictures, I found myself in deep meditation. Wonderful meditation. After all, I’m reaching a certain age, as most of you know.

I wondered, Would I want to be buried in a cemetery like this, under a headstone with my name and dates of birth and death on it. A stone more pretentious than those around me, or less pretentious, in a spot I could select in advance most to my liking?  If so, I would certainly like to be in the shade of a tree, a maple preferably. But looking around, I saw no trees. Not even a bush.

Would I find comfort in familiar names around me?  People who had been part of my community for years?

Would I, too, like a nice quotation? Who would write it?  I have talented children. I have talented friends. Who would okay it? Might that process create discord? Could I insist that I preview it and have the last say?

Hey, shouldn’t I write my own? After all, these would be my final words.  In stone, which wouldn’t last forever, of course. Enough gentle rains can blemish even the finest engraved words, as I could see for myself around me here.

But whatever words finally used would be far more lasting than my poor flesh and bones. Or the many, many words I’ve written on paper. So, shouldn’t I choose them?  I’ve been scribbling words longer than I can remember. Getting that final sentiment right would be quite interesting to play with. Yes, I decided. I’d like to write my own. But I’m not sure I want one.

Well, I walked among those graves for 45 minutes or so. And nothing, nothing interfered with my reveries. Not another visitor stopped by. Not a squirrel appeared, not a pigeon dropped down to rest on a headstone. If the shadows of the headstones on the ground changed, I never noticed. I’d stop at this grave, and that one, and wonder.

There were so many family names here that have been familiar to me for years and years. This was such a wonderful, idyllic moment. I felt no rush to move on. No rush at all.

But then, nature intervened, I needed a toilet. I hurried back to my van. I was walking fast, well, as fast as I could. Still I checked the surroundings of this holy place.  Off to the right was a bank. It was a little too close, if anything. But to  the left was a croquet court–a permanent croquet court, a beautiful court, obviously a thing of great community pride. That interested me, though I couldn’t pause.

People up here in Quebec love croquet. People of all ages play, both men and women, and often they play together, picking up a mallet and doing their best.  Such a pleasant thing on a long summer evening. So much skill is required. It’s such a nice way to maintain friendships and make new friends.  Such a civilized pastime. Every little town in the province seems to have a nice court, every city several. Often impressive courts.

It made me wonder, Why don’t we play croquet back in the U.S.? Some folks do, I’m sure, but I don’t know of any. My town of Deep River is famous for its passion for horseshoe playing.  It’s a pastime quite rare among our towns, from what I’ve seen. But it’s been a tradition in Deep River for years. An entrenched tradition. We have half a dozen horseshoe courts right on our village green, side by side. They attract fervent players every Thursday evening during the warm months. I’ve seen some pitching shoes even in the rain.

Many, mostly men but some women, too, which surprised me when I first moved into Deep River and came to watch from the sidelines. And always lots of fans. A vendor is on the scene with hot dogs and drinks and popcorn. It’s a great evening. But how come no croquet court? Who decides these things?

As I hurriedly left the cemetery, I paid attention to Saint-Dominique Church. I  hadn’t noticed it pulling in.  This was an old

Gosh, Saint-Dominique Church was breaking a long, long tradition. But I liked it.

Gosh, Saint-Dominique Church was breaking a long, long tradition. But I liked it.

town but this was not an old church, not one built for the centuries as tradition demands, of good stone and topped with a proud steeple which is always, always painted silver. Which is the norm for Catholic churches throughout the province. Our steeples are always white. Here always silver.

There are hundreds of such stone and silver Catholic churches in Quebec. Who would dare design anything different that that?  Well, somebody here in Saint-Dominiquc did. And I was looking at  it. I liked it.

This cemetery was an old one, You’d expect an equally old church by its side. But this  was a modern church, very different, in fact  a strikingly modernistic church, and most attractive. I felt I had to take a picture. And did. Did the old church burn down or something?

Well, I made it to a toilet on time. Then drove on. As I did, I thought of how Lady Serendipity had come through for me again. Wonderful Lady Serendipity.

If you’re curious, of course feel free to check her out on Google or any other search engine. I’m confident you won’t find a thing. Truth is, she exists in my mind. I created her.

She was the only way I could explain some things. How I delayed lunch today and finally stopped here to eat my lunch, for instance. And spotted this parish cemetery. An experience so remarkable that it made me eager to tell you about it.

I’m so glad Lady Serendipity inspired me. Is part of my life.  What would I do without her?

I hope she never deserts me.

Oh, the most popular inscription was “Consider the life that I begin, not the one I have left behind.”  At the end was the name “ Bossuet.”  A very valuable clue.

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet was a Catholic bishop in 17th Century France. Famous for his sermons and essays. Wouldn’t he be pleased to know that his words meant so much to some people that the words were chosen to mark their final place on Earth?

And pleased that one of them had given him credit for his words?

Well, some people will say, Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet knows!

What do you think?

 

end

 

A new life in a new land with challenges aplenty.

 

Tarek n familyTarek and Elena  are all smiles as

they get started in Quebec. They have faced

problems  before. He especially.

 

By John Guy LaPlante

Longueil, Province of Quebec – I just had a wonderful visit with Tarek and Elena in this suburb of Montreal. Met their three cute little daughters, ages 3 to 10. They are brand-new immigrants from Ukraine, so eager to start a new life with much brighter opportunities.

I thought I’d be with them an hour or two. Well, it was more than three.   So fascinatin to hear what they went through to get accepted here, and how they’re making it. Not easy!

I got to meet Tarek and Elena when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine.  They worked at Headquarters in Kyiv, the capital. He was a pharmacist in the medical department. I’d meet him when I went to see a doctor there. I served a full-hitch of 27 months so that happened quite often.

I found out he spoke French, quite a rarity there. He had to speak good English for that job, of course. But he was also fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, which I expected, but also in Algerian. Quite a feat! Sometimes I’d poke into his office just for a little chat in French with him.

His wife Elena was the travel assistant.  She was Ukrainian and a university grad. She handled arrangements for Headquarters staffers  and Volunteers on official travel. By plane, train, bus, or any combination.  In Ukraine and to any other country. All my travel was on my own, and I traveled quite a bit, in Europe and even to China. She didn’t have to be but was always cheerfully helpful.

They had good jobs. They were both in their 30s. I took it for granted they’d be there till they retired.   Imagine my surprise when I got an email from him a year ago. In French, by the way. He told me they were moving to Canada. Wow!

He asked me if I had any contacts in Montreal. They didn’t know a soul there. I said yes, and put him in touch with a couple. He was very appreciative.

More than once I wondered, Why did they make this enormous move, and with three little kids?  Leave family and friends, and of course lovely Kyiv? What made them decide it was worth facing all the difficulties and challenges they were sure to run into in Quebec?

So when I decided to come up here in my van, I lost no time asking to stop by and visit. He promptly and enthusiastically said yes.

I had bad luck. I showed up an hour late, and through no fault of mine. I had hardly parked when all five came out to welcome me. They had been at the window, watching for me!

It was the first time I saw Lisa, Sofia, and Amalia.   What sweet little girls.

I knew that Elena didn’t know a word of French, which is the official language here.  That was something to cause them concern. And the little girls would be facing that challenge, too, plus other tough adjustments.

Well, Tarek filled me in about everything.

First, about him. He was born in Ukraine and grew up in Algeria, and that’s why he’s so good at French in addition to the native Algerian.  His mother was Russian and his dad Algerian. They met in Moscow when they were students.

In Algeria, he decided he wanted to be a doctor. I asked him why. A lot of doctors go into medicine primarily to make money and enjoy prestige. That’s well known. “No, no,” he said.  “I wanted to help people.” I believe him. He graduated from medical school in Algiers and passed the credentialing test and became a certified M.D. there.

There was a war going on. He wanted no part of it. He moved to Ukraine. He had relatives there.  He found out that he couldn’t practice medicine there because of a crazy technicality. That’s how he got to work at Peace Corps as a pharmacist.

Along the way, he met Elena again. Love! Marriage! There three kids were born there.

So why did they decide to move to Quebec?   “We have three kids and we wanted for them to have more opportunities in life, and grow up in a multicultural environment. We spent a long time deciding. We’d move to another country. It hasn’t been easy. But we’re very glad we made that decision.”

I said to him, “You were turned down by the United States, is that what happened.”  In my work in Ukraine I had run into many people who thought about emigrating, and the U.S. was always their first choice. They thought of our country as Paradise on earth.  I always agreed with them that we’re a very wonderful country, but we have problems, too.  We’re no Paradise.

“No, we never considered the United States,” Tarek told me. That astonished me. I took it for granted that the U.S. had been their first choice.

“Why not?”

“It’s a fine country, but Canada is better.  It is less aggressive,  that’s for sure.  Children can grow up with less worry about having to go off somewhere in the world to fight in a war.

“And Canada, like the United States, is made up of people with all kinds of backgrounds, but Canadians seem to be more accepting of one another. There’s less discrimination, it seems to us.

“Taxes are much higher here, but there’s more money spent on services for people. Canadians don’t have to worry as much about good health care, for instance. Or good care when they’re old.  Or their children getting a good education that will be affordable. We researched all that. And that’s how we made our decision.”

I knew that  he was studying to be a pharmacist in Montreal. “How is that going, Tarek?”

“No, not a pharmacist. That takes five years and leads to a doctorate.  I’m studying to be licensed as a pharmacist technician. That takes one year full-time. I’ll complete that by Christmas.”

“Gosh, why assistant? That surprises me.”

“I just turned 40.  I have to earn money!  Elena is studying French full time in a College—a special program of preparation for immigrants. She enjoys it.  Is learning French. Quebec history and culture. Many practical things. Important things.

“And I intend to be a doctor again. That is my dream. It is possible, though there are many steps and it will take time. I will achieve it faster this way.  Five years in pharmacy school would make it impossible.”

I remembered that back in Ukraine, Tarek was completing a fellowship in radiology, including nuclear radiology, at a major hospital there. He’d be a  radiologist now if they had stayed there. Imagine that. They’d have a good life over there.

I looked around as we spoke.  They had a nice apartment on the first floor of a six-apartment building in a lower middle class neighborhood. It was safe and comfortable and clean and had all the basics. Even hot water and a washer and dryer and a TV and full computer set-up, but it’s not the place a couple with their credentials would normally live in.

Elena was a warm and caring person.  She kept coming out with something for me.  A cup of hot tea with mint and ginger. Delicious. Then she came out with a supper plate of toasts with scrambled eggs. She knew I didn’t eat flesh of any kind. She had some wonderful herb in those eggs.  Then a piece of cake.  Then a baked apple.

I kept thinking that had been a prestige job she had back in Peace Corps. I wondered about her feelings now. She did seem radiantly happy in her role and mother. The two of them certainly had a close and caring relationship. I could see that.

She spoke fine English, but I knew she didn’t speak French.  In an email, I had asked Tarek if I should speak in English or French when I was with the family.

“French, please. It will be good practice for them.”

So French it was. I had to compliment her.  I could tell she was following our conversation. Even joining in.

It had taken them three years to get through the admission process.  A lot of suspense. They had to agree to a lot of things. One was to send the children to French Schools. Another was to arrive with $5,000  dollars—Canadian dollars–in their pocket.  That’s a lot of money for Ukrainians.  A teacher earns about $2,000 a year, as I remember it.

“That $5,000 is to keep an immigrant family going for the first three months,” he said.  “If we had gone to Ontario next door, we would have needed $10,000.  But Quebec is what interested us.”

He thought a minute.  “It takes at least $20,000 per year to get by here. Just get by.  We bought that nice computer in the living room because it was absolutely essential. We use it every day.  It’s so useful so many ways, including my studies, of course.”

Elena spoke up.  “I speak to my father in Ukraine every day!  By Skype. On the computer!” She beamed as she said that.

I asked her, “Do you like snow? There’s an awful lot here!”  I was sure she’d say no.  I myself got tired of snow many years ago. Had to shovel too much of it.  Drive in it too often. Many people feel as I do.

She laughed. “We love snow!”

They have no car. He takes a bus every morning, then switches to a subway to get to school in Montreal. Does it in reverse to get home. Takes an hour each way. They chose this apartment because it was close to all the important things.  Thy walk, walk, walk.  In 10 months they haven’t had the time or the money to visit anything beyond the range of city transit.

It’s a hectic schedule. He goes to classes every day. She goes to her own classes. The two older girls are in primary school. The youngest is in a day care. The weekends are precious.

With all those languages, what do they speak at home.  Russian and French.  Those are the most important for the girls right now. Hopefully the others, too, some day.

He brought up the subject of money again.

“It costs a minimum of $20,000 a year for a family to get by here. That’s a lot of money. And pharmacy school is expensive. We do get financial help.  I receive a study grant from the provincial government. A check every month.  But it is for a limited time only.  I will have to pay back a small percentage of it. That’s all.  And there’s also a program of family assistance. So much for each child. We receive that every month, too. It is very helpful.”

He smiled. “It is a challenge! We expected it to be a challenge.  We are doing fine. My job prospects are very good.  One step at a time.   When I get a job, we will buy a car. I will take lessons. Elena will take lessons.  And in due time we will be full Canadian citizens!  Our little girls will grow up in a free and democratic society.”

And he would be a medical doctor, I felt quite sure.

I brought up the question of politics in Ukraine and in Canada. A natural question. But he didn’t want to get into it.  I could understand that.

It’s only when he mentioned how he and Elena planned to take driving lessons that I realized they had never learned to drive. It really was a different world back there in Ukraine.

I felt so good to see what a good and loving home life they were enjoying, despite the difficulties. And how they were going all out to make it even better with their little daughters in this new world so different.

I was positive that if Quebec had extended such a welcoming hand to them, with assistance of this kind and that kind, it was because Quebec was sure that they would become very valuable new citizens.

Quebec was as determined to make a better future for itself as they were for themselves.

A win-win situation in the making!

 

 

 

 

 

My oh my, what a sport Jacques Istel created!

Another group goes up high to float down so gently. But the cost of it!

Another group goes up high to float down ever so gently. But the great big thrill isn’t cheap.

By John Guy LaPlante

Orange, Massachusetts—Some 50 years ago I came here to write a magazine article about something brand-new—strapping on a parachute and jumping out of a plane for the pure thrill of it.  It would become a big sport, I heard. How  crazy! And about Jacques Istel, its daddy.  What in the world possessed him?

I came, I met him, and I saw his rough and tumble operation on the back side of the tiny airport here.  He was my age, a short, muscular guy, and he was a Frenchman with the accent to prove it.

He was teaching a small group of novices. All young guys. He was a pleasant fellow but a demanding teacher.  He’d explain a bit about the physics of jumping through the sky hanging on for dear life under a big parachute. How and when to pull the rip cord.  How and why to pull this line of the parachute or that one. And so on. They’d practice jumping off  a barrel and tumbling.

At the end of all this,  they’d strap on their bulky chutes, get into a small plane while doing their best to veil their jitters, and fly up to a certain spot and altitude. At a command, they’d leap out one after another and hope for the best.  And they’d pay good money for this fun!

Safely on the ground, they’d beam with satisfaction and pose for photos.  They could have chickened out at any point, no problem. But few did, if any.

When I showed up, I was asked if I was here to jump. No, no, no, not me!

My piece was the big story in Feature Parade. It was the magazine of the Worcester Sunday Telegram. It attacted a lot of readers because of the dramatic topic, of course.

The Telegram was the morning paper.  My paper. Its companion in the same company was The Evening Gazette. Each had its own editorial staff. We’d compete against each other.A few weeks later on the front page of the Gazette,  I read a story by Carolyn Foisy. She was a young writer for the Gazette’s women’s pages.  She had read my piece, contacted Jacques Istel, signed up, and made a jump!  I believe she was the first woman in the U.S. to do that. I’m sure absolutely everybody read her story. Quite a writer and quite a woman, Carolyn!

I don’t remember why Istel chose Orange for his first school. Just as it was the first sport-parachuting center in the U.S.  I believe my story was the first by a big paper.

He went on and started jump centers here and there.  Made a name for himself. Proved that this new sport could be safe—well, reasonably safe—and in time came up with the term “sky diving,” which is what it’s called now.  He is recognized as the founder of the sport.

Anyway, all that faded from my memory long ago. Last week I was driving through here on my way north toward Quebec when I noted a sign, “Jumptown!” It showed a parachutist coming down. Jumptown meant nothing to me but the parachutist did. The sign had an arrow pointing left.

I snapped to attention. I took that left. The little airport had been out of sight.  Within three minutes I was back at the very spot on that little airfield where I had come to see Istel and his fledgling operation!

Surely this was the same hangar. A dozen cars were parked there. This was a Thursday. All those cars impressed me. And I could see people in the hangar, and around it.

My timing was perfect. This was now Jumptown’s whole operation—the office, the training room, parachute rigging center, pre-jump lounge, even a cozy little eatery. Out front, just a few paces away, was a twin-turbine plane. Far  bigger than the tiny plane Jacques Istel used back then.

I was just in time to see some 15 people fully outfitted and waiting to jump. There seemed as many women as men, which surprised me but it shouldn’t have, things have changed so much. Some were young and some not so young.

I’m sure they were quivering inside and struggling not to show it. Human nature doesn’t change much.  Some  were kidding and laughing. Some were totally quiet.  There were other people around, too. Friends and family, I’m sure, and a few bitten by curiosity. Like me.

In the office, I saw two men and a woman behind the counter. Very busy. A guy in his 50s and a guy and gal around 30, I’d say.

Aloud I said, “Does anybody here remember Jacques Istel?”  The older guy nodded but didn’t pick up on it. Just kept working. The other two just shrugged and kept working. They gave me scant attention.

Finally the gal broke down and asked if she could help me. About 30, very pretty, in T-shirt and shorts—I was amazed how many tattoos she had, and all on her legs. Oh, well.

“I came here a long time and wrote a newspaper story about what you’re doing here. That was brand-new in the country.” Mentioned I might like to write an update.

“Great!” she said, but with no enthusiasm. I got the message. She—and the two men—were used to seeing writers like me coming in and taking a lot of time asking questions, not to sign up and plunk down money, but to walk out with a good story.

She answered some basic questions and when I prodded gave me details about herself. She was the “manifest person.” I had never heard that expression. I got the feeling she was the Gal Friday. This was more than a business, she emphasized. It was a club run by a board of directors.  It was open Thursdays through Sundays and on holidays, spring through autumn.

She dropped the tidbit she herself  had made 400 jumps, but that really wasn’t much. Some members had jumped a thousand times, even more. Finally she picked out a couple of brochures for me.  “You’ll find everything you need right in these,” she said. And went back to what she was doing.

The older guy was very busy. He finished his numerous tasks and hurried into the room where the jump group was waiting for their big moment. She told me, “Billy is the pilot. He’s going to take them up.”  And she added nicely, “Go out to the fence out there in the front. You’ll get to see everything. Take pictures if you like.”

She was right. A perfect view. There were 8 or 10 onlookers there, waiting. It was a gorgeous day. Blue sky. Nice sunshine. Big fat clouds drifting by.

The airport had a lot of acres, but that was a mowed field out there right in front of us. About the size of a football field. I asked a lady next to me and she said, “Yep. That’s where they’ll land. The whole deal up and down will take about 20 minutes, tops. It takes them just a minute to come down.”

A guy about 50 had sidled up next to me. White hair. Sunburned. Hadn’t shaved for a couple of days. Wearing a Jumptown T-shirt.

He said pleasantly, “I heard you asking about Jacques Istel.  I knew about him. I’ve been here a long time…since I was a kid…but he was gone by then. Was a legend.”

This guy’s name was Danny and he was on staff here and he did just about anything that needed doing, except flying people up for their jumps. That’s the impression he gave me.

He loved jumping, he told me.  “I’ve made about a thousand jumps, but that’s not much compared to some others.”   I had heard the same thing just a few minutes earlier

Danny was terrific. He took it upon himself to brief me. I asked hardly a question. He kept giving me one interesting detail after another.

This group would fly up to about 14,000 feet.  Gosh, that’s two and a half miles up—much, much higher than those early groups. True, he told me, but this gives jumpers a better ride down and more control. Which makes jumping safer.

Some in that plane were experienced jumpers, he said. Credentialed. They’d jump alone.  Others—the beginners—would jump tandem, meaning with an instructor, both under a single chute, with the instructor doing everything and the novice looking and learning.

Of course I asked Danny whether he had ever seen anything bad happen.

“Oh, these days, maybe a twisted ankle. But that’s rare. Way back I did see a couple of fatalities.  The reason being they did

A first-time jumper lands with an instructor under a single paachute. It looks so easy!  But my, how different the chutes look now.

A first-time jumper lands with an instructor under a single parachute. It looks so easy! But my, how different the chutes look now.

something wrong, well, that’s my opinion.

“Now the training is so much better. So are our procedures.  And so is the technology. The parachutes are incredible.  Much smaller. You can fly them down, so to speak. A little bit like a plane.  You can’t make them take you up higher, but you can steer them and control your speed and adjust your slope to land where you want to.

“Those folks up there will jump one after another. This is a big, big field, but they’ll all land right there,” he said, pointing. “Right in front of us. Watch and see. It’s quite a sight.”

I saw a young fellow dressed to jump but with a big camera get on the plane.In fact, the camera was mounted atop his helmet.

 “He’s our photographer,” Danny told me. “He’ll take pictures as they come down. That’s an optional service we offer.”

I was interested in this money part.

“This is an expensive sport!” Danny said. “There’s no way around that.  There are different plans. Basically a  first jump will cost $220.  We provide the jumpsuit and helmet. If you sign up for a lesson plan, you’ll face many expenses.  Have to buy your helmet, gloves,  jumpsuit, other stuff.  Have to pay the club membership. Just driving here can set you back a lot. Some people come a long way. So can the time you take off from work.

” A beginner’s parachute will cost $6,000. And you can pay a lot more. You can even buy a gizmo that will open your chute for you at any altitude you decide—no need to pull a cord.  That’s terrific if somehow you don’t get to pull the cord! Or if you’re  busy taking pictures.”

Now the plane was up so high I had a hard time spotting it. So tiny. Danny had to keep pointing to it  for me.  “The first jumper is out!” he said.  “And there goes another!”

I couldn’t make them out. Finally I saw a parachute open. Very small. It was much farther down in the sky than I expected. It had dropped a long way fast! Then I made out several floating down.”

The lady at my left was excited.  “My son’s is one of them up there!” she told me.  “This is his 25th jump! He’s getting his first certification.  That’s a big deal.”

And she kept talking—she saw I was interested. “He  goes to college but this is what he lives for.  It’s so, so expensive! But it’s worth it  to him. But I help him as much as I can. What can I say?”

  She was so enthusiastic.“Do you jump, too?” I asked.

“No, no, no!  Never! But I come here and watch. It’s so  important to him.”

Now I saw the first jumper land. It was nice and easy. Very quiet. Nothing dramatic. Right there in front of us, as promised. And the plane had been way over there in the east when the drop began. I found that amazing. These jumpers could really steer themselves down.

Then a tandem pair landed.  One landed on his feet, the other fell onto the ground–you know which one as the rookie. Then the others landed. It was all very calm  and routine, or so it seemed to me.  The lady next to me had been right. Just one minute to come down!  I whistled when I thought about how much that one-minute thrill had cost.

The jumpers scooped up their parachutes and walked toward us. They were all smiling.  People were yelling to them, “How was it? Did you like it? Were you scared?  Was it worth it?”

The jumpers nodded and waved back and gave us a thumb’s up. Except the instructors who came down with them. This was just routine. Normal business.  The gal in the office had told me four plane loads would jump today. More on weekends, of course. These instructors and the videographer would have a full day.

Most were young, but others, as I mentioned, not so young. Two women came by, smiling and chatting excitedly, their arms heavy with gear. Danny told me, “They’re mother and daughter!”

“I wonder how many were  very nervous?” I asked him.

“Every beginner is nervous! Plenty nervous! If you’re not nervous, there’s something wrong with you.”

The videographer strode by.  He seemed in his young 30’s.  “They all did great!” he yelled to us. “Just great!”

“It’s all in the day’s work for him,” Danny said. “Nothing to it.”

And I thought to myself, If only Jacques Istel could see this!

It was over. I had been there about 45 minutes in all. I said goodbye to Danny. Gave him a pat on the back. He had made it all so much more interesting for me. And went on my way.

Later I looked up Jacques Istel online. I had lost track of him, of course. He was still alive. I learned some things I never knew.

He was born in Paris. His family moved to the U.S. in anticipation of Germany’s invasion in World War II. He went to high school here. Went to Princeton and graduated with a major in economics. Served with the Marines in Korea.

Became interested in parachuting then. Visiting in France in 1955, he saw how some jumpers there were doing it for fun and getting very good at it. Felt inspired. Took it up seriously. Became its big missionary. Made it his business for a lot of years. Started numerous jump centers.  Got many people jumping. Organized national and even world competitions.

Then quit and became an investment banker. Made a lot of money. Married a Chinese lady. They settled in California. And when he retired, he started a tiny city way out in the desert there.  Called it Felicity, for his wife. Became its mayor. It’s all so interesting.  Sorry, if you want to learn more, Google him.

Oh, one more important detail.  Not long ago, the U.S. Parachute Association—the sport’s big organization that has become so powerful in every aspect of it—gave him its Lifetime Achievement Award. He certainly deserved it. If anything, it was overdue.

I’m so glad I spotted that Jumptown sign!

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