February 7, 2023

Covid-19 in China, per The Week

I am doing something right now that I have never done before. I repeat, never.

I am posting for you an article from a major national magazine, The Week, about the fabulous success that China has had in coping with and essentially eliminating the killing disease among its people.

As we know, China is where the pandemic originated. Then it jumped to us, and as we also know, it has killed so very many of our people, changed our way of life, and disrupted our economy.

Now Covid-19 has become global, affecting people and countries all over the world. And it continues to spread and infect and kill.

Our only hope is an effective, one-time-only, affordable serum.

I am writing this for a special reason. Just recently I posted an account about the pandemic in China as explained to me by a Chinese man named Wu Bin.

He’s a young man. I could be his grandfather.

We met in Nairobi, Kenya.

Wu has been a close friend of mine for close to 20 years. He is a combo engineer and businessman living in Shanghai. I have been to China four times, all trips involving Wu.

He has traveled to many countries in the world, including the USA.

Does that sound familiar to you now?

I subscribe to The Week. It is a national, serious magazine covering anything important or interesting from A to Z.

I received the latest copy today.

The very first page always features what it calls the Editor’s Letter. It always runs 250 words or so. Always a commentary on something very important and always strongly written.

I am publishing it word for word, and in italic to make it stand out for you.  Here I go…

Call it a tale of two systems. In authoritarian China, where the pandemic first emerged, the coronavirus is now a mere inconvenience.

The disease has been almost entirely suppressed through a combination of strict lockdowns, face mask mandates, and mass testing and contact tracing.

As a result, China is going from strength to strength. Experts believe China will be the world’s only major economy to notch positive economic growth this year — the U.S. economy is predicted to shrink by about 4 percent — and for ordinary citizens there, life has largely returned to normal.

During this month’s Golden Week holiday, more than 600 million Chinese hit the road to visit residents and vacation resorts.

Here in the democratic U.S., it’s a different story. 

(Our traditionally big Fourth of July and Labor Day were muted — JGL)

With no national strategy in place to contain the virus, we’re now experiencing our second or possibly third wave of the disease (See Main Stories).

The U.S., (population 328 million), has so far confirmed some 8.5 million Covid-19 cases and over 226,000 deaths — more than any other nation.

China (population 1.4 billion) has recorded about 86,000 infections and 4,700 deaths. In a single day this week, the U.S. logged about 48,000 new cases, compared with 13 in China.

Of course, it was always going to be easier for an Orwellian surveillance state such as China to control its population and limit viral spread than for a society that values rugged individualism.

But as countries such as New Zealand and South Korea have shown, it is possible to push back the virus without resorting to totalitarianism.

It requires national leaders to listen to credible scientists, not berate them as “idiots,” and to sell the public on the idea that the short-term inconvenience of wearing a mask or not drinking inside a bar is worth it for the long-term gain.

Whether any politician can rally this divided nation around such common-sense ideas remains to be seen. But if we continue to fight among ourselves, a united China — not a disunited America –may dominate the 21st century.

            Theunis Bates, Managing Editor

A lot of food for thought, I believe. This is why I am sharing it with you. I suspect you will agree.

I fervently hope the first really big step to resolving this enormous problem and moving forward will be taken November 3.


P.S.  If you are wondering, The Week, which comes out weekly of course, has a circulation of 500,000. So it’s a biggie.

It’s a mix of news, opinion, features, and advice. It also has a large digital edition.

I own no stock in the company and I don’t know anybody who works there.

Post Covid-19 China Per My Chinese Friend

By John Guy LaPlante

In huge Shanghai, Wu Bin and his wife and son getting out of the house for a while and staying away from people and enjoying a bit of healthful fresh air in the hard days of Covid-19. How wonderful it is!

His name is Wu Bin. He lives in Shanghai, truly one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

He is an engineer by profession.

He is widely traveled, has been in many countries of the world, on business, mostly.

His specialty is LED lights. He has told me more than once, “John, if you see LED lights when you’re at Home Depot. Those are my lights.”

I’m much older. Wu could be my son, even my grandson.

I have written about him a number of times, so if you’re one of my regular readers, you may remember reading about him.

I’m writing about him now for a very special reason.

We met in Nairobi, which is the capital of Kenya.

I was there as a stop on my solo trip around the globe, which resulted in my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, dammit!”

He was single back then, in Nairobi on business and pleasure. We met in a hostel. He spoke English quite well.

Long story. We became friends and have been friends ever since.

I have been to China four times, seeing him being a principal reason. In fact, I went for his wedding.

He published that book of mine in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.

He has visited me in the United States.

He is married and has one child, a son of course.

I say of course because at that time, a man and wife were allowed only one child. Why? Because of a great fear of over-population.

A married couple preferred a son.

If the wife knew she was carrying a girl, that girl would be aborted.

Or if carried to term, would be given up to adoption, often through an agency which made that its business. Often to couples abroad who paid to get a baby.

Countless American couples now have a Chinese daughter. I know of two such couples.

Talking about a law with unforeseen consequences! That law was a classic.

At least one unfortunate consequence today is that many Chinese men cannot marry because there are not enough women to go around. Tragic.

So that law to have just one child is now past tense.

But now, why am I writing this?

We all know that the pandemic Covid-19 originated in China, in a large city called Wuhan.

And how it quickly swept across the seas, to the United States and many countries around the world, with terrifying results.

And how we, in fact many people and countries around the world, are so desperate for a vaccine that will save lives. Keeping our fingers crossed. Praying. Hoping we’ll read about that in the news media today, or tomorrow morning.

And what have been the results in China?

It’s so remarkable. So ironic!

You will see why in just a minute or two.

Wu just wrote to me about Covid-19 as he has experienced it in China.

Here is what he had to say.

“Hello, dear John,

Sorry to reply you till now!

I am just back to Shanghai from another province, Fujian province.

I have some lighting business there.

As you may know now, in China, the COVID-19 pandemic is under proper control now. Finally. Very good news.

There is almost no worry for domestic traveling here. No matter by plane, train, or bus.

Most people still wear face mask when they go outside.

This is not only for COVID-19 but we also do that for flu or normal cold.

The big concern is the outside world.

What I worry about is some countries still have big infection issues without proper measurements: tests, lockdown, medicine, medical staff.

India, Pakistan, Brazil, and some African countries are the worst cases.

I mentioned this because Chinese economy is connected with other countries closely.

For example, we import iron ore from Brazil, shrimp from Ecuador, bananas from Philippines, semiconductor chips from USA and Japan, on and on.

We cannot grow without the supply from other countries.

So, if the other countries still suffer from the pandemic, it will interfere for us in China negatively as well.

The final solution for this pandemic is the vaccine.

As estimated, we can get the vaccine in China by the end of 2020.

I heard there are three Chinese vaccines under development in Phase 3.

The end selling price would be CNY 600 (about USD $92).

Fortunately, all my family and neighbors are safe during the pandemic.

One main reason was the strict lockdown in February, March, and April, which avoided widespread infection in China.

However, many small companies were closed up forever because of the lockdown.

So no cash flow and no business during the first quarter.

Very, very hard for small businesses here.

This I saw in person, not through the propaganda from the official media.

So, how do I get by?

One example. In three days I will fly to a remote city, Quanzhou, where I can get some orders.

The margin will be very low but I am satisfied with it.

In these hard days, any order is encouragement to some extent.

This 2020 is really a tough year for many people.

In our Chinese Lunar calendar, 2020 is the year of the Pig. Not a good sign!

If we can get though 2020 without too much trouble, that means good enough.”

“Hello! Dear John,

Today, I took the 6-hour bullet train to Xiamen for business trip.

At the hotel I checked the email box and found your questions about Covid-19.

How did it originate in China? Where?

I remember that last December there were news reports that in Wuhan City, all of a sudden, there were lots of pneumonia patients found in the local hospitals. The number of such patients was far more than ever before. And were regarded as having viral pneumonia.

But then, the doctors found that it was a new kind, an infectious one resulting from close face-to-face contact.

And it was happening not in Shanghai or Beijing or other very large cities. It was concentrated in Wuhan. Not sure why. Who brought this to Wuhan?

Then the Chinese Lunar New Year (last Jan 25) was coming soon. That’s a big event for our whole country. Many, many people return to their home town or city to celebrate that on the eve of New Year’s Day.

The trains and planes are very full. Very busy.

But just several days before that Chinese New Year, the government found so many cases of that disease in Wuhan City and its related province, Hubei Province that it announced a huge lockdown. Something quite new to us.

There were no trains, buses, planes, taxis to leave the city and the province. A big problem for many people.

Wuhan city and the province were blocked. Everybody had to stay at home.

I have not heard of a lockdown like that in your United States.

The government arranged to deliver the rice, meat, vegetables and so on to the local residents to help them get though it.

The kids stayed at home. And the schools announced they would have lessons via website. No normal classes any more.

And the restaurants, bars, clubs, department stores, so many other businesses, had to be kept closed to keep the infection from spreading.

And many people like doctors, policemen, government officials, and especially Communist Party members, were sent in to make sure the lockdown worked.

In my city Shanghai, during last February and March, there were many check points on streets and at apartment gates to make sure nobody was coming from the Wuhan area.

And everybody had to wear the face mask outside that time. And no groups of people.

That was mandatory in the whole country, even for the top leaders.

In February and March, the pandemic was in the worst phase. I heard from the news and radio that many patients were dying. Very sad and depressive that moment. It felt like the last day of the world was coming.

As for me, I could not move out of Shanghai. I stayed at home every day. For about 22 hours per day. I went out for two hours to see the blue sky.

I think that those two months (February and March) were the most terrible period in my life. And for many, many other people also.

During that, I heard that many small business owners were bankrupted or closed up forever by the pandemic.

The reason was very simple: no cash flow and no clients.

The same thing what’s happening all over our country. A great big pressure on us.

Those eight weeks or so February and March were like a nightmare.

By the end of April, I felt the whole situation was starting to change a little bit for the better.

One obvious sign was that the total of COVID-19 deaths was declining every day.

People began to accept all these as a fact and didn’t worry about it as before.

The doctors utilized all kinds of ways to treat the disease — western drugs, or traditional Chinese medicine, or local folk medicine sometimes.

What I learned from the patients who survived finally is that the body’s immune system must remain very strong.

If the COVID-19 destroys your immune system, you have to recover as soon as possible, by using all possible treatments.

In our Chinese belief, there are two aspects to improve the immune system. One is inside our body, that is by our own good health

Another is from outside, by eating good nutritional foods of many kinds. And keeping our body strong through exercise. And of course having good medicines. 

That is a big theme. It is possible to write a big paper about it, or even a whole book.

But now let me give you one simple example.

When you take a shower before sleep, the cool water falling on your back will activate the immune cells on your back.

Or more simply, in the morning you can use a long stick to scratch your back to stimulate it.

I also remember another important thing happening in Wuhan.

All the experienced respiratory doctors in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and military hospitals were sent to Wuhan when the pandemic started. The response was immediate.

A doctor had only two hours to pack his baggage after getting orders, then take the bus to the nearest airport to take the Air Force plane. 

Meanwhile, the government also fired the mayor and other officials in Wuhan for their poor performance during the crisis.

Those former government officials worried about the poor economics performance after lock-down and could not handle that decisively.

Back to myself and my family, all this has had a very negative impact to us.

The huge lock-down limited our lives in so many ways — work, school, entertainment, social communication. It was the same for people everywhere.

So, my wife, my son, my parents had to stay at home for three long months. They did the best to stay optimistic all that time.

As for myself, I could see that our family income was going down and down every week.

So, I cut all the unnecessary expenses for the home and used some of my savings.

As for my business, I contacted clients in the remote areas like Fujian province and Ganshu province and offered them much lower prices for the lighting products that we sell.

Meanwhile, I asked my clients to pay by a 6-month letter of credit. Not right after getting our products.

The clients pay us 6 months later. They have more time to sell the products before they have to pay. It is a very good way to do business. To get the orders, we have to make things easier for the clients.

I want to make two points.

First, this has been a sort of Black Swan Event. We have had to handle it by every possible way we could think of.

Secondly, this is an issue for short-term pain or long-term pain.The lock-down, short-term, was painful for everybody, But long term? It is far from over.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a huge disaster for millions of people all over the world.

It happened to us Chinese people first. Our strict lockdown was effective. We seem to be over the worst of it.

We still wear masks. And we still maintain what you call “social distancing.”

It is far from over for Americans people, European people, Indian people, so many people all over the world.

I have hated it all. Just like you who are reading this now. And like millions of people who worry they might become sick and may die from covid-19.

But it’s useless to just hate it.

We need a solution. A tested, effective vaccine that people everywhere can afford and which will be available very, very soon. That is the permanent solution.

I believe we can get the vaccine in China by the end of 2020.

I heard there are three Chinese vaccines under development.

The end selling price would be CNY 600 (about US $92).

That would be wonderful!

I wish you all the best for you and your family, John

— Wu

Two Horrific, Monstrous Plagues

By John Guy LaPlante

The Spanish Flu of 1918 & The Covid-19 Pandemic of Today

How alike? / How different?

Dear Readers,

This is a first for me. I am posting you an article of special meaning to all of us. It highlights facts about the world’s very first pandemic, which was the devastating Spanish flu of 1918. Exactly a century ago.

And how that compares with and contrasts to the cataclysmic Covid-19 pandemic that we are living through today.

Why is this a first for me?

This is the very first time that I put together a blog for you that I have not authored. How come?

I did not just up and decide to research this and put it together for you.

It was accidental. I have been a reader of the Saturday Evening Post Magazine for years.

I have saved some copies. One was the issue of September / October 2018. Yes, published exactly two years ago.

I happened to thumb through it and spotted its article about the Spanish flu.

It was written by Laura Spinney, a science journalist and author.

She did a great job. Much of what you are now reading here was her work. She deserves the credit.

I admit that I tweaked it a little bit, mostly to shorten it, and have added a few other things that I thought were important.

Here is how she started her article: “One hundred years ago, in 1918, the world experienced the greatest tidal wave of death, possibly in the whole of human history.”

A bit further: “The first wave of the Spanish flu struck in the spring of that year. But there was nothing Spanish about it. It’s just that Spain was the one that tracked its progress.”

The disease claimed between 50,000,000 and 100,000,000 lives, according to current estimates, or between 2.5 and 5% of the global population.

It was a true “pandemic,” sweeping through a whole country or several countries.

As opposed to “epidemic,” which affects a category of people within a limited geographic area.

Now who, less than two years ago, would have any thought, any idea, any crystal ball that right now we’d be suffering through the worst pandemic the world has ever experienced, with no end in sight?!

I decided that it would be interesting, in fact, important, to see how the two events

were similar in some ways and yet different.

And what you are reading now is the result. Consider it a modest public service, so to speak.

The first wave of the Spanish flu struck in the spring of 1918.

But it was flu, and flu, as we know, is transmitted by human breath – by coughs and sneezes.

The flu is highly contagious and spreads most easily when people are packed together in high densities – and this why it is sometimes referred to as a “crowd” disease.

That first wave of the Spanish flu back in 1918 was relatively mild, not much worse than seasonal flu, but one of the second and most deadly phases of the pandemic erupted in the autumn of 1918.

People could hardly believe that it was the same disease. An alarmingly high proportion of patients died – 25 times as many as in previous flu pandemics.

Initially, victims reported the classic symptoms of flu — fever, sore throat, headache — but soon they were turning blue in the face, having difficulty breathing, even bleeding from their nose and mouth. If blue turned to black, they were unlikely to recover.

Their congested lungs were simply too full of fluid to process air, and death usually followed within hours or days.

The second wave receded toward the end of the year, but there was a third and final wave — intermediate in virulence between the other two — and early 1919.

Flu is caused by a virus but “virus” was a novel concept in1918. And most of the world’s doctors assumed they were dealing with a bacterial disease.

This meant that they were almost completely helpless against the Spanish flu.

They had no flu vaccine, no antiviral drugs, not even any antibiotics, which might have benefited against the secondary bacterial infections — in the form of pneumonia — that killed most of its victims.

Public health measures, such as the closing of public meeting places, could be effective, but even when they were imposed, it often happened too late, because influenza was not a reportable disease in 1918.

This meant the doctors were not obliged to report cases to the authorities, which in turn meant that those authorities failed to see the pandemic coming.

Yes, I repeat the disease claimed between 50 and 100 million lives, according to current estimates, or between 2.5 and 5% of the global population.

To put those numbers in perspective, World War I killed about 18 million people. World War II about 60 million.

The rates of sickness and death varied dramatically across the globe, for a host of complex reasons that epidemiologists have been studying ever since.

In general, the less well-off suffered worse — though not for the reasons eugenecists proposed — but the elites were by no means spared.

The lesson health authorities took away from the catastrophe was that it was no longer reasonable to blame individuals for catching infectious diseases, nor to treat them in isolation.

The 1920s saw many governments embrace the concept of socialized medicine – healthcare for all, delivered free at the point of delivery.

Surprise! Russia wss the first to put in place a centralized public health care system, which it funded via a state-run insurance scheme, and others in Western Europe followed suit.

The U.S. took a different route, preferring employer-based insurance schemes, but it also took measures to consolidate health care in the post-flu years.

In 1924, the Soviet government laid out specifications for the physician of the future, who would have “the ability to study the occupational and social conditions which give rise to illness and not only to cure the illness but to suggest ways to prevent it.”

This vision was gradually adopted across the world: the new medicine would be not only biological and experimental but also sociological.

Public health started to look more like it does today.

The cornerstone of public health is epidemiology — the study of patterns, causes, and effects and disease — and this now received full recognition as part of a scientific specialty.

Epidemiology requires data, and the gathering of health data became more systematic.

By 1925, for example, all U.S.states were participating in a national disease-reporting system, and the early warning apparatus that had been so lamentably lacking in 1918 began taking shape.

And yes, later, reflecting authorities’ new interest in the populations’ baseline health, U.S. citizens were subjected to the first national health survey.

Many countries created or revamped health ministries in the 1920s.

This was a direct result of the pandemic, during which public health leaders had been either left out of cabinet meetings entirely or reduced to pleading for funds and powers that did not yet exist.

But there was also recognition of the need to coordinate public health at the international level since clearly, contagious diseases didn’t respect borders.

The year 1919 saw the opening, in Vienna, of an international bureau for fighting epidemics — a forerunner of today’s World Health Organization.

WHO head into existence and 1946, eugenics had been disgraced, and the new organization’s constitution enjoyed a thoroughly egalitarian approach to wealth.

It stated that “the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being without distinction of race, religion, political belief, economic or social condition.”

That philosophy would not eliminate the threat of flu pandemics — WHO has known three in its lifetime, and will surely know more — but it would transform the way human beings confronted them.

And it was born of an understanding that pandemics are a social, not an individual problem.

In that same issue, The Saturday Evening Post ran a companion article by the eminent science writer Dr. Paul de Kruif.

He wrote about “his experience with the greatest pestilence of our time and the devastation left in its wake.

“The 1918 flu pandemic came out of nowhere and spread like wildfire, burning its way through the whole world except Antarctica.

“Unlike previous flu outbreaks, this young one targeted young adults, killing so many so quickly that hospitals ran out of beds, morgues ran out of space, and cities ran out of coffins.”

What he went on to write was a graphic report of how brutally and unsparingly that pandemic terrified and decimated people with total indiscrimination. Very hard to imagine.

And In that same issue, The Saturday Evening Post’s executive editor Patrick Perry conducted a question and answer interview with a scientist who has become known to millions of us in our COVID-19 pandemic.

He happens to be our nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Our pandemic has made him famous. As a scientist. And a badly needed foil to President Trump.

That interview resulted in a detailed examination of viruses — what they are, how they work, how many there are, and what can be done about them. All explained in plain English.

Remember, this was about the flu pandemic of 1918, plus others in 1957, 1968, and 2009.

Yes, all about viruses, and the best way to fight them is to develop specific vaccines. And of course, this is why millions of us now get flu shots every year.

But aren’t there non-vaccine strategies that are effective?

 Dr. Fauci has a number of them:

— Wash your hands often and thoroughly.
— Avoid crowded places.
— Stay away from people when you’re sick.
— Keep your school children at home if they’re sick.
— Cover your mouth If you’re coughing and sneezing.

These have been preached to us so strongly that most people with smarts accept them and practice them routinely.

There are always imbeciles around.

There are two that he did not mention which he now says are critical in this pandemic of COVID-19:

— Maintain social distancing.
— And wear a mask to protect others.

I myself have two more urgent suggestions:

1. Dump Trump in the upcoming election!
2. And pray we’ll have an effective vaccine soon!

I’m sure many of you would go along with me.

Now to get personal. I am especially vulnerable to COVID-19. I am in my ’90s. And less than a year ago I was diagnosed with double pneumonia.

A month ago I was tested and found negative. Still, I could become positive tomorrow.

It is absolutely mind-boggling how Covid-19 has decimated us.

I checked the latest statistics a couple of hours ago. I have rounded them off.

Here in the U.S., we have had 6,726,000 cases and 198,000 deaths.

And think of the countless ways this has affected our lifestyle. Putting people out of work. Making it impossible for them to pay the mortgage or the rent or the car payment.

Unable to afford a dentist or a lawyer or an auto mechanic. Keeping students out of grade school up through university, plus teachers and professors.

How many people are not affected by a hardship of some kind?

And here is the big, grim bottom line.

Globally we have racked up 30,407,000 cases and 952,000 deaths.

Globally is the correct word. The list of countries hit is long. And getting longer.

It’s been a nightmare. Usually, people wake up from a nightmare. There’s no waking up from this one.

But how glad I am that I saved that wonderful Saturday Day Evening Post magazine of September / October 1918!

I’ve enjoyed plunging into all this.

Al Southwick is still writing his column at age 100

I’m a big fan. I enjoy his columns so much that I save them.

Al Southwick is still writing his column at age 100

By John Guy LaPlante

I was re-reading one of Albert B. Southwick’s older newspaper columns.

It was entitled “40 pounds for an Indian scalp.”

It was about a harsh and authentic bit of American history. As usual, a very fine column. I loved it.

His column is published every Thursday in the Worcester, Massachusetts Telegram and Gazette.

I read his column every chance I get. And look forward to the next one.

I used to live in Worcester. Now I live three thousand miles west, in California.

It’s thanks to Roger Trahan, an academic colleague at Assumption College years ago, that I get to read his columns. Roger emails them to me in batches of six or eight.

Al Southwick was in his very late 90s when he wrote that particular column.

I have dozens and dozens of them from Roger. I enjoy them so much that I save them.

Here are just a few examples:

“My ancestors owned a slave.”
“Dodge City folklore and fact.”
“Should women serve in combat?”
“The scary honey bee die-off.”
“Title IX vs. LGBTQ.”
“How to get rid of a president.”
“Flying blind and landing safely has become routine.”
“How the Census has changed.”

I want you to know that yes, Al Southwick just turned 100 a few weeks ago and is still producing that column every week.

Has announced in print he has no intention of quitting. “It helps keep me young.”

The photo at the left shows Al Southwick as a young sailor in World War II about to start flight training. He says he felt lucky to make it back home alive.

The photo at the right, taken a few years ago, shows him contemplating his next weekly column, I presume.

I buy that. In old age, regular hard mental exercise is all-important.

He then added, “I’ll keep writing it as long as the paper keeps paying me for it.”

He was being forthright. It made me smile. All these many years, writing has been his livelihood.

By the way, writing it every week isn’t just a matter of typing for an hour or two. Heck, no. Each is the result of much digging, much research, much reflection.

I know. I’ve written many myself.

And then I had another thought. I know men, and women too, who can’t wait until they can finally, finally begin collecting Social Security. Some as early as age 62. And are so blissfully happy that their working days are over once and for all.

That isn’t Al Southwick!

I’ve known him for many decades. Personally.

I’ll tell you about that in a few minutes.

First, a bit of bio. Albert B. Southwick was born on his family’s ancestral farm in Leicester, a suburb of Worcester. Went to all eight years of qrade school in a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher. Graduated high school and Clark University there.

Clark was the only school his parents could afford.

For the first two years he walked the five miles to Clark and back in good weather and bad. Finally he managed to get wheels.

Graduating, he joined the Navy and passed the tough tests for flight training, Learned to fly the B-24, a heavy bomber, and then the PBY4Y-2 Privateer.

He served in the Pacific Theater till the end of the war against Japan.

He saw heavy service and felt lucky to return alive.

Back home, he met and wed Shirley Marie Johnson. They were married 51 years, till her death.

She had served in the Navy. They both went back to college on the GI Bill. She for a master’s in social work and he in U.S. history.

He went to Brown University in Providence to get a Ph.D. in history. But he quit to become a civilian historian for the U.S. Seventh Army in Germany. He and Shirley lived there for two years.

Back in the U.S, he landed a job as a reporter for the Providence Journal. In 1952 he jumped to the Worcester Evening Gazette as an editorial writer. That ended his days as a reporter.

Before long, the Gazette joined the morning Telegram to become the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

He became part of the team of editorial writers serving both papers and then in 1968 the chief editorial writer.

He retired in 1986 after 34 years at the T&G.

But while busy as chief editorial writer, he had begun freelancing articles for newspapers, magazines, and periodicals.

He has written editorials for the Saturday Evening Post magazine and editorial essays for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, and other papers and periodicals.

He has written at least 20 books.

At last count, he had four children, three grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

He has been active for years in Worceter’s intellectual, cultural, and civic life.

Now here’s how I came into the picture.

After working briefly on a couple of weekly newspapers, I landed a job as a correspondent for the T&G in Athol. It’s a small city on the far western edge of Worcester County.

The bureau chief was Steve Preston, a veteran newspaperman. He was my boss. A good guy.

I did general reporting, covering this and that. Accidents. High school games. The high school graduation. Once the annual meeting of the trustees of the local hospital. And so on.

And now this you must know. The Worcester Sunday Telegram had its very own magazine, the Feature Parade.

It wasn’t just a magazine that the T&G bought 100,000 copies of every week with its name printed on the cover.

I believe that was the circulation of the Sunday Telegram back then.

Not at all. Feature Parade had its own editor and assistant editor and graphic artist and photographer plus two full-time feature writers.

It included ads, of course.

I greatly enjoyed reading the features that it published.

It was printed every Friday evening on the newspaper’s huge presses in the basement, for inclusion in the Sunday Telegram.

And on Page 2 every other Sunday, Feature Parade published a column called “Down on the Farm.”

I read every one. Delightful.

The writer was a fellow named Albert B. Southwick.

He wrote them for several years.

I figured he was an old, old man reminiscing about wonderful seasonal happenings down on the farm.

Bringing in the hay. Milking the cows. Splitting firewood. Insulating the old house for winter. Looking forward to big pumpkins. Stretching pennies. Getting through shorter days.

Anyway, back in Athol, I happened to meet an old gentleman who was a gifted artist in a medium totally unfamiliar to me.

I had never seen “paintings” of the kind he created. And I haven’t seen any since.

Gorgeous “paintings” they were. About 12 inches wide and 18 inches high.

Please notice my quotation marks

Because he had no brushes. Used zero paint. They were not paintings as we know such.

Here’s the remarkable way he went about it. He had a supply of woods, native and exotic, in various hues.

Already he had created a beautiful frame 2 inches wide glued to a thin board 12 inches wide by 18 inches high.

On that board he had penciled in a beautiful scene of a large bobolink flying above a field of ferns and flowers.

And now with a scalpel, I believe, he meticulously cut bits and pieces in different shapes and sizes from those fine woods to build up his “painting.”

He did that by gluing them together in that frame. Then he finished by very gently sanding the surface and applying a lustrous coating of some kind.

What he had created was a masterpiece, yes, a masterpiece.

Each took many, many hours. Each was unique.

I thought he and his remarkable “paintings” would be a wonderful story for Feature Parade Magazine. So I wrote it up.

And I knew the magazine liked photos to illustrate its stories.

I was a good photographer from my time on those two weekly newspapers. I had learned to use a Speed Graphic. It was the standard camera on newspapers everywhere back then.

Steve Preston had a Speed Graphic. He used it as needed in his own reporting.

I asked him if he would let me use it to take pictures of my new artist friend at his work.

He said sure, but I’d have to split whatever Feature Parade paid me for the photos. That was a very good deal. I sent in my story and the photos.

Whoopee! Feature Parade paid me $20 for the story and $12 for two photos. I promptly gave Steve $6.

More good news. Soon I got promoted to chief of another bureau in great big Worcester County. A much larger bureau with several reporters. Darn good for my age.

I supervised the news and covered major stories. Had a camera. But on the side I continued to submit articles and photos to Feature Parade.

Frederick Rushton, the editor, snapped them up.

One day I got a call. One of his feature writers had quit. Would I be interested?

Yes, sir!

It was the perfect job for me. I wrote many feature stories. I loved being a feature writer.

And in a while I was promoted to assistant editor of Feature Parade. And when Fred Rushton retired, to editor.

Sadly I do not remember that artist’s name. He had lettered in “Bobolink” in the bottom right corner. But not his name.

I had put in a few hours on that article. He had put in countless hours on his masterpiece.

He was so pleased with my story that he gave me that painting!

It hangs in a special corner of my living room. I consider it priceless.

Why did I spend so much time telling you about him and his unique works of art?

Because it led to my fabulous writing job on Feature Parade and eventually becoming its editor. Which I had never aspired to.

Also to my family camping column, and the other freelance articles that I wrote for the


And of course, my getting to meet Albert B. Southwick.

Al Southwick wasn’t the old farmer that I suspected from his Down on the Farm columns. He was just a few years older than I was.

My office was on the second floor of the T&G building. And his was on the fourth. I’d see him on the elevator. We’d say hello. Chat for a minute.

And two other further important events in my life.

For one thing, I too had become a freelance weekly columnist for the Telegram.

Here’s how. I was married. My wife Pauline and I had two children, Arthur and Monique. And a few years later, Mark.

We had become interested in family camping, which was quite new. And becoming very popular.

I had talked Francis P. Murphy, managing editor of the Telegram, into my writing a weekly column on family camping for $20 per, on my own time.

It was published not in Feature Parade, but in another section of the Sunday Telegram.

So I was working extra the way Al was.

I wrote it for 10 years without missing a Sunday.

One time, while hospitalized, I wrote it from my hospital bed.

And one year I took my annual two-week vacation plus a month off without pay from the magazine. And with Pauline and our first two little kids went on a camping trip across the United States and back.

In a homemade tent trailer that a friend had helped me build. Long, long before the interstate highways.

I wrote a great big four-page spread of that adventure — that’s what it turned out to be — with photos of course for Feature Parade. And got paid for it.

Plus a dozen columns about national parks we had visited. All included photos I had taken.

They ran every Sunday in the separate Travel Section of the paper.

Like all big Sunday newspapers even now, the paper also published a section called “House and Home.”

Every week on its cover, it featured a local home that was both interesting and lovely. Nick Zook was the section’s editor. He had me do one, with photos of course. On my own time. He was pleased with it. He had me do a string of them.

I liked the extra money. And I learned a lot. The day came when Pauline and I bought a house lot in a nearby town and I had a house built that incorporated features that I had written up as part of those house and home articles.

Another year, Pauline and I and my father and mother flew to London, rented an RV, crossed the English Channel, toured France and four other countries.

Home again, I wrote a series about that with photos for the T&G, then sold the series to the big Providence (Rhode island) Sunday Journal.

And got paid for all those columns.

In all, I spent some l5 years at the main office of the Telegram and Gazette at 20 Franklin Street, just across from Worcester City Hall.

By the way,I believe I was the only writer Feature Parade ever had who had not served time as a working reporter in the city room of the Telegram.

So like Al Southwick, I had been doing considerable freelancing on the side.

Life is strange. I left Worcester. Moved out of state. Many changes, mostly good but some not so good.

Now, as I said, I live in Morro Bay, California, close to my daughter Monique and son-in-law David.

A few times decades ago I revisited Worcester to see how it was doing and to say hello to old friends.

Several times I stopped by to visit and chat with Al.

He was still living in the home he and Shirley had built on a corner of what had been the old family farmstead in Leicester. And I got to meet his second wife, Betty McGrath.

It has been his home ever since.

That’s where he has been creating his column for many years.

Oh, one more thing I must mention. He has said he makes it a point to not be controversial.

Well, I know of one column that upset a number of people.

He wrote a column about the settling of French Canada back in the 1600’s.

The title of it was, “How Louis XIV populated Canada.”

Characteristically, it is a long and richly detailed and persuasive piece. A good job as always.

He used as his research source the writings of Francis Parkman, the famous American 19th century historian of Canada and New England.

The French colonists were a mere few hundred. Mostly men. Few women. Some took up with squaws.

The Iroquois from what is now upper New York State were the arch enemy. They came, attacked, and killed.

King Louis XIV sent 800 troops to repel the Iroquois. They did that.

Then he recalled them to France for a new war that had started.

But he fully understood Quebec needed more “habitants.” He encouraged soldiers to settle there. Enticed them with a piece of land and a few cattle and hogs and fowls and other necessities and a bit of money.

There were very few women. He wanted the population of settlers to multiply. He sent over a number of ships with women. Young women.

They were snapped up by the men. The gals were so few they had a big advantage. It wasn’t the man interviewing the young women. It was just the opposite.

The big question the gals always asked was, “Do you have a house?”

Word spread that they were so-called “street women.” Prostitutes.

This part of Al’s column offended some readers. Worcester has a large population of descendants of immigrants from Quebec. I am one of them.

Al explained that he got his facts from Francis Parkman.

I checked this out years ago per expert Quebecois historians.

Way back then, church records of marriages and births and deaths were excellent.

As a result, I know that my great, great, great, great original Quebec ancestor was a soldier who accepted the king’s deal.

I know his family name, Beaudillac. I know where he came from in France. I know the name of the woman who became his wife.

I’m not sure exactly why, but many of the former soldiers who settled in Quebec took on new names. Very common names. Perhaps to emphasize their new start in this new land.

My ancestor Beaudillac became Monsieur Laplante.

It’s a common name. Like Johnson or Cohen here, you might say.

Somewhere I have notes tucked away about all that.

Of course, some readers of Al’s column who are descendants of immigrants from Quebec have been mighty indignant.

They have complained that this part of Quebec history is untrue. That the story of the “street women” is a malicious fabrication.

I took offense.

One of the letter writers was Leslie Choquette, professor of history and director of the French Institute at Assumption College.

The Institute is a specialized library and research center focusing on everything Quebecois in New England, indeed the United States.

Her letter was lengthy and detailed. She explained how this falsehood came to be. Citing one Louis-Armand Lom d’Arce (1666-1716), a nobleman who came to Canada as a 17-year-old soldier and served there for ten years before returning home.

He studied every aspect of the new colony, published three books, became as famous as Francis Parkman.

Professor Choquette said that he was known to love poking fun at Quebec’s dominant clerical establishment, and he did so with his malignant account of the “King’s girls,” as they were called.

The true historical fact, she said, is that most of the girls were orphans, many from the Paris General Hospital, a workhouse for the poor.

I know Professor Choquette. Have had discussions with her. She is a Ph.D. in history from Harvard.

By the way, she speaks and writes French as well as she does English. I can hold my own at that.

Some time ago she told me she was a great admirer of Albert B. Southwick for his columns. Just as I am.

She identifies herself as a proud descendant of a “King’s girl.” As I am.

My take on this? I believe the great majority were good girls. Some were prostitutes. I don’t believe they wanted to be prostitutes. They had to be prostitutes. There was no other way to get by. That was their reality.

I accept that. I do not find that so terrible.

Now back to Abert B. Southwick for a few minutes.

He has passed his long and nearly entire professional life with the Telegram and Gazette, as a salaried employee or a very active free-lance columnist, in fact a weekly one for years.

He has seen vast changes.

Back in his early days the Telegram was the morning paper and the Gazette the evening paper. The Telegram published seven days a week and The Gazette six days.

Both were in the same building, printed on the same presses, had the same editor-in-chief and the same editorial writers. But separate news staffs directed by managing editors always delighted to scoop the opposite paper.

You may not know much about Worcester. It is an impressive city. Lots of heavy industry. Numerous colleges and universities, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School. With a resulting cluster of hi-tech and hi-science companies close to the med school.

Still, many are surprised to hear it is the largest city in New England second only to Boston.

Al was working at the T&G made the list of the 100 biggest newspapers in the country. That was a big day.

He started when all of these big papers “were it” in delivering the news. There was no other reliable source.

Radio stations had just begun getting into the news business. And some years later, TV news got started.

He even saw the day when the T&G started its own radio station, WTAG, on the fourth floor of its own building.

When he started, the T&G was locally owned. He was working there when it was bought by a newspaper chain. Then bought by another chain.

He saw publishers and other executives coming in from other cities and other states to run the papers.

He saw the T&G move from its proud four-story building right across the street from City Hall to a mere suite of offices in a large office building.

With the printing and distribution done from an industrial park.

He saw the two papers change from morning and evening newspapers to just a morning one. With considerably smaller editorial, news, and advertising staffs.

Then came the day when because of killer competition from other media companies, many newspapers called it quits.

But the T&G is hanging in there.

Yes, he retired from the T&G decades ago. But as I’ve said, he’s never retired from writing.

His freelancing has included both his ongoing weekly column for the T&G and articles and essays for other publications, including some of the finest in the country.

Methinks he has worked far longer as a freelancer of occasional articles for the T&G and then as a weekly columnist year in and year out than he did as a salaried employee.

I will bet that Al Southwick is the longest writing journalist in the United States.

I find that his writings to this day continue to be topically and historically important locally and nationally. And compelling and interesting.

He has never won a Pulitzer though he has won other prizes and honors.

But I believe he deserves a Pulitzer for what I think would be a new category — a well-deserved one — career-long enthusiasm and superb professional skills.

As you now know, I was a journalist at the T&G for just 15 years, but which I thought was quite a stretch back then.

By the way, we did not call ourselves journalists back then. We called ourselves newspapermen, and proudly.

I was a rare one. I had a master’s in journalism from Boston University. Yes, way back then. I quickly found out I was the only academically trained journalist at the T&G. It’s common nowadays.

All the others had learned on the job, and most of them could certainly hold their own. Including Albert Southwick.

It’s so wonderful that he’s in his 101st year and still writing. It’s inspirational.

It will be a sad, sad day indeed when my friend Roger Trahan of Worcester runs out of columns by him to forward to me.

Let’s hope it won’t be for a while.

I knew so, so little about icebreakers

By John Guy LaPlante

Like you probably.

I learned about them in bits and pieces from my dear friend Mark in Connecticut.

If he sounds familiar to you, it’s because I wrote about him quite recently.

Yes, he is the Mark who, in his late seventies, reached his goal of pedaling his bicycle 100,000 miles!

Now back to icebreakers. The more he told me about them, the more I became fascinated.

What is an icebreaker, by the way? I’m sure most of you know. But maybe not.

It’s a ship designed and built to break through ice to make it possible for cargo ships to make it to their final destination — from X to Y, so to speak.

Invariably they are government vessels. Many countries in icy latitudes have them.

We have icebreakers because of our interests in the Arctic and the Antarctic and even in the Great Lakes. Yes, our Great Lakes.

Ours are operated by our Coast Guard.

Now some background.

Mark and I have been friends for a long time. I am very familiar with his son Karl. His one and only. 

Very impressive fellow. Graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. Numerous assignments on Coast Guard icebreakers. When he retired after 20 years of service, he was the executive officer — the second-in-command — of an Icebreaker operating in the Arctic.

Karl would fill in his dad about what he was doing on the ship and how the work was proceeding.

Mark would delight in hearing all that. 

I would inquire about Karl, and Mark would bring me up-to-date. I found Karl’s experiences very interesting.

Because of his son’s involvement, Mark became fascinated with icebreakers and icebreaking.

He does not do things half-heartedly. He began doing research. Became very savvy, as you will see.

Recently he sent me a long essay about all that. Not for publication. Simply because he felt I would enjoy it as good reading. He was right.

I became interested in publishing it. I felt that many people would be interested, mostly men of course. But women also. So many things are opening up for women.

Hey, women are serving on our submarines on underwater cruises thousands of miles long. 

I’m not sure that’s a good idea, but I have no say in the matter.

For sure women serve on Coast Guard vessels. That doesn’t bother me.

Many cadets at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., are women. They graduate as junior officers and work their way up.

Oh, by the way. When I post a blog, one of the first respondents is Mark. I always look forward to his comments.

He always writes back at length. Firm opinions. Lots of detail. What he writes is always worth reading. It always adds to the topic. He is a fine writer.

And with his piece about icebreakers, he has come through for me. As expected, it  is fascinating.

I am delighted to post it for you.

He is my guest writer. My very first! 

I look forward to your comments. Of course, I will pass them on to him. I’m sure he’ll like that.

Here it is. 

A brief history of American icebreakers

By Mark (guest writer)

During and just after WWII, the United States ordered seven icebreakers, all built to a common design. They were named for the four winds plus Staten Island, Burton Island and Edisto.

They were very capable, able to break up to 20 feet of ice by backing and ramming. Three of these ships went to the Soviet Union on loan and were later returned. The other four were divided between the U.S. Navy and the U.S.Coast Guard. 

By 1966, all seven had been turned over to the Coast Guard. 

Also during the war, a similar ship was built for use on the Great Lakes, the Mackinaw

Mackinaw was longer and wider but drew less water due to the depths of the lakes. The ship was too wide to fit through the pre-’59 Welland Canal, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, so it never left the lakes.

You can see the Mackinaw design drawings at The Library of Congress: https://www.loc.gov/resource/hhh.mi0462.sheet/?sp=1&st=slideshow#slide-1

A couple of the other ships were sent to the lakes on occasion.       

The group of seven icebreakers lasted into the ’70s with two of them making it to the late ’80s. 

Mackinaw served longer than any of the others, being decommissioned in 2006 after over 60 years of service.

It became a museum while the others were scrapped.

A few years after the war, Canada ordered an icebreaker to the same design, the Labrador. 

All of the U.S. icebreakers worked hard during their lives with all of them eventually being used in Antarctic waters to open up shipping channels to resupply U.S. research bases there. (Operation Deep Freeze).

In 1955 an additional icebreaker joined the fleet, the Glacier. Loosely based on the same design, it served for over 30 years before being retired. 

After 25 years in reserve, custody, but not ownership, of Glacier was given to The Glacier Society, a Connecticut-based group.

They hoped to restore the ship to service as either a high-latitudes hospital ship or a research vessel. 

Sadly, things did not work out and it too was scrapped.

As the original seven wore out, plans were drawn up for a new series of icebreakers. Two, Polar Star and Polar Sea, were eventually built in the mid-’70s.

Their primary function was to open up the channel into the McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica, at which they took turns. 

Their secondary function was Arctic research. 

These activities continued until around 2010 when ice conditions in Antarctica were so severe that both ships had to be deployed. This threw off the maintenance and future deployment schedules for both of them. 

The severe conditions continued, requiring the Coast Guard to send their newest icebreaker, the larger but less capable Healy, as a backup to one of the Polars. Subsequently, Russian and Swedish ships were hired as backup and then the worst happened: 

Both Polars broke down, requiring the foreign ships to take over completely. 

After a couple of years and over 60 million dollars, Polar Star was overhauled and has been doing the Antarctic mission for several years. 

Polar Sea was determined to require too much work so it has been serving as a floating parts source for Polar Star. 

Keep in mind that these ships are now 45 years old. 

The power needed for icebreaking generally is provided by a combination of diesel engines, anywhere from four to ten of them. They are coupled to generators that produce electricity for electric motors turning the propellor shafts (2 or 3). 

Over the years, these engines have produced between 10,000 and 20,000 hp total. 

The Polar class ships also have three gas turbine engines, one per shaft, each of which puts out 25,000 horsepower for when the going gets tough. 

Several Russian icebreakers have been nuclear powered.

With Polar Star now 45 years old and on life support, the Coast Guard has authorized a new heavy icebreaker to be called a Polar Security Cutter, name not yet chosen. 

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star breaks ice in McMurdo Sound near Antarctica on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018. (U.S. Coast Guard photo/Nick Ameen) – Read Article

This will be the first of several medium and heavy icebreakers to be produced over the next 10-15 years. 

Plans are to keep Polar Star in service until the second new ship is ready.

So, how do icebreakers break ice? There are two ways. 

One, the less stressful, works on up to six feet of ice, depending on the size of the ship. This is simply steady forward progress; nothing spectacular. 

The other method is “back and ram.” As the name suggests, the ship backs up several ship lengths, then builds up forward speed and hits the ice. At this point, the bow rides up on the ice and the weight of the ship plus the shock crushes the ice.  

By this procedure, some larger icebreakers can deal with ice over 20 feet thick. 

Over the years some icebreakers have had heeling tanks in which water can be rapidly pumped between tanks on each side of the ship. 

This allows the ship to rock from side to side in case it gets stuck. 

Modern icebreakers carry helicopters in a dedicated hangar and have scientific lab facilities for research.

Many of the people embarked on an icebreaker are not there to operate the ship but rather to fly and maintain the helicopters or to conduct research on ice and water.

One unique and interesting feature of an icebreaker is a station called “aloft conn.” It’s on the mast, about 100 feet above the water, from which the ship can be conned (steered).

From here, the person at the helm has a great view of the ice ahead and can look for weak spots to ease the progress of the ship. 

For a fine color photo of the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in Antarctica and for further reading on the status of the U.S. icebreaking fleet, check out the following article.


My note back to Mark:

Thank you!

I’m sure very few Americans have any idea of this very important work, essential work, that the Coast Guard carries on routinely. 

Your article is wonderful PR for the Coast Guard. 

Who knows, it may interest a young man or young woman to look at the Coast Guard as a wonderful career opportunity. Wouldn’t that be great?!

A story worth telling a second time

By John Guy LaPlante

Here I am with the great article I had totally forgotten about!

I wrote about this couple in 2013.

I’m writing about them again. It’s worth it!

First, my friends, let me explain.

Like you I’m sure, day after day, I keep hearing and reading about Covid-19. The global pandemic dominates the news.

It’s terrifying.

Yes, that, and of course our awful, crazy, imbecilic Trump. “Dump Trump!” say I.

And of course the humongous number of sick and dying among us and the so many killed by it.

Plus the colossal number of people put out of work, unable to pay their mortgage or rent or put food on the table or gas in the car.

And the thousands of businesses large and small that it has KO-ed.

And the students in our schools and universities who may not be able to continue their classes. Their future made uncertain.

In a word the huge social and economic maelstrom that so many of us have been sucked into. On and on.

When and how will it end? Impossible to know.

Well, I was keeping busy at home as a good way not to think about all that.

At one point I needed a certain document and went looking for it in my files.

But before I got to it, I happened upon this article I had published online more than seven years ago. On March 15, 2013.

I have written dozens and dozens of them. I had totally forgotten about this one.

The minute that I spotted the headline and the big photo under it I recalled the whole thing.

I began reading it. So wonderful. So dramatic. So unique really.

The minute I finished it, I decided I would republish it. I felt you too would love it.

It was about a woman, Dorothy DeBolt, born in1903, who had a heart bigger than a watermelon. Obviously a lady in the finest sense of the word. An angel.

And of her husband, who helped her shoulder the enormous, magnificent, lifelong load she had taken upon herself. Truly a gentleman in the finest sense of the word.

What I was reading was Mrs. DeBolt’s obituary.

Every big newspaper prints obituaries in their news columns every day, of course. Because the people involved did such good things or such bad things. They are newsworthy.

This was in the huge Los Angeles Times.

In its huge circulation area, every day dozens and dozens of people die.

You’re an ordinary Joe or Jane, you die, your family wants to do something nice for you, and they buy you an obituary in your local newspaper.

Your family can write anything they want to, and also overlook anything they want to.

The paper will print it word for word. With zero fact-checking.

In fact, it will be handled not by its editorial department but by its advertising department. And it will publish it alongside a number of other ordinary obituaries.

All it wants is assurance that your check will not bounce.

But this obituary had an LATimes byline on it – it was written by an LATimes journalist and underwent usual LATimes editing before being made available to its many, many thousands of readers.

So, it had the full weight of the LÀTimes’ professional competence and integrity going for it.

And it was written and published without charge to the family.

Better still, it was on the front page of the paper’s second section, which features local news. That says something. And it had a big photo and headline, and they were grabbers!

The headline said,

Adoption Advocate Had 20 Children.”

Wow! Twenty! Six biological and fourteen adopted.

And the photo. So powerful.

Dorothy and Bob DeBolt with 6 of the 20 kids they adopted, from different countries and all with terrible lifelong physical afflictions. And please notice, everybody smiling!

It shows Dorothy DeBolt and Bob, her second husband, with six of their children way back in 1978. All six are smiling. Obviously happy. Three of them are on crutches. All six have big problems.

And Bob is quoted as saying, “These were not throw-away kids! Her goal was to allow every child to have a permanent home.”

Her first husband, Ted, had died prematurely. He had gone along enthusiastically with her in starting this remarkable charitable work.

Wouldn’t you be grabbed, too? That obituary was the first thing I read on that page. I followed it to its jump on page 4 and read it right to the bottom. Fascinated all the way.

One paragraph near the end stunned me. I read it and re-read it. Here it is, verbatim.

“Two of their children, T.R.and Twe, died as adults. Along with her husband, Dorothy DeBolt’s’s survivors include her children, Mike, Mimi, Stephanie, Noel, Kim, Marty, Melanie, Do, Ly, Dat, Trang. Phong, Tich, Ann, Reynaldo, Sunee, Karen and Wendy, 27 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and her brother, Art Nortier.”

That sounds like an interesting sampling from the United Nations, doesn’t it?

But here is Dorothy’s story in a nutshell.

Dorothy was born in San Francisco in 1923. She was musically talented and attended UC/Berkeley and became a professional pianist. She married Ted Atwood – few details about him are given but a very good guy- and became a full-time housewife and soon, a mother.

Then, remarkably motivated by love and compassion and altruism, they adopted two kids from the Korean war – their father was an American serviceman, their mother Korean. Then more kids. Ted died in 1963. Dorothy adopted two more, for a total of nine.

A few years later she met Bob DeBolt on a blind date. He was a civil engineer, divorced, with one child.

It is said he was flabbergasted when he showed up for the date and saw Dorothy’s unusual family. What man wouldn’t be? The amazing thing is that he asked for a second date. Well, she said she fell in love with Bob immediately. They married in 1970 – and together continued to adopt “unadoptable children.”

Sometimes the family budget was a big worry.

The 20 kids they wound up with were an incredible mix — “paraplegics and others affected by polio, spina bifida, paralysis and blindness… One was born without legs and arms….One was born without legs and arms. One was blind, battered, and abandoned. Some had emotional difficulties.

All the kids — white, black, brown, yellow, whatever, and from this country and that one — were heaped with love and care and true parental emotional support. They were helped in every way possible.

Dorothy and Bob went on to establish an adoption agency for impaired children. It’s called Adopt A Special Kid, or AASK. The first of its kind in the US.

They are credited with 3,500 adoptees in California, and thousands more through affiliated agencies in other states!

The family was featured in a documentary in 1977, “Who are the DeBolts? And where did they get 19 kids?” It won an Academy Award.

Then the DeBolts adopted their 20th child.

It is reported that Dorothy was not strongly religious but she had “Thank you, God!” signs posted around the house.

“God bless Dorothy!” say I.

She died February 24, 2013, at home after ailing for a long time. She was 89.

Bob, too, deserved a wonderful obituary. But who knows, he may still be with us.

Now I believe you see why I felt this was a story I should share again by re-publishing it now.

I hope it has given you a nice big high the way it did me when I came upon it accidentally in that file.

In these bleak, dismal days of Covid-19, we need all the sunshine we can get, don’t we?

I hope you are getting by. Each and every one of you.

P.S. When I published this way back on March 15, 2013, I got very nice replies from several of you. I know your names by heart. And I still get replies from you. Can any writer ask for better than that?

Behold! A brand-new medical school!

By John Guy LaPlante

This is big news and I will tell you why.

It is the Kaiser Permanente Bernard J.Tyson School of Medicine.

It’s in a brand-new 4-story building in Pasadena, CA.

Its first students will be starting classes in just a few weeks.

For sure everybody involved is hoping that the Covid-19 pandemic will not slow things down.

Now here is why this is big news. Bear with me for a minute or two.

We have had medical schools ever since we have been educating doctors.

0ur medical schools date way, way back.

They came into being for the best of reasons. To train and graduate doctors who were truly skilled in their work.

This in accordance of course with what back then the professors thought a good medical education should entail.

It’s a fact that all the medical schools had basically the same curriculum.

So, regardless of what school they graduated from, the doctors being turned out had gone through similar training.

That is true to this day. There is great conformity in our medical education system.

Now here’s a surprise for you. I, yours truly, have personal understanding of this.

I was a pre-medical student in my first two years of college. I was planning to become an M.D.

Yes, sir. This was at Assumption College in Worcester, Mass.

I hadn’t yet started the specialized pre-med studies. But I knew what training I would have to go through to become an M.D.

And I even knew what medical school I would go to — Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. Assumption had a solid connection with the admissions office at Georgetown.

My roommate Gilbert Bellerose, also in pre-med, went to Georgetown to become a dentist.

Here were the first steps I would take to eventually become a doctor.

In my third and fourth years at Assumption, in addition to ongoing liberal arts classes — literature, history, economics, whatever — I would also study physics, chemistry, general anatomy and such.

I would graduate in June and report to medical school in September.

The first two years of med school would be basic courses that all students would take. The second two years would be brief immersions in various specialties. You know, checking them out — to let us think out whether we wanted to be a primary care doctor, say, or a general surgeon, or an anesthesiologist or obstetrician or cardiologist or psychiatrist or rheumatologist, or other specialist. There are many specialties.

Finally graduation and State licensing. Then getting accepted by a hospital somewhere to begin two years as interns. Our third and fourth years would be training in the specific medical or surgical choice each of us had decided on. An important decision. That’s what we would practice until we retired decades later.

Well, I never started that long technical program.

I found out that I liked other types of courses better –yes, liberal arts, so called. And especially that I liked to write. In fact, I was chosen to be the editor of our small college paper. Which I found exciting. And would you believe, which got me launched in my life’s work. And as you know, I’m still at it.

Anyway, the program that I would have been in at Georgetown Med would have been quite similar to the programs in our other medical schools.

We now have 141 medical schools.

And we have 750,000 practicing MDs.

Additionally, we have 35 osteopathic medical schools.

Why do I mention this? Well, osteopathy has come a long way. We have 50,000 DOs — osteopathic physicians.

Licensing authorities consider graduates of both types of schools equal.

It’s not unusual to have hospitals with both MDs and DOs on the staff.

Now here is the whole point of why I am writing about this for you today.

Remember, I entitled this, “Behold, a brand-new type of medical school!”

And how!

This brand-new medical school has been completely re-thought from A to Z. Numerous major improvements have made it unique.

I read about the school in the recent July 6 – 13 issue of TIME magazine. A full-page ad about it caught my eye.

It had a cute illustration –a young woman doctor letting a cute little tot play with her stethoscope.

And a short headline: “The Future of Healthcare.”

I’m interested in the future of healthcare. That lured me in.

The school has a long name — The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

The ad takes the rest of the page — which is totally filled with words jammed into long, dense paragraphs — to tell us how its Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine sees the future of healthcare education in our country.

I had no idea who Bernard J. Tyson was. I was astonished when I finally found out.

I started reading. I was hooked. I read that whole ad right down to its final period.

I liked everything I read. I found it exciting.

Unfortunately there is no way I can explain all that for you here.

But if you are intrigued as I was, I will have a great tip for you at the bottom of this write-up. Be patient.

Now to better understand why this is so newsworthy, you must know one thing. A medical education is very long and very expensive. Many students go into massive debt to get through it.

The consequence? Often when they graduate they are so deep in debt that they don’t consider what they would really like to do as doctors.

They have found out that some specialties pay far more than others. So often they choose a specialty because it’s going to pay them most $$$ right off and get them out of debt fastest.

But the planners of the new school came up with a creative solution. Hard to believe how clever. So simple.

It’s getting started with 40 students in its first class. The incoming classes will get larger for the next few years.

Well, the school will waive all tuition and fees for all students starting in the next five years! All free!

And what’s wonderful, this will make it far easier for them to choose a specialty that they feel they will enjoy for the long haul. Which would have been out of the question otherwise.

To repeat, the ad I was reading had thousands of words. I was fascinated. I thought you, too, would be fascinated.

What to do? That long name of the new school has three components. I decided I’d explain each of the three. That would be more effective.

Kaiser Permanente

Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente.

is a huge consortium of for-profit and not-for-profit enterprises. It operates in eight states and the District of Columbia.

In 2018 it had revenues of 80 billion dollars. And a net income of $25 billion dollars, imagine that.

It operates 39 hospitals and 700 medical offices. It employs some 63,000 nurses and 20,000 physicians. Has 305,000 employees. And 12 million members. Could be you are one of them.

In one word Kaiser Permanente is a Colossus.

Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

I told you I was fascinated when I found out about Mr. Tyson.

He died just recently. Was found dead in bed. He was only 60.

He was born in Vallejo, CA, the son of a carpenter / pastor and a homemaker.

He graduated from Golden Gate University in San Francisco with a BA, then an MBA. And got a job in the medical records department of Kaiser Permanente.

And worked his way up to the very top. Including running one of its larger hospitals. Then a group of hospitals.

He put in 30 years.

When he died, he was the chairman and CEO of the whole huge enterprise. The biggest in the world.

What astonished me is that he was a black man. I believe that would astonish anybody.

Imagine the competition he faced working his way up that long, long ladder.

He once said that when he was out and about and seen as just a well-dressed black man — and not as a high corporate executive — more than once he experienced what it was like to be a black man. So sad.

Interested in learning more about this remarkable med school?

Well, here’s the tip I promised you.

Go to Google. Put in the full name of the school –The Kaiser Permanente Bernard J. Tyson School of Medicine.

Check it out. You will find yourself in an amazing tutorial.

You will marvel to see how every aspect of the school will be described for you.

Do it even just for its entertainment value.

Hey, here’s a thought. Maybe you, yes, you, would like to apply to become a student.

They say they’re interested in students with wide-ranging backgrounds.

And maybe you know somebody you think might be open to the idea. Suggest it.

It’s a golden opportunity.

History is being made!

If I were 22 again, I might give it serious thought. Not to become a practicing MD. No, no. To become an MD writer. Sounds interesting.

We are all striving to survive Covid-19. It’s a terrifying time. For sure!

By John Guy LaPlante

Correction. Make that we are all striving, struggling, fighting, praying to get through it!

The reality of it is horrible. We are all at risk.

It is turning our world topsy-turvy.

I just read that Dr. Anthony Fauci, nationally famous now as our top infectious disease expert, has just announced that we in the USA now have more than 130,000 deaths, with 50,000 every day. Not cases. Deaths!

He said we are now in the first wave and the prognosis is not good. Because in many “hot spots“in our country, we are relaxing and opening up too soon. He fears a new wave is coming.

We have more than 2.5 million confirmed infections. And they may surpass 200,000 deaths by summer’s end.

Yes, I’m struggling. You’re struggling. We are all struggling. You have your story. I have my story.

They are all the same in essence but different in details.

It seems clear some of us will not be alive by the end of summer. I hope that will not include me or you.

We are all hoping for an antidote but everything that I’ve read says that one will not be available for months.

Without doubt, I am at a much higher risk than just about all of you. For two big reasons.

I am very old, in fact 91 years old. And just six months ago I was diagnosed with double pneumonia.

That’s a very lethal combination.

Of course I am doing everything the experts have been preaching for us to do. I am wearing a mask whenever I go out among people. Trying not to touch my face, but which I have found just about impossible to do.

And I have been really, really practicing social distancing.

That’s a new expression for the dictionary, isn’t it? Social distancing! At least six feet from him. At least six feet from her.

I wonder what genius thought up that strange expression.

One thing is sure. If I happen to follow through on those two big “must-do’s“– wearing a mask and staying six feet apart at the very least from anybody else — and my daughter Monique catches me, there will be hell to pay. So I am most careful.

She insists on that because she loves me. She wants me to stay alive. Hey, I also want to stay alive. No argument there.

I also want her to do the same vital things and stay alive. And also her husband David the same thing.

Everybody in my family. All my friends. Even my enemies. Joke!

When I first heard that a mask is absolutely essential, I looked high and low for one. No luck. Then I thought of my friend Martha.

I know her well. I have changed her name. I think it wise to do that.

She’s nearly as old as I am. A wonderful seamstress. Has had decades of practice on her good old treadle sewing machine.

A few years ago, she had done some tailoring and sewing for me when I was still developing my revolutionary, actually copyrighted MedGown, so wonderful that I thought every hospital in the country would be using it. Hah! Hah!

You may remember that. If not, I can’t go into that right now. I’m sorry.

Mask? Right away Martha told me, “John, I’ll make you a mask. No problem.”

She rushed over the next morning with it. Very proud of it. There was a big problem. She had never seen one up close.

She put it on me. It wasn’t quite right. She adjusted it. Not right. I tried to put it on and have it stay on but I couldn’t manage to do that. She tried again. Impossible.

Poor Martha! Not her fault. She had tried so hard for me.There was no consoling the poor dear.

I happened to mention this to my friend Sheila. That’s her true name, by the way.

Right away she said, “I will send you some, John. I just got a batch of them from a friend in China.”

Sheila has been to China, and more than once. She lives in Massachusetts. I live in California now.I did not expect them overnight. But her package arrived lickety-split.

She sent me more than a dozen. A perfect fit. Light blue, not essential, but a nice color for men.

But please do not ask me for one. I want all of them, just in case. Who knows how long covid-19 will be a problem?

Every conscientious person wears one of course when with other people. But I believe many of them do not understand. They believe that their mask is protecting them. No, no. It is protecting anybody else within six feet.

If I encounter friends wearing one, my mask is protecting them and their masks are protecting me.

I am going to ask Sheila to ask her contact in China to include a little note stating that with every mask shipped to our shores. It would say, “Protects any other person within six me.“

Consumer Reports Magazine would certainly highlight that in their next article about covid-19. It would be a great public service.

Oh, I read in their last issue that it takes two weeks for Covid-19 to incubate.

In plain English that means I could catch it today, or you could, but there would be no symptoms for 14 days or so.

But some public official here in Morro Bay came up with a very smart idea. To offer a free covid-19 test!

Yes, free!

I felt I was “clean“ of Covid-19 but maybe not.

I showed up. First-come, first-served. Quite a stream of people. I got in line. We all stood six feet apart. I checked. It looked more like seven feet apart. Very good.

We were told the test is super fast and easy. That was good news. My turn came up.

The technician, who happened to be a man, had an instrument which looked like a very long toothpick. Maybe it was a tube. I don’t know.

He said to me, “I’m going to stick this up one of your nostrils and I want you to count to yourself“ One Two Three Four Five. “Just like that. Okay?“

I nodded. Not a problem.

He stuck it up. Way up. I counted “One Two Three Four Five” just as I was supposed to.

It hurt like hell!

So glad I did not have to count to Six!

I don’t know whether he sprayed something in or sucked something out. He did not explain that. Sucking out seems to make more sense. You know, drawing a sample.

I was so glad the test was all over.

But then he told me, “Now I will do your other nostril.“

It was not all over!

He stuck the thin stick way, way up. I counted “One Two Three Four Five“ again. Wow! It really, really hurt!

I asked when I would find out and he told me I would be notified in three to seven days, by phone or email, my choice. I told him by phone, please.

On my way out, a fellow waiting in line asked me, “Well, how was it?”

“Not bad,” I said. “Not bad.“

Better to fib, I reasoned. He might have turned around and gone home. That would have been awful.

Counter-productive. Suppose he did have the virus!

Well, I got a phone call in five days. I had worried. As I said, I’m a prime candidate. The test was negative. Whoopee!

The relief was wonderful beyond words.

Dear readers, I must admit something. I lost sleep worrying whether I should tell you about my two most painful five-second tests ever.

I felt you might up and decide “Forget it!“ You know, chicken out. That would be awful. Better to face the music now. Go get tested

And remember, it wasn’t six seconds, or seven, or eight, which would have been super agony, Just five.

Of course, there’s no guarantee that I won’t catch covid-19 tomorrow or next week or next month. That’s true for everybody who passes the test.

It would be so fantastic to hear tomorrow morning the great big news, “Wonderful Antidote Discovered!

Available in two weeks! Free! But that’s dreaming.

It’s awful how this pandemic has disrupted daily life. For me and for you also, I am sure.

Has disrupted things that mean so much to me.

Normally our Public Library is open five days a week and I go 5 days a week. It has been closed.

But now a bit of good news. It’s open again, but only to pick up or leave off library materials. No sitting down to read a newspaper or a book or anything like that. I don’t bother going.

I go to our Senior Center two or three times a week. I see friends there and I have lunch there.

But all you can do now is pick up a box lunch to take home. So I skip that.

Oh, normally I don’t walk there or drive there. I pedal my tricycle there. I enjoy pedaling it. And the exercise is essential for me.

I’ve had physical therapy in the past. I consider my trike my super physical therapy machine.

The trike is so practical. It has a big basket in the back. Great for books, say, or groceries. Oh, I don’t wear a mask when I pedal. I won’t come within six feet of anybody.

Every afternoon in fair weather I make my rounds on my trike. Always stop by McDonald’s for my daily cup of coffee. I always bring along a magazine. I sip and I read. Wonderful.

But the dining room is closed now. It’s take-out only. I put on my mask to go in and get my coffee. I sit at a table outside, take off my mask, and sip and read. It’s just not the same.

The McDonald’s is in the same plaza as Albertsons, our main supermarket. I shop there. I put on my mask. Buy what I need. And take off my mask when I get back on my trike.

It’s impressive how prudent Albertsons has become.

I’m sure your supermarket is prudent in the same way.

How it sanitizes handles of its shopping carts. Mandates social distancing.

Normally every aisle is two-way. But each is now one-way. So you won’t encounter another customer.

That’s theoretically. There’s always a scofflaw or two.

I admire the shelf stockers and the register clerks and the baggers. They all wear masks all shift long. That ain’t easy.

I believe the register clerks and the baggers, nearly all women, are at special risk. They stand and work just a foot or two from their customers. They are now protected from customers by newly installed plastic see-through shields.

But that protection is not as great as it is intended. They are kept very busy and in their busy-ness let 

down their guard, so to speak, the baggers more so then the register gals. It must be awfully hard to wear a mask for a whole shift. I’m in there with my mask on 20 or 30 minutes.

I take it off the minute I get back on my trike. Those supermarket workers deserve commendations and hazard pay. I doubt they’ll get hazard pay. Commendations, yes. They. are cheap.

Hazard pay would force prices up. Customers would complain. Might set up picket lines.

Oh, I go to my bank every week or so. But now customers can’t go inside. You have to transact your business at the drive-up window. There are always several cars.

But I go on my trike. Not allowed in drive-thru.

These are small tribulations, I admit. But they add up.

Here in Morro Bay, tourism is a huge, huge part of our economy. Our Embarcadero, which is the long street, usually very busy, along our waterfront, has countless restaurants and shops of many kinds on both sides. Many have been closed. Terrible for the small entrepreneurs who run them. Many have had to lay off help.

For weeks there was no way to drive over to the huge famous rock that has been symbolic of Morro Bay since its founding. A big barrier closed off the highway. It has just been removed.

There are dozens of motels and hotels here, and they’ve all been closed. Disastrous for the owners and the workers there. And disastrous to the town for the enormous loss of tax revenue that it depends on.

Schools are closed. Graduations have been skipped. Far fewer people have been going to churches and other houses of worship.

Our popular natural history museum is closed. So is our only movie theater.

No need to go on. It’s the same situation wherever you live.

What is shocking all over the country is how many patients in nursing homes have been clobbered by covid-19 and in fact have died.

As some of you know, until three months ago, I spent a total of more than four months in two nursing homes and one assisted living community.

All three were fine institutions. I was fortunate to be one of their patients. And I was discharged to return home just before the pandemic struck.

What is extraordinary is that not one of these three places has had a single case of covid-19. I believe that it’s more than just good luck. More than just a coincidence.

I believe it is because all three have been super diligent in taking every preventive measure possible to shield their patients and their staffs.

It is a supreme compliment to the brilliant leadership of the three.

I am tempted to use the good old expression, “the past is prologue.“I hope so. But sadly there is no guarantee that covid-19 will not strike there. Keeping your fingers crossed is not enough.

What amazes me is that this pandemic and all the problems of so many kinds it has created have been so huge is that it has dominated the news day after day after day.

And our national elections are less than four months away! For president, vice president, senators, state representatives, governors, on and on.

I follow the news closely. There are some days when I don’t find a single mention of Joe Biden even!

Notice that exclamation mark. It is totally appropriate.

If things were normal, it would be a Page 1 story time and again. If I do spot one, most likely it will be on Page 3 or 5 or something like that.

One thing is clear. Plainly and tragically clear.

One politician will be on Page 1 time and again.

Donald Trump, of course. Who has blundered and blustered through this pandemic since it began.

Just as he has blundered and blustered through so many of his other responsibilities since the day he moved into the White House.

Notice that I did not say President Donald Trump. He is not worthy of the title.

All he has presided over is one screw-up after another

I believe he will go down in history at the very top of the list of our jackass presidents.

I find so many things that are amazing during the pandemic.

Here is one example. How can newspapers and magazines continue to publish. The people who do the planning and the writing are not working at the office. They are working from home. Social distancing!

True also of many business people that don’t need daily face-to-face contact with one another or their customers

How come? A big reason is a new digital app called Zoom.

Are you familiar with it?

Consider people who work together and in the course of their day’s work have to get together regularly to consider aspects of their business. But now they are working at home.

Using Zoom, they can actually hold a meeting, chat with one another, take notes, ask questions, make decisions, all while seeing one another and noticing one another’s smiles and frowns and hesitations. And make decisions.

I can give you a good example. My son Arthur. He is a busy lawyer. Civil law, not criminal law.

Using Zoom he can sit down in his office at home and carry on business with his clients, not there in his office with him or him in their office with them. Or with other lawyers involved in a particular case.

Again, not only talk with them but see their reactions. Which is all-important.

Normally Arthur goes to court often. But many courthouses are closed till further notice. Yet the work can go on.

He can speak to an opposing lawyer or to the judge or the bailiff or a witness to make progress and with no fear of catching covid-19. All through Zoom.

Recently we had a birthday party in my family. A dozen or so family members participated – three generations of us — in half a different states and in different time zones.

My granddaughter Elise, who works in movie-making in Los Angeles, organized our get-together through Zoom. It took a lot of planning and organizing. She did a terrific job. And it happened. It was absolutely wonderful and memorable.

Here’s another example. My son Mark and daughter-in-law Stacie are professors at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Some universities are actually thinking of shutting down for a semester. Maybe longer. Imagine that!

As a result, some students might give up the idea of college. Drop out.

And how about the professors? It’s doubtful they would be kept on the payroll. What university could afford that?

Not the University of Wisconsin. It feels that shutting down would be unfair to students.

The students are eager to finish and graduate and get started in their careers.

Well, the new semester will be starting as usual in early fall.

Normally the professors would teach in a classroom or a lecture hall depending on the number of students.

Because of Covid-19, it’s impossible now for students to sit side-by-side as they usually do.

And it’s easy to see how professors might catch the virus from students close by.

This semester, like other professors, Mark will really be teaching his classes differently.

He has some classes with more than 50 students. For these, he will create videos and use them to teach students as they sit at least six feet apart in a very large lecture hall.

He is fortunate. He has had a lot of experience of teaching online this way. Many professors have had zilch.

For his classes of 50 students or less, he will lecture in person conventionally. His students will be sitting at least six feet apart of course. And he will stand as many feet as he can in front of them.

All Stacie’s classes have fewer than 50 students. She will teach them in person as usual. Her students will be social distancing of course. And she will be standing as many feet as she can in front of them.

I am describing not only how Mark and Stacie teach but professors university-wide.

Isn’t that far better than universities with thousands of students and hundreds of professors shutting down for a semester or more?

We’ve had pandemics before. I read about the awful Spanish influenza epidemic of 1918. That was as bad as this one.

Gladys and Frederick Disk developed the decisive antitoxin and vaccine in 1924. It was eclipsed by penicillin in the 1940s.

Sorry, Wikipedia doesn’t say whether the Dicks were man and wife or brother and sister or father and daughter

I remember the polio epidemic. Polio scarred countless lives. I was just a kid. I had a little cousin named Katherine.

I did not get polio. I might have. She did. She survived but tragically had to live the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

My Uncle Emile’s wife came down with it. They were newly married. She died.

Dr. Jonas Solk announced his vaccine in 1953. It eliminated polio in the United States. No more cases.

And from the Western Hemisphere in the 1990s.

This pandemic, too, will pass.

Some of us will not be privileged to live to see that. Others will.

Life is always risky, even in the best of times. Extremely risky right now.

All we can do is follow the new rules. As conscientiously as we can. Pray. Keep our fingers crossed.

Hope for the best.

And keep watching for news that a vaccine, an antidote or whatever has been developed.

Very effective! Inexpensive! Plentiful! And available right now! For one and all, the insured and a non-insured!

I think we’d call that a Miracle, believers and non-believers.

I would love to live to find out who will go down in history for that!

About Rita and Fred and their dog Rex

A few days ago I got a sad email from Rita, a long-time friend. And it got me a-thinking.

Dear John,

Our dog Rex had surgery on his paw a few weeks ago to remove a growth the size of a quarter, and we had to return to the veterinarian for another post-surgery check-up.

What we thought was just “a big wart” ended up being much more complicated as it rapidly grew.

The initial diagnosis was that it was a cancerous growth and required amputation of toe and removal of lymph nodes!!!

Immediately we sought a second opinion from a more specialized veterinary group and they took biopsies and found it was not malignant! And so were able to remove it with a less aggressive procedure.

However, Rex has had to remain very quiet for the past three weeks to allow the incision to heal. It’s in a difficult place. Not easy for a Lab used to walking miles each day.

We’re saying a prayer. I’ll keep you posted.

Our warm regards to you, John.

Well, I’m hoping to get good news from Rita. She and her husband Fred live in Massachusetts where I lived. So I’ve never gotten to see Rex. Not sure how old or how big he is.

What I want you to know is I’ve changed all names here to protect privacy.

Getting back to Rita’s message, I believe Rex is one of the most fortunate dogs I’ve ever heard of. Especially when Medicare doesn’t cover pets yet.

Hey, don’t laugh. Pets might have gotten covered if Bernie Sanders had not lost to Joe Biden and Bernie had managed to kick Trump to Kingdom Come this coming November. Let’s hope!

Now you see the kind of Democratic candidates I’d love to be able to vote for.

Oh, plus pets’ health care can’t be written off on our income taxes, as you know.

But Bernie would have found a way to fix that, too, I’m sure.

I’m having fun joking here a bit.

But as I told you, Rita’s letter got me thinking. I even did some research.

It turns out pet health care insurance does exist. Uncle Sam doesn’t provide it but many companies do. Companies that offer only pet care insurance. Lots of competition out there.

If you have a precious pet, check Google. You’ll find a variety of policies. You might even find some offering a death benefit.

Yes, I’ll bet you would.

Rita and Fred’s vets’ bill must have been huge. She didn’t mention that. I wondered about it but I didn’t feel I should bring it up. Didn’t want to be nosey.

Way back when I was five or six, I had a little dog, Spotty. I loved Spotty. One day he disappeared. I asked but the answer they gave me was vague. Maybe he got hit by a car or something. A big loss for me.

After Pauline and I married, soon she got a pet. A cat, Snow White. Thirteen years she had Snow White.

Also a cockatiel. A puppy named Bijou. Some unusual pets. One night I found her up very late treating a little injured squirrel she had come across. Other pets. Never without a pet. One after another.

Our kids loved them, too.

They sensed rightly these pets were their Mom’s. Not hers and mine.

One day I spotted a dog that was just meant to be mine. And it wasn’t a little dog like hers.

His name was Barry and he was a full-grown St. Bernard. I’m sure you know St. Bernard’s are BIG dogs. I fell for him not because he was so big but because he looked and seemed so loveable.

But when I brought Barry home, it became obvious he didn’t like having become mine.

Or coming to live in an environment very different.

I was a journalist at a big newspaper a 20-minute drive in from the big city nearby. But we lived on a country road with few neighbors.

We weren’t just two adults. We had two little kids. Arthur, then Monique, then in due time, Mark.

Taking care of him was my responsibility. Not Pauline’s, too.

I’d take him on a walk every day. I’d have him on a leash.

One nice warm summer day, I was walking by the Posts. Don and Sylvia were our closest neighbors, about a thousand feet down the road to the left of us.

Our brand-new house, built for us, stood right next to their big dairy farm. They had 50 beautiful Guernsey cows.

I had bought our lot from her dad. He had immediately set up barbed wire on three sides of our lot. Their blue-ribbon Guernseys grazed on three sides of us.

Most times I didn’t stop by. Don was usually at work.

But his car was in the driveway. He’d be home for sure. It would be nice to say hello.

They had a beautiful collie. Nice, friendly dog. I spotted her in the kitchen behind their screen door. She was watching us approach. Wagging her tail.

I was walking up until Barry had his nose practically touching the screen. He just wanted to say Hi to the collie. This would be their first encounter.

Well, Barry reached up with his right paw. He wasn’t being mean or aggressive. Just friendly.

But that big paw of his tore right through that screen. Wow!

Don Post, who’s a very nice guy, appeared at the door in half a minute.

Saw the damage. He was pushing their collie off to one side. Out of reach of Barry.

I didn’t give him time to say anything. I just said, “Sorry, Don. So sorry! Barry was just trying to be friendly. He’s not a mean dog. Really isn’t.

“Hey, please have the door fixed and just send me the bill, will you.”

“No, no, John. It’s not a big deal. No problem.”

“Please, Bob. It won’t amount to much. Please do that”

But he never gave me the bill.

I was so happy Barry’s behavior didn’t spoil our friendship. It could have.

Well, on another nice summer day I was in our front yard with Barry. No leash. About 50 feet from the road.

Our neighbors on the right, some 250 yards away, were the Normans. Nice family.

Mrs. Norman, about 50, came sauntering past our house with her aunt, a Catholic nun dressed the way nuns did back then. She was visiting. I didn’t know her.

My oh my! Barry sprang up and went dashing toward them. They thought he was attacking them. Whew!

I thought they’d have a heart attack!

At the last minute, Barry put on the brakes. Stopped. Dropped to all fours and started wagging and wagging his tail.

Mrs. Norman gave me a really nasty look. Didn’t say a word. Didn’t have to. Her look said it all.

I rushed over and grabbed Barry by the collar. I had a hard time restraining him.

All I could do was give her a feeble smile and try to explain.

Mrs. Norman just nodded solemnly. Her aunt the nun gathered her long gown around her and gave me a weak smile. They continued their walk past our house. Keeping an eye on Barry and a big distance from him. I was still holding him tight by the collar.

Later I told Pauline all about it. She just shook her head sadly. She really didn’t approve of Barry.

She had no such worries with her little poodle

It was clear Barry had to go. I sold him cheap to a farmer who had a big spread. Had a few beef cattle. Was looking for a replacement dog.

I never saw Barry again.

Anyway, our kids grew up with pets in the house.

One birthday, Arthur, our first born, asked for a pet. Not a puppy or a kitty. He was just six years old.

We lived not far from a farmer who raised sheep. We’d stop by and admire them. Arthur decided he wanted one of the little lambs. He chose one and I paid the farmer. Who thought I’d have it slaughtered, I believed.

Hah! We called it Lambchop.

We had that big yard with a big lawn now.

Lambchop was Arthur’s pet and he had to learn to take care of it.

I tied a 15-foot rope to Lambchop’s collar with a gallon jug of water tied at the other end. In the morning, using the rope and jug, Arthur would set Lambchop up on a patch of nice green grass.

And after school he’d move Lambchop to a fresh patch of nice green grass. Perfect.

Well, at one end of our house we had a grape arbor. Nice grass there. One morning Arthur shifted Lambchop there. After school he checked and found Lambchop dead.

What?! Imagine the shock of that.

Lambchop had been munching and had eaten its way around one of the arbor posts. Had circled the post a couple of times and kept pulling and pulling to free itself. But had strangled itself. Sob!

End of that story.

Anyway, this neighbor friend the farmer also had a few horses. One day in visiting him with my teen daughter Monique, she found one she fell in love with. A big pony.

A spontaneous decision on her part.

I had no idea she was interested in owning a pony.

What to do? I had no barn. No easy water supply. No hay. But I bought it for her. She named it Dolly.

We arranged it so she could keep it at the Posts’. Yes, where Barry had smashed the screen door.

Don and Sylvia had a teen-age daughter, Cindy. Monique and Cindy were good friends. Cindy had a pony. And everything needed for it.

Cindy fed and watered her pony. She knew what she was doing. She tutored Monique. She learned quickly.

Dolly turned out to be wild and frisky. So much so that Monique wore a football helmet when she rode her.

Oh, Dolly also turned out to be blind in one eye. Poor Dolly.

I think that the work of caring for Dolly beat the fun Monique got out of her. She didn’t keep Dolly very long. I don’t remember what happened to her eventually.

Our youngest, Mark, loved animals of all kinds. I repeat, all kinds.

He loved snakes. Water snakes. After school he and his school friend Brian would go and try to catch them, then toss them back in.

He had one that he kept as a pet. He took it to bed with him. True story.

Mark, who is now a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, once thought of becoming a vet. Yes, he really did.

His son Lincoln,11, now has a snake in his bedroom. He wanted it. He’s totally responsible for it. Has to treat it kindly. Has to clean its glass box. Has to feed it regularly. One live mouse a week. Mark buys the mice at a pet supply store.

Well, I hate snakes. Even harmless garter snakes.

Mark takes after his Mom. Pauline taught him. Not that she was fond of snakes.

Our home in the country had a big deck in the back. We had big sliding glass doors to the deck. Next to it was a huge oak tree in plain sight.

One day Mark spotted a baby raccoon up there in the tree. No mother raccoon taking care of it.

He put on heavy gloves and clambered up. Then he saw a second baby raccoon. Managed to bring one down, then the other. Showed them to his mom. She was excited. Then to me. They were cute. I thought they’d be released.

She loved them. Adopted them. She scooped them up. Watered them. Fed them.

We’d sit on a couch looking out those big doors. The two little raccoons would sit up there behind us. On top of the back of the couch. Their favorite place.

Pauline would pick one up and hold it for awhile Then the other. She gave them lots of attention.

We’d keep the doors’ screens closed to keep the two little coons from escaping. After all, they were precious pets now.

They were growing fast.

I had done some research. Raccoons can be dangerous. Very. I mentioned this to Pauline.

No problem. Not these cute little two.

I was worried. These weren’t pets. They were wild animals.

We were planning a weekend away.

Pauline arranged for a neighboring teen-ager to come every day. Gave her a key. She’d come and check a few things. And water and feed our coons.

Off we went. When we returned, our coons were gone!

The teen-ager had opened the deck doors for a few minutes. Our coons had bolted. She was distressed.

So was Pauline. I was relieved. I believed what the book said about raccoons becoming dangerous. Good riddance!

I have stories aplenty to tell about pets.

Our Arthur, who loved Lambchop, and his wife, Marita, bought a nice young dog after they settled into their marriage.They named him Dakota.

He is now a lawyer with a national law practice out of Florida.

Dakota became very big. Had him for more than a dozen years.Their three kids grew up with Dakota. He was part of the family. Became very old. Decrepit, sad to say.

Arthur and Marita recently had to make the painful decision to have Dakota euthanized. That was a bad day.

Their three kids had grown up and become independent, two of them living hundreds of miles away.

A pet animal, whatever it is, can become important to our emotional well-being. Especially when kids have grown up and gone. Pets fill a great big void.

And this is what has made pet veterinary medicine such a lucrative specialty. Specialize in pet health care and become rich!

Monique, who loved her frisky pony for a while, has never had a pet of any kind. Excuse me. Now she has David, her hubby of 30 years. It’s remarkable what a wonderful marriage they have. They don’t need a dog or cat or lamb or pony or snake or anything else. They have one another.

Which is also true now for Arthur and Mark and their spouses also.

Mark, who loves animals so much that he seriously thought of becoming a vet, no longer considers having a pet dog, say. He and his wife Stacie are both professors. Very busy. Travel a lot. Have to face reality.

I have thought of having a dog for myself. A cute, little dog. I live alone. It can get lonely.

But I have a hard time taking care of myself. How could I walk the dog? Really, really take care of it? Not a smart idea.

So I’m hoping that my friend Rita’s prayer for Rex has been answered. And she and Fred will have Rex for another long while.

But now, how do you, dear readers, feel about this?

Do you have a pet? Have you had one, or more! What kind? Good experience? Bad one? Details, please.

If enough of you respond, I’ll write it up. Might be very interesting.

Mark Lander, 78, bicyclist extraordinaire

By John Guy LaPlante

My dear friend Mark Lander back in Connecticut loves to pedal and pedal.

Sure, it’s not unusual for teenage boys to bicycle right into their 20’s and their 30’s and maybe even their 40’s. And then they run out of gas, so to speak.

Not Mark. He started biking in March, 1991. He remembers it that precisely — with the threat of snow nearly over.

Biking became his big thing. And he’s never stopped except in winter in the early years.

I lived in Connecticut a long time. I remember the winters.

Every time I post a blog, it’s 95 percent guaranteed I will get a comment back from him. I love to see his name in my Inbox. And it will be an interesting, enjoyable comment. He’s a very literate guy. Sometimes Mark will email to tell me the latest news about the town’s Historical Society. He’s a long-time member. He loves to research local history and write about this or that. Always fascinating. But remember. I’m writing this not because of that but for his bicycling. It’s been a Wow! accomplishment. Amazing.

He just sent me big news that I have long awaited. It’s so big that I am going to bold-face it.

Mark has just reached his 100,000th mile on two wheels!

The big moment occurred just as he pulled into his driveway. He celebrated with a cup of coffee.

How about that?

Mark is a retired high school French teacher. He majored in French at the University of Connecticut.

There’s nothing French about him except love of the language and the culture.

Now some details about his thousands of miles of pedaling. He emailed them to me. Really fascinating.

He started biking not as a kid, which you would expect. He started in March, 1991. He took it up as a replacement for running (knees) and power walking (boring).

He was still working at that time.

His early goal was to ride as often, as much and for as long as he could. His schedule limited him to warm weather weekends and school vacations (April – November). By the time he retired in1999, he had reached almost 15,000 miles.

Then he started riding year-round, subject only to weather. 

His new goal:  To ride farther each month than he had in the same month a year earlier. It worked more often than not.

His annual mileage gradually crept up:  2,000, 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 (five times), 6,000 (once).

I’d love to know how many hours on his bike seat that 6,000 miles adds up to.

He reached 50,000 in August, 2007. That was worth celebrating. But he didn’t tell me how.

He then determined that 100,000 was possible.

In that time he rode in about 250 towns and14 states plus the District of Columbia.

He pedaled in four countries:  USA, Canada, Holland, and France. Has been to France often.

He has used four primary bikes, each one replaced by an upgrade. His current bike is a hybrid.

I didn’t know what a hybrid is. I looked it up. Seems to be a very strong but very basic and light-weight bike — no fenders or anything like that — with the seat quite a few inches higher than the handlebar. You visualize that?

It made me think of a racing bike more than an over-the-road bike.

I wish I had a photo of him and his bike. I’m sure you’d like to see what he looks like. I’d love to see what he looks like.

He told me he wasn’t up to taking a picture and emailing it to me. I understand that.

He said he survived two crashes but was back on the bike within days, despite injuries.

Best day:  85 miles
Best week:  350 miles
Best month:  802 miles
Best year:  6,100
Longest overall ride:  About 350 miles — from Newport, Vermont, to Connecticut in five days.
Most interesting ride:  The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, 184 miles, paralleling the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland. I believe he started in Cumberland.
Worst ride:  20 miles in a blinding rainstorm
His lifetime average:  Approximately 3,400 miles per year. Which is just about what he is biking now.

In his statistics I wish he had given his monthly totals.

His pet peeve:  Drivers and other cyclists who don’t understand the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists. Plus cyclists who don’t wear helmets.

His future resolve is the same — to keep riding as often as he can, as much as he can, and as long as he can.

He says maybe he’ll switch to a trike. Or a tricycle recumbent.

He is well aware that I, a two-wheel biker into my 70’s, pedal my wonderful trike through the neighborhood every fair afternoon. Especially now in these days of Covid-19. The fresh air and the exercise are wonderful.

Then he surprised me:  Maybe he’ll get an e-bike somewhere “down the road.”

That’s a bike with an electric assist. You can turn it on to ease the pedaling.

I say to him, “Go for it, Mark!”

That’s the smart thing to do for an old guy starting his second 100,000 miles on two wheels in not so flat Connecticut.

I consider his accomplishment inspirational. Might spur other older men to take up cycling to stay fit. Yes, sir.

My Friend Wu and Me

By John Guy LaPlante

I have lots of friends, lucky me. But my friendship with Wu is one of a kind. Yes, unique. In fact, extraordinary.

He is Chinese, from Shanghai. His name is Wu Bin.

If I were Chinese, my name would be LaPlante John. I did not know that. He feels Wu is an easier name for foreigners like us to handle.

About our friendship, consider the following. I am old. He is young. He could be my grandson.

I’m American. Don’t speak Chinese. Good thing he speaks English. Otherwise, our friendship would have been doomed.

We met in Nairobi, Kenya, of all places. It is a black nation. That’s on the eastern side of the African content. Nairobi was a major stop on my solo trip around the world. It became a chapter in my book, “Around the World at 75. Alone, dammit!”

And as always, whenever possible, in Nairobi I was staying at a hostel. Wu had checked in the day before. He had the bed across from mine.

He was 30, on vacation. A graduate of the University of Shanghai. He was completing a month in Kenya and adjoining Tanzania. Came because of his interest in anthropology.

I met him with special interest. When I was in college, I had a Chinese pal by the same name, Wu. He was the first Chinese I ever met. I mentioned that to this new friend of mine. He chuckled. He said Wu was a very common name in China. As common as Smith or Cohen for us.

Wu Bin, no relation to my boyhood friend, was a microchip engineer working in marketing for a big company supplying chips to companies around the world. Including some of our best known computer companies.

I asked him, “Isn’t it rare for young Chinese to get out of China and travel for pleasure?”

“Yes, I am very lucky to be able to travel like this.”

He said he earned a high salary by Chinese standards. That impressed me.

He said he had just treated himself to a balloon ascent over a famous historical site.

“It cost $300. Very expensive. But I have very nice pictures to take home.”

Told me he had traveled to Europe, India, and many other parts of the world. Part of it was for his company, but not all.

Also rare was that he was not yet married at age 30, he said.

“Everybody tells me, Marry! Marry! I say no, not yet. I want to wait. When you marry, everything changes.”

He did say he had to find a way to raise extra money for this trip. He brought along five digital cameras. Very hi-tech cameras – complete, with chargers, AC adapters, the whole works. Had sold four of them so far.

“No problem. Many rich people everywhere.”

There were quite a few Americans in Nairobi. I thought he might be the only Chinese in this huge city. I left the city sure we would never see one another again.

But what happened is that like others who were interested, he continued to receive email updates from me about my big trip.

But, so unusual, he would always respond.

By this time, I was back in the U.S. I was in Los Angeles, living with milady Annabelle. We were a committed couple.

When I wrote that I was planning to write a book about my trip, and would include many photos he became

Very interested. In fact, excited.

One day he wrote, “John, I will publish the book in China!”

What a wacky idea! So I thought.

But he mentioned it again. “Yes, publish it in Mandarin. That is our most important language.”

I was interested, of course. But I thought nothing would come of it. But he kept it up.

One day, he made me an offer in dollars. Wow! To put an end to this, I wrote, “Wu, we have a lot to discuss. Come on over!”

I was sure he would make an excuse. Probably too busy at work!

End of discussion.

After all, making a round-trip to the US is expensive. And complicated. He’d have to take time off from work. Get a visa. On and on.

Well, he flew over. We picked him up. He stayed four days with us. No mention of the book. We showed him around. Fed him.

He was a lot of fun. Then he left for three days to visit Yosemite National Park, then came back for a few more days with us. Still no mention of the book. Just a scam, I decided.

Two days before his flight back to Shanghai, he said to me, “Now, John, let’s write our contract.”

Wow! Could this be for real? It was. We sat down and I drafted the contract. I included the sum of dollars he had offered. Plus a provision for royalties. Oh, I also had a DVD of photos I had taken on my big trip. He also bought that. I showed him what I had written.

“Excellent,” he said. “But this contract must be written Chinese style.”

“No, no, Wu. If you put it in Mandarin. I will not be able to read that, and I would not be able to sign a contract like that, of course.”

“No, John. Not a problem. This is very good, but for us Chinese every contract must start with the words, “After friendly discussion….”

No problem, I told him. It was indeed a friendly discussion.

Then I shook hands with him. He did not understand that.

I explained that shaking hands at the end of a business deal is an American custom. He chuckled. “I love some of your American customs!”

And I said to myself, “I really like this guy!”

Annabelle and I drove him to the airport. We shook hands. Annabelle gave him a hug. He was all smiles. And he flew home.

We have been the best of friends ever since. For many years. It’s been an active friendship. I could give you many details but I have to speed up my story about him. No way can I go into the many details.

He went ahead and published my book in Mandarin. Translating it was a big job. I like to think that the translation was a good one.

He decided to give his book a big PR kickoff.

Big surprise! He invited Annabelle and me to attend. Unfortunately, she could not come along. A bad knee! She suggested I bring my sister Lucie along. A great idea. I am a few years older than Lucie.

She’s a very good sport and lots of fun. And very charming. She and Wu clicked the minute they met.

For the kickoff he had rented a large assembly room in a major hotel. And invited many guests, including journalists and TV personalities.

He wanted me to give a talk, and he would translate in Mandarin.

We practiced a couple of times.

I was very nervous. Who wouldn’t be? Then answered questions from the floor. And all went well.

From China, Lucie and I went on a tour of a dozen Asian countries. That was a decision I made after Wu’s invitation.

She told me she would love to come along but said right then and there she’d have to fly home early because of a major happening back home. We had a fine time together. I was very sorry to see her fly home.

I wrote up that big and wonderful trip in my book, “Around Asia in 80 days. Oops, 83!”

A very popular book at that time was “Around the World in 80 Days!” That’s how I got the idea for the title of my book.

Well, I have been to China four times, all because of Wu. That’s been very wonderful.

The second time was for Wu’s wedding. He invited milady Annabelle and me. She was better now and jumped at the chance.

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine at that time. I got permission to go.

From Kyiv, the capital, I flew easterly to Shanghai. Annabelle flew west from Los Angeles. We arrived at the huge Pudong Airport only 90 minutes apart, and Wu was there to greet us.

Such an interesting and beautiful wedding. And the dozen days that followed. All thanks to Wu.

Then Wu took us back to Pudong Airport. Annabelle flew east home to Los Angeles and I flew west back to Ukraine.

Wu made another trip to the United States and visited us. It’s wonderful.

Wu, and my sister Lucie, of course have been in close touch all these years.

We were very pleased to hear of the birth of his son. And his steady climb up the ladder in his field.

Annabelle got to see a lot of that. She died a year ago, sad to say. In just a few words, what Wu has become is a super salesman with an intensive engineering background.

His specialty has been LED lights. He told me once, “John, go to your local Home Depot and you will find my LED lights there.”

As such, he has traveled to many countries in his business, in Asia and countries in Africa.

No need any more to bring along hi-tech Chinese cameras in order to make extra money.

Over the years, thanks to what I could see from Wu and could figure out by myself I became so impressed by China’s growth that I invested in a Chinese mutual fund, and that did very well.

History tells us that it has been in the last hundred years that our USA became the wealthiest and mightiest country in the world.

Well, I believe it’s now in these upcoming hundred years that China will become the wealthiest and mightiest country in the world.

You may be thinking that yourself.

In these years of our friendship Wu and I have remained in close touch through the Internet.

It’s always been a great pleasure to see an email from him in my inbox.

Recently I got to thinking that our friendship is such a different and extraordinary one that you might be interested in hearing about it. So here it is.

With his worldly experience, he has strong opinions and doesn’t mind sharing them.

He’s always doing extraordinary things. Recently he learned to fly a helicopter. How about that!

Now a French company is building a huge chemical plant in China and Wu is the official translator and interpreter. That’s a big job indeed.

I mentioned to him that I would like to write about us.

And I realized that there were many things about his everyday life that I was not aware of. And I asked him a series of questions. Some quite personal. And he has answered them. That impressed me.

Here they are. I believe that you will enjoy them. And learn a bit about China.

Hello,Dear John,

The follows please find my answers.

How many hours is the normal workweek? 8H* 5Day= 40 hours

How many days off do workers have per week? 2 Days

How many days of vacation every year? About 5-20 days, depends on working experience By the government? Same in the whole country

By private companies? It’s hard to say, in the South or in the North, are totally different.

Is there a standard retirement age? For man, 65. For woman, 60.

Do people receive a pension when they retire? Yes.

From the government? From the government.

Or private corporations? NO.

Or both? Only from the government

Are most schools free? For the public school system, it’s free. Are most universities free? No, need to pay the tuition.

We have 50 states in the USA.

How many states does China have? We have 32 provinces in China.

Don’t 99 percent of the people live in large apartment buildings?

In the city, that’s true. In the suburban area, people mainly live their own house or rent an apartment.

Do they own their apartment? Case by case, about 60% people own their house.

Do you own or pay? I have my own apartment. Actually Lucie and you even stayed in it. Are you employed by a corporation or are you self-employed? Employed by the company. At what age do you plan to retire? 65

What kind of work would you like your son to do when he is a man?

Doctor, teacher, architect, any job he likes indeed, and he could do something useful for the society. Meanwhile, be kind to the friends, neighbors.

Wasn’t your father a public school teacher? Yes, he was a teacher before 

At what age did he retire? 65

I know how generous and loving you have been to your father and mother. How comfortable would their retirement be without your financial support?

I am their only one kid, it’s nature to support them as I could.

Is there a standard vacation for workers every year?

For me, about 12 days.

Do sick people have to pay to go to a hospital? Yes, some people without social security need to pay it.

Is there a government insurance plan? No, mainly we have a personal insurance plan by ourselves, not the government.

At what age do people begin to vote? At 18

Can women vote? Yes, for sure.

Are some kinds of people not allowed to vote? All Chinese citizen can vote who is over 18.

What do you think of Xi Jinping? He is capable to handle the current issues. He is not perfect, but acceptable. Isn’t he your president for life? No, I don’t think so.

Do you like him? For me, he is OK for the country.

How many major political parties are there? About 9 parties totally.

Are you a liberal (for us, a Democrat?)

I am a liberal.

Or a conservative (for us, a Republican?)

Do most people believe in God? People have different definition on God. In China, it could be the Buddha, Guanyin God, or Local City God. We have local gods in our mind. If you live in China longer, you can see that.

Here are 2 pictures for your reference.

That’s a temple in Southern China, which also popular in Southeast Asian countries.

“Are you really a writer, John?”

“Did you write to earn your bread and butter, Mr. LaPlante?”I’ve fielded these questions more than once. My answer to both is “Yes”.

And I have proof for you right now. All thanks to my loving daughter, Monique.

Take a look at the photo. It shows a 3-ring binder. I’ll explain in just a minute.

I had a big birthday recently. My 91st!

I got Happy Birthday! emails, cards, a bouquet of flowers, gifts. Monique’s was a humdinger. She gave it to me at a birthday dinner at their home. Her hubby David handed a big box to me. It weighed a ton. Beautifully gift-wrapped.

“What is thís?” I asked. “An encyclopedia or something?”

No answer. Just a smile.

I ripped off the fancy paper. Well, what I was looking at were two huge identical binders. They both had the same picture of me on it. Taken in Guangzhou, China six years ago. It’s the same photo that appears on my website.

The words on both were the same: “To blog or not too blog? You bet I’m going to blog!”

One book said “Volume 1” and the other “Volume 2.”

And inside were print-outs of every blog I’ve posted since I started my website back then. All in perfect chronological sequence. The first was on April 8, 2013 and the latest on April 26.

She was watching me carefully. “Like it, Dad?”

“Like it? I LOVE it, Monique! It’s fantastic! But gosh, when did you start assembling all these articles? What a huge job!”

“No, no, Dad. I began not long after you started blogging. I could see blogging was important to you.”

She smiled. “One thing I was sure of! You wouldn’t up and quit! “Well, you would publish one or two and I’d print them out. So I’ve been at it practically since you started. And of course I realized it would be a nice family thing to have all your articles together like this.”

The minute she said that I thought of something else.

Years ago back in Connecticut where I was then living I wrote stories for a weekly newspaper, “The Main Street News.”  It was a good weekly. A lot of people read it. I began writing for it. I wrote a lot for it. News stories. Feature stories. Many. And during that time I took two long trips driving through our 48 states. Alone. I covered 60,000 miles on highways and backroads. In a small, compact RV — a wonderful VW Microbus.

I was a vagabond. A happy vagabond.

I’d write about interesting things that I got to see and interesting folks I encountered.

They would get published as lead articles in the Travel section of the Worcester Sunday Telegram in Massachusetts, where I had been an editor. And some in The Main Street News.

Back home finally, I boiled all that down for an article that got published In the Travel section of the Boston Sunday Globe. The Globe is the largest paper in New England.

That Sunday edition was a full inch thick. Huge.

On Monday a friend called me. “John, I read your article yesterday. The whole thing. And I checked something. It was the biggest story in the whole paper!”

I was tickled.

Oh, during those years I also took a big trip to a dozen countries in Asia. My sister Lucie was with me through several of them. She had told me in advance she’d have to come home early.

On the road over there I’d write reports and email them back to Connecticut for publication.

They became the guts for my book, “Around Asia in 80 Days. Oops, 83!”

Lucie was one of those I dedicated it to.

Well, back then one day Monique had given me a boxful of those reports. Again, each one printed out and arranged in its right order. A precious gift.

Now and then I open the box and leaf through it. It’s a fantastic walk down Memory Lane for me.

And now her two 3-ring binders will be my second fantastic walk down Memory Lane.

As I told you, the first of the two binders is full.

The second one has lots of room still. It will be easy for her to slip in additional blog printouts. For instance, this one I’m writing right now.

I’ll bet Monique has already thought of that.

Right now they total 200 blog posts. That’s my estimate.

On average they run 2,000 words, I’d say. So, 400,000 words! My oh my!!! I do think that’s worth three exclamation marks.

But that’s over just the last few years, mind you.

But I’ve been writing professionally since I graduated from Boston University’s Graduate School of Journalism in 1954.

And the next week went to work on The Thomaston (Conn.) Express, a fine weekly. As its editor, mind you. I was 25 years old. Less than two years later I was hired by the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram & Gazette, which published morning, evening, and Sunday papers. After Boston, Worcester is the second largest city in New England. I went from correspondent and reporter to bureau chief to feature writer to editor of its big Sunday magazine. Even wrote a weekly column for it for 10 years without missing a single week. Even wrote it from my hospital bed one week.

And I’ve been writing and writing ever since.

These scribblings have included new feature stories, travel and adventure write-ups, essays, reminiscences, three nonfiction books published, three not. Hey, even a few poems.

Think of the millions of words all this must add up to.

Of course, some of you may be quite new to my work. Well, to give you a decent idea, I’ve gathered a few of these blog posts for you. Not the whole, long pieces. No, no. Just the title of each that I gave them plus a few paragraphs to clue you in. Hope you enjoy them.

And here they are.

“I learned to play chess 77 years ago.” Yes, I did. Sorry, that’s not true. I began playing chess back then. I’m still learning.”

“I thought my circus days were over.” Not so. I was interested but I said “No!” to Monique and David when I found out there were no animal acts. How could you have a circus without elephants and lions and prancing ponies? I was wrong. I loved it!

One day in one post I found out I had erred. So I wrote the following.

“Did I confuse you? Could be.” In my last post I wrote, “Do your duty. Vote!” But maybe better, “Don’t vote!”

But I should have written, “It’s your duty and my duty to not vote when not clear about an issue or a candidate.”

Here are more.

“I just finished my toughest test yet.” And I’ve taken hundreds of tests. The toughest was the California written driving test. I flunked it the first time. So humiliating!

“Why don’t they just ask me my name?”

I was at the drugstore for my prescriptions. I started to say “I’m John …”

“No, no. What’s your address?”

Another day I was at a big-box store. “I’m John …”

“Sorry. What’s your phone number?”

At a government office, “I’m John … “

“No need. Your Social please.”

Hey, why did my Pa and Ma ever bother?!

“Seven years ago I was still living six months a year in Connecticut and six here in California.” I’d drive 6,000 miles across and meander to see this and that. It was great!

Well, I just met Bill Fairbanks, a retired Ph.D. professor. In his 70’s. He walked across the U.S.A. It took him six years. He did it in stages. His wife tagged along in their car.

“Do out him it’s okay to ban books?” Our public library just had an exhibit on banned books. A long list. Some famous, some less so. There were 20 possible reasons. Too much sex. Or too Communist. Or too this or that. And sure, they all got banned. But all can still be bought here or there. But anyway! Here in our free USA who has the right to ban books from me or you? In my opinion, nobody.

“My friend Bill Alpert, impassioned fiddler.” There are two kinds of passions, as we know. Good ones and evil ones.

His is a good one. Making music. As a concert violinist and now a sidewalk fiddler.

Bill fell in love with the violin when he was 11 in sixth grade. He’s collecting Social Security now and still playing. The same violin for 31 years, by the way–a Caressa made in France in 1901.

He practices every day. One day he got a great idea. Why not practice before a live audience?

So on nice days now and then he practices in front of Albertsons Supermarket. His practice sessions are better because some customers stop and really listen. And some like his music so much they even toss money into his violin case. Pretty good, methinks.

“Have you had narrow escapes? Close calls?” I’ve had a few. The most terrifying was when I was traveling alone through India on a long, jam-full train and

I got caught in a riot. And a couple of thugs came looking for me, and all because I was a lone American.

“I go to our county jail to visit Prisoner 846975.” Jack is an old man now. I’ve changed his name and number. He’s a friend, sort of. I like him.

He was picked up by the cops for failing to report in monthly to his probation officer as he is supposed to 12 months a year. He is a convicted sexual abuser. He is awaiting trial. Couldn’t make bail.

He’s told me the story. He was 19. She was a bit under age. He felt she wanted it and he gave it to her.

He admits to other law problems but small stuff. That initial crime has ruined his life. People know and he knows they know.

He has to check in every month, or else. Getting decent work hasn’t been easy. He’s been a house painter mostly. He can’t even be within so many feet of a school. On and on. AndI repeat, he’s awaiting trial.

The big question is, does that conviction of his really fit his crime? She was a bit under age and he felt she wanted it and he was just a dumb kid of 19 ….

And now he’s a convicted sex offender for life?! Can’t there be a smarter, more sensible way? For people like him and society?

“A dream Airstream in Albertsons Supermarket parking lot.” Yes, I spotted a gorgeous, gleaming silver Airstream trailer. It’s famous. The first really fine travel trailer. Luxurious. Pricy. Still an unusual sight. Designed, built, and popularized by the great Wally Byam.

He would lead price-is-no-problem Airstream owners on scenic caravans across the USA and even across Africa.

But for a young family man like me there was no way I could ever hope to own a top-of-the-line Airstream.

Yet the day came when with my wife Pauline and our two little kids in a home-made tent trailer I could take six weeks off. Drive across the USA from Massachusetts to California and back. And mind you, in days long before Interstate highways. And see great cities and famous national parks. And humble burgs and splendid museums. And talk with a fabulous mix of Americans. And write about all that and get it published. Wow!

Now you have seen a small sampling of my works. Well, to get back to the big, original question I get asked, am I a writer? Do I qualify? What do you think?

Truth is, writing is a must for me. I believe I was born to write, among other things. It’s the only way I can explain it. Hope I can keep it up….

Now I must repeat one essential thing.

As you know now, this huge project of printing out and assembling these blog posts was totally my daughter Monique’s doing.

I had no clue. Bless her!

She has a husband. A big and demanding job. Lots of responsibilities.

This was not just a project for a week or two. She got started shortly after I began blogging.

It was one more way for her to say, “I love you, Dad.” Notice, I said one more way.

How fortunate I am.

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