A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 5: Gratitude for Friends

Most of us have friends. Some may be very close and others may just be casual acquaintances. Friends can almost feel like family at times. Over the years I’ve had some very close friends and friends that gave me a feeling of belonging.  But, one thing many say about me…  I have never met a stranger.

Stylishly climbing a tree in 1963 or 1964 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico

The first friend I can recall was back in Albuquerque around 1964, when I was about eight years old. For about three years I was friends with a boy named Ricky Fetterer. I would walk down to his house every morning and watch cartoons (we liked watching The Mighty Hercules — even today I can recall the theme song).  After that was over, we would walk to school together, about a quarter-mile from his house. He certainly was, at that time, my best friend. One day they moved away to Kansas or Missouri or someplace like that. I was brokenhearted that I had lost my best friend. But, it was not soon thereafter that we too left Albuquerque and headed east to live in Richardson, Texas.

At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966 in Richardson, Texas

In Richardson, the neighborhood we lived in had a few kids and so I became friends with them and we played football and catch and things like that together, but I never really had the chance to grow close to them as we were only there for about a year and a half. I don’t even recall names or faces. I can recall playing football in the front yard and, as I try to look at the faces, all I see are blurs. In fact, over the years of my youth, I never did have another close friend like Ricky until I got to my senior year in high school.

Joe Kravetz during his Skaggs Days in Denver, CO around 1969

You see, my father worked for Skaggs Drug and we moved quite often. From 1968 through 1974 I attended three different elementary schools, two junior high schools and three different high schools.  During that period we lived in Dallas, Denver, Great Falls, Bozeman and finally Murray, Utah. Did I have some friends? Of course I did. I had friends from band, friends from other clubs, friends from extra-curricular activities. But none were really all that close. And, I think that besides the relative short times in each place, another part of the problem was that I always tried too hard to make friends. I was known for bragging and boasting in an effort to impress. That was one of the downsides of moving so much and thus it led to a lack of self-confidence.

 

Here I am working with some of the Bozeman Yearbook staff in 1973. Sheila, Melody, Sharon and Joyce. I was contacted by one of them a via Facebook a couple of years ago when they came across this photo.

I find it ironic that in this day of social media such as Facebook and Instagram, that I have been able to renew relationships with people from my old high school days. As we correspond and look at each other’s Facebook we have grown closer despite distance. And that has been an interesting and blessed part of life.  I am grateful for how something like Facebook can open up formerly closed doors.

Intramural Basketball team members at Bozeman Senior High back in 1973. I was the player/coach for one of the teams.  That’s me, third from left in back row.

A recent photo of my Bozeman friend Bud, who now lives in Colorado.

Just a few days ago I was contacted by a friend of mine from Bozeman Senior High School named Bud Herzog. That is one person who I still remember from the days of my junior year in high school. We caught up through Instagram and then eventually spoke on the phone for about an hour to reminisce about old times, old friends and acquaintances. It was refreshing to reestablish a long last relationship I had over 40 years ago.

 
As I noted above, I really forged a couple of close relationships with friends during my senior year in high school in Murray, Utah. I guess a number of things led to that opportunity to make those friends. First, having moved into a predominantly LDS/Mormon community, and having a desire to seek more about it because of a chance meeting I had in Bozeman just the previous summer.  A girl from Summit, NJ and her family were there and introduced me to the church and gave me a Book of Mormon. So, while I was registering for my senior year, I decided to take seminary class  (very common in large LDS communities such as Salt Lake City and Mesa, Arizona) and it was through seminary that I met some of the individuals that would eventually become my very close friends. And it turned out that they lived in the same neighborhood that I did. At that time, I didn’t know anything about the church’s boundaries, but, as it turns out, I lived in the same ward boundaries as these guys did. So, it seems that all of the chips fell into the same bowl to create the perfect opportunity to forge new friendships.
 
Obviously, I still had the problems talking about myself and had spoken highly of my previous years in Montana thus leading to my Murray-based nickname of “Monty Montana“ during my senior year of high school. There were a few guys who befriended me and made my life a little better, In fact, a lot better.  But, back then I was always “Monty” to them.
 

Jonathan Jensen as he looked in high school in 1974

I became close friends with five or six of these guys. Perhaps the most prominent of them were the two I grew closest to as friends, namely Jonathan Jensen and Russell Graves. We remain close friends even to this day. Both Jonathan and Russ lived just a couple of blocks from me and I spent a lot of time at their homes, getting to know their families, their parents, etc.  In fact, I was probably at their places more than my own house.  And as I drew near to joining the church, I also became very close to Jonathan‘s father Boyd Jensen, who at the time was the Bishop of the Murray 20th Ward. Bishop Jensen became almost like a second father to me and I so strongly desired to have a family like they had because, as I have noted in previous blog posts, my family situation was not the best.

 

Murray 20th Ward Young Adult basketball team in 1975 (Dale Simper is front left, next to me)

Visiting with Jonathan at Sundance Resort in Utah in 2016

Through my activities in the ward, specifically participating in their sports programs — softball, volleyball and basketball, I grew closer to many of these guys. And as a senior in high school, I felt like I had hit the jackpot. Jonathan and Russell and a few of the other guys were all part of the basketball team and/or the football team. They were all popular in school. And here I was, a virtual nobody — a braggadocious “Monty Montana”, being embraced with friendship buy these guys. That truly helped open the door for other friendships. And for that I have always been very grateful because, honestly, I think that it saved my life.

 
 

Visiting Russ at his home in Murray, Utah in 2016

I spent a lot of time at Jonathan and Russ’s houses. And usually, it wasn’t just me and Russ or me and Jonathan, but all three of us and often times more of our friends including John Janssen, Dale Simper, and a few others.

Jonathan, Russ and also Dale, have remained close friends over the years. Every time I visit the Salt Lake area, we all get together and reminisce of good times and just spend time learning about each other‘s current lives… What is up with all of their children and my children, talk about grandchildren, talk about jobs. These guys have always been there for me and I am so grateful to them. In many respects, they’re almost like family to me.
 

Visiting my friends Russ, Jonathan and Dale in the summer of 2018 in Murray, Utah

Glen Krebs has been a very close friend. He officiated at one of my daughters’ weddings in this photo

Funny thing is that, through them, I was introduced to another Murray grad when I came to Kentucky.  Glen Krebs graduated the year before me and went on his LDS mission to Japan as well.  Most of my friends were either friends with him or knew him well.  When I first came to Kentucky for job interviews, I was able to stay at Glen’s house.  We have since become very close.  I have done work for him.  His wife and mine both went to the same high school in Mesa, Arizona and we even share the same wedding anniversary date of July 15!!  Like Jonathan and Russ, Glen has always been there to help get me through the difficult challenges of life when I needed him to.

 

Glen is also an avid supporter of my writing and books. I signed my most recent copy for him here. (We are also both UK Fans….)

Penny Strong as I knew her in 1976.

Finally, during the time I was trying to get into the church and then make decisions concerning my mission, I had become good friends with a wonderful young lady from Cottonwood High School named Penny Strong (now married with a different last name).  To this day, I can’t recall how we first met, but she was a godsend.  Ours was not a romantic relationship.  It was a true friendship and she was always there to talk and listen. She was like a “my age group” sister to me in the real sense.  Even to this day we stay in touch.  I am, even to this day, grateful for the strong positive influence Penny had in my life.

This is Penny in 2018. Like me, a happy grandparent and she still has that wonderful youthful look. So glad we are still friends.

This was the group I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) with in Feb. 1976. We all flew to Nagoya together. (Marc White is 4th from the left.  I am on the far right)

Busily engaged as a missionary in 1976

Eventually, we all go our separate ways. Jonathan, Russ, Dale, John and others all left for LDS missions to various parts of the world. I too ended up joining the church and serving an LDS mission. I followed in their footsteps and it was because they were such good examples in helping me to make good decisions.

 
Serving two years as a missionary and being together with a companion for a number of months, it is not usual that some of the missionary companions become good friends. I haven’t kept in contact with many of my former missionary companions or others. But I try to.  Interestingly, while I was in the Language Training Mission in February/March 1975, I had TWO companions and one of them was someone I knew from Murray. His name was Marc White. I did not know Marc very well during high school, but I do know that he was the quarterback of the football team and he was a great leader. During our missionary years, we became very close and he was kind of the cement that kept me strong during my weak times. Since our missions, I have been in touch with him a few times, but we have kind of lost touch over the years. But I’ll never forget how good Marc was in being a good friend and not just a missionary companion and leader to me.
 

One of my favorite mission companions was Lee Richan.  Sadly, he passed away in 2012

Fun with Elder Lee Richan in Fuji, Japan 1978

I have kept in touch with very few of those that I served missionary time with in Japan in the 1970s.  I am friends with a few on Facebook, and keep track of them that way, but we’ve all gone our separate ways. There was one, however, to whom I became very close friends with and had remained friends until he died a few years ago and that is Lee Richan. Much like me, Lee was a convert to the church. He had been a motorcycle rider for many years and had an interesting background. But, as missionary companions,  we achieved our goals together and we had a very fun time together. He was very good about remembering birthdays and would always call me or send me a note on my birthday. Over the years we would talk and communicate and when I could get to Utah,  we would visit with each other.  Sadly, Lee passed away on December 17, 2012.  He was 58.

Lee Richan as I knew him around 2010

Lee was not the first of my friends who had passed away at early age. But, his passing was certainly the most impactful that had experienced up to that time. There were two or three former missionaries and there were a couple of people from two of my different high schools that I had received notification that they had passed. It is always sad when someone you know passes away. But I was really brokenhearted when Lee passed away. His friendship was a valuable jewel to me.

Our first photo together ca. 1978

After my mission, I attended BYU and actually became roommates with Jonathan Jensen there. He and a couple of others had pitched in to buy a house.  There were a couple of others in the house I knew and then I became friends with the other roommates that were there with me. But, I was too engaged in trying to find a “eternal companion,“ to be very involved with my friends most of the time. And once I had found my sweetheart, Julianne, my friendships took a back burner a long time even though I did stay in contact.

 
Time came and went. Jobs came and went. Julianne and I ultimately moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, to take us closer to her home yet keep us away from the dreaded heat. While in Flagstaff, I would attend college at Northern Arizona University and it was there today forged my next close friendship with now lifelong friend Charles Snow. Both of us had some Jewish of bringing in our family and we both were converts and we both had a lot of things in common. Eventually, Charles and I worked at the same places are a couple of times and that was always fun. As things would go, we moved onto Arizona State University and Charles and Michelle moved on in other directions. He currently lives in North Carolina and I have been able to visit him there.
 

Visiting with Charles Snow in North Carolina in 2016

Like me, Charles was always fond of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before like me, Charles was always find of telling jokes and having fun. I’m grateful that we remain close to this day and that when we do talk, which is not often, it is like we were just with each other the day before.
 

Family in Japan in 1987

By 1987, my family eventually went to Japan for a few years.  We made a few friends in Japan, chiefly people that would help us through that experience. But nobody really became too close per se. Life was too busy with children and everything else going on.
 

With Ron (aka Antsy McClain)  ca. 1998

It wasn’t until we returned back from Japan in 1991 that I was blessed with a new lifelong friendship.  I could not locate work in Arizona and ultimately was hired as a contract Japanese interpreter for an auto parts plant in Shelbyville, Kentucky in 1992.  I shared a table with another interpreter, named Ron Bell, who was originally from Ohio but was living in Kentucky at the time. Ron was always good for a joke. During his days in college at BYU, Ron was an editorial cartoonist and has also become quite the artist. We always talked of collaborating some day on something or other. There were evenings as well that I would go over to his place and listen to him play his guitar and sing his songs. He eventually left the company and went on to other things. But we stayed in touch as he lived locally in the Lexington area and we remained friends. He later formed a partnership with another guy and as musicians, they called themselves the “Trailer Park Troubadours.” As part of their schtick, Ron had given himself a pseudonym of Antsy McClain, which he still uses to this day.

Working with Antsy McClain

Singing with Antsy McClain at Woodflock 2015

The Trailer Park Troubadours eventually landed a recording contract and had a website that they were not happy with.  Ron, knowing that I could do web work, asked me to start managing his website, which I have done continuously for nearly 25 years.

 
Over those years, I have not just been a business associate doing his website. We have become very close friends and like brothers. We have seen each other struggle through life’s challenges. We have celebrated each other’s good times. Antsy (which is what I typically call him now) helped me to fulfill one of my dreams of being in a band and touring as I was able to participate with the group, not as a musician, but now with logistics and other things. I have always been his biggest cheerleader.
 

Visiting with Antsy McClain (and gawking at his grandchild pix) just before a show in Ohio in 2016

We have actually seen each other‘s children grow up and become parents.  Antsy has joined the grandparent club and now he and I both share the blessing of being grandparents. This has been a joyful relationship for me and hopefully for Ron. I am heartfully grateful for this long 25 year friendship.
 

On tour with Antsy McClain in San Francisco in the early 2000s.  Getting to live a dream thanks to a good friend

 

Having BBQ with my old friend and fellow Troubs’ fan Michael Fisher in Georgetown, TX  We first met through Facebook

As I mentioned early on, Julianne has always said that I have never met a stranger. And that is true. I am always friendly and outgoing and social. That has helped me to develop other friendships over the years. Facebook has opened up doors for me to  develop virtual friendships that I would’ve never expected. I have become friends with people through Facebook and eventually, in some cases, have been able to visit them and get to know them better. Some of these friendships came as a result of Trailer Park Troubadours associations (such as Michael Fisher in photo). Others came as a result of my travel blogging. But in each case these are friendships that I value. There are others that I become friends with on Facebook they have yet to meet in person but we share things in common. To me, that has become a unique form of friendship making.

Hanging out with Texas travel blogger, author and photographer Tui Snider in Azle, TX whom I first met through Facebook.

One of these Facebook friends is Tui Snider. She is a Texas author whom I first met as a result of her book about offbeat attractions in Texas. She has authored a number of books since that time. We quickly became friends via Facebook and, as she lives very close to my sister in Texas, one trip I went out to visit with her and her husband Larry. We have hit it off and are now good friends. I relish her great success in writing, selling books and her numerous speaking engagements. Thankfully, she has been a great mentor to me and was instrumental in helping me to get my first two books out and on the market.

Bobby Cochran performing with Steppenwolf in 1975. I took this at the show.

One of the more interesting friendship stories is that of guitarist Bobby Cochran. I became friends with the former Steppenwolf guitarist when he joined and played lead guitar for Antsy for many years. I actually roomed with Bobby a couple of times on the road and we have taken many trips together and talked about everything…music, religion, politics.  Funny thing about Bobby is that I saw him perform with Steppenwolf in 1975 (see the photo).  Who’d have thought that 25 years later we would be friends and traveling together.

Enjoying time with guitarist Bobby Cochran in Bardstown, KY around 2012

I also count myself fortunate to be friends with a number of other very talented musicians that I was introduced to through Antsy McClain.  These would include guitarists, multi-instrumentalists and others.

Hanging with friend Edgar Cruz…a guitarist from Oklahoma
Visiting with Anthony Snape, Nashville-based singer/songwriter from Australia.  I first met him in Bardstown and have kept in touch throughout the years.
With Bruce Wandmayer in 2016 at Woodflock.  Bruce has been with Antsy McClain as his saxophone and slide guitar player for over 20 years.
With a number of photographer friends watching for Bald Eagles at Taylorsville Lake in 2017
Watching for birds at Jacobson Park with Eddie Flinchum

Over the past 2 to 3 years, I have become very engaged in photography. It has always been a passion of mine, but with a nicer camera and a lovely park with a lake nearby, it has become a daily activity. Jacobson Park is nearby and has a large lake and lots of wildlife and lots of beauty. I visit almost daily and practice my art of photography there whether it be on birds, plants or nature such as sunrises and sunsets. Through this activity I’ve also developed friendships with other photographers and these too are unique and fun friendships. We talk about birds and we talk about other things. A couple of these photographers were Vietnam vets and we talk about their time in the service. I have learned about a couple of their families and their family life as they have about mine. It is nice to have these friends and some of them I see almost on a daily basis.

I see Jerome Keeler almost daily. This guy has an eagle eye for ALL birds

David Marler is another of my photographer friends who is out at Jacobson Park almost daily. Great guy and excellent photographer.
Next door neighbor Mike Lemaster

Of course, I would be remiss if I neglected to add some comment about a couple of my neighbors.  Mike Lemaster has been next door to us for nearly 20 years.  He and Lauren have become good friends and we have watched each other’s children grow up and watched grandkids come along.  Next door to him is another amazing neighbor in Steve Ward. He and his wife Chris are overly generous and always giving.

Both of these neighbors have always been gracious with their time and provide advice.  We have had cookouts together and other fun activities.  Mike keeps an immaculate yard and that is the only thing he does to make me feel bad!  As for Steve, there have been numerous instances where he has come over to help, without being asked. He is the kind of neighbor everybody dreams about having…except for us…it is a reality.

Neighbor Steve Ward. He has become a very good friend and is an amazing neighbor.

I have been blessed to have many many other friends from all walks of life.  Many of you who I count as my friends will read this and likely wonder where you are.  You are in my mind, but not enough space to add any more.  I am grateful for all of my many friends.  My life is truly rich and blessed with friendships.  Way more than I am truly worthy of.  Thanks to ALL of you!!

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 4: My Extended Family

The Bateman family (minus Paul) – including Laura, Arlene, Julianne (my wife), Kathy, Maren and Maury. I love these guys!  Not mentioned in the post, but this is my wife’s wonderful family.

We are not alone. Most of us are born into some sort of a family. It is true that some are born and left at the door of the church or fire department. But, for most of us, we are born into a family.

There are those that are born into a family whose parents stay together and they grow up with your siblings. This is the “norm.“ Then there are those, like myself, that are born and ultimately bounce around from family to family or move on due to divorce and, in most cases, have no choice in the matter because of youth.
A few years ago I became very heavily engaged in doing genealogy work. I have an addictive personality and once I got engrossed in the work I was obsessed. It was a good obsession. I traced many family lines, both through my adopted family and through my blood lines. It was a fascinating effort and I still have boxes of papers in storage.
Since my “immediate family“ consists of my wife, my children and my grandchildren, I now look at my siblings and, by extension, their spouses, as extended family. I grew up with some of them and there were some that I did not get to know until I was an adult. But to me, they are all family.
Another rare photo – the only known complete family photo of all of the Kravetz Clan – ca. 1978
First off, I am thankful for the family that I grew up with. The Kravetz family was a “Heinz 57“ type of family. We were a blended family that had basically three different families mixed in. Aaron is my first sibling in line after me and was born to my natural mother Orene/Jennierose. He and I grew up together and we lived together with Joe Kravetz after our natural mother left. Then a couple years later our step-brother Danny, who was born to a different father and mother Marge, was brought into our life and then all of . us were adopted. Danny was just 16 days younger than me. He was born with numerous learning disabilities that, in those days, were referred to as “mentally retarded.“ This is a term that is no longer used. After Danny, Marge and Joe also brought into the world Gary and Sherry. Today, I feel the closest affinity to my sister Sherry.
David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

Aaron and I grew up basically as close brothers. I was four years older than he was. But we had good times together. And like any siblings, we fought. I am glad that in later years we did not fight, because I would’ve lost. Aaron became very accomplished in the martial arts and for many years taught martial arts until that he was stung with fibromyalgia. That pretty much took a toll on his body. In later years, for a little while, we did some things together. We shared and continue to share an enjoyment of 1970s rock music. But I have not seen Aaron for many years. He lives in Arizona with his loving wife Natalie who is taking very good care of him. I’ve only met Natalie twice throughout the years of their marriage.

With my half brother Aaron and my mother in the 1980s.
The Kravetz Kids with Joe Kravetz – Back L-R is Danny, Joe K and Aaron and in front is Gary, David and Sherry. Ca. 1976
At the playground with Danny and Aaron ca. 1966

As a teenager, I became very protective of my brother Danny. He had lots of struggles with life and it was a challenging time for him after I left for Japan as a missionary. By the time I had returned, Danny had been moved into a home in Las Vegas, New Mexico where he ended up living out the remainder of his life with others that also had mental disorders. He was fascinated with the stars and with UFOs. He eventually died in Las Vegas. I never got to really enjoy time with him as an adult and I’m grateful that our sister Sherry went to spend quite a bit of time with him.  As well, father Joe Kravetz, after the passing of Marjorie, also made sure to spend time with Danny into his last years.

Marge with David, Danny and Aaron in 1963 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico.
Joe with my siblings Aaron, Gary and Sherry in the 1990s

My time with Gary was more as he was a young boy. I was his big brother who was always busy with high school in band or cross country or other activities. We did a few things together growing up and we were as close as we could be under the circumstances I guess. Gary eventually went into the service and served in Hawaii where he went through basic training. He has struggled with mental illness as well, but it has not been debilitating. He’s worked hard since he got back but still lives alone in Albuquerque and, like Aaron, I have not seen Gary for many many years though we do on occasion communicate to social media or telephone calls. He has dreams of buying a motorcycle and traveling the country on a motorcycle. I hope he fulfills that dream and brings that motorcycle out to visit us in Kentucky.

Joe Kravetz with David, Gary, Aaron and Danny in Dallas in 1964
Joe with my sister Sherry, her husband Brian and me and Julianne, Christmas 2012
David and Sherry around 2015

Finally, there is my little sister Sherry. She was just a baby as I was growing up and she was kind of the joy of my life. First off, she was the only sister I had. Secondly, she was just a little baby and I, even at that time, have always loved little babies and young children. I’m grateful that I got to take care of her for the few years that we were together there. But, as adults we have grown very close. I am grateful for my sister. Sherry has become very successful in the business that she is in. Her husband, Brian Blessing, is also a wonderful individual and I am so glad to get to know him. I have spent many many days at their beautiful home in Fort Worth, Texas. Of all of my Kravetz siblings, I would say that I am closest to Sherry and her family. And, like their name, they have been a very big blessing in my life. Sherry is a very caring type of person that my mother was. She is most like her mother Marjorie and really is very nurturing and caring of others. That was the driving force for Marjorie and after all of the children left, I am sure that she died of a broken heart and loneliness. She had no one left to nurture. Thankfully, Sherry carries on that traditionand I am so grateful to her.

Hanging with Brian, Savannah and Sherry in Ft. Worth, TX
Hanging with my sweet niece Savannah in Texas in 2017

Other than me, Sherry is the only other one of the Kravetz children to have any children of her own and she has a wonderful and sweet and charming and intelligent and fun daughter named Savannah. Savannah is just about a month younger than my oldest granddaughter Autumn and, though I am Savannah‘s uncle, she’s more like a granddaughter to me because of the age of all of my grandchildren. I love Savannah to death! She has grown up being both both musical and athletic. She plays the clarinet in band and she has become a very accomplished volleyball player. She was also very involved in Girl Scouts and I had bought mini a Girl Scout cookie from my sweet little niece. I recently got to spend a whole day with her and my granddaughter Autumn together down in Texas. We had a great time together!

Getting a milk shake with Savannah and Autumn. Hoping their cousin relationship blossoms
The first photo I ever saw of my natural father Joe Laurienzo. I did not even know of him until 1974. I saw this in 1975

For me, syncing my “family“ has been a lifelong obsession. I am grateful that I was able, at the age of 18, to finally learn who my natural father was, and even speak with him on the phone, which I ultimately did a couple of times in my lifetime. But, sadly, I never got to meet the man that was my father and he had always wanted to see his son. He passed away on December 2, 1992, at the age of 57. My life took me in a different direction. Nobody is to blame. It is what it is and it was what it was.

Big Laurienzo reunion in summer of 2017 in Cleveland.
Favorite photo with 3 of my Laurienzo sisters…Debbie, Nicole and Tina

I see a bigger picture. Individuals that are born into a “normal“ family situation don’t have that “extended“ family view like I have been blessed to have. And I am grateful for that. I have, on the Laurienzo side, four sisters and a brother. Then, on the Kravetz side, I have a half brother, an adoptive brother, and a brother and sister who were born to my step-parents. So, all totaled, I have 10 siblings. That is a wonderful thing!

Extended Laurienzo family in Cleveland at the home I grew up in…taken in 2006 (Nicole couldn’t make it)
With my sister Debbie and brother Joe

I did not get to meet any of my siblings from the Laurienzo side until one day in the 1980s when my Laurienzo sister Debbie was in Arizona on business and asked if she could come visit. She was the first member of my “bloodline “family that I got to meet. I was glad that she visited. I was thrilled to finally get locked into the family that I very easily could’ve grown up with. It was not until 1993 that I finally got to meet the others and I have since forged a relationship with them, though separated by distance and outlooks on life, we have the one common thread and that is we all shared a father named Joseph Laurienzo. When I visited them for the first time, I learned that he had always kept me in his heart and mind. On my birthday, I was spoken about and missed. They even gave me a copy of an early baby photo which had always been kept in the family to remember me. As for me, until I was 18, I did didn’t even know about this and it was not until I met them all in the 1990s that I really understood the entire scope of it all. But once I met them, the gratitude flowed, and I felt like a big gap of my life had finally been filled.

With the Laurienzo Clan in Little Italy
In more recent years, I have been able to spend time in the Cleveland area with many of my Laurienzo family members as I had become a “long lost“ brother. I have gotten to know them and their quirks and their good points. I’ve gotten to see some of what I might have become. I grasp my Laurienzo heritage with all the gusto that I can and I am proud of that Italian part of my life and honored both to know all of them and blessed that they would include me into their lives.
It has been a joy spending time with each of them at one time or another. The next oldest of the Laurienzo children, after me, is Debbie, the one who visited us in Flagstaff.  She is an avid Cleveland Browns fan. She’s an avid Cleveland Indians fan. In fact, all of my Laurienzo siblings are like that.
Hanging with three of my Laurienzo sisters – Nicole, Tina and Debbie
David and Tina in late 1990a

Next in line is Tina. She works hard at a university and has raised a couple of wonderful children. Her husband Jim Filsinger, is a great guy and I have enjoyed getting to know him as well. I look back fondly on a day that I spent with Jim and Tina touring around the city of Cleveland as they took me to a number of spots. We had lunch and we had a great time together. I have spent time at their house and enjoyed some of Tina‘s amazing cooking!

Touring Cleveland with Tina and JIm
Having fun with Joe and Mia

Then there is my brother Joe and his wife Mia. They are a laid-back and fun couple and they too have a couple of great children! Mia is also an amazing cook! Seems like I see less of them on visits to Cleveland because they are always so busy in all of their activities.

Next is Lori and her husband Anthony Gambatese. They live in the same neighborhood basically that they grew up in. Lori stays home and Anthony worked for many years and now is a historian for a Little Italy. I spent one evening with him learning all about the fascinating history of the Little Italy district of Cleveland. I enjoy reading his posts. Lori has a couple of daughters and even has a granddaughter that is the cutest thing. She is the only other one of Laurienzo family that currently has grandchildren. I think that Debbie‘s children may be next in line to do so.
Enjoying time with sister Nicole

Finally, there is the youngest, Nicole. For some reason, she is the one that I have grown closest to over the years as I’ve gotten to know her. She is a sweet person and very kind. She’s also very independent and has even built her own business right there in the neighborhood that she grew up in. She runs the Mayfield Smoke Shop and has had great success with it. It is a local gathering place for many of the neighborhood people who will get together in the back room and chat, talk, play cards and argue over the most recent baseball and football games. I have been there on numerous occasions and just sat in the back room enjoying the bantering and fun of these old neighborhood regulars.

With most of the Laurienzo family Their step-brother Edward is next to me. Nicole is missing,
Visiting with my Uncle Lou and his wife Tony in the summer of 2018

But extended family does not just stop at my siblings. It extends out to my cousins and my aunts and my uncles. I have met both aunts and uncles on the Laurienzo side and I have grown up fond of some of the other uncles I’ve had on my Kravetz side. My father‘s oldest brother Lou, my uncle Lou, is one whom I have always been very close to and very fond of. As a result of my massive genealogy work, Uncle Lou was able to eventually go to Mexico and visit some of the long lost family that I had discovered, and, through that,  he ultimately married his current wife Toni who, ironically, had been married at one time to one of his uncles, part of the Evelson clan that had gone to Mexico rather than coming to the United States. His mother Jessica was an Evelson prior to marrying Alexander Kravetz, my grandfather, who had migrated from Russia. Jessica had migrated from Lithuania and all of the relatives in Mexico had also come from Lithuania.

Kravetz family reunion in Houston in 2014…with Uncles and Cousins….
Joe and siblings: (L-R) Sylvia, Joe, Evelyn and Lou.
Visiting my Uncle Jay in his last few months in with cousin Lewis

Along with Lou, my dad Joe Kravetz, had two sisters. The older sister was Evelyn and she ultimately married Gordon Levy. They lived for many many years in Tarrytown, NY, where their mother Jessica had moved. Evelyn passed away a few years ago. His other sister is Sylvia. She currently lives in Silver Spring, MD. Her first husband was Jay Goldstein. They later divorced and he remarried and moved to Louisville, Kentucky. I had met him when I was quite young, but had occasions in the 1990s and early 2000s to visit with him in Louisville. His son Lewis is probably my closest cousin. I have had many visits with Lewis in both Texas, where he lives, and in Louisville when he visited Uncle Jay. times with him and his sister Elaine my cousin who lives in Maryland. I attended my first Jewish funeral after my Uncle Jay passed away. I joined Lewis and Elaine in mourning his passing. Though I did not get to spend much time with him, the time I did spend was joyful and I am glad that I got to know him better.

Lewis and his daughter Kayla visiting in Lexington
Spending time with Cousin Elaine in Washington DC
At Uncle Jay’s Funeral in Louisville with Marc and Elaine Limansky and Lewis Goldstein
Visiting my cousin Lewis and his significant other Ying in Austin in summer of 2018

My Uncle Lou had a number of children, most of them to his first wife Natalie, whom I also have gotten to reestablish ties with on visits to Houston, where both she and Lou and most of his family live. We’ve had three family reunions where I’ve been able to attend and get to know my Kravetz cousins much better. Most of them I did not know very well growing up. There was a large geographic separation that kept us from being able to spend much time. Uncle Lou did visit us in Montana and in New Mexico and other places over the years and so I did get to establish a relationship with him.

I did not really establish much of a relationship with my Aunt Evelyn and Uncle Gordon until I had already started college and I had to go back to West Point for a conference while working on my Masters Degree at Arizona State University in the mid-1980s. I was blessed to be able to stay at their home and get to know them better. Gordon and Evelyn ran an office supply store in Tarrytown that did fairly well. This was before big box businesses started forcing the small mom-and-pop shops out of business. They eventually retired and lived in a nice old classy home overlooking the Hudson River in Tarrytown. I got to know their oldest son Alan fairly well. In fact, while I was in college in Arizona, Alan had also come to visit us at one time and, though I don’t get to spend much time with him any longer, we did get to spend some time together during a family reunion in New York and even stayed at their home. I did not really get to know his siblings very well, which is a sad point for me, though I did get to meet them. I saw his two children when they were just young. I got to meet Alan’s daughter Shayna a few years ago in a reunion in Texas. She has now become a very accomplished soccer player and a very talented student in college. She will soon be moving on to a good job in New York. I am proud to know her and to know if her accomplishments.
In more recent years, through Facebook, I have been able to become acquainted with cousins on my mother Marge’s side and also on my natural mother’s Goldberg side.
My family heritage, both in bloodlines and adopted lines is very important to me.  I am so grateful to know of my heritage and teach it to my children.

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 3: The Journey With My Family

David in 1974…age 18

By the time I was ready to depart on the solo part of my journey, at the age of 17, I had already determined a few things regarding my future. Having grown up with a good deal of dysfunction and unhappiness in my own adoptive family, I had determined that if I ever had a family of my own, that kind of dysfunction and heartache would not happen on my watch. I am not saying that everything in my family was bad, but there were many things that just weren’t right and I wanted to make sure I fixed these things for my own offspring, if I was ever blessed to have one.

Starting our family journey in 1980 in Flagstaff, AZ
David at age 60

Now, at age 62, I am thankful to say that, overall, we have had a loving family and I believe that most of my resolutions in terms of family pretty much came true. My children have not had to experience a divorce between their parents. My children were loved and nurtured and had a fairly stable family. Unlike my situation where my parents never came to any of my school activities (other than my high school graduation and later my college graduation), my wife and I strived to attend as many activities of our children as we could possibly do. To be sure, there were times where three different functions occurred simultaneously, and thus one of the children had to miss out on parents being there.  But, but if we could be there, we were.

Family in Japan in late 1980s
Julianne and I were blessed with five wonderful children throughout the first years of our marriage. Soon all of our children will be over the age of 30 and it is hard to believe that we have children approaching the age of 40. I really don’t feel that old.
My fun family!
My Wonderful Family – 1993

I am grateful that my children have had so many wonderful life experiences prior to their departures on their own separate life journeys. I’m grateful that for at least 17 or 18 years of their lives they were able to join Julianne and I on our journey as we lived in Japan, lived in different parts of the country, and had many opportunities provided for us to travel, participate in many activities and do many things that most families never really get to do.

Hanging with oldest daughter Amaree
Having fun with my second child, Marissa
Goofing around with third child Chelsea
Trying to be as handsome as my first son, fourth child Seth
Trying to remain youthful with our youngest child, Solomon
The family visiting Mesa, AZ

We have never had a “rich” life in terms of money, and that has been perfectly okay. We’ve never been dirt poor either. We have always been blessed to have what we needed and sometimes even a little bit more. Our children never did without the necessities of life and for that I am deeply grateful. My children never had to have their heads shaved like my mom used to do. She gave us our haircuts and I didn’t like it. If our children desired that kind of haircut, then it was fine even though I still did not like how they looked.  Fortunately, I believe that we were very good about allowing our children to make guided choices during their youth.

My Wonderful Family – 2012
Thanks to the amazing talents of my wife in so many areas, our children grew up to have many talents themselves. They were all musical. Most of them have been creative in one way, shape or form, whether it be graphic arts or some other form of creativity.
The whole family in prime form – July 2017!
Four of my children have found wonderful spouses whom they love and who love them in return. Those “in-law” kids are definitely an important part of our family. These children have also brought forth their own children, our grandchildren. By the time I was 60, I already had 10 grandchildren. When I left home at age 17, the thought of grandchildren barely crossed my mind. It was all I could think of to just have a wife and my own small family someday. And, I was certainly blessed with abundance. As it says in Proverbs, “children are like arrows… happy is the man that has his quiver full of them.” And I most certainly have a quiver full and I am definitely happy.
Earlier group photo of family
I am grateful for the love my children have for their parents and I am grateful thankful for the togetherness that each of them shares with one another. Like any siblings, they have had their differences. But, when we have family gatherings, there is togetherness. For us, “the family that stays together, STAYS together.” When we have issues, the children are there to discuss them and share them. They call each other, they share time with each other, they carry on family traditions such as calling and singing happy birthday. It is a joy to this old man to see the evolution of my five children and ultimately my 10 sweet grandchildren.
A composite of me with all of my grandchildren in 2012 and then again, same pose in 2017.
And what can I say about my grandchildren.? They all bring me so much happiness and joy. I am glad that I don’t have to raise them every day, so I get them most of the time when they are in a good mood. But it is a joy to spend time with these amazing children. I have been blessed to be able to spend some quality time with many of them. I’ve been able to share the adventures of traveling on the back roads with most of them. My children and grandchildren will all learn diversity. They will all know the wonders of this world. Hopefully they will appreciate and enjoy those times spent with Julianne and me.
Joined my granddaughter Autumn in the tradition of a Thanksgiving “Turkey Hat”
Fun with grandchild #2 – Kade Matthews
Goofing off with #3 – Charles Matthews
Spreading sunshine with #4 – Joselyn Noe
Bright smiles with #5 Landen Noe
Cuddling with #6 – Olivia “Livvy” Matthews
Having fun with #7 – Rockwell Kravetz
Sharing a flamingo moment with #8 – Lyla Noe
Playing (as always) with the carefree #9 – Benson Matthews
Enjoying Grampz time with #10 – Samuel Kravetz
Don’t get me wrong. Raising our children has not been an easy task either. Each of them has brought challenges to my wife and myself. Each of my children has made decisions that we did not necessarily agree with. But as we grow older, we learned to support our children and their decisions and to love them unconditionally, as best as we were able. And that love has been reciprocated back in abundance. I am deeply grateful for that.
I love playing with my grandchildren
Hanging with the Grandkidz at the Wigwams in Cave City, KY. Yes, we stayed there!
I feel rich

And now, 45 years after I had left my own home and set forth on my personal journey and traveled these many years on this journey with my family, I feel “rich“ in the abundance of family. I feel rich in joy and experiences. I have had a rich life because of my children and my grandchildren and this will be something I will be able to always have with me.

Bottom line… My life has been wonderfully blessed and that is why I am “awesome, but getting better” everyday.

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 2: The Journey With My Wife

Happy Happy Happy

In my previous post, I wrote about my personal life journey. The following few posts will also include details of this journey, but will be more focused on those that have  accompanied me or that I accompanied on their portion of their own journey.

I would be remiss to not include the one person who has joined me on greatest part of my life journey, my sweet wife Julianne. So, for the purpose of this blog post, I want to express my gratitude and thanksgiving in the fact that she has been with me side-by-side on much of my life journey over the last 40 years. She’s been such an integral part of my journey, that my life would be so different without her.

Julianne Nov 2018

My sweet wife smiles with me on my 60th birthday celebration

I have written before in previous posts in this blog that we met in late 1978 and were married in the summer of 1979. That is where our journey really got started. On this journey together we have traveled to Japan, we have lived in numerous places, have had five children and 10 grandchildren.  It has been an amazing and rewarding journey together.

During this journey together, she has been strong and his been the foundation of our relationship. She has struggled and suffered through times where my employment took me away for long periods of time, but she has made it through with flying colors.
When you are on a journey with another person, it is always important to recognize that he or she is alongside with you and that it is not just “your“ journey alone at that stage. Things along the way that impact your life, will impact the life of the other one that has joined you.  Such has been the case my wife. Things that impacted her, also had an impact on me and vice versa.

All in the Family…family photo on my 60th Birthday

Julianne and David

A marriage to someone you love and cherish is wonderful, but it is not an easy thing. Some people are awestruck that we have been together for nearly 40 years. Personally, I am extremely grateful that she has been patient enough with me and my foibles and quirks and has stuck with me for 40 years. It gets a little more complicated after children leave because then we are each striving for some independence and wanting to go our own direction or pull the other one to go with us in that direction or the other.  There are no longer children at home dictating our activities and the direction of our life’s journey.

Wedding Photo – July 1979

Julianne and I began our journey together 40 years ago with many dreams and hopes. Some of those have come true and have been very fulfilling for both of us. There are others that seem to have escaped us and have gone far away out of our grasp. As well,  on a journey such as ours, there are always unexpected obstacles and ofttimes there are choices where we need to decide which fork of the road to take. Fortunately, in this our journey together, almost always we have found ways to come to agreement on which roads to take as well as the possible consequences for taking those roads and going in that direction rather than the other one.

David and Julianne in Japan 1990

David and Julianne at Corn Palace in South Dakota in 2012

Often times, hitting a crossroads, we never know what taking that road will lead us too. Sometimes there is no information other than to go this way or to go that way. But once determined, we pursued with fervor and did the best we can along that portion of our journey together. And, gratefully, Julianne has always been there by my side. Almost all of our journey together has been one that we determined we would take together whether good or bad. And I’m so thankful for

Julianne and David November 2018

her willingness to do so.

In recent years, we have trudged along on our journey together while, at times, pursuing separate paths that may have paralleled the wider path. We are generally going in the same direction, but we sometimes seem to take different paths to get there. There has been good with that and there has been the not so good as well. The course that Julianne is taking has brought her to better health. She looks marvelous and she has done amazingly well. I am so proud of her and astonished at her fortitude.  And also impressed with her youthful good looks. She is just as beautiful to me today as she was when I first met her nearly 40 years ago. Perhaps, even more beautiful, because I know her heart and I know her mind and I know her in so many deeper ways then I did when I first met her.

My Happy Place

As for me, the last few years of my journey have been challenging. I have not done as well in improving my health. It does sadden me. But I have also struggled in this treacherous economy to stay stable and gainfully employed. I’m grateful that I am able to do what I do now (which is a later blog post). But, when I hit those forks in the road on my portion of the journey, I have some times taken the more difficult and challenging roads, without knowing it.  But Julianne always supports me and helps me through!

David and Julianne – on our 25th anniversary

So, as we both pursue our own personal journeys on parallel paths in one direction, there are times where we are having our hands tugged apart. But, we have both strived to find ways to make sure that we do not lose that grip that we have with each other so that we can make it through the challenging times of being too singular individuals pursuing our own journeys while also trying to be a part of each others’ greater journey.

David and Julianne 1979 in Monument Valley

Love absolutely binds two individuals together strongly. I am grateful for the love that Julianne has had for me all these years and that she has accompanied me, and many times pulled me along or has been pulled along on this journey.

Every day of life with Julianne on this road is a blessing.

A Week of Gratitude 2018 – Part 1: Life’s Journey

Our Life Journey is a long road

As we approach Thanksgiving 2018, I have taken tome to reflect on those things that I am thankful for, probably more than I have in the past.  As a 62 year old, I have a great deal to look back on and to be thankful for.  So, for the next week, through the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I am doing a post each day to express my gratitude for the various segments of my life.  Some of what I write may be more personal than others may want to see, but to me, these are the main things I want to express my gratitude for.

Which way do we go?

I want to start out this week long effort by expressing my gratitude first and foremost for my life’s journey.  Each of us must walk the paths of our lives’ journeys.  Nobody else can walk this path. Interestingly enough, our journey is not really our own until we leave our parents and our homes.  We all start our journeys on the backs (or in the hands) of others.  And that initial part of the journey may very well lay the foundational footpath for our own personal journey.

 

We must all have our choices

Being a Christian and believing in a pre-existence and an after-life is always helpful to me in understanding and appreciating my journey.  I believe that my Father in Heaven let me know what treacherous and difficult paths would lay ahead of me as I came to earth.  I accepted that knowing as well that I would be blessed with guidance from Him along the way as well as the ability to choose which way to go.  I don’t believe for a moment that God laid out a specific course for me to take.  Rather, he set things in motion for me to take paths with many forks in the road.

I believe this is the earliest known photo of me, taken in October 1956, shortly after I was born.

My journey began in Cleveland, Ohio in early October 1956. I was born into an Italian family (my birth name was Carmen David Laurienzo), but to a Jewish mother. My father, Joe Laurienzo, was a the son of a migrant Italian name Carmine Laurienzo.  From all I know, Joe was a hard working individual.  He lived in the same home as his father on Murray Hill Road in the Little Italy district of Cleveland.

I will never know for sure how my Italian Catholic father met and ultimately married my German Jewish mother (Orene Goldberg, later to be known as Jennierose Lavender). But, I was conceived and was, at the time, the beginning of the third generation of Laurienzos to be born in and live in the house on Murray Hill Road.

The home I was born into on Murray Hill Rd. in Cleveland, OH. This was taken about 1956/57

Joe Laurienzo and Orene ca. 1956 or 1957. This is the only photo I have of both of my natural parents together.

And thus began my amazing journey.

Mother Orene and me

By the time I was 10 months old, in August 1957, my journey took a turn.  Giving in to pressure from her staunch Jewish mother (Marion Goldberg) in Albuquerque, Orene left with me while the Catholic side of the family was all celebrating the Feast of Assumption Festival…one of the biggest annual events in this little corner of Cleveland. I was essentially snuck away, never to meet my natural father, who, I came to find later on, was heartbroken.  Just a little over one year later, Orene was being remarried to the second Joseph in my life, Joseph Kravetz, in a fairly social Jewish ceremony.  They were married in Albuquerque on Dec. 21, 1958.

Photo from Joe and Orene Wedding 21 Dec. 1958

David and brother Aaron, probably in August 1960.

As a very young child, i had already experienced some major directional changes in my journey.  And this would ultimately be the way of life for me for at least the next 15 years of my life. Orene and Joe K ended up having a son together in 1960 (Aaron). Then she left us.  She left Joe Kravetz alone to raise my younger half-brother Aaron and me.

As a young four year old, I am sure that somehow I managed to blame myself for her leaving.  As for Aaron and me, we ended up with a number of babysitters to take care of us while my Dad worked. Some of them would come and go.  It was a tough rocky road for these two little boys.

David and brothers Aaron and Danny, probably about 1962

Joe Kravetz eventually participate in some single-adult parent organization (or something) and later met Marjorie Biel (nee Tudor), who had become divorced and had a young boy (Danny), 16 days younger than me.  I believe that they both married out of necessity more than love.  Nonetheless, as a young child, I was piggybacked into this relationship, which brought forth two more children (Gary in 1964 and Sherry in 1967).

Marge with David, Danny and Aaron in 1963 at Bluewater Lake in New Mexico.

Joe and Marge in 1978 in Jemez Springs, NM. By this time they were divorced but posed for this photo.

Through adoptions, all of us became Kravetz kids.  But it was a hodge-podge family.  Dad worked all the time for a drug store chain.  Mom (Marge) was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness and would take us to the Kingdom Hall a couple of times a week. She diligently sought to make sure we had a religious upbringing.  She had health issues and struggled in her relationship with Joe.  But, kudos to both of them as they made the courageous choice to stay together, despite deep-rooted differences and a great deal of family dysfunction and challenge (Danny was “mentally retarded” – a term used in the 1960s/70s). Aaron and I could be unruly.

Between 1965 and 1974, we had moved four different times to four different cities due to my Dad’s job transfers. More rocky, rutted roads for my life journey lay before me.  New homes, changes in schools, new friends, leaving old friends. It wasn’t easy for any of us.  By the time we were in Bozeman, Montana, I had run away from home twice to get away from the dysfunction…  I was ready to journey forth on my own personal journey and off of the piggyback roller coaster ride I had experienced.

Joe Kravetz and Marge, with my brothers and sister – Aaron, Danny, Gary and Sherry in 1978   This was the only complete family photo we ever had.

I will say here that Joe Kravetz and Marge did the very best they could with what was handed to them.  They both had their emotional baggage and the five children, who were, without choice, along for the rocky ride, had to learn to deal with it all, and we all did in our own ways.

David ca. 1973 – I looked this way my Senior Year too.

I had always been the prayerful type.  I believed in a God and I prayed for a miracle on many occasions.  Mine came in the chance meeting of some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Bozeman in the summer of 1973.  The one week that I spent visiting with this family from New Jersey every day set me on my own path and in my own direction…one that would ultimately get me asked to leave my home as a 17 year old in Murray, Utah in the summer of 1974.

So, finally, in 1974 I began my own journey, making my own choices on my life’s direction….both good and bad.

After graduating high school in Murray in 1974, I had to make many huge, life-altering choices.  I came to one fork in the road after another, knowing full well that the choices made at those crossroads were ones I could never go back on and “try again.”  That’s the funny thing with choices.

Working as a missionary in Japan from 1976-78

After choosing to be baptized into the LDS Church in January 1975, I had made choices to leave jobs to take on other “grass is always greener over there” kinds of jobs.  Then, it happened…  the first big big big choice.  Do I serve an LDS mission or do I take the really good paying job?  It would have to be one or the other.  In the long run, I chose to serve and this really set the direction for my life journey from then on.

Since that time, my journey has meandered in many directions.  Life has had many challenges, ups and downs and frustrations.  But it has also been filled with joy, happiness and smiles.  Bottom line, I have had a wonderfully rich life and over the next week will show my gratitude to the many things that have crossed my journey’s path.

I am very grateful for my personal journey and for those that have spent part of their journeys walking by my side on mine.

Life’s Been good

Crossing Paths – A Julianne Story

Julianne as a toddler

I was a three-year-old boy in Albuquerque New Mexico when she was born in Mesa, Arizona. By the time she was five, I was on my way to Dallas, Texas with my family. By the time she was ten, I was learning the ropes as a junior high student in the Denver area. As she grew to the age of 15 and had begun her high school years, I had already traveled to Bozeman, Great Falls and was a senior in high school in Murray, Utah. By this time, she had become a very talented violinist. I had learned the saxophone.

She grew up in the same home most of her life with her loving family and her many friends throughout her elementary, junior high and high school days. I had moved often and always had to find new friends new places.

Julianne as a young girl (look at those curls)

The Bateman family early on.  Julianne on the left.

Julianne at Church Camp with friends (I think she is the one in front)

She was born in raised into her church, the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not me. Through all of these years I went from being born Catholic, being raised a Jewish boy for the first few years, then attending Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Halls, and ultimately finding my way into the same church as her

As she was studying hard in high school, I had made my way to Japan to serve as a missionary for the Church.

Bateman Siblings

By the time I returned home, she had graduated high school and made her way to Brigham Young University. I had returned from Japan and also made my way to Brigham Young University. We both had hopes and dreams.

It was not until the fall of 1978, about 40 years ago, that our paths finally crossed. It’s really funny how things happen like this.

My old 1963 yucky green Volkswagen bug had died on me as I prepare to head to work as shoe salesman at JC Penney in Orem, Utah. I made my way to a bus stop so that I could get to work. I needed my job. That day, she also made her way to the bus stop to go to work. She too worked at JCPenney, in the little café, as a waitress. Even then, while working at the same place, our paths never crossed until this auspicious day in the fall of 1978. Having never ridden the bus to work, I did not know what the bus schedule was, but found that as I arrived at the bus stop, I missed the bus. She arrived just a couple minutes later only to find out for me, that she too had missed the bus. But, as fate would have it, I was enamored by this pretty young lady with long flowing brown hair and a gleaming smile who I just miss this bus with me. 

Our first photo together ca. 1978

She was friendly, and called one of her roommates to come pick us up to take us to work. I was grateful for that. But, I was also in love. Instantaneously in love. I knew at the moment we met at the bus stop, she was the one.  But I was shy, yes, an outgoing person, but shy in terms of the opposite sex. She too was somewhat shy, but friendly.  Interestingly enough, we did not introduce ourselves as this was just a chance meeting where our paths have crossed and she was being helpful to get me to the same location she had to go to anyway.

My interest was piqued as I knew she worked in the same place. Soon I was visiting the little café on a daily basis to order cherry cheesecake. My real reason was to observe this fine young lady whose name I still did not know.

Julianne ca. 1978

Then, one day I went in and she was gone. She had left to return home to Arizona. My glimmer of hope had disappeared. And I still did not know her name!

I spent the holiday in Utah wondering about her and if she would return and if I would ever see her again. I made my way down to Jemez Springs, New Mexico to celebrate Christmas with the remnants of my family. Divorce had happened. Challenges happened for my siblings. But, for once, we did get all together to celebrate the one day.

But this story is about Julianne…not me.

I returned to Provo late in December and continued my job. She was not there. She never did return to JCPenney.

School began again and it was back to search mode for me as I strived to find my soulmate. And then it happened! In the midst of the very crowded student center at BYU, I heard a “Hey you!“ called out. I looked. It was her! She had returned and our paths crossed again!! At that point, she did not know my name and I did not know hers. But I made sure this time that would not happen again. I gave her my name, I got her name and her phone number and the rest is history.

Marriage Photo….one of the happiest days of my life

Over the years, this birthday girl who is born when I was three just a few hundred miles away from me, became my wife and the mother of our five children. It was not easy. I took many hours of school and worked. She was left home alone almost all the time to raise these young children. I helped when I could, but she took the biggest load on her shoulders and that continued for many years.

Julianne and me with our first three…all girls..(L to R) Amaree, Chelsea and Marissa.  Julianne made the dresses

Julianne Bateman was now my wife and was an exceptional mother to our children. Unlike many married couples, we had our times of separation for long periods of time. These were job related and not relationship related. 

Family in Japan in late 1980s

I can safely say that my schooling and work was a form of separation, but at least I tried to be home most evenings to spend time with her. She was the love of my life. And I adored our children.

Family Fun

Now together, we eventually made our way to Flagstaff where our first three children were born and I struggled through school and jobs. After graduation, we moved down to “the valley” to attend school in Tempe at Arizona State University where I would seek my masters degree. Once again, I was almost always gone while she stayed home and took care of the children.

Family in Japan in 1987.  We lived in this building.

Our first real extended separation happened in 1987 when I had an opportunity to go to Japan to work. I left in July and left her alone for nearly a month with our children. At this time we had four children and she was pregnant with her fifth and, bless her heart, she had to fly to Japan alone with those children. She flew via soul Korea and their flight was late and she missed the flight to Nagoya and Fukuoka. She was stuck in a foreign country, pregnant with four little children. Ultimately, the next day she did make her way into Japan and I was able to meet her and we had a joyous reunion.

The family in Japan

But, Julianne did not speak the language and I was always gone to work. Once again, she was left alone most of the time to deal with the challenges of life in a foreign country where she did not understand language, the customs or even the ways to purchase food. But she was strong, and she learned and she excelled.

Taking care of children in Japan. She is with Seth and Marissa here.

She had to have her fifth child in a foreign country. She had to deal with a child who got severely burned and had to go spend a few days in a Japanese hospital. She had to manage all of these things on her own predominately due to my work.

We finally made it back to the United States in 1991. It was a challenging time for us as finding potential employment was difficult. After nine months of searching, I finally found a temporary job in Kentucky and once again, I had to leave her alone with five children. But this time, it was for eight months. This was before the days of cell phones, or FaceTime. Our only form of communication was a regular telephone, once a day. But she courageously struggled through that time while I worked far away to provide for our family. During that eight months, I only returned home once, during the holidays, for three or four days and then had to return to Kentucky.

The family visiting Mesa, AZ

Finally, in 1992 we were all able to be together again in Kentucky. But it was not the last time that separation would happen. Jobs came and went, and I eventually worked for eight months living Woodstock, Ontario. Once again, I left her alone to take care of things. By this time three of our children were already married and we had grandchildren. Only one of our children remained at home. She too had a job.

The years after our children left, the empty nest years, I have finally been able to see this sweet lady who has stuck with me for all these years blossom and become her self. For all these many years, she has sacrificed to take care of children, often times alone for long periods of time.

Our family in Lexington, KY around 1995 or 1996

Julianne, who celebrates her birthday this day, is strong and determined. For those many years raising children and being alone or having to get through all of the things that have to be done as a mother, she never got to be herself like she wanted.

Always happy

The whole family in prime form – July 2017 — includes all ten grandchildren and 4 spouses

I am proud of her and am thrilled to see her finally have the opportunity, like a century plant, to finally get her day blossoming. Becoming the beautiful and strong person that she now is and having to have withheld that for all of these years, Has probably been very difficult for her.

Julianne with our five children on my 60th birthday

Julianne and sisters November 2018 – (L-R – Maren, Kathy, Laura, Julianne)

Through all of this, from the day where our paths crossed 40 years ago, there are times where I worry that our paths are separating again. Not because of hate, or desire to separate, but because she has finally had the opportunity to be independent and blossom on her own and find her self. We are a new stage where we must find that sweet spot in our paths that helps us have that crossing again.

Julianne at her birthday celebration in Nov. 2018. (Look at those curls again!)

This person is the love of my life. I am so grateful for her. So honored that she would have me stick with me and sacrifice all these years for the benefit of our children. She is a fun-loving joyous soul who has blessed my life beyond description. I can only pray and hope for more joyous years together with my sweet Julianne who celebrates her birthday this day.  I am so glad our paths crossed all those years ago.

Julianne and David – Nov 4, 2018

Turning 60 – A look back at the celebration

milestoneBack in October I celebrated my 60th birthday (Oct 4, 2016). The celebration actually started before then as all of my children had appeared and a giant party was set up on the Sunday before my birthday (Oct. 2, 2016). It seems like since that Thursday before my birthday party there had been some sort of celebrating and this had been the birthday that continued to give.
bdcake2Last year as I hit my 59th birthday, I decided to try (and did not succeed very well) to express daily gratitude for my blessings. I tried to pick out a theme every day and I did not do very well in this effort as life got very busy. One can never really plan for the future as the day-to-day events of our lives seem to dictate things and sometimes those things are unpredictable.

Despite my failure to succeed in my daily gratitude postings, I was definitely grateful for every day of life that I’d had and continue to be so to this day. But the last three weeks of my life I have been full of joy, sorrow and challenges. As I was originally writing this in late October (school teaching and other things made life way too busy to write), my father Joe Kravetz, who I grew up with, but is not my natural father, was on his deathbed at a hospice in Texas. My

Joe Kravetz as he was in the 1950s. Also in this photo is his gravemarker. He was buried in the Dallas-Ft. Worth National Cemetery.

sister Sherry stridently took care of him. He was not able to eat or drink and all was being done to keep him comfortable.  As I originally wrote this on October 25, he was still clinging to life after 12 days in hospice care without food or water. Somehow he kept hanging on.  However, on the next day, October 26, 2016, Joe Kravetz finally succumbed and passed away. (I will have a different post just about him at a later time).

Another one of my friends had a very serious motorcycle accident and it could’ve killed him. He has had to go through a number of surgeries and facial reconstruction. But he seems to be recovering by all indications (thank you Facebook). I saw a video of him today and he is able to walk again, but with assistance.  The accident appears to have been devastating. Fortunately, as I write this in December, he is back home and is already beginning to walk again.
These things break my heart and had been the downside of what had otherwise been an amazing three weeks.
So, the birthday shindig really started on September 29. Julianne decided to take a half-day off to help prepare for my Sunday birthday party with Marissa and Chelsea, my two daughters that live here in Lexington. Chelsea was supposed to pick Julianne up at the University and the car showed up to pick her up. As she walked out to the car, Marissa was there as well, with a video camera running live as the driver of Chelsea’s car was not Chelsea, but was our daughter Amaree who had surprisingly flown in from Washington State to surprise us!! Marissa caught it all on video and it was precious.

Flamingle!!

They then proceeded to come over to meet me because I was supposed to go to lunch with them, but I was tied up on some projects for my Japanese class that I was teaching at the University of Kentucky. So I went down to give Julianne the debit card so she could go to lunch with Chelsea and Marissa. I was expecting them to come in Marissa’s van and so as Marissa pulled up she got out of the van and had her iPhone in hand as if she was trying to video me and I didn’t think much of it because she does that a lot.

Got to hang with grandson Benson from Washington.

Turned out that Chelsea’s car was in front of the van.  I saw Julianne sitting in the passenger seat, so I walked over to give her the card and waved at who I thought was Chelsea and then started to walk away. Then I heard “hi daddy.” This was not Chelsea’s voice and it was a voice that I knew well. I peaked back in and did a double take!! There in the driver’s seat was my oldest daughter Amaree! My grandson Benson was also in the car. I was happily stunned!

At that point, I felt bad that I was not going to be able to join them for lunch but I really had work that had to be done. So off they went.  Needless to say, I was excited that my daughter Amaree would take the time to come out to Kentucky to celebrate my 60th birthday. She had flown in the night before and stayed at Chelsea’s house.
So that night, she came over and stayed with us. It was so wonderful to be able to spend time with her and to sit with my grandson Benson and read some books to him. Marissa also came over and they started making preparations for my birthday party which had been named ironically “Flamingle.”

The Chipotle Gang when we picked up our catered meals

This was not going to be a surprise party as we kind of expected to have some sort of celebration. For the previous three months Julianne and I had been going to Chipotle Mexican Grill for meals about 11 times a month so that we could land ourselves free catering for 20 in their summer 2016 Chiptopia promotion. Both of us succeeded at this and so we knew that we would be catered for 40 people with food from Chipotle Mexican Grill.

I also knew that the date of the party was going to be October 2 but I had no idea what else was going to go on.

Setting up flamingos

They had been secretly planning a number of things and with the theme being around flamingos there were flamingo things going on. Marissa had printed out dozens and dozens of photographs of me that she had painstakingly gleaned from Facebook. I don’t know why she couldn’t have just come and taken them off of my hard drive, but that’s OK. All of these pictures were pasted all over a couple of walls in the house and they covered all the way back from my early years of life to my 60th year. It was a fun gesture and also fun to look back on my life in these snapshots.

Flamingos everywhere

Julianne had picked up some plywood and had made some 5 foot tall flamingos which were painted pink and then had the word “Flamingle” painted on them along with an arrow pointing in the direction of the house. These would be directional signs to the house.

On that Friday evening as I read books to the kids, they were busily engaged in working in all of these projects. I was getting excited for the fun that would ensue and had heartfelt gratitude for the love and effort they had in this celebration of my life.

Reading books to the Grandkidz

Hanging with daughter Amaree who came from Washington to surprise me

As there were things that still needed to be done on Saturday morning, and as everyone was all busily engaged, I decided I would go out and run the errands for them to pick up things such as marshmallows and other stuff that they had planned for the party. Our granddaughter Autumn was to be picked up as well, so I headed over to get her. While I was out, Amaree called and kept asking when my ETA was to return home and I said I’m still tied up on picking up things. She said that I should just pick up Autumn and come home and that she would go run the errands with me. So I did that and I got home and dropped Autumn off in the driveway. I told her to send Amaree out.

While waiting in the driveway for Amaree, she called me and said “come in the house Daddy. We have some breakfast and then we’ll go.” So I went in and they had made a nice breakfast of eggs in the nest using pastry rather than bread. It was a nice breakfast.

Seth snuck into our hot tub and surprised us.

While eating, Amaree said “Look! I just got a funny Facebook message from Seth!” She then proceeded to show Julianne and me a photo of our son Seth sitting in our hot tub. Naturally, we thought this was an old picture of Seth being used as a surprise, but on a closer look we realized that Seth was ACTUALLY sitting in our hot tub at that particular point in time and Julianne went running out to the deck and look down and kind of yelled a little scream of delight and her funny laugh. I too was pleasantly surprised. Seth apparently rented a vehicle and parked down the street and then walked quietly around in and snuck into the hot tub. He told us that he had been transported via hot tub to get to our house. Ha ha!!

One of two Photo Walls set up b the kids. What fun these were!

So, at this point, two of my children had come from out of town. Seth had come up from Houston. He spent some time with us in the morning and then said he had to go to Georgetown to spend some time with his in-laws, but that he would return to our house later on. Because he had hotel points, he was staying in a hotel rather than at our house.

We proceeded to get all of the other things ready for the party and it was another late evening on Saturday. Around 9 PM I was asking if Seth was coming back as I thought he was and I was just excited to talk to my son.
He had been out shopping and purchased a giant beef brisket to put on the grill for the birthday dinner on Monday evening.
So, Seth finally did show up around 9 o’clock PM and we sat and talked and just had a nice little time. I had really thought maybe Solomon would walk in with him, but I was disappointed that my other son from Colorado Springs did not happen to be there with us.

Hanging with the boys…Seth and Solomon, both of whom showed up to surprise me (and Julianne!)

But, lo and behold, about 15 minutes later, we hear our front door open and peek over and Solomon walks in the door. Everybody gasped and was excited. Of course, my daughters all knew but Julianne and I did not.

For the first time in four years all of my children were together with with us and this was such a joy.
So, Solomon and Seth returned to the hotel later that evening after we sat and talked and had a few snacks and then we prepared ourselves for the big event on Sunday.
Since this was LDS General Conference Sunday for our church, there was no church at the building and the girls all listened to General Conference while they prepped for the ensuing party.
We had a lot of errands to run and ultimately I had to go to Chipotle and pick up all of our catered food. They were expecting us obviously because we had been telling them what we were going to do. It was fun. We got all of the goods and I took a big group picture with all the Chipotle gang that were there. I then headed back home with all the food as they set up everything else in the house.

Next door neighbor Mike LeMaster taking a selfie at the party

The time finally came in the late afternoon when the party was to begin. People began to trickle in little by little including our neighbors Mike and Lauren and Steve and Chris. Steve had worked really hard to help in our yard cleaning up the yard and is an amazing neighbor.

The first person to actually arrive was my old boss from iHigh, Tim Campbell. That was an amazing surprise to me. It was nice to see him and have a nice chat with him. I do some work for him and his new business lately,  but I haven’t actually visited with him for a long time.

Julianne in her self designed flamingo shirt

There were many friends from church that showed up and Stacey Edwards, who I worked with at BrainBox the last couple of years also came by. She was always like a little sister to me and I really always enjoyed working with her.

Birthday Cake with sixty little plastic flamingos. CLASSIC!!

At the party, we had all that food.  And Amaree had made four cakes and Chelsea had also made a chocolate Flan cake. So we had five cakes and lots of other goodies at the party. Of course the main cake of interest was the German chocolate cake with the amazing homemade German chocolate coconut frosting that Amaree made.

They finally got around to having me come over and sit by the German Chocolate Cake.  It had been decorated with 60 little flamingo toothpicks and then a six and a zero candle that was lit up. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” and I blew out the candles.
I was next presented with some gifts. This was where the real shock took place. Julianne had quizzed me and had known for quite a while that my Nikon camera had broken and also kept questioning me as to whether or not I wanted a bicycle. I thought maybe they would come up with one of those things for my birthday, but really had no idea….

Picking up the bike on October 14

What really happened was the shocker. Marissa had gone to the point of group funding and had raised enough to get me a camera. I was able to get a new Nikon D5200 with a gift card that they had provided me for money raised for many of my family and friends. The other big stone to me was that my friend Russ Graves, from high school in Murray, UT had gotten together with some of the others that I went to church with in Murray in the 1970s. They all collected money and had purchased me a brand-new bicycle! It had been ordered and arrived on October 14..

Brand new Birthday Camera – a Nikon D5200.

A few neighbors and others had brought a few other little gifts and the kids had given me a big old box that had a bicycle bell and a couple of other bike things in it. It was really an amazing and fun birthday for me and just the event and love itself and made this the best birthday for me in all of my 60 years.

All in the Family…family photo on my 60th Birthday (L-R: Marissa, Solomon, Chelsea, David, Julianne, Seth and Amaree)

My fun family!

But alas, after Sunday was over it was back to work at University of Kentucky for me on Monday. Julianne was able to take some time off so she could spend time with Amaree. But, we did take time in the morning and went to the Lexington Arboretum to take some family pictures of the five children and of the five children with us, etc. That was a joyous time to be able to be with her children and get some wonderful photos with them after four years of not being together.

My sweet wife smiles with me on my 60th birthdaycelebration

So, part two of all of the birthday celebration was my taking the gift card and searching to find a replacement for my Nikon D 40. I had been brokenhearted because I had not had a camera for almost a month other than my iPhone, which takes great pictures, but still having my Nikon with my telephoto lens was always a wonderful thing. And, I enjoy going to the lake and taking pictures.

Ready to get some photos with my new D5200

I ultimately found the D5200 on Amazon.com and ordered it and received notification that it would arrive probably on that Friday. But it actually arrived two days later and I was so excited to have a new camera to be able to take it out on Friday morning and go to the lake and take some pictures. Those that know me also know that I am very fond of bird photos, especially blue herons. Following are a couple of photos taken with my new Nikon in October.

Photo of me with my new camera courtesy of fellow photographer Earlane Cox

A rare shot of the elusive Bald Eagle of Jacobson Lake. Taken with a zoom in bright light, I had to manipulate it a bit. It was my first sighting of this beauty.

A blue heron landing. Once again, I used some software to highlight the beauty of this bird

In mid-October there were egrets visiting the lake. I got this shot of one of them. Very happy

Finally, an interesting shot of a blue heron chasing an egret

Taking Solomon to the Cincinnati Airport

During the time family was in town, we had family dinners on Monday and Tuesday evening until Amaree left on Wednesday and Seth left on Tuesday evening. Solomon hung around until Friday so I took him to the airport on Friday morning.

Despite the children all gone by this time, the gifts keep on giving. Later in October I went with Julianne and Marissa to SW Virginia where we were to meet Julianne’s sister Laura and her daughter Emma. They were going to ride the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail.

Heading up the trail. Notice I had my Nikon around my neck as well.

Just in case, we took my bike as well.  I had only ridden it about a mile or two previously, and we weren’t sure if I would be able to.  But ultimately, while waiting for them down the hill from the start, I decided to give it a try and rode UPHILL for nearly 3 miles to meet them on the trail and then come back down the hill with them. It was fun to see the surprised look on Julianne’s face when she saw me sitting at a table waiting for them!

The biking gang somewhere on the Virginia Creeper Trail. My first REAL bike ride.

Not only did I use the bike, but also my new Nikon as I took photos along the way. It was a lovely time of year.

It has been more than two months since my birthday and I still have man fond memories. My life is filled with joy and there are the many precious moments I have had in this 60 years.  And it just keeps going.  Watch my blogs for more photos and more bike stories…and more grandkidz selfies and family stories.  Life is Awesome but its getting better.

Awesome But Getting Better – A Life Update

Pondering my life on a bench at UK

Pondering my life on a bench at UK

In eleven short days I turn 60.  My how time has flown in this wonderful life of mine.

But I have not had much time to reflect on this.  About a year ago I had set a goal to write 365 things I was grateful for…blessings in my life.  I even created a spreadsheet to try to stay organized.  I didn’t get very far…life throws us for some loops.

Since my last birthday in October 2015, I have been on a roller coast ride with my hands high up in the air enjoying the ride of life.  I have experienced many ups and downs and there have been many things that have taken time out of my “blogging” life.

Teaching Japanese at Berea College in spring 2016

Teaching Japanese at Berea College in spring 2016

In February of this year I had a sudden opportunity to teach Japanese at Berea College in Berea, KY.  It literally fell out of the sky and was a great blessing in many ways. But, by May, it was gone.  It was temporary. But it was fun!

Then, once again, in August I began another teaching gig.  Once again, it may be temporary, but I am teaching Japanese at the University of Kentucky.  It is rewarding in many ways, but also takes a toll on my time. My passions have suffered – little time for blogging, few opportunities to go watch herons at Jacobson Park, fewer chances for photography (an my Nikon camera died as well…so I am stuck with just my iPhone for now)

Japanese Professor at UK

Japanese Professor at UK

lifeiskaizenBut, I am grateful.  I am alive and doing fine.  I am earning money doing something I am passionate about.  I love to teach and I love the Japanese language. I am also getting exercise as I walk daily on campus.  This is good.

Along with the ups and downs, the heavens have opened up other opportunities and I have been blessed to get some traveling in.  Early in the year we had hopes for a big family gathering in Utah…all of the grandkidz and children.  A big roadtrip.  But, things fizzled as schedules and finances and other things threw obstacles in the way.  It was a real downer for me.

My office space at UK

My office space at UK

But God is kind.  He poured out a blessing from heaven with the Japanese teaching position at UK and my heart is full. Our short biking trips with Julianne and Marissa and Julianne’s sister Laura have filled that travel urge.  I am still getting photos.  I am squeezing time in when I can (the gig at UK takes up nearly 40 hours a week with three classes four times a week and 75 students.

In many ways I am finally fulfilling a dream.  I went to college in the 1980s with hopes of teaching.  Now I am finally doing it as I approach 60. Its a blessing.

I can even take my “photo art” concept pics at the school and elsewhere.  Life is awesome, but its getting better!!

In a few days I will hit a milestone.  I am grateful to have made it this far.  I hope I can catch up on my 365 days of Gratitude posts.  I have so many more things to be grateful for and I want to express them. I’ll work on it.

UK Logo...I walk over this daily on my way to class

UK Logo…I walk over this daily on my way to class

I do get chances to get out.  Got these sunflowers east of Lexington

I do get chances to get out. Got these sunflowers east of Lexington

Saw an Egret at Jacobson Lake (actually saw 12 of them!)

Saw an Egret at Jacobson Lake (actually saw 12 of them!)

Played with concept pictures from my iPhone - this is the Kentucky Theater

Played with concept pictures from my iPhone – this is the Kentucky Theater

Staring down a wildcat

Staring down a wildcat

Patterson Hall is where I teach my classes at UK. Saw a nice sky and sunrise the other day

Patterson Hall is where I teach my classes at UK. Saw a nice sky and sunrise the other day

Sunset at Jacobson Lake

Sunset at Jacobson Lake

LIFE IS GOOD

Horse Farm Country

Horse Farm Country

Countdown 365: #234 – 40th Anniversary of LDS Mission

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

My passport photo for my LDS Mission, taken in February 1976

There are some events in one’s life that are turning points…big decisions that impact the remainder of one’s life.  Today I celebrate the 40th Anniversary of one of those events.  It was 40 years ago today that I entered the Language Training Mission (LTM) in Provo, Utah to learn Japanese and prepare to serve as an LDS Missionary in the Japan Nagoya Mission. This singular event would literally have a myriad impacts on the direction of my life, the life of my wife and of my children.

Prior to this event only three real others were as momentous…my mother taking me away from my father and moving to New Mexico (something that I had no control over but had a massive impact on my life), my decision to convert to the LDS Church in 1975 (and thus be asked to leave the house at age 17 as a result) and then the actual decision to serve versus the decision to take what would have been a high paying job in 1975.

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT - Feb. 8, 1976

Speaking at my Missionary Farewell in Murray, UT – Feb. 8, 1976

Pondering life's choices as a young missionary

Pondering life’s choices as a young missionary

With each decision made at a crossroads in life (or a fork in the road of life if you prefer), a whole string of consequences unseen is set in motion (until the next crossroad, which then again leads to another set of unforeseen life events). But this mission to serve the Lord in Japan (not to mention all of the service to the Japanese people) had a profound impact on my life, my testimony, friends I have made and, ultimately my career choices. And, as I approach my 60th of year of life, I can look back and consider all of the things that WOULD NOT have occurred in my life had I not made that one decision. Honestly, I am awestruck.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries.

Over the course of my mission I wrote over 1000 pages of journal entries and dozens of letters home to family and friends.

So, on February 12, 1976 I was taken to Provo and it began.  I wrote on Page 1 of the first of my many journals about this event:

“Today was my first day.  It was really great. We had many inspiring talks and learned much about the mission and mission fields.  Elder Stewart Simons from Cyprus High and Elder Marc White from Murray were my fist companions. Elder Marc and I went to school together, so its a real blessing. Its been a tough, long, hot day, but a very meaningful one.I’m so grateful to serve the Lord.”

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

My two LTM Companions as they looked in 1976. This was scanned from my Missionary Journal.

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

Hanging with Elder White and Elder Simons at the Provo Temple on Feb. 18, 1976

I learned from both Elder Simons and Elder White.  It was nice to have one of them as someone I knew.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  Later on in Japan, Elder White became my zone leader and we grew very close.  We have stayed in touch casually over the years.  He was a real blessing to me.

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT

Our LTM Group in Provo, UT (L-R: Sister ?, Elder Bartholomew, Elder Bateman, Elder White, Elder Call, Elder Hadley, Elder Simons, Sister Hawley and me)

I was one of many in the group to enter the LTM that day.  The LTM was in an old Catholic School in Provo that the Church had purchased.  This was before the days of the Missionary Training Center (MTC) and just shortly after the days of the Japanese LTM being in Hawaii.

In my District I had four other Elders including Elder Bartholomew from Rancho Palace Verdes, CA; Elder Bateman from Edmonton, AB; Elder Hadley from Sandy, UT (who I am still in contact with after all these years); and Elder Call from Heber City, UT. (see the photo above)

On February 14, 1976 I wrote: “I am so happy that I’m here at this time to be able to work together with other elders and learn Japanese and the Gospel of our loving Father. The LTM is really an experience with 20 elders to a room, two districts to a room. I am really learning to love other elders. Especially those in my district and especially Elder White and Elder Simons. I’ve learned many new phrases and words.  Today we learned our testimony and a simple prayer.  I’m trying to memorize it, but its hard. I do have my testimony memorized.  I am praying muchly now so that I may be closer to the Lord.”

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Being welcomed at Nagoya Airport by the Mission President Satoru Sato and his wife, along with some other Nagoya Elders already serving. April 14, 1976

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

Boarding a train in Nagoya to head to my first branch in Kanazawa

I could go on and on about the experience in the LTM.  It was a learning experience in so many ways. But, eventually it was over and on April 13, 1976 we all left for Nagoya, Japan.  I had never been on a 747 and never flown overseas. (I’ll actually write more about this on my Countdown Day #173).

During my missionary days I served in the Japan Sea side towns of Kanazawa, Fukui and Takaoka, as well as in Ogaki (near Gifu – where my daughter Amaree served part of her mission in 2001 and 2002), Nagoya and the lovely town of Fuji City at the base of Mt. Fuji.

I met an extraordinary number of wonderful Japanese Latter-day Saints and myriads of other lovely Japanese people.  I learned about Buddhism and Shintoism.  I learned and excelled at the language.  It was a wonderful experience.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Accompanying a blind investigator on a train. Like today, I almost always had a camera with me.

Following are a few more photos from my mission.  I have hundreds. My first “selfie” is also included. My mission was a blessing in my life in so many years.  I am humbled and grateful to be celebrating the 40th Anniversary of beginning this amazing adventure and am really touched by all of the sweet memories flowing through my mind as I reflect back.

A few years ago we had a Missionary Reunion in Salt Lake City and I was able to catch up with many of those with whom I served during my two years from 1976-78.  It was wonderful to catch up with them and see where their lives had taken them. Some have been very successful, others not so much.  Some of those with whom I served have gone inactive or even left the LDS Church.  These things happen.  But, I cherish the friendships and, even today, stay in touch with many of these former missionaries (Thank you Facebook!!), even those that are no longer associated with the church.  A mission does amazing things to one’s life.

Always writing and pondering.

Always writing and pondering. Ogaki, Japan 1977

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976

My first companion in the field, Elder Fullmer from Utah. This was in Kanazawa in April 1976 (Dig those 70’s era neckties!!)

Riding a train - an almost daily occurrence in Japan

Riding a train – an almost daily occurrence in Japan

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

My fist selfie! Took this in the mirror at a barber shop after the bird landed on my shoulder.

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

Fooling around with the Ogaki Elders in 1977

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

With Elders and some members in Takaoka, Japan in the winter of 1976

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters - just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

Lazing in bed on a cold morning (we had no heaters – just oil stoves that had to be turned off at night). This was in Fuji City in January 1978

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

On top of Mt. Fuji, April 1978, just before I left for home.

Street "Dendo" (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

Street “Dendo” (Proselyting) in Ogaki, Japan in 1977. I wrote all of the Japanese on the poster while dressed in the Yukata

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

With companion Elder Lee Richan. We had become very close friends over the years. He passed away a couple of years ago (2013)

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

The busy Mormon Missionary on a hot summer day in Japan in 1977

 

Countdown 365: #247 – Benson Matthews

Benson and Grampz September 2015

Benson and Grampz September 2015

Today is my grandson Benson’s birthday. This little guy has been amazing in his young four years of life!

Little Bensi was born with a heart defect and ended up having to have a couple of surgeries in the very early days of his life in order to save him. Ultimately he had changes to his heart so that he would be able to live and grow and that he has done for sure! And boy does he have a heart!!

Benson just before his heart surgery in 2012

Brave Benson just before his heart surgery in 2012

Benson July 2015

Benson July 2015

Always smiling!

Always smiling!

The first couple of years for Benson have not been easy but he made it through.  And, unless you knew that he had already had an operation, you would never be able to tell by the way he acts, plays, or interacts with other people.

Unfortunately, because they live so far away, I have not been able to spend as much time with him or his brothers and sister as I would like. But we have had a couple of occasions where we were able to spend a good amount of time and last summer (2015) we got to spend 10 days in Washington with them.  What a fabulous time we had and what a joy it was to get to know Benson.

Benson Matthews 2015

Benson Matthews 2015

Benson with his Dad Aaron

Benson with his Dad Aaron

Cuddling with Benson

Cuddling with Benson

During our visit, I was able to see each of the grandchildren and was able to sit on a chair and cuddle with Benson.  I spent time reading him books and getting to know this young grandchild of mine.  Not shy at all, he would cuddle with me for an hour or two as I read, told jokes and played with him.

Benson is a sharp little boy and he also has an endearing smile. One might think that he is shy, but he certainly is not. He is very amenable to new people and new environments 9as far as I could tell).

As for his heart defect, I saw no evidence of it when we went to the beach as he ran hard and jumped into the water like his sister and brothers did. He was all about collecting seashells, little rocks, and digging big holes in the sand.

Jumping and running...Benson is unstoppable

Jumping and running…Benson is unstoppable

Fun with Grampz 2015

Fun with Grampz 2015

Climbing Away

Climbing Away

And he is not fearless either. He climbs playground equipment without a problem.

Benson is truly a blessing to my life, my wife’s life, and the lives of his parents and siblings. He is an example of courage and strength, and this despite his youthful four years of age.

Don’t get me wrong however. He can be a true four year old.  It is not beyond him to  be a prankster (like his mother!) and can be a little troublemaker. He may be angelic but sometime he’s not really an angel. Nevertheless, he is fun to watch and to be around. And for this, I am grateful that Benson is a part of my life and my posterity.

 

Benson in 2013

Benson in 2013

Benson and a budgie at Tacoma Zoo 2015

Benson and a budgie at Tacoma Zoo 2015

Always mother's little helper

Always mother’s little helper