“Bill” Nichols drew his first breath when men still gave their last in the trenches of Flanders Field, “Over There”.“In Flanders fields the poppies grow between the crosses, row on row…”.
He was one of seven children raised by Al and Kitty Nichols on their farm in rural St. Johns Michigan. He was not quite a teen when the ravages of the Great Depression descended upon America, but the deprivation and want experienced by those in its cities was largely ignored by those born into the austerity of rural America. For Bill and his family if you wanted eggs you gathered them. Milk, cream, butter… the cow waited the daily touch of his experienced hands upon her engorged udders. Fresh produce? It was found outside in carefully cultivated rows next to the barn. Canned goods? They had been put up by Mother in the Fall and were found in the cellar with the root vegetables… food to sustain the family through the arctic cold that would annually descend upon the region. “Organic”, a term unknown to those of the day, aptly described life for those of the Nichols family where everything qualified as “organic”.
Early in his youth one could see something very special emerging within Bill. He was a standout in local and State 4-H competitions. His keen intellect was ever devising solutions to commonly encountered problems on the farm. Bill developed the attitude that once he decided upon a course of action the “how” merely awaited discovery. He epitomized the axiom, “Where there is a will there is a way”, perhaps better stated in his case, “Where there is Bill, he will create the way!”
As sharp minded children often are, Bill was willful. Fearing the disapproval from their parents, he and his love (first and only), Doris, eloped. They were 18 years old and for the next 74 years that they shared they would laugh about the 42 days during which Doris was older than Bill. Doris was 93 when she passed, however Bill had long ago decided that he would live to be 100, often declaring, “I’m going to live to be 100 and then Lord come take me!!!” …But I am getting ahead of myself.
Bill and Doris went on to begin their family and complete their educations, he in agricultural and food sciences and her in education. As with so many other young couples of their generation the orderly progression of life was interrupted by the strife of World War 2. Bill’s entry into service was initially deferred to allow him to complete work on the development of the powdered egg. While that mission lacked the glamor of the Manhattan Project, it did touch the lives (and dinner plates) of virtually every American soldier in the war. His “mission” successfully completed, Bill was enlisted into the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. He attained the rank of sergeant and was among the very first American troops to enter Hiroshima on the heels of its destruction and Japan’s surrender in 1945. Bill does not often speak of the devastation that he witnessed firsthand, but he laughingly attributes his longevity to the radiation he was no doubt exposed to, “I was atomically preserved and nuclear energized!”
Shortly after the war Bill and Doris moved to Kansas City, Missouri. The first 2 of the 5 children they brought into the world had been born before the war. 3 others followed post-war with a span of 25 years separating oldest to youngest. They would bury two of those children, one an Airman in the service of his country, and the other a daughter, victim of cancer in adulthood.
In Kansas City Bill and Doris started their own business, the W. A. Nichols Company, where he developed and manufactured poultry processing equipment while Doris managed the office. He was awarded patents for his innovations, valued by the poultry industry. Those inventions were largely unknown to the general public, however most of the ubiquitous metal wires that secured the legs of America’s Thanksgiving turkeys had been shipped from their small warehouse.
I met Bill in the Summer of 1974. I had moved to Kansas City out of college in pursuit of my career and shortly after arriving met his daughter, Christine. She would become my wife in 1977. In those early years my relationship with Bill Nichols was not always “easy”. Such may be expected when larger personalities vie to occupy space in a relationship with one whom they both love. Whatever stresses existed between us were resolved by the mutual respect that developed for the abilities and accomplishments of the other.
In 1978 Bill created an opportunity from the charred remains of a home that was located in an upscale neighborhood of Kansas City. The property was for sale at a discount because of the perceived cost and challenge of removing the remains of the burned structure. Bill designed a new home that would incorporate the foundation and some intact elements of the former structure thus saving a considerable amount in construction costs. My friend Greg and I were employed to demolish and remove the portions that could not be salvaged. We were second year law students with the time (and need of money) to accomplish the project. Armed only with crowbars, sledge hammers, and a chain saw, we filled nine semi-truck sized containers with the refuse that had been the original home.
Life for Bill and Doris continued in story book fashion. Their successful business was closed at retirement. Bill and Doris spent a significant amount of their time “on the road”, exploring North America in their motorhome and eventually settled full time in Florida. Doris passed in 2011 and Bill continued in pursuit of his quest to be 100. At 98 he was still occasionally driving his Mustang convertible and, taking nothing for granted, he renewed his driver license. Although he has now quit driving, he still proudly displays the license observing, “Its good until I’m 105”.
In August of 2017 Hurricane Irma, with its category 5 winds, took aim at the heart of Florida. Bill‘s home was at the center of the hurricane’s track. Christine acted to arrange for Bill’s evacuation to our home in Kansas City. At 99 years old, Bill managed to fly unaccompanied to Kansas City, negotiating the busy airports in Florida and Atlanta without incident. His Florida home sustained only minor damage in the storm, but the handwriting was on the wall. At his advanced age and without family in Florida, he could not return there. His house and car were both sold. Christine has since found him a new home in an assisted living community near to us. From August of 2017 to the present she has near single handedly seen to the management of his care. There is now a softness in Bills eyes when he sees her, a smile comes to his lips and his arms extend to her for an embrace. No doubt the love was always there, but it never found expression as it does now… “I love you honey, very, very, much… always have and always will.” Bill has decided that he will stick around for his 101stbirthday. I have no doubt that he will.
PS: In writing this I have found renewed respect for the abilities, intellect and work ethic that have defined William A. Nichols over the course of his first 100 years. Moreover, I have been struck by the parallels that emerged in the life of his daughter who is my wife, Christine. She too was a willful child who left home at an early age. Christine pursued her undergraduate degree after first starting a family. She founded her own successful business, built a new home from the opportunity she saw in the destroyed remains of another, and in retirement she has pursued travel across North America with RV in tow. Of his 5 children she was the “stealth child”, least anticipated to achieve success but revealed to be recipient of the fullest measure of Bill’s talents. They each have much to be grateful for in the life and love that they share.
A number of friends have reached out and expressed concern for us due to my “silence”. I have been largely offline since our return from Canada at the end of September. First of all, we are well. Secondly, we have not been idle. Indeed, we have been busy enough that there is fodder for a number of posts if I just make the time to commit our activity to paper.
Our life in Kansas City is different from our life on the road. Traveling I enjoy the stimulation of new sights and experiences that unfold on a near daily basis. For me travel is heady and intoxicating. I feel compelled to share it with you. Along with the experiences come the thoughts that are generated within me. Add to this the compression of time I enjoy with Christine, quite literally at each other’s side 24/7. Fortunately, we don’t seem to tire of the closeness. Eye contact invariably brings a smile to both of us. The cup of friendship is a priceless chalice when it holds the elixir of love.
Being home creates different experiences for each of us. We tend to find our together time relegated to the mornings and the evenings. I spend a couple of hours during most days at the gym. There is some yardwork, tinkering, the occasional lunch with a friend, and the countless small details of life that cause one day to follow another in a succession that mimics the turning of the pages of a not so interesting book. For Christine the focus of her day is upon our children, grandchildren, and her centenarian father. She flourishes in her connection to family. I happily take a step back and allow her to define my role in the family. I shudder to think how soulless the celebrations of holidays, birthdays, and other milestones would become in her absence.
Mornings and evenings in Kansas City are the times that we imagine and put into words our “next things”. There are quite a few on the table right now, but I will save the telling for my next post. Until then… Peace Everyone.
It is 5 a.m. the morning of the 19th. For much of this trip this has been the default time for writing my “Thoughts”. Christine remains asleep a few feet from me while I am treated to the sight of night slowly yielding to day. I often go to sleep with no intention of writing, but I awake, sometimes long before 5, and find that my “Thoughts” have been composed somewhere in the recesses of my subconscious. I get up, pull out my iPad and begin to type. It works, but how?… it’s a mystery.
Yesterday, as we left Trois-Pistoles Quebec my eye was drawn to the steeple that commanded a view above the village. There is not much to see in Trois-Pistoles but Trip Adviser mentioned a Basque cultural center, a Basque cheese “Fromagerie”, a small micro-brewery, and the church. The micro-brewery was closed when we arrived late on the 17th as was the cultural center. We are watching our weight so no cheese. The church held the number one spot for recommended things to see and do in Trois-Pistoles.
As an aside, there is a lingering Basque influence in this area that predates the 16th Century arrival of Jacques Cartier. Basque whalers traveled seasonally to these waters in hunt for the leviathans.
As a second aside, “Trois-Pistoles” is the name of a remarkably strong and complex beer crafted by the Canadian brewer, Unibroue… but not in Trois-Pistoles. For you aficionados it is worth seeking out on the shelves of discerning liquor stores and taverns in the States.
Now, about that church. Église Notre-Dame-des-Neiges was completed in 1887. It is truly monumental, far out of scale for the small town in which it is situated. It appeared to be closed, but we checked the doors and found that one side-door was unlocked. In my youth churches were always unlocked as the needs of those seeking a place for prayer were not constrained to banking hours. Perhaps Trois-Pistoles lacks the usual small population of miscreants who, if given the opportunity, deface and steal from houses of worship. Perhaps we were the coincidental beneficiaries of someone’s inadvertent omission… but as a good man in Puerto Rico told us earlier this year, “In life there are no coincidences”.
Upon entering the church we were treated to the most spectacular old world interior of any church that we have seen in North America. The long rows of pews appeared each individually carved. They gleamed mirror-like with flawless varnished surfaces. The towering pillars were hand painted with a faux marble finish and supported the lofty ceiling vault and dome. Remarkable!
While the overall impression was breathtaking, I found my eye drawn to the details of the church… the statue of Christ crucified,
The ornate confessional booths,
The Baptismal Font that had no doubt greeted thousands into the “fold”, and the galleries and pipe organ,
The Alter and Canopy,
The spiral stairs to the lectern used in former days to deliver the Gospel and homily to the congregants,
And then there was the very curious small pew standing alone in the back of the church. My first impression was that it was reserved for sinners ostracized but not excommunicated for some spiritual failing. There was a sign written in French on the pew. With the aid of Google Translate we learned the truth:
This was the bench of the Vire-chien, or “dog-guard”. It was occupied by the Church Constable whose tasks consisted in maintaining order in the church, opening or closing the doors during events such as weddings and funerals, regulating the heat as needed, and preventing dogs from entering the church. Tradition held that dogs entering a church were the harbinger of misfortune in the village. The Vire-chien wore a tricorned hat with a gilded silver-colored ribbon. The hat matched his long frock coat, which was of black wool. The costume was abandoned in the twentieth century, but perhaps the position of Vire-chien remains to this day.
Finally, there were the ubiquitous votive candles, a standard feature in most Catholic churches. These were particularly beautiful and well executed under the sympathetic gaze of the Virgin Mary.
I like churches for what they say about the people of a community. My thoughts about organized religion have become “complicated” over the years and don’t warrant airing here. Nevertheless I was gifted as a child with traditions of contemplation that still resonate with me. One of those is the lighting of a candle. The solitary flame brings a somber focus to my thoughts. In the course of the last few months a number of friends have exited from this life. A few days ago I paid homage to a remarkable woman who died 25 years ago. I recall the memories of those dear to me, now long passed. My wife and I have the blessing of being together in good health, being companions in travel, friends and lovers in life. So much to put upon the shoulders of that single flame…
I can’t say that all attorneys have cases that become a part of their life DNA, but I have had at least one such case. Recently a series of communications with Christina “Christy” reignited memories of events that centered upon her mother and family 25 years ago. The intervening years may have cast a haze upon my recollections but my emotions remain every bit as raw as they were a quarter of a century ago.
Paula Clouse had been trapped in an incredibly abusive marriage to Larry Clouse for over 20 years. The handwriting had been on the wall from the start when only weeks into the marriage the much older Larry smashed his fist into her jaw for failing to respond quickly enough with the beer he demanded. Paula’s jaw was wired shut in order for the bones to heal.
Paula dropped out of high school to marry Larry. Notwithstanding Larry’s serial abuse, she got her GED, worked to support the family, raised their first child (Chris) who was born early in the marriage, and persevered to complete her college education at CMSU. Two other children were born of the marriage, Derek was four and Christy turned one when Paula received her degree. Paula secured and held a full time position of responsibility with the Bendix Corporation of Kansas City and was the family’s sole wage earner. Larry was unemployed throughout the marriage, his temperament being incompatible with steady employment.
Paula first sought my help in 1992. Son Chris was out of the home and Paula hoped that divorcing Larry might protect the two younger children from further exposure to the emotionally toxic environment. I filed Paula’s Petition for Dissolution of the marriage and initiated the process to have papers served on Larry. Unfortunately, with threats and promises he coerced her into dismissing the Petition. I reluctantly complied with Paula’s decision.
The following year Paula returned to my office, accompanied by her 11 year old daughter Christy. Earlier in the week there had been another episode of violence in the home. Larry had struck Paula down, causing her to crash through a glass coffee table. He then sought to snatch the car keys from her purse and deny her an escape. Little Christy beat him to the purse and as he threatened to strike her she said, “Go ahead and hit me. Tomorrow I’m going to tell my teachers and everyone at school what you did.” With Paula on the floor behind her, the defiant child succeeded in getting Larry to back down. Paula and Christy left. Derek chose to remain with his father. Paula explained that her daughter’s courage convinced her to leave Larry for good. There would be no going back.
I dropped everything that day and prepared a new Petition. I also prepared a motion for emergency protective orders. The documents were filed and served upon Larry along with a notice of the scheduled hearing on the motion for protective orders.
Larry appeared for the hearing along with his attorney and 15 year old son Derek. The matter convened before Judge Jane Pansing Brown and proceeded as a vigorously contested matter. Larry denied the allegations of abuse, but the bruises on Paula’s face and arms told a different story. He sought custody of both Derek and Christy, requesting that Paula be denied access to the children. At the conclusion of the lengthy hearing Paula was granted a protective order and custody of their daughter. Larry was granted supervised visitation with Christy and custody of Derek at the 15 year old’s request. Paula was granted visits with Derek, the first to occur that evening, August 10, 1993.
After the Judge issued her ruling from the bench I spoke with an emotionally drained Paula in a small adjoining conference room. She embraced me and then said that she would be satisfied even if the only thing she accomplished was to free her daughter from the violence. These were to be Paula’s last words ever spoken to me.
That evening Paula took Derek to the Metro North Theater to see “Robin Hood, Men in Tights”. Popcorn in hand, they had just taken their seats to watch the previews of coming attractions. Derek stood, faced his mom, and pulled a handgun from his jeans. He leveled the barrel at Paula and methodically fired six bullets into her. She died at the scene.
Derek was taken into custody. The police investigation resulted in murder charges filed against both Derek and Larry. I was called to testify in Larry’s trial. The evidence established that Larry provided Derek with the firearm and ammunition. He had taken Derek to a remote location to practice killing his mother. Larry placed a target and instructed the 15 year old to shoot and pretend that it was Paula. Larry also told Derek that there would be insurance money from Paula’s death that would make them rich. They would escape to Canada and live in comfort.
Both Larry and Derek were convicted of murder and received life sentences. Larry died of heart failure in prison on December 27, 2016. Derek remains in prison, two applications for parole having been denied. His next eligibility for parole occurs in November 2019.
Christy was placed with caring foster parents. I participated in her later adoption by those folks. Christy went on to college, my wife and I traveled to attend her wedding, and she is the loving mother of a darling little boy. We remain in touch with each other to this day.
Until recently I never fully appreciated the impact that I had as an attorney on the life of that courageous 11 year old girl. Here is what she wrote to me shortly after the 25th anniversary of her mother’s death:
“Pete, as my mom would say about you, “he is a good man.” You truly are. In a time when things she confided in you were the types of things you’d only read about in a murder mystery novel or see in the movies, you believed her. You gave her a voice that she would’ve never had without you. Although she died, her legacy lives on and with it are stories of a silly attorney, full of jokes for a little girl, one who stared in a play (which btw the little girl went on to do theater), one with a PHOTOCOPY MACHINE, who let her photocopy her hand for the very first time! But also a stern attorney who put that little girl in her place a time, ok or maybe two. A hard nosed attorney who fought tooth and nail for that Mom and little girl. And a man that stayed present long after his client was gone, watching out for that little girl, through trials and court proceedings and even by showing up on her wedding day. A man that still today keeps in contact with that little girl. A man that really did hold both of their hands and changed their lives forever. You are always instrumental in this story. You, Pete, are a good man…a great man!”
Paula’s wish, expressed in her last words to me, was granted.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. There were other victims of the fallout from Larry’s abuse. Chief among them were Paula’s parents who were good people tortured by what they saw their daughter endure and helpless to intervene. May they also Rest In Peace.
In the course of our travels we have often witnessed various forms of risk taking behaviors. Stunts on motorcycles rocketing down the road, aggressive driving in other forms, and folks dangling their feet over the edges of cliffs are just a few examples. Most of these risk takers are under 40 years old. Folks in my age group (post-60) tend to be a bit more cautious and circumspect of their mortality.
In the last 3 months 7 of my friends and professional colleagues have died. 5 from illness, one the victim of a tragic accident, and this last week one the victim of suicide.
It was not so many years ago that encountering death among friends and acquaintances was rare. These days I am becoming increasingly aware that the odds in the lottery of life are slowly shifting against me and in favor of “the house”. My Mother recently remarked that Christine and I are blessed to have so many friends both near and far (we agree!). In the same breath she sadly noted that all of her long time friends are “gone”. Two weeks ago we celebrated both my father-in-law’s 100th birthday and our newest grandchild’s first birthday. One of the few things that those bookends of life share in common is that while they are both loved, they have few friendships. Little Lennon is too young to have yet made friends in this life, while Bill has outlived most of his. Lennon and Bill are at opposite ends of the Bell Cure of Life and Death. In our 60’s, Christine and I are approaching the peak of the curve. At age 84 statistics say that a flip of the coin has the same odds as whether we will be alive or not.
None of this is morbid or depressing to me. It is reality and much of the reason that I so passionately pursue travel. A judge once remarked to me that “Lawyers don’t retire… they just die at their desks.” There is some truth to that, although I know a few who are the exceptions and I long ago determined to be among those who would retire.
To you who are closer to my age I offer, don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may find you are then unable to do. To you who are much younger I pray you will see your careers as a means to an end and not an end in itself. Have Fun, Do Good (as in both your best, and what is right), and Be Safe for the sake of those who love you. And finally to the few of you who silently despair of life each day, please share your secret with someone and be open to help.
San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is a suicide magnet. In 2013 there were 46 who jumped to their death… in the preceding years it is estimated that over 1,600 have jumped with a 98% certainty that they would not survive. I read of a study where the author interviewed a number of those few who did survive. The thought that they uniformly held in common is that at the moment they let go of the bridge they regretted the decision.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS. My friend Mark ended his life this last week. He was a brilliant scientist, a gifted athlete, and an incredibly caring and generous man. I count myself among the many who wonder why and wish that I could have intervened.
We are again spending the night on the shores of Lake Huron, this time in Michigan’s Port Crescent State Park.
It is hard to beat the view of waves breaking a matter of feet out the front door of our trailer, accentuated by the gentle sound of the surf. The cool off-shore breeze guarantees a good nights sleep in this dark sky park. Fingers are crossed for a cloudless evening.
Port Crescent recalls the memory of the thriving logging community that once occupied this spot in the mid to late 19th Century. The shores were believed to hold an inexhaustible supply of timber. As with most things ecological, the capacity of humans to exhaust the inexhaustible was gravely underestimated. The decades long accumulation of “slash” (discarded remnants of logging and milling operations) on Michigan’s “Thumb” Peninsula were a recipe for disaster.
A major forest fire in 1871 was a “treetop fire” that burned the tree crowns but largely left the remaining trees to die as they stood. Another fire was sparked in 1881 and became one of the worst conflagrations in US history. The tinder dry conditions, high winds, and the abundant fuel in the forests resulted in a flash fire that consumed over a million acres of the Peninsula’s towns and forests in the first 24 hours! This was to be known as the Great Thumb Fire. Few area residents were spared as the fire consumed oxygen, asphyxiating some, literally boiling others to death in the rivers, wells, and lakes where they sought refuge, and ending the lives of hundreds. Most of those who survived were left homeless by the onslaught. It was essentially the end of the town of Port Crescent. Here at the Park stands the base of a 120 foot tall smokestack, a legacy of one of the sawmills and the sole remnant of the town.
Switching gears… Today we stopped for breakfast at a local diner. In the men’s room was a sign that struck me as funny enough to warrent a picture.
Further along I found the message of the sign resonating with me and bringing me to contemplate the concept of “friendship”.
The friendships that we enjoy in our places of work and our communities are familiar to all of us. Those friendships are certainly valued, but easily taken for granted.
In our journeys we have become acquainted with hundreds of travelers (and Camino Pilgrims). Those friendships are built upon the foundations of our common undertakings. Those friendships are known from the start to have only a brief opportunity to flourish and to be enjoyed. Appreciation of the comradeship is left for one’s memory as there are no guarantees that paths will ever cross again.
Flowers on the arctic Tundra have a very limited time within which to fulfill their life cycle. They compress an entire season into a few weeks. Far flung friendships flourish (say that fast 10 times!!) in much the same way, igniting and maturing in the shortest of times… and then suffering a parting with no promise of renewal.
We are grateful for each of these encounters. We are fortunate that there are occasions that our life path again intersects with that of far flung friends. An encounter at a dump station in Texas with a reunion in Alaska… An shared campfire in Alaska followed by a chance encounter in Madrid Spain… Friendships forged on the Camino that continue to flourish in Kansas City or are renewed in Colorado, Canada, the Netherlands… Friendships sparked by email or Facebook communications that are later treasured in person in Wales, California, New Hampshire, or upstate New York…
We do not take these friendships for granted. Whenever the prospect for renewal occurs it is cause for celebration whether it is a friend from school days, or a visitor from New Zealand. Each is a blessing and an affirmation that life is good.
The majority of our time “on the road” is spent together. However as I have previously observed, Christine and I have “travel libidos” that are slightly out of sync. She is often ready to return home a week or two before me and I am usually ready to leave home a week or two sooner than her. To address this I typically take a couple of short (7-10 day) solo outings each year. Such was the case a few weeks ago when I spent a week at Stockton Lake in Missouri.
Solo camping has its virtues. I find that I am more aware of my thoughts, I tend to be more focused on relaxing, and my appreciation for Christine becomes heightened. Absence does make the heart grow fonder.
Solo camping rarely turns out to be solitary camping. While at Stockton Lake I was visited by a camper Kathleen, and a sailboater, Craig. Each of those encounters was memorable. I detailed those meetings in my posts which were published at that time. However, I neglected to include another of those camping friendships.
Another Casita pulled into the campground. Casita owners often seek one another out, so it was not unexpected that the owner would wander my way to say “Hi”. It was a bit unusual that he and his wife would invite me to dinner. It was totally unexpected that dinner would include sautéed squid on a stick, huge sautéed prawns on a stick, and a large Pacific Ocean fish that was roughly the size and shape of a 14” cast iron skillet.
David and his wife Badeth spend 4 months of the year at their home in Missouri and the remaining 8 months of each year at their beautiful beach home in the Philippines. David was born and raised in the States and Badeth is a native of the islands. They were joined at camp by her sister Josephine and nephew Ian. David could not have known of my love of squid, shrimp, and eating “the unknown”. The women presented a feast and I was the beneficiary. The women also cooked a large inviting steak… it seems that in spite of his extensive time spent in the Philippines, David is not particularly fond of squid, shrimp, or eating “the unknown”.
This wonderful family also included me in their breakfast plans for the following morning. Their hospitality and friendship were extraordinary, but perhaps understandable as they explained the welcoming nature of the Philippine people and the fact that David was retired from over 40 years of being the talented handyman, construction coordinator, chauffeur, mechanic… and all around “Swiss Army” assistant to a convent of nuns! Even when camping solo one meets the nicest and most interesting people.
Many of you are aware that this last Spring Christine and I spent 3 months in Europe. That journey included an eleven day 250km hike from Porto Portugal to Santiago Spain. This was the Portuguese route of the Camino de Santiago. On April 27th we encountered a number of memorable German pilgrims who were also walking the Camino. There was physician Reiner Vogt and his wife Ina Massing. Ina manages a firm specializing in manufacturing and fitting prosthetic limbs. Faris Abu-Naaj is an internet expert who had rescued his health by losing nearly 200 pounds. A month after we met Faris he would lead a group of people struggling with obesity on a 100km Camino pilgrimage. Stanislaw Mowinski is a German citizen originally from Poland. Each of these good people became dear to us in the span of an afternoon.
We were joined later that evening by Grzegorz Polakiewicz from Poland. “Greg”, an intensely spiritual young man and a stranger to all of us, spoke no German. He is an amputee who was walking his second Camino with one leg, carrying his backpack, assisted only by his two crutches. Discussions at table that evening, interpreted by “Stanley”, resulted in a proposal for Greg to travel to Germany where Ina and Reiner would arrange for him to receive a prosthetic leg and the physical therapy necessary to use it. I would have called this encounter an amazing coincidence, but I was continually reminded during our journey, “In life there are no coincidences”.
“The Rest of the Story”: I have remained in contact with all of these folks through Facebook. Last week I received a link from Ina to a story broadcast on a German television program, something like our “60 Minutes”. Initially, the link would not work until I redirected my browser to a German IP address. As the program played out it featured Greg’s arrival in Germany, his fitting of a prosthetic leg, courtesy of Ina and Reiner, and the physical therapy necessary for its use. I captured some screenshots from the program that I share with you.
It is worth remembering that every miracle has two parts… that it occurred, and more importantly that it was noticed. “Greg” noticed, and so did I.
Peace Everyone. Pete
PS: Christine and I are back on the road again. We will be traveling to Canada and the New England States over the course of the next 5 weeks.
My dear wife has released me to a week of solo camping. I am on the shores of Stockton Lake, an Army Corp of Engineers impoundment that covers over 39 square miles and features over 300 miles of shoreline. In spite of those numbers this lake ranks only 5th among the 7 largest Missouri lakes, all of which are man-made. The lake provides flood control, supplemental water for the city of Springfield, and generates up to 52 megawatts of hydroelectric power. All of these practical considerations are probably secondary (or absent) in the minds of the thousands of sportfishing enthusiasts, boaters, hikers, and campers (like me!).
Christine is busily preparing to host her father’s 100th birthday celebration at our home in two weekends. We are expecting 50+ guests. As a hostess she shines. No doubt I will be helpful nearing the event, but for the next week I would only have been in her way and suffering cabin fever. We have come to recognize that we are on slightly different wavelengths when it comes to travel and being away from home. Typically, it takes Christine a couple of weeks more than me to be “ready for the road”. Conversely, it takes me a couple of weeks longer than her to be ready to “head home from the road”. Last year we found that sending me off for an occasional solo week did much to synchronize our travel libidos.
I am ever looking to the future with visions of “the next thing”. We returned home on June 22nd from a 13 week journey that took in 16 countries and covered over 22,000 miles. On June 24th I began talking about Fall and Spring plans. Initially it drives Christine crazy, but it doesn’t take long for her to get caught up in my enthusiasm for our next “adventure”.
Over the next few days I will speak to those plans and whatever other random stuff come to mind. I will also focus on the pursuit of two things that I am not very good at, relaxation and embracing solitude.
We are grateful for the contribution of so many people to our journey. I told Christine of my intention to name those we met and those who have followed us. She replied, “How are you going to do that? You would have to name everyone on Facebook plus everyone who has subscribed to your posts!” Of course, she is right. I launched my “Thoughts” posts in February 2018 in anticipation of the start of our travels in March. As of this writing there have been over 16,000 visits to my posts. I really can’t select individual “followers” of our journey without risking offense to others who I inadvertently omit to recognize. I trust that you know who you are, and most of all I hope that you know that you are loved by us and that we know who you are. Thank you so very much for your replies, “likes”, comments, and even just silently staying with us.
For those who became a part of our journey, I want to recognize you individually and express our love and appreciation. It is likely that I will forget to mention someone. I apologize in advance for any omissions:
Beginning March 24th, we were guests for 3 days in Puerto Rico of hotelier Eddie Ramirez and his wife. It turned out that he had walked the Portuguese Camino in 2016. He arranged for us to receive Pilgrim Credentials issued by the Asociaciόn de Amigos del Camino de Santiago de Puerto Rico for our Camino. We were reminded by Eddie that, “In life there are no coincidences.
From March 27th to April 10th we sailed aboard the Viking Sea from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain. We met many wonderful travelers and we were wrapped in the luxury of a voyage at its most elegant. This would be in stark contrast to the rest of our journey. Aboard we enjoyed the services of an extraordinary professional staff and we were entertained by very talented young people.
Our needs were meticulously attended to by Augistino and Noni, who were our cabin stewards from Indonesia.
Among the shipboard travelers that we met were Mary and Gary Oesterle from near my hometown in Illinois. We greatly enjoyed their company and we look forward to continuing our friendship into the future.
We arrived in Barcelona on April 10th and during our 3 days in that wonderful city we connected with Neus Santacana and her family. Neus had spent time with us in the 1990’s as a high school exchange student. We met her in Spain during our 2013 Camino and we were thrilled to see her again.
On April 13th we were in Madrid for 3 days. We received a text message from Ron and Lena Meck asking where we were. We first met them during our 2017 journey in Alaska. It turned out that they were also in Madrid! It made for a wonderful chance reunion that I am sure will be repeated in the future, where is to be decided. “In life there are no coincidences!”
On April 16th we traveled by night train from Madrid to Lisbon. In the dining/bar car we met a wonderful young couple, artist Morgane Xenos and restaurateur Jerome Bollom. They had known each other since childhood and it was in adulthood that they discovered that they loved each other. We talked of life from both sides of the mirror, sharing laughter seasoned with wine and olives. Later we would rejoin them in Lisbon. They are special people. We suspect that we will meet again.
On April 19th we toured the Cathedral in Porto. The briefest encounter with two young University of Porto students, Mafalda Lemos and Rita Nogueira, proved to be one of the sweetest and most memorable of our journey. They thought that we were Canadian because we had such big smiles! They had taken our picture and were selling memory booklets at the Cathedral. Understanding that we could not carry the booklet in our backpacks they took it upon themselves to personally package and mail the book to us in the States. They have followed us on Facebook every day since. We hope that they will visit us some day in Kansas City. The world is in good hands with young people such as these!
Our 11 walking days on the Portuguese Camino began on April 20th. Each day included pleasant and memorable encounters with “Hospitaleros” (folks who provide accommodations), wait staff, merchants, and of course Perigrinos (Pilgrims walking the Camino). All contributed to our experience, but some are worthy of special mention.
April 20th was our first day on the Camino and with it came friendship with Kirsti Sergejeff and Sirkka Vikman, two Perigrinas from Finland. We would see them on occasion throughout the Camino.
There was Dortha, an expat from Poland now a citizen of the US residing in Maryland where she is employed as a scientist. Her Camino was cut short by very serious foot blisters that required medical attention. I regret that our last exchange of “Buen Camino!” was a parting without a real prospect for continued communication.
There was Jim, a respiratory therapist from Maine. Jim was tall… how tall was Jim? Tall enough that his feet always hung out over the end of the beds on the Camino. We encountered Jim throughout the Camino as he pursued his search for a bed that fit.
The walk on April 21st brought an encounter with a troop of Portuguese Scouts. These boys and girls ran to us offering a free meal for us to carry with us. They were thrilled to be with us in a picture that I would post the next day on my website.
April 23rd was the day more dear friendships were created. We met and shared dinner with Irène Lässig and her sister Manuela Joseph, women from Switzerland. We shared the Camino with them over the course of a few days and felt a bond that was out of proportion to the time spent together. Irène reflected that perhaps such friendships had their start in another life.
The four of us went to dinner that evening at a charming restaurant near our lodgings in Balugães Portugal.
The owner of the restaurant, Edwardo, projected a strong sense of admiration for me as I sat at table with 3 lovely ladies. He declared me his “Amigo!” and brought me a snifter of his best house brandy, thereafter holding court at our table in Spanish that Irène could thankfully translate.
That same day we met 3 gentlemen from Germany at our lodging. One of them, Sven Münster later befriended Christine while she waited alone for me in Ponte de Lima Portugal. She had gone forward by taxi still recovering from a migraine that resulted from choking on a large insect that decided to fly down her throat. Our path pleasantly intersected with Sven’s throughout the rest of our journey on the Camino.
April 27th was the day that we met more German pilgrims, lots of them! They became the voice of the Camino for me, albeit in German. I pressed my resources from high school German class to the point that I found myself dreaming in the language! There was physician Reiner Vogt and his wife Ina Massing who manages a firm specializing in prosthetic limbs. Faris Abu-Naaj is an internet expert who would later lead a group of people struggling with obesity on a Camino pilgrimage. Stanislaw Mowinski, a German citizen originally from Poland, would stay in touch with us and rejoin us for an afternoon in Berlin.
Then on that day there was Grzegorz Polakiewicz. “Greg” spoke no German, but what made his friendship with all of us remarkable is that he was walking his second Camino with one leg and assisted only by his two crutches. Discussions at table, interpreted by “Stanley” resulted in arrangements for him to travel to Germany where Ina and Reiner would arrange for him to receive a prosthetic leg. I would have called this encounter an amazing coincidence, but I am reminded, “In life there are no coincidences!”
On April 30th a random comment to us from a Canadian couple turned into a nonstop conversation that seemed to transport us across 10 kilometers in the blink of an eye. Tom Shillington and his wife Nanci Burns were our doppelgängers from Ottawa Canada. Each topic revealed a new thing or experience that we had in common. It was uncanny. It is a friendship that extended through the end of the Camino and that we hope will endure long thereafter! (Tom, please see my “PS” at the end of these Acknowledgements.)
I don’t play the guitar and I don’t speak or for that matter sing in Spanish. Yet on May 4th in Santiago we were watching an evening performance outside of the Cathedral by a very talented Mariachi band. As I was videoing the performance one of the guitarists gave me a sly look. A few minutes later he grabbed my smartphone and thrust his guitar into my hands. Overcome by the “moment” I began my one (and probably only) stint as a Mariachi band member. The guitarist continued to video, capturing my “moment” about 2 minutes into the video. Christine laughed so hard that she almost passed out. This is a link to that most memorable performance.
Our walk on the Camino ended on May 3rd and we departed Spain, bound for Ireland on May 6th. May 8th and we arrived in Waterford Ireland for our pre-planned meeting with longtime friends from Wales United Kingdom, Huw and Nina Thomas. It had been 11 years since we last embraced but the bonds of friendship melted away the years that parted us. We spent the next 5 days on a wonderful tour of Ireland with these dear friends.
Upon parting with Huw and Nina we continued our wanderings through Ireland and Northern Ireland, departing for Scotland by ferry on May 18th. Our next memorable encounter was with a most remarkable family in Glasgow Scotland. It was there in a restaurant that I was approached at the bar by Garry Clifford, his oldest son Sean, and their friend John Curran. After a brief conversation they treated us to drinks… for the rest of the evening! Garry’s wife Kathleen, Sean’s wife Julie, and John’s wife Carol completed this impromptu gathering of Scotland hospitality at its best. Within 24 hours we were all Facebook friends and the 6 of them have since followed our journey. We look forward to the day that Garry and Sean may stop in Kansas City as they pursue their dream to cross the USA on Harley Davidsons. Of course, we hope to welcome the rest of this wonderful crew into the hospitality of our home!
On May 20th we traveled by train to Fort William in Scotland’s northwest Highlands. Our host in an Airbnb adjoining her home was Shana. I mention her because she graciously met us in the rain upon our arrival at the train station and drove us to her home. She did our laundry, twice! She prepared a traditional Scottish breakfast for us on the day of our departure together with sandwiches for later in the day. We met her mother and her son. Her hospitality made us feel that we were much more than boarders.
We were in Edinburgh on May 28th when we had a prearranged meeting for lunch with “Mickey” Ferguson, the granddaughter and daughter of longtime friends from the legal community in Kansas City. She and her boyfriend, Ben Wright, are students at the University of Edinburgh. Mickey is studying archeology and is looking forward to participation in excavations this summer. Both of these young folks impressed us as smart, talented, and very personable. I will say again that the world is in good hands if left with young people such as these!
In 2013 we walked the French route of the Camino de Santiago. In the course of that 820km pilgrimage we met many like-minded people and established a number of enduring friendships with folks from around the world. Among them was Jacobien Ubbink of the Netherlands. On May 29th Jacobien invited us as guests into her home near Amsterdam. We met her family and enjoyed her personal guidance through the sights of Amsterdam. We are grateful to have had the opportunity to spend time once again with this good lady.
We learned on May 31st that while we were touring the Rijksmuseum with Jacobien on the previous day another friend from the 2013 Camino, Henk Kaspers, was at the museum as well. It saddens us that we missed this opportunity to see this good man and his wife. This same missed opportunity occurred during our April 7th tour of the German Reichstag in Berlin. We learned the following day that another dear friend from the 2013 Camino, Gabi Pfauth, had been there that day.
During our 2013 Camino we met a pilgrim from Colorado, Kris Ashton. A friendship of such proportion developed that over the next 5 years she and Christine would refer to each other as “sisters”. That friendship expanded to Kris’ husband, Dennis Waite. We have since spent time with them in Colorado and as recently as this last February they were guests in our home. Kris and Dennis visited Fort William Scotland mere days after we were there. On May 30th, while hiking on the Isle of Skye, Dennis became the victim of a tragic accident, falling to his death from a trail. The loss of this friend and the devastating impact on his wife Kris profoundly directed our thoughts over the remaining course of our journey.
On June 4th a dear friend from my journey through adolescence passed away after a lengthy illness. Dean Ortinau welcomed me into my new high school as a mid-year freshman transfer. He was an established “native” of my new community and welcomed me as if we had been friends throughout childhood. Our adult friendship built upon those early roots.
In the passages of Dennis and Dean I am reminded that life is temporary, life is a lottery. Don’t put off until tomorrow the things that you may then find you are no longer able to do. They never did.
During a 1991 vacation in France we met an extraordinary young lady who was then 14 years old. We maintained contact with her and were thrilled to again see her over a quarter of a century later. On June 1st Bryony Ulyett greeted us as we exited our train from Amsterdam to Brussels Belgium. She gave us her weekend, accompanying us in our visits to both Brussels and Antwerp. Friendship is timeless.
During the 1995-96 school year we hosted an exchange student from Slovakia. Svetlana Rosinova went on marry Milan Rosina, make their home near Bratislava, and bring 2 darling children into the world. She also established herself as a psychologist treating troubled children. On June 4th she and her husband welcomed us as guests into their home. She still refers to us as “Mom and Dad” and we in turn feel great pride in the accomplishments of our Slovak daughter and her family. We look forward to the day that they may visit us in Kansas City.
On June 7th we arrived in Berlin Germany where we were greeted by our first high school exchange student “son”, André Lieber. André spent the 1992-93 school year in our home. He now works for the German Ministry of Finance and is fluent in 6 languages which include Japanese and Chinese. André met his Japanese wife Asuka while they were both studying Chinese in Beijing. They have established their home in Berlin where they are raising their 2 children who primarily speak Japanese to mom, German to dad, and are learning English. We remain “Mom” and “Dad” to André and will forever treasure the time that we spent with him and his family in Berlin.
On June 11th we exchanged a tearful farewell with André and his family in Berlin for a joyous 4-day reunion with our 1994-95 high school exchange student “daughter” Hege in Oslo, Norway. Hege remains as full of joy and childlike wonder as she did nearly 25 years ago. Moreover, in her husband Jan-Cato she has succeeded in finding a soulmate who has the same zest for life. She and her husband, together with their 3 children, have established their home 40 minutes outside of Oslo. They are both elementary school teachers and we are left with no doubt that they are held dear in the hearts of their students and co-workers. As I am writing this I am receiving text message updates from Hege regarding their travels on vacation in the United States. We eagerly look forward to their arrival in our home in just a few days.
I have left for my final recognition the most important person on this Journey. On June 19th, while traveling in Iceland, Christine and I celebrated 41 years of marriage. We have known each other for better and for worse, while richer and poorer, in sickness and in health. Through it all we continue to love and cherish each other as we once promised 41 years ago.
Upon his return to Ottawa Canada from the Camino and European Journey with his wife Nanci, my friend Tom Shillington sent me a message. He cautioned that returning home after such a journey is like rising to the surface from a deep-sea dive. One risks suffering “the bends” if one does not take time to “decompress”. I now reply: Tom, the time that I have spent recounting the people that we met and the friendships that we made is therapy. I highly recommend it my friend!