The arrival home was certainly better than the travel, which, I'm sure, is what my parents were banking on. I am pretty certain they were in a big hurry to get me away from my previous life, and get me back into my old life. Which, to various degrees, is exactly what happened. It was the beginning of August by now, and with a month or so of "free time" I was generally left to my own devices for a while. I spent that time catching up with friends, and generally hanging out. My brother and I rejoined the old softball team we had left behind a year previous, and we entered a late summer tournament. The tournament functioned as a friend-reunion on a larger scale, as I knew MANY of the players on the other teams. One of those teams was made up of guys I knew from a particular part of town. (I had spent a good potion of my tenth grade year skipping school and hanging out at their high school with my then-girlfriend who also went to that school.) I knew many of them very well.
On the Saturday that the tournament ended, I was invited to go to a Bilbo Baggins Birthday Party, and there were many friends there. At one point several of us ended up piling into a car and heading out to a local A&W drive-in for hamburgers and frosty-mug root beer. (Remember those?? The good old days, for sure....) I ended up striking up a conversation with a girl who was next to me in the back seat of one of the cars, and she seemed fun and bubbly and we had a good time. Over the next several days we saw each other several times, and she told me that the tournament we played in was actually named after her grandfather, who was a popular local umpire.
There was lots happening for me at this time. I was getting at least one letter a week from Joanne, and I was writing about one a week as well. We talked a bit on the phone as well, but that wasn't exactly convenient as cell phones would not be invented for some time to come yet, and we didn't even have a cordless phone. So a private conversation was not to be had at all. So we wrote. Also at this time, I had dutifully submitted my application to become a Mormon missionary - again, as expected of me. And, for some reason, I was interested in seeing this other girl with whom I had had some fun with at the birthday party. So, I was a little conflicted. Joanne had told me to do my duty and that she would wait for me to get back, and I told her I would come back for her.
I received a call to serve an 18 month mission to Denmark, where my father's family is from, and my family could not have been more thrilled, for all sorts of reasons, most of which you could probably guess. I was to check into the training center on November 15th (or so - can't quite remember now...), but I do know I was to spend both American Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years in the missionary training center, and would leave for Denmark in the middle of January, after having spent two months learning to speak Danish.
(A quick aside here: I was one of very few who was actually called for, and served, an 18 month mission. The 18 month call was put into place only a few months before I served, and it was rescinded only a few months after my mission began. Depending on how many months you had been out, you could choose how long to stay, either 18 or 24 months, but I didn't fall into any of those categories, and I served for 18 months.)
The day I got the letter in the mail sending me to Denmark, I called that girl I had spent some time with, and we went out that evening. Upon my return from that "date", my mother was waiting for me in the kitchen, with baited breath, wanting to tell me how thrilled she was that I was seeing a good LDS girl, and how wonderful it was that I was doing all the things a good mormon boy should be doing, and, and, and... Looking back, I can tell by my behavior from here on out that I was willing, if not eager to please my parents and do the things they wanted me to do.
We saw each other pretty much every day between then and the day I left for Salt Lake City, and then Denmark. That time period was 6 weeks.
Over that six week period, I still got letters from Joanne, and I sent some too. Every time one would arrive for me, my mother would hand it to me, giving me a lecture about what I needed to do, and when. However, doing that would require that I acknowledge the idea that I was subscribing to what they wanted me to do, and that I was a conformer to their ideas for me. That wasn't something I was particular ready to give in to.
Anyway, I got off to the missionary life, and arrived in Denmark in the middle of January. They had warned us that it would be dark and cold. But seriously, I was from Canada, and it would be no big deal. How truly wrong I was!! I remember arriving in Copenhagen along with the other four or five missionaries, and we spent our first night in the basement of the mission office, which was also where all the office missionaries lived, about 6-8 of them. The basement was reserved for new missionaries, or ones that would be going home in the next couple of days. Anyway, I remember laying there, unable to sleep, listening to the weird sirens, and lots of noise that accompanied the downtown of a big city reluctant to sleep.
After a couple of days, we were each shipped to our individual areas, and I was assigned to a nice missionary who was from Pocatello, Idaho, and our area was a suburb of Copenhagen. I won't bore you with missionary stories, except for one: I can remember waking up in the little missionary apartment, which was really just the attic of a house, early in that January, and I can remember sitting on the side of my bed, cold, dark outside (I felt like I had not seen the sun in days - in reality, it only shone for about 5 hours per day at that point in the year...), and very lonely. I remember thinking that I had made a very horrible series of very bad mistakes, and I was way out of my element. I couldn't understand a single word anyone said to me, and I felt 100% alone. It was very difficult.
Things did get better for me, as I began to understand the dialects of the cities where I was stationed, and I began to get my feet under me. The cold was this horrendous, wet cold, that, no matter what you wore, went through you and cut to the bare skin. Being from a landlocked area, I wasn't used to the humidity, and the combination of that and the cold was about all I could bear. It seemed like my feet were cold for months straight.
I was getting letters form Joanne, and now too from Kathy. Joanne had sensed that there was a distance between us that wasn't about miles. And in her letters she always said that if I would follow my heart, I would come back for her when I returned. And of course, being the stupid boy I was, I responded by stopping writing to her altogether, as opposed to just telling her I was either GOING to come and get her, or that I WASN'T. That, apparently, was too difficult for me to do - I was too cowardly to give her at least that courtesy. My parents droned on about how thrilled they were with Kathy, that she was waiting for me to come home, that they were having her out to the house, spending time with her, that she had started knitting me something, etc. She had become a part of the family, and they were totally thrilled with the entire scenario.
I suppose one would have to understand the LDS mindset in this regard to understand the pressure here: as a missionary, the last thing they tell you when they send you home from wherever you are, is that you are to get home and your next calling is to get married pronto, and have kiddies. And this is generally the situation today - I've now seen this from the other side of the fence as well, as I've previously served in church government positions before I left the church.
So there's the missionary part. Generally, it went swimmingly well, and I had moderate success, and held various leadership positions while I was there. And the letters telling me to follow my heart.
(That's it for the missionary parts, and things pick up speed from here - I promise...)