When it came for our family to travel, it quickly became obvious that airfare for a family of five on a missionary budget was prohibitively expensive. That could only mean one thing: road trips. Our trips were planned out with three goals in mind: seeing the sights, stopping to see old friends and supporters, and reaching our destination. Our longest road trip was to visit our Grandparents’ house in Chicago. Packing up our grey diesel Oldsmobile Custom Cruiser station wagon, we headed out east of Los Angeles. After several hours on the road we approached Death Valley and Dad asked us to roll down our windows slightly. “I’m turning off the air conditioner so that the car doesn’t overheat going through the valley” he said. As we sat three kids across in the back of the now sweltering car, the arguments started. My brother, sitting to my left, had a regular habit of what is now described as “manspreading,” where he would sit with his legs wide open. For me in the middle seat, I would then have to move my legs to the right side of the car where my sister would have her space taken up. For whatever reason, the greatest source of arguing in the car was always my brother’s spread legs which after several years, hundreds of discussions and several fireman drills to switch people around, never seemed to have any lasting effect. Fortunately, before we killed each other, Mom and Dad had arranged a steady stream of sight-seeing adventures. First was the Joshua Tree National Park, where you could see great vistas of arid rocks and scraggly looking trees which would have been at home in a Dr. Seuss book. Then there was the Arizona Meteor Crater, a vast hole in the earth some 3,900 feet across from where a nickel-iron meteorite 160 feet across hit the desert. They had a small museum where you could see a massive Swiss-cheese looking chunk of the meteorite that made the 570-foot-deep crater. There were a couple of viewing areas, but I remember being disappointed that you were not allowed to climb down inside of the crater, nor were you allowed to go hunting for meteorite fragments along the crater rim. We leaned over the side of a wind beaten platform to see the view, as I thought about what a massive hole was made by such a small space rock. Next up was the Petrified Forest National Park, where you could see great vistas of arid rocks and old trees that had turned to stone. At the gift shop you could buy a tiny piece of petrified tree mounted on a wood base and bronze plaque – the perfect souvenir. And just to the south of that was the Painted Desert, where you could see conical mounds of multicolored rocks and amazing geological formations. The small gift shop there sold glass vials filled with different colored dirt from the area, forming a rainbow in a bottle. Heading east, we travelled to Oklahoma, where my Dad had pastored a small church and where I was born but never knew. Stopping at the house of some of my parents’ old friends, I was able pick real strawberries growing on plants for the first time. After a time of chatting, the older couple took our family out to dinner at an all you can eat buffet. I was wary this time, not just because of my last experience with a buffet, but also because honestly, this food did not look that good. There were lumpy dry mashed potatoes, veggies that looked rubbery and wilted from hours under a heat lamp and the star of the show, a man who was hand-carving pieces of fatty and bloody prime rib onto peoples’ plates. At this point in life, I had had dozens of experiences having to eat food that was not so appealing, and was well versed in being grateful for everything we received. But that didn’t prevent us kids from getting in the car after leaving and talking about the food, and in rare cases, having a second dinner at McDonalds afterwards. With all of the excitement seeing the sights at the beginning of the trip, I can hardly remember anything else. We toured different sights in Chicago, met with family members and were thoroughly in need of a vacation from each other after the three day straight shot drive home.
While our family could not afford to go to any fancy summer family camps, my parents were sometimes invited to be guests and speakers at one. My most memorable camp visit was at the Forest Home Campground, where my parents had been invited as guests by the Chinese Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canoga Park (CCAC) – a frequent and important sponsor of our family over the years. Located in the San Bernardino National Forest east of Los Angeles, the camp reminded me the camp from the movie “Parent Trap,” where parents of kids with monogrammed luggage would go. While it was billed as a family camp, the camp had separate programs for adults, and kids of different ages – meaning that parents got a break from their kids and siblings got a break from each other. Each afternoon there was an hour or two set aside for family time, but normally it was just a quick check in. “I’m fine, I’m fed, I’ve gotta go.” My sister was in a horse camp where they learned to ride and care for horses, and my age group was assigned an Indian themed experience, complete with sleeping in a teepee. The first day of camp was spent coming up with a team name, a team chant and a team dance, all of which were performed in front of the other teams that afternoon and judged. Throughout the week each team could earn “arrowheads”, which counted as points. At the end of the week, the team with the most number of arrowheads was declared the winning team with gloating rights and prizes. Each day was packed full of activities from canoe races on the private lake to scavenger hunts. Each afternoon there was some free time where you could choose your activity or simply take a break and relax. And come evening, there were meetings around a campfire for hymns, a Bible lesson and skits. The most exciting feature of the camp was a long balloon sitting on top the lake with a ladder and platform at one end. After waiting your turn in line, you would climb up the ladder, position yourself on the platform and jump the ten feet or so down to the floating balloon below. Assuming you didn’t slip off after landing, you would then crawl your way down to the end of the balloon and take a seat with your feet dangling off the edge. When you were ready, you would signal the person on the platform to jump off, which would cause you to go flying in the air. On the last afternoon of camp I can remember sitting on the edge of the lake, happily enjoying my own attempted creation of a big mac from the outdoor barbecue, watching the teenagers having a competition to see who could fling who the highest into the air on the giant balloon. The formula did not take long to figure out –a tiny person waiting to be launched and large person jumping from the platform equaled tiny person flying off the balloon, flailing and splatting across the lake. It was great entertainment – for those watching at least. Then, after a week of camp counselors loosely enforcing personal hygiene standards, our troop of boys were ushered to the locker room for showers, a good teeth brushing and clean clothes in preparation for our return to our parents. By the end of the week, all of the people in our family had a well needed break from each other and our own memories and experiences to share and take home. Out of all of our memories during our time on our extended furlough, this experience was one of our favorites, and all made possible by the generosity of our brothers and sisters in Christ going far above caring for our basic needs.
The other camp I remember going to was Pinecrest camp in Arkansas. Dad was invited to be a guest speaker, so we headed off on another long road trip through the Southwest and into tornado alley. As we were driving through Oklahoma we noticed some very strong thunderclouds forming, their anvil shaped heads stretching far into the sky with their black bottoms dropping a deluge on the cornfields below. As we drove along, we started to enter the darkness of the storm clouds. The winds started gusting and we kids were asked to be quiet as Dad worked to keep the car driving straight and between the lines amid the gusts of wind. Then the rains started to fall, coming down and quickly obscuring the view so you could hardly see the tail lights of the car in front of you. Mom was getting nervous and stated that “this was getting too dangerous, not being able to see anything,” and asked Dad to pull over to the side of the road. About that time, the rain changed to hail as white sheets of ice, half the size of a dime started pelting everything. The roof of the car sounded like it was a metal drum being played by 100 kindergartners. Dad pulled the car over just as the car in front of us pulled over as well. As we sat there, still, watching the car being wind whipped, ice pelted and showered, we observed a cloud going over our car. It was the start of a funnel cloud, fifty feet across, spiraling down from the dark cloud base, fifty feet above our car and halfway between the cloud and the ground. I can remember holding my breath as I watched it spiral from the left of our car, over the road, and disappear into the darkness on our right side. Shortly after, as the hail disappeared and the rain started to let up, the traffic in front of us began to move again, we moved, too. As we drove away Dad commented “Fairly exciting” – a quote from back in my Dad’s Navy days when a potentially disastrous situation was narrowly averted. As missionary kids, we spent time in many different churches or camps around the globe – each with their own flavor of Christianity. From deeply conservative groups to the more Pentecostal, they were all different. I found it interesting how each group held its own viewpoint on religious and social issues so strongly. Shifting from church to church was therefore sometimes theologically confusing – especially for the intellect of a ten-year-old boy. In car rides home from different churches we would discuss the differences between what this church or that church did and believed, with my attention span fading out when words with too many syllables appeared: reformation, ecumenical, existentialism, soteriology. So while our experience at Forest Home Christian Camp was what I would consider normal, our experience at the next Christian camp, Pinecrest Camp in Arkansas was much more conservative. They had a camp dress code, separate swimming hours for boys and girls, strict curfews, and a greater emphasis on Bible study times. That’s not to say it wasn’t still a fun camp though. It was situated in the Ozark National Forest among tall, densely spaced pine trees and dark wood cabins. There was no lake, but there was a pool with limited hours for swimming each afternoon. Each day was filled with Bible lessons, crafts, games and an afternoon free time. My main memories of the camp centered around the evening activities. One evening after the sun had set, we slowly waded out into the tall grasses armed with glass jars and waited. Slowly, there was a slow, faint, green blinking that would appear on the grass strands or floating in the air. It was the first time that I had ever seen fireflies. We set out in search to capture them in our jars, made difficult by their awareness of our presence and lack of glow when close by. After half an hour of searching, our group had found and captured around a dozen of them and stood silent and still while we watched their abdomens intermittently shine with light. Another evening, there was a movie night where they showed Iron Will, a movie about a boy that needed money to solve his family troubles and chose to join a long-distance dog sled race. It was a riveting movie, but at the end, the death of the lead dog and the boy’s best friend was heartbreaking. I am sure there was a moral to it all but all I felt at the time was two days of grief. While most of our family was busy participating in camp activities, my sister had contracted chicken pox and had been isolated to her cabin with a pile of Nancy Drew books. When the camp ended, we needed to head back home to Pasadena, resulting in me sitting tightly next to my sister for the next two days. Mom, Dad and my brother had already had their turn contracting the disease, but I had not. Hour after hour, we applied dabs of Calamine lotion to each raised spot as I incessantly told my increasingly irritable sister to keep away from me and to “stop scratching, stop scratching, stop scratching.” Despite my best attempts to keep my distance, I was well aware of my imminent fate and by the second day of our drive home, the first small spots started to appear on my own skin. Finally arriving back home, my sister disappeared to her room for a well needed recovery period while I waited for the full outbreak of spots to appear on my body. After two days of passing, I had only had a dozen or two spots and by the end of the week, all of them had disappeared. Apparently, I had a very mild case, to which my sister was not pleased with the comparative unfairness of our illnesses.
On shorter trips, our family would be invited out to spend a weekend with a family and attend a service on Sunday the next morning. One such trip was out to Big Bear Lake – a resort community located in the mountains east of Riverside. We were always unsure of exactly what kind of housing to expect, but when we got there, we saw a large beautiful log cabin. Our hosts were gracious and later in the afternoon, they took us out fishing on their nice motor boat out on the lake. Each of us kids excitedly got a chance to drive the boat, catch a few fish and watch the process of getting the boat in and out of the water. That night we had a lovely home cooked dinner served with the fish we had caught earlier in the day. The next morning, my parents spoke to the congregation of the small but involved church with a short time of fellowship afterwards. The whole experience was such a blessing and felt more like a vacation than work.
Each year the C&MA, had a conference to talk about issues pertaining to missionaries and missions. Since a missions conference isn’t the best place for kids to hang around, Mom and Dad loaded us three kids onto a plane, unaccompanied, to fly to our Grandparents’ house in Chicago. I was excited about the prospect of flying again, especially without my parents, but less excited that my parents had made it clear that my brother would be in charge, and I needed to listen to him particularly. In those days, flying was an adventure—peanuts and soft drinks, followed by interesting foods and stainless steel silverware wrapped in little white napkins. We listened to music on the ear phones or watched the movie from screens placed every few rows. Our parents had let us pick out candies we liked from the grocery store before we had left, and I chose my usual – Sprees and Sweetarts. When the stewardess (they were called that back then, and yes, they were all female), came by to ask what we wanted to drink, I asked for a ginger ale and then plunked one colored Spree into the soda. A few minutes of light fizzing later, my drink had turned whatever color the Spree had been and now had a candy as a treat sitting at the bottom. My young self was proud of my colored ale, but given the questionable glances of the nearby adults, it was much more exciting to me than anyone else. During our stay in Chicago, Grandpa was going to be busy with work at the McDonalds headquarters, so we knew were going to be spending a lot of time with Grandma. She was a country girl, a good shot with a rifle, and an expert on plants, animals and most things nature. In the back of their house in the suburbs was a large garden where she tended her flowers and vegetables and in front of the house was a green space stretching several blocks. Nearby was a play structure made out of redwood logs. One afternoon while playing, I accidently ran my hand along the grain of the wood and lodged a ¼” redwood splinter into the palm of my hand. I calmly walked over to Grandma, pointed it out and asked if she could take it out. “Oh dear” she calmly said in the voice distinctive of a grandma. “Let’s go take care of that.” Arriving back home, she asked me to sit down in the bathroom, walked in, and locked the door behind her. “That’s curious” I can remember thinking to myself. Grandma then opened the door to the small white painted metal medicine cabinet hanging on the wall and removed a single new straight blade razor from its brown paper package. Approaching me with a gleaming razor in hand, I lost it. “Wait! Wait! Wait! Where are the tweezers? You know, I can get it out myself, it’s fine” I protested. With her free hand, she grabbed my wrist, looked me straight in the eye and said “Now if you don’t want to get cut, don’t move.” I froze. With one painless stroke, she slid the blade over the splinter, and used the blade to gently lift the splinter from my finger. “Now that’s better, isn’t it?” she said while smiling. Mental note. Don’t mess with my Grandma. She will cut you (really)! Over the next several days, we went sightseeing all over Chicago. I remember seeing the thinly sliced bodies at the Museum of Science of Industry (you can look it up), the view from the top of the Sears Tower and visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo. Grandma had given each of us kids $20 to spend as we saw fit. What a luxury!! I was particularly amazed by these machines at the Lincoln Park Zoo that would create colored wax molds of different species of animals right in-front of you. For only a dollar each, the machine would spray hot wax into a mold, cool the wax with water and eject the still-warm animal shape into a chute. I remember getting at least two or three of them before I couldn’t carry any more (and Grandma’s dissuasion not to buy anymore). The rest of the week I played with them in the bathtub (they float!) until the point that the hollow wax creations had fallen to pieces. With the remainder of my money, Grandma took us to a large toy store, a veritable wonderland that my parents would have been wary of entering. For $10, I found an automated piggy bank that you dump your change into and it would sort the coins and drop each denomination into a fitting brown paper sleeve. I don’t know why I thought that I needed such an item, but it seemed a sound and grown up decision at the time. After a week of sightseeing Chicago and spending time with our Grandparents, our stay was over and Grandma took us to the airport for our return flight to Los Angeles. She helped us check in, check our luggage and see us to our gates. On the flight home, there were more oddly colored soft drinks and questionable glances from those around as us kids talked, giggled and laughed from our experiences.
In the third year of our stay in Los Angeles, Grandpa retired and my Grandparents moved from Chicago back to their roots in Oregon. They had chosen to build a custom home in a new development called Sunriver. The vision for the location was grand with roundabouts instead of intersections, forested green space between neighbors, its own mall, a vacation lodge, miles of bike paths, two golf courses, community pools and parks, a marina, a stable, an observatory, and even its own private airport. The first time that we visited my grandparents there, their house was in a far-off cul-de-sac with hardly a neighbor around. They had always appreciated nature and loved their new home. Deer, raccoons and squirrels became their friends and it provided a perfect base camp for their adventures to the nearby lakes, mountains and towns. My main memory of visiting them at the time was the trip up there itself. The trip from Pasadena up to Sunriver was a solid twelve hours of driving – with time added for meal or potty breaks. Being on a limited budget, our family would often tackle the trip in one straight shot, leading to a fifteen hour day stuck in the back seat of our station wagon. On one trip, Dad had packed up the back of our station wagon full of bags and kids, ready to head out, when the starter failed. Our wood paneled Oldsmobile station wagon was notorious for eating through starters, but the timing of its failure was inopportune. After messing with the starter and finally getting it to work, we made the long trek without ever stopping the car. It ran idle while getting fuel, while we ate our meals and while we stopped at rest areas. But we finally made it. Normally arriving late into the evening, we kids would be both excited to have arrived and tired from the cramped quarters and long drive. After hugs and hellos, we would carry our bags up to the house’s attic, find our beds and fall asleep. In the morning, we would awaken to the beauty of a sunlit wood cabin – with the framing made out of natural shaved wood beams, logs and dowels. Upstairs were two bedrooms, a bathroom and a fully finished attic above the garage where we stayed. Walking downstairs, there was an open living room with a wood pellet stove, a long dining table, a well-equipped kitchen and a sunroom off to the side with a T.V. where Grandma usually played “Good Morning America” (GMA) all morning. Grandma had already set the table and prepared a variety of breakfast options – waffles, cereal, orange juice and the like. The days then set into a rhythm of relaxing and activities. Around the house, I would normally entertain myself by reading magazines, watching GMA or listening into my parent’s conversations. Grandpa was an avid reader of Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines – and had complete paper collections of both in the garage. Later in the day, we would get in the car and head out to do an activity: visit the Sunriver mall, canoe the Deschutes River, fish at a nearby lake or go swimming at the community pool. This was decades before Central Oregon became the popular and fast growing adventurer’s playground it is today. I remember those days fondly when the homes were widely spaced, places were uncrowded and the whole area was more pristine.
Summers were filled with other activities as well. We would ride our bikes at the “Hill Park”, frequent the model shop on Colorado and spend hours in the comic book store. Uncle Bob would come up from Riverside and we would feast at The Good Earth, The Islands or at Baker’s Square. We went camping in the hills above Pasadena and hiked Mt. Baldy. But one of my favorite activities was taking a trip down to the community pool. Having only a few swimming lessons in South Korean, our parents enrolled each of us in swimming classes through the American Red Cross down at the Pasadena High School. Once a week we would go down and practice our swimming lessons – winning a little badge for each level of swimming we completed. I can remember how difficult it was to learn skills from the higher-level classes, such as the side stroke, the back stroke and being able to tread water for fifteen minutes without touching anything. On other days, we would visit the pool during recreational swim times and enjoy playing with the other kids. There was a separate diving pool which had three springboards as well as a tall, dangerous looking diving platform. There were two levels of diving boards; the first was at 16 feet and the second at 25 feet. My pool friends (any kids my age that I just met) would egg each other on to dive from the high platform. At the start of the summer I was content to jump off the lower platform vertically, entering the water feet first as if cutting into it like a knife. Then I tried diving off head first and got comfortable entering the water hands first. Last, I learned to roll my toes over the edge of the platform, squat down and roll myself forward – doing a tight flip before untucking and hitting the water feet first. With my confidence raised and the end of the summer swimming season drawing to a close, I decided that it was time to try diving off of the higher diving platform. First it was feet first, only having chickened out twice before raising the courage to leap into the water far below. Next it was hands first, which I succeeded doing, but did not feel comfortable repeating. And last came the flip. I took two deep breaths, bent my toes over the edge of the platform, squatted down and rolled forward. Coming out of my tuck, I realized that I had over rolled with the higher distance. Around the pool side I could hear gasps as I hurled towards the water with my back parallel to the water. Landing, there was a loud splat followed by a loud shout of “ooooouuuuuhhhhhh” audible under the water. Stunned, in pain, and under water, I slowly swam my way over to the pool ladder, hugged it for awhile and didn’t move. When I finally felt like moving again, I climbed out of the pool and walked stiffly and red backed to the corner of the pool area where I could wipe my tears anonymously. While I did return to the high dive, it was only to jump feet first from then on – my career in being a professional diver effectively over.
We were grateful for all of the fun times that we got to travel, meet new people, and spend time together as a family. These times were a welcome break from the busy schedules of studying and ministry my parents had during the rest of the year. After all, our extended furlough was not just for fun, but to give my parents the time they needed to equip themselves for returning to ministry overseas.
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One thought on “Furlough Summers ”
Well done, Joel! So fun to read. Love you, Moma