October 15-19, 1997.  Trying to figure out if I can graduate in June. (#149)

The weather in Jeromeville for most of October was typically what I could consider perfect.  Days were sunny, with afternoon temperatures in the 80s, still warm enough to be outside, but the nights were cool, so the days did not get blisteringly hot like they did in July and August.  I was still wearing shorts to class during the third full week of fall quarter, and I had some free time on that Wednesday afternoon, so I sat outside on the Quad.  I brought another book with me to campus in addition to my textbooks, and I was looking through this book when I saw Carrie Valentine walking toward me, coming from the direction of the library and headed toward the flagpole.  I waved, but she was not looking in my direction, so I quickly put my hand down, not wanting to look awkward.  I nervously watched as she approached and waved again when she turned her head toward me.  She stepped off the path and walked toward me.

“Hey, Greg,” Carrie said, smiling.  She put her bag down and sat on the grass facing me.  “Can I hang out here?”

Yes, I thought.  Of course you can.  It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve actually gotten to talk to you, and I’ll never make you fall in love with me if we don’t talk more often.  But all I said out loud was, “Sure.  What’s up?”

“I’m meeting with my Kairos leader,” Carrie explained.  “But I’m early.”

“You’re in Liz’s group, right?”

“Yeah!”

“We were in the same dorm as freshmen.  She was across the hall, one down from me.”

“That’s cool!  Whose Bible study are you in this year?”

“Joe Fox and Lydia Tyler.  The group is so huge, we usually read the Scripture together and then break up into three smaller groups.”

“How big is it?”

“Usually around twenty-five.”

“Twenty-five!  Why so many?”

“Honestly, I think it’s because, with all the Kairos groups, and all the specialized Bible studies for certain groups of people, there was only one group left for all the rest of us.”

“Interesting.  You couldn’t be in a Kairos group?”

“The Kairos ministry is for training future leaders.  You have to be asked to be in a Kairos group, and they don’t invite seniors.  Unless you’re leading a group as a senior and you were in one before, like Liz.”

“I see,” Carrie replied.  “Hmm.”

I decided not to share my exact thoughts about Jeromeville Christian Fellowship’s Kairos ministry, since Carrie was part of a Kairos group.  As I was thinking about what else to say, Carrie broke the silence and asked, “What are you working on?  Is that the course catalog?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I was trying to figure out if it’s possible for me to graduate at the end of this year, what classes I still need to take, stuff like that.”

“That’s exciting!  What are you doing after graduation?”

“I’m going to be a teacher.”

“That’s so cool!”

“I’m still trying to figure out if I’ll do my teacher certification through Jeromeville, or Capital State, or somewhere else.  I know Jeromeville’s program is one year, and it’s only fall through spring.  If I graduate in June, then I’ll be able to do that, but if I don’t graduate until December of ’98, then I’ll either have to wait until the fall of ’99 to start student teaching, or see if anyone has a program where I can start in the winter.”

“I hope you get all that figured out.”

“I got this Graduation Progress Tracker form in the mail last week, I guess they send it to all the seniors.  They list all the graduation requirements and what you’ve done and what you still need.  And I also have some prerequisites for the teacher certification program that I have to be able to fit in.”  I saw a familiar face out of the corner of my eye walk up to the flagpole.  “There’s Liz over there,” I said, pointing.

“Oh, yeah,” Carrie replied.  “I should go.  Good luck figuring that out!  Keep me posted.”

“I will!  Tell Liz I said hi.”  I watched as Carrie got up and walked to the flagpole.  She said something to Liz, who then turned in my direction.  I waved, and both of them waved back.


My new house on Acacia Drive was a quick three minute walk to church, and in addition to Sunday mornings, I was there every Wednesday night as a volunteer with The Edge, the youth group for junior high school students.  Before the students arrived, the leaders met to catch up, go over the events of the upcoming night, and share prayer requests.

“What’s up,” Taylor Santiago said as I approached the group.  I had known Taylor the longest of any of the other Edge leaders; he lived on the floor above me freshman year.  Taylor was also the one who first suggested I get involved with The Edge.

“Not much,” I said.  “I’m just trying to figure out if I can graduate in June.”

“I thought you said you were going to go four years plus one more quarter.”

“I just assumed I had to, with all the math classes I still have to take and the prerequisites for the teacher training program.  But I was looking at stuff earlier, and if I understand correctly, I think I will be able to graduate.  I wanted to take some more of Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes, but I might have to skip those if I don’t want an extremely full class schedule.  They don’t fulfill any requirements at this point.”

“Have you filed your intent to graduate yet?” Noah Snyder asked, having overheard this entire conversation so far.  Noah was the youth group intern, being paid part time by the church to lead The Edge.

“Not yet,” I replied, “but I want to do that in the next few days.  I just hope I understand everything correctly, and that I don’t get to graduation day and someone tells me that I can’t actually graduate, that I have to take more classes.”

“That won’t happen,” Taylor said.  “I’m pretty sure someone will contact you if you file for graduation and you haven’t met the requirements yet.”

“Kathleen Sutton works with the office that handles all that stuff,” Noah added.  “You could probably ask her to look over your form.”

“That’s good to know,” I said.  Kathleen Sutton was a youth group parent; the Suttons occasionally hosted lunch socials for the church college group at their house. Kathleen’s daughter was in The Edge last year, and she had an older son in high school and a younger son in the preteen youth group.  “When I got that Graduation Progress form, it had a number to call.  I’m sure between that person and Kathleen Sutton, I can get all of this figured out.”

“Are you going to stay at Jeromeville for your teacher certification?” Noah asked.

“If I can, I’d like to.  I know the professor who does math education, and I’d be able to stay here and keep working with The Edge.”

“I’m going to stay in Jeromeville, but commute to Cap State for mine.  It’s cheaper, and it just works out better for me.  They have a really good program for elementary school teachers.  I’m not sure what they’re like for high school teachers, though.”

“If staying in Jeromeville ends up too complicated, I’ll look into Cap State too,” I said.  Capital State University was about twenty miles from Jeromeville on the other side of the Drawbridge, and Noah’s mention of their program being cheaper started to give me doubts about my tentative plan.  However, Mom always told me not to worry about money, that we would find a way to pay for things.  My grandmother had started a college savings account for me when I was very young, and with the academic scholarships I had received, we had hardly had to use that money so far.  I would also have to find a way to pay for school if I stayed at UJ for part of a fifth year as an undergraduate, so I would keep that under consideration if any options that did not include graduating in June were still on the table.


When I got home, I went straight to my backpack, in the large bedroom that I shared with my roommate Sean.  Sean was sitting at his desk typing a paper on his computer; a cluster of helium balloons, including one that said “Happy Birthday” and another that had the number “22” written on it in black marker, was rising from the floor next to him, anchored by a weight at the end of a ribbon a few feet long.

“It’s your birthday?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Sean replied.

“I didn’t know that.  Happy birthday!  Did you do anything fun?”

“I went out to dinner with some friends from the wildlife bio major tonight.  We just got back a little while ago.  And I’m flying home tomorrow to spend the weekend with my family.”

“That’ll be nice,” I said, excited for Sean that he will get to see his family, but also excited that I would have the bedroom to myself all weekend, able to flirt with girls on Internet Relay Chat and not worry about someone looking over my shoulder.

I got out my course catalog and the Graduation Progress form.  I had completed my general education requirements and the classes required for everyone regardless of major.  The only requirement remaining was for the major itself, and I needed three more upper-division mathematics classes, including 150B, the continuation of my current abstract algebra class.  With two quarters left, I had plenty of time to take those.  I was limited in which classes I could take, since not all classes were offered every quarter, or even every year.  But I was sure I could find three that would work with my schedule.  Math 150B was offered every year in the winter, and at this point I did not really care what the other two classes would be.

The tricky part would be preparing for the teacher training program.  In my state, universities do not offer education majors; instead, teacher training is a one year graduate program taken after completing a bachelor’s degree.  I would have to reapply to UJ by the end of November, this time as a graduate student applying to the School of Education.  I was missing three classes for that program’s requirements: Educational Psychology, a lecture class offered by the physical education department called Healthful Living, and one more English class of my choice.  I looked up to see which quarters those classes were offered, and I came up with a plan.  In the winter, I would take Ed Psych, Math 150B, and some other math class that I could fit into my schedule, and in the spring, I would take Healthful Living, one more math class, and Fiction Writing for the English class.  Fiction Writing was a lower-division class, but it sounded the most fun and interesting out of all the English options, and I would still have enough total upper-division units to graduate.  Healthful Living was only a two-unit class, so I would need one more class in the spring in order to be a full-time student.  I would be able to take one more of Dr. Hurt’s New Testament classes after all; he taught Christian Theology in the spring.  For the winter, I would have just barely enough units to be a full-time student, so maybe I could look at doing another two-unit internship tutoring at Jeromeville High School, as I had done last spring.

At that moment, something caught my eye at the bottom of the Graduation Progress Tracker.  A few lines of small print at the bottom informed me of a number to call if I had questions.  Apparently, as fourth-year student, I had been assigned to a specific person, the one who had filled out this form, and that person would process my application to graduate, as well as answer any questions I might have.  The lower left corner of the form said, “Completed by,” with a blank for that person to initial, and in that blank were the handwritten initials “KS.”  I remembered Noah’s words a few hours earlier, telling me that Kathleen Sutton worked in the office that processed these forms.  Could Kathleen Sutton be the “KS” who filled out my form?  Did I just happen to get assigned to the one person in that office whom I knew personally?  How many of these graduation processing specialists were there, and what were the chances of that?  It was probably a coincidence; there were plenty of people in the world with the initials K.S.  I had nothing more to do at this point for graduation planning, and I had finished everything I needed to do for tomorrow’s classes, so I went to bed.


I saw the date on Sunday morning’s newspaper; it was my brother Mark’s birthday, sixteen years old now. I reminded myself to call home this afternoon, although I had already sent him a card with a fart joke on it.

I had not yet turned in my application to graduate.  I was nervous.  What if I was not ready to graduate?  I would apparently have my requirements done by the end of the school year, but what if I was misinterpreting the requirements?  And was I really ready to finish my undergraduate time and move on to the next phase?  A few weeks ago, when I thought I would need another quarter or two to graduate, I was looking forward to staying in Jeromeville longer.  Jeromeville was my home now.  I had a community here.  Advanced mathematics was getting weird and abstract, I did not enjoy it as much as I used to, and I was ready to be done with school.  But filing for graduation would bring closer the inevitable day when I would leave Jeromeville and go out into the world.

All of this was still on my mind when I got to church that morning.  The worship team played a fast song to begin the service, and when they played a slow song later, I sat and prayed about these things.  I asked God to give me peace about my plan to graduate at the end of the year and do my student teaching through UJ.  Send me a sign that this is your will for my life, I asked silently.

God often speaks to me through odd coincidences.  Some people have told me that I pay too much attention to this sort of thing, but God knows that it will get my attention.  The sign that I prayed for came quickly, as I was wandering aimlessly on the patio after church mingling with others.  I saw Kathleen Sutton ahead of me in the direction I was walking; she turned and looked at me, and I waved.  “Hello,” I said.

“Greg,” Kathleen replied.  “I’ve been meaning to tell you something.”

“What do you mean?”

“I work in the office that processes graduation applications.  We were doing this year’s Graduation Progress Trackers, and I recognized your name on one of the forms I filled out.”

“Oh, wow,” I said.  Kathleen Sutton was “KS” after all.

“I saw your transcript,” Kathleen continued.  “A 3.9 grade point average, and all As in all those hard math and science classes.  You have a pretty impressive academic record.”

“Thank you,” I replied.

“What are you planning to do after you graduate?”

“I’m going to be a teacher.  I didn’t think about being a teacher until just last year, but I was planning out the rest of my year this year, and I’ll be able to do all the requirements for the teacher certification program before the end of the year.”

“Good for you!  We definitely need good teachers who know their subject matter.  I’m sure you’ll do great.”

“Thanks.  Oh, by the way, if I’m misunderstanding something, and I file for graduation but I don’t actually have all the right classes, will someone let me know?”

“Definitely.  But I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

When I got home, I changed into an old pair of shorts and went to the small shed in the backyard.  Our house only had a covered carport, not a locked garage, so I typically left Schuyler, my bicycle, in the shed.  I had a long ride I would occasionally do around the entire perimeter of the city of Jeromeville, and with the October days getting shorter, I wanted to do my long ride again before it got too cold and gray.  I had sat down once with a ruler and a map and estimated the ride at fifteen miles, and the fastest I had ever completed the ride was just a few seconds short of an hour.  I rode west on Coventry Boulevard across Highway 117, worked my way through the neighborhoods of West Jeromeville, then headed back east on Fifth Street along the row of walnut trees that separated the city of Jeromeville to my left from the university’s agricultural research fields to my right.  After crossing back to the east side of 117, I cut through campus, past the North Residential Area and the Rec Pavilion, and emerging into downtown Jeromeville next to the Death Star building on Third Street.  Although I was trying for record time, pedaling as fast as I could, I slowed down a little bit through downtown, with its many cars, bicycles, and people.  I worked my way to the Cornell Boulevard underpass, still too narrow for its traffic volume, southeast past Murder Burger and across Highway 100.

I had learned quickly as a freshman that I would feel a bit out of place in a university town like Jeromeville with its hippies and extreme politics.  But now, as a senior, I was on a timeline to graduate eight short months from now, and I did not want to leave.  Jeromeville had grown on me.  It was the place where I found friends, and the place where I found Jesus.  I had gotten involved with youth ministry at church and built meaningful connections beyond the campus bubble.  Jeromeville, in all its quirkiness, was home.

I continued along the southernmost neighborhoods of Jeromeville, through the neighborhood where Eddie, John, Xander, and Lars had lived when I first met them sophomore year, and into a section of the Greenbelts where those guys had held the Man of Steel disc golf competition.  I continued east all the way to Bruce Boulevard, the easternmost of Jeromeville’s north-south thoroughfares, and turned to the north.  About a mile north, I crossed back over Highway 100, where a new neighborhood was under construction, rare in a city like Jeromeville where suburban sprawl is so hated.  I turned west on Coventry Boulevard and rode for almost three miles, then turned into the Greenbelts of north Jeromeville, emerging on Maple Drive about half a mile north of my house.  I looked at my watch when I got home: 58 minutes, 57 seconds, a new record for me.

Time moves forward.  Children grow up and become university students, who then go out into the real world and have children of their own.  But, although time was definitely moving forward, maybe I did not have to leave Jeromeville yet.  I would still have one more year at UJ in the teacher training program, so I would be a registered student through June of 1999.  If I did not get into UJ’s program, Jeromeville was close enough to commute to Capital State.  After that, there were plenty of high schools in commuting distance from Jeromeville where I could work; maybe I could even teach at Jeromeville High.  If I did leave Jeromeville eventually, as I would do in 2001, it would happen when the time was right, when I felt ready to move on.


Readers: Did your education and career end up happening according to your plan or projected timeline? Did you even plan these things in advance? Tell me about it in the comments.

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September 25-October 9, 1997. An unexpected performance at the start of the school year. (#147)

The start of the new year at the University of Jeromeville felt a little different this year, because I finally had a well-defined career goal: I was going to teach high school mathematics.  A few years ago, I remember having told people that I could never be a teacher, because of all the politics involved with education.  The professional organizations and labor unions for teachers tended to lean far to the left of most of my political positions.  I just assumed that I would stay in school forever and get an advanced degree in mathematics, unless I thought of something else to do with my life in the meantime.  But after a positive experience last spring helping out in a high school math classroom, and a negative experience last summer doing math research, I had decided not to let politics get in the way of doing something that I would enjoy doing.

School started on a Thursday, as it always did, and as was the case most quarters, Thursday was my lightest day of classes.  I was working as a tutor again this quarter, so hopefully I could schedule lots of tutoring groups and sessions on Thursdays.  My only class that first day was Writing In Education, which met on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the late morning.  I took Advanced Composition as a sophomore, which, combined with the AP English test that I took in high school, satisfied my writing requirement.  I could have taken Writing In Education instead of Advanced Composition, but I did not know two years ago that I would be going into education.  Also, if I stayed at UJ for my teacher training, that program required twelve units of English as a prerequisite, so this class would count toward that.  I could take a fun English class later this year to finish that requirement, if such a class existed.

I took two math classes that quarter.  The first one was Theory of Numbers, which met Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays in the morning.  I walked into the class Friday morning and took a seat on the left side of the room against the wall.  The class met in Younger Hall, in the old part of campus facing the Quad.  This was a classroom with chairs that had writing desks attached, not a lecture hall with fixed seats, but it was a relatively large classroom, holding around sixty students.  Students continued trickling in, and shortly before class began, Sarah Winters walked in and sat in an empty desk on my right.  I smiled and waved.

“Hey, Greg!” she said.

“We finally have a math class together,” I pointed out.

“I know!”

Sarah was another mathematics major, and I had known her since our first week as freshman at UJ.  When we were freshmen, she lived downstairs from me in the same dorm and was also part of the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  She had been part of some of my most memorable moments and adventures, but despite being good friends and having the same major, this was the first, and only, time we ever had a math class together.

The professor, Dr. Alterman, was also at the time the Chair of the Mathematics Department, so I had heard his name around the department a bit .  He was an older man who spoke in a way suggesting that German was his first language.  I was not entirely sure what “theory of numbers” meant; Dr. Alterman explained that it was the study of positive integers.  Number theory dealt with questions involving prime numbers and prime factorizations, modular arithmetic, and divisibility, which quickly built into much more complicated results.  This class sounded interesting so far.  Numbers were something I could easily wrap my head around.

After lunch, I had my other math class, Introduction to Abstract Algebra, in Wellington Hall on the other side of the Quad.  Since this was a required class for all mathematics majors, I recognized many students whom I had had in classes before, including Jack Chalmers, Katy Hadley, and the student formerly known as Andrea Briggs.  Andrea was my first crush at UJ, but I quickly learned that she had a boyfriend, whom she had recently married.  Sarah was not in this class; I wondered why, since it was required.  Although normally a senior class, it is possible to take it as a junior; maybe she had taken it last year.  I never did learn why.

Abstract algebra was once described to me as algebra without numbers.  Abstract algebra studies the relationships between the elements of a set and the operations done to the element, categorizing such relationships so as to show that mathematical structures that are used for quite different purposes can sometimes be very similar.  This sounded fascinating, but difficult to conceptualize.  The professor for that class was Dr. Hess, and he spoke clear English, something unusual among the mathematics faculty at UJ.  I had heard of him before, because he was married to Dr. Thomas, another mathematician at UJ and one of my favorite professors.  I knew of at least one other married couple among the UJ mathematics faculty besides them.  I began looking around the classroom with the fleeting thought that maybe mathematicians were destined to marry each other, and maybe my future wife was in this class.  If so, the girls in class did not give me much hope.  Andrea was married, Katy and I never really seemed to click, and the rest of the girls in this class weren’t very attractive.


I was in University Chorus again this quarter.  Before, chorus had always met Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 12:10 to 1:00, but this quarter the time had moved to only Mondays and Wednesdays, from 4:10 in the afternoon until 5:30.  After going through the procedural first day matters, Dr. Jeffs, the conductor, handed out the syllabus.  “You’ll notice something unusual,” he said.  “On October 9, a week from Thursday, we have a performance.”  A few in the room gasped.  I found “October 9: Waite Hall Dedication” on the syllabus  Waite Hall?  Hall, as in a building on campus?  I knew this campus well from all of my explorations on my bike, and I knew of no Waite Hall.

“The drama building next door is being renamed, in honor of Dr. Cecilia Waite,” Dr. Jeffs explained.  “In 1928, Dr. Waite became the first woman to be offered a tenured faculty position here at the University of Jeromeville, and she will be the first woman to have a building named for her.  Back when UJ was just an agricultural college, Dr. Waite was considered the founder of the  English department.  She was also an accomplished poet, and we will be singing ‘Doors of Learning,’ a piece with lyrics written by Dr. Waite, and music composed by a former professor here in the music department.  We will also sing ‘Hail, dear Jeromeville,’ the UJ alma mater.”

“The ceremony will be an hour long, from 9 to 10,” Dr. Jeffs continued.  “All of the performing arts groups will be at this dedication.  Attendance is mandatory.  So if you have any conflicts with other classes, talk to your professors now.”  I did not.  I would have to run straight from there to English, possibly in my chorus tuxedo, but I would not have to miss class.  And when I filled out my availability to work for tutoring, I had not put 9:00 on Thursdays as an available time slot; I wanted one day of being able to wake up a little bit later, if possible.

“We’ll be practicing these two songs for the first two weeks, then we will move on to the other pieces we’ll be doing for our regular concert in December.”  Dr. Jeffs instructed a few volunteers to pass out sheet music for Doors of Learning and Hail, Dear Jeromeville.

Last year, when I began doing chorus, I learned very quickly that reading sheet music was not my strong point.  I took piano lessons in childhood for a few years, so I knew how sheet music worked, but I was not experienced enough to learn a new song exclusively from sheet music.  Both of the other times I did chorus, the campus store had a CD of the piece we had to learn in the textbook section along with the sheet music, and I learned my part by listening to the recording while singing along from the sheet music.

No such recording existed of Doors of Learning, and by the end of that first rehearsal, it had become obvious that this song would be very difficult to learn.  Having been composed by a professor of music in 1970, it was full of very strange, nontraditional chords,.  The lyrics itself, a poetic description of life at a university, would have some semblance of rhythm if they were spoken without the music, but the strange music seemed to eliminate all traces of rhythm from the poem.

On Wednesday, the next time we met, we began rehearsing Hail, Dear Jeromeville.  This song was much simpler.  The marching band played it at the end of every football and basketball game, so I had heard it before.  It was in the unusual key of D-flat major, which may have made it difficult to play on instruments, but this would not affect me as a vocalist, as long as I knew the starting note.  The chord progression used simple, predictable chords, and the four parts of the chorus sang the song in unison, so there were no strange modern harmonies to adjust to.  Halfway through the class, we switched back to Doors of Learning, but this time we divided into groups, sopranos and altos in one room, and the much smaller group of tenors and basses in the other.  With only two parts of strange harmonies in the room instead of four, it was easier to concentrate on my part without the discordant sounds of all three of the other parts throwing me off.


It had been over three years now since I had graduated from high school, and for all practical purposes, I only had one high school friend left.  It was more difficult to keep in touch in the 1990s, with no social media or texting and long distance phone calls costing money per minute.  Email was a newly mainstream technology, and I had stayed in touch with a few high school friends by email, with varying degrees of frequency.  But as more time passed, the emails from high school friends gradually stopped coming.  Melissa Holmes was the only high school friend I had heard from in the last several months, and she did not write often these days, being very busy with school herself.

Four years ago, I spent much of my senior year of high school in a secret, internally tumultuous attempt to sort out my feelings for Melissa and her apparent lack of feelings for me.  Fortunately, we emerged from that experience still good friends.  Melissa moved to the opposite end of the state for school, where she had grown up and where most of her family was.  I got an email from her over the weekend after classes started, and I wrote her back Monday night, telling her about the very weird music I had to learn for chorus.

She replied about a week later.  


From: “Melissa Holmes” <m.l.holmes@sanangelo.edu>
To: “Gregory Dennison” <gjdennison@jeromeville.edu>
Date: Tue, 7 Oct 1997 10:42 -0700
Subject: Re: hi

Wow, two retreats the same week.  Sounds like a great time!  I’ve never been to either of those places, but I have been to the Great Blue Lake, and it’s so beautiful up that way.

How are your new roommates?  Everyone getting along okay?  I moved into a small studio apartment by myself, a little closer to campus this year.  Classes are keeping me busy.  I haven’t really been doing much else.

I’m glad to hear you’re doing chorus again.  Good luck on that building dedication ceremony.  And you’re right – I got out my guitar and tried playing that weird chord you told me about – it sounds terrible!  Hopefully it sounds better in context, as part of the whole piece.  Let me know how it goes!

-Melissa


It’s good to know I’m not the only one who thinks Doors of Learning sounds strange, I thought, chuckling to myself.  I got out the sheet music again, trying to hear the bass part in my head, focusing only on the notes I would have to sing, hoping that I would be able to sing them with three other parts simultaneously singing notes that did not harmonize naturally to my uncultured ear.


By the time of the performance, Doors of Learning had started to sound a little better to me, and I felt like I had pretty much learned my part.  Melissa was right; the strange chords and harmonies did sound a little better now that we had put all of the parts together and rehearsed the song in its entirety a few times.  The harmonies still felt unnatural to me, but when the song was performed as intended, something just felt like it worked right.

I took the bus to school in my tuxedo on the morning of the building dedication, arriving at the building by 8:45 as I had been instructed.  The drama building, and the recently erected sign bearing the name Cecilia Waite Hall, faced Davis Drive just south of the Quad and southwest of downtown.  Waite Hall was sandwiched between the music building and the art building, neither of which had been named after people yet.  The three buildings faced a paved courtyard with a sculpture in the middle; facing Waite Hall, my back to the street, the music building was to my left and the art building to my right.  Inside was a four-hundred-seat theater, with a hallway to the side leading to classrooms and offices.  A portrait of Cecilia Waite had been added permanently to the lobby.

I went into a door leading to the backstage area, where we had been instructed to meet.  A number of chorus students stood around mingling; I walked up to Scott Madison and Amelia Dye, the newly-engaged couple whom I knew from church.  “How’s it goin’, Greg,” Scott said.

“These are some of the weirdest chords I’ve ever heard,” I said.  “But I think I know my part now.”

Amelia offered reassurance.  “I’m sure you’ll do fine,” she told me.

“And, just think,” Scott added, “if you mess up, there’s lots of other guys you can try to blame it on.”

I laughed.  “Thanks.”

Dr. Jeffs called us to attention, announcing that the ceremony was about to start.  He explained that we would perform Doors of Learning about halfway through the hour-long ceremony, and Hail, Dear Jeromeville at the very end.  When we were not performing, we were to sit silently backstage, so as not to interrupt the speakers and the other performance groups.

From where I was, I could hear everything happening on stage.  The speaker introduced himself, then spoke for a few minutes about Dr. Waite and her contributions to the English department, the dramatic arts department, and the university in general.  When he finished this, I heard him say something that surprised me: “And now, will you please welcome to the stage, Professor Emerita Cecilia Waite!”

As the crowd applauded for Dr. Waite, I realized that it had never occurred to me that she was still alive.  From all that I had heard about her in the last two weeks, I associated her with the early history of the university, since she joined the faculty in 1928.  Dr. Waite spoke for several minutes, after which the master of ceremonies returned to the stage to introduce a brief performance by drama students.  They were followed by the concert band.

We were next.  When the band finished, the master of ceremonies announced us, and I followed everyone else onto the stage.  We walked onto risers that had been placed at the back of the stage, and Dr. Jeffs took his place to conduct us.  I looked out at the room full of university dignitaries and noticed a small, frail-looking woman who appeared to be at least ninety years old in the front row.  This was definitely Cecilia Waite; I recognized her from the portrait I had seen half an hour ago.  She smiled through the entire performance of the song with the lyrics that she had written.  Despite the nontraditional harmonies, I thought we sounded pretty good, especially with the full orchestra accompanying us as well.

We returned backstage while the Chamber Singers performed, followed by an instrumental performance of the orchestra and a few other performing groups.  Others shared stories about Dr. Waite in between the performances.  At 9:55, as the ceremony reached its end, we returned to the stage to sing Hail, Dear Jeromeville, with the orchestra backing us again.  As we finished, the entire room applauded.  I smiled.  I had never been honored by a group of university mucky-mucks before, and while I was certainly not trying to impress anyone, I appreciated their approval.

I got a few interesting looks from classmates walking into Writing In Education in my chorus tuxedo, but when someone asked, I simply explained that we had a performance for chorus this morning.  After class, I immediately took the bus home, then changed into normal clothes and ate lunch at home before riding my bike back to campus to meet with the students I was tutoring that afternoon.

Cecilia Waite passed away in 1999 after a battle with cancer.  I saw a much smaller reproduction of the portrait in the lobby on the obituary page of the Capital City Record one morning and realized something looked familiar about that picture, then I saw her name in the headline, and it all clicked.  Dr. Waite had lived to see her legacy on the sign in front of the building, and now I was a part of that history.  Many years later, the social media pages of the Jeromeville Alumni Association shared a photograph of Waite Hall and a short one-sentence biography of Cecilia Waite.  “Do you remember what it was called before that?” the caption asked.  I typed, “Before that, it was just the Drama Building.  I was there in 1997 performing with University Chorus at the ceremony to dedicate the building under the new name.  Dr. Waite was there too.”  When I began studying at Jeromeville in 1994, I thought of the campus as just a place to go to school, but the longer I had been here, I was finding myself relating and connecting more and more with the history of this campus.  I had a connection to this campus now, and I still feel that connection to this day.


Readers: Have you ever been part of a local ceremony like this one? Or do you have any noteworthy connection to your local history? Tell me about it in the comments!

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August 12-15, 1997. My final week in Oregon. (#142)

“Any other thoughts about how Luke 18 is relevant to us?” I asked.

“I know, whenever I’m reading these Bible passages about the Pharisees, it’s easy to think of it like, this is something that happened in the past, we don’t have those kind of religious leaders occupying the same prominent position in today’s society,” Jonathan B. said.  “But, really, we do, in a way.  As Christians, we will look up to leaders in our church, or to famous Christian musicians or authors, so they kind of become like our Pharisees.”

“And when you’re in a position of leadership, it’s easy to want to put yourself on a pedestal,” Jonathan G. added.  “You have to remember to stay humble.  We are all sinners saved by grace.  Like the tax collector said here, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”

“Good point,” I said.  Being that this was my first time ever leading a Bible study of my peers, I quietly reminded myself to take Jonathan G.’s advice and stay humble.

“Anything else?” I asked nervously.  We had been discussing the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector for around half an hour now, and I really hoped that I had filled enough time.  We spent some time singing first, with Jonathan B. leading worship, and we would probably do prayer requests afterward, so hopefully this was enough. Joe Ferris, the leader of the college group at Grandvale Baptist Church, had asked a couple weeks ago if any of us wanted to volunteer to lead a Bible study, and I figured it would be good to try.  I asked for August 12;  if it went horribly, it was only for one week, there would only be around ten people there to see it, and it was my last week in Grandvale so I would not have to face them the following week.  I had considered being a Bible study leader for my upcoming senior year at the University of Jeromeville, but I chose not to pursue that when I got involved in youth ministry instead.

“Thank you for leading,” Joe said.  He then addressed the whole group and said, “In case you didn’t hear, this is Greg’s last week with us.”

“Back to Jeromeville already?” Alison asked.  “When do you leave?”

“Friday night.  But I’m going to my parents’ house for two weeks before I go back to Jeromeville.”

“Where do they live?” Jonathan B. asked.  “I think you’ve told me, but I forgot.”

“Plumdale.  Near Gabilan and Santa Lucia, about an hour south of San Tomas.”

“Oh, ok.  I kind of know where that is.”

“Friday is also my birthday,” I said.

“Happy birthday!” Jonathan G. said.  “How old will you be, if I may ask?”

“Twenty-one.”

“Twenty-one!  All right!” Alison exclaimed.  “Any big plans?”

“Not this year.  My family will probably get me a few gifts, but I don’t really have any friends left back in Plumdale.”

“You should do something!”

“I’m okay with not making a big deal of this birthday.  Really.”

“What is going to stand out the most from your experience with this summer research internship?” Joe asked me.

“Honestly,” I said, “I hate to say it, but I think the biggest thing is that I don’t think math research is a career option for me anymore.”

“Really,” Alison commented, not voicing her statement as a question.

“Yeah.  I just didn’t really like it.  The kind of math that gets researched is hard to follow and hard to wrap my mind around.  A Ph.D. program would start with at least two years of studying all of this really advanced theoretical stuff that can’t even be pictured in the real world, then I would have to make new discoveries about how it connects to other stuff.  I can’t even picture what that is like, so it doesn’t seem smart to base an entire career around it right now.  But I’m glad I figured this out now, before I shell out thousands of dollars for a Ph.D. and devote years of my life to it.”

“Good point,” Jonathan G. replied.

“And honestly, I didn’t really click with the others in the program either.  That was also part of why I didn’t really like it.”

“That’s unfortunate,” Joe said.  “Can we pray for you, since this is your last time here?”

“Sure,” I said.

“Just jump in, and I’ll close.”

We all bowed our heads, and I closed my eyes.  I heard Jonathan B. begin speaking.  “Father God, I thank you for Greg.  I thank you for all the insight he brought to our Bible study this summer.  I pray that he will continue to seek your wisdom as he processes everything he learned from his research experience.”

A few others spoke in succession, praying that I would know God’s will for my career, for safe travels back home, and for a good upcoming school year.  After it got quiet for a while, Joe spoke.  “Father, I thank you for bringing Greg to Grandvale this summer.  I thank you for giving him a heart of service, that he jumped right in and volunteered to lead Bible study this week.  I pray that you will continue to open doors for him to get involved at his church back home, and anywhere else that he is part of.  I pray that you will keep him safe Friday night as he travels back home, and I pray for these last few days of his math program, as he and his colleagues present their research.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“It really has been wonderful having you be part of our group this summer.  Are you sure you don’t need a ride home?”

“I’m good.  I like going for long walks at night, as long as it’s not raining.”

“That’s another thing.  You were here in Oregon for exactly the eight weeks of great weather that we get here.”

“I got here a little too early,” I said, then explained about my first day in Grandvale when I got caught in a downpour.  “But it definitely was nice the rest of the time I was here.”

“Take care and keep in touch.”

“I will.”


I had met Joe Ferris and his family my first week in Grandvale, when I found a church close enough to walk to, and they let me borrow an old bicycle.  I rode it to Bible study tonight and left it at the house.  I would survive without it for my remaining three days in Grandvale.  The walk back to the Grandvale State campus took about half an hour.  Grandvale is far enough north that the sky was still just a little bit dusky when I left the Ferrises’ house around nine o’clock, but it was dark by the time I arrived back at Howard Hall.

Our research project was over.  Ivan, Emily, and I had submitted our paper that morning, neatly typed using LaTeX, software commonly used for mathematics publishing with powerful capabilities to format complex mathematical symbols.  I had learned recently that LaTeX was not pronounced the same as “latex,” the substance used to make rubber.  The first syllable of LaTeX was pronounced like the musical note “la,” and the second syllable was pronounced like the first syllable of “technical,” having been named after the Greek word from which “technical” is derived.  The English prefix “tech” looks like TEX when written in Greek capital letters.

Julie and Kirk presented their project first on Wednesday morning, with Marcus presenting his afterward.  I had a hard time following what they were doing; like I mentioned at Bible study, mathematics research involved topics beyond anything I knew or could visualize, even being three full years into a mathematics degree program.  After the presentations, we spent much of the rest of Wednesday hanging out in Emily’s room, playing Killer Monopoly and Skip-Bo.  Although the Monopoly board belonged to Julie, Killer Monopoly was my contribution, a game I made up with my brother Mark several years earlier and taught to this group last month.  In Killer Monopoly, players can acquire bombs and use them to blow up houses and hotels when they do not want to pay the rent.  It made for an interesting variation to the usual Monopoly game.

Ivan, Emily, and I gave our presentation Thursday morning.  Everything went smoothly, and while I was a bit nervous at first, I think I did fine.  After us, Marjorie and Jeannie gave separate presentations on their distinct but related projects involving punctured tori.  That word “tori,” the plural of torus, still made me laugh, as did most irregular plurals in general.  “Torus” was the technical term for a donut-shaped solid, and given our group’s frequent references to The Simpsons, we had jokingly begun referring to tori as “donuts,” followed by someone imitating Homer Simpson’s trademark catch phrase of “Mmm, donuts.”

After we finished presenting on Thursday, most of us began working on packing and cleaning.  At dinner time, we took one last walk to Dairy Queen.  It felt kind of surreal knowing that this would be the last time I would make this walk, having made it at least once a week for most of the summer.

“What’s Sideshow Bob’s full name?” Ivan asked me.  Quizzing each other on random facts about The Simpsons had become second nature to the point that Simpsons trivia needed no introduction or context.

“Robert… umm… I should know this,” I said, disappointed in myself.  “I don’t remember.”

“Terwilliger.”

“That’s right.”  I tried to think of a question to ask Ivan, and after a minute or so, I said, “When Mr. Burns goes after Homer’s mother in a tank–”

“Shhh!” Julie exclaimed.

I laughed, knowing that she was not actually being mean.  “When Mr. Burns–”

“Let me tell you a little story about a man named Shhh!” Julie said, laughing.  Two weeks ago, the eight of us had all gone to watch the movie Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.  Since then, some of the others had been quoting the scene where Dr. Evil keeps telling his son to “Shhh!” on a regular basis.

I waited for Julie to lose interest in what I was saying, then turned back to Ivan and asked, “When Mr. Burns–”

“Shhh!  I have a whole bag of Shhh! with your name on it!” Julie interrupted.  “I’m just messing with you,” she continued.  “Go ahead.”

“When Mr. Burns goes after Homer’s mother in a tank, Smithers taped over his battle music with what song?”

“Oooh,” Ivan said.  “Good one.  I remember that scene, but not the song.”

“‘Waterloo,’ by ABBA,” I replied.  “I remember that one because my roommate last year loved ABBA.”

“Oh, yeah.”

I ate a cheeseburger and fries and Blizzard at Dairy Queen, and when we got back to the dorm, I finished the rest of the packing and organizing.  There was not much left to do at this point, especially since my parents had taken everything nonessential home with them when they came to visit on Saturday.  The end of this tedious summer really did feel near, finally.


Our final class Friday morning did not involve math.  It was just a social event, one last going-away party before we all returned to our regular lives across the country.  The mathematics department provided snacks.  I filled a paper plate with as many donuts and cinnamon rolls as I could fit on it and sat in my usual seat as the others trickled in.

“Before we get started,” Dr. Garrison said, “we have an important announcement.  Today is a special day for someone.”  I felt everyone looking at me as Jeannie appeared with a cupcake topped by a lit candle.  Dr. Garrison continued, “As you probably know, today is Greg’s birthday.” I smiled as everyone sang to me.

“Make a wish!” Emily said as Jeannie handed me the cupcake.

I wish that I would meet a girl this year, I thought, as images of Carrie Valentine, Sadie Rowland, Erica Foster, and all the other girls who had caught my eye back in Jeromeville came to mind.  But this seemed like a selfish wish.  God, I pray that you will lead my career decisions, I thought as I blew out the candle.  Prayers are better than wishes.  Everyone clapped.

“These are your copies of the proceedings,” Dr. Garrison said.  Each of us received a book containing all of the reports that we had written over the last week.  I was honestly not sure if I was going to read about anyone else’s research; I was ready to be done with this experience, and as I had said before, mathematics research is so hard to follow for anyone who has not studied that one specific branch of math in greater detail than anyone ever sees outside of graduate school.

Dr. Garrison continued, “And I have your t-shirts too.  They turned out really good.”  He held one up and showed us the front, then the back.  The front had the logo for Grandvale State University on the upper right, with “Mathematics REU, Summer 1997” written below.  On the back, we had written what appeared to be a mathematical theorem and its proof, typeset with LaTeX just like actual mathematical papers.  The proof itself, though, was a nonsensical jumble of mathematics symbols and references to all of the adventures we shared that summer, and the inside jokes that came from them, along with a few words related to what we actually studied.  We also threw in a few quotes from The Simpsons and Austin Powers.  “This is hilarious!” I said excitedly, reading the back of my shirt, even though I was there for most of the writing of the faux theorem and knew what it said.


Theorem 1 Grandvale State University’s 1997 REU program was sooooo fun.

Proof:

We claim ∃A = {Emily, Greg, Ivan, Jeannie, Julie, Kirk, Marcus, Marjorie} ∋ A is uniformly distributed over the Towers of Hanoi.  Through a Monte Carlo process of random events such as Killer Monopoly, Hangman, and Dairy Queen, we see that E-Dog’s Skip-Boo Transform, ξ can be applied to Marcus’ Flip-Flop Lemma giving a set of deep and profound Giddyap tori.  Mmm… donuts.  Is there anything they can’t do?

Now, given a pre-emptive Shhh!, we find that Giddyup² (mod Lan) ≡ Wannabe.  Applying this to the space of Large Marge vectors yields a Whitehead automorphism of my freakin’ ears.  Note that the question of hard or soft remains open.  Applying the above tool to A yields eight precision bowlers having fun all summer. □


“Usually they just draw something related to the research projects on the shirt,” said Dr. Schneider, one of the other professors working with the program.  “I’ve never seen a group come up with this before.”

“This is sooooo funny!” Marjorie said.

“You said it again!” Julie exclaimed.  “You said ‘sooooo!’”  Marjorie giggled.

“What does ‘mod Lan’ mean?” Dr. Schneider asked.

“Once, someone with bad handwriting wrote my name so messy, it looked like ‘Lan,’” Ivan explained.  “Some of my friends back home call me that.”

“‘Lan,’” Dr. Schneider repeated.  “From ‘Ivan.’  Wow.  And ‘mod’ like modular arithmetic?”

“Yeah.”

“Greg,” I heard Jeannie say.  I turned and looked and saw that she was holding an envelope.  “This is for you.”

“Oh, thank you!” I said, smiling.  The card had an illustration of a frog on the front.  Inside Jeannie had written:


Greg,
Sorry you didn’t have a very good time this summer.  I had a blast!  I hope things start looking up for you soon.

Jeannie Lombard


I spent about another hour making small talk with the others.  I listened to their plans for the rest of the summer.  Marcus would be going hiking the rest of this weekend, then going straight back to Minnesota for school.  Emily was talking a lot about spending the weekend with her boyfriend.  I told them about Moport, the hybrid of football, soccer, and hockey that my brother and I played for fun, and the tournament we held last summer with his friends.  Hopefully we would have a Moport tournament again this year if he could get enough of his friends together.

I spent the rest of the afternoon finishing the cleaning of my room and saying goodbye to everyone.  The Research Experiences for Undergraduates program was finally over, and I was ready to get out of here.  Sooooo ready, as Marjorie would say in her California accent.  I wanted to get back to people who understood me and shared my values.  As I sat on the plane that night headed back to San Tomas, I wondered if I would ever see any of those people again.  I had no particular desire to stay in contact with them, since I had little in common with them outside of mathematics.  Now that I was pretty sure that graduate school in mathematics was not in my future, I had even less in common with them.

I did not make an effort to stay in touch, and none of them ever took the initiative to contact me.  The only contact I had with any of the people from the REU program again was a short email conversation with Dr. Garrison the following year, when I asked him a question about how to report the stipend I received for the REU program on tax and financial aid forms.

I did stay in touch with a few people from my summer Bible study; for a few months, I got emails periodically from Joe Ferris and Jonathan B.  Or it could have been Jonathan G.; I’m not really sure, now that I think about it.  I had lost touch with both of them by the end of 1997.

In hindsight, I think I was much too judgmental that summer, much like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11 that we had read about in this week’s Bible study.  I had spent most of my university days with a social life revolving around Christians, with little exposure to the sex and parties stereotypically associated with undergraduate life.  And while I knew on an intellectual level that Christians are sinners saved by grace, I still had a tendency to look down on those who had chosen the stereotypical undergraduate lifestyle, at least in my mind.

But, even if these people did not share my values, I had a life with them.  We had shared experiences.  We went on a road trip together.  We played games and went out to eat and watched movies, and we had tons of inside jokes that made for a hilarious t-shirt.  And they knew that I was not enjoying the summer; this was evident from what Jeannie wrote.  Knowing what I know now, as an adult, I wish that I had not been so negative.  I did not want to be seen as the only guy who was not having fun, and I certainly was not exhibiting Christlike behavior when I was aloof and judgmental.  At the time, though, I was not thinking about any of that.  I was just glad to get back to a life that felt familiar, an environment where I could be myself.  And I wanted to put Grandvale State and my seven classmates out of my mind.  I was heading home.


Readers: Tell me about a time you regretted not giving someone enough of a chance. Have you had times like that?

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August 9, 1997.  The day that Mom, Mark, and Grandpa visited me in Oregon. (#141)

“So, shall I show you around campus?” I asked.

“Sure!” Mom said.

“I was thinking we could walk to the math building, then come back here a different way, then drive around and get lunch.”

“Sounds good!  Then go see Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy, then on to Portland.”

“What?” Grandpa said.

“Greg is going to show us the campus,” Mom spoke to Grandpa, slower and louder than her normal voice, carefully enunciating.

“Okay,” Grandpa replied. I remembered a few years ago when Grandpa first had to start using a hearing aid, and these days, more and more often, Mom had to repeat things for him.

“Hey, Greg,” I heard a voice say behind me.  Ivan Winn, one of the other students in my summer research program, was getting out of the elevator.

“Ivan,” I said.  “This is my mom, my brother Mark, and my grandpa.  They’re up visiting for the day. My dad stayed home because he had to work.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ivan said as the others said hello.  “How far did you have to travel?”

“We’re from a little town called Plumdale,” Mom explained.  “It’s about a ten-hour drive, but we did most of the drive last night.”

“Still closer than my family.  I’m from New York.”

“That is far.  Greg is going to show us around the campus, then we’re going to go see some other relatives.”  Mom gestured toward Grandpa and continued, “My father was born in Oregon, not too far from here, so I have aunts and uncles and cousins nearby.”

“Those relatives from Salem who I saw last month,” I explained to Ivan, “that’s Grandpa’s brother.  We’ll see them later.”

“Nice!  Have fun!”

“I will,” I said.  After Ivan left, I explained to Mom that Ivan was the guy I had mentioned before who knew The Simpsons at least as well as I did.

“Oh, yeah,” Mom replied.

As we walked across diagonally the Quad, I pointed out the Memorial Union behind us to the right.  “I thought it was kind of funny how Grandvale State has a Memorial Union next to the Quad, and Jeromeville also has a Memorial Union next to the Quad.”

“That’s right,” Mom said.

“This is Keller Hall, where the math department is,” I announced, pointing across the Quad.  When we arrived, I unlocked the door and took my family upstairs to room 202, the study room for the summer math research students.  No one else was there on a Saturday morning.

“So this is where you have to go to use the computer to check your email and stuff?” Mom asked.

“Yeah.  And where I run code to do calculations for our project.”

“What?” Grandpa asked.

“Greg does his math research using these computers,” Mom explained to Grandpa in the same louder, clearer voice she used earlier.

“What are you researching?” Grandpa asked.

“Quasi-Monte Carlo methods using low discrepancy sequences,” I explained.  Assuming that Grandpa would not know what this was, I continued, “I’m looking at a way to approximate a certain kind of calculation that can’t be done exactly, looking at the accuracy and efficiency of a particular method to approximate the calculation.”

“I see,” Grandpa said.

“Sounds boring,” Mark opined.  “‘Chlorophyll?  More like borophyll!’” he continued, quoting from the movie Billy Madison.

“Well, it’s what I’m doing,” I said.  “You don’t have to like it.”

I walked my family back to where Mom had parked the car that she rented for this trip, so as not to put a lot of miles on the family car.  Mom continued talking and asking questions, while Grandpa and Mark remained fairly quiet.  We walked back a different way, around the other side of the Memorial Union, so I could point out a few other buildings, even though I did not know much about them.

After we got back to Howard Hall, we got in the rental car and drove to the McDonald’s closest to campus.  I did not know much about local restaurants in Grandvale, and McDonald’s was something safe and familiar that we could all agree on.  I ordered an Arch Deluxe, my usual McDonald’s order.

I sat and ate while Mom told stories about her work.  Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one other person seated inside the restaurant, eating alone.  As I got bored with Mom’s work gossip, I took a closer look at the other person in the restaurant, a girl about my age wearing a hat with long blonde hair in braids.  I did a double take; I knew this girl.  It was Jeannie Lombard from my math research program.  What was she doing in McDonald’s?  She told me once that she used to refuse to watch The Simpsons on principle, and it surprised me that someone that snooty would dare eat McDonald’s.  I figured she belonged in some vegan restaurant eating vegetables and tofu. Maybe I was reading her wrong.

Mom commented that the girl I was looking at reminded her of someone she knew back in Plumdale.  “That’s Jeannie,” I said.  “From the math program.”  At that moment, I felt like I should say something, because I did not want Jeannie to think I was avoiding her, but I did not make a scene either.  Jeannie was almost done eating when I first noticed her; she got up to throw her garbage away about a minute later, and I looked at her and waved.  Jeannie looked confused at first, then a look of recognition came on her face, and she walked toward us.

“Hey, Greg!” she said.  “Is this your family visiting?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “My mom, my brother Mark, and my grandpa.”

“Nice to meet you,” Jeannie said as the others greeted her in return.  “What are you guys doing today?”

“Grandpa grew up not far from here.  We’re going to visit relatives in Salem and Portland.  I’ll be back tonight.”

“That sounds nice!  Have fun!”

“Thanks!  I will!”

After Jeannie walked away, Mom said, “She seems nice.”

“Yeah,” I replied.


“Hello!” Auntie Dorothy said, greeting us from the porch as we arrived at her house.  Uncle Lenny stood behind her and waved.  We drove straight to Salem after leaving McDonald’s in Grandvale; the trip took a little under an hour.

“Good to see you again, Greg,” Auntie Dorothy said.  “Mark!  You’ve grown since we last saw you!”

“Yeah,” Mark replied.

“What year are you in school now?”

“I’m gonna be a sophomore.”

“I hear you’re playing basketball?  Or was it baseball?”

“Both.”

Uncle Lenny turned to Grandpa and said, “Hello, John,” as the two brothers shook hands.  “Peggy,” he continued, turning to Mom.

After all the greetings, we went inside and sat around the kitchen table, catching up.  This reminded me of the thing I liked least about visiting relatives, when the adults would just sit around and talk about boring adult stuff, and Mark and I had to sit there and not touch anything.  Mark was listening to music on headphones; I had no such thing to distract myself.

I heard a loud rumble outside and saw movement out of the corner of my eye through a window facing the back.  The yard backed up to a railroad track, and a train was passing by.  This was my third visit to this house so far over the course of my life, and the first thing I always think of regarding that house is hearing trains go by.

“Greg?” Uncle Lenny asked at one point.  “How’s your math project going?”

“I have a week left in the program, so we’re gonna work on writing a report of what we learned.  I pretty much know what I’m writing about.  I just need to put it all together.”

“That’s good.”

“What else did you say you were doing today?” Auntie Dorothy asked.

“We’re going to see Charlene and Bob in Portland,” Mom explained.  “And Mark wants to see the Niketown store.”

“Gonna get some new shoes for basketball?”

“Maybe,” Mark said.  “There’s this one pair I’ve been looking at that I hope they have.”

“Well, that’ll be fun.”


The drive from Salem to Portland took another hour; it was the middle of the afternoon when we arrived.  Charlene and Bob lived in the suburbs, off of the same freeway that I took riding Tony’s Airport Shuttle from the airport to Grandvale.  They had made plans with Mom ahead of time to meet us for ice cream, since Mom knew that we would have already eaten lunch by the time we saw them.

Charlene and Bob were already waiting at the ice cream shop when we arrived, and we went through all the greetings again. They asked me about my math research program, they asked Mark about baseball and basketball, and they asked Mom and Grandpa how everything was going in their lives.  Charlene and Bob were family, but the honest truth was that I did not know them at all.  Mom had explained how they were related; Charlene’s father was Grandpa and Uncle Lenny’s older brother, who had passed away a few years ago.  Mom got Christmas cards from Charlene and Bob every year.  But I could not remember ever having met them before.  When I was eleven years old, we came to Oregon for a family reunion on that side of the family, and I probably met them there, but that was almost a decade ago.  They seemed nice, though, and I was not uncomfortable meeting up with them.

“So are you thinking of math research as a career?” Charlene asked me at one point.

“I’m not sure,” I replied.  “Honestly, it hasn’t been that great of an experience this summer.  Math research is weird, and I haven’t gotten along all that well with the people I’m working with.  But if this isn’t the career for me, it’s better to find this out now after one summer than after I’ve committed a lot of years and money to a Ph.D. program.”

“Right,” Charlene said.

“That’s a good way of looking at it,” Mom added.

Charlene asked about our plans for the rest of the day, and Mom explained about the Nike store, which would require a trip downtown.  “I have an idea,” I said.  “Can we drive across the Columbia River into Washington, then go along the river to I-5 and cross back into Portland there?  I just want to see the river and the bridges.”  As one interested in highways and geography, this sounded like fun.

“Sure,” Charlene said.  “You can follow us, then you can leave straight from there.”

We said our goodbyes, with Mom and Charlene and Bob reiterating how good it was to see each other in person.  Charlene also said the same to Grandpa, calling him Uncle John.  “Follow us to the river,” Charlene said, and we got in the rental car and followed Charlene to the freeway.

“There it is,” Mom said as soon as we could see the Columbia River.  The river, forming most of the boundary between the states of Oregon and Washington, was much wider than most of the rivers I had experienced in my life.  The nearest river to Plumdale, the Gabilan River, was dry most of the year, with much of its water diverted to agriculture.  Jeromeville was on a fairly small stream called Arroyo Verde Creek, a tributary of the Capital River. The Capital was a fairly wide river, comparable to the Willamette that flowed through Grandvale, Salem, and Portland before joining the Columbia a few miles from here. But the Columbia was much wider.  I had never seen a river this big before; I had flown over the Mississippi River a few months ago on the way to Urbana, but I did not get a good view up close like this. I could also see Mount Hood rising above its surroundings to the east.

The city of Vancouver, Washington, not to be confused with the similarly-named Canadian city north of here, was across the river from Portland; we took the first exit and headed west.  But instead of driving across Vancouver to Interstate 5, Charlene got back on the freeway headed south, across the same bridge we had just crossed.  Mom followed them.

“No!” I said.  “I wanted to go across the other bridge!  I said go west to I-5.”

“I’m sorry,” Mom replied.  “Apparently they misunderstood.”

This bridge, the newer of the two connecting Portland with Vancouver, was fairly simple, looking more like a freeway overpass with water underneath, but it was still a beautiful view of the river.  I could see the airport along the river on my right as we headed back into Portland.  We waved at Charlene and Bob as they exited a couple of miles past the river on the Portland side of the river, and we continued to the next exit, onto Interstate 84 toward downtown.

“That was fun,” Mom said.  “That’s probably like if they came to Bay City, and we met up with them there, and they wanted to drive across the Bay City Bridge.”

“But what if they wanted to see the Oaksville Bridge too?” I asked.

“Oh, come on,” Mom replied.

Downtown Portland was full of dense urban neighborhoods on the west bank of the Willamette River, a few miles upstream from where it joined the Columbia.  We found a public parking garage within a few blocks of the Niketown store.  Mom took lots of pictures of downtown Portland as we walked around.  “Downtown Portland kind of reminds me of Bay City,” Mom said, “with all the tall buildings right next to the water.”

“I can see that,” I said.

Nike had a strong presence in the Portland area, with its headquarters just outside the city.  I looked around as we walked into the store, a bit overwhelmed by the multiple floors of shoes and various kinds of athletic clothing and equipment.  I was not looking for anything in particular; Mom and Grandpa and I just followed Mark around as he admired the merchandise, looking for the pair of shoes he wanted.

“Are you getting anything, Greg?” Mom asked.

“Probably not,” I replied, still looking around nevertheless.

After exhausting our search on the first floor, we climbed the stairs.  “I think that’s them over there,” Mark said, pointing.  We followed him to the shoes he saw, and after looking at boxes, he said, “They don’t have my size.”

“Really?” Mom replied, voicing disappointment.  “Let’s ask someone if there are any more in stock.”

“Fine,” Mark said, obviously annoyed, as Mom walked to the nearest employee and asked about the shoes.  The employee walked back to the stockroom to check the inventory.

“It’s okay,” Mom said to Mark.  “If they don’t have it, we’ll see if there is some way to order the shoes and have them shipped.”

“Sorry,” the employee said after returning from the stockroom.  “We’re all out of that size.  Is there anything else I can help you find?”

“No thanks,” Mom replied.  “I’ll let you know if there is.  He’s just a little disappointed,” Mom said, gesturing to Mark, “because we traveled a long way to come here and he really wanted to see the Nike store.”

“This is actually our smallest Niketown store.  I’m not sure where you’re from, but the biggest one on the West Coast is the one in Bay City.”  As the employee told us this, I looked at Mom, and we made eye contact, apparently sharing the same unspoken thought: they drove all the way to Portland to see this store when there was a better store just a hundred miles away from them in Bay City.  Later that day, after we left the store, Mom said the same thing out loud.


Mark did end up buying a different pair of shoes, so as to not leave empty handed.  We also took a detour across the other bridge and back, so I could see it; it was older, a truss bridge with girders spanning the highway.  We stopped at a Taco Bell somewhere between Portland and Grandvale for dinner, not wanting to have burgers again.

That morning, I had packed all of the things that Mom had shipped to me earlier in the summer.  I kept only what I needed for another six days, only what I could fit in my suitcase and backpack and bring with me on the airplane, and sent the rest home with Mom, Mark, and Grandpa.  I would not have my stereo and music for the next week, but it was logistically the only way to get my things home without my own car.  We said our goodbyes, and Mom, Mark, and Grandpa left Grandvale in the early evening and drove south for another two hours before stopping at a motel, so that they would not have as long of a drive the next day.

I was tired from the long day, but I still decided to walk up and down the hall to see if anyone was around.  Jason, the graduate student in engineering who hung out with those of us in the math research program, had his door open; Julie, Jeannie, Ivan, and Marcus were in his room too.  I could hear “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls playing from inside Jason’s room.

“Hey,” I said, walking into the room.

“Giddyup,” Ivan said.

“What is it with you guys and ‘giddyup?’” I replied, laughing.  That word had become an inside joke with our group over the last couple weeks.

“It’s just a funny word.”

“Is it ‘giddyup’ or ‘giddyap?’” Julie asked.  “Because once I read something that said ‘giddyap’ instead.”

“It’s probably one of those informal slang words with regional dialects,” I said.

Emily walked into the room.  “What’s up, E-Dog,” Julie said.

“Hey, guys,” Emily replied.  “Hey, Greg.  How was your day with family?”

“It was good.  We saw Grandpa’s brother and his wife in Salem, the same relatives I saw a few weeks ago.  Then we saw Mom’s cousin in Portland.  And my brother wanted to go to the Niketown store.  And they took home everything I won’t be able to fit on the plane.”

“Nice!  Did you enjoy the visit?”

“Yes!”

The song ended and started again.  “You have ‘Wannabe’ on repeat?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” Jason explained.  “The Spice Girls are the next big thing in music.  They’re gonna be the greatest girl band ever.”

“I need to get this CD,” Julie said.

“I can borrow Jason’s CD and make you a tape,” I said.  “Oh, wait,” I added, remembering something.  “I can’t, because my parents took the stereo back with them.  Sorry.”

“So you guys have one week left in the program?” Jason asked.  “How was it?”

Everyone said positive things, but I said, “I’m still homesick.  And I kind of feel like the biggest thing I learned was that math research might not be the career for me.”

“It’s better to figure that out now than after you’ve given years of your life to math research,” Marcus said reassuringly.

“I know.  I said that same thing to the relatives today.”

Six days left in Grandvale.  Then two weeks back home, then I could hurry up and get back to the life I knew in Jeromeville, with my roommates, my church, and my friendsFriendship never ends, the Spice Girls sang again; I had lost count of how many times, with Jason playing the song on repeat.  Wannabe was one of those songs I loved to hate, but it was somewhat catchy, and the Spice Girls were right about the importance of friendship.  I just had to make it through six more days, and finish writing a report.


Readers: Tell me about a noteworthy time that you visited relatives, or had relatives come to visit you!

If you like what you read, don’t forget to like this post and follow this blog. Also follow Don’t Let The Days Go By on Facebook and Instagram.


July 22-23, 1997. Hanging out and making the most of things. (#139)

“Any other final thoughts from Matthew 20?” Joe Ferris asked the group.

“To be completely honest, I never really liked this passage,” I said.  “It seems unfair.  The workers who got there early should be paid more.”

“So you think that people who became Christians earlier in life and served God for longer deserve a better heaven than those who came to Jesus later in life?” Jonathan B. asked.  “That’s basically what the grumbling workers thought.”

“No,” I replied.  “I’m a new Christian myself.  And I understand what Jesus is trying to say here.”

“It’s not a perfect analogy,” Jonathan G. said.  “Just for salvation and grace.”

“I know.  It’s not meant to explain how we should pay workers.  It’s just making the point that God’s grace is for everyone who comes to him, no matter what we were like before that.” As I said that, I thought of something else, so I added, “And, also, none of us received God’s grace because of anything we worked for.”

“Good point!” Alison said.

“On that, it’s time to close,” Joe announced.  “Any prayer requests?”

“I’m really missing home this week,” I said.  “Pray that I’ll be able to get through the rest of the summer.”

“How much longer does your research program go?” Jonathan G. asked.

“This last weekend was the halfway point; this is week five out of eight.  Then I have two weeks at my parents’ house after that.  Then I move into my new house in Jeromeville, and I have a few weeks there before school starts.”

“You guys start late,” Alison commented.

“We’re on the three-quarter system.  So Christmas comes one-third of the way through the year instead of halfway.  We start at the end of September and go until the middle of June.”

“That’s kind of weird,” Jonathan B. said.

After we prayed for each other, I rode my bike home from the Ferrises’ house back to Howard Hall on campus.  It was close to nine o’clock, and the sun was just setting.  Grandvale, in western Oregon on the Willamette River, was the farthest north I had ever lived, and I was not used to the sun staying up this late.  I had brought my battery-operated bike headlight just in case it got dark, but I did not need to use it.  I had not used the headlight for the entire month I had been in Grandvale.

I always looked forward to the weekly Bible study for the college and career group at church.  With how out of place I felt among the other math research students, it was nice to at least have one time a week around people who believed the same thing I did.  Two times per week, actually, because some of them came to church Sunday morning as well.  I did not see them enough to build a strong social life around them, though, and the group was mostly guys this summer, so I was not meeting any girls.  I felt closest to the two Jonathans and Alison, but Alison was twenty-nine years old, not really a romantic option for my twenty-year-old self, even if my birthday was coming up in a few weeks.

“Hey, Greg,” said Marcus, one of the other math students, as he saw me getting out of the elevator on the third floor of Howard Hall with my bike.  “Where’d you go?”

“Bible study,” I replied.

“Oh, that’s right.  What did you say you were studying?  Proverbs?”

“Parables,” I replied.  “The stories Jesus told to make illustrations.”

“That’s right.  I was close alphabetically, at least.”

“True.”

“We’re all in Emily’s room hanging out if you want to join us.  I’ll be back in a while.”

“Sure,” I replied.  “Let me drop off my bike.”


When I was a freshman at the University of Jeromeville, I lived in a tiny single room in a dormitory that was reserved for students in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  It was the perfect situation for me, because I had a built in community.  If I wanted to be around people, I could just wander up and down the halls and see what people were doing, and if I did not, I could just go back to my room and close the door.  Unfortunately, student housing at Jeromeville was so full in those years that students were only guaranteed one year of living on campus, so I did not have the opportunity to live in a dorm for any of my other years at Jeromeville.

Being in the summer mathematics research program at Grandvale State University gave me another opportunity to experience dorm life.  Howard Hall was normally the dorm for graduate students.  All of the rooms, at least on my floor, were single rooms, and they were much bigger than my freshman dorm at UJ.  Being in a dorm again, I reverted back to my old habit of wandering the hall to see if anyone was doing anything, just to make conversation and not be alone in my room all the time.  Emily’s room had become the one where the math research students often hung out.  Tonight, Emily, Ivan, Julie, Marjorie, and Kirk were all there, along with Jason, a tall blond guy who was one of three students on our floor not from the math program whom I had met.  I poked my head in the door and waved.

“Hey, Greg,” Emily said.  “Come on in.”

“How are those research projects coming along?” Jason asked.

“Good,” I said.  “We’re making progress.  Ivan and Emily and I are on the same project.  I wrote code to do the Monte Carlo integration that we’re studying.”

“I’m working alone, but on a very similar project as Jeannie,” Marjorie said.  “There’s a lot of stuff out there on punctured toruses, but I decided to look at toruses with one puncture, and Jeannie is doing two punctures.”

“‘Toruses?’” I asked.  “Or would that be ‘tori?’”

“Tori,” Ivan repeated as Marcus entered the room and sat next to me.  “I like that.”

“Man, I’m an engineer, I’ve taken a lot of math, but I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jason said.  “This math research stuff is out there.”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I feel the same way.”

“Speaking of which, I need to go work on stuff.  I’ll see you guys later?”

“Bye, Jason,” Ivan said.  We waved as Jason left the room.

“Every time I read about what research my professors back home are doing, I feel like it doesn’t make any sense to me,” I said.  “And that’s one thing I’m worried about if I do end up going to grad school in math.  Like, maybe it’ll be too complicated for me.”

“I don’t think you’re alone in that,” Marcus replied.  “You’ll spend the first two years taking more advanced classes and learning about those things.”

“I guess.”

After the conversation reached a lull, Emily said, “You guys want to play Skip-Boo?”

“Sure,” Ivan answered, and the rest of us gave assenting replies too.  Emily had brought with her to Grandvale a Skip-Bo card game, a longtime favorite in her family, except she always pronounced it like Skip-Boo.  She said that that was how they always pronounced it back home in upstate New York; I wondered if it was a regional dialect thing, since she did pronounce other vowels differently from how those of us in the western United States did. I grew up playing Skip-Bo with my grandmother, but I had not played in probably close to a decade before meeting Emily.

Skip-Bo was a simple game, in which players had a stock pile that they were trying to get rid of, along with cards in their hands.  Cards were played on piles in sequence from 1 to 12.  I drew a 1 on my turn and started a new pile, but that was all I was able to do.  It was not until my third turn that I was finally able to play off of my stock pile.  Jeannie walked in at that moment.  “Skip-Bo,” she said.  “Can you deal me in?”

“Sure,” Emily said.  “Who has the biggest pile right now?”

“I’ve only played one,” I said.  Emily dealt Jeannie the same number of cards in my pile, so that she would not start with an advantage.

When my next turn came; I was able to play two cards from my hand, but nothing from the stock pile.  I put down my discard, and the turn passed to Marjorie.  She drew cards until she had five in her hand.  “I can’t play anything!” she said, frustrated, as she put down her discard and ended her turn.  “These cards are, like, so bad!”  She drawled out the word “so,” holding the O sound for about a full second.

“Like, sooooo bad,” Ivan said, playfully mocking her pronunciation.  “Yep, you’re totally from California.”  The others laughed, and Marjorie blushed.

“Want to play again?” Emily asked.  “Or play something else?”  The others seemed to want to play again, so Emily handed parts of the large deck to me and to Julie to help shuffle.

“I was thinking earlier, does anyone remember how to play that card game where one player is the President, and one player is the asshole, and stuff like that?” Kirk asked.

“No,” Julie replied.  No one else remembered either.  I did not know the game Kirk described.  (A few years later, I would learn a game that was probably the President-Asshole game Kirk was describing, but I have since forgotten it again.)  Hearing those two words in the description, though, I said something that I thought was hilarious: “I don’t know that game, but these days, the President is an asshole.”  Everyone in those days made fun of President Bill Clinton, and he was an arrogant elitist who looked down on common people like me and stood against everything I believed about how to run the country.

No one laughed.  Ivan said, “I voted for the President.”

“Me too,” Marjorie added.

“I did too,” Jeannie said.

“So did I,” Kirk said.

“I did too,” Emily said.

“Me too,” Julie said.

After a pause of a couple seconds, Marcus added, “I voted for Ralph Nader.”

Emily drew five cards and took her turn, playing three cards from her hand before discarding.  “I voted for Bob Dole,” I said, somewhat angrily and proudly.  Apparently I was the only one in this room not responsible for the moral decay and high taxes in this country, yet this made me feel even more out of place among the six Democrats and the Green Party radical in the math research program.  The conversation turned back away from politics as the game continued, but I did not say much the rest of the night.


Dr. Garrison, the professor in charge of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, had scheduled a meeting with me the following afternoon.  In his email, he said that he was meeting with everyone this week, now that the program was half over, just to touch base on things.  It did not sound like I was in trouble or anything, but I was still a little nervous as I entered his office.

“Hi, Greg,” Dr. Garrison said.  “Come on in.  Sit down.”  I sat in the chair facing his desk, and he continued, “So how is the program going for you so far?”

I took a deep breath, trying to decide exactly how much to tell Dr. Garrison.  I decided to just be honest and tell the truth.  “I feel like I don’t fit in with the other students,” I said.

Dr. Garrison paused, probably not having expected me to say that.  “Why do you say that?” he asked.

“I don’t have anything in common with them,” I said.  “I’m a Christian.  Most of my social life back in Jeromeville is church activities.  And these guys talk about drinking and partying and… stuff like that.”  I could not bring myself to say sex out loud.  “And I really miss my friends back home.”

“Well,” Dr. Garrison said, “the REU program always brings students from all different backgrounds.  It’s natural that some people might not get along.”

“I really don’t think they’re trying to be hurtful on purpose.  I’m just different.”

“Well, if that’s the case, just look for any common ground you might be able to find.  Have you had any good experiences with the other students?”

“Yeah.  Tonight I think we’re going to Dairy Queen.  We’ve done that sometimes.”  I also told Dr. Garrison about playing cards in Emily’s room, and about our trip to the coast.

“There you go.  Just make the best of those moments.”  Dr. Garrison then asked, “How do you feel about the math you’re working on?  You’re doing the quasi-Monte Carlo integration project with Ivan and Emily?”

“Yes.  It’s been interesting.  I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still not sure about my future.  One professor back at Jeromeville told me about REU programs, another professor thinks I would make a good teacher, and I’m kind of using this summer to figure out if grad school is a real option, or if I should focus on being a teacher.”

“I see.  Just remember this.  If grad school isn’t for you, it’s better to learn that now than after you’ve given years of your life to a Ph.D. program.”

“That’s a good point.”

“I think you’re doing fine.  And I think this is still a valuable experience for you even if you do end up a teacher.  Most kids will never have a teacher who did math research.  You’ll be able to bring them a different perspective on math.”

“That’s true.  Good point.”


The walk from Howard Hall to Dairy Queen that night took about half an hour, a mile and a half straight down Pine Street.  Dairy Queen was in downtown Grandvale, a few blocks from where we saw fireworks on the Fourth of July.  We had made this walk as a group a few times already this summer, and on our last Dairy Queen trip, Ivan and I had found a way to pass the time while we made this walk.

“Michael Jackson guest-starred, they couldn’t put his real name in the credits, so what name was he credited as?” I asked.

“John Jay Smith,” Ivan replied.  “That name just sounds fake.”

“I know!”

“What’s Nelson’s last name?”

“Crap, I should know this one,” I said.  In all my eight years of watching The Simpsons, how could I not know one of the major recurring characters’ last names?

“Yes, you should,” Ivan said.

“But I don’t.”

“Nelson Muntz.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Your turn.”

“I know, I’m thinking.”  I needed to come up with a good one to redeem myself for having missed the last one.  “How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?”

“That’s Bob Dylan,” Jeannie said.  “Not The Simpsons.”

“Yeah.  That’s a Simpsons trivia question?” Ivan asked.

“Yes, it is,” I answered.

“Wait.  Did Homer try to answer that question?”

“Yes.” I laughed.

“I don’t remember what he said, though.”

“‘Seven!’ Then Lisa told Homer it was a rhetorical question, and he goes, ‘Hmm… Eight!’  It was the episode where Homer’s mother comes back.”

“Oh, yeah.  And she was a hippie.”

As we stood in line waiting to order, Ivan asked me, “What does your shirt mean?”

I looked down to remind myself which shirt I was wearing today; it was a white t-shirt that said “Man of Steel” in green writing, with pictures of a Frisbee, a taco, and playing cards.  “The Christian group I’m part of back home, the guys have a competition every year, with disc golf, a taco eating contest, and poker.”  I turned around, so that Ivan could see the words on the back of the shirt: FRISBEE, TACOS, POKER, FAITH.

“That sounds awesome,” Ivan said.  “And hilarious.”

“How’d you do?” Jeannie asked, having overheard the conversation.

“Not great.  But the year before that, I was second to last, so I’m improving.”

“Maybe you’ll win it all next year,” Ivan said.

“I can’t throw a Frisbee straight, so I’d just need a lot of luck, I guess.”

I had not eaten dinner yet, so when I got to the front of the line, I ordered a cheeseburger along with my ice cream Blizzard.  Music played in the background.  When they called my number, I got up to get my food, and as I returned to my seat, the song “Lovefool” by the Cardigans came on.  Emily quietly sang along to every word.  I had never listened to the whole song all the way through, because I always found it annoying.

“This song is really kind of sad,” Jeannie said.  “The guy is obviously not into the relationship, but the girl just can’t leave him.  She deserves better.”

“I always thought it was kind of making fun of girls like that,” Emily replied.  Granted, this was my first time hearing the whole song, but it did not sound mocking to me.

“If the guy is good enough in bed, I’d stay with him,” Julie said.  “Who cares if he’s not the perfect romantic?  He’s got it where it counts!  Gimme some action!”

“Yes!” Emily exclaimed.  The two girls laughed loudly.

“How’s your burger?” Ivan asked.

“Really good,” I answered.  “A nice change from microwave food.”

“I know!”

“I tried the dining hall food here a couple times too the first week, I was thinking about buying a meal plan.  But it wasn’t really worth it.  It’s more expensive than fast food and just as mediocre.”

“Yeah, really.”

“This Blizzard is so good,” Marjorie announced.

“How good was it?” Jeannie replied, laughing.

“Sooooo good!” Marjorie said, exaggerating the word “so,” intentionally this time.

As we walked back home in the nine o’clock twilight, I came to realize that Dr. Garrison was right.  I may not have a lot in common with these people, but I was still starting to build a social life with them, between the card game nights, these walks to Dairy Queen, and the outings we had taken as a group.  We had started to develop inside jokes with each other, including Emily’s unusual pronunciation of “Skip-Boo” and Marjorie’s California beach bum accent.  This was my group for the next twenty-four days, and I was a part of it, whether I felt like I fit in or not.

As I got back to my room, with Lovefool still stuck in my head, I thought about how God had put these people in my life for a reason.  Maybe some of them had never really known a practicing Christian before.  Maybe just by being honest, like telling Marcus about Bible study yesterday, or telling Ivan and Emily about Man of Steel, God would be planting seeds in their lives.  Or maybe God had something to teach me about what the world was like outside of my Christian bubble.  I spent some time before bed praying for my new friends in the REU program, praying that Jesus would find a way to reach them.  I prayed that Emily and her boyfriend that she talked about often would make good choices in their relationship, and I prayed that Julie would find more meaning in her relationships beyond whether or not the guy was good in bed.  And I prayed that God would lead me in making the most of my last twenty-four days here.

I did not pack a whole lot of clothes for that summer, so I really did wear that Man of Steel shirt often.

Readers: Have you ever been part of a group where you just felt different from everyone? How did you deal with it? Tell me about it in the comments!

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July 12-13, 1997. A weekend that felt less lonely. (#138)

It was ten o’clock in the morning, but since it was Saturday, Howard Hall was still quiet, with many students sleeping in.  I noticed that Marcus’ door was open as I walked past; I looked inside and waved.

“Hey, Greg,” Marcus said.  “What’s up?”

“I’m gonna see my great-aunt and uncle today,” I explained.  “They’re on their way here to pick me up.”

“Do they live near here?”

“Salem.”

“Oh, that’s not too far.  Like an hour away?”

“Not quite an hour, she said.”

“Well, have fun!”

“I will!  Thanks!”

I sat outside Howard Hall, hoping that Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy knew how to find it; after all, it was 1997, the cell phones owned by only a tiny percentage of the population could not access the Internet, and no one had a GPS in the car.  But I had given detailed directions, and they had suggested that they knew their way around Grandvale, at least the major streets and landmarks.  Auntie Dorothy had called me earlier this week to plan this visit; I was expecting to hear from her at some point during my summer in Grandvale.  

I also hoped that I remembered what they looked like, and that there were no senior citizen couples roaming the Grandvale State campus that morning looking for naive university students to kidnap and sell into forced labor.  I only remembered having met them twice. When I was 11, we went to Salem for a family reunion of my mother’s paternal relatives, the Weismanns, and they came to visit my grandparents when I was 14.  Uncle Lenny Weismann was my grandfather’s younger brother, and I remembered the two of them looking alike, so I just needed to watch for someone who looked like Grandpa.

I had no trouble recognizing them when they arrived, and they had no trouble recognizing me either.  “Greg?” Auntie Dorothy said after she rolled down the window.  “Are you ready?”

“Yes,” I said, getting into the car.

“How are you?” Uncle Lenny asked.

“I’m doing okay,” I said.

“So what exactly is this program you’re in?”

“It’s a math research internship.  Students from around the country apply to these programs held at different universities.  I got into two of them, and the one at Grandvale State was the closer of the two.  I’m working with a professor and two other students, they’re from two different parts of New York, and we’re studying quasi-Monte Carlo integration using low discrepancy sequences.”  I paused, then continued explaining, hoping that I was assuming correctly that Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy did not know what quasi-Monte Carlo integration was.  “Basically, we’re looking at ways to do certain calculations that can’t be calculated directly, and studying how accurate and efficient these approximation methods are.”

“Oh, ok,” Auntie Dorothy said.  “That sounds interesting.”

We continued to make small talk for the fifty-minute drive from Grandvale to Salem, driving past the green rolling hills and farmland of the Willamette Valley.  Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy told me about their children and grandchildren, whom I did not know.  I had met some of them at the family reunion in Salem, but that was nine years ago now.  I told them about everything that happened to me in the last several months back in Jeromeville, including performing with University Chorus, my trip to Urbana, working with the youth group at church, and assisting in a high school classroom.

“A classroom,” Auntie Dorothy repeated.  “You’re thinking of being a teacher?”

“Well, that’s part of the reason I’m here this summer,” I explained.  “Trying to figure out if I’d rather go into teaching or math research.”

“What kind of work would you do with math research?”

“Get a Ph.D. and be a professor, proving new theorems and making new discoveries.  Probably also teaching university students and mentoring future Ph.D. candidates.”

“I see.  I could see you being good at either of those.”

“Thanks.”

When we got to Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy’s house, Auntie Dorothy made sandwiches for all three of us.  “Do you remember those comic books you used to draw the last time we saw you?”

“Yes!” I said.  “I stopped doing those around the time I started college.  I just didn’t have time anymore.  But then last summer I was teaching myself to make websites, and I started a new series, kind of like an online comic book.  It’s called Dog Crap and Vince.  Can you get the Internet here?”

“We have America Online.  Will that work?”

“It should!”

“I’ll go turn on the computer when I’m done eating, and you can show me.”  After we finished our sandwiches, I followed Auntie Dorothy to the computer, which whistled and hummed and buzzed as it connected to the Internet through telephone lines. I opened my Dog Crap and Vince website for Auntie Dorothy, with Uncle Lenny watching from behind.  “‘Six-O-Five Productions presents Dog Crap and Vince,’” Auntie Dorothy read.  “That’s you?  Why is it called ‘Six-O-Five Productions?’”

“I always abbreviate Dog Crap and Vince as ‘DCV,’” I explained.  “And DCV is also Roman numerals for 605.”

“That’s clever.”  Auntie Dorothy clicked through the site and read the illustrated story out loud, so that Uncle Lenny could hear also.  “So this guy is named Dog Crap, and this is Vince?  Why is his name Dog Crap?”

“I don’t know.  I just wanted something silly.”

“And why is their hair like that?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve never explained their hair.  Just kind of random and bizarre.”

Auntie Dorothy continued reading the most recent episode of Dog Crap and Vince, called “What’s Cooking,” which I had written and drawn during study breaks while preparing for finals last month.  The two boys kept making a bigger and bigger mess in an ill-fated attempt to bake cookies, while Vince kept getting catchy and annoying songs stuck in his head.

“That was good,” Auntie Dorothy said.

“There are seven other episodes you can read later,” I said.  “You can email me, and I’ll send you the link so you don’t lose it.”

“Okay.”

“Greg?” Uncle Lenny asked. “Have you ever been to Salem before?”

“Just that one time when I was eleven, when we had the family reunion here.  But all I saw was your house and the park where we had the reunion.”

“We were talking earlier,” Auntie Dorothy said.  “Would you like to take the tour of the Oregon State Capitol?”

“Sure,” I said.  “That’ll be interesting.”

Auntie Dorothy and Uncle Lenny lived in an older neighborhood only about a mile from the Capitol, so it did not take us long to get there.  From the outside, the building looked different from what I expected a Capitol Building to look like; a cylindrical structure stood in the center where I expected a dome to be, with a gold statue on top.

“We don’t have a dome,” Uncle Lenny explained, noticing me looking at the statue.  “We have a pioneer instead.”

“Interesting.”

We bought three tickets for the tour and walked inside.  A tour guide showed us around the building, explaining what function of state government happened inside each part of the building.  She also pointed out the artwork in the different parts of the building and explained the stories from the history, culture, and state symbols of Oregon that the artwork depicted.  At one point, I told Auntie Dorothy, “I was just thinking, it’s kind of funny, I’ve toured the Oregon State Capitol, but I’ve never been inside my own state capitol building.  And it’s only 15 miles from Jeromeville.”

“Well, then, you’ll just have to go tour there sometime,” she replied.  (I did eventually, but not for another nine years.)

After the tour, Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy brought me back to their house for more catching up and small talk.  At one point, Auntie Dorothy asked, “You said you volunteer with a church youth group?  This is a Catholic church?”

“No, actually,” I said, a little hesitantly because I never knew how my mother’s Catholic relatives would react to my recent faith journey.  “A couple years ago, I started going to a nondenominational Christian group on campus with some friends.  That’s where I really learned what it means to follow Jesus.  But I kept going to Mass at the Newman Center, because I didn’t want to turn my back on Catholicism.  The different branches of Chrsitianity have a lot more in common than the little things they argue about.  I realized that a lot of students at Newman weren’t really serious about what they believed, they only went to church because it was part of their culture.  I wanted to learn more about Jesus and the Bible, so I tried my friends’ church.”

“What kind of church is it?”

“Evangelical Covenant.  They believe in the Bible but don’t make a lot of statements about doctrine besides the basics about Jesus dying for our sins and coming back someday.  I’ve heard someone say they’re almost like a non-denominational church.  And in Grandvale, I’ve been going to a Baptist church, just because they’re close to campus and I don’t have a way to get around.”

“God always finds a way to reach those who seek him,” Uncle Lenny said.  The Weismanns had always been Catholic; even before they came to the United States, in the German-speaking world not far from where the Protestant Reformation began, the Weismanns were Catholic.  Uncle Lenny and Grandpa had two sisters who were Catholic nuns.  So I was relieved that I was not about to ignite an argument of Catholicism versus Protestantism.

Late in the afternoon, we returned to Grandvale and stopped at the grocery store before they dropped me off at Howard Hall.  When Auntie Dorothy called earlier in the week, she asked if I wanted to go grocery shopping, knowing that I had no car; I of course said yes.  It was definitely one of the more pleasant days of my stay in Grandvale.  My grandparents both came from large families, so my mother grew up with many aunts and uncles on each side.  Five years ago, the time I gave Auntie Dorothy my comic books, I remember Mom saying that Auntie Dorothy was always her favorite aunt, because she was always so interested in whatever Mom was into.  I had noticed the same thing, five years ago with the comic books, and now today with Dog Crap and Vince.  And now I had their email, so we could plan another visit later in the summer.  “Thank you for everything,” I said, lifting my groceries out of the trunk outside of Howard Hall.

“You’re welcome.  It was good seeing you, Greg,” Uncle Lenny said, shaking my hand.

“We’ll see you soon,” Auntie Dorothy added, giving me a hug.

“Yes.  Take care.”


The next afternoon, after I finished a sandwich made from bread I got at the store with Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy, I sat at the desk in my room and took a deep breath.  I picked up the telephone handset, then hung up before I dialed.  Why was this so difficult for me?  Why could I not just use the phone like a normal person?  I took a deep breath and lifted the handset again, then hung up quickly.  I was being ridiculous.  It wasn’t like I was calling a cute girl and I did not know if she liked me or not.  It was a guy on the other end, and he was not going to judge me for calling him, especially since he told me I could in his last letter.

But was this his own phone?  Or was this a number that he shared with the people he was with?  Why did it matter?  The other people had no idea who I was, and I would probably never see or talk to them again.  As I had done so often when making phone calls, I picked up the handset again and dialed the eleven digits needed for a long distance call quickly before I had time to talk myself out of it.

“Hello?” I heard a familiar voice say on the other end.

“Taylor?” I asked.

“Greg!” Taylor replied enthusiastically.  “What’s up, man?”

“Not much,” I said.  “It’s Sunday, so I’m taking the day off from math.  I have relatives who live not too far from here; I saw them yesterday.”

“Oh, that’s good that you got to see family.  Who was it that you got to see?”

“My great-aunt and uncle.  My grandpa’s younger brother, and his wife.”

“Oh, ok.  What’d you guys do?”

“We just hung out and caught up.  They also took me to see the tour of the Oregon State Capitol, and we went grocery shopping.

“Nice!  Was the State Capitol interesting?”

“Yeah,” I said.  I told him about the pioneer statue and the lack of a dome, as well as what I remembered from the artwork inside.

“How’s your research going?” Taylor asked.  I explained quasi-Monte Carlo integration to Taylor using similar layperson’s terms that I had used with Auntie Dorothy yesterday.  “Interesting,” he said.  “And where would that be practical?”

“Anywhere you’d need to calculate an integral,” I explained.  “Areas and volumes of curved surfaces.  An average value of a set that isn’t just a finite number of things you can add and divide.  Measurements that involve multiplying, but one of the terms isn’t constant, like distance equals speed times time, so you’d need integrals if the speed is changing.”  Integrals were taught in calculus; I could not remember if Taylor had ever taken calculus.  “What I’m doing gives an efficient algorithm for approximating integrals that can’t be calculated directly.”

“Oh, ok,” Taylor replied.  I could not tell how much of that made sense to him.

“How’s your summer going?”

“It’s a lot of work.  I’ve been here since March now, and I’m getting tired.  I’ve been sleeping more than I usually do.”

“Sleep is good if you’re tired, I guess.”

“Yeah.  But I’m ready to go home.”

“Me too,” I said.  “I’m not even halfway through the program here, and I feel like I’m already counting down the days left.  It’s 33.”

“You don’t like math research?”

“It’s okay, but it’s not as interesting as I thought it would be,” I said.  “And I really miss everyone back home.  I don’t have a lot in common with the other students in the program.”

“Oh yeah?  Why do you say that?”

“Mostly because they aren’t Christians, and they’re into partying and stuff.  But there is one guy who really likes The Simpsons, so at least there’s that.”

“Nice,” Taylor said.  “Have you found a church or anything like that?”

“I’ve been going to a church right across the street from campus, and they have a college and young adult Bible study.  I only see them once or twice a week, though.  Better than nothing, though.”

“Yeah.  But being around Christians all the time isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.”

“Oh yeah?  Why do you say that?”

“I’m 20, I’m younger than average for the staff here, but I feel like I’m older spiritually than most of them.  I’ve been through a lot in life.  I’ve been on a mission trip to Morocco.  I’ve been a youth group leader for a long time.  I’ve just had different life experiences.  And when I can sympathize, I sometimes I have to tell myself not to step in with advice, because I don’t want to sound like a young know-it-all.  And the kids that we’re here to work with, new groups come and go every week, so it’s hard to bond with them.”

“That makes sense.  Hopefully you can find common ground with the other staff.”

“Yeah.  And hopefully you do with the other math students.”

“Yeah.  Emily, she’s working on the same project I am, a few nights ago we were all in her room playing Skip-Bo.  She brought a Skip-Bo game with her.  I hadn’t played that in years; I used to play that with my mom and grandma when I was a kid.  That was fun.”

“Nice!  I’ve played that, but it was a long time ago.  Hey, did I tell you I went to a Chicago Cubs game last month?”

“I don’t think so.  That’s fun!”

“Yeah!  The first interleague game in Cubs history, against Milwaukee.  The Cubs lost.”

“Wow.  You got to see history.  It’s still kind of weird to me to think that National League teams are playing against American League teams now.  But exciting too, you get to see new team combinations.”

“Yeah.  It’s interesting to see if this will stay a part of baseball.”

“I haven’t really been following baseball,” I said.

“Well, there isn’t a Major League team in Oregon, so it’s a little harder to follow there.”

“Yeah, that’s true.”  I had actually stopped following Major League Baseball three years earlier, when the last two months of the season were canceled because of a players’ strike, denying one of my favorite players the chance to chase the single season home run record.  My frustration at that situation had died down a little over the last few years.  I knew about the rule change that National League teams would now play against some American League teams each year.  In hindsight, it was ironic that the historic Cubs game Taylor saw was against Milwaukee, because the following season, Milwaukee would move from the American League to the National League and play against the Cubs every year.

After catching up a while longer, Taylor asked, “Are you going straight back to Jeromeville after your program is over?”

“I’ll spend the rest of August with my family, then go back August 31 to finish moving out of the old apartment and into the new one.”

“Are you going to the youth leaders’ retreat in September?”

“Yes.  I’ll be coming right from JCF Outreach Camp.  Two retreats back to back.”

“Busy!”

“Yeah, but I’m not doing anything else the week before school starts.”

“That’s true.  I should get going now, but I’ll see you at the retreat, if I don’t see you before then.”

“Yeah!” I replied.  “It was good talking to you!”

“Thanks for calling!  It’s good to hear a familiar voice.”

“Yeah.  Good night.”

“Good night, Greg.”

I hung up.  It was a little comforting to know that I was not the only one away from home and unable to connect with colleagues.  Taylor’s situation was different, of course, but he was away from home too.  I had thirty-three days left in this metaphorical wilderness of mathematics.  I knew that the Bible had several examples of people being lost in a wilderness for an extended period of time.  God always gave his people what they needed to get through that time, and these exiles in the wilderness always served some higher purpose.

I had Uncle Lenny and Auntie Dorothy not far away, though.  I normally thought of my Dennison relatives as distant and my Santini relatives, my mother’s maternal family, as a bunch of overly dramatic busybodies.  But Mom’s family also included the Weismanns, who were all very nice, from what I knew of them.  I just did not see the Weismann relatives as often I saw the Dennisons or Santinis.  But my day with the Weismanns yesterday, as well as the phone call with Taylor today, certainly helped this weekend feel less lonely.


Readers, what are your extended families like?

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June 28 – July 4, 1997. Outings with my new classmates. (#137)

On my second day in Oregon, when I had to make the half hour walk carrying as many full grocery bags as I could hold from the store back to my dorm room, I realized that I really should have brought my car.  I could have made the drive from home to Oregon in a day, and then I would not have to lug around these bags of groceries every few days, plus I would have a way to explore my surroundings. I chose not to drive because, shortly before I found out about this program, I had just had my first airplane trip, at least the first one that I was old enough to remember, and I wanted to go somewhere on an airplane again.  The airplane ride was fun, but had I thought things through more, I probably would have brought my car.

Of the eight students in my Research Experiences for Undergraduates program, only Marcus drove here; his trip was about as long as mine would have been.  Kirk and Jeannie, who attended Grandvale State year round, did not have cars, and the others came from farther away.  Unfortunately, Marcus’ vehicle was a small pickup truck.  So when someone suggested taking a weekend trip up to nearby Grand Mountain, then continuing over the mountains to the coast, the only way we could make it work was for most of us to pile in the back of the truck bed. 

“Is that legal here?” I asked, knowing that the laws governing motor vehicles sometimes varied from state to state.  I grew up being told it was illegal, although when I was learning to drive, I thought I saw that it was legal in my state in certain settings, even though seat belts were mandatory and pickup truck beds did not have seat belts.  This did not make sense to me, and I never did figure out exactly what the law said in my state. But knowing this was never a priority for me, since I never planned on riding in the back of a pickup truck until today, and I never have since.

“I don’t know,” Julie said dismissively, as if she did not care.

“I’ll drive extra carefully if there are people in the back,” Marcus said.  “And if I do get in trouble for it, it would be me, not you.”

“I guess,” I said, not thrilled with the idea of riding in the back, but also not wanting to miss out on this day out with my new colleagues and friends.

On the morning we left, it was mostly sunny with some clouds scattered across the sky, mostly coming from the west, the direction we would be going.  I wore long pants and brought a sweatshirt.  Back home, the weather on the coast can often be much cooler than the weather inland, and I needed to be prepared for anything.  Marcus, Emily, and I sat in the cab of the pickup truck, with Marjorie, Ivan, Julie, and Jeannie in the back.  Kirk was a local and had seen these places many times, and he had made other plans for the weekend, so he stayed behind.  We planned to take turns who would be sitting in the cab.

About five miles west of Grandvale, the road to the coast split in two, one heading west toward Baytown, the other southwest toward Forest Beach.  We turned southwest and followed that road for another five miles, then turned onto Grand Mountain Road.  A sign said that the peak was another nine miles up that road, and it became quickly evident that those nine miles would be full of sharp turns with barely enough space for two cars to pass each other.

“I like this view,” Emily said.

“Yeah,” Ivan agreed.  “Very different from back home.”  Ivan was from New York City; he probably saw forested mountains in his day-to-day life much more infrequently than I did.

It took about forty-five minutes to drive to the peak of Grand Mountain.  We parked at the small parking area at the end of the road, then walked a trail leading about a quarter mile through a grove of trees to the peak.  Two radio towers with antennae and satellite dishes stood behind a fenced-off area at the peak, with a few picnic tables just beyond this.  We walked to the picnic tables and sat, facing toward more mountains away from the radio towers.

Grand Mountain was the highest peak in the region, but from this viewpoint, it seemed to be surrounded by a sea of other mountains.  Normally, with a view like this, I would have wanted to look down on Grandvale and identify roads and landmarks, and see if I could pick out Howard Hall.  But the direction we faced from these picnic tables did not have a good view of all of Grandvale.  I could see the Willamette Valley opening up below through a break in the mountains, but from this exact spot, I mostly only saw fields in the valley.  Even if I had had a good view of the Grandvale State campus, I probably would not have been able to pick out Howard Hall to begin with, since I did not know my way around Grandvale well enough yet.

The surrounding mountains were green, thickly forested, with grassy clearings scattered throughout.  Normally, in my experience, trees on the edge of a forested area have branches covered with needles all the way up their trunks, but these trees had tall, bare trunks with a much smaller cluster of green needles at the top. It looked as if they had grown in the middle of a forest, and the adjoining half of the forest had suddenly been removed. I thought about this for a bit, then I said, “Why are there those clearings like that, with trees with no needles on the sides?  Is it because the trees next to them have been cut down?”

“I think so,” Marcus replied.  “Something like that.”

“Clear-cutting is so sad,” Julie added.

“At least they don’t cut down the whole forest,” I said. “They spread out the areas they cut down to make it easier for the trees to grow back eventually. That seems like a good way to do it.”

After we sat admiring the view for about half an hour, we drove back down the mountain and continued driving away from Grandvale toward Forest Beach on the coast.  A sign indicated that we would be passing through a town called Spruce Creek before we reached Forest Beach, and Marcus commented that he would probably have to stop there for gas.  As we arrived in Spruce Creek, Marcus said, “Looks like we don’t have much of a choice for gas,” as we drove up to one of the two gas pumps at the one general store in this town of less than two hundred people.

“This is a town?” Ivan said after we stopped.  “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a town this small.”

“I know they exist, but yeah,” I said, although I had not grown up around towns this small either.

After we finished getting gas, Jeannie and Julie took the next turn in the cab; I got in the back with Ivan, Emily, and Marjorie.  Five minutes later, the truck slowed to a halt.  This certainly did not seem like the kind of road to get much traffic.  I stood up to look ahead and saw a long line of cars in front of us, then just barely in the distance, as the road curved, I saw a large, newly fallen tree across the road.

“What’s going on?” Marjorie asked.

“Tree fell on the road,” I explained.

“Can we get through?”

“I see cars coming in the other direction.  There’s probably one lane open, and we take turns.”

Just as I sat back down, I felt drops of water on my head, and within about a minute, the drops had grown to a light but steady rain.  “Great,” I said, not dressed for rain.

“It didn’t look rainy when we left,” Emily observed.

“With the mountains right on the coast, the weather can probably change a lot in a short distance,” I explained.

By the time we finally got to Forest Beach, the rain had softened to a light drizzle, still wet enough to be uncomfortable considering that my clothes were already wet.  We found a place to park, for a small fee, and walked to the beach.  The gray sky made the choppy water also look gray, and the lack of sun just made the whole experience, although scenic, feel gloomy.

“Here we are,” Jeannie said.  “The Oregon coast.”

The seven of us walked down to the damp sand.  Some of the others took off their shoes and socks; I did not.  I did not want to deal with the mess, especially with my clothes already so wet.  I saw a very small but recognizable stream trickling across the sand, less than a foot wide and easy to step over.  We spent about half an hour walking up and down the coast.  Ivan was talking about something that had reminded him of some movie I had not seen, and Julie had gotten onto the topic of her favorite sex positions, and with nothing to contribute to either of those conversations, I held back a bit and did my best to enjoy the view.

By the time we got back to Marcus’ truck, the drizzle had let up slightly.  We drove back the other way, fifteen miles up the coast to Baytown and then inland on the other road leading to Grandvale.  The other road was presumably a better road, more well-traveled, and we would not have to deal with the delay caused by the fallen tree. I approved of this decision; it would give me a chance to see different scenery on the way back.  The scenery looked very similar to what we saw on the westbound trip, thickly forested mountains with clearings where logging had occurred, but it was still nice to see something new.


The Friday after our beach trip was July 4, Independence Day.  The university was closed for the holiday, and we did not have class.  After a long week of researching quasi-Monte Carlo integration and low discrepancy sequences, I was ready to take a break from mathematics today.  I spent most of the morning reading and catching up on emails, and I went for a short bike ride around campus.

After I ate a microwaved chicken sandwich in my room for dinner, I met the other seven students from the REU program. Grandvale was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century on the west bank of the Willamette River, and since then it had grown from that original downtown, mostly to the west and north, with the east side of the river remaining undeveloped farmland. The seven of us walked a mile and a half from the campus to the river, where the city’s Independence Day festival was happening today. Grandvale was far enough north that the sun would not set until after nine o’clock, so we had a few hours until it would be dark enough for fireworks.

A park extended for about the length of five city blocks between River Street and the actual river, bisected by an old truss bridge carrying eastbound traffic out of town.  A newer, wider bridge had been built parallel to this one about half a mile to the south; I could see that one off in the distance in that direction.  River Street had been blocked off to traffic for tonight, and numerous food booths, community organizations, and people trying to sell things had set up tables along the side of the street.  Large crowds roamed River Street, whic had been decorated with United States flags and various banners with a similar stars-and-stripes theme.

I saw just ahead of me a girl who looked no older than twelve or thirteen, wearing a patriotic outfit and theatrical makeup.  She pressed Play on a small boombox-like device that had a microphone attached; as music began playing, the girl started singing “You’re A Grand Old Flag.”  That seemed kind of strange, just out of nowhere, but at least the song was fitting for today.  After that, she started singing other songs, mostly old rock-and-roll standards.

“I never really understood the Fourth of July,” Jeannie observed.  “It’s nice to have a day off, but what are we really celebrating?  We’re not exactly the greatest country in the world.”  I wisely held my tongue as she continued.  “And why fireworks?  It seems like there must be something better to celebrate our nation than explosions.”

“Celebrate the independence of your nation by blowing up a small part of it,” I said, in a fake accent to match that of the man who said that to Homer Simpson as he sold him illegal fireworks. That episode, the season finale from a year ago, was one of my favorites.

“Yes!” Ivan replied.  “The M-320!”

“What?” Marjorie asked.  “Is that from The Simpsons or something?”

“Yeah,” I explained.  “The family used the Flanderses’ beach house for the Fourth of July, and Homer went to buy illegal fireworks.  And he ended up blowing up the kitchen.  And Lisa made some new friends in the beach town.  Now that I think about it, it’s probably the only one of my favorite episodes that primarily focuses on Lisa.  Usually Lisa can be pretty annoying.”

“What?” Julie said.  “She’s the only sensible one!  The rest of the family is annoying.”

“But she can be kind of self-righteous and snobby, I think.”

“You prefer Homer the buffoon?”

“Yes!  He’s funny!”

At this point, we walked past the singing girl again, in the other direction.  I noticed that she sang the same four songs over and over again, and that she had a hat in front of her for tips.  Since she sang the same songs, I could not tell if she was actually singing along to recorded background music or just lip-synching.  I had never seen a street performer this young before, and something felt a little odd about her.

“I had actually never seen The Simpsons until last week when I watched it with you guys,” Jeannie said.  “It wasn’t quite as bad as I thought it would be.”

“‘Wasn’t quite as bad,’” I repeated.  “I see how it is.”

“Well, I used to not watch it on principle.”

“On principle?”

“Yeah!  Watching The Simpsons is like watching Beavis and Butthead.”

Great, I thought.  Insult one of my favorite shows by comparing it to one of my other favorite shows.  You probably also agree with Julie that Lisa, the intellectual snob, is your favorite.

As the sun started to set, the eight of us found a permanent place to sit for the night, on the packed dirt bank of the river facing the other shore.  Kirk had been here before to watch fireworks, and he said that they launch from across the river, so we should have a good view from here.

“Most of the fireworks I’ve watched have been at Disneyland,” Marjorie said.  “We have annual passes.  We’re gonna go as soon as I get home.”

“That’ll be fun,” Ivan said.  “I’m not doing anything when I get back home.  School starts right away for me.”

“I’m not going straight home.  I’m spending the weekend after the program at my boyfriend’s house in Ohio,” Emily explained.  “I was talking to my sister today, and she said, ‘Mom asked me, “Do you think Emily and Ryan are having sex?”’ If my mom wants to know so bad, why doesn’t she just ask me?  It pissed me off.”  They probably were, I thought.  I knew that the norm for people my age was not the Christians I hung out with who believed in saving themselves for marriage. At least they said they believed that.

“What about you, Greg?” Emily asked.  “What are you doing after this?  When do you start school again?”

“Jeromeville is on the three-quarter schedule, so we don’t start until the end of September, but then we go until the middle of June.  So I’m still gonna have a month of summer left.  I’m going to spend two weeks at my parents’ house, then move into my new house in Jeromeville, then I’m going on a retreat the week before school starts.”

“With that church group?” Ivan asked.

“Yes.”

Around ten o’clock, when it was finally dark, a hush fell over the crowd as the first firework launched into the air, then exploded into a brilliant multi-colored sunburst.  People cheered.  The fireworks continued on for almost half an hour, with recordings of marching bands playing patriotic music in the background.  At the end of the show, several rockets launched at once, briefly illuminating the sky in bursts of color reflecting off of the smoke of so many previous fireworks.  After this, everything went dark and silent as the crowd cheered, then the lights of the surrounding park came back on about ten seconds later.

“That was fun,” Ivan said as we stood up.

“That was amazing!” I added.  “I really didn’t grow up watching fireworks.  The fireworks in Jeromeville last year were really the first fireworks I remember seeing.  And this show seemed a little longer.”

“Why didn’t you watch fireworks?” Jeannie asked.

“I don’t know.  We just never did.  And sometimes it’s too foggy for fireworks.”

“Fog?  In July?”

“Yeah.  Plumdale is close to the coast, so kind of like what we saw on the coast last weekend.”

“I guess.”

“And home fireworks are illegal in both Plumdale and Jeromeville.  So fireworks are still a new experience to me.”

I was still on a high from the fireworks as we walked the mile and a half back to Howard Hall in the dark.  Marjorie was talking more about growing up going to Disneyland multiple times per year, some of the others were talking about graduate school plans, others were sharing stories about partying, and I mostly felt left out of the conversation. I walked along the same road as them, but I was in my own little world, comforted by thoughts of fireworks and explosions and celebrating freedom.  This was a familiar feeling to me; I often felt left out when others my age talked about normal life experiences that were foreign to me.

My story was unusual in that I grew up in the United States of America without watching fireworks.  And hearing others talk about things I could not relate to, or experiences I wished I had had, always made me feel rejected.  But instead of getting angry about it, maybe I should look on the bright side. Since fireworks were missing from my childhood, I still was able to enjoy fireworks as an adult, and I had not yet become bored or jaded by fireworks shows.  This trip to Oregon was only the second time I remembered being on an airplane, so riding in an airplane was still fun and exciting in and of itself, rather than a hassle to be endured before the rest of the trip.  And even though Marjorie got to go to Disneyland as many times in a year as I had ever been in my life, this just meant that Disneyland would be fun and new to me when I finally made it back there at age thirty-one.


Readers: Is there anything your friends often talk about that you’ve never seen or done? And do you ever wish you had?

Just so you know, it is possible I might be taking a week off from writing here and there over the next few months. Life is going to be unpredictable. Thanks for being patient with me. Make sure you are subscribed, so you don’t miss an episode.

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June 26, 1997. Hearing presentations, a familiar name, and a used bicycle. (#136)

On Thursday morning, as I had every other day this week and would for every day of this program, I walked from my room in Howard Hall to the classroom in Keller Hall where I had my class every morning.  I did not see any of the seven other students in the program leave, so I walked alone today.  It was cool and breezy, but the sky was blue, and I suspected it would warm up later.

Five others had arrived before I did.  In addition to Ivan Winn and Marcus Lee, whom I had met on Sunday when I arrived, Kirk Stone and Emily Sanders were already sitting in the room.  Emily was from upstate New York and pronounced some words in a distinct accent different from that of the West Coast.  She was a little shorter than average, slim with curly brown hair to her shoulders.   Kirk was one of two students in the program who actually attended Grandvale State, instead of having traveled here from elsewhere like me.  He was thin, with wavy brown hair and a build that I associated with typical Pacific Northwest outdoor activities like hiking or rock climbing.  Kirk, as a lifelong Oregonian, had made sure to educate all of us from out of state about how to pronounce local place names.  The last syllable of Oregon was pronounced more like “gun” than “gone,” and the Willamette, the river flowing through Grandvale, was pronounced with the accent on the second syllable.  “It rhymes with ‘damn it,’” he had said.  The beginning was not pronounced like actor Willem Dafoe, and it was definitely not pronounced like William.  I knew all of this, though.  I had relatives in the area on my grandfather’s side, and we took a road trip for a family reunion when I was eleven years old, in 1988.  My mother had corrected my pronunciation of Willamette on that trip.

I sat in an empty seat next to Ivan. “Hey, Greg,” Ivan said.  “What’s up?”

“Not much,” I replied.  “The guy who led that Bible study I went to on Tuesday said he has a bike I can borrow for the summer, so I’ll probably walk to his house and get that this afternoon.”

“Good.”

“That’ll be nice,” Emily said.  “You said you’re into cycling?”

“I don’t know if I’d call it ‘cycling,’” I explained.  “I don’t have a nice, expensive bike or anything.  But bicycles are really big in Jeromeville.  The newer parts of town have bike trails connecting the neighborhoods, and the campus extends into the rural area outside of town, since they do agricultural research there.  There are a lot of fun places to explore on a bike around Jeromeville.  And it’s flat, so it’s easy riding.  I started going for bike rides when I was bored freshman year, and I just never got out of that habit.  It’s pretty much the only exercise I get too.”

“I’m glad you found a bike, then,” she said.

The three missing students all arrived together about five minutes after I did.  Jeannie Lombard, the other student from Grandvale State, had long blonde hair and usually wore sandals, sort of a hippie look.  Julie Callahan was from Connecticut; she had chin-length brown hair, and was built like she might have played basketball or softball when she was younger, but had not kept it up into young adulthood.  And Marjorie Tanner, short and energetic with short curly brown hair, was a bit of a contradiction.  She was originally from California and talked like the stereotypical ditzy surfer girl, but she attended Harvard during the school year, so she was not actually ditzy, at least when it came to academics.

“Hey,” Julie said as the three of them entered.

“Hey, Julie,” Kirk said.  “What’s up?”

“Nothing.  What do you guys think of the presentations so far?  Any of them you really want to do?”

“I’m probably going to do one of the topology ones with Dr. Garrison.  But I want to look into applying topological methods to other areas,” Marcus explained.  “I didn’t think I was going to do topology this summer, but he had some very interesting things to say about that.”

After an introduction to the program on Monday, the rest of this week’s class time would be spent hearing the three professors working with the program talk about the areas of research that we could work on this summer.  Dr. Garrison had proposed some applications of topology, the study of properties of surfaces and how they are affected when they are stretched and twisted.  His talk focused on a surface called a punctured torus, a donut-like shape with one point missing.  I had not taken any classes about topology, so I was thinking that I would probably not do a topology-related project.

Today, a professor named Dr. Schneider was talking about Monte Carlo integration.  I learned how to calculate definite integrals in calculus in high school, but for some functions, the values of its definite integrals cannot be calculated exactly.  Various methods for approximating these values existed, with varying levels of complexity, efficiency, and accuracy.  The simpler methods tended to be less efficient, less accurate, or both.  I had studied some of these methods last year in a class called Numerical Analysis.  Monte Carlo integration used random numbers to produce a reasonably accurate result for these integral problems; the method was named for the famous gambling resort in Monaco, because of its reliance on random numbers.  Such methods could be improved upon; by choosing certain other sequences of numbers in place of the random numbers, a more accurate result can be obtained with fewer calculations.  This project sounded more interesting than the others that had been presented so far, mostly because I could actually follow what was going on in the talk.


The eight of us in the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program were given the use of a study room with couches, tables, and three computers.  I went there after our morning class ended, to check my email.  The most interesting message I had was from my mother, updating me on everything going on with her, my father, my 15-year-old brother Mark, and other people back home I might know.  I began typing a reply, telling my mother about my last few days, about the Bible study I had been to and the possible research projects for this summer.  I was staring at the wall trying to think of ways to explain Monte Carlo integration to someone with no knowledge of calculus when Kirk, Marjorie, and Julie walked in.  I said hi to them, and they said hi back.

As I was typing my email to Mom, I was vaguely aware of the other three playing Hangman on the chalkboard on the wall to the left of me.  After I sent the email, I walked to the others.  Marjorie stood at the board, with Kirk and Julie guessing letters.  Marjorie had written the category as “thing,” and her puzzle had two words, of nine and five letters, respectively.  The first word had an N for the third letter, and an E in the second to last position, and the second word had an O in the second position and ended with S.  The letters A, L, and H had been guessed and were not in the word.

_ _ N _ _ _ _ E _
_ O _ _ S

“I,” Julie guessed.

“No I,” Marjorie replied, writing I with the other letters not in the puzzle.

“No I?” Julie exclaimed.  “Where are all the vowels?  What is this?”

“I know,” I said.

“What?”  Kirk replied.

“I know what the puzzle is.”

“How do you know?” Julie asked.  “What is this word with no vowels?”

“You haven’t guessed all the vowels,” I said slyly.

“Fine,” Kirk replied indignantly.  “U.”   Marjorie filled in the blanks for the three Us in the puzzle.

_ U N _ _ U _ E _
_ O _ U S

“There are the vowels,” Julie said, “but I still don’t know it.”

“I don’t want to interrupt your game,” I said.  “You guys were trying to figure it out.”

“You can play if you want.”

“I’ll play the next one.  I’ll let you guys figure this one out.”

I turned my attention to a bookshelf next to the chalkboard.  The bookshelf contained the proceedings from previous years’ REU projects; I grabbed one at random and began flipping through the pages.  This one was from 1996, last year’s program.  Since I still had no idea what I was doing this summer, I thought that looking through these might help me get some ideas of what my final report should look like, even if the mathematics itself would end up being wildly different.  Each book contained a different number of reports, depending on how many students worked on each project.  Some students who worked with the same professor wrote separate reports, and others seemed to work together, with multiple names on one report.  Most likely, the nature of the research being done dictated whether it required separate reports or a collaborative report.

Kirk guessed T in the Hangman game.    Marjorie filled in the two Ts in the puzzle, and Kirk groaned when he realized that the answer was “punctured torus,” a word from yesterday’s math presentation.  Kirk took the next turn, and as he stood at the chalkboard thinking of a word, I picked up a different book of REU proceedings.  This one was from 1994; Dr. Garrison was still the lead professor, and Dr. Schneider worked on this one too, but the other two professors were names I did not recognize.  I glanced at the list of participating students and the universities that they were from, to see if any of them were from anywhere interesting, and I felt that weird jolt pass through my body as I read a name that I recognized.

“Hey,” I said.  “Someone I know is in here.”

“What is that?” Marjorie asked.

“The proceedings from this program in 1994.”  I turned the book to the others so that they could see what I was pointing to: Mary Heinrich, University of Jeromeville.

“Oh, wow,” Marjorie observed.  “Someone else from Jeromeville.”

“And you actually know her?” Kirk asked.

“She was a senior when I was a freshman,” I explained.  “And she was President of the Math Club that year.  I didn’t know her well, but that year I knew her to say hi to.”

“That’s cool,” Marjorie said.

As we guessed letters in Hangman, I thought about what it meant that Mary Heinrich had also done the REU at Grandvale State.  Probably nothing, in the grand scheme of things.  Dr. Thomas had probably recommended the REU to many promising mathematics students, as she had done with me.  Mary probably noticed the same thing I had, that Jeromeville gets out for the summer a month after most other universities, and after many REU programs begin.  Students from Jeromeville doing an REU would be limited as to which ones they could apply to without missing spring quarter finals, so maybe REU students from Jeromeville tended to end up at the same few programs.  Still, it was interesting that, although I had never heard of this program until a few months ago, and only a few students participate each year, I knew someone else who had been in the program.


I arrived in Grandvale four days ago, in the late morning on a Sunday, and I quickly found a church that had an evening service.  I had told the greeter at church about my situation, that I was only in town for two months for a research internship at the university, and she forwarded my contact information to the college and young adult pastor, a man in his thirties named Joe Ferris.  He invited me to the weekly Bible study for that age group that met on Tuesdays, and it was at Bible study that he mentioned that he had a bicycle I could borrow.

After playing a few more rounds of Hangman, I went back to my room and made a sandwich, then I called Joe Ferris and asked if I could walk to his house and pick up the bicycle now.  He said that he and his family might be leaving the house for a bit around the time I got there, but they would leave the bicycle in the side yard with the gate unlocked for me.

The Ferrises, a family of five, lived in the central part of Grandvale on 16th Street.  I walked the route that had become very familiar to me over the last few days, as if I were going to class in Keller Hall, but when Keller approached to my right, I continued walking north to Maple Street, the boundary between the campus and city.  I then crossed Maple Street and walked north on 21st Street, past small apartment complexes and old houses.  I had been this way once before, to go grocery shopping on Monday.  This was a major thoroughfare leading to the northern part of Grandvale, but in this old neighborhood, the street was narrow, with only one lane for cars in each direction.

I passed a commercial area about half a mile past the university, with a pizza place, the grocery store I had gone to earlier in the week, a coffee shop, and other stores.  Beyond this was a traffic light at Cedar Street.  I crossed the street at the light and then turned east.  As I walked down Cedar Street, I heard honking from an approaching car.  I looked up and saw the Ferrises driving west.  Joe waved at me from the driver’s seat, and I could see his wife, Anne, in the passenger seat, and their three daughters waving from the back.  I waved back.

When I arrived at the Ferrises’ house, the bicycle was on the side of the garage, just as Joe had said it would be.  It was green, a cruiser-style bicycle with a chain guard and clunky fenders, although the fenders would come in handy if it rained again.  It looked like it was probably at least over a decade old.  It was not pretty or sleek in any way, but it was a bicycle, and it was free to use.

I rode back down 16th Street and turned on Cedar the way I came.  I was pedaling fast and not getting very far, so I shifted the front dérailleur to a higher gear.  I heard the chain make a funny noise, then suddenly felt no resistance in my pedaling.  The chain had slipped off of the gears.

No problem, I thought.  This happened all the time with Schuyler, my bike back in Jeromeville, and usually I can just pedal while I shift the front to its highest gear, and the chain will drag back into place.  But this slip happened when I was in the process of shifting to a higher gear, so now I was not sure what to do.  I tried pushing the shift lever as far as it would go, and the chain did not reattach.  I tried frantically moving both dérailleurs as I pedaled, and nothing seemed to want to make the chain reattach.

I turned the bike upside down to see what was happening closer up.  With Schuyler, it would have been easy to push the rear dérailleur loose, grab the chain, slip it around the gears, and then let the rear dérailleur spring back into place.  But this bicycle had a chain guard, so I could not easily grab the chain from that side.  I tried grabbing it from the side that was normally on the bottom, away from the chain guard.  A thick layer of black grease immediately covered my hand; at this point, I did not care, I just had to be careful not to stain or damage any of my clothes permanently.  I tried to move the chain into position, but I could not get it in place no matter how hard I pulled.  I tried again, pulling in a slightly different direction, and I felt a tooth of one of the gears scratch my skin.  I was bleeding now, and I was going to need another shower when I got home.

After about ten minutes of fiddling, shifting, and swearing, I finally felt the chain start to catch on a gear as I pushed the pedal forward with my hands.  I slowly continued turning the pedal, and the chain clicked into place.   Finally.  I turned the bike right side up on its wheels and began pedaling home.

Now how could I make sure that this did not happen every time I rode the bike?  I had been shifting gears on the rear dérailleur repeatedly before I attempted to shift the front, and nothing had gone wrong.  Maybe I was going to have to spend the entire summer only shifting gears in the back.  I supposed I could get used to that.

Now that I had a mode of transportation, I wanted to explore more of Grandvale.  But I was dirty, and still bleeding a little, and getting cleaned up and staying in my room seemed like a much more appealing way to spend the evening.  I had work to do, books to read, and letters to write.  I walked the bike into the Howard Hall elevator and got off on the third floor; Emily was walking past when I got out of the elevator.

“Hey, Greg,” Emily said.  “Is that the bike you’re borrowing?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I learned the hard way that it doesn’t shift properly in the front.”  I showed her my right hand, still covered in black grease with a few small blood stains.

“Wow.  Are you okay?”

“I will be.  Just grease and scratches.  I have Band-Aids in my room.”

“Okay.  Be careful.”

“I will.”


Mom had told me in her email earlier that she would be sending my package of things I needed for the summer, but was not able to pack on the plane, on Friday morning.  That was tomorrow, so I called Mom later that night and told her to send the bike lock in the package.  That way, if I had to ride to the grocery store or anywhere else, I would be able to leave the bike unattended.

I saw the Ferrises at church on Sunday, and Joe told me that they had seen me on the side of the road trying to fix the chain as they returned home. “I thought about honking and waving again, but I didn’t. We had a good laugh at that, though, since that bike always does that.”

“I got it eventually,” I said. “A reminder not to shift the front would have been helpful, though.”

“Sorry. I just forgot. Didn’t think to say anything.”

It was fun being on a different campus in a different state, but it was starting to get difficult being this far out of my comfort zone.  I missed my normal life in Jeromeville.  I missed my friends.  I missed Jeromeville Christian Fellowship and the youth group kids at Jeromeville Covenant Church.  I missed having a computer in my room.  I missed riding Schuyler on the bike trails in Jeromeville.  Of course, I still had no idea what experiences waited for me in the time I had left in Grandvale; maybe I would be surprised at everything that would happen.

Also, many of my Jeromeville friends were also leaving their comfort zones this summer.  Brian Burr, my roommate last year, was moving to New York later this summer to start medical school.  Taylor Santiago left in March to work at an urban ministry center in Chicago, volunteering with church youth groups from around the country that take week-long trips to Chicago to do urban ministry projects.  Jennifer Dawson, an acquaintance from another church in Jeromeville who knew the people who had the coffee house party in April, was going on a mission trip to Brazil this summer; I had donated money to her mission trip at that party.  And Eddie Baker, Melinda Schmidt, Tabitha Sasaki, Evan Lundgren, and seven of my other friends from JCF were leaving this week to spend a month in China, preaching the good news of Jesus to university students in a very hostile country.  If all of these people could handle being that far away from home to serve the Lord, surely I would be just fine spending eight weeks in Oregon doing mathematics.  Especially since I had already found a Bible study full of brothers and sisters in Christ who could help me with things like finding a used bicycle.  God would be with me wherever I went, according to several passages in the Bible.

The bicycle (with the lock that Mom sent)

Readers: Tell me an interesting story about a time you were away from home for an extended period.

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June 22, 1997. My arrival in Oregon. (#135)

Hello, readers! I’m back! Welcome to Year 4!


“Excuse me, sir,” the flight attendant said.  “Would you like to move up to first class?”

I looked around to see who this privileged flier was to whom this opportunity was being offered; I saw no one else nearby.  “Me?” I asked.

“Yes,” the flight attendant replied.  “The flight is really empty, so we’re letting people move up if they want.  There’s plenty of room.”

“Sure,” I said, shrugging my shoulders and following the flight attendant to the front of the plane.  We had been in the air for about ten minutes, and the first thing I had noticed was how empty the flight was.  I understand why normal people would not want to wake up early on a Sunday morning to catch a six-o’clock flight, but if the airplane was this empty, why not just use a smaller plane, or not offer a flight at this time at all?  The plane had around a hundred and fifty coach seats and twelve first-class seats, and with only nine passengers on the flight, we all fit in the first-class section.

I stretched my legs out, since I had more room to do so in first class, and began to nod off again, since I had only slept for four and a half hours.  My first (and, to this day, only) first-class flight lasted around an hour and a half, and the announcement that we were descending into Portland woke me from my nodding-off for good.

The Portland airport appeared to be undergoing some sort of expansion or renovation; evidence of recent ongoing construction was everywhere.  I managed to follow the signs to baggage claim with no trouble, however.  After I got my bag, I found a comfortable seat and began reading, since my bus would not leave for another hour.  I had just begun reading Needful Things by Stephen King; it was a fairly long book that should get me through a good portion of this summer.

About fifteen minutes before my bus was scheduled to leave, I followed the signs to ground transportation.  A small bus that looked like it would hold about twenty passengers was parked among several others; the side of this bus said TONY’S AIRPORT SHUTTLE – GRANDVALE – PDX.  I walked up to the Tony’s bus, and the driver asked me, “Name?”

“Gregory Dennison,” I replied.

The driver looked at his clipboard and said, “I’ve got you here.  Go on in.”

Tony’s Airport Shuttle was a private company running buses several times daily between Portland International Airport, the largest in Oregon, and the university town of Grandvale ninety miles away.  When I had been accepted into the Research Experiences for Undergraduates program for mathematics at Grandvale State, I was sent a packet that included travel information, including the telephone number for Tony’s Airport Shuttle.  I had made a reservation for this bus trip over the phone while I was at my parents’ house in Plumdale last week.

I watched rolling hills pass by out of the bus window.  Three other passengers were on this bus, and the ride lasted almost as long as the airplane trip did.  This part of Oregon was much more green than the world I was used to.  Back home in Plumdale, the green hillsides of spring were already starting to dry out, and in the hot inland summer of Jeromeville, where I went to school the rest of the year, the hills in the distance had been brown for a month already.  It made sense that Oregon would be more green, since much of the Pacific Northwest was known for being rainy.  One time several years earlier, I was playing a game on the Super Nintendo, stuck on a level where it was raining.  The game played rain sound effects continuously in the background, occasionally punctuated by thunder, and my mother, who was within earshot but not paying close attention to me, said, “What is this level you’re on?  Oregon?”

Today was a beautiful day, however, sunny with a few puffy white clouds sprinkled across the sky, and the temperature was just right when I got off the bus at the Grandvale bus depot.  I had told Dr. Garrison, the professor in charge of the REU program, which bus I would be on, and he said that a mathematics graduate student named Karen would be picking up students from the bus station as we arrived.  Dr. Garrison had emailed a photograph of Karen, so I would know who to look for, and I had a printed copy of this email with me.  The photo was black and white, but I remembered enough of what the actual color photograph looked like to identify an oddly-shaped woman sitting in the waiting area as Karen.

“Are you Gregory?” Karen asked me as I approached her.

“Yes,” I replied.  “You can call me Greg.”

“Hi!  I’m Karen.  It’s nice to meet you.  Are you ready?  You have all of your things?”

“Yes,” I said, following her to her car and putting my bags in the trunk.

Karen made small talk as we drove toward the campus.  “Which school are you from?” she asked me.

“University of Jeromeville,” I replied.

“I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard it’s nice.  That’s the school where everyone rides bikes, right?”

“Yeah.  Jeromeville is a great place to go for a bike ride.”

“You might be able to find a used bike here.  Grandvale is a college town with a lot of bikes too, but probably not as many as Jeromeville.”

“I’ll look into that.”

“You’re studying math?  Do you know what you want to do when you’re done with your degree?”

“Not really,” I explained.  “That’s kind of why I’m here, to figure that out, and see if math research is an option.”

“Well, I hope you have a great experience!  This is my second year working with the program, and I really enjoyed it last year.  Of course, I won’t be able to be part of it for the whole eight weeks, because this little guy will be coming sometime in July.”  Karen patted her rounded belly, and I realized then why I had found her to be oddly-shaped earlier: she was pregnant.  It was obvious now; I did not know why this did not occur to me when I first saw her.


Apparently, motor vehicles were allowed on more parts of the Grandvale State campus than on the Jeromeville campus, because Karen drove me through part of campus right up to a dorm called Howard Hall.  “This is it,” Karen said.  “The RAs are here handing out keys.  They should be expecting you.”

“Thank you for the ride,” I replied.

“I’ll see you tomorrow in class.  Nine in the morning.”

“Sounds good.  I’ll see you then.”

I carried my bag and backpack into the lobby of Howard Hall, where a guy with long hair and stubble on his face sat at a table.  “Are you moving in here?” he asked me.  “What’s your name?”

“Greg Dennison.  Room 312.  I’m with the mathematics REU program.”

“I’m Mike,” he said, looking at a paper on a clipboard.  “You’re in the right place.  Let me get you your key.”

“Thank you,” I said as Mike handed me an envelope.  I walked toward the elevator.  The dorm I had lived in freshman year at Jeromeville, Building C, was three stories high and had no elevator.  Howard Hall was five stories high, making an elevator more necessary.  I pressed the button for the third floor, and when the elevator arrived, I walked down the hall to find my room.

Howard Hall was a brick building, and the outer wall of my room was brick, interrupted by a window in the middle.  On the left wall were two large wardrobe-size cabinets, with drawers underneath, and in between them was a desk with a bulletin board above it.  On the right side of the room were a bed and a small refrigerator and microwave.  Howard Hall housed graduate students during the year, and this room looked like it was meant for one, but it was more spacious than my single room from Building C freshman year.

After I unpacked my clothes into the left wardrobe cabinet, I plugged in the telephone and called my mother, so she would know that I had arrived.  She asked me all sorts of questions about the other students and professors in the problem, and what exactly I would be researching; I told her repeatedly that I did not know any of this information yet.  Next, I decided to take a walk and get to know this campus better, since I had nothing to do the rest of the day.  I brought a campus map with me on my walk and began walking east on Pine Street.  The streets in Grandvale running east-west were named after trees, the north-south streets were numbered, and it appeared that most streets that crossed from the city into campus kept their names.  I turned left on 27th Street and passed a building called the Memorial Union, with a grassy area called the Quad just past it.  I thought this was curious, since Jeromeville also had a Memorial Union adjacent to a Quad.  I walked diagonally across the Quad to Keller Hall, the building that housed the mathematics department, so that I would know how to find my class in the morning.  It seemed easy to find.

Grandvale State was an older campus than Jeromeville, with more stately brick buildings, but with numerous other architectural styles represented.  As I walked east past a few more buildings, I saw Maple Street, the northern boundary of campus, across a field to the left.  I walked east along Maple Street, past campus buildings on the right and a mix of fraternity houses, businesses, and apartments on the left.  As I headed farther east, approaching the end of campus and start of downtown, I noticed a Baptist church across the street with a sign showing the service times.  They had a Sunday evening service at six o’clock; maybe I would have to try that tonight.  I would only be in Grandvale for eight weeks, I would not have time to search exhaustively for a church, but I wanted to go to church somewhere.  I attended an Evangelical Covenant church in Jeromeville, but there was not one in Grandvale; I had checked.

The blue sky that I had seen leaving Howard Hall had become cloudy, and just seconds after this thought registered in my mind, it began to rain.  The rain came down hard, I was at the point of my walk farthest from the dorm, and I wore nothing but a short sleeve t-shirt and shorts.  Go figure.  There had been no sign of rain twenty minutes ago, and while I knew that this part of Oregon was rainy, I expected late June to be the dry season.  Apparently I was wrong.  I started walking back toward the dorm, first south until I hit Pine Street, then west toward Howard Hall, past the large brick library and numerous other buildings.  By the time I got back to the Memorial Union, about ten minutes after it had started raining, the rain stopped just as suddenly.  The sky was blue again by the time I got back to Howard Hall, with no sign anywhere of the massive downpour I had just experienced.

I reached the elevator at the same time as a tall, thin Asian guy with glasses.  “Looks like you got caught outside at the wrong time,” he said, observing my wet clothes.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “I’m not used to this weather.  I’m not from here.”

When he saw me press the button for the third floor, he asked, “Are you one of the math REU students, by any chance?”

“Yes.  I’m Greg.”

“Me too.  I’m Marcus.  Nice to meet you.”

“You too,” I said.  I recognized the name from the program information that I was sent in the mail, which included a list of the students and the schools we represented.

“You’re from Jeromeville, is that right?” Marcus asked, obviously also recalling information from this same list.

“Yeah!  And you’re from somewhere in Minnesota?”

“Yes, Lakeview College, I’ll be a senior this fall, but I’m not from there originally. I grew in Los Montes, not far from you.”

“Oh!  Yeah, I know where that is.”  Los Montes was about an hour car trip down the Valley from Jeromeville, on highway 9 between Stockdale and Ralstonville.

“Jeromeville was actually my second choice, if I didn’t get into Lakeview.  There’s an abstract algebra professor at Lakeview that studies exactly what I want to do in grad school eventually.”

“I see,” I replied.  “I guess I chose Jeromeville because it was far enough from home to feel like I was on my own, but still close enough to go home on weekends.  And they offered me a scholarship for my grades.”

“Where is home?”

“Plumdale.  Santa Lucia County.”

“Oh, ok.  So was this a Regents’ Scholarship you were talking about?”

“Yeah.  And I was invited to the Interdisciplinary Honors Program.  I got invited to a preview day for that, and I really liked what I saw.”

“I was there too.  I would have been in the IHP if I hadn’t gotten into Lakeview.”

“Wow,” I said.  “Funny.”

At this point, we were standing in front of Marcus’ door.  “It was nice meeting you,” he said.  “I’ll see you tomorrow in class?”

“Yeah,” I replied.  “If not sooner.”  I walked back to my room, thinking about this odd coincidence that Marcus and I were almost in the same dorm freshman year at Jeromeville, had he not gone to Lakeview, and yet we ended up crossing paths three years later in another state.  Marcus had made it clear that he knew his future mathematics career path in great detail.  I did not, and I wondered if that would make this program a poor fit for me.  I tried to remember that I was here to explore career options, and that it was okay not to know at this point.


I walked outside again around 5:30, having changed into dry clothes and hoping it would not rain, in order to walk to Grandvale Baptist Church in time for the evening service.  When I explained to the greeter who I was, that I was in town until mid-August for a research internship, she asked for my contact information and said that she would forward it to the pastor who ran the college and career group.  I looked forward to getting involved with that.  The music was a bit more traditional than what I was used to at Jeromeville Covenant, but I liked classic hymns as well as contemporary worship music.  I liked this church well enough so far.

I had no food in the dorm room, and I had not purchased a meal plan, so I found a sandwich shop near the church that was still open, and ate the ham sandwich I bought from there on my walk back to my room.  I would have to find a grocery store tomorrow, and I would only be able to buy enough that I could carry on foot back to the dorm.

A while after I returned to my room, at eight o’clock, I walked down to the end of the hall, where there was a common room with couches and a television.  I was hoping to watch The Simpsons, King of the Hill, and The X-Files in peace, but two people were already watching television: Mike, the resident advisor I had met earlier, and a guy with a shaved head.  “What are you guys watching?” I asked nervously.

Simpsons,” Mike replied.

“Good,” I said, relieved.  “Can I join you?”

“Sure,” the guy with the shaved head said.  “I’m Ivan.”

“Greg.  Are you the Ivan in the math REU program?”

“Yeah!  Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

The Simpsons was a rerun, as were most shows in the middle of June.  In the show, the recurring villain Sideshow Bob was released from prison and sent to live with his brother.  “Sideshow Bob episodes are always so ridiculous,” Ivan commented.

“Yeah,” I replied.  I mimed stepping on a rake and getting hit in the face, a reference to an earlier Simpsons episode in which this repeatedly happened to Bob.  “Whack!  Uhhhh,” I said, imitating the rake sound effect and Bob’s grunt.

“I love that rake scene,” Ivan commented.

“So, is Bob’s brother played by a famous guest star?” Mike asked.

“Bob is Kelsey Grammar, from Frasier,” Ivan explained.  “And his brother is the actor who plays his brother on Frasier.

“I don’t know if I knew that,” I said.  I was impressed with Ivan’s Simpsons knowledge.  He may even be more knowledgeable about the show than me.

When The Simpsons ended and King of the Hill started, Ivan and Mike got up and headed back to the hallway “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Greg?” Ivan said as he was leaving.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Have a good night.”

I spent the next ninety minutes watching King of the Hill and The X-Files by myself; these were also reruns that I had seen once already.  When the shows ended at ten o’clock, I went back to my room, where there was nothing to do but read.  Mom had told me earlier to let her know if there was anything I needed her to send me.  I could probably make do without a computer in my room, as long as I found a computer lab on campus, and a television was not necessary since there was one in the common room.  But I definitely wanted my stereo and some CDs, if possible.  I had no music here.  I would call Mom again in the next couple days, after I thought of more things for her to send.

I read my Stephen King book for about another hour, then went to bed.  As I lay on the bed falling asleep, I felt uncertain about the next eight weeks.  I was definitely in an unfamiliar situation and place, and the thought of not seeing my friends in Jeromeville, or having the familiar comforts of home, made me uneasy.  Hopefully I would be able to find a used bike for the next eight weeks.  And I really hoped that today’s sudden downpour was not typical of the weather in Grandvale in the summer.  Some people actually liked this rainy weather, and I would never understand those people.  Gray skies made me sad, and water falling in my face getting things wet and dirty while I was just trying to get from one place to another made life more stressful and overwhelming than it already was.

On a positive note, I had already met two people in the math program, and Ivan and I shared The Simpsons as something in common.  I also had a lead on a group at church to get involved with.  Maybe the other math students, and any church friends I would make, would end up being lifelong friends, like the other students in the IHP my freshman year.  Or, for that matter, maybe I would not end up liking these people; I did not know.  The next eight weeks would be an adventure, and if the rainstorm this afternoon taught me anything, I would have to be prepared for the unexpected.

Howard Hall, 1997

Author’s note: What are your thoughts about the story moving from Jeromeville to Grandvale for the next several episodes? What do you think will happen to Greg in Grandvale? Does anyone want to make any bold predictions for later in year 4?

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March 22-24, 1997.  Spring Breakthrough, or whatever that retreat with the foosball table was actually called. (#125)

I put my suitcase and sleeping bag in a corner of a meeting room at the First Covenant Church of Stockdale.  I looked around, a little apprehensive about sleeping on the floor, in a sleeping bag, with eight other guys in their sleeping bags in the same room.  I did not sleep well in unfamiliar places, particularly with other people in the room who might be snoring or making noise or breathing.  But if I was tired enough, I would probably be fine.  After all, last year I almost got five hours of sleep camping illegally on the beach in Moonlight Cove, so I would probably be able to handle this.

This retreat was called Spring Breakthrough.  Or maybe it was Spring Breakaway, or Spring Breakout, or some other pun based on the retreat being during spring break.  Instead of driving up to the mountains, like we had on the other retreats I had been on with Jeromeville Christian Fellowship, we were just hanging out at a church in a nondescript suburban neighborhood in Stockdale, about an hour drive down the Valley south of Jeromeville.  I would learn later that the McAllens, the head staff of JCF, had a connection to someone at this church, which is how we got it for our retreat.

Spring Breakthrough was also open only to second-year and older students.  Freshmen had their own retreat somewhere else for these same three days, called by a different one of the aforementioned cheesy names.  I forget which.  Because it took up three days of a relatively short Spring Break, and because freshmen had their own retreat, Spring Breakthrough had fewer students attending compared to other JCF retreats I had been on, around twenty.

We arrived on Saturday evening, right after winter quarter finals, and for our first meeting, Brian Burr had set up a television and VCR.  Brian, one of my roommates, was on staff with JCF part time, and he was leading this retreat along with the McAllens, the adult couple on staff full time.  I knew exactly what we would be watching, because I had seen Brian working on this video earlier in the week.  Before he started the video, Brian spoke about discipleship, the theme for this weekend.  “Discipleship is intentional by nature,” Brian explained.  “When you disciple someone, you become a part of their lives, to help lead their spiritual growth.  To start you thinking about discipleship this weekend, I have prepared a video showing a very famous discipleship relationship among certain well-known characters.”  I giggled at Brian’s description of his video.  “Pay attention to what you see about the discipling relationships depicted in this video,” Brian continued.

Autumn Davies sat next to me, and when she heard me giggling, she whispered, “What’s so funny?”

“Just laughing at the way he described that,” I said, “because I know what the video is.”

“What is it?”

It’s Brian.  I’ll give you one guess.”

“Oh!” Autumn said, a look of recognition passing over her face.

Brian pushed the VHS tape in the player and pressed Play.  The opening music and scrolling backstory of Star Wars showed on the screen, and for the next hour, we watched an abridgement of the movie trilogy, containing all of the scenes related to discipleship.  I watched Obi-Wan teach Luke about the Force.  After Obi-Wan’s death, his Force ghost led Luke to Yoda, who took Obi-Wan’s place in Luke’s discipleship.

After the video, which in our abridged version ended with Luke seeing the three Force ghosts, we got into groups of three or four to talk about what discipleship meant to us, and to share stories about someone who had discipled us.  Autumn, Janet McAllen, and Evan Lundgren turned their chairs toward me.

“So what did you guys think?” Janet asked.  “Who has discipled you?”

After a pause, in which everyone seemed to be debating whether or not to go first, Autumn spoke up.  “For me, really, it was Leah, and everyone in my Bible study freshman year.  I grew up going to church on Christmas and Easter, but it didn’t really mean anything until I got here.  I met Leah our first day in the dorm, and she invited me to Bible study a couple weeks later, and I made a decision for Jesus after a few Bible studies.”

I did some quick mental math.  If Autumn became a Christian a few weeks into fall quarter her freshman year, which was my sophomore year, that means that she had only been a Christian for a month at the most when I met her, when our group failed so hilariously badly at the car rally.  I never would have guessed this, since Autumn always seemed so intense about living for Jesus.

Evan and Janet told their stories next, and finally it was my turn.  I did not want to share.  I was a little embarrassed.  “I feel like it’s hard to talk about,” I said.  “I don’t know if I want to share out loud, because the person who first comes to mind is in this room.”

“Brian,” Janet said with a look of recognition.

“Actually, I was thinking Eddie, last year when I was having a rough night, and he took me in and invited me over.  But, yeah, Brian too.  And all of you guys.  You, when you told me about sin and Jesus’ death and resurrection.  And Sarah, and…” I looked around, trying to remember if any of my other Building C friends were on this retreat; they were not, Sarah Winters was the only one.  “And my friends from my dorm, who accepted me for who I was.”

“Wait,” Autumn said.  “So you’re a pretty new Christian too?”

“Yeah.  I made the decision to follow Jesus a little over a year ago.”

“I didn’t know that.  You always seem to me like you must have been a Christian for a long time.”

“Funny you should say that.  I was just thinking the same thing about you.”

“That is funny,” Autumn said.  “I guess sometimes the Lord just finds you, and lights a fire in your heart.”

“Yeah.  Someone else said that about me once.”

We shared prayer requests, then returned to the rooms where we were sleeping, Janet and Autumn to one room with the women and Evan and I to the room with the men.  It took me a bit longer than usual to get to sleep, to get used to the unfamiliar noises and sounds, but I ended up sleeping fine after that.


We were staying at a church, and the next day was Sunday, so we all attended the service together.  The pastor of the church introduced us at the beginning of the service; people turned around to look at us, and we all waved.  

After church, we went back to the youth room, where our meetings were being held.  Eddie Baker, John Harvey, Lars Ashford, and Xander Mackey had discovered the foosball table on the opposite end of the room from where we were sitting last night.  I walked up, trying not to interrupt, since they were focused on an intense competition.  

“Hey, Greg,” Eddie said.

“What’s up?” Xander asked.

“Nothing,” I said.  “Can I watch?”

“Sure, dude,” Lars replied.  I watched as the four boys made the ball fly across the table with amazing precision that I never had known to be attainable on a foosball table.  I had played around on foosball tables off and on over the years, but I was never anywhere near this good.  As with most actual sports, everyone around me was better than I was.

John gestured out the window, where Brent Wang and a few others were throwing a Frisbee.  “I’m gonna go outside and play Frisbee with Brent,” John said after their game ended.  “Greg?  You want in?”

“Sure,” I replied.  I grabbed the handles for the defense side of John’s team, even though John had been playing offense; I hoped that Eddie would not mind playing offense.  I did not want to speak up, since that would require admitting that I was not very good at foosball, and blocking shots seemed slightly easier than flicking my wrist and sliding the handles the way the others had been in order to score.  Eddie grabbed the handles for the offense players without questioning this arrangement.

“So I found a foosball table for our house next year,” Lars said.  “It’s used, but I got a good deal on it.”

“That’s awesome,” Eddie replied.

“You guys are living together next year?” I asked.  The other three at this table had lived together last year, but this year Lars and Xander lived in one house and Eddie in another, along with John, who had been playing earlier.

“Yeah,” Xander said.  “Us three, John, and Jason and Ramon.  We got this really nice four-bedroom house on De Anza Drive.  It’s two-story, with a balcony.”

“That sounds cool,” I said as I successfully blocked Lars’ shot.  I was a little disappointed to hear that I had been excluded from The Cool House yet again, although I was not surprised.  I had been reminded so many times this year that I was on the outside of the cliques at JCF, and I had come to accept that.  I realized that I had not yet made plans for housing for next year, and while I had a feeling I would still be able to find something, I also began to panic in my mind.  This distracted me enough that Lars’ next shot went streaming past my goalie.  “Crap,” I said as Xander moved his team’s score counter up.


We had another talk about discipleship Sunday night, and another one Monday morning.  Word spread quickly that there was a foosball table in the room, and most of our free time was spent around that table, playing, watching, or waiting our turns.  Even Brent, who always seemed to bring a Frisbee wherever he went, had eschewed his Frisbee for foosball.

I finally got a win Monday afternoon.  I was playing with Autumn on my team, and Tabitha Sasaki and Evan Lundgren on the other side of the table.  None of us were particularly skilled at foosball, and Autumn and I won by a score of 10 to 8.  After that game, I stepped aside to let the more skilled players back in.

A little bit later, shortly before our final session on discipleship, I left the foosball table and wandered across the room to where we would be meeting.  Janet was writing a table of numbers on a large pad of paper attached to an easel.

Preaching to 100Discipleship of 1
1 year1002
5 years50032
10 years10001024
20 years20001048576
30 years30001073741824

“Exponential growth,” I said.

“Yes!” Janet replied.  “You get it, because you’re a math major.  Isn’t it amazing how effective discipleship can be, when people get discipled and go on to disciple others?”

“Yes.”

About ten minutes later, Janet and a few others walked around the room to gather everyone together for the talk.  When we were ready to begin, Janet announced, “Turn to the person next to you, and tell them, what do you want to take home from this weekend?”

Xander was sitting next to me.  As I tried to think of a deep answer, something I had learned this weekend that I wanted to put into practice in my life back in Jeromeville, Xander said loudly, “I wanna take home the foosball table!”  I laughed at this, as did everyone else within earshot.

“I’m still figuring out what to take away from this,” I said.  “I feel like discipleship isn’t something I’m naturally good at.”

“That’s okay,” Xander replied.  “Sometimes it’s just about how you live.  Spreading the gospel isn’t just about preaching.  People see you helping out, volunteering to help the worship team set up their equipment, stuff like that, and they can see you showing the love of Jesus.  And didn’t you say you’re doing something with the youth group at Jeromeville Covenant?”

“Yeah,” I replied.

“Those kids are gonna remember you.  That’s a kind of discipleship too.”

“That’s true.”

After everyone finished, Janet spoke to the group.  “I made a table here,” she said, gesturing to the easel.  “This column shows how many people get reached for Jesus if you preach to a hundred people every year.  But this column over here shows how many people you reach if you disciple one person for a year, and then each of them disciples someone else for a year, and then each of them disciples someone, and so on.  Notice how fast the number grows through discipleship.”  I smiled and nodded, thinking about having learned this in math class, as Janet continued, “And Greg can tell us why.”

What?  Me?  This was unexpected; I was not prepared to speak.  But this was math, and I knew exactly what to say.  I nervously stood up, and after no one told me to sit back down, I began.  “Preaching is a linear function.  The rate of change is always the same, so the same number of people get reached every year.  But with discipleship, the more people who get reached, the more new people they will reach.  The rate of change is proportional to the number of people reached.  That describes an exponential function.  The number of people reached grows faster and faster as more people get reached.”  I sat back down, and all the other students clapped.  I hoped that they actually learned something from my explanation, something about math and about Christian living, and that their applause was not just humoring me as I got an opportunity to use big math words.

As Janet continued talking about discipleship, I kept thinking about what I told Xander: discipleship did not come naturally to me.  I often felt like I was not a very good Christian because I was not good at inviting people to JCF or telling strangers about my beliefs.  But Xander did make a good point; living a life for Jesus can take many different forms.  I seemed to be finding a niche as a youth group leader at church.

The last thing on the schedule tonight was dinner, and we would all be headed home to our respective spring breaks tonight.  Before we went to dinner, though, Autumn suggested, “We should get a group picture!”

“Yeah!” Janet replied.  “Where should we go to get a good picture?”

“Around the foosball table,” John suggested.  “That’s pretty much what we did this whole time.”

Everyone liked John’s idea.  We all gathered around the table and gave our cameras to Dave, Janet’s husband; he took the picture many times, on everyone’s camera, and then handed our cameras back to us.

After dinner, I packed and said goodbye to everyone.  My spring break was only a week, so I would see them again soon.  I had a two and a half hour drive home, plenty of time to think about all I had learned.  I stopped at the first gas station to fill up, and while I was there I used the pay phone to call Mom with an estimate of what time I would be home.  Before I left for the retreat, I had told Mom I would be home Monday night, but I did not know yet what time.  I would not be getting home until after ten o’clock tonight; Mom told me to drive safely, and that she might be asleep on the couch by the time I got there.

I put in a new CD I had recently bought at the Christian bookstore in Jeromeville, by a new band from Georgia called Third Day.  I had heard Eddie and John play this CD the last time I was at their house, and I liked what I heard.  I still had nowhere to live next year.  Neither Brian nor Shawn, my current roommates, would be in Jeromeville next year, so living with them was not an option.  Fall quarter was six months away, but the housing market in Jeromeville was so tight that I needed to make a plan quickly.  Living in The Cool House with Eddie and those guys would have been nice, but that ship had sailed.  I knew enough people by now that if I started mentioning my need for a place to live and roommates for the 1997-98 school year, there was a good chance that someone would know something.  I put the thought out of my mind as I drove; it would be a spring quarter problem, after I got back to Jeromeville in six days.  I had a fourth roommate, Josh, whom I did not see as often, and I did not know if he would need a roommate next year.  I had gotten closer to him lately, though, since he was also a youth group leader at church, and he would be the one who led me to my living situation for the following year.  But that is a story for another time.

Much of the ministry model of Jeromeville Christian Fellowship was based on students inviting their friends to group meetings, Bible studies, or retreats.  This was how I got involved in JCF, and how I learned what it meant to follow Jesus.  But I just was not good at inviting people to things, and sometimes I felt like I was not a good enough Christian because of that.  I knew that God had a role for me in his kingdom, and at least for now, being a youth leader was part of it.  I was still trying to figure out exactly what form my acts of discipleship would take, and sometimes it was difficult to know if I was actually doing God’s will, or just doing what I wanted.


Hey, readers! Tell me about someone who mentored or discipled you in a memorable way.

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