We woke Sunday morning having slept in the car at a highway rest stop. The night before we attempted to get a spot at Camp Joseph. I knocked on the door of a cabin and a confused gentleman explained it was after hours and reservations must be made in advance. He wished us luck and we drove off looking for an inconspicuous place to sleep. We were tired.
This same man saw us parked in the church parking lot early the next morning. He strolled past, paused, then came back and inquired how we were. We said we were great. He asked where we spent the night. As Kaleo answered him, the man’s face fell. Kaleo ensured him we were fine, but the man entered the church building with newly slumped shoulders.
Having guessed at the start time of services, we arrived more than an hour early. This was fine with us, church wasn’t the only reason we were here.
Sharon Vermont is the birthplace of the prophet Joseph Smith. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has constructed a visitors center and a sort of memorial on the site of the Smith’s ancestral home. It wasn’t yet open that morning but a grey haired man wearing a missionary name tag, neck tie in hand, emerged from a side door as we crossed the lot.
With an honest smile he waved us over, fishing in his pocket for a set of keys. “Come on, come on. Let me open things up for you. I was headed to choir practice but I think they can wait a minute or two.” The man, without asking us our religious affiliation, pulled us in and commenced to giving us the tour complete with explanations of the roots of Mormonism. Half way through he paused and asked us how much we already knew about the church. Learning our answer he paused, chuckled a little, then launched right back into his explanations. The man was sincere, informative, and in an incredibly good mood for having opened up shop more than four hours early. After giving us the lay of the land, he headed off for choir practice, and we headed off into the woods.
The woods where Joseph was born 208 years ago are green and rocky. The family had 100 acres that sat alongside a ‘highway’, complete with babbling brook. The moss growing over the stone foundations of a home long gone was reminiscent of a Tolkien novel and we half expected to meet a hobbit, or maybe a talking lion. We met none of those things, but once we made it to church we did meet possibly the coolest guy ever.
Wearing the same clothes from yesterday we sat near the back of a crowded chapel. A voice from the row behind us loudly asked, “Where did you get that tan?” directing his question toward Kaleo.
The voice came from a grey haired man with a chiseled jaw. He wore a tweed jacket, sported bushy eyebrows rivaling the infomercial juicer guy, and spoke a little too loudly. Hard of hearing perhaps.
“I used to own a hundred acres on the big island; worked as a ranch hand. I was a pilot flying the one plane that used to go between the big island and Oahu.”
“You should have held on to that. Its probably worth a lot of money now.”
“People used to try to get me to sell that property all the time. There was this one guy from Japan, he bought up all the acres on the coast and I sold to him. He built a resort there and every day he flies in a plane full of people from Tokyo. I had put into the contract that I would have a free room in the resort for the rest of my life. I’ve never used it.”
With these two paragraphs our aged friend cemented his place as forever cooler than any of the three of us will ever be.
Preston’s curiosity was piqued and he asked when he started flying.
“Flew in the navy in World War 2, but I don’t talk about the navy.”
Preston offered that his grandfather-in-law flew in the navy. “I do not talk about the navy.” was his direct reply.
With that the services began. As the prelude music started up, our new friend began belting out an unintended solo, unaware that the chorister up front had not yet waved in the congregation. The old man did not care and we added a couple more cool points to his ledger.
Kaleo fell asleep during sacrament meeting.
As we left our tour guide from earlier ran to catch us. “I have to tell you how happy it made me when I saw you three waltz in to the services in your street clothes. You looked completely comfortable.” He has obviously never been to my home church in Philly.
We loaded back up.
“So where exactly is Cape Cod?”
“I’m not sure,” Preston answered, “…but that’s where we are headed.”