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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Guest Post: Tales from Cuyahoga 2 - Barbara's Arms

Reed Soper was born and raised in southern California. He considered attending the Lord's University but opted for BYU instead where he met Kathryn Lynard doing his home teaching. They married in 1992 and have seven children. Friends and loved ones often describe Reed as "difficult" or "a slow learner." In his spare time, he likes (virgin) pina coladas and getting caught in the rain. Don't miss Reed's previous guest posts.

There are two types of mission stories – inspirational and funny. I like to save the inspirational ones for church talks.
- Reed Soper

Lorain, Ohio was a steel town. I say was, because in the fall of 1985, the steel plant was operating at less than 10%. For missionaries, this meant that people were home during the day – prime time for tracting. I quickly learned that it was fruitless to tract during the "hour of power" (when the Price is Right was on). We could knock on a door, hear Bob Barker's voice, and see the tv on through the window but no one would answer. We could cover a tremendous amount of ground during that hour, and if we were careful, could keep track of who would win the showcase showdown.

Because it was a steel town, there was a large draw bridge that spanned the mouth of the Black River as it met with Lake Erie. Our apartment building, called Barbara's Arms (1), was located immediately adjacent to the bridge. On my first morning in Lorain, I learned that even though the steel plant was slowing production to a near halt, there was a regular ship that would approach the drawbridge each morning. At 6 a.m. (2), the ship would blast its horn, alerting the drawbridge operator of their proximity. The drawbridge operator would blast his horn back, letting the ship's captain know that the bridge would soon be opening (drawing?). The horn blasts were sufficiently loud enough to knock me out of my bed the first few mornings I lived there. It was a great way to start the day.

After a few days, we met some of our neighbors in the apartment complex. One was an older lady named Marcela Smooziak. Missionaries had lived there for years and Marcela was familiar with them. Marcela was a life-long catholic and never got comfortable calling us Elder this or Elder that. She preferred to call us "Father." It was always a generic "Father" with no other names attached.

Nearly every day when we'd return to our apartment for lunch, we'd hear Marcela coming up the stairs and calling out "Father." She would invite herself into our apartment and tell us various elements of her life story. We learned that she had her son on "half an ovary." (3) She would also instruct us to purchase jello so she could add fruit cocktail to it and present it to us. She was a sweet lady but often took up a lot of our day. We learned that if we suggested having a religious discussion, she would typically scurry off for a few hours.

One of my favorite Marcela moments involved our Zone Leaders. They had driven us home from church one Sunday and Marcela intercepted us all and insisted we come into her apartment and smell what she was cooking for dinner (4). She led my companion and one of the ZLs to another room, leaving me in the living room with the other ZL. He asked me why she called us "father " With my best straight face, I responded that she was a shut in and catholic so we performed mass for her each week. The ZL was not amused.

(1) This naming convention led to high comedy such as telling our Zone Leaders that we planned to return and spend the night in Barbara’s arms.
(2) This was a disappointment because our mission rules called for us to get up by 6:30 a.m. I will never get those additional 30 minutes per day back.
(3) This was a favorite story of hers so we learned about it at least 20 times.
(4) This was another fun thing; she'd invite us in to smell what she was cooking but not to eat what she was cooking. I don't think we were ever disappointed.

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