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My pastor sent me a wonderful word of encouragement the other day. It was a timely word for me. After weeks of trying to deal with pain and limited mobility, I felt the despair and futility that comes from the beat down from unrelenting discomfort.

My faith came into play so many times. The wonderful words of Scripture sounded hollow. Hope waned. It made me sad to think that one of the best four letter words was starting to ring empty.

Our church family has been singing a song robustly during Covid 19 and Texas winter ice storms. The lyrics shout out that even when it “feels” like God is not working, he is. The nature of who God is requires that we acknowledge this feature about him and accept it by faith. My pastor just sent me that reminder. It was a terrific word of encouragement for me.

Feelings are easily affected by pain. Especially when pain is intolerable, unrelenting, and vicious, our emotional mood surrenders to the dark world of despair. I was getting too close to that world. My pastor’s ministry brought me out.

God is…

This is my fifth week of recovery since my spine surgery. It was my first surgery and it was a big one. Each moment of each day since the surgeon did his magnificent work to relieve my spinal cord of pressure due to four herniated disks have been an overwhelming challenge. My day pushes me into the face of severe pain and dramatically curtailed mobility.

No doubt there are many out in the reading world who have some constant pain or debilitating malady that can find some encouragement in my journey. In the hope of cheering on my fellows in a seemingly endless future of discomfort, I will occasionally write these words. The composition is not from a return from convalescence but reflections while still in it.

Pain is a four letter word. That alone seems so appropriate. No one likes it. It is necessary for short spells but no one even philosophically sees its importance when it is endless.

One of my former students has an autoimmune disease that causes a 24-7 burning sensation on all of her skin. I have read her recollections, prayed for her, and tried to cheer her on. My constant and increasing back pain has lasted for over 20 years. I found myself identifying more and more with her experience.

Now, after corrective surgery I have a reaction to recovery: the process is a vicious BEAST!

The World’s Fair in 1962 was my first big trip as a child. Both the monorail and Space Needle each locked in their place in my memory banks. But, Seattle was a special city back then. Other adventures added to our journey.

Have you ever been to a fish market that was as much fun as it was a bargain for seafood? It’s in Seattle. The smells of fish was fragrant. It didn’t stink. The fish were all so fresh. Everything was iced down and presented with care. If you wanted dinner it was there. But, so many like our family was there for the experience.

Some men were shouting out instructions. Their banter was quick and clearly timed with a cadence followed by surprising activity. Over our heads a huge salmon went flying. One shouter tossed a fresh Coho to a wrapper who caught the fish in midair and wrapped it in paper without missing a wasted motion. The patron smiled, paid the bill, collected her package and walked off to her car. All of us kids just giggled!

The variety of fish from the sea were represented well on beds of ice. One guest pointed at a weird looking fish displayed with its big eyes and open mouth to his girlfriend. She came over to look like a lamb to the slaughter. Just when she looked closely, one of the workers grabbed the tail that was hidden in the pile of fish, pushed it forward with a quick wiggle. It caught the shopper by surprise, she screamed, and we all laughed.

This was one of my biggest childhood trips. It was great. From Tater Tots to the World’s Fair to the fish market, my boyhood memory banks were completely full. I would return several times as an adult and enjoyed the city and the revolving restaurant for grown up memories.

A monument for the 1962 Seattle World’s fair was the Space Needle. You could see it for miles before every arriving at the fair grounds. It was like a beacon of where to go, how close you were getting, and served as a destination for millions of people.

Everyone talked about the revolving restaurant in the Space Needle. Of course reservations were needed. Do you think that the menu was a bargain? Wrong. Would a family of six look forward to walking in and sitting down for an evening fare? Wrong. How far in advance would reservations be needed? Weeks. What would be the options for a large family like ours? The observation deck was free of charge. We headed there.

The line for the Space Needle was long. We had snacks to entertain us little tykes. Finally, we crowded into the the elevators. The ride to the top was an adventure. The city of Seattle unfolded in front of us. It was spectacular for little children.

Once we arrived at the top we were off and running around among the clouds. Snacks were for sale and we took advantage of those. From this grand view platform we saw the city, the surrounding mountains, and the Puget Sound laid out before us. That’s a lot to take in for little minds are their first World’s Fair. We had all experienced the Space Needle and it was a memory that would repeat itself several times in the decades to come.

Our family was excited to head north for a family adventure. Our destination was the Seattle World’s Fair. We joined nearly ten million other people to be a part of experiencing the future.

All six of us piled into our 1960 Chevrolet Corvair. Dad attached a cartop basket and tied in our luggage and camping gear. Slowly, we passed mile after mile, through the Redwood forest, Oregon coast sea lion cave, and Crater Lake. Eventually, we made it into the Evergreen state and camped somewhere outside of Seattle.

Everything was modern at the fair. The monorail made us feel like we were living in the future. It was a sleek train, quiet, clean, and fast. It took us from our parking lot to the gates of the fair. Crowds of people made us feel the excitement of something special.

When we arrived at the fair, we were all hungry. Of all things it was the first time that I ever had tater tots. They were deliciously amazing. Hot, tasty, and satisfying. Everyone had a handful from the family sized container. It was a “first” memory that lasted for years.

What is it about moms and the food that they cook? It must be that sense of comfort, familiarity, and nurturing that we all get when it comes to special occasions or just daily fare that mom gets kudos. My mom was no different.

Every time we took a family trip to Folsom Lake, out to the farm, or simple trip to William Land Park, a picnic was often in the agenda. When a picnic was involved, mom made her potato salad. It was always a hit.

Sure, I would grab a drum stick and some other side treats. Mom would hand me a cold A&W Root Beer for sure. But, I made sure that I had a double helping of her sensational potato salad. Everyone did the same. I don’t recall ever seeing leftover potato salad when it was time to pack up and head home.

My mom made an amazing soy sauce chicken. It was incredibly moist, never dry. Flavors were succulent, mouth-watering, and great even as left-overs. As the family grew, one chicken changed into two, and for family parties there were several.

Combine potato salad and soy sauce chicken and the event was certainly a special one. Relatives, friends, co-workers were always asking for recipes and tips on how to make these dishes. It was always mom’s touch that was the secret ingredient.

Chinese New Year was all about celebration. There was no time for dour faces or complaints. Everyone was caught up in cheer and festivities. Mom led the charge.

I looked at the clock and it was her usual declaration of “I’m beat.” but now she was getting all dressed up for Gung Hay Fat Choy. We were all given orders to get dressed and get ready. It was time for the Fong clan to pile into the family car and head down to the Fong Fong Louie Community Center for the New Year Banquet.

We three brothers were dropped off at the center and directed to save two tables. Dutifully, we never had to be told more than once what Mom wanted us to do. Inside the huge hall round tables decked with table clothes and surrounded by decorations depicting the lunar calendar, we claimed two tables as directed. Mom said they would be back shortly. That was Mom-code for two hours.

Soon that great hall was packed with hundreds of people that we did not know. Mom and Dad showed up with aunts and uncles and grammas. It took them a half of an hour to make it to our tables. Mom was talking to just about everyone in the room. She was all smiles and laughing up a storm while Dad stood by her side and smiled. Mom seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to know her.

That annual celebration convinced me that my mom was so active for a single weekend that it tired her out for the entire year. She expelled so much energy that she had to rest for weeks in order to get ready for the next year’s celebration. No wonder she would announce every subsequent day, “I’m beat.”

Mom was always busy, tired busy. She worked as an employee of the State of California for as long as I could remember. She went to work in the early morning with my Dad and when she came home she went right into the kitchen to work on dinner. The family pitched in and cleared the table, wiped the table, washed the dishes, and dried the dishes. Instantly, the Fong household settled in for the evening. Right at that moment, my mom’s words were the same, “Whew, I’m beat.”

We never got a lesson on what those words meant, but somehow we all figured out that we should leave her alone. So we went about our childhood adventures and left her alone. Even when my goofy childhood antics got me into trouble. I was racing around the house chasing or being chased. That’s when a mean ol’ chair stuck out one of its legs and hooked my little toe and wrenched it from my body. I went down like a sack of potatoes.

My groaning must have alerted the family, even my mom showed up. Her examination diagnosed a sprain, nothing broken. She taped it up and it swelled up like a balloon. Naturally, sibling accusations of faking it were whispered loud enough for me to hear.

That night the aching foot was horrendous. But, the call to nature was loud. I couldn’t hardly move. I couldn’t stand or walk. So I crawled to the bathroom.

My moaning must have been loud enough to stir that maternal instincts of my mom. In the darkness, she reached down and helped me to my feet. Like a magician levitating her assistant, my mom helped me into the bathroom, brought me to the sink to wash, and finally scooped me up to lay me on my bed to tuck me in for the night. She disappeared back into the night.

My last thought was, “Wow, Mom’s stronger than I realized!”

I wandered in our backyard, practicing my fast draw with my new $.59 premium squirt gun. I tried to drop flying bugs out of the air, chased a lizard sunning itself on a warm brick, and tried long distance squirting against a tree. Of course I relived my highly successful tactical strike against my brother and his clearly inferior $.19 derringer squirt gun.

The hot Sacramento air was interrupted by the call of my name. It came from behind me. I felt that chill down my spine of a great plan going wrong. There was no contingency for losing my guard.

“Bruce!” my brother’s insidious voice invited me to a new encounter. I turned with my weapon held out, ready to be called into action again. I was wide-eyed with gritted teeth and crouched low to leap into action. I would respond to the present threat.

Behind me was my brother. He was the one I humiliated with my newly purchased $.59 premier squirt gun. Now, he was standing at the corner of the house holding the water hose. Pride took over common sense, and I charged him with my squirt gun spraying away.

He turned on the hose, soaked me from head to toe, threw the hose down and retreated for a final time into the house. This time when the door latched behind him, he locked the door from the inside. I had won two small battles but lost the war. Yet, my special purchase afforded me endless times of delight in the years ahead, as my favorite childhood toy.

I called for my brother to come out and play while I hid behind the corner of the garage. He responded in lightening speed. When the door latched behind him, I jumped out from my hiding spot and unleashed the fury of my new purchase. He was soaked and retreated back into the house.

The next episode was no surprise. He was retrieving his own $.19 squirt gun, the three squirts and he would be out of water toy. When he came tearing out of the house, I ran ahead of him knowing just how far to keep out of his very limited range. We ended up at the far end of the backyard when he ran out of water.

His look of “uh oh” was sensational! He tried to run but I was on top of him the whole way back to the house door. I soaked his back shirt, emptying my entire reservoir of water on him. After the back door slammed shut, I reloaded my water pistol, gazed at it with admiration, and felt the delight of a plan well executed, ideally contrived, and that was deeply satisfying.

Stories don’t always end the way we want them to, especially, when we planned them out. There is definitely and epilogue to this saga. To be fair I have to recount it as well.

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