Tuesday, March 25, 2008


A couple days ago I went on a camp out with the Boy Scouts and told them a story about a funny guy from my mission. I have decided to share it with everyone.

In my first area of my mission, Monte Bello, in northeast Maracaibo, Venezuela, along the shore of Lake Maracaibo, there was an old man who we simply called Abuelo, the Spanish word for grandfather. He was the grandpa of some of the investigators we were teaching and was quite the character.

So you can understand what kind of guy Abuelo was, I will describe him and give a couple examples of his antics. He was in his late 80s or early 90s when I met him, toothless, talkative, about 4 feet tall, and skinny as a rail. He was also quick to smile and thought he was very funny, which he was. He also introduced me to several new Spanish swears.

The first time I met the man, he regaled me with stories of being in the Venezuelan Army, and then asked me how I liked his granddaughter, who had just been baptized. I said I thought she was very nice. Then he offered to sell her to me for about $100, saying she would be a great wife.

I respectfully declined.

One day while we were walking down the street near wear he lived, we happened upon him standing against the wall of a dirt alley. He was shirtless, as usual, holding a large walking stick and smoking a cigar. Knowing him from visits to his family, I approached him and gave a friendly greeting.

"Hola," he said.

"Abuelo," I said in an exasperated tone, "you shouldn’t smoke. You know it's bad for you."

He promptly threw the still-burning cigar on the ground and looked up at me with a face that said "there, happy?"

We chatted for a moment and then invited him to church, as we always did. He was evasive, as he always was. Then we said good-bye.

As we walked away, I looked back and he had quickly retrieved the cigar from the dusty road and was again puffing away.

On another day while we were visiting, Abuelo had been sitting in the family outhouse all day and was making his daughter and grandchildren quite upset. They would yell at him to come out and he would colorfully tell them to take a hike.

Finally after some time he appeared from the outhouse. He was wearing nothing but a dirty old Rip Curl T-shirt pulled between his legs and tied around his waist like a loincloth. On his head he had a broken pair of yellow plastic sunglasses tied to his head with a piece of string. He paraded around the yard in this get-up for a while, then graciously allowed me to take a picture with him.

I will not go into great detail about another Abuelo encounter except to say one day we found him sitting naked next to a palm tree gumming on a plate of fried chicken and plantain bananas.

Despite this man's many hilarious activities, there is one episode which transcends them all.

One day we were teaching a discussion in the backyard of Abuelo’s daughter’s home. The back yard was about 40 feet wide, with mostly sandy soil and coconut and other types of palm trees growing throughout, making it almost always shady. About 100 feet behind the house was a creek that was about 10 feet across and a couple feet deep. A narrow bridge made of a couple 2x12 boards spanned the creek, supported in the middle by a single post driven into the creek bed. Past the creek another 50 feet or so was the home of another one of Abuelo’s daughters, where she lived with several children. The bridge was frequently used by many people from both homes.

As the discussion progressed, my newness to the mission caused my ability to follow the Spanish to wane, leading me to let my eyes wander around the yard. As I did so, I noticed smoke billowing from the area of the creek. There was fire burning in the middle of the bridge!

Not knowing much to say besides, “Hay fuego,” (There is fire), I stood up and interrupted the lesson, yelling and pointing. Immediately the five or so people who had been listening to my companion looked and saw the threat to their bridge over the creek.

As we watched the fire for a second, we saw Abuelo walking out of some trees beyond the creek, carrying two coconuts. It immediately became obvious who had built a fire on the middle of the wooden bridge, and it appeared that he was planning to cook the coconuts on the flames.

His 12-year-old nephew quickly ran toward the creek yelling and then went onto the bridge and started kicking the burning wood into the water below. When Abuelo saw this, he yelled some swears and chucked the coconuts at his grandson’s head, then came at him swinging a stick.

The boy dodged the coconuts, but moved back to the other side of the creek. He decided to go back on the bridge, but Abuelo came at him again, swinging the stick like Little John fighting Robin Hood over the river.

His grandson retreated again, but this time grabbed an overhanging palm branch, ran forward and swung, Indiana Jones-style, toward the old man. He kicked Abuelo square in the chest with both feet, but was quickly whacked in the legs by the old man’s stick before he swung back to the safe side of the creek.

Seemingly at a stalemate, and with the fire gone, Abuelo gave up, but not without throwing his stick at the boy to make a final statement. He then stomped off back into the trees muttering under his breath.

With the fire out and the action over, we finished the discussion, but to be honest I don’t remember much about the lesson at all, not after Abuelo’s antics.

1 comment:

Map Maker said...

Don't missions give you lots of great stories to tell? Our ward mission leader shared with us today what he was doing in the mission field 10 years ago to the day today. I thought that would be fun to get out my mission journal and look at today's date.