Waking Up In Eden
When my daughter Tayler was about five years old we had a meeting with “The Real Santa Claus.” “The Real Santa Claus” was a local business man that naturally looked so much like Santa Claus that he made his living playing the role. I had a plan that year to work in partnership with “The Real Santa Claus” offering a Santa Claus photo shoot at a local Indoor Play World. The advantage to the consumer was they didn’t have to wait in line like at the Malls. They could just take a number and go play in the Indoor Play World until their number was called. The added bonus, was they got a Santa with a real white beard, fat belly and rosy nose. Santa had already teamed up with a couple of midgets that made the most realistic elfs you ever saw. One day the Indoor Play World executives, The Real Santa Claus, his two elfs and myself had arranged a meeting at the Indoor Play World facility and I naturally brought Tayler along so she could play on the kiddy rides while I had my meeting. Even though we were all in our street
clothes it was obvious to Tayler that her daddy was special. For she had a eye witness account proving that her dad was in tight with the real Santa Claus. On the ride home from our meeting she asked the obvious question, “If that was the real Santa Claus, then does that mean there are fake ones?” As any good parent would do who was raised in the USA and under the great white lie embedded in our own childhood memories, I lied through my teeth. I told her that Santa can’t be everywhere at once. I explained that malls all over the world hire fake Santas, so kids can get pictures on Santa’s lap. She then smiled with pride as she realized how lucky she was that we knew the real Santa Claus. I’ll never forget Christmas morning after I had completed my promotion with “The Real Santa Claus”. After Tayler opened all her presents, most of them addressed from The Real Santa Claus, she bust out with excitement, exclaiming in a proud and resounding voice, “I got everything I wanted!” She then stated in a relieved tone of voice, “Whew, I’m lucky we know the real Santa Claus.” Later in life when Tayler was about nine years old, I was doing the dishes with the kitchen window open, watching and listening as Tayler was swinging with a friend on her swing set in
the back yard. As I listen to Tayler expounding on the virtues of her world as she knew it. I over heard her friend arguing that she knew for a fact that Santa wasn’t real, because her parents had told her Santa was a fraud. Tayler argued profusely that her friend was mistaken because not only did her dad know the real Santa Clause but he had his phone number. I remember thinking Tayler was at a disadvantage over the other kids her age, because of her personal experience with “The Real Santa Claus” and how the Santa Claus hoax had been a little more elaborate in her case. At this point I realized that it was time to come clean on the Santa Claus issue and decided to tell Tayler the truth in the car on the return trip after taking her friend home that day. I remember Tayler as she intensely listened to me explain the truth about Santa. When I finished letting her in on the well kept secret guarded by all adults attempting to prolong their children’s hopeful beliefs in fairy tales. Tayler told me that she suspected that Santa was “make believe” and she was glad I told her the truth because all her friends no longer believed the story. She then added, “I just have one question. If Santa is a fake, then
where did he get the elfs?” Even after all the evidence was in and logic was reckoned with, Tayler still struggled with letting go of her belief in Santa Claus. Of course this is to be expected. Santa Claus is after all, one of the world’s best known, “beginner gods.” Just like the Christian Image of the Almighty, Santa Claus sits on his thrown with his great white beard and uses his unlimited magical powers to complete his role. Santa is a near perfect double of the Biblical Almighty, who sits in judgment of us all, punishing dis-obedience and rewarding obedience. Santa knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sakes. Just like my daughter, I also found it very difficult to step back from my preconceived image of God and break through the indoctrination that had settled deep into my subconscious. On the other hand, my logical side told me that if I were ever going to connect with the great life giving force, I would first have to undo my programming. This book is the story of the de-programming and the enlightenment I received after overcoming my fears and finding my own path to God.
Learning to Leap
I figure it was 1967 on a quite country road on the outskirts of Concord, NH., when my mind first started to drift from my father’s Sunday sermon in the little two room wooden church on Iron Works Rd. As I sat amongst the 80 or so parishioners packed like sardines into the old weather stained wooden shingled dwelling, my father was lecturing on the parallels of the scientific law, “for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction”. How he wove this theory neatly into the Mormon’s God given right to the Celestial Kingdom, I can’t recollect. But it all made plenty of sense to me at the time. I nonchalantly readjusted my seating posture allowing my blood to flow back to the places the hard wooden pews had squeezed it away from. I remember the mismatched stained glass windows were propped open as far as the over painted wooden jambs would yield, in order to take full advantage of what little air flow was finding it’s way in from the hot New England summer brewed atmosphere. As my mind drifted into deep thought I could still hear my fathers voice as it penetrated
the muffled coughs and rustling of my fellow believers. Secure in the belief that my father knew what he was talking about, I was free to reflect on my own seemingly logical conclusions that had brought me to my own personal religious convictions. Still, there were those questions that my ten years of Mormon indoctrination had not adequately answered. Where did God come from? Where does the Bible get it’s authority? Why do so many people from so many different religions profess to know so many different and contradictory truths? Even though I was only ten years old, I was beginning to exercise the art of free thinking. The questions that haunted me as a child continued to haunt me through most of my adult life. It always bothered me that Jesus Christ was suppose to have experienced all things, however, He was also sinless. On one hand God was suppose to be a kind and just God, however on the other hand He was vengeful and would sentence us to burn for eternity for a rather large shopping list of sins ranging from choosing the wrong God amongst the hundreds of Gods worshiped by man to a slip of the tongue blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Most puzzling of all the questions that taunted me was, “Why did Christ go through all the trouble of taking a physical body here on the
earth, yet he didn’t write a single word down into the Bible in order to guide us towards the truth?” I began to slump in my pew as my blasphemous thoughts triggered a hint of guilt to emanate from my inner gut. As I straighten my posture back into a respectable elevation, I returned my attention to the podium where my father was elaborating on the intricacies of faith and soon found myself leaping over those questions, and once again I found myself like I had so many times before, experiencing what is commonly referred to as a leap of faith. My environment was keeping my leaps in the “right” direction and I was not wise enough to realize all the intricacies associated with the underlying causes for these leaps. However this much I understood, I wasn’t presented with any other doctrines to leap too. My Mother was so obsessed with making sure I followed the gospel according to Joseph Smith that from my infancy she would sit me on her lap every day for increasingly longer periods of time, offering me cookies and toys as incentives to behave in a little game she called “Let’s Play Church”. She did this with me and all my brothers until we could sit well behaved through an entire two hour church meeting without causing a noticeable disturbance.
Mom was a Mormon’s, Mormon. She came from a long line of Mormons reaching back four generations. Sunday it was off to Sunday school in the morning and back to the chapel again that night for the Sacrament meeting. Monday was family night revolving around a strong Mormon curriculum. Tuesday was MIA for the teenagers, however, Mother managed to start a Mormon backed cub scout troop to keep the pre-teens busy. Wednesday was Mormon Primary where toddlers to pre-teens were prepared for baptism, rehearsed in the memorization and recital of the Mormon’s Thirteen Articles of Faith, introduced to the Mormon prophets from Joseph Smith to the living prophet and taught basic Mormon doctrine. Thursday was Women’s Relief Society, where all the Moms, Grandmas, Mothers to be and hopefuls got together to trade quilt making techniques along with other homemaking skills. Friday was Visiting Home Teaching where members visited other members in their homes for prayer and fellowship. Saturday was reserved for Mormon special events and the well structured preparation for Sunday and the week ahead.
Yeah, Mom was a Mormon’s, Mormon. She was the Relief Society president, Primary Leader, Music Director & Pianist, Den Mother and even opened a small Mormon Book Store out of the office in the back of our home. It’s easy to see why as a child my first leaps of faith landed in Mormonville. As I sat there with my three brothers on the front pew in that tiny chapel listening to my father weave his tales of philosophy and morality, I wondered how anyone could dispute the undeniable truth spewing from the pulpit. I found contentment and security in the sermon my father delivered that Sunday. It appeared that everyone that attended the sermon came to the same conclusion. Thereby, escalating the entire room to a state of euphoria. Like most kids I was in awe of my father and perceived him to be invincible. He was a tall handsome young man who had the world by the tail. When I was about eight or nine years old Dad experienced his own leap of faith when he converted to the Mormon church. This, of course, further convinced me of the churches validity. Dad’s first major assignment after joining the church, was as a traveling speaker to all the little Mormon churches in the New England area. This meant that every Sunday my family would wake up at some ungodly hour in the morning,
climb into the family station wagon and head off to some far away place where we would be treated like royalty. Occasionally, even my brothers and I would be called on to bare our testimonies or give little speeches. I’ve got to admit there was an air of magic in our traveling show. We were the Williams family, celebrities to all Mormons in the New England area. We were the well behaved, well groomed, successful picture of the perfect family, proclaiming to the world that happiness is a well dressed family at a Mormon picnic. So there I was siting in the front row of our little Mormon chapel as my father wrapped up his speech. The congregation began to stir as we prepared ourselves for the closing hymn. All was well as I proudly joined in on the verses of Come Come Ye Saints. Soon after that sermon things would begin to change, and for the better or for the worse I began to see life and it’s questions and answers are not always black and white. Although I was not aware I was different, I was what one might call a troubled soul. Special speech therapy when I was about four, special in home tutoring for failing reading skills in the second grade, repetition of the third grade and social and emotional problems only helped to complicate the Mormon life style forced on me by my well meaning parents.
Of course, once you have successfully brain washed yourself into a leap of faith, you can’t experience another leap without an opportunity for doubt. My first big doubt came from the one place the Mormons said it absolutely, positively could not originate from. I was taught in the Mormon’s Primary Class that evil could not enter into a Mormon Temple. I was taught that because evil couldn’t enter I wouldn’t think evil thoughts or be tempted by evil within in the Temple’s walls. So you can imagine my surprise when I found myself inside a Mormon Temple experiencing just that. The impact of this revelation raised big questions for me, and these kinds of questions were not tolerated. I quickly learned that I would be the equivalent of a worthless sinner if I didn’t just accept some pat answer like the famous “Some things God just isn’t ready to share with us” or “Some questions are put there to test our faith.” But if this is where one draws their bottom lines, then Santa Claus in a UFO could be their God and these kinds of pat answers would support their blind faith as well. Even though I was just a kid I realized, these pat answers stop you from looking at the alternatives and block you from the questions, answers and possibilities.
Of course there’s really nothing like a little fright to scare you into a quick leap back to your imposed belief system. The first time I experience this phenomenon was during a Mormon Youth Conference at Colby Collage in the state of Maine. This particular event was packed with all the elements of a good thriller and I must warn you that although it may seem more fictional than true, the story is real and as unbelievable as it may sound, it was responsible for my first giant leap back to Mormonville.
Chapter 2 Goated Into Leaping When I was about thirteen years old I met up with the muscle car of my dreams. It was a 1965 Pontiac GTO complete with a 450 HP Chromed Engine, 3 two barrel Holly Carbs, Hood Scoop, Dual Cherry Bomb Exhaust System, 4 Speed Hurst Shifter, Wood-grained Steering Wheel & Dash, Mag Wheels and a Jacked up rear end with the Widest and Slickest tires the law would allow.. I figured it could lay rubber from here to eternity and in an ironic twist of fate, that’s just about where this GTO muscle dream car transported me to. This GTO known as a “Goat” in the muscle car world, had two things not mentioned in the long list above that would impact my young life immensely. The first Item was a New Hampshire personalized license plate with the Initials “RULDS” along with the smaller state slogan Live Free Or Die. “RULDS” was the Goat owner’s acronym for “Are You LDS” or “Are You a Latter Day Saint?” referring to the Mormons. The other collateral attached to this dark metallic blueish-green rocket on wheels were two police strobe lights and a siren placed inconspicuously behind the front grill.
The significance of the New Hampshire personalized license plate was that the Goat it was fastened to was owned by a young Mormon cohort of mine by the name of Joe Willard. Joe ran a local drive through car wash and you guessed it, was a member of the Concord, New Hampshire Mormon flock. Joe’s clean cut, square jaw and blond hair enhanced his happy go lucky image. His passion for fast cars and challenging roads rewarded him with many trophies from the local race track and bolstered his reputation as a kid with a promising future. When you road with Joe it was always a thrill ride, but no ride would compare to the one I experienced on the way to the Mormon Youth Conference at Colby Collage in Southern Maine. It was a rare sunny New England summer day when my older brother Mike, our buddy Ronnie Mason and myself loaded our suitcases and sleeping bags into Joe’s hopped up Goat and headed up Route 4 towards the Maine coastline. Route 4 in those days stretched most of the 50 mile trek between Concord, New Hampshire and Portsmouth, Maine. It served as the only major route between these two points with very little room for passing against oncoming traffic.
Three traffic circles otherwise known as rotaries existed at relatively even intervals along the journey. The road’s winding curves and sloping hills, made the passing of slow trucks and scenic drivers a near impossibility. One needed an ample amount of patience to make this journey under the best of circumstances and road conditions. The thing about Joe was he wasn’t the patient type, and now that he had just installed his lights and siren, what better test could present itself, then the infamous Route 4? I have to give Joe some credit, he did his best to overcome the inevitable temptation to test the illegal use of his new untried toys. Who could blame him for briefly hitting the system’s switch, forcing a few isolated drivers to pull immediately out of the way. As we sped up the road moving obstacle after obstacle out of our way, the four of us started laughing hysterically. Route 4 passed through numerous small towns and communities that relied on volunteer firemen who used their every day cars when responding to emergencies, so a muscle car equipped with lights and a siren was not that implausible of a thought. However, throw four hysterical teenage males inside an emergency hot rod and now
you’ve got cause for suspicion. I think it was a 1969 yellow Mach 1 Mustang that first caught wind of the situation and decided to challenge our authority. As we crossed the double yellow lines to overtake the fast back Mustang, its driver must have sensed our delinquency and suddenly accelerated refusing to yield way to his well occupied lane. Suddenly we found ourselves in a cat and mouse game. Every time Joe inched forward the Mustang matched our pace. Each notch of RPM Joe added to the tachometer, the Mach 1 answered with the same amount of muscle. Soon we were racing up the road at over 120 MPH. Suddenly our laughter turned to complete horror as a 1963 Ford Falcon appeared over the hill in the oncoming lane that we now found ourselves trapped in. I remember seeing the whites of a little old lady's eyes behind the wheel of the oncoming cream colored sedan just before I closed my eyes and braced for impact. Then as if by fate, Joe slammed the accelerator to the floor and jerked the blessed Goat pass the Mustang and back to the legal side of the road, narrowly missing both obstacles by what must have been mere fractions of and inch.
After the four of us grasped how close we had come to disaster, we began to thank God for the apparent miracle bestowed on our now sacred pilgrimage to the LDS promised land. As we settled in behind a long line of traffic we figured our troubles were over. But just then the New Hampshire State Police got in on the action. Apparently our little brush with destiny was reported to the State Police, who notified all local “Bears” to be on the lookout for a jacked up Goat on the run. As we followed the long line of cars down a long straight low grade decent towards the last of the three Rotaries on our route. Who should appear from within the oncoming traffic but, Smokey the Bear. I will never forget the image of the State Trooper as he leaned forward in order to read the license plate proudly displayed on our front bumper. (R U L D S) Equal to the long line of cars stacking up in front of us was a long line of cars piling up behind us. This caused the State Trooper to go back to the end of the line before he could flip a U-ey and begin his pursuit. In an unexpected move, Joe yanked the Goat into the passing lane and then catapulted us past the stretch of vehicles in front of us, barely cutting back in front of the line just before
we entered the traffic circle. Now the long line of cars coming off the circle and the long line of cars behind us clogged the road behind us with highly congested two way traffic, placing a formidable barrier between us and our pursuer. After completing a half rotation around the traffic circle we slingshoted off onto a wide open stretch of well paved open roadway where Joe throttled all 450 horses of his ball busting Goat into a high speed getaway. Joe shouted orders to the rest of us so he could keep his full attention on the road in front of us that was now approaching us at over 150 MPH. Joe’s voice shouted with heighten panic “How far back is he?” “Are is strobe lights on?” “Is he gaining on us?” and lastly “look for a turn off up ahead!” Almost simultaneously with his last order I shouted “Road Sign” as I pointed to a turn off about a tenth of a mile ahead of us on the right. Suddenly Joe hit the brakes and manhandled the Goat in to a high speed deceleration, repetitively pumping the brakes and forcing the car into a screeching halt. The thing is, is it’s hard to stop a Goat once it gets moving and we over shot are mark by a good hundred feet easy. Now Joe slammed the Hurst 4 speed shifter into reverse and
yanked us back into a one quarter “Rockford” maneuver leaving the front end of the car in perfect alignment with the side road. With Smokey still at least a quarter mile behind us Joe had a new problem. The side road we were now staring at went about 50 feet before it reached a dead end, connecting only to a small home’s driveway and an old over grown logging road that led into the dense green New England forest. Joe instinctively chose the logging road over the open highway and quickly clutched the Goat onto the trail. Everyone knows a barn yard goat will eat just about anything you put in front of it. True to its metaphoric name, Joe’s Goat was now eating up debris in our path and spiting it out it’s tail, as fast as Joe could muscle his way through the overgrown path with it’s low tree branches that continually blocked his vision. Suddenly Joe hit the brakes and dug our wheels into a grinding halt. There we sat idling our engine and staring at the trail in front of us with a new problem. The trail was presenting us with a two way split. Joe in his excitement yeld, “Do we go right or left?” there was no time for thinking and no one was offering up an answer. Feeling responsible for spotting and pointing out this escape route in the first place,
and with the ever present fear that at any moment “Smoky the Bear” could come barreling up our backside, I yeld , “Left! left! go left!” Joe then quickly spun the back wheels thrusting us into a forward and left maneuver that shot us down the trail that I had so hastily guided us onto. As we moved through the now more visible trail we could still see through the trees the trail to the right of us that we were now cut off from. As it turned out, the trail to our right was finally blocked by an old rusted out jalopy. Cheers filled the car as we whizzed by the rusted obstacle and we all realized we had as good as hit the lottery. Minutes later we bounced onto a small winding paved road that had no apparent markings or signs directing us in our desired direction. We had gotten away for now, but we were lost. Now every fork in the road and every intersection of roadway we ran into, Joe would place his bet and roll the dice according to my proven sense of direction. As my heart beat slowly returned to a more normal rate. I looked at Ronnie who was sitting next to me with tears in his eyes and hands folded in a prayer grip as he rocked back and forth with his self whispered prayer, “Please God help us! Please God help us! Please God help us!”
My older brother Mike who was sitting in the front seat was much cooler under fire. True to his nature, he was considering the alternatives. When he landed on reasonable possibilities he would offer them up as options, “Joe, maybe we should find a place to pull over and hide until they give up the search for us.” Joe would then answer Mike’s suggestions with more questions, “What if stopping closes our window of escape?” As we debated the possibilities the Goat seemed to have a life of it’s own. We were moving in what ever direction the road in front of us would allow and soon we all realized, we were in God’s hands. Suddenly as if immerging from a heavy fog, a road sign appeared in front of us. It read Interstate 95, 2 Miles. This was the opportunity we were praying for. Interstate 95 is a north, south freeway that runs the shortest and most direct line between Massachusett and Maine. It runs parallel to the New Hampshire coast line and spans the full 19 mile stretch. Before we could say, “ Hotdiggitydog” we were coasting through a little town that hosted the on-ramps to our hopeful Interstate. Just as our prayers had been answered we fell quickly
back into despair. Directly in front of us, moving towards us in a line of oncoming traffic, was a New Hampshire State Trooper. Joe told us to stay cool and keep an eye on him to see if he looks at our license plate. Once he past us it appeared he hadn’t seen us but Joe kept an eye in his rear view mirror and saw him turn and disappear into a business parking lot. Seconds later he reappeared and turned into the traffic behind us. This time Joe didn’t gun it. He just cooley as if unaware of the Smokey’s presence, put his blinker on and turned onto the Interstate on-ramp headed towards Massachusett. As we crossed the bridge on the Interstate that passed over the road we had just exited, we looked down and saw Smokey turn onto the on-ramp in a now obvious attempt to chase us down. But, Joe had wisely planned for this contingency and flipped a quick u-turn across the median and gave our pursuer the slip. The first sign we saw read, Portsmouth, 9 Miles. We weren’t out of trouble yet and we knew it. The trooper, now speeding in the opposite direction would be radioing for back up and we could be spotted by any one of the many emerging forces that were now most definitely
speeding in our direction. We were sitting ducks out on the open interstate and we all felt that feeling one gets, when you are just close enough to touch, but not close enough to grab onto your goal. There was nothing we could do now. The only reasonable route into Maine, was over the Portsmouth Interstate Bridge, that was just 9 miles ahead of us. With no more decisions to make and no more strategies to ponder, we silently waited and watched, as if a movie was about to give up it’s surprise ending. With nothing left to do, I began to pray. As soon as I said, “amen.” We ran into a heavy down pour of rain. The rain in turn, slowed the now heavy traffic into a tighter group and with near zero visibility we slipped over the Portsmouth Bridge into the sanctuary of Maine. The Mormon youth conference had a whole new meaning to the four of us that arrived unscathed in our hopped up chariot of deliverance. As I moved between the various scheduled events of the conference, I became more and more convinced that Jesus was alive and residing in Salt Lake City. After returning from our sacred LDS weekend. The question on all of our minds was,
“How long would it take the authorities to discover our presence back in the Granite State? Within twenty minutes of our arrival back at Joe's home after a cautious return from the four day conference, the State Police came knocking at Joe’s door. They seemed to be more concerned with how we got away, then with the punishment due for Joe’s crime. They said they had dispatched a State police helicopter that had caught up to us as we entered the rotary but had lost us in the heavy New Hampshire foliage as we fled through the back woods trail. They added a complaint that we managed to avoid 21 road blocks and believed we must have had a police scanner to accomplish this feat. They were so convinced that we would have needed a radio to pull off our escape, that they agreed to let Joe off with a mere speeding ticket, if they were allowed to search the car and found no evidence of a radio ever being installed. I remember thinking as I watched the banter between Joe and the authorities, who needs a radio when you’ve got Jesus as your guide? When I look back at the events that transpired over the course of that weekend during my trip to the Mormon Youth Conference,
I realize that the leap of faith I experienced was inevitable. How ever it wouldn’t be long before I would begin to question my convictions and ponder the possibility, that I was foolishly goated (or correctly said “goaded”) into leaping.