Grand Place Stanislaus


Part Seven in the Derailleur series.

Prostitutes weren’t the only driving force behind sending missionaries home early in Brussels. There was much other trouble to get into, not the least of which involved poaching.

On district splits downtown we met up with a foursome to hit a specific quartier, kind of a Jehovah’s Witness approach to proselyting, and just as effective. Noon found the six of us back at their apartment famished. The hosts had the responsibility to provide lunch, yet ours seemed a bit skittish about eating in their kitchen. Any move toward their refrigerator was met with some kind of deflection and it didn’t take more than twice to realize that something was going down. Eventually someone got the fridge open, revealing a huge fowl carcass larger than any turkey I’d ever seen.

Shelves had been removed to accommodate its berth and it had yet to be deplumed. The long neck was the giveaway; Sunday dinner would be swan, white no less, poached from a water feature of one of Brussels’ grand parks. One of our hosts managed to procure a gun and one night recently, previous to splits, managed to dispatch this bird with it after which the twosome smuggled it back to their apartment.

The poacher hailed from Idaho. All kinds of things could be said about that. Even more could be said about killing a swan in a park in a city wherein mission headquarters was located. Had they been caught there would be no such thing as the Mission Belge du Bruxelles. They thought it was funny and mused at their hunting prowess.

The story must have never left that apartment because neither hunter suffered anything disciplinary from the shooting, though I’m certain it was much bragged about stateside right up until the poacher himself died a few years ago. I’m still amazed at the far-reaching ripples this would have had on thousands of people.

We took it too lightly what exactly it was we were doing as missionaries, representatives of a faith, a task mistrusted to fools.

Jean Jacques was toking up when I knocked on his door the June previous in Nancy. Toking is an understatement but there is no verb for inferno. When he opened his door, smoke wafted out above our heads. I was assessing Jean while my comp gave the approach. We were invited in and I suggested we come back another time when Jean was more lucid, if that were even possible.

We had an appointment, one for the stats, when we returned the following day. Jean met us at his door and escorted us out of the building into fresh air where we sat at a playground and filled him in on the apostasy. News to him and pretty agreeable, too, though I doubt the influence of the Holy Ghost here, more of a chemically induced burning of his bosom, but nonetheless, Jean was hooked.

The next day, and now second appointment for our stats, Jean disclosed he had a drug problem. We went for a walk and in that afternoon got Jean enrolled in a detox and prevention program and visited him every day for two weeks as he went through withdrawals. Two more weeks and Jean was released. He had cut his shoulder length hair and donned donated clothes from our apartment and for the exception of his perpetually burned-out eyes and nicotine and reefer stained teeth, began looking the part of a young French Latter-day Saint.

Jean’s apartment got an overhaul as well. In his delirium and inebriation, Jean and others who shared his domicile rarely if ever made it to the toilet. There was plenty of evidence of attempts; by the bed, in the hallway, the kitchen floor, on the walls, but mostly in the bathtub. Today a HAZMAT team would have been brought in, evacuating the building and inoculating residents to fight against the sewage of infectious disease that was in his apartment. Back then we called in the sister missionaries to help us out.

Jean was a rock musician, relatively successful, but as most every rock-n-roll story goes, his aspirations and talent were usurped by the Devil’s dandruff and Jim Bean and everything in between. When Jean’s girlfriend discovered his new lifestyle with the Mormons, she picked up his Ibanez hollow body guitar and broke it over his head, snapped it at the neck and brained him at his cranium. He laughed when he told me the story and showed me the bump on his noggin.

Jean gave me the guitar. Now that I think about it, I had that guitar in its case with me up to the end of my mission, so I must have had it with me as a carry-on when I made the transfer to Tourcoing. I had it with me in Paris as well. Maybe that’s why she wanted to show me her post cards. I was going to bring it home and have it repaired, but abandoned it at the last minute when I left Reims, my last ville, for the mission home. Now I wish I had it.

A member in the Nancy Ward baptized Jean a month after having had proper clearances from church authorities given Jean’s chequered past. I loved this guy. He was sincere and genuine, ardent in his desire to change his life, he was funny and grateful and loving to anyone who found the grace to be his friend, a quality which many in the French rock-n-roll scene had taken advantage.

Once he got himself cleaned up, he wasn’t too worse for wear, except for that bump on his head. Jean’s father was a bigwig, perhaps literally, in Nancy’s government and was counted among the elite in the Lorraine. We had no idea since Jean talked very little about his parents and we asked him even less. Best to focus strictly on the convert, it was much cleaner and less risky that way.

After his baptism, Jean decided to visit his parents and show them his new him and disclose his new religious affiliation. Jean was institutionalized by his father. He was taken, that night, to a facility for the mentally ill. He managed to call us under duress to let us know.

We visited him before any restrictions were made against us, twice, if I recall. Both times Jean wanted us to administer the sacrament to him and pray with him, a task mistrusted to fools. I can’t help but wonder now if he’d have been better off with a little Maryjane.

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