Center of the Universe

The most of my formative years were spent happily in the small town of Snyder in Southwestern Oklahoma.  I was certain that I lived in the center of the universe.  Until I was drafted into the U. S. Army, in April 1945, I had been out of Oklahoma only a half of a dozen times.  Those were shopping trips across the Red River to nearby towns in Texas.

While in the army I was exposed to a few other parts of the universe.  I got to see coral snakes in the central Louisiana woods, the Pacific Ocean, the streets of Manila and the British Empire Day Parade in Tokyo. In that parade I saw the world march by in their colorful uniforms and bands like I had never seen or heard before.  I got to watch Generals Mac Arthur and Eisenhower review the American troops.  I encountered musical comedy, opera and ballet and took my first ride on an airplane.  I now knew that there was more to the world than my hometown.

In 1980, Jean and I took our first trip to a foreign country together.  Until a couple of years ago, we took one or two such trips a year.  I guess I was searching for a rival to my center of the universe.

In 1995, our good friend and travel agent, Jane Austin, arranged for a trip around the world for us to celebrate our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.  United Airlines allowed one year for completion of the trip and it had to be confined to the northern hemisphere with no backtracking.  We took only 35 days.

On the first leg of the trip, we again met Bob and Billie Suchsland in Paris for a week with a side trip to the Normandy Beaches.  The Suchslands remained in France and we flew to Katmandu, Nepal.  There we met our tour leader and three other couples for a three – week tour of Nepal, India and Tibet.

Center of the Universe photo 2

Our group in front of the Taj Mahal in India

Our leader, Tony Khang, was very solicitous of us and demanded that the restaurants, hotels and resorts treat us as royalty.  If we wanted to eat something not on the menu, he would demand that it be prepared for us.  At one palace resort in India, were treated to a huge garden banquet and entertained by fifty or more musicians, dancers and other entertainers in a private amphitheater.

At the same place, he insisted that we have a big Halloween party.  The staff had never heard of such a thing but cooperated.  They dug up suitable costumes and had a make-up artist paint our faces to look as horrible as she could.  We drank, played games and acted silly while the staff and others stood by astounded.

At our big Halloween party.  The staff dug up  costumes and had a make-up artist paint our faces.

At our big Halloween party. The staff dug up costumes and had a make-up artist paint our faces.

We flew by the spectacular Mount Everest several times and visited the Taj Mahal and the famous 1,000 room Buddhist Potala Palace.  We rode elephants for two two-hour trips in the Tiger Tops Reserve in Nepal just as Hillary and Chelsea Clinton had done the month before.

As extraordinary as a trip may be, your companions can influence your enjoyment.  Each of them brings some of the flavor of their hometowns.  You really get to know people and their likes and dislikes when you are with them constantly for three weeks.  I developed definite views of the couples accompanying us.

Vern and Joan Miller were from Chicago.  Naturally, the center of their universe was Chicago.  He had the bearing and looks of an important businessman.  He threw his voice around, even at Joan.  Joan tiptoed through the streets of Katmandu in a flowing cape and high heels.  The rest of us were dressed in drab tourist clothes and walking shoes.

Vern could not understand why I did not know his good friend, the Chairman of he Board of Standard Oil of Indiana.  After all I worked for one of the chairman’s companies.  When I informed him that I was just one of the hands, he exclaimed “How can you take a trip like this?”

Early in the trip, Vern let it be known that he was an atheist.  In time, I began to believe that he had not spoken the truth.  We were in a bus traveling through the colorful Indian countryside when one of the riders questioned something that we were seeing with “Why is it that way.”  Loudly and with disdain, Vern replied “Because God made it that way.”  Instantly I said ”Bob, you do believe in God”.  Everything on the bus was quiet for sometime.  The subject was not brought up again.

Larry and Lucy Smith of Cape Cod appeared to be much older than the rest of us.

They were very reticent in their manners and expressions, which probably made them seem much older.  Larry’s walk was slow and deliberate and also he apparently suffered from slight dementia.  About all we knew about them was that they had lived in a Cape Cod bungalow forever.  It was believed that they would go home and never again stray from the center of their universe.

The following year, we were wandering around in a shopping mall in Cape Town, South Africa when we heard someone yelling our name.  What a shock when we found that the call was from Lucy and Larry.  Guess we were too soon in counting them out.

Bob and Rita Gonshorich of Boca Raton, Florida appeared to be our kind of people.  We could understand each other and they refused to eat dinner with the other two couples

Bob and I had many conversations and I learned that he grew up in New York City but moved to Boston to practice medicine.  Because of ill health, he had left his practice and moved to Boca Raton, recovered rapidly and evidently now was a man of leisure. From what I had heard about Boca Raton, it was one of the prime places to live in the world.

Late in trip, Jean and I were relaxing and visiting with Bob and Rita when he surprised me when he exclaimed “I just hate living where we do.”  All anyone thinks or talks about is labels.  Everything has to be the very best.  Everybody there is a New York Jew.  I know since I am one also.”

Then Bob added “I’ve only lived in one place worse. That was when I was in the air force.  I was stationed in the asshole of the world, Altus, Oklahoma.  The climate was terrible.  At that time, we were eating Kosher and our food had to be brought from Dallas”.   Rita added, our apartment was very nice but when you opened the blinds in the kitchen, you saw cows”.

Needless to say, I was shocked and speechless.  They were talking about the center of my universe.  I soon recovered and not wanting to cause trouble, I said, “I grew up twenty-two miles from Altus.  You may be right but if you grow up there, you don’t know the difference”. This episode did not change my true feelings.

We remained buddies and enjoyed each other for the duration of the trip.  We exchanged greetings at Christmas time for several years.  Of course, neither of our greetings mentioned Christmas.

The lesson I learned from that trip is that the center of your universe is wherever your heart is.

 

Jim Pershall

July 2011

Rural Oklahoma Highway Sign

Rural Oklahoma Highway Sign