Guatemala, Then and Now

One of the things I’ve learned in the many years I’ve worked on this site is that my family has a habit of following in the wake of its ancestors, even if the followers were reluctant to admit it.  Our trips to the Bahamas were in the wake of Chet’s SPA trips; our moving to Palm Beach followed Chet and Myrtle by seven years, and on and on.  My wife and I managed to repeat this with a trip to an entirely different place–Guatemala–but how we got there is an entirely different story.

In the early 1950’s my mother and father departed on what she described as a “Banana Boat” from New Orleans.  Their first stop was in Havana, before the Ugly Guy with a Cigar and Beard Whose Name Cannot be Spoken in Parts of Miami.

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The Banana Boat they took to Cuba and Guatemala

After that they went to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, and from there ascended up to Guatemala City.  My guess is that they stayed in a guest house of the United Fruit Company, which ran the Banana Boat (with provision for passengers) and was very powerful in Guatemala in those days.

My father never talked about this trip; my mother was another story.  They visited many sites in Guatemala, some of which we’ll see below.  The one place she really didn’t like was Chichicastenango; it deeply offended her Baptistic sensibilities.   That’s a good place to begin the transition to our own visit over Christmas 2019.

I joined the North Cleveland Church of God in 1983.  The Church of God has a strong presence in Guatemala, and our members there don’t think any better of places like Chichicastenango than my mother did.  One of the people I met at North Cleveland was Harvey Harkins, who was raised in our church’s first children’s home (which is celebrating its centenary this year) and was/is something of a legend in our church.  Three years after I joined he announced he was going on a mission trip to Guatemala.  The real nature of the mission trip became clear when he came home with a wife.  We all thought Harvey a confirmed bachelor, so this development was a shock to us (as it happens it was to him, too.)  They had a daughter, who married in 2017.  In the meanwhile they’ve become like family to us, so when Christmas 2019 rolled around and it was time for the new son-in-law to meet the family in Guatemala, we were invited to go, which we did.

It’s strange in a way to retrace your parents’ footsteps in this way, so many years after they came.  But we went to some new places as well, and experienced new things.

In Guatemala we found a beautiful country which, although with problems, is a place of charming people.  I was encouraged by what I saw and experienced, especially as a Christian.  When missionaries go out to do their work, their idea is to win those they encounter for Christ.  What they may not consider is the fact that they are adding people to the church who will enrich the church with their presence.  Pentecostal missionaries went to Guatemala with few resources, but the church is better for the harvest, and that’s something good to keep in mind moving forward.

The Event of the Season

The Christmas/Advent season is upon us at last.  But it’s not the only season getting under way: we also have the Palm Beach social season. This season has its roots in the climate: northerners come to South Florida in the winter to escape the climate and return to their origin when the weather gets hot again in the Florida spring. During this time those who want to be seen spend a lot of time going from one ball (and sometimes a golf benefit) to another.  Between all of these flashy events is daily life, and part of that daily life is going to the grocery store (or sending the help there.)

When my family moved to Palm Beach, there were no chain food stores in town. There were only two private markets: Herbert’s Lafayette and Southampton. Both of these offered a fine (if limited) selection and both delivered.  Chet’s widow Myrtle used this service extensively, not only for the convenience but also because she wasn’t the best driver in her last years. Both markets, however, were dreadfully expensive. My mother would use these from the time time but generally preferred to cross the lake and shop in West Palm Beach, where the prices came down from the stratosphere.

It occured to the Publix people that there might be an opportunity here, so they applied for a permit to build a Publix market down the street from St. Edward’s Catholic Church. Needless to say, the Town, in its usual fashion, was appalled at the idea. How can we have such a plebeian establishment like a supermarket in Palm Beach? How tacky will it look? Who who would lower themselves here to go there? And what kind of riff raff would come over to shop here? (After all, Bethesda-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church just successfully booted them off the island by canning the ladies’ rummage sale!)

But Publix didn’t get where it was then or now by taking no for an answer easily, so they persisted. They invented a Spanish style front for the store, and lowered its profile. They promised to both appoint and stock the store to fit the market (they would have been stupid to do otherwise.) Finally the Town permitted this edifice to be built, many secretly expecting it to flop in an elite place like Palm Beach.

It didn’t. Opening in 1971, its first day was, literally, the event of the season. The Shiny Sheet carried pictures of society figures with their butlers and maids crowding the parking lot and coming to fill their limousines with the reasonably priced groceries Publix carried. Even the rich and famous were sick of being ripped off. Ever since Palm Beach has found that “shopping is a pleasure” at Publix. The chain even adopted the Spanish style architecture for the rest of their stores for the next twenty years, and remodeled the store, re-opening in December 2011.

The first lesson from this is that, no matter how much money you have, saving it is important. In a nation which loves to “flash the cash” or worse the credit, this bears repeating. If people in Palm Beach like to save money, you should too.

Second, some of the most important things in life are the most ordinary. Amidst the ritzy charity balls and celebrity events that mark the season in Palm Beach, the opening of a grocery store made an enormous impact.

RELCR080That’s the way it is with Christmas and the Incarnation. Jesus Christ came in very ordinary circumstances, born of a mother whose family had come down a long way from the time when they were kings of Judah and Israel. After escaping Herod’s attempt to eliminate him as a power challenger, he grew up in Nazareth, than and now not a place associated with the elites of this world. “‘Foxes have holes,’ answered Jesus, ‘and wild birds their roosting-places, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,'” (Matthew 8:20) characterised his life, and after being executed between criminals he was laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.

But the ordinary became the extraordinary when he ended his rest and rose from the dead, making it possible for us to do the same and to have eternal life. Like the opening of the Publix in Palm Beach, the whole history of Jesus Christ–his birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and return–is the “event of the season,” but in this case the season is human history. We are a part of that history and can be a part of its greatest event by not being ripped off by the Devil and by accepting the free gift of eternal life which only Jesus Christ can give.

If you’re tired of being ripped off in life, click here

The General Thanksgiving

Of all the prayers we used to pray from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer at Bethesda, probably my favourite was what the Prayer Book called “A General Thanksgiving,” but I normally attached the definite article to it.  It’s especially appropriate now and here it is:

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we, thine unworthy servants, do give thee most humble and hearty thanks for all thy goodness and lovingkindness to us, and to all men; We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all, for thine inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service, and by walking before thee in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Ah, the Joys of Phone Phreaking

David “The Eight-Bit Guy” Murray (who is one of my favourites on YouTube) did a fascinating talk on phone phreaking at the Portland Retro-Gaming Expo:

I knew a guy at my prep school who got into this.  He graduated in 1971 (the same year that Tico Vogt, to whom I responded earlier this year, did.)  One of his favourite places to do it were the call boxes on Florida’s Turnpike.  Evidently someone was paying attention, and while he pursued his hobby on the side of the road, the police showed up.  The rest, as they say, was history.

When Murry put the “ILLEGAL” warning on his talk, he wasn’t just kidding.

One thing that surprised me was how easy it was to do.

Running Rusty

greyhoundNostalgia is a powerful thing.  As people get older, they became teary-eyed for the “good old days,” especially if they think that life was better–and more moral–in the past than it is now.  While there’s no doubt our civilization isn’t what it used to be, growing up in South Florida was a lesson in just how immoral life in these United States could be.  It was (and is) a region fully equipped with the vices of the day — including all kinds of gambling such as jai-alai, harness racing and of course the dog track.  The only people who seemed to suffer for running gambling operations were the poor Cubans who tried to run a bolita (lottery) operation; after spending years jailing immigrants trying to make a living, the state of Florida (along with most states) does well with its own.

pbkennelAcross the lake from where I grew up was the Palm Beach Kennel Club.  Our family never went but when we watched the news every night we’d see Buck Kinnaird’s sports broadcast on Channel 5.  (Click here for WPTV’s 50th Anniversary Commemoration in 2004, which gives more information on the early years of the station.)  Dog races don’t take too long, so the film clip of that night’s race went by pretty fast.  (In truth, I think they always used the same film clip every night.)  The track operated a steel rabbit named Rusty.  When the race began Rusty was started just ahead of the dogs.  The dogs would race while chasing Rusty, and it was the objective of the track to keep Rusty just ahead of the dogs.  They usually succeeded in doing so; their occasional failure resulted in the inglorious end of the race.

Florida finally put an end to dog racing, but only for the dogs. For the rest of us too much of life has turned into a dog race where whomever we feel is in control of our situation is “running Rusty” in front of us.  From youth onward we’re motivated — pushed and shoved in some cases — to achieve goals which we may have had nothing to do with formulating and which, deep down, we really feel we neither want nor are able to accomplish.  If and when we reach these goals it seems that success is more elusive than ever because the “track owner” is moving Rusty faster than we can keep up by either making new demands or enticing us with new things to go harder for.  This is called “being challenged” and of course has its upside but in many cases it’s manipulation, pure and simple.

One of the promises of technology was to enable us to have more leisure time and more control over our lives.  Sad to say the real result is to turn our lives in to a 24/7 “on demand” race where there’s no escape from anything.  The more productive we become with our technological tools the faster “Rusty” is run and the more fatigued we get.

Fortunately the real “track owner” of this world never intended to run people in a perpetual dog race.  Jesus told us “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly-minded, and ‘you shall find rest for your souls’; For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)  His race is rather simple:

  • There is only one really important objective: “What good will it do a man to gain the whole world, if he forfeits his life? or what will a man give that is of equal value with his life?” (Matthew 16:26)  Our main objective is eternal life.
  • He has promised he will give us the strength to run the race:  “Why, then, do you now provoke God, by putting on the necks of these disciples a yoke which neither our ancestors nor we were able to bear? No, it is through the loving-kindness of the Lord Jesus that we, just as they do, believe that we have been saved.” (Acts 15:10-11)
  • He has run the race and won, so can we: “Seeing, therefore, that there is on every side of us such a throng of witnesses, let us also lay aside everything that hinders us, and the sin that clings about us, and run with patient endurance the race that lies before us, our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the Leader and perfect Example of our faith, who, for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame, and now ‘has taken his seat at the right hand’ of the throne of God. Weigh well the example of him who had to endure such opposition from ‘men who were sinning against themselves,’ so that you should not grow weary or faint-hearted.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Jesus Christ sets before us a simple race to run, a clear objective and a straightforward way to get there.  And that’s a lot more than people and institutions can claim these days.

For more information click here.

All New Testament quotations taken from the Positive Infinity New Testament.