Westward Ho!

I decided I wanted to go back to school. After two years in New Orleans, we were ready to leave and living in Utah for a while looked like a good thing. I applied to BYU to Electrical Engineering school and was accepted. I didn’t want to burn my bridges with IBM, so I applied for a leave of absence for three years. That’s how long I figured it would take me to finish the degree. It was also the longer leave that IBM would give and I had to do some fancy talking to get them to agree to it. Electrical Engineering was a five-year degree, but I had a little head start having taken classes in Battle Creek at Kellogg Community College and Perkinston Jr College in Mississippi.

Driving our little 4-cylinder Pontiac Tempest (the same car that had the door caved in on our first date), pulling a trailer filled with everything we owned, we left New Orleans and headed for Utah. It took one whole day just to cross Texas. We stopped in New Mexico to see our friends,  the Varner family. They took one look at the load I was pulling and said I would never get over the mountains with our little car. They offered to go with us from New Mexico all the way to Provo with them pulling the trailer (I think they had a pick-up truck) and us driving along behind. That was the kind of friends they were. I’m sure Billy has a special spot in the Celestial Kingdom. He’s one of the humblest and nicest men I have ever known.

I think it was on this trip that we decided to go to the four-corners area. This is the only spot in the United States where four states come together at one point. I think the states are New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah. They have a monument there and if you had four legs, you could stand with one in each of four states, but you can do two at a time. It was the only time I have ever been there. It was pretty cool.

So, in June of 1968, the four of us, Karen, Matthew, Sis Schilling and myself, arrived in Provo with Billy Varner driving along with us pulling our trailer, to start yet another chapter in the varied and wondrous life of Jim Hoag. We were set to conquer BYU.


The People of New Orleans

All of the people I remember in New Orleans are church members. I don’t remember anyone from IBM or from the businesses I frequented. Unfortunately, I can remember mostly faces, but don’t have names to go with them. I remember the Varner’s. His name was Billy. He was a good guy and one of my best friends in New Orleans. They moved to New Mexico just before we left town and we stopped to see them on our way to Utah in 1968. Shortly after seeing him in New Mexico, he was killed in a auto accident in his new town in New Mexico. A real shame. I liked him a lot. I’ve already mentioned the Roberts. Marshall was about my best friend and we stayed in touch with them for a while, but I have no idea where they are today. Sister Shilling was an important person to us in New Orleans. She was an older lady and a convert to the church, I believe. Probably in her 70’s when we knew her. And she was completely deaf. One of my clearest memories is sitting in the back of the chapel next to Sister Schilling and writing down everything that was said in the sacrament talks.

When we moved to Utah, Sister Schilling came with us so she could go to the temple. When we went to the Salt Lake Temple, they didn’t have sign sessions in those days. And even if they did, I don’t think Sister Schilling knew sign language anyway. So, they let her sit in an office in the temple and read the entire temple session and ordinances. They said she would just have to depend on the spirit to get her through. Of course, Karen was there to help, too. I really hated putting her on a plane to send her back to New Orleans. I told her I would see her again. I really wanted to, but, of course, we never got back to New Orleans. At least not before she died. Maybe I can keep that promise to her in the here after.

I remember the Gilotti family. I hope I’m spelling that right. He was our Bishop for the 2 years we lived there. We saw them later when they moved out of New Orleans, but I’m not sure where. I met Bishop Gilotti when I first moved to New Orleans before we were married. He called me to be a ward clerk for a while even though I was a Priest and a recent convert. I remember sitting on his porch in front of his house and him telling me that he could sense my spirit when he first met me. I’m not saying this to brag but he seemed to think I was a spiritual person right from the moment he met me. I was really humbled by the statement.


Life in New Orleans in 1967

Life continued on. I went to work every day. We went to church on Sunday and our social life was pretty much the church. We really didn’t like New Orleans very much. It was a great city to visit, especially as a single guy, but it really sucked to live there. The heat was stifling. It was humid. It literally rained every day. Along with my briefcase, I carried an umbrella everywhere I went. And the bugs. There were cockroaches everywhere. Along with electricity and water and other utilities, we had the monthly bill of having the exterminator come over and spray our place. You had to do that once a month to keep them out and then it didn’t work very well. Since we lived in a 4-Plex, the roaches would just leave our apartment and go next door while they were spraying. Then when the poison had settled away so it was safe, they would just come back. I remember many times going into the kitchen late at night, turning on the light and seeing several scatter into the cracks as they ran to get away from the light.

Roaches are probably the main reason I wanted to leave New Orleans. But it wasn’t the only reason. I mentioned the heat and the rain. The politics were corrupt. Seeing Mardi Gras once was enough. After that it just seemed like a drunken orgy. As a married person, it held little appeal for me. I remember one day we were driving around town and I asked Karen if she could name one reason why someone (well, us)  would want to live in New Orleans. We thought and thought and the only thing we could come up with was that the flowers were beautiful. And they were. The city is beautiful to see, especially in the spring when the flowers were blooming. The azalea’s were fantastic to see. But that’s all we could think of and, in the end, that just wasn’t enough to keep us there.

Besides, I wanted to go back and finish my education. I knew that without at least a bachelor’s degree, I would never be able to get a good job. What I was doing paid pretty good, but not nearly as much as an engineer makes.

It was time to leave New Orleans.


Be Thankful For What You Have

I want to digress a little right here and tell a story that I’ve given in talks several times and I actually wrote up and submitted it to a magazine once. They didn’t publish it, but still, it’s part of the New Orleans experience.

New Orleans had (and probably still has) many, many panhandlers on the streets. You could not walk down any street without seeing at least one, sometimes several people begging for money or selling pencils, etc. Since I was dressed in a suit and carried a briefcase, I was a prime target for these people. I learned not to make eye contact. That when they approached me, to look straight ahead and ignore them. I got really good at this in the two years we lived in New Orleans. One day, I was waiting for a light to change and this fellow came up to me and asked if I had any change as he hadn’t eaten in two days. Well, true to form, I ignored him. I kept my eyes ahead and in a few moments, he went on his way to find someone a little more responsive.

For some reason which I can’t explain, except maybe it was the spirit talking to me, I started to think about this guy. I thought about the fact that in my entire life, I had never gone two days without eating. Now, most of these people that are panhandlers are alcoholics and drug takers and won’t use the money for food anyway. That’s what I rationalized. But what if he had been hungry. What if I could have fed him and relieved that hunger. I thought about King Benjamin’s speech in the Book of Mormon about how the beggar should not put his petition to you in vain, for are we not all beggars.

I went home, greatly disturbed and talked to Karen about it. After all, I couldn’t help everyone who asked for my help. I didn’t have enough money to feed half the city of New Orleans. But, maybe I could help one or two now and then. We decided the next time I was approached, I would try to help. Well, it didn’t take long. Probably the next day.
I was standing on a corner and this fellow came up to me and gave me the standard line. I haven’t eaten in two days. Can you give me some change. I stopped and turned and faced him and looked him in the eye. “Are you really hungry?” I asked him. “Yes”, he said. He seemed surprised that I had actually spoken to him. Fine, I told him. I wouldn’t give him any money but I would take him to a diner that was right near by and buy him a meal. Would he like that?

He seemed weary, but agreed. I told him I had to make a quick stop first (I was working, after all), but it would only take a minute and then we could go to the diner. I went into the building to do my business leaving him outside on the street. He didn’t want to follow me in. When I came back, he was gone. Now, I didn’t feel bad about that. He had made the decision to leave. Maybe he thought I was blowing him off and that I would go out the back door and leave him standing there. Or maybe he really wasn’t that hungry. I’ll never know. I did know that I was sincere in my desire to help him and would have done it if he had stayed put for a few minutes. I felt I had done all I could.

There is always a way to help other people. You do not need to help everyone. That would be impossible. But you can help whoever you can help. Following the spirit can go a long way to knowing when to help and when it is a scam.

We left New Orleans shortly after that and moved to Utah. There are not so many panhandlers at BYU as there were in New Orleans, so I don’t get the opportunity to try it very often.


Matthew Comes Into the World

This is what I remember of that night. I hope Karen can add to it. We were in bed in the middle of the night when she woke me up to inform me that her water had broke. The bed and everything was wet. I think we were prepared for this and so I remember us both going to the car and driving the lonely empty streets of New Orleans to Baptist Hospital which is where we were to report for the birth. There was hardly anyone on the street, so I drove pretty fast. I was hoping a cop would pull me over and try to give me a ticket. I really wanted to opportunity to tell him “This is an emergency. My wife is in labor.” But, alas, it was not to be. The whole trip, I didn’t see one single policeman. I even ran a couple red lights so we could get to the hospital as soon as possible.

Karen can probably tell you all how long the labor was. I don’t remember, but I don’t think it was too long. Matthew was the only child of mine that I did not see born. They invited me into the delivery room for all the others, but in 1967, they weren’t as enlightened as they are today. I waited in the waiting room and after a time, the doctor brought me this funny looking little person. He was about 10 minutes old. He was all purple and his head was misshapen a little from his trip down the birth canal. And, the main thing you noticed about Matthew was his full head of black hair. It was like he needed a haircut even before he was born.

We named him Matthew James Hoag. Karen and I had kind of had an unwritten agreement that she would name any girls that were born and I would name the boys. Both of us had to come up with a name that the other could accept and agree on. So I named Matt and David. She named Kim, Katy and Kristy. This would probably be a good place to tell the “Mithuan” story. It’s out of order, but I might forget it later. When Kim was born, Karen was the one to name her. Well, Karen had a friend in high school named Susan Smith. If you switch the names around and remove all the “S’s”, then you get Mithuan. She wanted to name Kim, Mithuan. Well, since I had veto power, I told her I wanted a regular name and not a made up one. I guess Kim can decide if she would have preferred to go through life as Mithuan.

We gave Matthew a name and a blessing in the New Orleans chapel a few weeks after he was born. This was not significant except that he screamed through the whole thing. I don’t know how anyone heard a thing. But, I think Karen wrote down some of it. Maybe, she still has those notes, I don’t know.

Matthew was named what he was because during the pregnancy, I was reading a book by James Michener called “The Source”. In the book is a character named Matthew and Michener explains that the name means “God’s Gift”. I thought that was really appropriate for our first born. His middle name had to be my first name. So, he became Matthew James. My middle name was my father’s first name “Lewis” and Lewis’s middle name was Truman which was my grandfather’s first name. I’m happy to say that Matthew continued the tradition with Nathan when he named him Nathan Matthew Hoag. Will it continue? Only time will tell.


The First Year

After the sealing, we took Mom and Martin and Laura over to the train station so they could catch a train home. This left Karen and I alone to start our honeymoon. Our honeymoon consisted essentially of the drive back to Battle Creek. We took about 3-4 days to come back (took our time, in other words). We went through Yellowstone National Park and then came east back to Michigan. I don’t remember the exact route we drove, but we were young and in love and it didn’t really matter where we were.

We got back to Battle Creek where there were two receptions planned for us. The first was at the Battle Creek Ward house and included my family and all of our Battle Creek friends and members of the church. The second which was a couple days later was in Quincy and I think was held at the High School where Karen went to school. There we were able to see all of Karen’s family (a lot more than me) and her friends that she grew up with in Quincy. Both receptions were nice and we got a lot of loot.

In fact, if I remember right, we couldn’t take it all with us, so we stored some of the presents at the farm and picked them up later when we came back on one of our many trips home. Our next step was to drive back to New Orleans where I had to go back to work and we needed to start our lives as a newly married couple.

We moved into the 4-Plex that I mentioned earlier. A couple who were members of the church lived right next door to us. That may be why we moved. I don’t remember the reason. They were the Roberts, Marshall and LuWanna. I think I spelled that right. I think he was going to school for an advanced degree, but I don’t remember the details.

That first year, we got used to each other. I remember one Christmas. It was either our first or second when Karen got me the entire Journal of Discourses for a present. The reason it stands out is because there are, like 16 volumes of books and she wrapped them all individually. It looked like I had lots of presents. I went to work at IBM, fixing the key punches and stuff. We were really poor, but it didn’t seem to matter. In August of 1967, we became three as Matthew was born.


Getting Married

Keep in mind that our announcements and napkins and everything for the receptions were printed with Sep 22, 1966. We were scheduled to be in the 7 a.m. temple session and several of our friends from the ward in Battle Creek, who were going to school at BYU, were going to be at the temple at 7 a.m. The car was finally fixed and we had about 8 hours still to go to reach Salt Lake. We rolled into town in the middle of the night on the early morning of Sept 22. We had to wake up the guy at the motel to get into our rooms. We decided not to try to go to the temple that morning, but to wait and go in the afternoon and get a good days sleep instead.

So, later that afternoon, with just the three of us (people that we knew) in the session, we went to the Salt Lake Temple. There, we received our own endowments and then went to a sealing room where we were sealed as husband and wife. No one was there. Just my mother. The kids were in some family room the temple offers. We had decided that I would be sealed to my mother and Floyd at the same time. So, we did that, too. Martin and Laura were dressed all in white, too and were brought in so they could be sealed to their father. Now we were all really a family.

One image that stands out from that day is that we were late, as usual, getting to the temple. We had to get there that day or all the printed stuff we had would be wrong. I was hurrying Karen along and being my usual impatient jerk of a self when she stopped us. I’m not sure where my mother and the kids were, maybe they had gone on into the temple. But we were standing on the sidewalk outside the temple right on the north side of temple square. Karen said. Let’s have a prayer before we go in. I said right here on the street. She said yes, that’s what she wanted to do. People who know me know how much I hate having attention focused on me and I resisted, but she wouldn’t move and we were late, so we stopped right there on the sidewalk. People were walking by and we ignored them all and bowed our head and said a prayer to get us in the mood to enter the temple. I will never forget that day or that prayer.


Goin’ to the Chapel….

In September of 1966, I went home. IBM had a policy that when you got married, you automatically got a week or 2 off for vacation. I don’t remember which, but I must have been gone at least 2 weeks. I went back to Battle Creek where we loaded up my mother’s car and we headed west to get married in the Salt Lake Temple. There were five of us going, Karen, my mother, Martin, Laura and me. We drove out I-80 from east to west. The trip should have taken 2 days. It took a lot longer than that.

I hope I’m not confusing this trip with another one we took west at another time, but I think this was the time when Karen got a speeding ticket in Nebraska. I-80 was not complete for the whole distance, so in the panhandle of Nebraska, we had to switch over to a 2-lane road. After traveling so fast on the interstate, it was difficult to slow down. Karen was driving and soon, we got pulled over by a Nebraska patrolman. He told us to follow him into Suno, NB where we met a judge and payed the fine. We got to joke with Karen a lot over that.

We would have made it to Salt Lake City on time if we hadn’t decided to take a little detour. Coming out of Laramie, WY there’s a little turn which takes you up over the Snowy Range Road. This road goes up over the mountain and then goes through a little town called Saratoga, WY and then re-connects with I-80. We thought it would be a good detour and allow us to see some of the high country in Wyoming. The road ran to something like 13,000 feet and I’ll have to admit, it was cool. This was September and there was snow at the higher elevations. There was a beautiful lake that we stopped and took pictures of.

We were doing fine until we peaked and started the downward drive into Saratoga. We had to stop for a stop sign at an intersection and the car died. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it started. Some big logger-looking guys come by and looked at it and said we had bad engine trouble. I think that by putting the car in neutral and pushing it a little, we got it to roll down the backside of the mountain and into the first gas station we saw in Saratoga. I don’t remember being pushed or towed or anything. Maybe Karen remembers it differently.

We spent almost 24 hours in the little town of Saratoga. We had to wait while the mechanic called over to Rawlings to have parts delivered. It seems that the car had over-heated in the high altitude of Snowy Range and the head gasket had literally melted away. This lets oil into the gas mixture and the engine can’t run that way. So, it wasn’t an expensive repair, just a time-consuming one. So we waited.

Tomorrow: We finally get married.


Moving to New Orleans

I told IBM I needed a couple weeks to get my affairs in order, so I could return to Michigan and move my stuff south and most importantly, to see if Karen was still speaking to me. So, I went back home to face her. I tried to explain what I was thinking, but it didn’t come out very good. There was some crying and some hugging and some forgiving. And eventually, she accepted that if we were to get married, she would be moving to New Orleans. Once again, I left Michigan, this time with people waving goodbye to me and, hauling most of what I owned, moved to New Orleans. I rented an apartment, moved in and started work at IBM.

This was in the spring of 1966, so we had about 6 months to wait until the wedding. Karen was pretty much left to arrange the whole thing. I think that sometime that summer, her and my mother and Martin and Laura came down to visit me. I was able to show her the apartment. As it turned out, we didn’t live there long. I’m not sure why, but we moved to a four-plex kind of house shortly after we got married.

A customer engineer is another name for a glorified repairman. Back in those days, before the days of computers, we had IBM cards that contained the information a person was storing instead of a hard drive. You would punch a pattern of holes into the card and then certain machines could read those holes, thus reading the information. The machine used to punch the holes, surprisingly enough was called a Key Punch machine. There was a companion machine called a Verifier which was used to verify that the person who punched the card the first time, did it right.

In short, my job was to fix those two type of machines when they broke down, which was often. I had a “route”. Like a milkman. I would travel around from place to place and fix the machines. It didn’t take long before all of the regulars on the route knew me and I could just walk right into their offices and do my job. The only company in New Orleans that I remember was the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They had over a 100 keypunches and 100 verifiers and there was always 5 – 10 down at any one time. I got to the point where I thought I could take a key punch apart into it’s smallest piece and then put the whole thing back together again. Maybe blindfolded. We carried a tool bag which looked like a briefcase. So, since IBM required you wear a white shirt and a suit, even though I was just a repairman, I looked like a businessman. This got me into a lot of places it would have been difficult to get into if I was dressed differently.

More tomorrow….


The Courtship, Part 1

We had our first date in Sept 1965 and in January, 1966, I proposed. I used a ring that my mother had given me. The diamond had been in our family for a couple generations at least and since the setting didn’t look right anymore, I had the diamond removed and put into a new setting. I wasn’t sure Karen would accept a “used” diamond, but when she heard the story, she was happy with it.

At some point, I had quit the railroad and was just going to school. We wanted to get married in the temple and so if you were a convert to the church, you had to wait one year before you could be ordained an Elder so that you could go to the temple. I was baptized in August, so we had to wait until after August of 1966 to get married. I don’t know how the date was picked, but we decided on Sept 22.

Also, at some point after we got engaged, I began to have second thoughts and started worrying if this was what I really wanted. I had thought about going on a mission, but soon gave up that idea. I really wasn’t sure she would wait for me. At one point, I became so agatated thinking about it and the big changes that were about to come into my life, that I felt I had to get away and clear my head. Like a dope, I didn’t tell her (or anyone else for that matter) and one day, I just up and left town and went back to Biloxi where I had spent four years. I needed a familiar setting away from family and friends and church and time to think about what I should do and, more importantly, if I was doing the right thing. I was tremendously insecure as a person and self-image has always been a problem with me. I had to convince myself that I was worthy of her and spending the rest of my life with her.

Not too many people know this story and maybe I shouldn’t be telling it now, but I want this to be as complete as possible. If I have some facts wrong, I hope Karen will correct me so I can have as correct a record as possible. I knew that companies came to Biloxi to interview and hire people because of the training base. It was a great resource of people constantly getting out of the service and looking for work. The first thing I did when I got to Biloxi was to check into a motel and go buy a newspaper. I looked at the classified ads and remember that 2 stood out. IBM was in town and RCA was there. IBM was interviewing in another (fancier) hotel just down the beach from where I was, so I went there first.

They took my application, saw that I had taught for 4 years and figured I was a good prospect. So they scheduled me the next day for an aptitude test. This is the kind of test where they find out how logically you can think as well as how much you know. Since I had been out of the service only about a year, I remembered just about everything I had learned. I was especially good at problems of logic. For instance, if you have A and B, then what is C going to look like. I was good at solving puzzles and problems and to make a long story short, they offered me a job with the New Orleans branch office as a Customer Engineer. I accepted and never did get over to talk to RCA.