Chapter 33: Moon over Eastport Café


The nice thing about being dumped by the girl back home is that you instantly become a member of a tight, supportive fraternity. I mean, statistically, less than ten percent of the girls who promise to wait for their missionaries actually end up doing so. Some elders will tell you that you haven't had the full mission experience until you've gotten a Dear John.

If that was true, then I was definitely part of the club now.

But all was not doom and gloom. In July, Elder Hull was transferred out of Bonners Ferry—an answer to a prayer if ever there was one—and Elder Tim "Bish" Bishop was transferred in. Sister Sullivan was transferred out of Sandpoint, and Sister Leslie "Oy" Oyler was transferred in. Libby, Montana, where not much had been accomplished, was closed to missionary work for the time being, and Sisters Sigmon and Parker were transferred elsewhere. Things were looking up.

Bish and I became best friends. (In 1990, I was best man at his wedding—and I even spent their wedding night next door to them in a Motel 6 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. But that's another story.) Our three months together in Bonners Ferry were all kinds of fun. We baptized only one person in all that time, but since she was a 91-year-old Russian Jew, it seemed to us like a spiritual coup of the first magnitude.

The best day of 1987, though, came on September 3—my hump day.

Elder Snow called me from Lethbridge, Alberta, in the waning days of August. He had been promoted to zone leader by then, and his territory covered much of southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta. His current companion was Elder Vernon Vickers, who (if you recall from Chapter 3) had been my district leader in the M.T.C. Snow told me that my old M.T.C. companion, Elder Judd Nash, was serving in Creston, British Columbia—only ten or so miles north of the Idaho border. September 3 would be hump day not just for me but also for Vickers and Nash—so Snow suggested that the only sensible thing to do would be to get together at the border for a party.

This was too good an opportunity to miss. The only place where the Calgary mission bordered on the Spokane mission was right there to my north, on the boundary line between Idaho and British Columbia. Snow and I agreed to meet at noon that day in Eastport, Idaho—a greasy little spot in the road just this side of Canada—and have lunch together.

I was so excited I could stand it.

Bish and I invited Barkdull and Oy to come with us to the border, and the two of them readily agreed. We would call it a district activity and hold it in place of the district meeting we were supposed to have that day. What a keen idea.

But the night before the border party, I received a call from my zone leaders, Elders Choi and Cavaness, who served about seventy miles south of Bonners Ferry in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

"Elder Shunn," said Elder Choi, "we'd like to come up and do splits with you tomorrow if we could."

I panicked. Technically, the get-together we were going to have in Eastport the next day was against the rules. The Calgary elders would be breaking mission rules by crossing the border, and Bish and I would not only be misusing our proselytizing hours but also be bringing the sisters along on our misadventure, which could be, well . . . misconstrued. "Um," I said, "tomorrow wouldn't really be a good day for that. Maybe--"

"Oh, relax, Shunn," said Choi, a short, round, perpetually smiling Hawaiian fellow. "The sisters told us you're having a hump-day party at the border, and we wanted to come along. You wouldn't leave us out, would you?"

Of course not.

So the six of us—me, Bish, Barkdull, Oy, Choi, and Cavaness—ended up driving north together the next day. As we reached the main street of the tiny town of Eastport—the only street, really—we came within sight of the Canadian border checkpoint. I started to shake. Just being within spitting distance of the border made me unaccountably nervous. I knew that I could be arrested and locked up for a long time if I were caught on the wrong side of the border, and I didn't want to get anywhere close to it. It may have been an irrational fear, but hey, it's how I felt.

As we parked and walked toward the border, a blue Chevy Cavalier crossed over from Kingsgate, British Columbia, and parked near us. Snow and Nash emerged, along with two elders I didn't know. Snow and I exchanged manly hugs, and I shook hands with Nash. (He and I may have been companions at the M.T.C., but that didn't mean we'd been close.) I looked around then, somewhat distressed. "Where's Vickers?" I asked.

Snow grimaced. "A couple of elders in our zone are having a really hard time getting along," he said. "Vickers and I had to split off to take care of the situation, to keep them apart. He's stuck back in Cranbrook with one of them, and the other one's here with me. Vickers is really sorry he couldn't come. Actually, we're both pretty flippin' cheesed off about the whole situation."

Introductions were made all around, and the ten of us headed off to the Eastport Café—a pleasantly dim structure of rough-hewn logs—where we ordered lunch. The big attraction at the Eastport Café was their buffalo burgers, and that's what most of us ordered. We were a noisy, boisterous group, as most large gatherings of missionaries are, and the few other patrons eyed us strangely as we ate and talked and laughed.

Snow and I caught up on a lot of things. One of the first things he told me was that, just a few months before, the same female reporter from the Calgary Herald who had covered my trial, intrigued by the little glimpse she had gotten into missionary life, had accompanied two sister missionaries in Calgary on their rounds for forty-eight hours, then written a very favorable story about the whole experience. (Incidentally, this reminds me of how President Tuttle was mistaken that day in the courtroom when—as I reported in Chapter 26—he blamed the sloppy news stories from the Sun on the female reporter and gave the male reporter credit for the good ones in the Herald. In point of fact, it was the other way around. Draw your own conclusions.)

As we talked, I learned that Snow and Hering hadn't gotten along well at all after I left Calgary, and that Snow was now very happy in Lethbridge with Vickers as a companion. I learned that Grant and Pamela Worthingtinn were still active in the Church, and that they had already gotten one of their friends to join. I also learned some top-secret Calgary mission gossip—that an elder somewhere in northern Alberta (Cold Lake? Peace River? High Prairie?) had run off with the (married) ward Relief Society president. Wow! Scandal!

I caught Snow up on all that was happening with me—including my Dear John from Katrina—but it wasn't long before the conversation at the table turned toward my days as the Mad Bomber of Calgary. The story was by now general knowledge in the Spokane mission, and everyone present had questions they wanted to ask me about it.

Eventually, of course, Snow said, "Shunn, you've got to do the strip search for everyone!"

I was aghast. "Here? In the restaurant? In front of everybody?"

Snow pounded his silverware on the table and started a chant that the others at the table soon took up: "Strip search! Strip search! Strip search! Strip search!"

Those nine voices persuaded me, against my better judgment, to get up and do the strip-search pantomime one more time—in front of everyone in the café. The missionaries—especially Barkdull and Oyler—applauded lustily and laughed so hard I'm not sure why their sides didn't split. The other patrons simply stared at the whole bewildering spectacle.

After lunch, we went outside for the ritual picture-taking that happens at any large gathering of missionaries. We gathered near the international border to take pictures of each other. The border is marked by a line of stone pylons set perhaps twenty yards apart. The line of pylons runs right up the hills to either side of town, and the trees are cleared away for about ten feet on each side of the line. Someone took a picture of my five Spokane friends on the Canadian side of one of the pylons, with me staying firmly on the U.S. side. Another picture shows the nine other missionaries beckoning me across the border, like tempting demons.

Another picture shows me being dragged, kicking and screaming, across the border by four or five other elders. (Much to my dismay, however, I've lost this particular memento. Damn.)

That was a wild moment. Took me completely by surprise. As soon as they let go of me, I ran straight back to the good ol' U.S. of A. as fast as my little legs would carry me, heart pounding wildly.

Like I said, it was the best day of the whole year.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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