Monday, July 31, 2006

Born to be Friends - Me and the Pense's

I knew absolutely nothing about them, and they very little about me. The only thing that had brought us together was a twenty minute encounter I had with their friends the McFarland's at Pappa Leno's Italian restaurant in Berea, KY. The McFarland's told me I should look up their friends the Pense's when I arrived in Carbondale, IL adding only that they were interesting and had travelled all over the world.

I kind of stored this info in the back of my brain, until Sandy McFarland sent me an e-mail with their contact info. I then e-mailed the Pense's and asked if they could recommend any farms in the area if I did end up staying in the area. Seburn Pense (called "Seb" and pronounced "seeb") responded, recommending a place and explaining that he was out of the country, I would later find in Taiwan. I promptly forgot about all this, until finding myself stranded in Carbondale for what was looking like an extended period of time.

I sent another e-mail explaining my situation, and Vicki responded promptly that I was welcome to come spend the weekend with them and she was even willing to pick me up. That wouldn't be necessary as the fellas at the Bike Surgeon had given me a loner bike, one of those tough looking, fat tire, around town bikes, single speed and no frills. After utilizing it to the max by strapping everything from laundry to computers to the handlebars allowing me to get around town and run errands, I finally decided to just hook my whole trailer to the thing and again become self sufficient. I had spent two nights at the Motel Six, and even though their rates were incredibly cheap, $33 a night before tax, I was bored with the hotel (too much t.v. - blugh) and was losing money fast.

Bikers abounded in the city. I had quickly befriended a guy from Oregon riding a recumbent (that's one of those lay down bicycles). We had shared a fantastic Indian meal and traded life stories as people are inclined to do when passing.

Saturday was spent investing in a new laptop. Here's the short, simple version. Three weeks ago, my laptop monitor quit working. I weighed my options and decided it was worth it to try and order a new screen rather than buy a new laptop. I purchased it off e-bay and asked the seller to ship it to me in route. He never responded. So, I sent someone to pick it up at the post-office, it was sent to my old Athens address, one which I didn't have forwarding address so after 10 days, bam, it was sent back to the sender in Florida. Meanwhile the damaged laptop still worked if I plugged it into another monitor, but, the extended life battery I had bought just before the trip quit working.

I hadn't been writing enough these last few weeks so I just decided to buy a new one. Ouch! Another unexpected and huge expense. But what is this trip if I don't chronicle it. It'll just be a fuzzy exclamation point in my history, right.

Back to the Pense's.

They lived on the outskirts of town and I arrived there just before 7PM on Saturday. At the door I was greeted by their oldest daughter Resa (a difficult name to catalog until they added, "like Teresa"...I love memory aides), Vicki, an accomplished matron, and then....holy cow....a herd of little girls, three brunette Pense's in descending order Allisa, Christy and the indelible Gracey, and their little blond haired friend. The girls actually were shy for the first fifteen minutes of my stay, during which I was fed a delicious meal of Eggplant Lasagna and cornbread. "The eggplant," said Resa, "is actually a Wildlife Refuge reject." The wildlife rehabilitation center where Resa volunteers gets rejected produce from Kroger. The center then piles up a ton of the stuff they can't use for volunteers to take home and feed to unfinicky cross country cyclists which will happily devour whatever is placed before them....and enjoy it.

In a fashion typical of my travels, Vicki, Resa and myself sat at the dinner table and shared a rapid fire dialogue on everyone's history up until that point in time. I knew instantly I was going to feel right at home with these people.

The Pense's are former missionaries who lived for years in Taiwan and in Haiti. Resa and her older brother Andy (currently a white water raft guide with his wife Jenny) had in fact spent most of their lives abroad, and in Asian countries. The three youngest girls, in contrast, had grown up in the states, but still somewhat on the go, moving from Oklahoma, to Kentucky, and now to Illinois. Vicki and Seb (the ma and pa Pense's) had met during their college days at UC Davis in California, and upon becoming missionaries in Haiti, lived on a mountain so remote that every pail of water had to be carried up the hill. Vicki described how the water she used to bathe the kids was then reused during her own washing. Luxury was a brief splashing rinse with fresh, unused water.

The Pense's lived on the outskirts of town which allowed them to incorporate some simple aspects of farmlife into their otherwise suburban surroundings. Vicki and Seb's parents had both gotten out of farming, and Vicki chuckles as she recollects their parents response to finding that much of their missionary work would involve farming. Ultimately, they found that teaching english was an even more effective means of integrating with the culture, as everyone wanted to learn english. But being close to their food and animals had become deeply ingrained during all those years of simple living, so now, settled a bit, they enjoyed raising their girls with sheep, chickens, and a pony.

The middle of the young girls, Christy, had decided to take over the egg business for the summer. She took her savings and invested in the purchase of laying hens, and feed, and now half way through the summer she is earning a profit on every dozen eggs sold to family, neighbors, and church friends. "What an education," I commented. At age 7 she's basically learning every aspect of a small business, with the added benefit of better understanding nature while feeding the neighborhood farm fresh eggs. I'd like to find a young person doing that when I return. What a great story I would have for my eggs.....and I can cook some eggs I wanna tell you.

Seb, who teaches Agricultural Education at Southern Illinois University, was unfortunatley out of town visiting his brother in Washington State, so I was gonna have to hold my own with the Pense women for the weekend....a total treat. First activity of the weekend....swimming in the neighbors pool. I was excited. There haven't been nearly enough opportunities for swimming on this trip.

On the walk over, we spotted some bats overhead and I discovered that Resa was in the process of nursing a baby brown bat back to health. Apparently, since bats are mammals, and they do nurse, sometimes the babies don't want to let go when its time for momma to go out and feast on some mosquitos. They hold on, momma flies away, they lose their grip and ooops, baby go bump on the ground. So now you'll know what happened if a baby bat ever lands on your head. It's illegal to rescue a bat actually. Though cats are more likely to transmit rabies than bats, the Illinois Dept. of Wildlife destroys all bats due to rabies risk. Just another example of discrimnation based on ugliness. All of a sudden I got a small scratch on my arm from some brush and it was then that I noticed that the Pense's all had foam coming from their mouths, and their eyes began to roll back in the heads as they caught a whiff of fresh blood and began circling me for the kill. Just kidding. We just kept walking to the pool.

On the way I saw the most impressive woofle ball court ever. It had a fence around the outfield, a scoreboard, outdoor lights. It was something to behold, and so used that the pitcher's mound and home plate were about six inches worn into the earth.

We got to the pool, and we played. There was a water slide, and fiberoptic lights along the side of the pool that changed colors. We had to cut the night short when we saw lightning in the distance, a foreshadowing of things to come.

Vicki and Resa and I stayed up until nearly 11 talking. I can now say that I have officially bottle fed a bat. I completed my life history, elaborating on my experiences working for industrial poultry. This freed us up to discuss philosophy the following night.

After pitching my tent next to the trampoline, under the apple tree, on some good squishy grass, I retired for the night, as circling showers and lightning indicated that the heavens were planning to unleash something serious... so you'd better get ready. The rain didn't relent all night. My tent did fairly well considering the two and a half inches of rain. That's some rain. The only thing that got wet was my feet, as the tent fly on that side of the vestibule just insn't long enough. My dreams consisted of repeatedly being washed away. I was suprised to awake the next morning and find that I was still camped in the Pense's backyard. I'd figured on Milwaukee.

This completes part one of a two part series on the Pense's of Carbondale. (Sometimes, I can't believe you people really read all this, but then I realize it beats t.v.)

All my best,


From left to rights: Allysa (I don't know how you spell your name), Christy, Gracey, Vicki, and Resa.


11/4/2006 4:16 PM Jenny Pense wrote:
You're writing is very impressive and humorous. You should compose a book about your travels and your intern in the poultry industry.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is Jenny Pense, too.
I live in Leipzig- Germany.
I was always looking for someone who has the same name.
When I found this website at google I was very happy. I know that the name is french and means thinking. My sister, Linda Pense was in france for a half of a year und her french friends always were laughing when she said: "hello, I´m Linda Pense."
Our Pense- family lives in Germany in Leipzig and can write me at
Just if you wan´t to.