I was met at the airport by President and Sister Thorup in their dark blue 1960 Chevrolet sedan. In his "other life," Levi Thorup was an insurance man from Fontana, Calif. But as mission president, I was his newest charge, one of about 180 young men - kids, really - still wet behind the ears, posing as Mormon missionaries in Denmark.
Out on the road and headed toward the center of Copenhagen, President Thorup's Chev seemed like a limousine next to the little European cars. I remember passing huge fields of summer houses and kitchen gardens, many with white flag poles bearing Danish flags with their white cross on a field of red - long, thin wind streamers that fluttered in a breeze coming off the sea.I think the Thorups could tell I was homesick. I had just said goodbye to my folks, but especially to Veloy, for 2 1/2 years. The realization that I wouldn't see her again for 2 1/2 years all but tore my heart out. By the time I landed in Copenhagen, I was still in a daze that, frankly, I never did shake.
I think Sister Thorup had seen cases like mine before. She took me under her wing during the drive into town, and whenever she saw me from that time forward, would always ask about my girl back home.
We arrived at the mission home just before dinner. Located at Priorvej 16, a small side street to Borups Alle, it was a smallish but sophisticated dark red brick villa. To a small-town Utah boy, however, it looked very elite. The mission home and the church next to it, built in the early '30s, formed the heart of the Danish Mormon community, which consisted of about 3,000 members. In time, I would come to know most of them.
But for the time being, I was the new kid on the block. At dinner, I was taught my first complete Danish phrase and encouraged to practice it on the cook when she came to take my plate at the end of the meal.
"Tak for mad, Jeg har spist som en gris."
The room quivered from muffled snickers and a few outright guffaws. Seems I just has fallen for the standard initiation prank levied on green missionaries, having said to the cook, a short, kind lady with a white apron, "Thanks for the food. I ate like a pig."
I will never forget how I felt later that night, in my little attic bedroom, which I shared with several of the old timers, who wore suspenders and mouthed an odd mixture of Danish-missionary pidgin English. As I opened my suitcase and started putting away my fresh, new black socks and neatly pressed white shirts that I had never worn, a tremendous emptiness suddenly engulfed me.
Above my head in the low, sloping ceiling was a small, four-paned window that opened onto the roof. It had a type of clasp I had never seen before, but after fiddling with it for a minute I was able to swing the metal bar to the side and lift the window open about 8 inches or so.
Through the crack, I saw the black silhouette of an apartment building across the alley, and a sliver of sky and stars above it. Some of the apartment windows were dark, but some were golden yellow from the glow of lights inside. I could only see a bit of ceiling and wall through each window.
Inside, I thought, were people who had no idea of my existence, and I might just as easily have gone all my life without being conscious of them. But here I was. Everything of meaning in my life was a half a world away. Everything in the present was new and foreign. And I really missed Veloy.
There are moments in your life that you remember with perfect clarity, that come back unbidden from time to time, triggered by the slightest suggestion of smell or sound or emotion. For me, this is one of them.
As a cold draft of November air rushed in the crack of a tiny window in a red tile roof in Copenhagen, bringing an unfamiliar scent of sea and roasting coffee from a coffee company nearby, in that moment, I felt as homesick and alone as I have ever felt in my life.