April 10, 2015

"Hopelessness and George"

Dear Reader,

I've always dreamed of riding a scooter. Though I haven't often vocalized this longing of mine, the thought of puttering around on a little motorized bike has been in my heart and on my mind for years. My previous attempts at getting on a scooter had always been thwarted by time and circumstance, but when we left for Greece two weeks ago, I had one objective. One goal. One dream.

To ride a scooter.

Before the trip, I researched scootering in Greece and I learned a few things. First off, scootering is flippin' dangerous for an inexperienced rider anywhere, but especially on Greece's winding roads. I read accounts online of people who had seen first-hand what happens when tourists with no knowledge of biking try their hand at it on the islands. They wouldn't go into detail, but really....they didn't have to. I also learned that in the past, it was possible to rent a scooter in Greece without formal motorbike licensing, but that the times had changed. Nowadays, proper licensing is required. (Too many of the aforementioned incidents involving tourists, no doubt.)

I took that information and thought a lot. I've not had formal motorbike training. I'm an inexperienced 18-year-old kid. Therefore, it would be dangerous and imprudent to continue seeking to ride a scooter in a foreign country. Well, I concluded, This is not going to be easy.

When we got into the country, I realized just how bad the odds were.

Motorcycle license? No. Experience? No. Tourist season? No. Touristy towns? No. Places renting out scooters? No.

I even asked some friendly locals if they knew anyone who would teach me. No. No. No. There was no way that I'd be getting on a scooter in Greece.

The day before we returned to Athens to catch our flight out of Greece, we received a call from a family in the small village of Vitala that wanted to see us. (The main purpose of our entire vacation was to conduct family history research and connect with living Greek relatives on the island of Evia. My great grandfather Stamatis Anastasios "Pete" Pantazes immigrated from Evia to the USA in the early 20th century.) We'd already met quite a few people we were related to by this point, but we were excited to meet some more relatives, so we took the winding mountain road to Vitala.

We met a man we're related to named Stamatis in the village's square and he walked us over to his sister's home. When we entered the house, we were warmly welcomed by our Greek relatives. I met George Xenogalas, Stamatis' 21-year-old son, in this room. After family history and genealogical findings had been discussed for about 20 minutes, Stamatis told his son to take me over to his home. We left together and walked through Vitala to his home. In order to communicate with each other, we sat at the computer in his room and typed back and forth on Google Translate. Our discussion about his 9 months of service as a soldier on Crete transitioned into a discussion about firearms. George went to his computer files and found a video somebody had taken of him shooting a handgun in the woods. I noticed, however, as he scrolled to find the video, that he had photos of a scooter.

A scooter.


I asked if it was his and he said of course it was, so I humbly asked if he could teach me how to ride. He typed a Greek sentence into Google Translate, and out came the beautiful words "In Greece, anything goes." With this, he motioned for me to follow him and said that we were going to ride up to a place overlooking the village. As soon as we stepped outside, it started to drizzle. Nevertheless, George went to his scooter. He slammed his foot down and it roared to life, then he pulled the throttle and spun it around. He winked, then pulled out onto the narrow street. I climbed on the back and held on tight as we climbed upwards through Vitala. (I really did have to hold on tight; George popped a wheelie at one point.) We arrived at a concrete outdoor basketball court, and at George's request, I got off the back and pulled open the gate. George got off of his scooter and told me to ride. I handed him my phone and pressed record.

After George stopped recording, his mother called him and told us to return to the house because lunch was ready. And because it was cold and wet outside. I climbed on the back and with expertise and skill, George took us down to his house. When we pulled up, my mom and Linda were on the steps. Mom snapped this photo.

That last day on Evia, George made my dream come true. After our ride, the language barrier between us prevented me from fully expressing just how much his actions meant to me. I hope that he Google Translates this post and learns just how much I appreciate what he did.

Isn't life just insane?


February 13, 2015

"A Merrill and a Mission"

Dear Reader,

Today, I submitted my mission papers! In approximately three to four weeks I will receive a call to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

If you're a bit unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, allow me to explain. I'm a Mormon. Now, I could attempt to explain what that means here, but I'm no genius, and I'd surely leave out vital information. There's a website that can help answer any questions you may have about the LDS Church and Mormons. Unsurprisingly, it's called Mormon.org! You can access it here.

Now, dear Reader, I'd like you to imagine that you've just eaten the most delicious meal you've ever had the privilege of consuming. Something so beautiful that it brought a smile to your face, warmth to your heart, and tears to your eyes. Naturally, you'd want to share what you had experienced with others!

The gospel of Jesus Christ has brought me more joy than anything else in my life. It's about serving one another and becoming a better person. It's about love and family, patience and hope. It's beautiful. It has brought a smile to my face, warmth to my heart, and tears to my eyes many times. It's well worth sharing.

After graduating high school, I will serve as a full-time missionary for a period of two years. I do not know where I will be called or what language I will be speaking, but I trust that I will be sent where I'm needed.

If you'd like to take a guess at where I'll be serving, comment below or on Facebook. In a few weeks, we'll see which guesses were closest! The LDS Church has a little more that 400 missions around the world, so really, we can do quite a bit of guessing.

If you have questions for me, feel free to shoot me a message or approach me at any time. I thank you for your kindness and support.

With love,


(Below are images of my two older siblings, Sam and Larissa. Sam is currently serving in mission in Everett, Washington and my sister recently returned from serving in Salt Lake City, Utah.)

Hermana Larissa N. Merrill
Elder Samuel A. Merrill