An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture

Archive for August, 2010

Lost Loves

Don, a member of my writing group, has been dredging up memories of unrequited love for the girl he adored throughout adolescence. Now, Don’s writings about Cheryl wouldn’t be painful to read once or even more than once if Don viewed his lost love with a degree of humor. Unfortunately for our group, the object of Don’s affection went on to a relatively glamorous career in New York and died in her thirties. Unlike his wife, the elusive Cheryl remains forever young and desirable. And Don writes and writes and writes about Cheryl—their every conversation, every glance, what might have been.

I suppose everyone stores memories of old flames in some remote chip in the nervous system. And occasionally these memories, activated by a song, a scent, a movie, or even a bout of insomnia or indigestion, push into consciousness.

Don’s decade-long crush on Cheryl makes my own school girl crushes pale in comparison. I could never manage to stay in love much longer than a year. I fell madly in love with Richard when they vaccinated all the school kids for typhoid fever during a water pollution scare. We were in second grade, and after getting his shot, Richard hid in the coat room and cried. I wanted to cry too, but hadn’t the courage to leave class, stick my head under my coat, and sob. Richard had integrity.

My next crush was on tall, blonde, not-too-smart LaMont. He was handsome—until his sister permed his beautiful, blonde hair turning him into a frizzy-haired geek. By junior high, I was ready to act upon my crushes. When tall, dark Chuck moved to town, I walked a mile out of my way to pass his house on my way home from school. Chuck never noticed me, but I benefited from the exercise.

Being rather shallow, most of my crushes were based on physical appearance. George, however, had a different criterion for falling in love. In high school he was mad about a girl named Janet who worked in a bakery and whose coat smelled like donuts.

No, George and I will not write volumes about our childhood crushes. Unlike Don’s now-mythical Cheryl, our old loves deserve to be lost.

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First Child

Our youngest son, Techie, and his wife, Techie II, are expecting their firstborn in two weeks. Techie II is at the waddling elephant stage of pregnancy and barely speaking to the Cause. They are opting for a home delivery—under water. Technie has inflated a wading pool bought for the occasion. I’m grateful my presence is neither expected nor welcomed.

A midwife and her assistant along with a dula and her assistant have been engaged for the occasion. With four women in charge, Techie will probably be banished from the house which is a good thing. Techie’s stint as a standup comic will not allow him to make helpful or even appropriate comments for the occasion.

The Techies decided against learning the baby’s gender before birth. We’re all praying for a girl since they plan to name a boy Genghis. Techie blames me for the name choice. When our first grandchild was gestating, I informed our daughter and son-in-law that it was the grandparents’ right to name the grandchildren, and referred to the baby as Hubris (I was very proud of that first grandchild) for nine months. I named our elder son’s first baby Costco since it was a successful project conceived in Seattle. Techie appreciated my odd sense of humor until his progeny was involved. He said he picked Genghis because I couldn’t come up with a weirder name. He’s right. I couldn’t.

The Techies also plan to home school their children which is probably a good thing. Can you imagine a teacher seeing the name Genghis on her class roster? It could start another teacher shortage.

More Prison Stories–Memorable Staff

Teaching at the prison would have been far less interesting without my colleague, Lark. She was intrigued by the abnormal.  Her quest for the bizarre elicited juicy tidbits about staff as well as inmates. We wondered why one woman was promoted to captain. She was unprofessional enough to get into shouting matches with inmates, yelling things like, “Don’t think you’re so damned hot! I can go home at night and you can’t!” Lark’s questioning of staff elicited the answer:  The new captain was sleeping with one of the wardens. Lark also ferreted out the gossip behind another female officer’s promotion over men with more experience.  A boob job.

Lark and I worked from the school area in the Old Max building. Three male teachers taught classes limited to 15 students each at Old Max. Mike, the officer in charge of the school, referred to us as “those women,” but warmed up when we didn’t cause him any grief with the inmates. Hailing from out of state, Mike frequently pronounced Mormons without the second M.

Winken, Blinken, and Nod, the male teachers, accepted us with less joy. I’d been hired to replace their friend who had been forced out by the principal. My predecessor took clandestine days off believing the principal couldn’t check lockdown buildings and find he hadn’t shown up. His friends suspected Lark and me of being spies and resented sharing their space with women. It took a while for Winken to remember to shut the bathroom door when we might return to the office.

The male teachers despised inmates. They spent their teaching time behind their desks reading LDS theology while inmate tutors helped their students with lesson packets. During prep time, they discussed their reading material. Winken favored material on the far fringes of Mormon thought. One day he told me about a new book that explained that the Lost Ten Tribes are on another planet.

“How did they get on another planet?”

“The Bible says they were carried away to the North. This book explains how they could have traveled to the North Pole and another planet could have touched down there for them to climb on. It’s possible.”

“Winken, do you know what would happen to the earth’s gravitational field if another planet approached that close?”

“God can do anything.” Fortunately, Winken was not the science teacher.

Mostly, the men stayed in their classrooms, and Lark and I stayed in our office when we weren’t teaching. Nod hung around the office more than Winken and Blinken because he liked to discuss Church History with me—I thought. Nod was well read on controversial issues, especially polygamy. He believed this doctrine was only temporarily abandoned by the church and he held out hope for its reinstitution—if not in this life, definitely in the next. Our inmate clerk deflated my ego by informing me that Nod hung around, not for my intellectually stimulating conversation, but for Lark’s good looks.

Doing Good Is a Pleasure

In the “Articles of Religion” section of the The Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church (the curse of curiosity sends me ranging far and wide), I found the following statement: “Works done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ: neither do they make men meet to receive grace . . . for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.”

I rather doubt that many modern-day Episcopalians believe that non-believers in Christ commit something “in the nature of sin” when they do good works. Good works are good works no matter who does them. Personally, I can’t fathom a God who counts good works by non-believers as sin.

I don’t know if other denominations have similar statements restricting good works to believers, but many religious people tend to restrict goodness to members of their own faith.  This belief radically narrows the number of “good” people running around—and promotes the idea that those who are not with us must be against us. The fuss over allowing American Muslims to build a mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center is an example.

On a personal level, I feel marginalized by neighbors who judge me not for what I am or what I do, but for not attending church. Church attendance is equated with goodness in Mormon minds. Friendliness, service to neighbors, community service—none of this counts unless a person also warms  a bench on Sundays. But maybe they’re only trying to share. Maybe I should return the favor by asking why they don’t join me in community service and meditation classes.

A.K.A.

When I went to renew my driver’s license this week, I took the requisite birth certificate and SS card. The clerk accepted my SS card, but warned me that I would have to have my name changed on it before the next renewal. My SS card has my middle name, maiden name and married name. My birth certificate has the name my parents gave me. I think my mother picked Carol Ann with visions of an adorable daughter with Shirley Temple curls, dressed in starched pinafores. And she did curl my hair and sew ruffled pinafores for me. But she couldn’t give me a cuddly Shirley Temple personality. And I never learned to tap dance. I was a nerd by temperament, and by age seven, I resented looking like a little doll. While I couldn’t change my appearance, I could change my name. I insisted on being called Ann. “Carol Ann is babyish,” I informed my parents.

I quit using my first name and nearly forgot about it although it remained on church records. A few years ago we moved into a new ward. In September that year, a card came in the mail addressed to Carol Johnson. Why was my sister-in-law’s mail coming to our address? The postmark was local and it dawned on me that the card might be for me. I opened it to find a birthday greeting from the Relief Society presidency of our new ward. Since I didn’t attend RS frequently, I wasn’t surprised that the RS secretary didn’t know the name I used. However, I did find her handwritten expressions of love for me somewhat disingenuous.

But back to my driver’s license dilemma. “Do you want your name to appear as Carol Johnson, Carol Ann Johnson, or Carol Moulton Johnson?” the clerk asked. No option for the name I’m called. Odd that the two names that are my true identity, Ann Moulton, are the least important legally. I ended up with all four of my names taking up two lines on my new license. And a warning: Before this license expires I need to either get my named changed on my SS card or get my name legally changed. Cheaper to get the SS card changed, but probably faster to get my name legally changed than to wait around in the SS office for an appointment.

No wonder many young women today use their husband’s names socially, but do not add his name legally. Three names are enough for anybody.

Missteps in the Sand

When I attended my 50th high school class reunion, I was surprised to find the girl who had gotten pregnant in 9th grade was probably the most successful, certainly the most interesting, woman from our class. She and the husband who “had” to marry her 54 years ago are still together. They are financially successful, and Gretchen has served on the boards of the Utah Symphony and other arts organizations. After raising their three children, Gretchen completed the classes for an art major at the university. She has collected an impressive art collection on their travels to Europe and Africa.

Whenever I’ve mentioned reconnecting with Gretchen, the reaction is always, “Oh. I’m sure she’d had a miserable life.” No one seems willing to believe that Gretchen’s unwise behavior at age 15 hasn’t ruined her life. I wonder—Is it because of a human need to believe that those who avoided youthful temptations are somehow superior to those who succumbed? Or do our notions of conventional morality need reinforcement by wishing lifelong misfortune on those who transgress the code?

Gretchen and her husband would be the first to tell anyone that their path was not easy. Ken gave up his dreams of an engineering career when he dropped out of college at age 18 to support a wife and baby. Her mother cared for the baby so Gretchen could finish high school, but Gretchen spent her out-of-school time being a mom and housewife while her friends were hanging out together, dating, and deciding which college to attend.

Certainly, Gretchen and Ken are the exception to the rule of pregnancy-induced teen marriages. But I find their story uplifting. Missteps make life harder, but they needn’t permanently mar it.

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