From the glacial terrain of Bear Creek, Idaho, to the lush landscape of Deep South, Florida, Elder Cather, a Mormon missionary, meets Sister Wiley, a three-time divorcee, current temple wife, and mother of a teenage daughter. At the risk of being caught with their temple garments down, facing excommunication by the Church and shunned from the only life they know, they fight against the rules imposed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by living life on their terms. However, Elder Cather will learn a heartbreaking, coming-of-age lesson from the fickle one who accepted his greatest gift. The Book of Jeff: Another Testament of Mindy Wiley is a hypnogogic trip with a heavy hit of magical realism and a dose of spiritual occultism. It is a Southern Gothic horror with shades of Shirley Jackson, laced with the absurdity of extreme religiosity prevalent in the American Deep South. It is the story of the sexual fever that grips young men who must think only of God, the sexual frozenness that grips middle-aged women who must think only of their husbands and the dire consequences that can result when these two forces meet.
You enter the doors of the temple—the kingdom of God on Earth. You know you’re unworthy, for you just had a shot of espresso before you rode the bus to Birmingham, which is why your breath smells like peppermint. Don’t you know that your breath only smells like coffee and peppermint? You know they’ve heard of a peppermint mocha, right? Of course, none will claim to know what that even tastes like, and they will hurriedly let you know if you happen to catch them at a Starbucks (especially on a Sunday), they will say they’re getting a hot chocolate, even though Joseph Smith said no to hot drinks. What about soda that’s been left in the car too long?
You are with the group of other Mormon church members from the Fox Run and Pine Forest wards (whatever possessed them to call churches “wards” and youth groups “institutes”?) who are there to do baptisms for the dead. How aggrieved you became when you had to explain such a practice to the Gentiles (what the LDS call non-members) for the umpteenth time. “We do not dig up dead people and dunk them in water. We do it by proxy,” you would say, only to discover that most people don’t even know what the word proxy means.
You discovered that no one hardly knows anything about Mormons but polygamy, even though they stopped that practice over a hundred years ago, but it hangs on them like the wet white jumpsuit will hang on you after you’ve been dunked for the fifteenth time for people you don’t even know—names that may as well be out of a phone book. Even though you think you have possibly just saved fifteen people who didn’t get the chance to hear the Mormon gospel (“the plan of happiness”) in this life, you can’t help but think that you look like a fatty in this jumpsuit.
However, you know when you step into the warm water of the baptismal font after having been barefoot, watching the same thing happen over and over, your feet will feel like they’re on fire, for they are always like ice in this castle, which will lull you into a state of what feels like suspended animation. Something is hypnotizing about repetition.
You’re supposed to be thinking about God in here but instead, you’re thinking about what you want to eat when you leave and how praying over fast food never hurt anyone. You’re thinking about all your tithing money going into these buildings that not even all Mormons can enter because they’re usually breaking the law of chastity or tithing. You’re thinking that this seems like a boring way to spend eternity, but it’s still better than the alternative. You like that the Mormons have three heavens, but if you want to have sex in heaven, you have to do temple work. Of course, men can have more than one wife up there, and you find yourself admitting that that’s pretty clever—what is against the law here, the government can’t control up there.
What happens with widows who loved both husbands? You think this is why families can’t work in heaven. You just want to be an angel, like Cary Grant (except still a girl) in The Bishop’s Wife, but maybe human-turned-angels are gender-neutral. That’s what would happen if you went to the terrestrial or the telestial kingdom. Your sexuality is taken away.
But if you are honest with yourself, you know you don’t believe in this Church—you just ended up dating that boy who broke up with you because you wore a sleeveless blouse; by the time that happened, you were sucked in. They are nice to you, unlike the people who don’t care about your soul—who like you for you.
It is your turn now, and you are thinking about how you can’t wait till it’s all over and you can dry off, and then they put their hands on your head and confirm those same names as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
You want to believe in all this so much, but it’s not happening; however, you won’t leave it all for another seven years, because one day, you went to Utah, seeking a husband, where there is every cut of white meat imaginable—Scandinavian, British, German, and a blend of many others—only to find something else.
You found your way out.
All these people who are with you today, you won’t even know ten years from now. When they see you in town, some will be polite enough to smile and say hello, but others—those who you were closest to—will act like they don’t know you, except you won’t care, for your experience with it all will make a great book.
I could come down and tell you all this, but you won’t believe me. You will have to find all this out for yourself, and because of all this, you will never really go to church again, except on Christmas and Easter. You will be a Christian without a church, like a man without a country, but you will be just fine.
You will marry a man who will not expect more from you than even God Himself does. You will be free to just be.
You will have one child, not five—at least that’s how it is in the year 2020. You still have a few childbearing years left.
However, when you find out that your child has special needs, you will remember something that you learned from these people: that the devil cannot touch such children, for they are innocent forever.
You will remember many good things and will be grateful that you were once one but are now no longer—that you are better for having come into it, just as you are even better for having left it.
*The names of the individuals mentioned and the Church have been changed for privacy reasons.
Having been a former Mormon for over fifteen years, I’ve tried to remember just what it was — what little piece of doctrine — swayed me to believe everything else that had come with it, and it came to me the other night during a conversation with my husband, in which I was adamant that unbaptized babies and young children who didn’t have believing parents went straight to Heaven; my rugged half wasn’t so sure because the Bible said you must be baptized to be reunited with God. (The Bible says a lot of things.) As with my husband, I found myself at odds with every Christian denomination in some way, but it was that belief alone — that children were not punished for their parents’ deeds (or lack thereof), for dying young, or even not being born — that showed me the kind of God Mormons believed in.
It was the same kind I did.
However, I would come to learn that they believed in a great many things I did not. I could never believe that God was limited to a body of flesh and bones and could not be everywhere at once (though, according to them, His influence was) — for the God I believed in couldn’t be explained away by theories but was Awe and Wonder not quite personified — that when He spoke of His image, He wasn’t referring to the physical sense but a cognitive one.
Though I could have remained a cultural Mormon, I had to be true to myself, and so I walked out, burning that bridge behind me. Though there were times I missed the Church, I have no desire to ever go back, even though I still read LDS fiction every once in a while, even though I sometimes catch myself singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in the car, and even though I find myself drawn to shows like Big Love.
I had prayed for God to tell me whether or not the Church was true (an admonition from the missionaries), as their Prophet Joseph Smith had quoted from the Bible in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” They’d told me I would feel a burning in the bosom, which would be the Spirit telling me that the Church was true. I should have known not to expect a manifestation, for faith was believing in something absent a manifestation.
My time in the Church was rife with internal conflict, for my feelings often conflicted with what I was being taught; I was told that the Prophets spoke for God, and who was I to question Him?
I try to think back to the first time something didn’t seem quite right, which would be when I got my patriarchal blessing — a personal blessing inspired by the Lord to help guide LDS members in their lives, modeled after the blessing given by Jacob to each of his sons prior to his death. I don’t even remember the man’s name or face — it’s all a blur to me now — but I do remember, in hindsight, it was like the time I went to an LDS hypnotherapist to help me deal with my Utah Mormon life.
The patriarch interviewed me prior to, and I’d felt, even then, that he was fishing for information to help him give a better reading, and so my blessing sounded like a positive rewording of the personal feelings I had just divulged. My eyes were closed the entire time his hands were feather-light on my hair, his wife transcribing it all.
It was one of the strangest days I had ever spent.
I remember leaving, feeling as it had all been a farce, but it was a feeling I would bury. I was told I belonged to the tribe of Ephraim. (It was generally either that or Manasseh.) I remember one of the sister missionaries who had given me the discussions had shown me hers, but I wasn’t supposed to read it or compare mine to anyone else’s, which sounded like the admonition from bosses to their employees never to discuss their salaries.
I eventually destroyed that patriarchal blessing, even as I would give away everything that had anything to do with the Church. When I removed the Church from my life, I removed a source of conflict from it, as well, as a desire for my family to join me (my mom did, briefly) sometimes caused friction, but then, did not Jesus say He would divide families?
I learned through my experience beyond the Mormon curtain that sometimes you just have to lose yourself before you can find yourself.
Had it not been for the Mormon Church in Montana, where I was a live-in nanny in 2004, I would’ve been terribly homesick. That’s the thing with the LDS Church — wherever there were fellow Mormons, there was always an instant camaraderie. Perhaps that was why tithing had come so easy for me, for I felt I always got back far more than I ever gave. Perhaps that was why I’d never felt the Spirit in any other Church, but now, looking back, I think that spirit I felt was of fellowship and friendship, which can feel an awful lot like the love of God.
I’d joined the Church right out of high school, after ordering a copy of the Book of Mormon. I can still remember the television commercial advertising it — a lady with a soft voice and hair that blew in the wind, walking on a beach past a lighthouse. It had touched me, and so I’d requested a copy be delivered to me personally by the missionaries, as I was curious about what Mormons looked like.
Here I lived in Pensacola, Florida — the buckle of the Bible belt (also known as Lower Alabama). I’d attended many churches, yet I’d never felt as welcome as I had when I chose to become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I’d felt a belonging, fulfilling a longing I hadn’t realized was there. I’d never been a partier, I didn’t use profanity, I didn’t drink or smoke — my idea of fun was their idea of fun.
However, I fell away not long after I was baptized. I’d stopped attending services after the sister missionaries mentioned tithing, for my parents had always taught me to beware of churches that asked for money. Nine months passed during which I joined the College Republicans at the University of West Florida, where I met my first boyfriend, “Tony,” who happened to be in the same ward (what Mormons call their meetinghouses) I had been in. (He was a returned missionary, and RMs were considered the cream of the crop, the salt of the earth.) He dated me back into the Church, so I guess you could say I’d have never gone back had it not been for him; this time around, I gained a testimony of the truthfulness of the everlasting gospel, the restoration of Christ’s Church on Earth, or rather, I wanted to believe in it so much, I thought I did. It seemed too wonderful not to be true, with all their talk about families being together forever. Anything I didn’t like, I accepted. After all, there were parts of the Bible I didn’t necessarily like, but I was still a Christian.
The sister missionaries had planted the seed, but with Tony’s friendship, it grew. I had more reason than ever then to want to be an active Mormon.
My best friend at the time was a girl named “Dasha” (one of the few black members of Pine Hollow Ward). I became part of a church family for the first time in my life. I attended every Sunday, every meeting, every social I could, and after Tony and I broke up (we had chemistry but nothing else), my family and I often had the missionaries over for dinner. The elder missionaries (the young men people often see in white shirts and ties, wheeling around town on their bicycles) were the first fruits — the extra virgin olive oil. They were the best of what the Church had to offer, or so I thought, in terms of husband material. I had crushes on a few of them, though they had been admonished to lock their hearts before their mission — to live as Catholic priests — so that they would not stray from their real purpose for being there.
So, no matter how they might have felt about me, it would’ve been unseemly for them to give me any encouragement.
It is fair to say that the Church became my whole life. I stopped drinking sweet tea, and I never was much of a coffee drinker. (This was before I discovered the iced gingerbread latte at Starbucks, which, much to my chagrin, has been discontinued.) I dressed even more modestly, I didn’t shop (or eat out) on Sunday, I marked up my Book of Mormon — finally becoming worthy enough to enter the temple. I even gave a few talks, all of which I wrote myself and helped me overcome my paralyzing shyness. I accepted every calling given me by my Bishop, which included working with young children — something I’d never been crazy about. I knew many of the hymns by heart, memorizing them during the passing of the Sacrament. It was my world in a mustard seed, for so immersed in the culture had I become. All my friends were Mormon, and I found, at times, unable to identify with those who weren’t. I’d never been strong in any other church, and the concept of “once saved, always saved” had always seemed flawed.
I was a true believer.
So, I guess you could say meeting Tony wasn’t so much a turning point in my life, but rather, it led to a boiling point.
With every bearing of my testimony and with every good work, my faith strengthened. I was at the height of my faith in Montana, like the golden angel Moroni that’s on all the Mormon temples — closest to God and His Church.
And then I went to Utah.
I’d always been somewhat of a perfectionist, and this was stressed in the Church. “Be ye therefore perfect, even as I am.” Jesus’s words. The women struggled with this counsel, I believe, far more than the men did. They were supposed to stay attractive for their husbands while having lots of children and preparing wonderful meals and keeping a clean house, while being told that the desire not to have children was rooted in selfishness and vanity. I even remember our Institute teacher (who most churches would call a youth pastor) told our class that his family fell apart when his mom worked outside the home.
If only I could’ve taken these words in stride, but I took them to heart.
When my time in Montana was up, I was ready for a new adventure. I was ready to meet someone, though now I know I wasn’t anywhere near ready. I hadn’t become who I was going to be for the rest of my life. I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids anymore, for I wasn’t sure I was unselfish enough to have them. I wanted to be a rich and famous writer, but that was long before my daughter was a blue-eyed gleam in her daddy’s green eye.
I went on hiatus back home (I was ready for some real seafood) between Montana and Utah. I’ll never forget the night that Tony’s mother and father came over for a Family Home Evening (or FHE, which is one night a week that is designated for LDS families to fellowship together) at my parents’ house. Though Tony and I were no longer together, I still kept in touch with his parents. I told Tony’s father I was going to Utah, and how excited I was. I knew most of the members there had been members all their lives, whereas most of the members in Pensacola were converts. I’d heard Utah Mormons were different, and I figured that was why; they knew nothing else. I can’t recall his exact words, but he admonished me not to go — that all would not be as wonderful as I imagined, that it wasn’t Zion. He’d looked so grave, as if my eyes were little crystal balls.
How naïve I was then.
I can’t say I wish I’d listened to him, for I’m glad I went, even though it led to my leaving the Church in a blaze of glorious anger.
I went to Provo. The couple I was going to nanny for turned out to be a nightmare, so I ended up calling a friend — an elder missionary my family and I had often had over for dinner appointments — who came and got me. I was a true damsel in distress. He got me set up with some girl friends of his in an apartment close to the BYU campus. They were all kind and sympathetic to my plight, opening their temporary home to me; we became good friends, at least during the time I was there.
However, I felt my life begin to unravel. I was living amongst people who were going to college, who seemed to have it all together and knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives while I worked jobs that didn’t require any skills. Though I’d worked the same kinds of jobs back home, it had always felt like enough. I still had my writing — I always had my writing (though I found that my trying to stay true to the Church stifled it, for I tried so hard not to offend) — but the depression that came about because I was losing my faith held me back. It had gotten to where I didn’t want to do anything, because it never felt good enough.
And then all the uncertainties began to trickle like water through cracks in a vase. I remembered reading Mormon Doctrine by Bruce R. McConkie, who was a general authority (a member of the Church hierarchy); there was one entry that struck me, especially in light of the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping that was still big news: “Loss of virtue is too great a price to pay even for the preservation of one’s life — better dead clean, than alive unclean. Many is the faithful the Latter-day Saint parent who has sent a son or a daughter on a mission or otherwise out into the world with the direction: ‘I would rather have you come back in a pine box with your virtue than return alive without it.’” (124). I knew if I ever had a daughter (now I do), I would never want her to believe that if she ever made a mistake, it would render her worthless. I would teach her that her worth was inherent, and that nothing or no one could ever take that away, whether it was by choice or circumstance.
After my time (but not my welcome) had run out in the other apartment, I moved into a different complex, where I would come home from work to an apartment full of people, when I’d just want to decompress. Because I chose the privacy of my room, I was considered anti-social. I felt like I had nothing that belonged to me anymore.
I bounced around from job to job until I couldn’t deal with the pressure I know that I, not God, had placed upon myself.
I was floundering.
My Bishop at home was a kind and good man, never judgmental, but the Bishop there was offended that I preferred to attend the ward where my white knight attended, for he reminded me of the good times I used to have; he reminded me of home. A bad experience with a bishop had driven one of my friends away from the Church back home, and it was happening to me now. “The Church is perfect, but the people aren’t” didn’t cut it anymore.
One of my friends from Pensacola, who’d hastily married into the Church (and divorced after ten months) had lived there at the time, was a godsend. Though we are no longer friends, I realize she was there for me, at that time and place, when I needed her. We were both having doubts about the Church — she understood me when no one else did. It was different being a Mormon in Utah, and it was almost impossible to make lasting friendships. I didn’t fit in there like I had in the wards in Florida and Montana.
I asked my roommates questions I already knew the answers to, and though everyone pretended to understand, they really didn’t; I don’t think they could. I began to understand why they called it Happy Valley.
There was a big misunderstanding, and the Bishop there called my parents, alarming them unnecessarily. He seemed to think I either came from a broken home (not true) or broken the law of chastity (also not true), because I should be happy if I was keeping the commandments. He even told my parents after he came over the next day that I must be feeling a lot better, because I was wearing make-up, which my mother took as a sexist comment.
I knew I wouldn’t get well while I was a member of the Church, where people either seemed perfect or were striving for perfection, and it took time, but I gradually turned my troubles over to the God I had known as a Protestant. It took months back home to get to that point; I had to detox (but not deprogram, for it had never gotten that far). I didn’t even bother to contact my friends from the Church at home during that time. As far as they knew, I was still in Utah. I didn’t want anyone to know I had fallen away.
I did some Internet research and found a website called Concerned Christians (who are just as dogmatic about their beliefs as the Mormons) and used their resignation letter template to have my name removed from the Church records in Salt Lake City.
I couldn’t believe how much my relationship with the Church had changed. My friend, who rescued me from that crazy new family I was supposed to nanny for, became defensive when I tried to make him see why I could no longer believe, and so I simply let him go.
I went back to Pine Hollow Ward a few years later, but my heart (and soul) just wasn’t in it. I think perhaps I just had to be convinced that I had made the right decision in leaving. I attended a ward social a few years later (by invitation from a member who happened to see me working in Albertson’s). Tony’s father had come up to me, looking so sad, and said, “We lost you.”
I had simply nodded.
My faith had been shattered — like a mirror thrown against a wall. I was fragmented, and it took months before I became whole again. Those fragments were never mended, but rather I was made anew.
There has never been another church that had ever brought me into its folds like that, so I just live by faith without boundaries. I’m pretty much a “Creaster,” and it works for me, but more importantly, I try to live a goodly life (I would say godly, but I think God might shake His head at some of the stuff I write). I am a Christian who respects not only His name but the sanctity of innocent life, and I am the best wife, mother, daughter, and friend I know how to be.
The Church did help me become a more spiritual person, and it built me up, even as it tore me down. I am who I am today because of it, and in spite of it.
My kinship with Mary Ann (Tony’s wife, who I always liked more than Tony) was briefly rekindled, but a couple of years or so ago, I ran into her and a couple other Pine Hollow girls on a Girl’s Night Out when my husband and I were on a date. I hadn’t been invited. At first, I was hurt, but then I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t a part of their world anymore, but neither were they a part of mine (and I liked mine better).
From my experience, Mormons had friends and they had “non-member friends.”
When Mary Ann moved to another part of town, we became acquaintances, then strangers. She even admitted (via instant message) that she hadn’t been a very good friend, she, who had been with me during two of the best times of my life (when I married and had my daughter), but I had moved on and made lots of new friends — friends with whom I connected on a deeper level, who had been there for me through two of the worst times of my life (when my family and I became homeless, and I lost my mom).
It’s those worst of times friends that matter.
And do you know something wild? My life is far more perfect now that I don’t try to be perfect; I’m also a lot happier. I live by the spirit of the law and not the letter. I can write what I want, drink what I want, and wear what I want, and I thank God every day that I went to Utah and lost my religion, only to find a new spirituality with an old friend, who had waited patiently for my return.
Two by two,
they stand at the edge of the water—
the one area which God allows Satan to control.
For the ocean swallows immodest women in bikinis,
for it was new wine Jesus drank,
One-pieces cover the sacred womb,
the nourishing globes.
Sundays are worship days,
not holidays or fun days.
the weight of which is incredible—
is a dynamic character,
used in place of wine
to remember the blood spilt on our behalf.
clearer than plasma,
but not without the power
to kill or heal.
used to baptize by immersion,
even as it is abused,
used to make coffee,
and other strong drink.
These two young men now bicycle
down the boardwalk through the sauna
that is Deep South Pensacola,
their calm auras
a stark juxtaposition
to the Bible wavers and screamers
with their handmade signs.
The bicycles keep them humble,
and they endure the long pants
as a form of self-flagellation.
Their soulful windows shine,
for they smoke not,
neither do they sex
Clean living is their Windex.
They come complete with a
12-step to Heaven program—
for which copulation resulting in quiverfuls
of legitimates conceived in the covenant
Door to door,
they sell their Aryan Jesus to the self-proclaimed saved,
looking like the salt of the earth,
though their language is sweet.
They are His mouthpieces,
for God will not speak for Himself.
These handsome lures are groomed
to the perfection expected of the women
who must exemplify modesty and beauty.
Their God is a Being of flesh and bones,
His presence confined by space and time,
a Deity who once was,
as we are now;
these Saints of Latter Days are deified,
even as their Deity
Pensacola may not be in the heart of Dixie,
but it is in the aorta (if the aorta was upside down).
Our cuisine is macaroni and cheese any way we can get it
and grits 5-ways to Saturday & 6-ways to Sunday.
If you put sugar in your grits, You ain’t right.
We love us some Cajun boiled peanuts in brown paper bags
and nanner puddin’ in sheet pans at every potluck.
Everything else, we fry and wash down with sweet iced tea.
Gardenias sway like flouncy-skirted temptresses,
releasing their fragrance like a pheromone;
the azaleas pop out without care,
for water is in the air;
privet clusters and crepe myrtles take flight like dandelion seeds.
The iconic Graffiti Bridge on 17th Avenue
is our landmark for free expression.
Facebook pages are dedicated to it.
Everything from breasts to Bush for President
has been painted on there for a day.
There’s the 1000-plus member Baptist church,
pastored by the fire-headed preacher with the big teeth—
an Elmer Gantry-type personality who’s found his Zenith, Missouri.
If you’re in need,
they will give you expired food for free.
“Bless your hearts, you’re going to hell,”
one of the lady parishioners tells a pair of Mormon missionaries—
the ones that ride around town on bicycles,
marked as Elder This and Elder That,
even though they are young.
They don’t know what to think;
they don’t talk about Jesus this much in Utah,
and church here for many is just a Sunday thing,
’cause they already be saved.
Everyone is either saved or damned;
there’s always somebody praying for you,
passing the buck to God.
If you say you’re spiritual but not religious,
well, you’re just trying to have your red velvet cake and eat it, too.
Jesus was a Socialist, I hear from the liberals
who don’t believe in Him anyway—
at least the One with all the rules—
while those wearing Confederate flag tees say,
“God only helps those who help themselves.”
At one street corner, a well-dressed group is waving their Bibles and yelling;
at the other, a homeless man is holding up a cardboard sign that says,
Anything helps, God bless.
The homeless are like the trees that sway in the gulf breeze;
they have become part of the landscape
that’s made up of shuttered businesses and brand-spankin’ new homes
built next door to shitholes.
Cars wallpapered in Bible quotes drive by churches with signs that say,
“Do Jesus a favor by putting yourself in His,”
“God’s will can be your way,”
and “An apple one day turned God away.”
Everyone is pro-choice here—
it’s just a matter of whom they want to save:
the unborn or the incarcerated?
Which does Jesus save?
The sinful or sinless?
Don’t you have to be born to be in sin?
There is no separation of Church and State here;
politics and religion are one and the same.
Here, God is omnipresent.
Hot spells compete with cold snaps;
it’s usually boiling hot or freezing cold,
with just a few days of spring scattered—
like parsley on a plate of glorified scrambled eggs.
When a hurricane knocks the power out,
we can be found taking several cool showers a day,
the damp towels hardly drying in the humidity,
leaving them smelling mildewy—
as if they’d been left in the washer too long.
During those times, our family would be fine dining
in the Sacred Heart Hospital cafeteria.
We want hot food in a cold room—
not the other way around.
There were no squirrels for a long time after Ivan—
they got blown away.
Every week, there’s a hit-and-run;
cyclists and pedestrians:
be green and poor at your own risk.
Every day, there’s roadkill baking on the asphalt—
probably enough critters to fill all the potholes in town.
In the T.T. Wentworth Museum,
a petrified cat is on display.
Beach-themed crap is everywhere;
the weather reports are endless.
Its called the Deep South because its like a pit
that you fall in and can’t scrabble your way out of—
not because you’re broken,
but rather, because you’re broken in
and baked into the bread pudding that is the Redneck Riviera.
The South is still proud of its Southerness—
even for using don’t when it should be doesn’t.
but for storytellers,
As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
Thank you, Omu, is a story about a single, grandmotherly lady with a giving heart, though I’m afraid this book might teach my child that it is acceptable for random strangers (after all, Omu refers to her visitors as Ms. Police Officer, Mr. Hot Dog Vendor, etc.) to just show up at one’s door, unannounced and asking for free food. Lucky for Omu that in a Capra-esque way, they return her generosity tenfold.
However, the story would’ve been more believable had it centered on Omu’s apartment neighbors rather than nameless strangers.
The illustrations aren’t that great, yet I liked them. The inside of the book is printed with a birds-eye view of the city; the collaging medium using newspapers (in part) fit the big city vibe, though some of the cutouts (like the faceless people in the bus) seemed thrown in to fill space. Some finer detail work would’ve added depth and interest–like a title on the book Omu was reading. The colors are muted and the paper almost has a recycled feel, the look making me think of brown paper bags–as humble and heartwarming as Omu’s stew.
I didn’t like the font changing back and forth; font should always be kept plain when it’s part of the text. (However, when it’s part of the art, anything goes.) Furthermore, I didn’t care for the giant “Knock” words as they came across as loud banging rather than polite knocking.
I’m glad the author included a policewoman but not a woman construction worker in the attempt to be politically correct at the expense of believability.
What I got from this story is that food, made with love–including self-love–brings people together. It was almost a Biblical allegory in that there was no way Omu made that much stew for herself yet had enough to feed everyone who came.
This was a nice effort, and one I will read to my daughter again. Also check out the author’s website–very sleek and comprehensive.
The little thank you card at the end was perfect–it brought me back to the days when my parents and I would invite the Mormon missionaries over for dinner, and they’d always leave one as a surprise.
Don’t let thank you cards become a thing of the past.
My note to the author: “A thick red stew” was repeated so much, I wish the recipe had been included. Little extras like that are like a lagniappe, and such would be a great addition to your site.
Suggested activity: Go over the list of vocations mentioned in the book. Ask what a cop does, a baker, a mayor, etc. Convey to your child that by working, we make the world work. As a child, I loved dreaming about what I wanted to be when I grew up, which was everything from a “beauty shopper” (i.e. beautician) to a chocolate cake baker. Let your child dream and imagine, showing them that working with your hands as well as your mind can help solve at least one of the world’s problems somewhere, and that a trade school certification is just as honorable as a college degree.
When you’re a mom, some of the things that come out of your mouth may sound strange: “Don’t chew on Jesus,” “Will you just hurry up and poop?”, and “Stop putting chicken on your head!”, are some of my greatest hits.
As I was getting my daughter ready for bed the other night, thinking about what I wanted to read to her (praying she wouldn’t mention Minnie, as in The Mouse), the Beatitudes of Jesus came to mind. I realized then that I’ve spent so much time reading and singing to her and teaching her the things she will need to know to get on here–like letters and numbers, saying “thank you” and not littering–that I hadn’t focused much on the religious part of her education.
Thinking back, that’s exactly how my parents raised me. For them, church was something you needed if you were an ass.
When I was in high school in the nineties, a lot of kids were self-proclaimed “Jesus freaks,” wearing “True Love Waits” rings and WWJD bracelets. There was a lot of talk about the rapture and born-again virginity. Church was their social life, Praise and Worship music their vibe. Some of them even carried their Bibles around at school.
Just as Felicity (remember that WB show?) followed a boy to college, I, a freshman, followed a senior boy to his church. One evening, after service had ended, we sat in a pew as he led me through the salvation prayer, and I was like, “That’s it? Are you sure? It’s that easy?”
I had been expecting a feeling–a total transformation like Saul’s to Paul–and now I wonder when Jesus told Doubting Thomas that (and I paraphrase) blessed are they who don’t see but believe, that “see” could also apply to “feel.”
Four years later, I joined the Mormon Church. All the good feelings I had expected to feel when I had gotten saved, I felt then, but who isn’t going to feel good when they’re around so many friendly people who open their hearts and homes? Even though it’s been years since I sent my name to Salt Lake to be expunged (er, removed) from the records, I will admit that the Church made me a more spiritual person.
In the Church, I was taught that the glory of God is intelligence and yet, according to these same people, for those who had mental challenges, the devil could not touch them.
To my understanding, a lack of mental capacity (e.g. intelligence) saved a soul. It seems contradictory, and yet, it somehow makes sense to me.
As I gaze upon my child, I see that light and intelligence. She knows so much more than she communicates, which can be frustrating, but I have learned to overcome the need to explain why she is the way she is to people who don’t know her–to explain why she doesn’t respond when people ask her her name–but then, I have had several people who’ve taken one look at her and ask if she’s autistic.
I may never know how much she understands, but I do know that I will teach her everything I know and believe, whether it’s that adverbs are the enemy of good writing or that respect doesn’t have to be earned but it can be lost. (You don’t disrespect people until they “earn” your respect.)
I’ve striven so much to give her a magical childhood through imagination and storytelling. (Children’s author, Nancy Tillman, is a master at this.) Nearly every night, since my mom passed from this earth, I ask my daughter to tell Grandma “good-night” and “I love you” and to blow her a kiss. And then I seemingly catch that kiss in midair, letting her open my hand and take it; sometimes I place my palm on the crown of her head–a blessing from Heaven.
Of course, I don’t really know how things work up there, but part of parenting, for me, has always been teaching truths with just a pinch of magic.
C.S. Lewis did that very thing with his Narnia series, just as I will someday do with mine.
It was last night
that I read the last work
that would be published
in my alma mater’s literary journal.
Brian and Hannah had joined me—
along with my dad and grandmother
who we call Bernadean
because she’s not all “grammy-like.”
My English and Communications friends were there,
my old college newspaper friends—
except for the ones who’d graduated and moved on—
were there to cover the event
in the room where my daughter saw
trapezoids and triangles in the ceiling.
I’d worn my new little black dress—
well, let’s be real,
but it showed the shoulders
I had been expected to cover
in my past life as a Mormon.
My daughter was showing off or rather,
I was showing off my daughter in her new bob
that makes her look like Scout Finch
and white dress with the red ribbon straps
that kept slipping down.
Still better her have a wardrobe malfunction than me.
My dad and grandmother were late
but just in time to see one of the artists’ photographs
of his topless girlfriend projected on the screen
and for Dad to hear one of the poets use the f-word,
which I knew he would complain about later.
I break out in hives all over my chest when I read,
but I chose to ignore them,
for that was better than sweating profusely.
Hives don’t give you B.O.
There were “decadent desserts”
with all different toppings;
I wasn’t fooled,
for they were all brownie bites
but “elevated” as the TV chefs would say.
I was asked for a quote by the kid
who only wanted to write reviews
because he just enjoys writing his opinions.
Yes, I tell him, I really am obsessed with Mother Goose
(and, off the record, ablaut reduplication).
Hannah got to watch and listen to one of the artists play his guitar.
Everyone was so kind.
The event was held in a room off the art gallery on campus,
and we saw a man’s bust made of pennies,
which made me think that Mike Brady’s head
wouldn’t have shattered had it been made of change.
I still had to make cornbread
(hoecakes were too much work—
I couldn’t just shove them in the oven
and forget about them for a half hour)
for a “Cooking on a Dime” event at work tomorrow—
the college where I work because I loved it so much,
I didn’t want to leave.
We got our Easter ham,
and then Dad wanted to take us out
for half-priced milkshakes after 8 at Sonic.
Tons of kids were there for the same reason.
I had to lend Hannah my white sweater wrap
and make her look like an old lady in a shawl.
I got chocolate
but without malt,
what good is it?
I gave Hannah my cherry,
and Dad gave me his.
We joked about how Mom
who doesn’t live on Earth anymore
would embarrass my brother
by asking for “thick shakes” and “hot fries”
because damn it,
she was paying good money for this crap.
It’s nice to be able to talk about her without crying.
And then we go to our homes,
me to mine,
where I read Green Eggs and Ham,
and I told this little girl with the big blue eyes
that until I met her dad,
mushrooms had been my Green Eggs and Ham—
when he fried them like we do everything here.
Right then and wherever there was,
I fell in love with fungi candy.
And I write all this now
while it’s still fresh
because new memories are constantly being made,
and I don’t want to lose this one.
She’d been counseled on what not to drink, wear, or write,
and so she’d found herself drinking without pleasure,
wearing more and writing less.