I could choose to allow Brad’s death to destroy my life,
or I could choose to embrace those who were alive.
I chose life,
for I wanted to make new memories,
not relive old ones.
Mother had convinced me I was living the best years of my life,
for I had found it so easy to make friends in the Church.
I wanted to tell David he was wrong,
that the Church hadn’t changed me,
for I had already been prepared for it.
Brownsville Assembly of God was situated in the seedy part of Pensacola.
“The Pensacola Outpouring,” as it had been known,
had become a national sensation when people
had started claiming supernatural healings.
Hundreds had renewed their faith & hundreds more had gotten saved.
David had said it was nothing more than mass hysteria,
calling the pastors ravenous wolves,
who devoured the souls (and pocketbooks) of weak lambs.
Religion was a show to Caitlin,
who was fascinated by the idea
of demons being cast out of people.
Her effervescent approach to what she deemed as
crucifixation (her term for religious fanaticism)
sometimes bordered on sacrilege.
I fancied the LDS Singles Conference like summer camp,
imagining Hayley Mills’ version of The Parent Trap,
except rather than sing campfire songs,
write letters home,
& make birdcages out of popsicle sticks,
I would not be coming of age,
but I would be of age.
Logline for Because of Mindy Wiley: An Irish-Catholic girl coming of age in the Deep South during the New Millennium finds her family splintered when two Mormon missionaries come to her door, their presence and promise unearthing long-buried family secrets, which lead to her excommunication and exile.
Poplar Bluff, Missouri, is the kind of small town that rural America is made of. P.B. (what the locals call it) is just past the Bootheel after you drive out of Arkansas. There is one high school—the Home of the Mules—so generations of children grow up together. It is the kind of place where the names in the newspaper mean something to you. If you didn’t run into someone you knew, you’d run into someone who knew someone you knew. Violent crime is out-of-character for this town that isn’t on every map, and is often mispronounced by city slicking anchors as “Popular Bluff.”
A lot of the outdoorsy residents like to go to Black River to hang out, and Wal-Mart is the biggest non-wild game in town. The newspaper, The Daily American Republic, comes out in the evenings, and is more of a large pamphlet than a newspaper; there’s very little breaking news in this hilly region of the heartland. This area of Butler County is where life has an ebb and flow to it like Pensacola Bay at low tide.
If you want a good barbecue, you have to go to Dexter Queen in Dexter, Missouri, where they put shredded cabbage on the sandwiches and the inside looks like a throwback from a teenage hangout in The Fifties.
P.B. is all built up now, but in the early eighties, it was home to my parents. Dad had grown up there, and Mom had moved in and out several times. Their first place was an apartment on Fairmont Street where my dad’s tenth grade Spanish teacher would bang a broom handle on the ceiling to let them know they were being too loud.
I remember when I became a nanny in Sidney, Montana—eastern and hilly, rather than western and mountainous—I called my aunt Cheryll that first night after my mom left to board the Greyhound bus cross country. Those first few days I was on my own in a strange house with two little girls who were my responsibility, I was rereading my favorite book, Small Town Girl by LaVyrle Spencer, set in Wintergreen, Missouri, where Poplar Bluff is mentioned once.
I was never homesick for Pensacola but for my summer place, for I hadn’t yet established a presence there.
Poplar Bluff was like my Disney World, for so many kids I knew saw their grandmas every day, whereas we had no ties to this touristy, military town on the Gulf Coast.
It often seemed like the only memories of which my parents were fond or nostalgic for were the ones that hadn’t been made in Pensacola; I suppose that made me nostalgic, too.
Maybe that was why the first episode of Bewitched resonated, for when Samantha tells Darrin (played by Dick York, and the only actor I acknowledge as being the true Darrin Stephens, whose name I always thought should’ve been spelled Darren Stevens—much cleaner) that she’s a witch, and he says something like, “I’m from Missouri. You’re just going to have to show me.”
Being from the “Show Me State,” I suppose that’s why we’re all as stubborn as mules and have to prove we’re right about everything (often via Google).
Grandma and Grandpa Booker’s house was like going back in time—from televisions that were a giant block of wood with convex screens in them to the library-orange, hardcover Childcraft books (which included the politically-incorrect legend of “Little Black Sambo”) to vinyl records of The Andrews Sisters. Grandma and Grandma still had the seventies-style paneling in their downstairs basement that was as big as a private bowling alley, with furniture in forest-green and burnt orange, and carpet that looked like autumn leaves after a rain.
I would play away the hours going through Grandma’s Better Homes and Gardens magazines, tearing out all the pictures of the porcelain dolls and writing their autobiographies or just exploring, though I never went in the closet under the stairwell, for it smelled like rubber from all of Grandpa’s boots.
Their house seemed ginormous, with Grandpa’s desk that looked like it belonged to a judge and Grandma’s double closet stuffed with hatboxes and fur coats—relics of women in her time.
The smell of coffee and bacon permeating the air brings me back to Grandma’s downstairs kitchen that is as clear to me as if I were sitting there with her, eating cold cereal late at night. That kitchen was where I had my first scoop of peanut butter with Karo syrup (still the only way I can eat p.b. that isn’t drenched in chocolate). Their house seemed like the land of plenty, for whereas our cupboards were sometimes bare (like Old Mother Hubbard’s), their pantries and deep freezer were always stocked like a famine was coming.
Grandma and Grandpa would sit on their porch swings outside the kitchen door, and I’d be way down the hill, sometimes barefoot, laying in the clover and soft grass while the martens and wrens built their nests in the Jetson-like birdhouse apartments.
Even at twilight, when the lightning bugs would come out with their lime-green glow, my grandparents never worried if I was out of their sight.
As for me, just looking back and seeing the patio light on was all the reassurance I needed.
I didn’t know fear then, but I would learn it.
Now I know I could never live without it, for it is that thing that becomes a part of you— like your shadow; I would go so far as to say it’s like a guardian angel—a gift. My fear of forgetting to be aware of my daughter’s location and surroundings has been with me so long, I don’t even think about it. It’s just the price I pay for living in the modern world.
Times were different then, and Poplar Bluff seemed like the kind of place where nothing bad would ever happen, but it did.
It was the last day of May in 1981, when my parents were robbed at gunpoint at the Mansion Mall Cinema where they worked as night managers. I was there, gestating, hovering between conception and birth. Even though I wasn’t cognizant of what was going on, that experience changed my mother, thus changing me. My mom became more aware, and thus taught me to be more aware.
I grew up as one of the most observant teenagers in America.
That night of the robbery, my mother had tried telling my father that something wasn’t right; throughout the day, a car kept changing places in the parking lot, containing Stackhouse and Patterson (both named James)—two men who had worked for them. These ex-employees had records, and one, my parents had even given rides home to. (“The one with the personality,” Mom told me.)
They were changing the marquee when “the nicer one” approached them with a gun, demanding money. (The other was parked in the alley, serving as the getaway.) He settled for my mom’s purse, containing less than twenty bucks (the story of my parents’ lives), and a Cross pen and pencil set that Mom’s parents had given her for graduation. The nice guy wanted to take them off somewhere, but Mom refused; her grandfather had taught her never to go off with anyone—that to do so would mean certain death—and so she taught that to me.
The robbers were caught at the local Broadway Cafe, eating off the money they had stolen. They’d worn masks, but my dad had been able to identify their voices.
Mom, always wanting to make a point, wore a tee shirt that said “Baby” with an arrow pointing down when she testified. (It’s interesting to note that every time my parents turned on the lights when I was a baby, I’d hold up my arms like I was part of a “stick up”).
My mother would tell me years later that she made sure Grandma Booker knew that the robbers had been white, what with her being an old-fashioned Southern Democrat. (She even had funny ideas about “The Italian” who sold tamales, of all things, from the back of his truck—tamales she’d insisted were made of cats.)
From that night on, my parents had the local sheriff escort them to the bank for the night drop, just as now, I call a security guard to escort me to my vehicle after a night class (unless I am surrounded by classmates).
Because of that robbery, I grew up, always aware of when a car followed me after more than two turns, after which I would take an abrupt or unusual turn. I’ve grown up, appreciating the beauty of the world on its surface but also being mindful of the dark net below—that if I’m not careful, I could be caught in it.
I rarely talk on the cell phone while walking, and I don’t own a pair of earbuds. I have unilateral hearing loss, so I never use anything that further cuts me off from the world. I do nothing to make myself more vulnerable to those who would do me harm. Because of my mother standing her ground, I am walking on it today.
When my mom taught me to be observant, I believe she helped me save my own life more than once—in ways I will never know.
All I ever really needed to know, I learned long before kindergarten, from the adults who loved me.
Mother Goose was my first exposure to literature. I grew up with my dad reading it to me, and now I read it to my child. I’ve found that having a child is not like reliving my childhood, but enjoying, in a different way, the things I once did.
For more than twenty years, I didn’t swing on a swing (just in porch swings, like my grandparents) or jumped on a trampoline. While my daughter colors with crayons or plays with Play-Doh—smells that bring back memories of burnt sienna and purple meatballs—I am not brought back, but rather, the past is brought to me.
That rhyme about the old woman in the shoe, who had so many children she didn’t know what to do? I remember the mother kissing them all sweetly and sending them to bed, not “whipping them all soundly,” as I have since discovered was the original rhyme. The children were also going to bed hungry, with nothing but broth and no bread to soak it up.
I grew up on Disney and its sanitization of fairy tales.
In that way, I had a magical childhood, and that is what I strive to give to my daughter. There is time enough for her to learn the not-so-good things that exist in our fallen world.
Childhood is precious and fleeting, for when else do we get to be kids, to believe in Santa Claus and friendly animals and always-happy endings?
Whenever my dad read me “Little Boy Blue,” before he would get to the part about the boy crying (if awakened), I would beg him not to finish it. When you’re a kid, you never cry because you’re happy—that’s what laughter is for.
Now I can understand why “Little Boy Blue” would cry if someone woke him up, as I feel like crying when my alarm goes off in the morning.
Three men in a tub,
And who do you think they be?
The butcher, the baker,
The candlestick maker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato.
Turn ‘em out, knaves all three.
When I was a “sack of potatoes,” as my dad called me, my uncle Bill would run me through the rhyme above, just to hear me say, after the first line, “Three foul balls in a tub.”
I’m sure he taught me that.
This was the same guy, after all, who said there was a certain hair in your nose that was connected to your brain, which would kill you if you pulled it.
I think we do things for our parents because we want to please them, but in the case of my uncle, I think I liked the laughs.
Perhaps, even then, a funny seed was planted, and a funny bone was developed.
I just wouldn’t know it was there until many years later.
Hearts, like doors, will open with ease
To very, very little keys.
And don’t forget that two of these
Are “I thank you” and “if you please.”
Every summer, from ages nine to thirteen, I spent my summer vacations in Poplar Bluff, Missouri, with my grandma and grandpa.
My Grandma Booker, a mother of two boys, always told me roughhousing was for outside and to chew with your mouth closed. She showed me the only palatable way to eat peanut butter, which was drizzled (or, in my case, drenched) with Karo syrup. She taught me that a word was only a curse if God was in front of it, which I didn’t really understand, because my parents never used the Lord’s name in vain.
Even though she also said drinking coffee would turn your feet black, and if you swallowed a watermelon seed, melons would grow out of your ears, she still possessed plenty of wisdom. Even though I wouldn’t understand everything I heard until adulthood, I did understand when she said the three most important phrases were “please,” “thank you,” and “you’re welcome.”
It is from your elders that you learn your manners, which are the earliest form of soft skills.
When I was a nanny in Sidney, Montana, I was chastised for calling my boss “sir,” and he said something like, “I know in the South, you do all that sir and ma’am business, but we don’t do that around here.” That was the first time I had ever been criticized for my manners.
Since I was not comfortable calling him by his first name (even Alice called Mike and Carol Mr. and Mrs. Brady, and she was practically part of the family), I just didn’t call him anything.
Now, when someone calls me ma’am, like the math tutor who is technically young enough to be my son, it makes me feel old, but I don’t ask him not to call me that, because it is a sign of respect—just like holding the door open for people, regardless of gender, is having manners.
The two signs my daughter knows more than any other is “Thank you” and “Please.” (“You’re welcome” in American Sign Language is the same as “thank you.”) I still remind her to mind her manners.
A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he heard, the less he spoke;
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Why aren’t we all like that wise old bird?
In high school, I was the Bashful Dwarf, but one of my fondest memories was during my sophomore year. I had a such huge crush on an Environmental Science teacher—a man who looked like a Ken doll (except heterosexual)—that I chose a zero over getting up in front of class. Public speaking always made me break out in hives.
That said, it was all worth it not to look like a fool in front of Mr. Bauer, for whom I would’ve learned to become a botanist.
Years later, I would learn it’s the smart people that listened more than they spoke. Maybe that was why the other kids always assumed I was the brilliant one.
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had another, and didn’t love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.
When I graduated from high school nineteen years ago, I didn’t know it, but I was looking for a place to belong; I thought I’d found it in the Mormon Church.
The Mormons say that the glory of God is intelligence. I always thought it was love, but when you think about it, intelligence increases compassion. I think that was why Jesus was so compassionate; He could see into people’s souls.
He knew why they were broken.
It’s strange, but when I was a Mormon, and a college education was encouraged (whereas a career outside the home, for a woman, was not), I was more interested in finding a husband, for a woman’s worth was so tied into being a wife, and especially a mother. It wasn’t till years after I left the Church and had a husband and one-year-old daughter that I was ready for that college education and learned that a woman was no more selfish for having a career and a family than a man was.
Perfectionism is stressed to Latter-day Saints, and whereas men take it in stride, women take it to heart. The irony is that when I stopped trying to be perfect I was happier, made more progress, and even felt closer to the God they’d recreated in their image.
Hannah Bantry, in the pantry,
Gnawing at a mutton bone;
How she gnawed it,
How she clawed it,
When she found herself alone.
I was almost thirty-two when I had my first child. It took me three days to get used to the idea (I was three months along before I knew), for I’d grown up seeing women with young children looking harried and unkempt; I didn’t want to become that, but the first time I saw my Hannah Banana in the ultrasound, I was transfixed.
For me, teaching and nursing were callings, but motherhood was a sacred calling.
I couldn’t find my cell phone half the time, and every plant I had ever owned died (so much for a botany career), so I wasn’t sure about having to keep up with this little being all the time, but a mother’s instinct kicked in when I held her for the first time.
With Hannah, I got a little more than I was expecting, though I didn’t know she wasn’t perfect, for she was perfect to me.
She still is.
My daughter is a Tuesday child, “full of grace,” and Hannah literally means grace. Hannah Beth Richards is a quirky kid, or “on the spectrum,” as some would say; I say she is every color in it.
She was so curious and into everything—opening the dishwasher and standing on the door, crawling into closets to play, and getting into the pantry, chewing through the onions and potatoes. A refrain that could often be heard was, “Hannah, out of the pantry,” though she probably thought, “Dammit, Hannah!” was her name for a while.
Though we no longer have a pantry, we have cupboards, and now our refrain is “Hannah, out of the kitchen.”
Multiplication is vexation,
Division is as bad;
The rule of three perplexes me,
And practice drives me mad.
When Hannah was a year old, I decided to enroll at Pensacola State College as a Health Information Technology student. Though I was married (and still am), I knew I’d need to make more money—I had an extra responsibility now.
I’d let math scare me away from college—just because I wasn’t naturally good at it.
When I went back to school, I took all my other classes first, pushing the math till the end. It helped to have “the wind at my back,” as my dad would say, because it was that wind that pushed me forward.
In the spring of 2018, I took College Algebra and Elementary Statistics (which was anything but elementary), so I could still qualify as a work-study student. If there’s anything I hate more than math, it’s looking for a job.
So, I stressed out for sixteen weeks, spending eighty hours in the Math Lab, ending up with two B’s; I’d never been so proud of B’s in my life.
My uncle said his brother was the only one he ever knew who went to college to “get an education.” Apart from a little substitute teaching on the side and doing taxes during tax season, Dad never used his degree for money.
Had I gone to college for the same reason as my dad, I might not have sallied forth.
For Dad, education was its own reward.
For me, it was as much about the education as it was about the experience, and the most important lesson I learned was that I was smart enough for college after all.
A dillar, a dollar, a ten o’clock scholar!
What makes you come so soon?
You used to come at ten o’clock,
But now you come at noon.
An abridged version of this piece was published in The Kilgore Review (2019), having placed first in the nonfiction category of Pensacola State College’s annual Walter F. Spara Writing Contest.
A few weeks or so ago, I was so inspired by a piece I read on The Saturday Evening Post (https://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2019/06/what-i-am-fighting-for-my-home-and-yours/) that I was inspired to write my own version of it. I simply changed “I’m” to “I am” and “fighting” to “living”; I, however, kept the last line.
I guess you could say my version is the homefront one.
In the wee hours of the morning, while everyone else was in bed, I was writing this and realized that it would be a good Fourth of July piece. Mine, of course, is not as eloquent as Sgt. Pappas’s, for I’m not a warrior but simply, a writer.
I am living for that big enough house with the wide front porch and Adirondack chairs facing the white picket fence—the house I live in after being touched by homelessness. I am living for the breathtakingly beautiful beaches that I seldom see and the shady, grassy parks with the rusting playground equipment where kids still play, for the towns where I planted memories and the town where I’ve replanted myself. I am living for my daughter—the special one with the incredible memory who understands so much more than she may ever let on. I am living for her children and for those who will look out for her when I am no longer here—those people who may never touch my life but who will touch hers and she, theirs. I am living for the husband who is who he is and who takes care of things while I am away and the things I don’t like to when I am there.
I am living for those churches that still exist, not just to be good but to do good—both the traditional and the non-traditional—these churches that I don’t attend but am glad to know are there. I am living for the schools that have not become factories, for the college I graduated from—with the magnolias that perfume the air and the loquat trees with the fruit that rots in the lower Alabamian summer, for the university with its painted benches and abundance of Spanish moss, for the home with the bunny dollhouse and the never ending stack of children’s library books and the freezer full of novelty ice cream, for the television where we watch “Wheel of Fortune” that has been part of my childhood and part of my adulthood, for the computer where I can pound the keys instead of the pavement, and for the Monopoly game under the coffee table I use to teach my daughter about taking turns when all she wants to do is try to fit the cat into the thimble and the dog into the shoe.
I am living for the house I have now and the house I will have, my town and any other place that may become home, be it for a day or till death separates me from it. I am living for the chance to travel to Iceland and Australia and wherever else English is spoken because that language bespeaks of home. I am living for the country we have now—this land that so many still want to come to.
I am living for the America that will prevail no matter who is in office.
I am living for the right of Americans to separate the powers of the news media from their minds so they can make up their own and live the lives they want—not for their children but for themselves, to work the jobs they need to so that someday, they can work the jobs they want.
I am living for the right of every American to be left alone.
I am living for the freedom we have to eat, drink, and wear whatever we want, to worship or not to worship, to enjoy that freedom we had before and after 9/11. I am living for my faith in an unfair God—unfair because He freely gives us what we could never hope to earn—a life of second and third and seventy times seven chances. I am living for the continuous and fruitless pursuit of the balance between freedom and equality, and for my belief that even when things happen for a bad reason, we can find meaning in what happens and make something good come of it.
We cannot lose.
Mrs. Sarah Richards, “What I am Living For,” July 4, 2019
She had spent her middle school years passing notes
on wide-ruled paper with the fringe that came
from being ripped out of a Lisa Frank notebook,
her girlish cursive in shades of pink
that she liked to call her invisible ink–
strategically chosen to impair
Mrs. Sikeston with her 20/100 vision.
There were the notes she took in high school
on unlined, “open-ended” printer paper–
filled from corner to corner
with concrete poetry and spirograph designs
that she wheat-pasted to the walls of her room.
There were the notes she left for her mom on the kitchen counter
where she would see them,
letting her know where she was and with whom.
There were the notes she wrote in everyone’s yearbook
that year of 1999 at William J. Woodham High School,
telling them that if they ever came across the name
of Lauranne Huntington,
they would know that she had made it as an author,
for she believed that Lauranne–
was destined for literary greatness.
There were the notes she took in college–
of biology and anthropology,
and every other -ology–
her streams of consciousness sometimes
drowning out the drone of the professors
who taught in the physical and biological sciences department.
There were the notes she took when she
interviewed faculty and students
and covered events for the college newspaper,
with bold circles wherever there was a
Who, What, Where, When, Why, How,
for every question had to start with one of these.
There were the Post-It notes she left all over the house
when she was practicing her Spanish,
the magnetized letters on the refrigerator that spelled “Want Sex”
(which was more of a warning than anything).
The pink had deepened into red by then,
even as she had deepened into whom was meant to become;
just as her haikus–
once so abstract and emo–
had deepened into the personal narratives
that were as concrete and real as she was.
There were the rejection slips
that she tacked over the old poetry
in her childhood room
where the walls and furniture were as white
as the curtains and bedspread were pink–
this place where she would still come to write
while her mom and dad watched her girls.
The notes she took at the monthly board meetings
helped her learn to listen while writing–
to listen more and better.
The notes she took to remind herself how to do something
helped the next person not have to learn the hard way,
for every position she left,
she left behind an account of everything that she had learned
and everything that she knew they would need to know.
The notes her daughters brought home from school
let her know the things she should notice
but didn’t always have the time to;
and then there were the notes she took,
reminding herself to take the time to notice.
There were the notes she wrote in the Christmas cards
she made out of scrapbooking scraps and brown paper bags.
The messages in the numerous thank you notes she wrote–
both on the job and off–
they were all her handwriting and her handiwork.
She never became Lauranne Huntington,
but rather the Laura Hunt
that people felt they knew–
the Laura Hunt they wanted to know.
But the notes that truly captured the essence of who Laura Sawyer (nee Hunt)
were not these,
but were the music notes that the man she loved placed together
in memory of her.
The Persistence of Her Memory
When she lost her memories of adulthood,
she was seventeen again,
but in a body that had seen several oil changes.
She grieved for the second time for the grandparents she had lost,
except all at once;
she grieved for the friends who had grown up or grown apart,
not understanding why they couldn’t pick up where they had left off.
She read her own journal and recognized not the person in it,
for she was a stranger,
even to herself.
Every day she lived,
she would gain one day of memory back—
live a day, gain a day—
so that the old was as real to her as the new.
She spread old memories like a receiving blanket around all who’d known her
that year of nineteen-hundred-and-ninety-nine,
wrapping everyone up in what they thought they’d forgotten—
some queer little thing that would make them smile in remembrance,
illuminating a generation of people through shared nostalgia—
of Friday nights at Blockbuster and posing for Glamour Shots in the mall
when half the girls wanted to look like Claudia Schiffer,
of making fun of after-school special reruns and Harlequin romances,
of quiet libraries and talking on the telephone,
of politics not infiltrating every conversation,
of the era of Jesus freaks who wore the WWJD bracelets
and carried their Bibles on top of their textbooks,
of working at Baskin Robbins on Saturday mornings
and not finishing the ice cream cakes fast enough,
of high school graduation with Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You”
and “Time of Your Life” by Green Day,
of her dreams of having a Little Lucy and a Little Ricky
with a man who looked like Prince William,
and a million other little things that had marked her teenage years,
had marked her.
Her husband waited for that day—
seven years into the future—
when she would remember the day she had fallen in love with him,
but time created new memories,
and she fell for him all over again,
for she could neither wait for time nor pass it,
A few days ago, I watched “Pleasantville” for the first time. My husband thought I’d like it because most of it was in black-and-white, and was set during the time period, which, according to a BuzzFeed quiz, I belong in.
Yes, I love “I Love Lucy” (I rewatch the series every few years and am a “liker” of the Facebook fan page, “A Daily Dose of ‘I Love Lucy’; when I was younger, I always said if I ever had fraternal twins, I would name them Lucy and Ricky), I wear red lipstick (Mary Kay’s Downtown Brown, which looks red on me), saddle oxfords were my favorite shoes as a little girl, and the only pair of pants I own is the one pair I have to wear for work (dresses and skirts always outside of work); even my wedding dress (or suit) looked more like something my grandmother would have worn to the Justice of the Peace, and my wedding hat and veil (reminiscent of Jackie O)
was an original from the sixties–an Etsy find. My grandmother’s copper Jell-O molds (which I’ve spotted in old movies–always a thrill) adorn my kitchen wall; I even work at a retro-style diner.
When I got an unexpected check in the mail, the first words that came to mind weren’t “Hot damn!”, but rather, “Hot dog!” Yes, I watch lots of old movies (95% of the movies I own pre-date 1965, though I no longer buy movies, now that I have a DV-R). ABBA is the most recent band I like.
I am what you would call a square, with rounded, perhaps lacy edges.
When I was eighteen, I saw a commercial with a placid woman standing in front of a lighthouse, advertising a free Book of Mormon. The commercial appealed to me, and so I ordered a book online. I had a choice between having the book sent to me via USPS, or I could have two Mormon missionaries deliver it to me personally. I chose the latter (pun intended).
I chose that option because I wanted to see what Mormons look like. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was polygamy. I think it was more curiosity than anything that prompted me to order the book, and what a life-changing whim that turned out to be.
I ended up becoming baptized, though when the missionaries mentioned tithing, and how it was required to be a member in good standing, I, remembering what my parents said about being beware of any church that asks for money, fell away.
Nine months or so passed, and I met a boy (at a political group at University) whose name was familiar from high school, though we’d never met. He sort of dated/socialized me back into the Church, and by the time we broke up, I was fully converted. I hadn’t fallen in love with him, but I’d fallen in love with the Church. The Mormon lifestyle is like a throwback to the Fifties–I felt like I’d finally found the Church that I was made for.
Living in the South, I’d churched around quite a bit. (Being a “Jesus Freak” was big in the eighties and early nineties, though I never referred to myself as one. Just not my personality to wear my religion on my sleeve). Pensacola, Florida, is like a Christianity smorgasbord–if you’re a Christian, there is a church for you somewhere here. Never before had I felt so welcomed. It felt good, and it felt right, and it was, for me, at that time.
The Church was a wonderful experience, till I went to Utah, and lost my testimony in Joseph Smith. The father of the boy I had dated had admonished me not to go, and, to the best of my recollection, he’d told me if I went, they’d lose me, and they did. I can never regret going, though, for because of my leaving, I am the person I am today.
I went through a period of bitterness towards the Church, and then I found my way back as not an ex-Mormon (which has an negative connotation), but as a former Mormon. My Mormon friends, whom I’d avoided for so long, did not judge me, or stop being my friend (they are still some of my closest friends), even though they know I will never come back.
So, to segue back to my opening, I watched “Pleasantville”–a film which I believe some parts are open to interpretation (sort of like the Bible). The townspeople who live a moral lifestyle are shown as being bland and colorless, while the ones who engage in sin become vibrant and full of life. I don’t look back and see my life as a Mormon that way. Being a member of the Church did not stifle my creativity, but enhance it. Granted, some of the stuff I write now, they would not approve of, but my experience as a Mormon helped me tap into a spiritual wellspring (and bring me closer to God) that no other Church had ever been able to do.
The boy Reese Witherspoon has sex with sees a rose in color for the first time because he fell in love, but Reese doesn’t see color after their trysts because she doesn’t feel the same–she doesn’t see color until she reads a classic book for pleasure. Tobey Maguire becomes colorized when he saves his mother from being molested by a group of young boys (after the man she is having an affair with, who supposedly loves her and she him, paints a nude picture of her on his malt/soda shoppe’s window). Jeff Daniels doesn’t see color until he begins to pursue his passion of painting, and the woman who plays Tobey and Reese’s mother doesn’t turn colorful (or see in color) until she pleasures herself sexually/has an affair with Jeff Daniels (one of the points of the film I had a problem with–I’d have preferred her to become colorized when she and her husband had rediscovered each other on a deeper level). Though Reese putting aside her whorish ways was a positive note to end on, Don Knotts (who will always live on as Barney Fife) using the Lord’s name in vain, was a sour one to begin with.
I know there is much, much more to the movie than what I’ve discussed, but those particular parts of the film I related to.
Though I don’t agree with everything the movie says (or tries to say), I do think it’s worth watching at least once. A great film it isn’t (in my opinion), but it makes you think, which is more than most movies accomplish.
I do agree that a false nostalgia exists, even for those who never lived during that time. (Just as one can romanticize the Amish lifestyle, though they would never want to live it.) Though I love so many things about that era, I belong in this present time. I love the technology and medical advances that exist now, and all the opportunities for women to have fulfilling careers. I’m glad it isn’t just chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. I love more things that exist now, but didn’t then, than I could possibly enumerate.
“Pleasantville” is a state of mind, not of place and time. Tobey and Reese seeing “the man behind the curtain”, so to speak, ripped off the beautiful façade that television presented. I love “Leave it to Beaver”, knowing that things weren’t exactly like that, but rather a representation of all the good things that were.