When the Cock Crowed for the Fourth Time
When she’d been LDS—
a Molly Mormon on the outside
& some kind of nondenominational,
free-spirited Christian on the inside—
she’d had friends, good & plenty,
but when she’d lost her testimony
of Joseph Smith
& returned to her Protestant roots,
she reclaimed her creativity.
When she went back to school
at a liberal arts college,
where she was often
the red elephant in a room
full of donkeys
in varying shades of blue,
she realized that the life she was living
wasn’t a remake
Because she believed
that she wasn’t smart enough for college,
toiling away in dead-end restaurant & retail work,
soaking up life experience,
which was often greasy.
When a little bun was placed in her oven,
she found it in herself
to believe in herself
or maybe even for the first time,
for being little more than the miller’s daughter
who turned words into gold.
I miss the days of quiet libraries rather than media centers and The Baby-Sitters Club series before they became graphic novels; I miss the B. Dalton bookstores in the mall, sitting on the floor in the corner, reading the Berenstain Bears until my parents finished their shopping.
I miss the days when that could be done without worry.
I miss browsing Blockbuster with the non-confrontational request to “Be Kind. Rewind,” of waking up to Bob Ross and Mr. Wizard, of talking on the telephone with my best friend, Jessica, watching T.G.I.F. together on ABC.
I miss writing book reports at the kitchen table and thinking all I had to do was work hard and be good and everything would come to me.
I miss handwritten letters and birthday cards in the mail with a 10-dollar bill inside and the tactile experience of ripping the paper off a gift rather than reaching inside a gift bag.
I miss simple math and spelling bees and Pig Latin.
I miss the compartmentalized cafeteria food, where to taste it was to (perhaps) solve the mystery.
I miss the days of wearing pinafores with black patent leather shoes, of glittery jellies and bows made of neon shoelaces, of Barbie bubble baths with the bubble gum pink bottles of Salon Selectives shampoo.
I miss the park when it didn’t seem so hot; I miss the stand-up merry-go-rounds that made me think of a pinwheel trolley.
I miss the early mornings when I’d be half-asleep, helping my dad deliver newspapers.
I miss walking across the street to the filling station with my mom, where we’d buy Nestle Alpine White candy bars and dark Milky Ways.
I miss the grandparents who are no longer here and my mom who is here no longer. I miss the aunt and uncle I knew as a child, when I didn’t know there was a difference in being related by blood or marriage because, to me, they were both family.
I miss eating homemade pecan divinity and red pistachios.
I miss running down the driveway in bare feet to fetch the local newspaper, looking through the TV Guide insert to see what science fiction movies were coming on.
I miss the news that was so blessedly short—when life seemed so much longer than it was. I miss the days before reality TV when dialogue was memorable. I miss when photos were a surprise.
I miss the days when adulthood seemed like this thing that could never possibly happen to me, even as I saw the baby pictures of myself in old photo albums.
I like to think I was born in the perfect time—without social media or cell phones, only being granted these marvels when I was old enough to handle an instant audience, eventually finding my voice in the blogosphere, my shyness having matured to introversion.
And matured I have.
I have seen the inside of a soup kitchen and the outside of a coffin. I have experienced a person being born and seen a person die—the first, a great big shout out into mortal life, the other, a whisper into life eternal. I have lost my faith in church and found it in the God who is everywhere.
Now I’m the mother, the wife, the writer who has proven herself to herself, and, in small measure, to others. I am the baker, the homemaker. I am the scholar who went back to college after the time for living the college life had passed; I come home not to roommates but to the family who waits up for me.
Now I’m the one snapping shots of my child in various stages and poses, reading the nursery rhymes that are darker than I remembered, playing board games without reading the rules. I am the parent who was able to give my daughter a dollhouse—the one thing I always wanted but never got—only to find that she, like me, like us, love our electronic devices.
So many evenings, I am in my office, she, her bedroom, and my husband, the living room. It is at times like these that the sound of my typing, the music from her Kindle, and the noise from the television come together and let us know that we are still here—just off the hallway that connects us all.
Written July 2019 and published in the March/April/May 2020 issue of Bella Grace magazine.
Mother was with David,
on a walk with God,
Caitlin was asleep,
but I was as still as the silence,
waiting for something
When it came to our figures,
Caitlin was the Audrey
& I, the Marilyn.
She had the figure
that could do justice
to the dance,
whereas I had the figure
that some feminists insisted
did an injustice to me.
The Church had stripped Mother of her formality,
redressing her in a tennis-style dress & mules.
She kept her hair pulled behind her,
making her look 10 years younger—
like an older sister
with whom I felt I’d been competing with
all my life.
She had taken her place in the sun,
even I had sought my space in the shade,
for her limelight had become too bright.
I had thought Bethany House
a haven for battered women,
but while the women were being looked after,
the men to whom they were married
were going through LDS counseling
with a male therapist,
in conjunction with
more spiritually-based counseling
from their bishop.
It wasn’t an escape
but a holding place—
the women there like foster children,
waiting for their husbands to reclaim them.
With Elder Roberts,
I had always felt compelled to be
someone better than what I thought I was.
Though I’d always believed
that the right person would bring out
the best in me,
so much of the good
that had been brought out
hadn’t been in me at all
but had been manufactured.
I was like a robot
who had allowed itself
to be reprogrammed
into something I did not recognize.
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.
*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.
Christmas had come and gone, and the New Millennium had begun. At Maxwell Manor, burgundies, navy blues, and hunter greens had been replaced with shades of cream, ecru, and chartreuse. Modern art had been replaced with several of Greg Olsen’s paintings, and the place began to more resemble a Mormon temple than a museum.
“Though the husband is the head of the home,” the elders of the Church had often said, “the wife is the heart.”
It was my house, too, even though I was old enough to move out , but Mother was changing everything. The house on Harrington Court was mine now, but I would always have a place at Maxwell Manor—a room in one of David’s many mansions, and the one room, besides David’s study, that Mother would not touch. Did that make it a shrine unto myself?
I would keep the house at Harrington Court as one would a museum, for Mother had changed nothing in it since the Mormons had come, flooding our house with their holy water and setting fire to our lives as we had known them.
He told me that I’d become as she once was, even as he believed who Mother was now, she would always be. She would never change her mind about the Church, for the Church had changed her.
Mother had put off the natural woman to put on the spiritual, for in her eyes, the two entities could not coexist, for one would always rule over the other. It was perhaps the first time in my life I acknowledged with defeat that a Force greater than the influences of those who loved her, led my mother now. As she drew closer to God, she withdrew from us, even as David and I grew closer than ever. A part of me still feared losing him, if he completely lost Mother.
David thanked God for my will that I would never allow the Church to change me. I had never heard David thank God for anything before, save that night in the hospital, and I wondered, if, in his own way, he was changing, too.
Meg Trundy was a sofa-sitting,
binge-watching pile of marshmallow fluff.
When the TV got crushed by a giant meteor
in the shape of a hard-to-find size 10 shoe,
she went to the library to change her lifestyle,
only to end up changing her life.
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.
It has been a long four years—only because so much has happened in those years.
I was almost thirty-three when I enrolled at the local community college—all set to get my degree in Health Information Technology to become a medical biller and coder; I was trying to be something I wasn’t, or rather, something I didn’t want to be. The classes were excruciatingly boring (some people got all jazzed looking up medical codes, saying it was like solving a puzzle—I prefer jigsaw or mysteries), but all the while, I was taking other classes that interested me more (I needed something to keep my sanity), working towards getting my A.A., but not really realizing it until I found out that I had quite a few credits to go towards it.
I will always have my A.S. degree as a backup (though I will still have to get my certification), but right now, I’m in that place called Contentment—a place I haven’t been for a very long time.
Originally, I had ignored the email that was calling for students to apply for the Editor-in-Chief position for The Corsair (the college’s student-run newspaper); I didn’t want the job because I knew I wasn’t a leader (but neither am I a follower—I just like to lead myself). I only wanted to worry about making my own deadlines, not getting others to make theirs; if someone wasn’t self-motivated, it wasn’t just their problem, but it became mine, too.
However, I accepted the position because I saw it as a way to give back to the college that had helped me so much with scholarships and not only appreciated but celebrated my writing skills.
I am very proud of the work I did, and, I hope, inspired others to do. I learned a lot about myself—like that I have what it takes to become a great graphic designer. (I just need the training.)
Through creating Shutterfly books of my writing for friends and family and designing recruitment ads for the newspaper, I’ve become more aware of how words and pictures can complement one another. I have the creativity and imagination, if not yet the talent or skill to choose graphic design as my vocation.
My writing dream is to be either a nationally syndicated humor columnist or a regular contributor for The Saturday Evening Post. I think both are a possibility within a decade. For example, my Capra-esque short story, “The Post-It Poet,” won Honorable Mention in this year’s The Saturday Evening Post’s Great American Short Story contest. (I won the same honor a few years ago.)
“Poet” is about a thirty-something woman who goes back to community college to “figure it all out.” (Guess where I got that idea.) It’s also about how poetry can change the world (and did), including her own.
Writing sure changed mine.
My work as EIC for the paper helped me get a career service position at the college. If there was one thing I tried to drill in to my staff, it was that the work they did on The Corsair mattered, that a missed deadline was a missed opportunity.
So, I’m glad I did accept the position, but I’m equally glad to be moving on to other kinds of writing (thank you letters, press releases, et cetera). I not only was the EIC for the fall semester, but I also kept up the website and Facebook page, as well as take pictures and write stories, in addition to conducting meetings and work days and writing and answering the endless emails and texts. I even experimented a bit with video, as well as post archived material on the Facebook page (the latter to fill in the gaps between issues, as our paper is a monthly).
Since free college is included in my new job, I will go for my Bachelor’s in graphic design next fall. I will learn how to draw and take pictures—two things I don’t know how to do very well; whatever I learn, I will be able to use for this blog.
The last eighteen months of my college journey were extremely hard. It seemed like the world was throwing everything it could at me to get me to quit, but it was against my nature to give up.
As November was coming to a close, I was wondering what was going to happen to us, as three of my four jobs were going away for the holiday, one of them permanently. Tutoring labs don’t need to be open when kids are out of school, and you have to be at least a part-time student to be EIC.
But then, one night, as I was driving home from my second home on campus, “Silent Night” played on the radio, and I knew that whatever happened, we would be okay.
Then, perhaps not even a week later, I got the call, then the interview, then the job.
And it was more than all right.
Our college’s motto is: Go here. Get there; for me, it’s Go here. Stay here.
Now it’s time for a semester-long spring break and a semester-long summer vacation. I’ve been running on adrenaline for too long; I’ve tried to do everything at 100% when my batteries were at 10. There were few nights when I came home to a sleeping child, which made me sad; there is nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your child through the glass of the front door, jumping up and down because she knows you’re home. I’d be so spent that even when I was home, my body was exhausted and my mind was adrift.
I so look forward to graduation tomorrow. Even though someone who was with me on my journey at the beginning won’t be with me in the same way at the end of it, I think she has the best free ticket in the house.
I’ve often thought I could’ve done all this years ago, but I wouldn’t have met the people I’ve met—might not have experienced the things I have—so I wouldn’t have had it any other way.