I grew up in the thriving metropolis of Sunset, Utah. It is two miles long and a half-mile wide and, at the time, had a population of about 8,000 people. Yes, it is in Davis County and, yes, it is made up mostly of Mormons, but my immediate neighborhood was a bit of a microcosm inside a micro-city. You see, Sunset is a stone’s throw from the West Gate of Hill Air Force Base. The population was slightly more diverse than, say, a Sandy or Orem neighborhood. We actually had two black kids in my class. My next door neighbors (and many in the neighborhood) were Mexican. Most of my friends were Japanese. And most people within a block of me were transplants from other states.
That also means that most people within a block of our house were of faiths other than LDS. The Mexicans were typically Catholic. The Japanese were all Buddhist. My neighbors on the east side seemed to have a religion of loading up their 24-foot boat and heading for the lake.
Me? We called ourselves Easter-Christmas Catholics. My grandmother was a faithful Catholic from upstate New York. She met my grandfather on his mission there and moved out here to be with him. He immediately took up golf, poker and whiskey as Sunday rituals. I guess my grandmother made a big sacrifice to come out here, so he made a big sacrifice as well.
On my father’s side of the family, my grandfather slammed the door on whoever’s job it was to go door-to-door and collect late tithing. He’d been laid off from the railroad and the so-and-so (my grandfather used a more colorful word) had the nerve (again … more colorful) to ask if he was getting a severance or unemployment. He never darkened the door of a ward house ever again.
My parents offered, when I was 11 or so, to drive me to any church I might want to go, should I ever decide to. I’m sure they breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t bother their sleep-in Sunday mornings with such a request.
But, as many Utah natives know, the Church still has ways to make themselves known in your life.
When I was 8 or so, I began going to Cub Scouts. I was so proud, I wore my uniform to school each Wednesday since I went right to the local ward house to be taught to whittle and start fires by clanging two rocks together. Well, that and the Articles of Faith. Yes, I got the vinyl wall sash which I attached the little glass buttons to as I memorized each article.
I excitedly ran home after receiving my eighth button and told my mother I had as many Cub Scout “badges” as I was in years. I blurted out what I’d successfully memorized.
“We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.”
My mother’s face first drained, then went flush.
“This is what they are teaching you in Cub Scouts?”
She immediately ran to the phone and called the scoutmaster, rushing me outside.
I’m not sure what she said, but apparently a compromise was made. We would learn basket-weaving and boondoggling on alternate Wednesdays and Articles of Faith and the like on the others.
As I grew older, I continued on to Webelos, where I had a very granola female scoutmaster who never uttered anything remotely religious, and then to Boy Scouts. It was there, in my teens, that I found out the level of control the Church had over my fellow scouts’ lives. I, however, was simply a bystander to the “moral lessons” they gave. While I could bring a six-pack of Coca-Cola to camp, I saw more than one Dr. Pepper poured out onto the pavement. I think my mother’s rant those many years before scared them away from trying to force their beliefs on me.
But my scoutmaster wasn’t the one who was giving these “moral lessons.” He was the one who joked about how we probably spelled “masturbation” with an “e.” He was sensible. And moral. I probably learned some of my greatest moral lessons from him, though they were likely not what was being talked about at the pulpit of his church on a Sunday.
He taught me about drugs — how to recognize them by sight and smell — and what I could say if someone offered them to me. Yes, he brought something to the church and burned it so we could smell it. He claims it was an herb that smelled just like marijuana, but I’m guessing it was the real McCoy.
He also taught me the value of every human being. We were driving out West to ride horses (yes, he taught me how to ride a horse), and one of the other scouts in the car said something snide about the migrant workers pulling onions. He slammed on the brakes so hard I thought something had darted out into the road. His face was red and his mouth taut.
“Those people out there work harder every day than you ever will,” he said. “They do the kind of work you would never in a hundred years do yourself. They value their families more than themselves. They deserve your respect and they deserve dignity.”
He then had us march out onto the onion field and shake the workers’ hands. None could speak to the other, but everyone knew what was going on.
I will never forget that day.
So, yes, though I was not a member of their Church, I was still the beneficiary of at least one Mormon man’s moral teachings.
I feel lucky that I missed out on some of the “teachings” that others in my community had to suffer through.
But I would never want to change my days in the Sunset First Ward meeting rooms. Q