Mom was rebellious in her youth. Looking back, it's hard to square the mother I remember as a small child with the pious Mormon woman my teens.
The mom of my youth drank liquor and dated bikers, criminals, and junkies. I recall her riding on the back of a Harley holding on tightly to a man with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his sleeve and a Christmas when the police took our toys as evidence from a burglary.
I remember a drunken Daddy Dale, my first stepfather, dragging me to the toilet to watch him vomit, and his warning about how liquor did that to you. And I remember bawling when I was told he had gone to Heaven by way of Ogden's 25th Street and a hot shot, probably intentional, of heroin.
Mom cried for weeks after that, until one night, when her "Doctrine and Covenants," one of the four standard scriptural works of Mormonism, fell from the shelf and opened to a scripture that changed her life. I don't recall which scripture it was, only that it mentioned the Celestial Kingdom, the highest "state of glory" in the Mormon Heaven. It's the place where families come together and become Gods of their own universes.
Our lives changed after that. We read the Book of Mormon as a family every morning, and every Saturday we'd drive 70 miles to Temple Square to watch "Man's Search for Happiness," a BYU produced film about Grandpa dying and going to the Celestial Kingdom. It scared the hell out of me, but I guess it's what Heavenly Father wanted me to see.
But being pious in our personal lives wasn't enough, not in a small, solidly-Mormon town like Tremonton. Mom's sinful ways had placed her outside the community of the faithful. She was viewed with suspicion, or at least she believed she was. She was desperate to gain full acceptance again.
To do so, she had to be better than pious; she had to be perfect. She did all the right things. She only dated men she met through the LDS group for unmarrieds, "The Sociables." She asked for church callings. And, perhaps most importantly, she attended Cleon Skousen's lectures on why Mormons must root out communists among us.
But, still, that was not enough. She had to raise her children in a way that would avoid the community's judgement. Anything we did could be perceived as evidence that she had not fully embraced the Gospel. After all, the sins of the father, or in her case, the mother...
Over the next few years, she wielded the Great and Terrible Spatula of Redemption and other child training implements with righteous vigor until we were finally whipped into shape.
By then, she had married her fourth husband/ This time, as the Prophet commands, it was a temple ceremony. My new dad served as the ward's (congregation's) second counselor to the bishop. Mom was finally back in the community's good graces.
Then one day, she received a call from the Stake President (A stake is a collection of wards. It's comparable to a Catholic diocese, and the stake president is like a Catholic bishop). He asked her to organize a stake fireside for adults. These were events where the faithful would gather to hear an invited speaker speak on a "faith promoting" topic.
She was very honored to be assigned such a responsibility. It meant she'd finally "made it."
Mom did her research, and somehow found a black Mormon man who wanted to speak about his desire to "hold the priesthood," a right given to every white Mormon male at the age of 12. This was in the mid-Seventies, when the Church's refusal to grant the priesthood to blacks was becoming a big issue.
The speaker came and delivered a very passionate speech about how much he desired the priesthood and why Blacks should not be denied it. From all accounts it was a very moving bit of oratory. Perhaps too moving, because immediately afterward, the visibly angry stake president approached Mom and told her that she should make no plans for the week. He needed to set up a meeting with her.
We held a reception at our house after the fireside. It wasn't a very happy affair. Only a handful of people attended. All were family friends. None of the usual people you'd expect at such things, the stake presidency, high councilmen, bishops, relief society leadership, etc, were there.
Mom was consumed by worry. Had she unwittingly sinned against the Church by inviting such a controversial speaker? Couldn't others see that this man's desperate longing for the priesthood was a testament to the sacred power of the holy calling?
I was in my early teens, and although I held the priesthood, such questions didn't interest me. I was more interested in the black man and his family. I had never been this close to actual black people. Sure, I'd seen them during our infrequent trips to Ogden, but only at a distance. Now they were right here in my house.
I couldn't resist touching the kids' hair and wondering how their mother could look so white. Surely she couldn't be Caucasian. Intermarriage is a sin, isn't it?
I asked Mom and my step dad about the wife later. The question made them very uncomfortable. I did not get an answer. Instead, my stepfather quickly shot mom an accusatory look before asking me if I had fed the chickens. That was my signal to leave. He knew the mention of farm work would clear the room of kids.
Mom had her meeting with the Stake President a few days later. It did not go well for her. He chastised her for bringing a rebellious spirit into the church and commanded her to fast and pray for forgiveness.
She fasted for days and prayed for weeks, but forgiveness, at least from the local Church establishment, was slow to come. She was once again an outsider, and she remained so until that day in 1978, when God changed His mind about black people.