Outside of the rain—which abated enough to allow me to finally get my vegetable garden planted—this past Memorial Day Weekend was pleasant enough. That’s even counting the panicked hours spent looking for a missing kid. With all this high water, and me living way too close to Big Cottonwood Creek, it doesn’t take much to get the heart racing when the unknown is unknown. Turns out, he wasn’t missing at all because, as he put it, “I knew where I was.” Great. Why no text or calls? “Umm, I don’t know. I just didn’t.” Didn’t you get our texts? “Yeah.” But you still didn’t text back. “I know.” We know you know, but why? And so on.
When I was a kid, four hours spent alone in the Oquirrh Mountains was encouraged by our parents, since it got us out of the house, and we might bring back some berries. We kids would gather, pack a sack lunch, fill an old army canteen (though much of our water came from the insides of underground mines) and head out, not even bothering to say in which direction. Today, parents get nervous when a school bus is five minutes late. Anxiety attacks set in as soon as a child is lost from sight when taking a corner or walking between trees. What happened? Who knows, but we’re a far cry from our pioneer heritage, that’s for sure.
At least in some ways.
On Monday, my mother joined us as we set out to visit some family graves. Her maternal grandparents are buried in the Murray Cemetery, so I surprised her with a quick stop at the graves of George Willard Caldwell and Mary Olive Searle Caldwell, two of my great-grandparents. She was crying in seconds. To say my mother is emotional is a grand understatement, and much to my frequent embarrassment (I notably cry during musicals, baseball movies and stories told about old immigrants and at horse races), she passed that gene to me. We were both a little weepy wet when she told a story or two about each of them.
Of my great-grandfather, she said, “Oh, he was a funny man. He loved to laugh and tell stories. He liked his shot of the hard stuff, too, with Daddy—they both did.” “Daddy” was her father, who emigrated here from Crete in 1906 and brought with him his own moonshine and winemaking genes that date back a couple thousand years on and around the island of Crete (haplogroup J2 for you DNA buffs). Never mind that the Caldwell branch that spawned his wife—my mother’s mother—are dead-center in Mormon history (Mormon Batallion, handcarts, settlers, Indian War fighters, polygamists); they also liked the wild side, as evidenced by some of our relatives spending too much time with Butch and Sundance and also taking up the consumption of high spirits. And worse.
“One time, Grandpa was in Salt Lake,” my mom continued, “and he met up with one of the Apostles. He put out his hand to say hello, and the Apostle told him, ‘I don’t shake hands with people who smoke,’ and he walked away. Grandpa was really upset.” Of course he was, and had every right to be. His own father was a buddy to Brigham Young, built the first home in American Fork, was the first mayor of Spanish Fork and did whatever Young asked of him, including eventually taking on additional wives and serving on the Quorum of the Seventy—Matthew Caldwell was a real somebody during the first 60 or so years after the Mormons settled in Utah. And yet this particular Apostle was too good to shake my great-grandfather’s hand. When I heard that, I realized that being judgmental of others by certain Mormons must also be genetic. And yes, it cuts both ways—some folks equally pre-judge Mormons. The bottom line, though, is that in Utah it’s a very one-sided equation, with Mormon majorities in most communities—and certainly in politics and business—drawing more attention to the misbehaviors on the Mormon side.
Nothing will change in Utah until Mormons of good sense honestly come to grips with the havoc wreaked upon all Utahns by the Mormons who are fools. Why those fools end up in politics is beyond me, but I know plenty of great Mormons and have fine Mormon friends who think, as I do, that myopic politicians such as Carl Wimmer, Michael Waddoups and John Valentine and many others put all of Mormondom in a terrible light. Many Mormons hope a Romney or Huntsman can change that image. But I doubt it will happen unless something radically changes. There’s lots of bad juju out there.
If you doubt that, take a read of the comments about Mormons after any college sport or liquor-issue story in the local online press. The latest is the rebirth of the Zion Curtain, the wall between bartenders and liquor consumers in restaurants. Gov. Huntsman got rid of them, and Utah briefly rejoiced. In their race to erase Huntsman’s good sense, Waddoups and Valentine brought them back, but in a worse form—you’re not ever supposed to see a cocktail made at all, so instead of clear glass separating a bartender and his bar, you find smoked glass or physical walls. It’s killing the growth of Utah’s restaurant business. Utah loses millions in revenue annually thanks to this law, yet those two fools who think they’re on God’s errand are somehow revered. Why?
Perhaps this solution is equally workable: How about we put a curtain around people like Waddoups and Valentine? It’s not for us to be ashamed of ourselves, but time for all of us—Mormon and non—to be ashamed of people like Waddoups and Valentine.