My Pioneer Stock (A Pioneer Day Re-post)

Ever since I left the Mormon Church to join the Church of Sleep-in on Sunday and go to Brunch, I have experienced a significant improvement in quality of life. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t still love my Mormon ancestors. I am particularly proud of the Mormon women. The men did a lot of interesting stuff, and the polygamists are just wacky fun. But the women? The women could give birth in a back room with nothing for pain management but a stick between their teeth and not even wake up the other wives sleeping upstairs. And then they got up and washed the sheets. Those women were ballers.

In honor of Pioneer Day (or, as we heathens call it, Pie and Beer Day), I want to write a brief biography of my Great Great Great Great Grandmother, Phebe Draper Palmer Brown. Phebe was the daughter of William Draper, for whom the town of Draper in Salt Lake County is named (or for her brother William Draper – I have heard it both ways). She was born 1797 in Rome New York. The Drapers moved to Canada when Phebe was a girl and she married her first husband George Palmer at the age of 18. The Drapers joined the LDS church a few years later (though George never did) and Phebe was baptized by Brigham Young. George and Phebe had six children and another on the way when he up and died on her in 1833. She was 38.

Phebe packed up her family and followed the Drapers back to the states. They met up with other Canadian Saints but were driven out of Ohio and then Missouri by Mormon-haters. They eventually settled in Nauvoo, Illinois. She received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith who told her to be good and that she would get another man. This was a little ahead of the polygamy trend, but I don’t think Joseph would have snatched her up in any case. He preferred 14 year-olds who had not yet pushed a half a dozen babies out of their vaginas. Phebe was 40 and she looked like she had pushed two of her seven children out of her eyes.

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My sisters and I often joke about having inherited our looks from Phebe.

Phebe worked hard to support her family and I have read she had some talent for nursing. Luckily she wasn’t too good at it, because after Phebe failed to nurse her friend Ann Brown back to health, she married her widower, Ebenezer. That was in 1842. Ann left him with four young children and it just made sense to join forces. He was a looker, also.

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The Mormon situation in Illinois was becoming untenable. In 1844 Joseph Smith was killed. In 1846, Phebe and Ebenezer joined the group of Saints who were following Brigham Young (now president of the church) west to the new “Promised Land.” They were passing through Council Bluffs Iowa in July and were met by US soldiers. The war with Mexico was in full swing and the soldiers asked Brigham to give them 500 men to take to California to fight. He complied – hoping to obtain government aid for the migration (because he was a “taker”).

Along with another 550ish Mormons, Ebenezer and Phebe both volunteered – probably to get away from the children. Actually, Phebe’s 14 year-old son Zemira Palmer joined also. They pawned the younger children off on relatives in the wagon train.

What would come to be known as “The Mormon Battalion” marched 2,000 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa to San Diego, California. Phebe worked as a cook and laundress and Zemira served as a Colonel’s aid. The trek was pretty miserable, by all accounts. They walked through the deserts and mountains… for a year. Phebe was one of only four women who made the entire trip and at 49 she was by far the oldest of the four (the second oldest was 22).

Considering the distance and the difficulty of the terrain, they actually made pretty good time. But by the time they got to San Diego, the war was over and the Battalion was dismissed. (There is one story about a herd of wild cattle attacking the Battalion as they crossed through Arizona, so they did see some action.)

Ebenezer and Phebe were out of money so they re-enlisted for another year. They were sent to Sutter’s Mill and were among the group who found flakes of gold in the American River, a discovery the led to the California Gold Rush. They collected a small amount of gold but then received the call from Brother Brigham. It was time for them to re-join the Saints in Salt Lake City.

On their way back through the California mountains, they were part of the group that discovered the remains of the Donner-Reed party. (I know what you are thinking. “What? Not possible! Was your GGGG Grandmother Forest Gump?” I don’t know how much of it is true. I just know what I have read.) The survivors and rescuers of the Donner Party had been unable to bury the dead due to the ice and snow, so the Mormons stopped and buried all the bodies they could find before pressing on to Salt Lake City.

Phebe, Ebenezer and Zemira arrived in Salt Lake in 1848, at the end of a 3,000 mile journey. Phebe had a mule to ride by then, so that’s nice. They settled in Willow Creek, which would later be renamed as “Draper,” as I mentioned before. Ebenezer became the Postmaster, but he couldn’t read so Phebe (who was well educated for the time) served as Postmistress. She also ran a school for small children. Zemira was sent to work in Orderville, which was Brigham Young’s big communist experiment. Two guesses as to how that turned out.

Unfortunately, Brigham Young wasn’t finished with the Draper-Palmers yet. Brother Brigham told Ebenezer that he wanted him to become a polygamist and have more children. Phebe is said to have approved, and in 1853 and 1854 Ebenezer married two more women. One of them died a decade later, leaving Phebe with yet another brood of small children to raise.

Phebe died in 1879 at the incredible age of 82. (Granted, in the photo she appears to be about 127, and it looks like she made at least part of her 3,000 mile march by walking with her face.) That lady was a stone cold badass, and I’m proud to be her descendant.

Also, in reading up on all of this stuff, something has occurred to me that may be a brilliant bit of insight as to how Mormon services are operated. Perhaps the reason that those damn meetings are three hours long is because it was the only time those poor people got to sit down! It HAD to be as long as they could possibly get away with!

One more thing – this is a letter from Zemira to Phebe from Orderville. I think it is adorable in its presciently passive/aggressive tone, which is still the Mormon modus operandi.  I especially love the way he waves off his inheritance and then signs the letter from “your unworthy son.”

Letter from Zemira Palmer to his mother Phebe Draper Palmer Brown

Adulting

None Shall Pass… Without Cake!

When I asked Ethan what he wanted his 6th birthday party theme to be and he said “knights,” I had to double check that I understood.  After all, it wasn’t that long ago that I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he responded, “Nocturnal.”

“Knights? Like, Knights of the Round Table?” I asked, knowing there was a better way to phrase this to a kindergartner.

“No,” Ethan said.  “Like knights that fight.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I got it.”

I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find good decorations easily.  At least, not as easily as if he said, “Starwars,” for instance.  But it wasn’t a problem.  I ordered a dragon pinata, foam swords for a melee, and foil crowns and stick on plastic gems for a craft station.  Easy peasy.

There were about 40 people on the guest list, so we had the party at a park in the neighborhood.  This took care of seating and shade.  Also, I thought if no one wanted to sword fight or decorate a crown, there was a playground.

I’ve never thrown a child’s birthday party before, and I admit I stressed over it more than I should have.  I didn’t sleep much the night before and then I went to the park early and claimed some tables (they don’t take reservations).  I did my best to plan for all contingencies, but there are always things beyond one’s control.  For example, a block away, a sewer pipe burst and each time the breeze shifted there was a distinct barn-yard smell.  I could have been upset, but I decided that it gave the medieval theme an air (pun intended) of authenticity.  Hopefully the guests felt the same.  (They did not, but they were very polite about it.)

The final touch were two figurines to decorate the cake – a knight and a dragon.  Once everything was set up and we were waiting for the guests to arrive, there was nothing to do but sit and wait.

“You know,” Matt – my history teacher boyfriend – said, pointing at the cake, “there is a historical problem there.”

“Oh yeah?” I asked.  “What’s that?”

“Yes, I think the knight should have a sword.  I was just reading that knights, who usually came from the aristocracy, actually looked down on archery.  Archers were from the lower classes.”

“That’s interesting,” I said.  “Also, there’s a dragon.”

“True,” Matt said.  “Very true.”

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Just a Note

A few years ago, I went to a writing conference here in Salt Lake. I don’t actually like conferences because they are always full of strangers and I’m awkward and anxious and I am terrible at small talk. But there was a girl there with a beautiful shy smile. I immediately recognized Samantha as a member of my anxiety ridden tribe and without saying anything she made me feel at ease.

The conference was three days, but we didn’t talk much. As much as I liked her I was a bit intimidated. Ten years my junior, and she was a published author!

I was leaving the conference on the last day and had just reached the front door of the building when she caught up to me. She gave me a copy of her book and wouldn’t hear of it when I tried to pay her for it. We exchanged goodbyes and well wishes. I’ve seen her a few times since at other conferences.

Today, I heard that Sam was killed in a car accident yesterday.

There’s no lesson. I’m not wishing we were different more outgoing people. We were our true selves and we connected in our quiet “small talk” free way. She was kind and gifted and I’m so sorry she is gone.

Hug your people close. Share your gratitude for the small gestures. Be kind when you can. It all matters.

Cougar Town

On return from a work trip, I was waiting to disembark my plane in Salt Lake City, standing up beneath the overhead bins because I am short and I can.  Suddenly, this tall blonde guy in a bright blue Brigham Young University hat, standing in the aisle and leaning on the seat two rows in front of me, caught my eye.  He gave me a smile and a wink.  I smiled back and then dropped my gaze to peer out the window.  He was young and attractive and I admit that I was fractionally flattered, despite the air of a college sophomore “will-flirt-with-anything-that-moves-because-I-am-so-over-powered-by-hormones-that-they-are-shooting-out-the-ends-of-my-hair” that he distinctly had about him.

Step away from the jail bait!” the angel on my right shoulder blared into my ear through a loud-speaker.  I then made a crooked cognitive connection, remembering that the first time I heard about the TV show called “Cougar Town” I had asked if it was set in Provo, home of the Brigham Young University, Cougars.

A few minutes later I stepped out of the gangway and immediately started scanning the hallway of the airport’s terminal for posted bathrooms signs bearing a skirted figure. I found one, walked in and, with a bag on each shoulder, made an abrupt right turn into the first open stall door that I saw.  There in the stall, less than a foot in front of me, I saw – as if in flashes – a bright blue hat, blonde hair, long legs, feet positioned twice shoulder width apart, and (through the legs) an ample stream pouring confidently into the bowl below.

I leapt backward and spun around, narrowly avoiding becoming wedged in the stall doorway by my carry-on bags.  Convinced that I had walked into the men’s room by mistake and not quite sure what to do about it, I began running around in a small circle doing what I reflectively think of as my “panic dance.”

Unfortunately, this happens to be my go-to reaction in emergencies.  The first time I did the “panic dance” was back in college when a crappy plastic lamp spontaneously combusted and I looked over to see a yellow flame within licking distance of the wood paneling of my apartment wall. I leapt to my feet and ran seven laps in a tight circle because my reptilian brain was telling me, “Maybe this will be helpful!”  Luckily, Demetria was there and she put the fire out. (Firefighting is a hobby of Demetria’s. She keeps a fire extinguisher handy “just in case” and is the only person I know who has used it on more than one occasion.)  I no longer remember how she extinguished the flaming lamp, as my view was blurred by a whirling panic dance sequence, but I remember feeling very thankful someone calm was present.

The panic dance I was doing in the airport bathroom might have been less of a circle.  I was trying to figure out how to get out without being seen, and kept changing my mind between running out the door and running into a stall to hide.  I was also trying to keep the heels of my boots from hitting the tile, so as not to give myself away with my overtly feminine clacky-clacks.  During this time, a cute little blonde in her twenties entered the restroom and, just as I did, turned into the first empty stall. Blue hat. Short hair. Intimidatingly aggressive piss stream. She took in these details and immediately joined me in the panic dance.  She was shaking her hands, I was clutching my bags, and we were both running in a crazy loop trying to figure out what we were going to do, all while Mr. BYU obliviously continued to discharge a bladder’s-worth of recycled root beer into the toilet bowl.

I stopped abruptly. It dawned on me that there were two of us and one of him and the math sobered me.  I turned and walked into an empty stall further down the lane, clacking my heels as loudly as possible, and shut the door behind me.  I hadn’t observed any urinals, and obviously Mr. BYU hadn’t either.  I don’t know why I instantly leapt to the conclusion that I was in the wrong room, but even if I was, the fact that another woman made the same mistake was all I needed to feel okay about the whole thing.

I listened as the guy left and waited to hear if he bumped into anyone on his way out.  But as far as I know, he strolled off without ever realizing he had been in the women’s room.  In fact, if only he had been polite enough to close the door to his stall, it’s possible no one else would have known either.

I saw the student once more before I left the airport.  We were down in baggage claim waiting for the belt to start rolling.  He was talking on his cell and giving a wry smile to another woman no closer to his age than I am.  “Damn,” I thought to myself as the conveyor belt creaked to life.  “It’s like he’s drawn to women by an electro-magnetic force.”

Then I briefly imagined another plot for “Cougar Town,” set Provo and centered around the university life that my friends who attended BYU have described to me.  Basically all of the characters will constantly try to work off their un-used sexual tension by exercising at the gym, reading scriptures by lamp-light, or by both making and eating basket loads of baked goods.

“Nah,” I thought to myself as I tugged my rolly-bag off the belt and toward the airport parking lot.  “No one would ever watch that show.”

Auntie Fail

Auntie Rae tries to talk to the kiddos about bullies:

Me: So she bullied me from second grade through the sixth grade, and it was terrible. And I didn’t handle it well but I learned from it. And then, the last I heard, she was a single mom, working at the American Fork Walmart. The end.

My Nephew (9 years old): I don’t understand. How can you be single and a mom?

Me: um…. what? I don’t think I said that. Time for bed!

May the 4th be With You

I had a little flood in my basement last week. After the carpet cleaner left and it was finally time to put everything back in the basement where it belonged, I took the time to do a little organizing. That’s when I found this. It was in an old novel. Apparently I was using it as a bookmark.

I won’t lie; I got some dollar signs in my eyes. Not like I found a Picasso in the attic kind of dollar signs, but still. It crossed my mind that this might help pay for the new sump pump.

Unfortunately, I looked it up and – if it were in pristine condition – it might be worth $1. (Sad trombone sound goes here.) If I want to cover the pump I will need to find another 1,499 of them.

OHHH!

Ask an Atheist

Last Thursday (April 18th) was “National Ask an Atheist Day.”  I did not know that was a thing until I ended up getting sucked into a Facebook conversation started by an atheist friend of mine who was soliciting questions.

Most of the questions were some version of “how can you prove that there is no god?”  I was reminded that the way most people define atheism is wildly different than the way that I define it.  I know that language evolves and words come to stand for something far beyond their original definitions.  That is a natural phenomenon of language.  But the words “atheist” and “agnostic” do have simple meanings, and that is important to me.

Here is the origin of the word “atheist:”

And here is “agnostic:”

 

An atheist is without god.  An agnostic is without knowledge.  That is it.  The way I define my atheism is very much in line with the basic components of the word, and not all the other things that people want to put on top of that simple absence of belief.  I live without a belief in a god.  That is, I do not accept any version of a god that has been presented to me and therefore I do not worship one.  Do I know for certain that there is no god or anything that might take the place of a creator? No, I don’t. I accept that I don’t know, therefore I consider myself both atheist and agnostic.

Most of the atheists I know describe themselves this way. And most of us don’t want to tell you that you are wrong to believe in something we don’t accept or that you are backward for keeping your traditions.  I understand that atheism isn’t for everyone, just as Mormonism definitely wasn’t for me.  I would love to be a live-and-let-live atheist.  But then someone inevitably wants to teach creationism in science class and I can’t just ‘let live’ anymore, because I consider that an encroachment on the separation of church and state.  But that’s a whole other conversation.

I was reading the thread with interest and not weighing in, but then I lost my self-control.  I really need to get out more.  I don’t get enough human interaction working at home and I have been making Facebook debates my substitute.  I’m going to get myself into trouble.

The question was something like, “If you know that the word ‘atheist’ offends people, why wouldn’t you call yourself an agnostic instead? And if I lack belief in a god but believe in a higher power or force in the universe greater than myself, am I an atheist?”

This is what I wrote in response:

I know the word atheist is loaded and most people define it differently than I do (simply without belief in a god). I think of it like the word “feminist.” It’s loaded with controversy but its meaning is simple. I guess I would say, in answer to your question, I’m an atheist feminist living in Utah. I have accepted that my basic beliefs are offensive to the general population.

As for the second question, this is how I think about it: I am confident there are forces in the universe that we will never understand. We are so limited in our scope and ability to comprehend, that I am confident that we will never know enough to understand the questions to ask, let alone the answers that are out there. (Which is why I love the Douglas Adams answer to life, the universe and everything turning out to be 42.) But let’s just say for a second that we could, and it turns out that the answer is a physical law or a set of physical laws that guides the universe, and we all go, “Oh! Now it makes sense!” And then my bishop from my childhood jumps up and points and me and says “See! I was right! I told you there was something!” Then I would turn to him and say, “Excuse me, but is it a bearded magic man who cares a whole lot about whether or not I masturbate? No? Okay, then fuck off.”

I didn’t tell him that, yes, by my definition, he is an atheist.  I kept this to myself because it was clear that word was inherently pejorative to him. Nor did I tell him that most of the people I meet who consider themselves agnostic are actually atheist by my definition.  I don’t tell my ‘agnostic’ friends that, either.  They seem to think that agnosticism is a politer form of atheism.  Or rather, a refusal to take a side.  The Switzerland of dogmas.  My atheist friends think of themselves as agnostic, but my agnostic friends think of themselves as people who just don’t care and would like to talk about something else, now.  But they are living without a god.  They are atheists, too.

That’s okay.  I hold fast that words have meanings and those meanings are important. But I also want the right to define myself and what I believe.  I can give others that right as well.

Precision Cooking

My man is making dinner.

Me: Why is there dough on the tape measure?

Matt: The recipe says the biscuits should be 1/4 inch thick and 2 1/2 inches across.

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