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.

brown_phoebe_draper

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.

ebenezerbrown_copy

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

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.”

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!

Fingers Crossed

I learned the first time I tried pottery as a university student in 1999 that it isn’t a good idea to get attached to an outcome once something goes in the kiln. You’ve invested a lot of time, all spent envisioning a final product. So it feels impossible to let that go when the kiln lid lowers. But you must. You must, or you will get your heart broken.

I say I “learned” this, but it isn’t a lesson that sticks well. I’ve learned it the hard way hundreds of times now, it seems. And yet, I’m sitting here today, telling myself to at least lower my expectations if I can’t let them go entirely.

Here are a few in process photos two bowls which are currently in the kiln. Despite my better instincts, I love them so much! Which means they will die a sad cracked death at the hands of the kiln gods, if they haven’t already.

Good luck, bowl babies! I hope you can come home so I can wrap you up and put you under the Christmas tree! But if you can’t, I’ll understand. I’ll cry a bucket. But I’ll understand.

UPDATE: One pot did spectacularly self destruct, unfortunately. But the other lived and is with a new home, now.

Mine… All Mine

At long last, it went on sale!

The Perils of Being a Knitter’s Dog


    Especially the kind who reaches for their camera before saving you…


    Pride

    The first time I went to the Pride Festival in Salt Lake City back in the 90s, it was a fairly small affair.  Don’t get me wrong; it was a good sized party and plenty of people came, but not so many that you wouldn’t bump into your friends without making a big deal over it. Which was good because I didn’t have a cell phone back then. There was a free speech corner for the protesters, and there were a decent number of those. And there were booths but it didn’t have a lot of art or stuff for sale. I would say it was fun with freaky elements, but ultimately low key. 

    Am I telling you this to say that I liked gay people before it was cool to like gay people?  Yes. And also to point out it was once possible to meet up with friends and do stuff without cell phones. But mostly I have it on my mind because I was trying to conjure that memory today while at the Pride parade and festival. I heard on NPR on Friday that thirty thousand people were expected to attend.

    Thirty. Thousand. People. In Salt Lake City. UTAH!

    If I had been in a coma since the 90s and awoke today to be told by my friends how far we have come on LGBTQ rights, I would have said, “There’s a ‘Q’ now? What’s that stand for?” Then, when I was fully up to speed I would have said, “Holy Shit! Is it 2048?”

    And then my friends would say, “No, it’s only 2016! And your hair is still brown!”

    Then I would have said, “Dudes! That is The Bomb! Now get me outta this bed, Beeotch, so we can do the Macarena!!! People still do that, right?”

    I haven’t been in a coma but I was still stunned to go and see the joy and the community acceptance that is at the center of the SLC Pride celebration now. So many people came to hang out and enjoy the festival. I started to write something about “came to support…” But it didn’t really feel like that to me, today. It just felt like people having fun. 

    There were no protesters (that I saw). I didn’t hear any pro or con arguments of any sort. People danced and ate and wandered around. It was the party of the year and everyone was invited. And it was amazing. 

    The bit that really got me were the grey haired folks marching in the parade with Mormons Building Bridges, a group of Latter Day Saints that supports the LGBTQ community. There were multiple people in wheelchairs and one that was holding a sign proclaiming her love and support for her grandson. If someone would have told me about that after I came out of my imaginary coma I would have gone right back under. 

    When the lady in the wheelchair went by I teared up a little bit; I really did. But then I told myself to snap out of it because in trying to wipe the tears away I got sunscreen in my eyes and that hurt really bad. 

    We live in a truly remarkable time. We get to live our lives as authentically as we dare to. We aren’t required to live the lives that others planned for us in order to make them feel comfortable. It still isn’t easy, but so many obstacles have been cleared for us and for those who come after. 

    If you’ve never been to a Pride Festival and have one coming up in your area, go. Celebrate. Be your authentic self. You might not encounter someone you can make uncomfortable, but you may make an old cynic like me cry. 

    Dream of the ’90s

    I was digging through my first aid kid looking for a bandaid and I found three packets of Neosporin that expired my junior year of college.


    My first thought was, “Wow… 1998. That was a good year.”

    My second thought was, “I really need to go through this thing more often.”

    I Might Not Be the Alpha

    Me: Dude, you CANNOT be on the couch. You are too big!

    The Dog: Yes I can; I can prove it…

    Me: No… Get… Gerrofff… Down! Gosh darn you are heavy! 

    The Dog: I propose a compromise. 

    Me: Fine. Whatever lets me focus this episode of Game of Thrones. 

    Comedy and Redemption

    Sarah Silverman tells a story in her book, Tales of Courage, Redemption, and Pee (originally titled, I Said Vagina, Now Make Me Famous, but Silverman says that the publisher wouldn’t sign off on that), about her brother Jeffrey.  Jeffery was an older sibling who died when he was still a baby. In the early 1970s, her parents went on a vacation and left their two young children with their grandparents. Sadly, one night the side of the crib that held baby Jeffrey collapsed as he slept. The baby slid down into the open space and became trapped. When his grandfather got up to check on him in the middle of the night he found that the baby had suffocated.

    It’s a terrible story, and you feel awful for Silverman’s grandparents who were, understandably, overcome with grief and guilt over the tragedy. But the reason that she tells the story has more to do with her journey as a comedian. She is explaining how she discovered the euphoria of making others laugh at an early age, and she describes it like an addiction. She couldn’t get enough. And at the age of five, it was very easy to get a laugh by saying words that were shocking, like curse words, or inappropriate, like “tampon.” Basically anything to make adults stop and laugh in surprise.

    But one day, she and her sisters were getting in the car with their grandmother and were told to put on their seatbelts. “That’s right,” she quips. “You don’t want to end up like Jeffrey.”

    But instead of laughter there is silence. Followed by the devastated sobbing of her grandmother, who never forgave herself for the accidental death of her tiny grandson.

    When I listened to the story I cringed so intensely that I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. I remember – when I was about that age – feeling a similar craving for attention. I made a lot of profoundly bad jokes in the process of figuring out how to get what I needed from the adults around me. I never meant to be vulgar or hurtful. I just loved it when I made people laugh and it took a long time for me to figure out how that worked, exactly.

    Most of the time that I got people to laugh, I didn’t really understand why. I was just a little kid. It was like trying to make a machine work by pulling levers and pushing buttons and then waiting to see what happens. I never made someone cry by joking over the death of my baby brother, but only because I didn’t have a dead baby brother. Not because I knew better.

    I’m trying to think of a concrete example, and I’m having a hard time thinking of any that directly explains the potency of my reaction to Silverman’s story. I went through a period when I was four or five where I thought it was funny to give people a hug and a “kick” instead of a “kiss,” because I noticed the words were similar and the effect seemed to be shocking. My dad laughed when I did it to him. And when I heard my mom laughing when he told her about it I felt encouraged. My next two test subjects, however, were of the geriatric variety. Neither of them were amused. In fact, I think my grandfather briefly considered seeking medical attention. My mother put a stop to it after that.

    I also went through a phase where I would think of something funny, but I was acutely aware that I had passed out of the “cute kid” chapter of my life and that the joke would play much better if my little sister, Andrea, delivered it. So I fed her a couple of one-liners. She nailed those jokes, as I recall. For the record, Andrea is naturally much funnier than I am. And at five, she was a professional “cute kid.”

    There are elements of that story that may sound endearing. The seven-year-old future playwright developing material for her five-year-old sister. It makes me think of something my friend Sarah told to me, recently. “You are a story-teller,” she said. “And you always have been. I think that you should embrace that fact.” I think that’s true, and ultimately these memories are really about my learning how to do that.

    Nonetheless, it still grosses me out to think about feeding Andrea lines. First of all, I don’t like that I put words in my sister’s mouth. It was undermining and manipulative. But what is more disconcerting is that it makes me feel like there was never a time in my life when I was without artifice. Even at an early age, I couldn’t just relax and be a person. I’ve been coping though shtick for as long as I can remember.

    At least I had enough respect for the craft to know when a line would be better served by another’s delivery; I can be proud of that.

    The Jeffrey Silverman story also managed to unwedge another lost memory from some deep and forgotten recess in my mind. This one has to do with a teacher and friend of my mother’s, an elderly Irish woman named Teressa (who coincidentally was the other victim of the “hug and kick” bit).

    Teressa was a character. I remember – when my sisters and I were growing up – we would go to visit her at her home in the tiny town of Hagerman, Idaho. Teressa openly criticised my mom as intensely as she openly flirted with my dad, all while her aging female dalmatian – an idiotic sweetheart named Magpie – humped the legs off all visitors who sat in the living room. Those were fun weekends.

    Teressa only displayed her Irish accent after the third or so glass of wine (or whiskey – she loved whiskey), usually after dinner, as the evening wove into night. I remember one such evening when I was still quite young, Teressa told me about the grief she suffered when losing her first-born daughter, who died when she was a toddler. Then she told me – her accent as thick as I had ever heard it – about the time that David, her only son, came to her a few years later and asked about his sister. He would have been five or six, I suppose.

    “I was thinking,” Teressa was speaking as David, giving him a little boy’s voice, “That we could go to where she is buried and that we could dig up her skeleton. And that it could be my skeleton?”

    “I’ve never been so angry with that child,” Theresa told me, going back to her full voice and curly Irish brogue. “Not before or since. I told him to get out of my sight and to never speak to me of it again.”

    I didn’t know why she told the story, but it upset me. I think I thought she was trying to send me a message, of sorts. I remember feeling shaken, as if I were the one being told off for being macabre and self-centered. I don’t think that’s true, now. I think that she was a tipsy old woman in the dusk-years of a hard life, speaking in free associations. But in that was that all children are narcissists, I was convinced that the story was about me.  I thought she was trying to tell me, specifically, to watch my behavior and to understand that my actions could be hurtful. And I received the message as admonishment.

    My dad piped in at about this point and said, “Children at that age, they don’t have dense skeletons. She was so small. Just a baby. I don’t think there would have been any skeleton left for him to find.”

    That freaked me out also, I recall. It made me feel small and impermanent, like I could just disappear into the ground. But in another way, I remember feeling a little better after Dad tossed that thought into the conversation. Because even as a little kid, still trying to learn how to be a person, I understood that wasn’t the point of Teressa’s story and was the wrong thing to say.