Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Gentle Persuasions

Academic journal article Dialogue : A Journal of Mormon Thought

Gentle Persuasions

Article excerpt


I often went with my father on home teaching visits when I was ten and eleven. I don't remember why his companions were never around. I suppose they were inactive. Back then, inactivity wasn't a concept I really understood. In our small southern Utah town, everybody was Mormon except those few odd (but nice, they were always described as nice) families who were Catholic or some vague Protestant denomination. There was that one J-dub family; but for some reason, no one ever really thought about them.

The family we were visiting that Sunday evening lived only a couple of blocks away. We had never visited them before, but I knew who they were. They had a daughter my age as well as several other younger and older children. That there were older children was important, as I recall, because I remember feeling that I needed to be impressive. I needed to project a certain solemnity combined with the appearance that I understood what was being discussed-that I was a proto-priesthood holder and not just a tagalong because my mother wanted to get me out from underfoot.

As we walked along the hard-packed red dirt that edged the blacktop, I noticed that my father was quieter than usual. Normally he'd be using this walk as a teaching moment, prepping me for the visit, giving me a rundown of each member of the family and outlining the proper conduct and forms for the visit. I interpreted his silence as a certain awe and reverence about the errand we were on and followed suit.

The family welcomed us in, the father warily, the mother nervously.

My father was a lawyer with a solo practice. As one of the few professionals in town with a graduate degree, he was respected. But he was also the son of a boy who had left and the grandson of an interloper, a northerner who had married a local girl; and as his practice was young and struggling, he didn't have the added credibility of wealth, so the respect was mingled with resentment and distrust. I suppose I understood all this in the same way that any small-town kid absorbs thousands of adult social interactions and derives fromthem the opinions he believes he is expected to have.

We were seated on the couch, the family fanned out in front of us on various chairs and benches, the youngest ones on the f loor. I tried to pay attention to the pleasantries and small talk, but I found myself not knowing where to look. There was no angle or plane without a face. In particular, I didn't want to look at my classmate. I liked the girl, or so I believe; unlikemy major crushes, she has faded to a blur in my memory. The only adjectives that come to mind are "coltish" and "skittish." And I do seem to recall a long braid of reddish brown hair. But I may have added that detail during my teenage years, an artifact born out of stereotype mixed with a supposed throwing off ofmy small-town roots to embrace Utah Valley cosmopolitanism.

What I do still vividly recall, though, is my boyish-verging- on-adolescent appraisal: Her family was poor and uneducated and proud. Therefore, in the cruel calculus of small-town sexual politics, she was someone not to be encouraged romantically because the proper thing for someone of my status-the smart, shy kid who had the slightest hint of big city sophistication-was to admire from afar the unapproachable rich girls who were smart but not bookish, the ones who wore jeans and skirts instead of homemade dresses, who wore their hair feathered and with bangs.

My mind wandered until, all of a sudden, all the voices dropped away except for the two adult males. And suddenly it didn't seem as if they were talking about the gospel anymore. And then it became clear that my father was trying to convince this man to pay his taxes.

My father's first appeal was to a vague sense of doing what's right, but he was countered by the logic of refusing to support a corrupt government that funded such abominations as abortion clinics, deviant artists, and welfare moms. …

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