Falling Leaves

Dan Weston, a frequent participant in conversations at BCC, sends this account of his recent visit to the Joseph Smith birthsite.


“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”John 3:8

Joseph Smith's BirthplaceWe went to Vermont this fall to see the leaves fall. Before they relinquished their life on this earth, they accepted one last mission: to exhaust their last remaining energy witnessing to the miracle of life. We marveled at this last testimony of falling leaves, there at that moment only for us to enjoy. Though science teaches me to know better, I was momentarily moved by the sacrifice.

So like these leaves were the missionaries stationed at the Joseph Smith birthsite in Sharon, VT. Though we had intended to drop by briefly to see the monument and grounds, we (me, Marty, Mom) were greeted on our arrival by Elder and Sister M and given a private tour. And I do mean “Elder” – he was maybe 70 years old, on his second mission, I think because his wife converted at 15 and never went on a mission and with all their children (and grandchildren?) now grown, they wanted to do something meaningful in their twilight years.

Elder M started out by asking where we were from, then what our relationship was to each other. I hesitated to answer so as not to prematurely introduce awkwardness or invite him to prejudge us, and my mom, sensing this, volunteered that I was her son and Marty was her son-in-law. True, but not the whole story. I could mentally hear a cock crow.

We were treated to some lovely depictions of BOM scenes by Arnold Friberg. All the men in the paintings seemed gratuitously half-dressed and very muscular, so I enjoyed them more than Elder M suspected. We also traced the common ancestors of Smith and most of the recent Republican presidents (some guy who was on the Mayflower). Actually, I think I too am related through Edmond Weston who came to Plymouth in 1635, though sadly he did not make the cut on Smith’s family tree.

Howland Family TreeOn proceeding to the next room, we got into the theology of the Restored Gospel. Elder M made the mistake of saying that the Spirit withdrew from the world during the Dark and Middle Ages (i.e. when the Apostasy reigned). Naturally, my Catholic mother took the bait and asked if Mormons considered themselves “Christian”. I felt this slow-motion “Nooooo” get stuck in my throat as the two engaged in battle. Elder M had us each read aloud passages from the BOM (which Marty was glad to do – he is a trained reader!) but in my nervousness not to misspeak the words I kept dyslexing them, and I fear he thought I was not very bright.

Only when the next group (some Mormons from Maine, as Marty noticed from the Prop. 1 sticker on the car), led by Sister M, pushed us out did we climb up to the tree on the hill, where the hearthstone is still visible, now adorned by a plaque. Inexplicably, Elder M asked us once more what *exactly* the relationship was again (as though he had forgotten!) My mom again more forcefully repeated herself, perhaps thinking he was hard-of-hearing. I felt a cock crowing a second time.

More scripture reading, and (I am not making this up) just as Elder M finished his “I bear witness” testimony (the obvious sincerity of which moved me despite my ever-present skepticism), the wind which had not blown all day suddenly gusted up and the tree branches reached down and all but embraced my mom (Marty ducked out of the way in the nick of time).

I blurted out, “Wow, that was spooky!” and Elder M looked shocked and remained silent for about 10 seconds. It seemed to shake him, and he repeated his testimony a second time, with more details about praying with a Baptist church member who requested to be baptized Mormon, not due to his words, but because just such a sign appeared to her during the closing prayer. At the time, I completely understood how she would feel – I was almost feeling the same way.

We walked up to the monument and Marty and I took pictures from various angles. My mom stayed behind to talk further and told me later that Elder M reached out to touch her arm and say, “you’re a good woman”. I think he was starting to process the whole son-in-law thing. Still, for confirmation he asked Marty on the way down the hill how many children he had. He naturally forgot to prevaricate (and is not as good at it as I am anyway) and said he didn’t have any children, but did have 3 dogs, which are like children to “us” anyway. I guess that is not a straight guy thing to say, and Elder M got quiet.

Sister M and her Golf cart, pre-puddles.On cue as we were leaving, my Mom decided to reveal that she had 6 kids, was still married to their father, and had done extensive genealogical research at the LDS library in Westwood. Whereupon Elder M presented each of us with our own paperback blue-bound BOM with those passages highlighted that we had read aloud earlier. Sister M then insisted on driving us, an invitation we eagerly accepted, in her golf cart down to the various ruins on site: Lucy’s parents’ house, an old stone bridge with wagonwheel tracks still in it, and a wild ride at top speed through mud puddles. As we started our descent down one rather small but steep hill, Sister M gave us what passed for a mischievous look and floored it. We grabbed on to the handrails and hoped for divine protection. I think this was a bonus offered only to investigators (not just your usual Mormon on a pilgrimage). I enjoyed it immensely. At one stop, Sister M gave us her own testimony, quite different from that of her husband. She was only 15 when Elder M converted her (they were childhood friends), and her parents said if she felt the same way at 16 they would grant her permission. I think she converted and got married nearly at the same time, and they have oodles of children and grandchildren.

On the way back, we ran into two young (18ish year old) Elders on their day off, hiking about the grounds. Sister M reminded them to finish their e-mail letters home before dinner (they are allowed this privilege only once a week, with no other computer access permitted). When we pulled up back at the visitor center, Sister M invited us all to dinner that night, and we were taken aback by her friendliness. I gently declined and told her that we still had much to see that day. Then she blurted out, “I just have to know what your relationship is. Are you two married?”

To my horror, I realized she was pointing at me and my mother!

Both Mom and I started laughing (for different reasons) and I think I said something like, “Good heavens no! Do I really look that old?” I guess she was embarrassed and said, “Well you are starting to show some gray!” I said maybe I should start dyeing it, and she said, maybe I should. It was clear we were all babbling incoherently at this point and I added (as the cock crowed at last three times) “It’s actually not so cryptic. She is my mom and Marty is my husband.” Then, as if it explained all, I added, “We’re from California!”

I did not see her reaction as I was looking at Marty for moral support, but he told me later that she rocked back momentarily, then smiled (as if in satisfaction at having forced this confession, which quite frankly she had). Unbeknownst to me, Elder M had heard us pull up and was walking towards us from behind my back while this was going on. I assume he overheard at least the last part. My mom needed to use the bathroom but decided it was time to go, and away we drove. Elder and Sister M watched us go. I presume our conversions were included in their prayers over dinner that night. Thus far, I have not yet felt the calling to become Mormon or straight, so I fear they have wasted their efforts on me. Marty and Mom, on the other hand, eagerly studied their literature that night. I didn’t tell Marty, BOM in one hand and a glass of red wine in the other, about the Word of Wisdom. Best not to scare him off so quickly.

We never know the effect we have on other people. I do not know what Elder and Sister M made of us, but I admire what they have made of themselves. I hope, when it is my turn to fall from the tree, that I shall bear witness to my own truth as faithfully as they who welcomed us to Vermont.

“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.”Psalms 103:15-16

________________________

Falling Leaves

Comments

  1. Pure awesomeness.

  2. I have decided that, henceforth, “[I'm] from California!” will be my explanation for anything I do or say that other people seem confused or upset by.

  3. That was lovley, Dan. Thanks for sharing this will us all.

  4. MikeInWeHo says:

    Thanks so much for this, Dan! Too bad you couldn’t have joined them for dinner. As I can personally testify, unlikely friendships can develop during situations like this.

  5. Wonderful post.

    “To my horror, I realized she was pointing at me and my mother!”
    Doh!

  6. Peter LLC says:

    “[I'm] from California!” will be my explanation for anything I do or say that other people seem confused or upset by.

    It does cover a multitude of sins.

  7. Dan, I enjoyed your comment on the recent “I the Lord am Bound” post, and now getting to hear from you again here. I have to say, though, I’m dying to know how you became interested in following/participating on this blog in the first place. I think it’s all the better for your participation, but I’m still curious about the unlikely connection. Thanks! (And welcome).

  8. And for what it’s worth, I do believe that Elder M made a doctrinal mistake, as well, in saying that “the Spirit withdrew from the world during the Dark and Middle Ages.” If Latter-day Saints believe that, I don’t think that they should. After all, Latter-day Saints talk about how the Reformers, as well as others, were inspired and even helped lay the groundwork for the Restoration. We talk of God raising up men in various parts of the land, who received and shared light, even if they didn’t have the priesthood. Surly they couldn’t have done that without some portion of the Spirit!

  9. (The same goes for the present day)

  10. Cynthia L. says:

    Awesome. What on earth were they doing questioning you like that?? They had to have an inkling. Classic example of the forbidden becoming irresistibly demanding of our attention.

    And do they really connect Joseph Smith to recent Republican (only) presidents? What is that about? Is that supposed to, like, mean something? (other than we are destined for a first gay President Weston?)

  11. Cynthia,

    I think what really intrigued Elder and Sister M. was not that I called Marty my husband, but that my mom called him her son-in-law, casually, quickly, and without shame. That was perhaps outside their paradigm.

    As for the Republican Family Tree of Power, I think the key word was not Republican, but Power. Nor is it historically unprecedented in the Christian churches, since Matthew the Evangelist devotes the first 17 verses of his gospel linking Jesus with King David.

    Clean Cut,

    “I’m dying to know how you became interested in following/participating on this blog in the first place”

    The same way that everybody does: somebody outraged me, I gave him a piece of my mind, he asked for seconds, and thirds, until finally I no longer had the will to stop, and now I am addicted. The process was kind of like being kissed by a dementor, except that instead being drained of hope and filled with despair, I was drained of rage and filled with hope. Since then, I have learned to receive as well as give. :)

    As they say in that uplifting movie, “It’s a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself.”

  12. Great story Dan, but I am confused. Are you Mormon or not? I love the “we’re from California!” too.

  13. Left Field says:

    I once was with a date at the Hill Cumorah visitors’ center. A man and a woman well into our thirties with different last names. No wedding rings. We told the tour guide we were Mormon. I think he was bewildered by our particular demographic. I had the distinct impression the tour guide really, really wanted to ask our relationship, but didn’t want to find out if we might have been living in sin. We just let him wonder.

  14. E: Am I Mormon?

    Short answer:
    “Thus far, I have not yet felt the calling to become Mormon or straight…”

    Long answer:
    http://zokwezo.blogspot.com/
    Scroll down and look for About Me on the RHS.

  15. Kevin Barney says:

    What a great story. I’ve only been to that site once, during my first MHA conference in Vermont a number of years ago. I’m glad I had at least that exposure so I could visualize your tale. And I got a kick out of your reaction to the Friberg paintings…

  16. Excellent story. The Suspicion of the Elders at these sites is always kind of fun. I used to stop off in Kirtland and Nauvoo sometimes when driving cross country with long hair and a beard.

    I’ve heard being from California used here as shorthand for being really flaky — if someone parks very badly, someone might get mad and say, ‘Go back to California!’ I am very very proud in those moments.

  17. Hi Dan,

    Do you have a post anywhere that describes your relationship with Mormonism?

    Btw, great post. Thanks.

  18. gomez,

    I am not an -ism person. I actually have little relationship with Mormonism, nor is it my active plan to create one. My interest is with people. But if you want it in the form of a parable:

    http://zokwezo.blogspot.com/2009/10/hydrogens-love-affair-with-helium.html

  19. Great post Dan. I have a mormon friend who is gay and has two gay brothers. His mother once had the brothers and their boyfriends over for dinner and then remembered that she had also volunteered to feed the missionaries that same night. She briefly considered cancelling on the missionaries but then decided it would be a great opportunity for everyone to break bread together. :)

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