What She Said

Cathy Gilmore is a friend of the blog and has posted with us previously.  She is also currently working on a documentary history of her grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark. Cathy graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in English and a Russian minor, and works as a contract consultant in marketing communications and design. She is married to Ed, an English bloke from Northeast Lincolnshire, and together they have four daughters. 

It is a belonging that we crave because it is one we have always known.
Terryl & Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps[1]

One of my favorite things to say as a child was, “It’s not fair!” As the fifth of seven children, I naturally developed a keen sense of fairness. I remember fuming in my room because my older siblings sent me to bed while they ordered pizza and watched movies. (I can smell the pizza, guys!) I was irritated that my parents didn’t let me to see Poltergeist with my older brothers. My fear of being left out reached its high point when I was accidentally left in a park in Blackfoot, Idaho during a family vacation lunch stop. To my dad’s credit, he did risk overturning the camper while flipping a U-turn on the highway after they realized their mistake. Like 45 minutes later.

 

I admit, I had a little chip on my eight-year-old shoulder. I just wanted to do what others were doing. I wanted to wear my older sister’s clothes. I wanted to throw a baseball like my brothers. When my brother became a Deacon, I was really excited to be one, too. I asked my mom when I could pass the sacrament, and she smiled and looked sad at the same time. “You can’t,” she said. Knowing that I would say, “That’s not fair,” she added, “You can be a Primary President. Bishops can’t do that.” I was mad, and embarrassed that I had asked. That week I recorded my feelings in my Hello Kitty diary.

Oct 18, 1981

Sometimes I think girls can have equal right[s] to  boys. I’m kind of a tom boy. I used to play football with the boys in first grade. I am a writer to[o]. I have a whole book of poems. I hope I can share my feelings with others! I am getting to be more like a good Mormon, I pray more often. I have so many question[s] to ask God.

1

Oct 22, 1981

Sometimes I think that women should have equal rights to men. Someday I’m going to fight for those rights. [2]

2

That same year, my mom recorded this in her journal:

Cathy (age 8) was baptized on April 12th & confirmed the same day. Clark baptized her (at Stake Center) & Leon confirmed her a member of the church. It was great to have the family participate. … She recorded her feelings in her journal that day & we are very pleased with her spirit. She is a sweet, freckle-faced blonde who loves to do ‘her thing’ her ‘own way’. She has many questions ranging from ‘why can’t we have the priesthood’ to almost anything. Sometimes I think she feels cheated because she’s such a ‘tom-boy’.[3]

In recalling these memories at a recent Sunday night family gathering, my dad reminded me of the gift they gave me to console my disappointment: a necktie. “We totally remember the tie!” my brothers said, laughing. I had forgotten. Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint just one source of my indignance. Was it possible I was influenced that the ERA movement of the time? I remember my parents shaking their heads when we heard their protests at General Conference. Was it my middle childness, or my competitive nature? Or did the desire grow from something more pure, like simply wanting to belong? Perhaps it was the sum of all stirring within me as I lay beneath my mother’s quilting frames, reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books, listening to the women talk quietly amidst the pop and pull of yarn.

Thirty-seven years later, some things are still the same. I write. I like to share my feelings with others. I’m still am trying to be a good Mormon. As a woman, I’m still figuring out what that means. My path in the church isn’t marked by scouting honors or priesthood advancements, but rather reflects the winding and varied terrain of my own experience. Although my childhood yearning to be a deacon has tempered, my desire to draw women in from margins marked by culture and tradition has magnified. I’m not alone. I see women all around me immersed in the work of reawakening women’s roles and purposes in the church. This awakening that assures me that the church isn’t a tunnel, but an hourglass—or perhaps of series of them—and we are emerging from its neck into an expanding space. Increasingly, there are calls for women to fill the space, like this one from Elder Russell M. Nelson:

We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve.[4]

We do need women like Mother Eve, but do we always have a place for them? To emulate Mother Eve’s vision is to take the long view, to make an unpopular choice. She was a game-changer, who expanded the boundaries of what it meant to be human—but expanding boundaries is a precarious job for women. Confidence can be seen as ambition. Questions can be seen as doubt. And what about accessing that power of God? Tread carefully there.

And I do, like a good Mormon. At times, however, I can’t entirely shake the familiar sting I felt as a girl. I feel it when we are asked for our perspectives but are given few pulpits. I feel it when we are assured of parity, but our language, programs, budgets, and titles reflect a lesser standing. I feel it in every lesson that teaches me to honor the priesthood, but only as it is embodied separately by men, never acknowledging that this same power resides in me. To echo a question from Dallin H. Oaks, what other power can it be? I feel the distillation of spiritual gifts, and the capacity to pray, minister, and speak with authority, but it is a power more often admired than emulated.

In the Book of Remembrance compiled by my Grandma Dorothy Smith Clark there is a section called “Spiritual Gifts”. Within it there is a testimony of my 2nd Great Grandma Emma Larson Smith, a record of the gift of tongues from my 3rd Great Grandmother Elizabeth Degen Bushman, and an example of the gift of healing, from my Great Grandma June Augusta Bushman, shared here:

As told by my Mother:
When I was a girl of 12 I was given a blessing by a Patriarch in which he said I had the gift of healing and especially would I be able to heal myself and my children.

I thought that a strange gift for a woman as I grew older but when I was the mother of two children Marvin took seriously ill with hives. I was alone so could not go for help as he was taken so suddenly he could hardly get his breath and was stiff as wood.

All of a sudden when I was beside myself with grief because my husband was not there to administer to him I remembered what the Patriarch had told me of my gift. I placed my hands upon his head and asked for a blessing. The Lord acknowledged my petition and he was healed. [5]

My record, and the records of the four generations of women that preceded me—call to me from their own place in the hourglass, speaking as witnesses to their experience. There is truth here. The gifts of my grandmothers cast long shadows along a line of strength and power I can claim as my own. I walk carefully in these shadows, holding fast to the church I am given. It’s a messy, beautiful place that has broken and bound up my hammered-out heart. In many ways, I don’t feel much different that my eight-year-old self, lying underneath my mother’s quilting frames. I see the shadows of women’s hands, doing women’s work. There’s light up there. I hope there is a seat saved for me.

***

It’s sacrament meeting. The Priests carefully lift the white sacrament cloth, uncovering the trays of bread. I notice my special needs daughter is watching them carefully. In sync with the Priests actions, she  slowly lifts and drops her own blanket on to her lap, smoothing it carefully. I am undone. The Deacon passes the bread to me, and I to her. I consider her emulation, and the grace required for us to all belong. I still have a lot of questions to ask God.

——————————————————————————-

[1] Terryl and Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps  (Ensign Peak, 2012), 109

[2] Cathy Gilmore, Journal, 1979-1981

[3] Dorothy Chamberlain Journal

[4] Russell M. Nelson, “A Plea to My Sisters,” Ensign, Nov. 2015, 97;

[5] Dorothy Smith Clark, “Book of Remembrance”

Comments

  1. I need to hear more from you. I hope you write here regularly. Thank you so much for sharing this. Means more to me than I can convey on the internet.

  2. Cathy! I love your stories and your sources; they are so beautiful and compelling. Thank you for sharing your yearning with us. Also I love the questions your 8 year old self wants to ask God.
    “Is there a specil reason you made feelings?????” <3

  3. Hannah, thanks so much. I still have no idea why we have feelings.
    Marian, you are so very kind. Thank you.

  4. “I smoke ’cause I’m hoping for an early death”–oh, wait, never mind, wrong topic

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    Beautiful; thank you. (I especially loved the screen shots from your Hello Kitty diary.)

  6. Very nice. Thank you.

  7. This is great, Cathy. Thanks very much for sharing.

  8. Really appreciate this!

    I think many of us had similar questions and experiences as young girls, and were made to feel embarrassed for asking these questions, and no real answers provided. Now, my 7 year old daughter asks the same questions, and I am desperate to give her the answers I never received, but it is a delicate balance with faith.

    Two generations bringing the same questions and an awareness of the lack of answers: the questions are not going away anytime soon.

  9. Thanks, guys. EK, I think it’s important to acknowledge that these questions, especially as children, really come from a pure desire to belong. As we get older, other motivations often get attached to such questions & yearning.

  10. wreddyornot says:

    Thanks a lot for telling your personal story, for assurances that girls feel this way. It means a lot to me to know of your early awareness of inequality. I’m sorry I came to its more full realization so late in life. I’ve lived in my present Utah ward as it’s evolved 32 of 69 years, usually “stirring the pot” (history, omniscience vs. agency, polygamy, evolution, etc.) as members referred to it, often avoiding me as a liberal for asking provocative questions in GD and HPs’ group, for subscribing and referring to Dialogue, as an occasional Sunstone attendee, etc. I started 1st writing as I approached retirement. In early November 2010, my wife’s doctor hospitalized her with a pleural effusion and pulmonary embolism, leading to diagnosis of end stage peritoneal cancer. By January 2013, she was in palliative care and finally more aware I started a new novel:

    “I plan on ordaining her,” I said into the phone, “that’s what she’s asked me to do. On her twelfth birthday, just like Grandma Noble did your mother in 1945.” I didn’t believe it would escape my son, John, a boy I’d never ever imagined as a Mormon Apostle, that I alluded to a well-known photograph of his mother and grandmother.

    “Oh, Dad,” he said. “Please reconsider. She’s a girl and you don’t have the keys to ordain her to anything. It’ll be a spoof, like Mom with Grandma. Irreverent.”

    I hated feeling as if I had to answer to my son 2,200 miles away in Salt Lake City. We’d raised him here in Queens, but he’d left and didn’t visit much. I was eighty-two; John, fifty-seven. I’d changed his wet and poopy diapers and watched him suckle at my Michelle’s breast. She’d loved him so much, her first child. But, gracious, multitudes of members of our religion now considered him, that boy who’d defecated and urinated for us to clean up after, an Apostle. He’d been one for a couple of years now. Some day he might even become the Prophet.

  11. Thanks for this gorgeous piece. I think the situation is most clearly seen through innocent children’s eyes.

  12. Guinevere says:

    I don’t think I will ever smooth a blanket over someone in the same way. Thank you ever so much for sharing.

  13. Thank you for these beautiful words, you echo so many of my thoughts and feelings. My breath was taken away when I saw that we share the same 3rd Great-Grandmother, Elizabeth Degen Bushman. That spirit lives on in us, cousin.

  14. Jason K. says:

    Oh, that last paragraph! Thanks for sharing!

  15. This aches today in ways I can not explain. Thank you.

  16. Mary Ann says:

    Like robissou, I recognized a family name there. Your Grandpa Clark was my Grandma’s oldest brother. Have you ever heard stories about our ancestor Mary Ann Tracey Shepherd? She was a spitfire, and I’m sure she would’ve liked this.

  17. I was a tom boy too and liked to write about my feelings in my journal.

    I think God wants us to be who we are and we will make space for ourselves in His church. I also think he wants us to be humble, so he keeps some things from us women.

  18. All, your comments have been so very kind and have minimized any sort of trepidation on publishing something so personal. I’ve had a few friends reach out personally to say they share the same feelings, but are reticent to share them publicly. For one friend, it started when she was at a birthday party at the Lion House. All the boys were invited to sit in the Prophet’s chair. The girls just had to watch.

    robissou, I’m so happy to have this connection with you. In my grandmother’s Book of Remembrance the translation of the Elizabeth’s gift of tongues is handwritten, although I don’t know if it is a copy or an original. More research is necessary. I want to learn more about glossolalia among these early church members. It seems this gift was often linked to women.

    Mary Ann, how wonderful to find a close cousin here. One of our Grandpa’s sisters—Aunt Hazel I think—was instrumental in providing funds for Ellsworth’s education at the U. I would love to learn more about Mary Ann Tracey.

  19. Cathy, you can ask one of the permabloggers here for my email and send me a message. My grandma was June, and I did an oral history project with her back in college – that’s where she told me about her great-grandma. Hazel helped out a lot of the family members when the family store went under, if I remember right. That’s why so many ended up in Salt Lake (where she was living).

  20. Jennette says:

    Another cousin here….I started reading your post and from the first mention of your grandmother’s name in the introduction, the family connection jumped out at me. My grandfather is Oliver Rollin Smith, your grandmother’s younger brother. In fact, I had to go stalking on your FB page and found the picture of your grandmother holding your mom as a baby and I thought that I was looking at my grandpa as a woman, the resemblance is so remarkable. I went to a Hyrum Smith cousins reunion/picnic in Orem last summer with my dad (Ron Smith) and I imagine that members of your family there. Thank you for sharing the words and experiences of the strong Smith women in our family–so proud of these inspiring foremothers. I very much look forward to the documentary history of your grandmother once you’ve finished.

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