Civics was a required class for all seniors in my high school. I wasn’t crazy about the idea as I was wary of the teacher. Clearly, I had good reason as Mr. R had a spindly red mustache and his father was my dad’s boss (and, no, I did not live in a small town so how weird is that?) yet more disturbing still was the fact that he wore burgundy bikini underwear under white Angel Flight pants (if you’ve never clapped eyes on a pair of these, you’ve haven’t seen a John Travolta movie made prior to 1984).
I had the class third period, right after “break”, a fifteen minute time period I generally spent holding hands in the secret safety of The (Not Yet) Spouse’s coat pocket (I really thought nobody noticed the extra arm trailing out of his pocket and attaching to my body but one can excuse the young for their tendency towards utter stupidity and, might I add, thank goodness my actual boyfriend at the time went to a different school). My twin sister and The Spouse’s best friend took the class the period just prior. On this fateful day, they spent break explaining to me that Mr. R’s presentation was on polygamy and to please NOT SAY ANYTHING! Because this guy had it all wrong and they knew it would be frustrating for me but to please NOT SAY ANYTHING. Because my twin sister’s best friend also had Civics third period and it would just be best if I NOT SAY ANYTHING that would embarrass her or my sister or anyone she had ever known or had actually laid eyes on in this lifetime. (I had quite the reputation for saying what no one else would—go figure.)
In other words, I should just let Mr. Smarty Pants (pun intended/downright destined) tell lies about my religion (as people are wont to do--and under the aegis of public education, no less!) AND SAY NOTHING. In light of the fact that I was, by nature, a lighted candle, one that felt compelled to illuminate any and all dark corners of the mind (preferably someone else’s as it was less painful than illuminating mine) theirs was a doomed cause.
I marched into Civics class with the zeal of a religious, er, zealot. I sat down and noted that my sister’s best friend was already slouched in her seat (she was also LDS/Mormon and must have scented something in the air or been fore-warned as had I, whichev) and Mr. R. was keeping himself busy at the chalkboard so he didn’t have to make eye contact with anybody, which is to say, me. I suppose he scented something in the air, as well, only I’m pretty sure The Spouse’s best friend--also LDS--took Mr. R. aside after class and warned him about my projected reaction to the subject matter which says as much about The Spouse’s best friend, a.k.a. my former 9th grade supercrush, as it does my odious predictability.
I honestly don’t remember what Mr. R. said that was so offensive; I just knew it was dead wrong. So, I raised my hand, really super high like a total geek, which gave my twin sister’s best friend an even better cover behind which to hide. By this time Mr. R. was writing frantically on the board so he didn’t have to turn around and make it clear he saw me and then have to call on me, but finally, he capitulated. I don’t remember exactly what I said, either, except for these points (which I made with an eloquence and grace that defied my years--at least that’s how I remember it which makes it so):
1. Polygamy (the practice of a man having more than one wife) was only practiced by mainstream Mormons for a relatively short period of time in the 1800’s. (Mark Twain visited Salt Lake expressly so he could ogle these strange creatures.)
2. Only 3% of the entire population was involved in a polygamous union which meant for every 300 people, there was only one man with two wives (though some assert that, depending on the statistical strategy used, it was somewhat higher).
3. That a man was asked to participate in polygamy by the leadership—he couldn’t just grab the nearest nubile maiden and add her to his clan, willy-nilly—and that most truly hated the idea (one wife at a time is enough nagging for any man, not to mention the bill for clothes and other fripperies—these ladies loved high fashion just like the next gal!) but did it because they were asked and understood the importance of it at that time and place.
4. That polygamy was necessary to help take care of numerous widows and fatherless children since the male portion of the population had been depleted by persecution, sickness, excruciatingly hard work, exposure to the elements and out-right murder. (Until very recent times, a single woman had no usual durable means of support. Those who were able to work a farm by herself or who had money to own a business and keep it running were very few and far between out on the plains. Marriage was a woman’s career and without it, she had very few options.) (Also, I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t go into some of the other reasons why polygamy was practiced at that time since they were based on religious doctrine, something about which I was much more insecure about sharing with my, by now, mouth-agape peers. So sue me.)
Mr. Smarty-Pants’ response? “I don’t believe you.” Or, it could have been “You’re wrong!” Either way, in short, I was lying or had been lied to by those who populate a religion known for their integrity and honesty.
Thank goodness the bell rang pretty much right after that because I was MAD.
As for Big Love, I have never seen it. I don’t have HBO, I have never liked those night-time soap-opery dramas and I wouldn’t watch it anyway because I don’t want to give attention, credence, ratings or money to an establishment that intentionally or un (it’s pretty much both) confuses people about the beliefs of a world-wide group of people 13 million strong. In this day and age, mainstream Mormons are as much akin to Fundamentalist Mormons as Root Beer is to a can of Coor’s. Their roots might be the same but their raison d’etre is miles apart.
This post shared courtesy the frickin’ candle.
(If you need more light shed on this topic and for some inexplicable reason, want it from me, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you prefer to get it from the horse’s mouth, go to lds.org
Epilogue: The Spouse, who was a year behind me in school, took the class the following year and insists he was the star of the class. Not only was he the son of an elected city official but his team, consisting of himself, a stoner (read: user of drugs whilst at school) and the village idiot, won the Civics Competition (the team that passes the biggest number of their laws and objectives wins). When “polygamy day” arrived, Mr. R. rather nervously mentioned that he had had a traumatic (my word not his) experience with a student the year prior so was asking if anyone in the class was a Mormon. When The Spouse rose his hand, Mr. R. about swallowed his tongue he was so surprised (apparently, in his mind, Mormons were ignorant people who didn’t know how to do anything right let alone shine as the star of Civics class). He then turned the rest of the hour over to The Spouse to explain polygamy “right”. Though people often don’t like having the dark corners of their mind lighted up, in this case, the flicker of the candle that was me kept things bright enough for The Spouse to truly help Mr. R. understand and respect the truth. The Spouse and I have been a terrific “one-two” punch ever since. Just him and me. And me and him. Just the TWO of us. (And our kids.) The End