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A group of mainstream Mormons circa 1973

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

If you prefer to get it from the horse’s mouth, go to

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

This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at Wednesday, March 25, 2009 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

42 wise, witty and wonderful comments

What a great story, Heidi. I grew up in Southern California until I was 12, and I never, ever remember my religioun being an issue.

March 25, 2009 at 8:50 AM

You soo rock! I always knew I liked you!

March 25, 2009 at 8:57 AM

That's great you were able to make a difference and share real facts with your class.

My husband would rather die than have more than one wife. Although, we both agree that depending on the people involved and the situation it could work fine. My husband has an ancestor who kept journals, lots of journals, and had I think 4 wives, but he expressed so much gratitude that they had each other because apparently he was called away often on many missions and they took care of everything at the ranch/farm when he was away. It would have been far too trying for one woman alone. And apparently they all got along and liked each other. So I know that in some situations it works. But, we'd probably need a huge ranch to make it even necessary :)

I haven't watched Big Love or anything like it. No HBO. And I still probably wouldn't. I would hope that more people would assume that tv is NOT representative of anything real or true.

March 25, 2009 at 9:07 AM

This is one of if not my very favorite post of your EVER. Here's why:

* It has story, good story from the past. I love that.
* It is sprinkled throughout with VERY GOOD and smart humor.
* It makes a good point and shares important information.
*It was written by one of my favorite bloggers.

Thanks for this terrific post.

March 25, 2009 at 9:09 AM

Love the photo, but please tell me that it isn't chronologically connected to your story. I'm pretty sure you're younger than I am, and if not, I still can't imagine you were class of '73 (I was class of '79).

When I was a junior in HS, my US History teacher asked who discovered America. I raised my hand geekishly high and announced that it was the Jaredites. Kind of stole his thunder, since he wanted to surprise us by informing us that Viking and Chinese ships had made it to the Western Hemisphere centuries before Columbus.

Always good to be willing to put yourself on the line to share the truth. ;-) (So, did you get your twin sister's share of the lighted candle, and if so, of what did she get your share?)

March 25, 2009 at 9:22 AM

Good for you speaking up in junior high! And even now--some are not willing to do that, which is sad. I don't watch Big Love either, but I did leave a respectful note about their using our sacred religious ceremonies for their financial profit and how disrespectful that act is.

March 25, 2009 at 9:30 AM

Well, I was anxiously awaiting this post because I am a huge Big Love fan, and I had wondered (since I live in small town Texas) how mormons felt about the show. Yes, I have always known that it is a real misrepresentation of the religion, but I had no idea any ceremonies in it were in fact mocking sacred morman rites...that is kind of horrifying. I basically watch it because it is an excellent drama, and I truly enjoy the characters and all their flaws. Thanks Heidi for a well written post that sets the facts out straight.

March 25, 2009 at 9:39 AM

This was an awesome post. Good for you for standing up. And good for the teacher for being humble (eventually...), and good for The Spouse for helping it all along.

March 25, 2009 at 9:51 AM

Kristina--you lived in Calif til you were 16? Well, that explains a lot! You can't take the Cali out of a girl (this was really the only issue that came up for me except for general teasing for being a prude who didn't smoke, drink or swear). Hillary--thanks sweetie! Heatherlyn--you are a far better woman than I! Lisa--I love detailed compliments! This must be one of, if not THE, fave comment ever!! :) Pam--that's a funny story! I'll bet you had your teacher pretty perplexed! I did stuff like that, too. The pic is of my ward when I was 9--you can sort of see my bespeckled twin three people deep on the very far right. I am next to her but harder to see. Yes, I am pretty sure I got her share of the candle (she would rather die) but she got my share of discretion. Becky--good for you, so did I. Christine--I have no doubt the show is all that you say but yes, what they are doing is horrifying esp after they promised the church back in the beg. that they would not do what they just did in the temple episode. It would be akin to digging up an Indian cemetary etc.

March 25, 2009 at 9:54 AM

It kind of blows my mind that people believe every extreme thing they hear. Growing up, I vaguely remember random jokes about Mormons and multiple wives, but I didn't believe all Mormons practiced polygamy for a second. I just assumed it was an ancient practice or totally false. Possibly because I knew Mormons and they didn't have hidden extra wives (that I know of) - that part was a joke...

I suppose it's like anything else, where ignorance is the culprit. Mr R. was apparently very ignorant. And you rocked the explanation :)

March 25, 2009 at 9:55 AM

Love the one-two punch comment. That's the way I feel about me and my guy. What a blessing. And you guys standing up to your teacher... so cool. I am proud of you for your courage. Way to go!

We are a peculiar people, and part of that deal is a general misunderstanding of us and our history. I'll still take it!

March 25, 2009 at 10:11 AM

Good for you for standing up for what you believed! And what a great example of how one person can make a difference--and make the way easier for those who follow. Great post.

One little item though . . .were you really holding hands with your future spouse when you had an "official" boyfriend at another school? Heidi!! :-)

I especially loved the end of your post though, about you and your husband (obviously meant to be) making a great one-two punch. How sweet is that!

March 25, 2009 at 10:13 AM

Lara--yeah, I have fantasies of him telling his dad about it all and his dad freaking out b/c he worked w/my dad and knew what an idiot Mr. R made of himself. I'm evil that way. Heather--I think most people have the common sense you do. I am still pretty floored by the ignorance of that one teacher. Kazzy---being a peculiar Mormon certainly made it easier to have such a peculiar son, that's for sure! Joy--that last part is The Spouse's fave part of the post, too. :) And, yes, we really did hold hands. What can I say? It was true love. (I did finally break up with my boyfriend. It was all pretty scandalous in the world of chaste and virtuous Mormon teens. In fact, our adult leaders in YM/YW and seminary were all rooting for The Spouse and practically taking bets.)

March 25, 2009 at 10:34 AM

Great post, and I'm so glad you had the courage to raise your hand high in that class. It's amazing how some of these people get to be teachers, isn't it?! Have you read Jon Kraukuer's Under the Banner of Heaven? It's about split-off groups from your church that still practice polygamy. He's a great author - I also love his adventure stories about Alaska and Mt. Everest - I also have one of his photo books on Iceland.

March 25, 2009 at 11:16 AM

Seriously, you totally ROCK! I had an economics teacher that was totally anti-mormon. It was hilarious for me to be in his class. Don't ask me how the subject of religion came up in an econ class, couldn't tell ya, but it did. I wasn't as eloquent or cool as you, but I totally rocked the house when he bashed my religion!

Oh, and why were you holding hands with future spouse when you had a boyfriend at another school?

March 25, 2009 at 11:17 AM

LOVED this post Heidi! You're amazing! I don't get why polygamy is what every person thinks of about Mormons. I don't even think most Mormons know the facts about polygamy, its so not focused on. :)

March 25, 2009 at 11:50 AM


March 25, 2009 at 12:08 PM

"Mormons are as much akin to Fundamentalist Mormons as Root Beer is to a can of Coor’s." And this is why I ADORE you!

Unfortunately my AP US History teacher was dead on right about the Mormon Meadow Massacre. As much as anyone could be at that time anyway. I wish she'd gone off on something defensible. Although to her credit she was pretty even handed about it. She was a pretty fair lady which is probably why she also didn't go spouting garbage about polygamy.

March 25, 2009 at 12:08 PM

Christy, no, I haven't read much lately--I've had kids a whole lot longer than you which could explain it. :) Julie--it was true love! I have no other defense. Melinda--I suspect you are right. Kim--thanks! Jami--thank goodness he didn't talk about the MMM--I knew nothing about it at the time. It isn't something that generally comes up at the dinner table. Funny thing is, very little does. I don't think my dad, who worked with Mr. Rs father--all employed in the same school district, by the way--ever knew anything about this incident.

March 25, 2009 at 12:14 PM

Jami--oh, and thanks for the adoration! I love any analogy that allows me to use the root beer/beer thing--I have always been fascinated by that. And the tea thing--herbal infusions and black tea--why are they both called tea? It boggles the mind.

March 25, 2009 at 12:15 PM

You know, this is a powerful example of how sometimes what you do doesn't get the desired response or effect until much later. If your husband hadn't been a year behind you, you would have never known the impact your words had on your teacher. You would have thought that your courage had fallen on deaf ears. I wonder how often this happens and we don't realize it because we don't have someone bringing up the rear like you did. Gives me pause to think...


March 25, 2009 at 12:29 PM

Good point, Cindy. It gives me pause to think too.

March 25, 2009 at 12:32 PM

You are like a star shining brightly! Shining for the whole world to see!

I loved the one-two punch as well! I loved the whole ending of this post. It's punchy (pun intended,) spunky, and fun. The whole flavor of the post is delish!

And if it makes you feel better, I totally "held hands" with The General in HS when I had another boyfriend. It was true love for sure!

March 25, 2009 at 12:49 PM

I am so glad there are people out there like you who are not at all afraid to say what they think, even if it might "look bad" to some people around them. Good for you!!

March 25, 2009 at 12:53 PM

I love it when people stand up for what they believe. Even if I don't agree. Just stand for SOMETHING.
This is an especially great story because I DO agree with you in full.

Have you always been like that?

March 25, 2009 at 1:03 PM

You go, girl!

March 25, 2009 at 1:13 PM

Heidi, I like you so much more now. =) Not that I didn't before, just that you are on the rockin' list now. Hee hee.

I wish people would find out the truth before they put their false ideas out there. CTR people!

March 25, 2009 at 1:22 PM

Cindy--what a wonderful thought! And, yes, I believe that very often we truly have no idea the good we do in this life (and sometimes the bad). Laura--The Spouse and I were Star teachers in primary early in our marriage. I think that song is imprinted on my brain! And it's good to know you are the same kind of sinner as me! Woo hoo! Erin--thanks. Unfortunately I have been a thorn in my twin sister's side our whole lives b/c of my penchant for speaking my mind (have I mentioned that Miss D is somewhat, yet unintentionally, autobiographical?)Randi--yep. Pretty much. However, I am a bit more discreet than I used to be. Also, my delivery and timing is generally better than it was when I was a kid. It's a good thing.

March 25, 2009 at 1:38 PM

Melanie--you bet! Scarlet--you make me laugh! Out here in California we don't say things like that but it's adorable and I'm so going to use it (you know, say C.T.R. as initials instead of "choose the right".)

March 25, 2009 at 1:39 PM

I'm impressed.. way 2 light a candle.

How nice to have a happy ending! Awesome is as Awesome does :-)

March 25, 2009 at 1:57 PM

You're still a candle; it's marvelous. Fun post!

Ahh, Angel Flights: a sure sign of the coming Apocalypse....

March 25, 2009 at 3:29 PM

I love your frickin candle! I have my own candle that gets me into trouble because it shines so brightly on some topics. We live by the FLDS, and I had to walk away from a cart full of groceries when we first moved here because I was going to give the husband my piece of mind about his pregnant teenage/child wife. My hubby saw the look on my face and quickly whisked me away. I cope better now, but, there are days that it's better that I don't go shopping.

March 25, 2009 at 9:00 PM

Since my dark corners had already been lit on that was GREAT to read how you handled it in a class...

What I don't understand is why someone WOULDN'T want to correct a teacher who was teaching ignorant minds?

I would have done the same as you...but probably not as well!

March 25, 2009 at 9:27 PM

I agree with everyone else, great story, way to let your light shine. And I didn't realize you had known the spouse that long.

March 25, 2009 at 11:37 PM

THIS is why we love you Heidi :)

I love the "one two punch" - you make a great team!!!

I only got to be a Cali. girl for a short time (birth to one, and then 19-20) so I'm not sure I can claim too much of the Cali attitude in my own teacher confrontations - I'm afraid it was probably just downright stubborn self!

March 26, 2009 at 7:18 AM

Smart--thanks for your comment! Comment again! Luisa--bwaahaahaaaa! April--that would be a hard one, that's for sure! Shelle--yeah, don't know why all of my LDS friends and sister didn't want to say anything. Being a teenager is hard. Pat--yes, The Spouse and I have known each other since we were 15 or so, dating since we were 17 with a brief interlude for his mission to Mexico. We are 44 and have been together for 27 years (the guy I dated whilst he was on his mission doesn't count).

March 26, 2009 at 7:24 AM

T---growing up Mormon in California can def affect a person but in all sorts of different ways, I suppose. Thanks for the love!

March 26, 2009 at 8:21 AM

Wow! I grew up in Utah, back then you were either a member or non-member (looooooong time ago) hehe

I was and still am a non-member (shuuush) but I always wanted to grow up and be a polygamist

Can you imagine being married to 3 men? Holy cannoli's what a dream, I could have tormented all of them at once. A dream come true!

Sorry dear I have a headache! LOL

March 26, 2009 at 10:08 AM

Funky--that totally reminds me, we just dvr'd Paint Your Wagon and we need to watch that. I have a thing for the young Clint. He's like Hugh Jackman but with a better nose.

March 26, 2009 at 10:13 AM

Great story. Glad it wasn't me, because I would have been the people slouching in their seat trying to hide. Still am a bit of a wimp that way.

March 26, 2009 at 10:41 AM

Eowyn, I think most people know better than to stir up trouble. Many of my stories of being a "candle" don't have such happy endings, much to my sorrow.

March 26, 2009 at 10:44 AM

Way to speak up! I'm not sure I would have had the courage - especially on such a controversial topic. But I hope I would have.

I believe that the best way to chase away the darkness of lies is to float the earth with pure and true light. We don't have to backlash about Big Love or any other misrepresentation. We can simply share the truth in pureness and simplicity.

That will do more than all the backlash we can bring about.

- Chas

April 2, 2009 at 4:03 PM

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