Washed by a Wave of Wind
M. Shayne Bell, editor
Outside the Tabernacle
B. J. Fogg
[p.42]Every six months Zo reluctantly gathered with the faithful. Salt Lake City. Temple Square. The Mormon Tabernacle. Zo pressed shoulders with the devout to hear words from living prophets.
General conference was a tradition for Mormons. And for Zo’s relatives. Every April and October his family tree transplanted to Temple Square for the weekend. His ancestors had always done the same—except they congregated in fields to hear Joseph Smith prophesy; later they stopped beside their handcarts to learn Brigham Young’s plan for taming the west. A long heritage. When it came to Mormons, Zo’s blood ran the deepest blue.
“It’s just not right that we should have to wait in line like this,” his grandmother said. She held her purse close to her chest and shook her head. “Like we’re some sort of cattle.”
Zo had waited in line for over an hour with Zinnie, his grandmother. The line filed slowly into the Tabernacle, past the ushers at door #22, for the final session of general conference.
“Are you cold?” Zo said. He put his arm around Zinnie and squeezed. An early October chill had settled into the Salt Lake Valley.
“No.” Zinnie said. “I’d just like a place to sit—a place close to where Grandfather Richards once sat.”
When Zo first moved into Zinnie’s house four months ago, he wasn’t [p.43] sure how long it would last: a Mormon gypsy living with his pioneer grandmother.
Two of his cousins had tried living with Zinnie before. Both set-ups were disasters. Zinnie always fretted about them, as if they were children, even though one was twenty-four and had preached two years in Panama. Zinnie couldn’t handle his late hours. He soon moved out.
When Zo’s other cousin needed a place to stay, Zinnie had no real choice. His cousin had no other place to go except her boyfriend’s house. It was disaster either way: live with Zinnie and drive her crazy, or live with her boyfriend and get pregnant. Zinnie absorbed the shock, softened the blow with the resilience that was in her pioneer blood. But Zinnie quickly found her grand-daughter a cheap apartment nearby.
So when Zo told Zinnie that his marriage was ending soon and he would need a place to stay, he was surprised when she agreed. Not readily, of course. But she did agree. And that was something indeed. The next Tuesday he got a package in the mail. A fat letter written in script that looked as if it came straight from the grade school handwriting books. It was Zinnie’s hand. Zo knew that. And it was Zinnie’s long list of house rules. Something Zo probably should have guessed.
Zo had spent the better part of the last year getting in and out of temporal marriages. The Brethren had recently authorized this new arrangement: “temporal marriages.” Mormon men over thirty-five could now wed Mormon women over thirty for a three-month trial period. This new marriage carried all the respectability of regular “eternal marriages,” the traditional Mormon wedding that would last not just for this life but through all eternity. Eternal marriage: mind-boggling, yes. But also daunting to Zo and many of his generation, so at a recent conference in Salt Lake City the Brethren announced the time had come to “Strengthen the Homefront,” starting with the temporal marriage covenant. And like frequent flier miles, it had a neat twist: after three months couples could upgrade their temporal marriages to eternal ones, if they so desired.
This focus on marriage was not without precedent. Fifteen years earlier, just as Zo entered his marriageable Mormon prime, the prophet issued all single brethren a new commandment: “Rise from the dust and be men.” Some of Zo’s buddies got engaged that very night. But many of them, like Zo, sank even deeper in the dust—eternal bachelors, destined never to reach the highest level of heaven.
The intent of the most recent announcement was of course clear to [p.44]Zo: You’ve got no excuse now, so get married—and soon. Although most Americans lived with loose—if any—family ties, when a Mormon wasn’t bound into a mom-and-pop household, church leaders didn’t know what to do. And too many stray cats were wandering away, especially the unattached males.
Newspapers across the country gave the announcement little press, saying the Mormons were finally giving in to what most Americans had been doing for years: living together. But to the Mormons and Zo’s family, temporal marriage was a big revelation. A sign of the last days. Zo thought it wonderful-and certainly no stranger than the polygamous marriages of his Mormon ancestors.
For some reason Zo and Grandma Zinnie hit it off. He always knew he was her favorite grandchild. And keeping Zinnie company while they waited in line for general conference seemed natural, except for one thing: usually Zo and his relatives were escorted effortlessly into the Tabernacle. Door #4 would open, the usher would scan their passes, discover their heritage, and they’d be in. No waiting. But that day Mormon leaders from around the world filled the main floor of the Tabernacle; they were special guests of the Twelve Apostles. A month before, a letter from church headquarters apologized to Zo’s family for any inconvenience this might cause.
Of course, Zinnie had the option of watching conference at home, like most Mormons do. The church satellite beamed the sermons into living rooms around the world. But Zinnie wanted to come in person, she said: “Tradition.”
“Ritual,” Zo thought. General conference was always the same thing: Men in white shirts and blue suits; women in dresses and heels. Children looking like advertisements for Easter shopping sprees. Even the music from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, warm-up hymns no doubt, seemed another rerun. Soft tones from the pipe organ wafted as subtly as mist through the crowd. Everyone was getting ready for the Sunday afternoon meeting of general conference, the culminating session, a kind of Mormon celebration. Most of the faithful had settled down onto blankets. Scattered like confetti across Temple Square lawns, the blankets might have passed for a communal picnic.
In the past Zo had done the blanket thing with girlfriends he hoped to impress. While outside he never heard much of the sermons—there was too much life going on around him—but once, when sitting on the [p.45]lawn, he almost got his picture in the official church magazine. Unfortunately, Zo got cropped out, although his friend (who was sitting next to Zo and his girlfriend at the time) appeared in the next issue. His friend looked thoughtful. Transcendent even. And it wasn’t the first time a church videographer had caught Zo’s friend transcending. Zo knew that the lawn outside the Tabernacle had its advantages.
But waiting in line wasn’t one of them. All of Zinnie’s descendants—Zo’s family, his cousins and aunts and uncles—had arrived much earlier on Temple Square. They were already inside the Tabernacle. Zo agreed to bring Zinnie later, as soon as she woke up from her nap. Now standing forty yards back in line with three minutes till broadcast time, Zo doubted they’d make it inside. But he didn’t say anything.
“Since I was twelve,” Zinnie said, “I’ve never missed a session.”
“Really?” Zo said, though he already knew. Zinnie had made this announcement at the start of every session for as long as he could remember. He knew what would follow: Zinnie’s story about meeting the prophet Lorenzo Snow, the inspiration for Zo’s first name—Lorenzo—a name he found remarkably old-fashioned.
“That’s right.” Zinnie opened her purse and fished around. “Ever since that morning Grandfather Richards took me inside and introduced me to the prophet. I wore a pink bow in my hair—still have it, I do—and the prophet said I was as lovely as a spring morning.” Zinnie wiped her glasses with a Kleenex.
When Zo first moved into Zinnie’s house, she escorted him down the stairs to her basement, which was carpeted but always colder than upstairs. Zinnie held her arm out as she gave Zo the grand tour. His bedroom. His bed. A place in the closet for his clothes. His bathroom. Fresh towels there. Zo almost laughed at Zinnie’s formality. He’d been coming to Utah and spending vacations in Zinnie’s Farmington basement since he was a child. But those were short visits with marked departures. This time Zo didn’t know when he would leave.
Zo soon realized that Grandma Zinnie had prepared herself for his arrival. On his first visit to the bathroom, he found a note posted above the toilet: “The toilet is to be flushed after each usage.” It was Zinnie’s handwriting in red ink on a torn strip of binder paper, something like a message from a school teacher. Under the lid he found another note, taped securely: “One should close the lid upon finishing.” After a brief search he decided that Zinnie had attached marginalia to every corner [p.46]of her house. And of course it was for Zo. To stop him from every possible breach of etiquette or lapse of gentility. He would later find her notes on the TV remote control, on the phone directory, in her freezer. And he obeyed them.
Since living at Zinnie’s, Zo had met many eligible sisters in the Farmington congregation. Mainly school teachers and secretaries. But Claudine caught his eye the third Sunday in church. She sat alone in the pew on the far west wall of the chapel. Her face followed the words of the speaker so vigorously that Zo thought her eyes alone could interpret for the deaf.
But in retrospect Zo had to admit it was more than Claudine’s intensity that fascinated him. It was her look. Zo couldn’t place her. Ethnically speaking, that is. Was she black or Polynesian or Latin? Perhaps Southeast Asian? Zo couldn’t tell. And he didn’t really care either. A few weeks later, Zo and Claudine began talking temporal marriage, but they found one major problem: equity. Although Claudine had a job, neither Zo nor Claudine had a home.
The prelude music from the Tabernacle stopped. The ushers began to close each door, apologizing to those still in line. The people in front of Zinnie wandered away slowly, but she still hadn’t noticed.
“Zinnie,” Zo said. “Let’s go watch conference in the Visitor’s Center. It’s really comfortable in there.” Quite frankly Zo would rather watch conference from those plush seats. It was like an upscale movie theater.
“Visitor’s Center? I’m not a visitor here. I’m Zina Richards Pratt. Who could ever mistake me for a visitor?” At that moment Zinnie finally noticed the line was gone. She marched up to the usher outside door #22.
“I’m sorry, sister,” the usher said, his arms moving out from his sides, his palms up. “The Tabernacle is full. You can view conference in the Assembly Hall or the Vis—”
“Why should I go anywhere else?” Zinnie said. She took her pedigree pass from her purse and held it out to him. Zo had a similar pass in his wallet; it verified his genealogy. “I would like to enter,” she said.
“Sister Pratt,” he said, reading her name. “Please.” He shrugged his shoulders, placed one finger over his lips, and bowed his head for the opening prayer. Loudspeakers broadcast a deep voice throughout Temple Square like the voice of God.
[p.47]Zo closed his eyes. When he said amen, Zinnie was gone.
Claudine would be Zo’s third attempt at marriage. When the Brethren announced the temporal marriage policy, Zo took advantage. Twice. Both ended quickly. At least they were convenient, Zo thought. The women he had married were both professionals. They had their own money and their own apartments. Zo had neither.
Zo’s big draw was his marital status: single. Unattached Mormon males were at a premium. That’s how he hooked into his first spiritual partner, Tooley. She was surplus. Bright, beautiful, wealthy—but surplus just the same. Tooley grew up in New England. Schooled in Boston. But because Mormons were scarce in the east, she rarely met Mormon men. And she was determined to hold out for the eternal partner, that “one-and-only” her girlhood Sunday school teachers had talked so much about. He would come … some day. They promised. So Tooley turned down date after date from the gentile men around her, and she waited.
During those quiet evenings and long nights, Tooley tapped into her creative mother lode: designing trinkets to hide in breakfast-cereal boxes. She later confided to Zo that her talent for conceiving just the right cereal-box surprise was not a talent at all—it was a spiritual gift.
The gadgetry she invented—high tech but low budget—was nothing short of revelation. Kellogg’s was her first major account; their sales skyrocketed. Then it was Nabisco. Soon enough every cereal maker in America was wining and dining her. But no men.
Then Zo came along.
He’d just finished a hot-air balloon safari through the last of the Kenyan game preserves when he opted for a layover at JFK on his way back to Utah. A two-day layover, time to rediscover the city. That Sunday morning in New York, Zo gathered with the Mormons in Manhattan. Tooley sat next to Zo, quite by accident; she shared her hymnal with him, quite on purpose. She smiled. Took Zo home. Fed him. Gave him her razor to shave with. She pressed a seam into all his jeans before he could say good-bye.
After a week in Utah, Zo returned to New York. To Tooley of course. The bishop there authorized the temporal marriage. Zo wed Tooley in the temple and moved into her apartment. The whole thing was fast, but no one objected—not Zo’s parents, not his home-congregation bishop.
[p.48]Zo was after all thirty-seven years old. And the marriage arrangement was after all only temporary.
Zo found Grandma Zinnie leaning against the cement wall that separates the temple from the Tabernacle. She was looking at the temple spires. She stared as if she were some bird of prey and the temple were a mouse she would soon pounce on. Zo stood behind her and looked up too. The temple spires cut sharply into the pale autumn sky, and Zo remembered his heritage.
Sort of. All those Sunday school lessons on temple history and Zo still wasn’t sure he had it right. He remembered that they spent forty years building the Salt Lake temple. (Yes, that’s right, he thought: forty years.) And not only did his ancestors donate time and skills, but at one point Brigham Young asked everyone to donate their china plates. (Now was it Brigham and Salt Lake? Or was it Joseph Smith and Nauvoo?)
Zo’s ancestors had cradled their china so carefully over the ocean and across the plains. But at Brigham’s request (maybe it was Joseph) the early Saints sacrificed their only indulgence. The workmen crushed the china plates to make a coating for the temple walls- a prophet’s plan to make the temple sparkle. (If it was indeed this temple, Zo thought, the coating must have fallen off.)
Zinnie took Zo by the arm, and she began to walk. She led Zo the length of the temple wall. She never looked down until they reached the gate.
“I’m going to Crossroads,” she said, now looking at the shopping mall across the street.
“But it’s Sunday,” Zo said.
“I’m sure the mall’s open just the same.”
She was right. Though Salt Lake was a city full of Mormons—people admonished not to shop on the Sabbath—Crossroads Mall never rested.
Zo barely made it to the three-month mark with Tooley. He knew that now, but at the time he really thought his temporal marriage would become eternal. Sex was always good and they were friends—Zo thought. Tooley didn’t seem to mind the fact that Zo didn’t work or that he’d spend each day “exploring the city,” as he called it.
The problem appeared much sillier: Zo was deep into his leg-weight phase. Zo’s ancestors had given him their skinny-leg genes, and he was determined to beef those bony legs up. So he vowed to wear leg weights [p.49]constantly for six months. He wore them on safari, to church the first time in Manhattan, to his wedding. And- yes-when Zo and Tooley lost their virginity together, Zo was wearing those leg weights, Velcroed loosely around his ankles.
He finally took the weights off two months later, the night Tooley cried quietly on the phone in the kitchen while talking to her mother. “Whatever,” Zo said over and over as he took the weights off. “Whatever,” he said as he floated around the apartment to Tooley’s weeping, his legs buoyant like buoys. (And no, he hadn’t gained a pound from all this. Just a rash.)
Despite Zo’s willingness to compromise, Tooley filed for temporal separation at three months. The Brethren granted it.
“Two tickets, please,” Zinnie said, sliding a twenty through the hole in the box office window.
Zo had never been to a movie before on a Sunday. He wasn’t even sure what movie was showing. Zo looked at the marquis: Forgotten Frontier. Never heard of it. So many movies now with desktop video. Everyone was a film producer.
“What do you know about this flick?” Zo asked Zinnie.
“Nothing,” she said taking the tickets. She handed one to Zo.
He knew the tables were turning. Zo once took Zinnie to a movie when he was seventeen: Out of Africa. Zo’s brother went along, and so did a single date-for both brothers. One girl, one grandmother, and two brothers. To be even weirder, Zo and his brother kept switching seats after frequent trips to the lobby. By the end of the night, their date was visibly confused about who she was dating. She sat with her arms folded, eyes straight ahead, not responding to their comments. Zinnie thought her grandkids brutes, but she finally agreed to escort the date to her front door, while the brothers busted up in the front seat.
“You want popcorn?” Zo said to Zinnie.
“Popcorn? Yes, I love popcorn,” she said. “And a Coke Supreme.”
Zo spent the next ninety minutes coaching Zinnie on the movie’s features: decision trees and role-playing options. All new to her. She hadn’t been to a theater in nearly ten years.
When Zo and Zinnie returned to Temple Square, the Tabernacle Choir was singing. Zo hoped it was the closing hymn, because he wasn’t in the mood for preaching. The movie was silly and downright bawdy [p.50]in parts. Zinnie surprised Zo by choosing the raciest plots and laughing a lot. Loud. Zo laughed at her laughing.
“Let’s wait by the flagpole,” Zo said. Another tradition: his family gathered by the flagpole at the end of each session. There Zo would see family and friends and a lot of familiar faces—not that he knew everyone by name, but he always found the same people at the flagpole; another crowd at the fountain; others on the north side of the tabernacle. Zo realized that the bi·yearly rhythm of conference weekend marked the passages in his life, perhaps more clearly than Christmas or Easter. Everything happened either before or after General Conference.
“I hope they don’t ask what we thought of any of the sermons,” Zo said.
“Just say they were wonderful,” Zinnie said, smiling. “They always have been in the past.”
With his toe Zo began tracing the map etched into the concrete patio. The world. The flagpole emerged from the top of the world. Zo knew Zinnie was watching him, so he took grand-daddy steps from one continent to the other, just as if he were playing “Mother-May-I?”
Zinnie smiled again: Yes, you may. That smile: eerie, haunting. Too much like the look Zo’s second wife gave him the Saturday he left her. That morning Zo simply waved good-bye to Margo and got in the pick-up truck. But before Zo shut the door, he was back out again. He walked slowly to Margo, who leaned against the patio railing, looking like someone out of a mail-order catalog. Without looking her in the face, Zo wrapped his arms around her and kissed her on the forehead. Chastely. As an apology. Or an affirmation. Or a thank you. Or maybe it was all those things. And perhaps none. Margo then gave him that smile, and Zo walked back to the truck and drove away. All this without saying a word. That was the end of temporal marriage number two.
For Zinnie’s amusement Zo began hopping from one concrete country to the other, as if he were in a sack race, somehow hoping to overwhelm her with his buffoonery. That was when Zo heard his mother’s voice.
“Oh, Zinnie!” Zo’s mother said, trotting in high heels toward the flagpole. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Yes, it was wonderful,” Zinnie said.
Zo’s mother hugged Zinnie and kissed her on the cheek. “We’ll do everything we can to help get you ready. We’ll have to figure out a wardrobe and then pack the house up …”
[p. 51]Zinnie gave Zo a puzzled look over his mother’s shoulder. Zo shrugged slightly.
His father arrived with Zo’s uncle. They both hugged Zinnie. “We’re right behind you, Ma,” his dad said.
“Our Zinnie—a temple missionary,” his mother said, clasping her hands. Zinnie looked to Zo for help. Neither knew about any temple missions.
“You know, Mom,” Zo said. “I didn’t quite get what—uh—Elder What’s-his-name said. We ended up the in Visitor’s Center and could hardly hear a word.”
“Well, the Brethren have called all members over the age of seventy to serve full-time temple missions,” she said. “That means they’ll call Zinnie to serve in one of the temples, and she’ll live right on the temple grounds.”
“For how long?” Zo said. He knew that church members had microfilmed all the available genealogy in the world, that computers had sketched out the family tree of humanity, and that technology could not solve their biggest bottleneck: Real-live, flesh-and-blood people had to perform the vicarious ordinances in the temple. Most Mormons were just too busy to sit through the long temple sessions very often.
“Zinnie will spend the rest of her life there-on holy ground,” his mother said, her eyes rolled upward to the lighted temple spires.
“That’s wonderful,” Zinnie said with a quiver. Her hands fluttered about her face, latched onto her glasses, then brushed the sides of her hairdo. She finally clutched her purse to her chest. “That’s just wonderful,” Zinnie whispered, shaking her head.
While moving Zinnie to the Idaho Falls temple the next November, Zo would pack up her belongings carefully and snugly. The Brethren allowed each temple missionary to arrive with a small U-Haul of possessions. No more. So most of Zinnie’s things would stay with the house. And Zo would be the guardian.
It would be Zo’s house now, a place for him and Claudine to begin his third temporal marriage. Together they would take down the oil paintings and replace them with framed prints. They’d change the blinds to curtains. They’d reset Zinnie’s local TV channels to satellite stations from around the world.
But Zo knew that the house wouldn’t really be their home until he had detached and discarded every last note Zinnie wrote in red ink on [p.52]binder paper. For weeks they’d find notes everywhere—in the pantry, on the broom handle, on the dryer door, in the fuse box. They’d trash all of these. And then one day, after two years of living with Claudine, Zo would find the very last note, nailed behind the shed door: “Wash hands after being outside.” Zo would smile as he removed the paper carefully, folded it, and slipped it into his breast pocket. This would be the only note Zo would save.