Diane and the Desert: Part 1 – Impressions

My cousin Dawnie made this picture of my step-mother, Diane.

I’ve been in the desert – both literally and metaphorically. Almost two weeks ago, my stepmom, Diane, was diagnosed with cancer in her spine. She passed away last Sunday from complications of that cancer. It hit hard and fast. Cancer fucking sucks.

Diane and my dad have been together since I was a kid. It is hard to remember a time when she wasn’t a second mother to me. She was utterly and completely amazing. She was an eternal hippie – quirky and strange and friendly. She made friends with everybody she met. She never said an unkind word about anyone, ever. She loved tie-dye and frogs and dragons and rocks and crystals. I cannot even begin to do her justice because it’s all just raw emotion and unprocessed grief. But she taught me two great truths. The first is that you should never be afraid to be yourself. Even if that means being sixty and sleeping in a wrought iron spiderweb bed with crystals and frogs hanging from your ceiling. Or being a history nerd with a potty mouth and a blog. Because the first step to being happy is owning who you are. And the second truth is that it’s almost always better to be kind than to be right, better to be compassionate than to be smart, better to give a hug than an attitude. I still struggle with that one, but that’s OK because I’m a work in progress. And because of the first one. Because I’m happy with myself.

Graduation, 2012. She was so proud that I went to college.

When I found out that she was dying, like soon, I rushed home and threw everything in the car knowing that I wouldn’t make the sevenish hour drive to Reno in time. My dad called with the news that she had passed as I was pulling out of my driveway. I don’t know if he needed me, but I needed him. So the three kids and I made the long journey up through the desert.

With the DivaTeen and Middle Little plugged into electronics, and Doodle-Dude sleeping most of the way, I had plenty of time to think as I was driving. When you’re grieving, when it is still raw and fresh and festering, that’s maybe not the best thing. Especially with the long stretches of nothing but unending desert and unyielding sun. I’ll spare you the details, but it went something like this: drive forever – oh look, a cactus – drive a little more – pull over and cry – continue driving – that whorehouse sells hot sauce – drive until you’re pretty sure you’re halfway to hell – cry some more. And so on, ad infinitum.  And as I drove, I thought about all the things we had done together, and I replayed all of the stories (like the time I mistook her for a Sasquatch), until somehow those stories, and the desert, and she and I and everything became linked.

And it made perfect sense. Because she was like that, you know? A breath of fresh air. Like the world’s biggest firecracker or roadside stand that sells desert honey and gemstones. You’d be going on in your normal everyday life and she’d show up in a flash of tie-dye with a smile and mismatched earrings and constantly open arms, without judgement or expectations. And then she would leave, and it was back to the desert, but with a smile on your face and an excitement and anticipation for whatever might come your way next. She was just like that. And I’m never going to make that drive again without thinking of her.

Only seven and a half hours, but this trip was too big – she was too big – for the story to be told in just one post. So I’m going to do it in three.

Diane and the Desert: Part 1 – Impressions

Diane and the Desert: Part 2 – Goldfield and Cool Shiny Stuff

Diane and the Desert: Part 3 – Hawthorne and Ozymandias

I will link the other posts when I get them up. Give me some time. It’s a process. For now, I’m going to leave you with some impressions of random things that I saw that reminded me of her because they flashed across my dashboard and made me smile. In no particular order, and sometimes for no reason at all. I know it’s not a proper memorial, but idgaf. I hope you enjoy.

This is the Area 51 Alien Center souvenir shop. It is right next to the Area 51 Alien Cathouse and is located about an hour and a half from my house. Last time my parents went through the area, they stopped here for some trinkets. They were offered a free tour through the brothel. My dad said that they weren’t giving free samples, so he turned down the tour. I didn’t ask what he thought free samples from a brothel would be like. Because he is my dad and that’s icky. While this place is not really close to Area 51, it does border the Nevada Test and Training Range (so does most of southern Nevada), so I’m sure there’s probably Super-Secret Military Stuff and Other Things ™ going on nearby.

Next to the Alien Travel Center and Brothel is the “World’s Largest Firecracker” Because why the hell not?

Fallon, Nevada is a smallish town about an hour Southeast of Reno, which houses a Naval base. Now, that might seem a bit strange considering, you know, it’s in the middle of the freaking desert. However, Naval Air Station Fallon is home to the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center a.k.a. TOPGUN. And also a lot of meth, if the sign above is any indication. I know it’s a bit blurry, but it reads: “METH has become a Nevada Epidemic. Don’t let this POISON destroy your life!” It’s a far cry from 160 years ago when clean clothing, not meth, infiltrated the area. Informally called “Ragtown” for the laundry scattered along the banks of the Carson River drying in the sun, this was the first water stop for wagon trains after crossing the 40 Mile Desert to the North. If they made it to Ragtown they were home free. Well, except for that little mountain range to the West and a little thing called Donner Pass. But that’s nothing to worry about, right?

Tonopah was a lovely place, I’m sure. We didn’t stay for very long. But if you’re ever in the area, maybe you could get a room at this Clown Motel. It looks like they have great rates. The nightmares are free.

Tonopah was also home to Stalking Cat (birth name Dennis Avner) who lived there from 2007 until his death in 2012.

Not far East of Hawthorne, NV is a teeny tiny little town called Mina. At first glance, Mina seems to be a ghost town, but there are actually 197 people who live there. Some of them, I assume, work at this place…
You can tell that the Wild Cat Brothel is a classy place because of the Greek columns set up around the perimeter of the double-wide. Now, I didn’t take this picture because I didn’t want to explain to my kids why I stopped at a brothel. So I got this from their website www.wildcatbrothel.com. Go ahead and click the link. You know you want to. And don’t let the double-wide and chintzy twinkle lights fool you. That shit ain’t cheap.

I have so much more to show you and so many more memories to share. But I don’t think I can handle any more right now. I hope to post part two in a couple of days. Until then, take care of yourselves. Hug someone you love. Embrace your weirdness. That’s what she would have wanted.

To go to the second part of this series, click here Diane and the Desert: Part 2 – Goldfield and Cool Shiny Stuff.

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Top Ten Movies (And Other Things) That Are In Some Way Having Something To Do With History (Probably)

I was going to talk about the New Deal and cook something for y’all, but that will have to wait until tomorrowish.  Because I ordered a pizza and made brownies and couldn’t figure out how the hell to connect pizza and brownies to the New Deal.  So I’m going to tell you my top ten movies/documentaries/shows that have something to do with history.

 But first, I got this book in the mail today.  Are you jelly?  I’ll tell you about it after I read it.  Or if it is boring I probably won’t.

Also, what do you all think about the whole Rachel Dolezal pretending to be black thing?  I thought about working up a post about cultural appropriation.  Then I thought about maybe writing about the history of blackface.  Then I thought I should write about how pre-civil rights black Americans sometimes “passed” as white.  But then I realized that this whole thing is way too WTF for me.  And now I have this strange urge to watch Soul Man again.  Except that we’re going to watch Ghostbusters instead.

Anyway, I’m one of those people that nobody wants to watch history movies with because I will pause the movie every five seconds and tell you what really happened.  Apparently being a pompous twit is frowned upon in some social circles.  I actually don’t like most movies set in the past because the inaccuracies irritate me to no end. Most of the movies on this list probably aren’t too historically accurate, but they usually have some other redeeming quality.  Or I possibly have strange tastes.  You decide.

10. Lincoln

(c) 2012 Dreamworks

I read Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin, which this movie was based on. I have to tell you a secret. I don’t really like Lincoln. I think he’s overrated. I feel the same way about JFK (but I heart me some Robert Kennedy). But the movie is worth watching just for Tommy Lee Jones’ awesomesauce performance as Thaddeus Stevens. Also, Daniel Day-Lewis is always amazing.

9. The Duchess

 Do you see the tagline on the movie poster? – “Based On The Incredible True Story”.  It is lies.  Lies, I tell you.  This movie is actually borderline horrible.  But Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire is one of my most favorite historical figures, so I had to include it.  I just love her.  The movie is loosely based on Amanda Foreman’s excellent biography: Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.  There is so much more to her than this movie makes her out to be.

8. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure

(c) 1989 MGM Studios

In this movie, the Doctor is played by George Carlin, and he takes two imbeciles back in time in the T.A.R.D.I.S. in order for them to learn enough history to pass their final report so that one of them doesn’t become a cyberman and the band Wyld Stallyns can live on.  I think I might have got that a little mixed up, but that’s the gist of it.  They should have just paid Margaret Nordquist two dollars to tell them about it like I did when I needed to know what A Tale of Two Cities was about so I could pass English.  But maybe they didn’t know her.  Then again, if I had a T.A.R.D.I.S., I could have probably gone back in time and just asked Dickens what the hell he was talking about and then spent the two dollars on cigarettes.  At any rate, Keanu Reeves says “Woah” a lot, so the movie is worth watching.

7. Caligula

This is basically a porno. Seriously. It was produced by Penthouse.  It’s a porno written in part by Gore Vidal (he disavowed the heavily edited finished script) and starring Malcolm McDowell, Helen Mirren, and Peter O’Toole. It’s got incest and orgies and madness and murder. And lots and lots of titties. You should probably watch it right now.

6. Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny
This is a TV movie. Alan Rickman plays Rasputin. Need I say more?  I do need to say more?  How about Ian McKellen plays the Tsar.  Boom.

5. Lionheart
 I am pretty sure this movie is about child trafficking during the Crusades. I’m going to level with you guys.  This is an absolutely horrible movie.  Terrible.  But I had the hugest crush on Gabriel Byrne (still do), and I could recite all his lines by heart.  I’m not ashamed.  Mostly.  Plus my brother Jesse and I used to watch this and then go outside and play like we were knights and slave traders with swords and bows made out of sticks and twine.  Yes, we played “child slave traders.”  I was a teenager.  I was a late bloomer.  Don’t hate.

4. Roots
I mean, the book was better.  And shorter.  A lot shorter.  But I kind of think that everybody should either see or read Roots at least once in their lives.  There are so many reasons to watch this miniseries.  1. LeVar Burton.  2. History of slavery.  3. The film as an important contribution to the study of black history during the 70’s.  4. The controversies and lawsuits surrounding the book.  5. There are rumors of a remake in the works.  6. I said so and I know everything.

3. Tombstone
 I’m not really into westerns, but Val Kilmer is totally my huckleberry.  He makes my delicate parts damp.  And Sam Elliot is pretty nice eye candy, too.

2. Outlander
Ok, so this is a TV series based on a novel set in Scotland in the mid-1700’s. So it’s not technically historical. However the husband of the main character (the English husband, not the hot Scottish husband) is a historian.  So it counts.  Because let’s face it, we aren’t hugely represented in popular culture.  Plus Sam Heughan looks amazing in a kilt.  And also naked.  Especially naked.

1. The Times of Harvey Milk

This is a documentary about Harvey Milk.  And it is sosososososososo much better than the movie, Milk.  If you are not moved by this documentary, you might want to see a cardiologist because you probably don’t have a heart.  I cry every time I watch this.  And I’ve seen it a billion times.

Runner up: Soldier’s Girl
This is not so much a runner up as it is that I didn’t really think this list through beforehand and forgot how much I love this movie.  It would probably be in the top five.  Maybe the top three.  It is based in the true story of PFC Barry Winchell, who was repeatedly harassed by his fellow soldiers and ultimately murdered because of his relationship with a trans woman.  Lee Pace plays Calpernia Addams, Winchell’s girlfriend.  This movie also makes me cry every time, and it began my lifelong love of Lee Pace.  It’s a Showtime movie, and the acting is a bit shaky (except for Pace’s freaking amazing performance), but definitely worth the watch.

Well, those are my top ten… err eleven.  There are so many more I could have added.  What did I leave off the list?  What should I have left off the list?  What is in your top ten?  Let me know in the comments!

Post in Which the Vulgar Historian Treads the Treacherous Waters of Pool Politics


Chances are, unless you live under a rock or don’t own a computer, you’ve at least seen a reference to the video of a Texas police officer (with some super-sweet ninja moves) making sure some black teens at a pool party WILL RESPECT HIS AUTHORITAH by throwing one to the ground and waving his gun around at others.  If you haven’t seen the video, you can watch it below.  It’s about six minutes long.

From many accounts, the altercation started when several of the (mostly black) neighborhood kids had a pool party and some of the (white) neighbors began yelling racial slurs at the kids, telling them to go back to Section 8.  I mean, most of them lived there and stuff, but let’s not let facts get in the way of ragehate or anything.  Then one of the women slapped one of the teenagers, a scuffle ensued, and the cops were called.

While watching and reading about all this, I couldn’t help but think about recreation segregation.  Probably because I just finished re-reading Victoria W. Wolcott’s Race, Riots, and Roller Coasters: The Struggle Over Segregated Recreation in America.  It’s a really good book if you are into reading about recreation segregation, which I totally am, but it might be a bit dense for the casual reader. I would wager that most folks who have studied 20th century US history in any kind of depth probably thought about the same thing when watching or reading about what happened in Texas earlier this week.  So I thought it might be an interesting thing to talk about.  Because I do think that what happened in the past affects our attitudes and our behaviors today.  And I think that nothing has just one, and only one, contributing factor. And I really get my rocks off on thinking about all the little things that influence our thoughts and our attitudes and our decisions.

Figure 1: McKinney wasn't the first time a young black person was thrown to the ground because of pool politics.  St. Louis, 1949

Figure 1: McKinney wasn’t the first time a young black person was thrown to the ground because of pool politics.  St. Louis, 1949.

If you don’t really know that much about recreation segregation, Gene Demby wrote a really good article over at NPR called “Who Gets to Hang Out at the Pool?”  You can read it here.  But basically, a lot of the early Civil Rights Movement was focused on Jim Crow laws and voting rights in the south.  But that doesn’t mean that there weren’t completely effed up things happening elsewhere.  In the South, and in the rest of the country, recreation segregation was the norm. And segregated pools were only one kind of recreation segregation.  Amusement parks, roller rinks, dance halls, beaches, and all kinds of other fun things were also segregated.

As Demby points out in his NPR article, swimming pool segregation was pretty much a thing, pretty much everywhere.  Prior to WWII, anybody who wasn’t super-rich used a public pool because nobody had pools in their backyards.  Cleanliness was a huge concern at public pools, and black people were considered by racist fuckheads to be, well, dirty.  And there was this sexual fear of having black men too close to white women, especially in recreation settings which were linked to dating and courtship. So most public pools were whites only.  Even though they were built and maintained by tax money that everybody had to pay.  Black people still had no access to them.  It was a huge struggle to desegregate pools.  And the completely fucked up thing about it is that, after public pools were desegregated, white people stopped using them, and most of them were closed. White folks just moved out to their suburbs and built their own pools, or formed clubs and made their pools “members only,” and black folks were s.o.l.  Again.  And yes, I know I used the f-word twice in one paragraph.  Pool segregation really gets my dander up.

williams

Figure 2. Williams St. YWCA, drawing from dedication program, Portland, OR, 1926,

But wait, there’s more. Pool segregation didn’t just affect whether black people could go swimming or not.  It affected other stuff too.  There are even theories that swimming pool segregation is part of why African-Americans are less likely to learn to swim and more likely to drown. When I was researching my thesis, I found a bunch of old letters and documents from black women in Portland, OR who wanted a YWCA in the early 1900’s.  Back then, the YWCA was segregated, but black women could get permission to form their own YWCA branches.  In 1916, when Beatrice Morrow Cannady, a newspaper editor, lawyer, and all around badass tried to get a “colored branch” started through the Portland YWCA, she was denied in part because they were unwilling to give black members the pool privileges that membership implied(1). At the time YWCA’s were hugely important to black women. Not only did they offer things like job placement, homemaking skills, and social opportunities for women in industrialized cities, but black working women who were new in town used YWCA’s as lodging while they found work. It was totally not respectable for women to stay at boarding-houses or hotels.  So not having a black YWCA was kind of a big deal.  Portland finally did get a black YWCA branch in 1921 and their own building in 1926, but hey still had to share a pool with the main YWCA.  At first, black members were only allowed to use the pool on Saturday nights right before the pool was cleaned.  When they complained, they were allowed to use the pool on Wednesday instead of Saturday night, but then white people stopped using the pool from Thursday – Saturday. So eventually black members lost their pool privileges all together.

Men protesting segregated pools in Pittsburgh, PA in 1949.

Figure 3: Men protesting segregated pools in Pittsburgh, PA in 1949.

At any rate, pool segregation is some heavy shit.  And the ideas behind pool segregation (and recreation segregation, and segregation in general) affect the way that we, as a society, view black people in public places – attitudes like how “they” don’t belong in our neighborhoods, or our pools, or even our streets.  I used to belong to a neighborhood watch facebook page (I got kicked off for not being racist enough) and every other post was about “suspicious” black men or kids doing nothing more suspicious than walking on the dog trail, or talking on their cell phone, or wearing business casual clothes.  I shit you not.  There was a post about a black guy walking down a main road, and how he was sketchy because he was wearing business casual clothing and obviously not out for a jog.

Now, I’m not saying that recreation segregation is what caused the Texas throw down by Officer Douchecanoe. But I do think his actions might have been influenced by ideas he had about race.  And I do think that it is important to examine ourselves and where our attitudes come from.  I will never forget one time when I was a teenager selling tickets for a school play and a group of four black kids came through a side door, walking towards my booth.  I remember being scared that they were gonna take my cash box and run with it.  And I remember in that moment stopping and thinking like – what the hell am I thinking?  I’ve never been robbed.  I’ve never had a bad experience with black kids (or any kids).  Why did I react that way?  Where did that fear come from?  And I felt pretty crappy about it, to be honest with you.  And I think I’m not alone in having those thoughts.  And I don’t think that having those thoughts defines you – I think it’s what you do about it that defines you.

When I see things like a cop kneeing a black teenager in the back or pointing a gun at unarmed boys, I get mad.  And I want to do something about it, but I don’t know what to do.  And that is super-freaking-frustrating.  But there are two really important things I can do about it.  The first is to realize that I don’t know shit.  Or as Ygritte would say, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”  I recently read a blog post by Pastor John Pavlovitz, who writes, “I am the only person about whose heart I am completely qualified to speak about. As much as I hate to admit it, the jurisdiction of my authority and expertise ends abruptly at my own epidermis.”  That’s powerful stuff, right there.  Beyond my own skin, I don’t know a damn thing.  And that’s OK.  Because the second thing that I can do about it is just to listen.  I can never experience someone else’s experiences, but I can listen to them.  I can hear them talk about how they feel, and how racism affects them, and what they have been through because of it.  I can do that, and I’m going to.  I invite you to do the same.

This morning, a friend of mine sent me a link to a blog I’d never read called Mommy Nani Booboo, which featured a post by guest blogger and slam poet Fannon Holland, titled “Forgive Me If I Do Not Believe You.”  He writes:

All lives matter is not a solution
It is a rebuttal
Black lives matter is an awareness of the struggle
A remembrance of stolen bodies and lost lineage
All lives matter is a white washing of heritage
Against the blackboard of history
This is history
This is history
This is history
This is history
This is history
This is history repeating itself
We are the sons and daughters of history

Go to the blog.  Read the post.  Listen.  And then pay attention to the result of history repeating itself.  Here’s the link again if you don’t want to scroll up:  http://mommynanibooboo.com/guests/forgive-me-if-i-do-not-believe-you-black-lives-matter/.

Tomorrow I’ll keep it light.  Pinkie-promise.  We’ll talk about the New Deal, and I might cook something.

(Note: I used “black” instead of “African-American” throughout this post because my husband, who is black, prefers that term.)

Footnote:

1. Lina Belis James, General Secretary Portland Branch YWCA, Letter to Eva D. Bowles, Director of Colored Work, YWCA National, October 25, 1916, Lewis and Clark College Special Collections, Young Women’s Christian Association of Portland, Oregon papers, Box 5, Folder 11.

Image Credits:

Most of the images in this post were found through a search of the Civil Rights Digital Library, which can be accessed through this link: http://crdl.usg.edu/. There are all kinds of Civil Rights primary sources digitized and available for your historogasmic viewing pleasure.  It is abso-freaking-lutely amazing.

Figure 1. “Race riot at the Fairgrounds swimming pool, St. Louis, Missouri, June 21, 1949,” Stetson Kennedy papers, Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University library.  http://digitalcollections.library.gsu.edu/cdm/ref/collection/SKennedy/id/10587

Figure 2. Young Women’s Christian Association Williams Avenue Center Records: 1926-1961, MSS 2384, Oregon Historical Society Research Library.

Figure 3. Teenie Harris, “Men protesting swimming pool segregation with signs reading “We want democracy at Highland Park Pool, Mayor Lawrence, what do you want?” and “We fought together, why can’t we swim together,” Grant Street, Downtown,” Documenting our Past, the Teenie Harris Archive Project, Carnegie museum of Art. http://www.cmoa.org/collections/main_publications.asp

Battle Lines

When I was going to UC Davis, one of the best classes I took was on the 1960’s with Professors Ari Kelman and Eric Rauchway. The class was fan-freaking-tactic. We learned about things like the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, listened to musical gems like Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” and watched clips of Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley not being very nice to each other. Oh, and there was some Vietnam war and some Kennedys and a bit of Civil Rights thrown in there somewhere too. It was life-changing stuff, for sure.

So when I heard that Professor Kelman had written a new book, I was mildly interested. OK, who am I kidding? I squeed like a freaking twelve year old fangirl. I had previously read his book on the Sand Creek Massacre, which anybody who is interested in public history should absolutely read immediately, and so I was definitely planning on getting Battle Lines. I pre-ordered it. Like six months in advance. I didn’t even pre-order the last Zelda game that far in advance. Just sayin’. So, you might be asking, “What makes Battle Lines so special?” Well, I’ll tell you…

It’s a freaking Civil War comic book!!! I mean, it’s technically a graphic novel, but how awesome is that? Pretty gol-durned awesome if you ask me. And I assume you’re asking me since you’re reading my blog. Unless you’re just here to stalk my spelling and grammar mistakes and shit. In which case, you can seriously GTFO.

But anyway, kind of like this blog is history for people who hate history, this book is the Civil War for people who don’t want to read long boring books about the Civil War. And the cool thing is, a lot of the information is there anyway. It’s just presented in a way that isn’t boring. Author/illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and author/professor Ari Kelman tell the stories of the Civil War in a series of illustrated vignettes prefaced by more dense historical material staged as newspaper articles. Instead of bogging down the narrative with the minutiae of troop movements and general names and dates and battles, they are able to unfold the multilayered stories of the Civil War in broad silent strokes – the stark images of battlefield carnage, the prayers of a dying amputee felled by new weapons technology, the slow setback-laden march towards abolition, or the matter-of-fact staging of battlefield photography where dead soldiers are merely props to the historical record.

I’m not going to say anymore because I don’t want to spoil it (the North wins). On a more personal note, those of you that know me in real life are aware that my middle little has Autism. One of the things that we have been struggling with for-practically-ever is his monofocus on cars. Whatever you want to talk about, he will find a way to make it about cars. He wrote 40 essays in Kindergarten about cars. For Easter, it was about what kind of toy cars he might find in his Easter basket. For Christmas, it was a persuasive essay about the benefits of cars over reindeer-drawn sleighs. The boy is cuckoo for Cadillacs, crazy about Chryslers, mental about monster trucks. I really, really tried to learn about cars so that I could connect with him, but he could tell I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about (BTW, spoilers and fenders are not the same thing, in case you weren’t aware). But he stole Battle Lines from me as soon as I got it in the mail, and he didn’t let me touch it for at least a week. Now we have all sorts of things to talk about. Mostly minié balls and amputees and the fact that six million tons of flesh festered on the battlefield at Gettysburg, but it’s a start. I’m kinda OK with that.

So, if you don’t really like history but want to learn more about the Civil War, or if you are a teacher or homeschooling parent looking to introduce some Civil War concepts into your lessons, or if you are the parent of a bloodthirsty eight year old, or if the thought of a freaking history comic book makes you squee, you will probably like this book. Read it. Do it. You won’t regret it. 

Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman, published by Hill and Wang, New York, 2015.

Professor Kelman’s Website: http://arikelman.org

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm’s Website: http://www.fetter-vorm.com

First! And Mormons and Stuff..

The Barnes and Noble in Saint George, Utah has an LDS section.  Be still, my heart.

Let me get this out of the way right now. In no way, shape, or form am I Mormon.  I am a happy Unitarian Universalist pagan-atheist who fully supports interfaith and inter-non-faith community and collaboration.  Having said that, nothing gets my tingly parts tinglier than a little bit of Mormon history.  I love everything about it – the religion, the culture, the underwear.  I am a bit obsessed.  I’m like a wanna-be Mormon (Wormon?).  Luckily, my bestie, Ms. Crazypants, is Mormon and she indulges my fancies with only mild eye-rolls and barely-audible sighs.

Since my mama is in town, I decided to take her to my favorite place in the whole wide world – Bunkerville Cemetery.  I could spend all day there.  Srsly.  My mom, on the other hand, gave me “the look” several times before loudly whispering that it was time to go.  In general “the look” still works, even though I am almost 40 and arguably a grown-up myself.  But I seem to be immune to it when I am immersed in the past.

When I’m at the B-Ville Cemetery, I always stop and say hi to Mary Ann Stucki Reber Hafen, author of “Recollections of a Handcart Pioneer of 1860: A Woman’s Life on the Mormon Frontier.”  You can get the book on amazon here, and it’s a pretty good representation of life for a Mormon settler in Southern Utah/Eastern Nevada.  Mary Ann’s family (among many others) was from Switzerland, and they were converted to Mormonism by missionaries who came to their hometown.  They immigrated to the US in 1860, headed for Omaha, Nebraska.  Upon reaching Nebraska, they were given a handcart (think giant freaking wheelbarrow) to push across the plains to Salt Lake with a bunch of other Mormon settlers. They were eventually directed by the church to settle in Saint George, Utah.  She married another settler from her hometown, John Reber (her aunt was one of his first wives), but he died shortly after their wedding on an accident on their farm.  Then she became one of John Hafen’s wives. She wrote the memoir with the help of her son, historian LeRoy Hafen (also buried in Bunkerville).  If you are interested, the book is pretty short and utterly fascinating.  History Matters also has a snippet of it on their website if reading books isn’t your thing (I will judge you for not liking books, just sayin’).  Hafen

Mary Ann got a new gravestone, and I’m tickled purple about it.  Last time I visited, about a year ago, it was a flat stone with her name, birth date, and death date.  Now she has a fancy monument with a picture, the names of her husbands, and the names of her children.  You can see LeRoy down at the bottom.

Her second child, also a Mary (and also buried in Bunkerville Cemetery) married Henry Leavitt.  Henry was the son of Dudley Leavitt, and we will get to him in a minute.  They had a daughter named Juanita Brooks.  I have a HUGE history crush on everyone Juanita Brooks because she is a BAMF.  She is arguably the greatest female Mormon Historian.  She wrote a book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre (google that shit, you won’t be disappointed), even though she was discouraged by the church from doing so.  She was subject to a lot of disapproval from church leaders and even her local congregation because of her decision to write about Mountain Meadows.  But that didn’t stop her, hence the designation of BAMF.  Her papers are currently housed at the Utah State Historical Society in Salt Lake, and it’s one of my lifelong dreams to go there and see them (I know, I dream big).  Some lovely photographs have been digitized and are available at the Utah Division of State History website.

Besides the book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Juanita also wrote a biography of her grandfather Dudley Leavitt, and his monument is the pièce de résistance of the Bunkerville Cemetery.  I have to admit that I don’t know a whole lot about Dudley, but I am in love with him.  Truly, madly, deeply.  I would like to go back in time and be his sixth wife.  My lifelong goal is to build a T.A.R.D.I.S., travel back in time, and marry Dudley.  And stop and read the Juanita Brooks papers somewhere along the way.  Dudley’s monument is monumental.  There is even a bench in front of it because there is no way you can stand and ponder such a magnificent memorial.  It’s not possible. Your legs will simply give out from the sheer orgasmic joy.

DudleyThe front of the memorial lists biographies of Dudley and his five wives – Mary, Mariah (Mary’s sister), Thirza, Jeanette (a Native American), and Martha.  Together, they had 49 children, if I counted correctly.  Let’s have a moment of silence for that shit.  Except that I have three kids and haven’t experienced a moment of silence in fourteen years.  Can you imagine? I mean, seriously, can you imagine? I’m sure Dudley did some superawesomefantastic things in his life.  He was an early leader of the Mormon church and one of the first Mormon settlers of the Southern Utah/Eastern Nevada area.  But I’m pretty sure his most impressive achievement is having almost fifty kids and not going utterly and terrifyingly insane.

One of Dudley’s notable descendants (according to wikipedia) – Cliven Bundy.  We also went to the scene of the Bundy showdown, but I’ll have to save that for another blog.