This is a work of fiction.
“Why don’t you join us for coffee?” one of the as-of-now blurry personalities of a prospective friend asked her, and she nodded, flashing her beautiful smile.
This was the day of decisions, the beautiful fall day of 1953. She was nineteen years old and away from Salt Lake City, nineteen years old and out of the field of vision of the parents, the parents who were devout-turned-moderate. Here she was in California, where the idea of Mormonism was abstract and distant, where no one really knew what it was. Now when she sat around the table, she was presented with a dilemma. There was no one to stop her from falling from grace. When she left Salt Lake, she left any evidence of schools where all the children followed Mormon traditions. Instead of the Presbyterians’ being made fun of like back home, here in California the Mormons stood out. They were the weird ones. The followers of Joseph Smith, who were never to drink coffee, never to gamble, never to smoke or drink alcohol, were told here that there was no way to fit in but to do those things. Why wouldn’t you? It’s only normal.
She remembered the neighborhood where it was clear what the right thing to do was. She had never felt overwhelmed by the practices, for she had practiced them. She had never thought of it as something strange, for it was the normal. How could these Californians hate her so when they had no idea what they were hating? The rules were not much to think about when she had the community, the Sundays at church, the youth groups, and the consistency of it all. The rules were nothing when everyone followed them. She had never thought anything of the three girls at school who were of the same father but all the same age and of different mothers. The fundamentalists had their church, and the official Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints had theirs. But it was nothing horrible. The polygamists were still friends. Everyone was friends. At least that’s what her father taught her to practice, to be friends with everyone.
The Church was never mean. She recalled the one time where the mainstream Mormons surrounded the man with three wives and brought him to the prison. But then she remembered how they let him out when they learned his wives and kids were on welfare. The state could not afford to lock him up for polygamy, anyway.
Did these Californians think she supported polygamy? Or did they just not think? They were giving her a chance, a chance to drink coffee, to be one of them. Maybe she wouldn’t really fall from grace. Maybe it was a little silly that she could not even use euphemisms, even those took the Lord’s name in vain. But maybe they did, for that was what she had been taught. And maybe she should stick to what she had been taught.
With the coffee simmering into her nostrils, she knew she was running out of time to reflect before one of the prospective friends might think something was wrong. If only they knew this was the biggest decision of her life. Her mind strayed, and she considered that maybe it was not that she was Mormon, but that she was different. Maybe she did not even believe in these things. Maybe her whole life she was simply shoving down any feelings of dissent. Maybe she could still love her roots but make her own decisions. Maybe it wasn’t all or nothing. She remembered the Presbyterian girl who cried when all the Mormon girls just could not make her feel welcome, and she remembered the tears she saw. She now feared that those tears may become hers, that she may be the Presbyterian in a Mormon neighborhood if she did not drink the coffee. With the prospective friends starting to stop conversation to stare at her, she drank the coffee. And they laughed at the way she wrinkled up her nose because she absolutely hated the way it tasted.