I See a Goal — Sweden or Bust

I prepared for my mission for years. I found out our bishop, who lived right up the street, had a treasure trove of church books. I used to go up to his house every chance I got and read his books. I’m talking old classics by people like John Taylor, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and the Pratt brothers, early church presidents, to name a few. He also had a book of Swedish grammar. Where he got that, I’ll never know. My dad wanted me to take German in high school, but my grandfather came from Sweden, and I always had an interest in that culture, so I read that Swedish book every chance I got and I even checked some Swedish language tapes out of the library. Finally, I got my call to Sweden. It was easy for me to learn the language, having read the books and listened to the tapes, and studied German. I also had Swedish and Norwegian neighbors, so I took advantage of their knowledge. I have always had a good ear for languages. In Sweden, I wanted to learn other European languages so I could communicate with our investigators who came to Sweden from other countries.

Back in those days, we didn’t have an MTC or “Mission control”, as they call it in that Broadway play. We had a week in the mission home in Salt Lake City, and then 2 1/2 years in the country learning the language and serving the mission. I was shocked, again, to see how casually most of the elders treated their mission home experience. Cherry bombs in the showers! Sitting at the feet of the general authorities. Spending a Q&A session the Salt Lake Temple with Harold B. Lee. For me the highlight was getting set apart by my all-time favorite general authority, LeGrand Richards. There were several of us in the room, and after each setting apart, he would shake our hand and say: “Whaddya you know? Another Mormon missionary!” I listened to all the prayers, and he said almost the same thing in each prayer, but I noticed that he said something different in mine. He said: “… Heavenly Father please reward him for all his sacrifices for Thee, and may this blessing follow him into the eternal worlds, this Thy true servant.” On no other blessing did he say “true servant”. I will never forget this, and will always try to live up to this and be a true servant of our Heavenly Father.

Sweden is a very open and permissive society, but LDS missionaries were allowed very little exposure to it, except for the occasional couple that we taught and you found out they were not married, or the occasional women who answered the door topless, or the man who answered the door bottomless. We were not allowed to see any Swedish movies — American movies only. No Swedish beaches. But, we all took advantage of the public baths. These aren’t like the gay baths in America. Over there, everybody goes to them. They are a community meeting place. And unlike, the wimpy American spas and locker rooms, there is no paranoid modesty. When you go into the sauna, you don’t even bring in a towel to wrap yourself, much less sit on. If you do, they consider you a sissy. People aren’t shy, and they don’t flaunt it, either. It’s all rather matter-of-fact. The baths are all men or all women. They either have separate facilities, or use alternate days. But, even on men-only days, they still have elderly female attendants. My football-player companion from Utah literally freaked out when he saw an old women, dressed like a temple worker in her white dress, white shoes, and white stockings, weaving in amongst the naked male bodies, picking up soiled towels. The openness and lack of pretension didn’t bother me at all. In fact, I was quite comfortable with it, and I wish that Americans were so self-righteous and up-tight. There were two occasions when men tried to seduce me in the baths. I didn’t want to admit to myself that I actually enjoyed the attention, but following the story of Joseph, I ran out. I savored the fantasies, later on.

My companion and I met a man in Sturebadet in Stockholm. This was and still is a famous public bath house and gathering place. The mission president thought that only gays hung out at public baths, even though the missionaries were allowed to go to them because many of our apartments didn’t have showers. The mission president told us to make sure the man wasn’t gay. He said that gays are attracted to the church because they feel the Spirit, but we can’t teach or baptize them.

This was the OFFICIAL word of the highest ranking Mormon Church authority in the entire country. This man insisted that when he entered a room, the congregation must arise and remain standing until he was seated. At dinner, nobody was allowed to eat until he began, and when he finished, we all had to hand back our plates, finished or not. He lived like a little king. When his tour of duty ended, a new mission president came in, and he was just wonderful. He inspired me in so many ways, as we will read later on.

Anyway, back to the first mission president. If gays felt the Spirit, doesn’t that mean that they were being directed by God to join the church, and that the Spirit would either help them repent, or maybe God saw no problem with their sexuality? I think of Peter, in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 10, who was prejudiced against taking the Gospel to the gentiles until God gave him a vision and told him not to call anything unclean that God had made clean. Then, Peter saw that the gentiles received the Holy Ghost, so he took the Gospel to them.

We are in a similar situation, today. But those who claim to bear the mantle of Peter, have yet to experience the vision and receive the insight that Peter of old received. Have we learned nothing in 2000 years?

You develop a very close relationship with your companion, and once, I told one of my companions that I had daydreams about men once in a while. He went back and told the mission president. This was the new mission president. The new mission president felt that it was just a bad experience and to put it all behind me. We never discussed it again. Another time, when I was worried about living up to all the damnable mission rules and following all their stupid contests and campaigns, he told me to just relax and forget about the contests because I was already self motivated. Instead, I should spend time meditating and let the “peace of the Gospel” settle over me. That was the first time in my life I ever thought of the Gospel being “peaceful”. Gospel is supposed to be “good news”, but for most of us it is anything but. I took his advice and began to see success after that.


The Youth of Zion — Trying Hard not to Falter

When I was 14 or 15, we had the chance to take a youth trip from Portland to the temple in Idaho Falls. This was our nearest temple, and I had always wanted to see a temple and go through one. I had developed an interest in designing cities and buildings. Once I designed a temple, floor plan and elevation. I even made a model. All of this from reading “Temples of the Most High”, and never actually being in a temple. On our trip, I was really excited to go and do baptisms for the dead. The D&C says that in the temple, the pure in heart shall see God. I fully expected to see God or an angel or experience some sort of manifestation, but I was to be disappointed. We had to sit in the chapel and wait for hours, and some of the kids started acting rowdy and irreverent. I couldn’t believe it. Also, walking around Idaho Falls, I kept telling people I had been to the temple. I was very excited, but their attitude was “Yeah, so what.” I couldn’t believe that people who lived right around the temple and saw it every day would have that attitude.

At he urging of my father, though it didn’t take much urging, I discovered my love for speaking in church. I could never talk to people 1:1, but get me up in front of an audience, and I had no fears at all. I could speak to any group of people on any subject for any length of time. People always liked my speeches. I gave a talk at Sacrament Meeting once, and after the meeting, the Bishop called me as a stake missionary on the spot. That is one thing I really miss now that I am no longer being in the church, but I have heard that now the topics are more cut and dried, you have little freedom to follow the Spirit, and you have less time to talk.

I wanted to receive my Patriarchal Blessing. I never met a patriarch in my life and never knew anybody who had received a Patriarchal Blessing except for some people in the ward. My dad dropped my off at the patriarch’s house in southeast Portland. He sat in the car and wouldn’t go in. In the blessing, the patriarch said several things I would never forget. He said my father was “honest and true”, and he said my mother was “blessed with spirituality”. He said I would travel far and wide teaching the gospel both through word and through music, and that I would “have a particular ability, in a humble and sweet way, to persuade others to a knowledge of the truth”. These were things I never thought about my parents before. I won’t tell you what I thought about my folks before that, but this blessing made me see them in a new light. After the blessing, the patriarch wanted to meet my dad. So, my dad came in out of the car and I sat in the car and waited.

Since receiving the Priesthood, and especially since receiving that blessing, I had always dreamt of going on a mission and teaching the Gospel. In fact, when the patriarch told me I would travel far and wide to teach the Gospel, something inside me just jumped. I felt like pregnant Elizabeth when she saw Mary, who was pregnant with the Christ, and “the babe leapt in her womb”. I don’t know what the Patriarch told my dad, but after that, before my dad even joined the church, he went around telling people that I was going to be an apostle some day.

I kept wishing my dad would join the church. Eventually, he took a job where he had to out of town for months at a time, training for a new job. He began to miss friends and family, and started looking for friendship in the church. Eventually, he was stationed in Seattle and had contact with some missionaries. He committed to baptism, and one weekend they followed him all 3 hours down to Portland, where he got baptized. I had just turned 18 and had been ordained a Priest, so I got to baptize him. However, in my interview with the bishop, I was so nervous and felt so guilty just for having “impure thoughts”, that he had to keep reassuring me not to be nervous. I was afraid he wasn’t going to let me baptize my dad. My dad and I never really connected in life except for a couple of points. (1) Scouting, (2) The church, after he got baptized and became an avid genealogist, (3) Taking up public speaking, (4) Joining the band, and (5) I helped him take a course on computer programming, and that set me off on a life-long interest.

My dad was very nervous and high-strung. Somehow, he managed to take the worst possible jobs for stress: air traffic controller and school bus driver. But, he managed to keep the skies safe, and the kids who rode on his bus just loved him.

I was a very good kid, growing up. I was quiet and shy, and always tried to obey the rules. I never told a lie because I had such a transparent personality, I knew people could see through me anyway. I had a very smart mouth and was usually very angry and very critical. My mother called me her “miracle boy” because of the blessing I had received and because I had done so well in church and school after that. My dad said that if there were ten boys, and they were handing out nine popsicles, John would always be the one to get no popsicle.

The only thing I did that could be interpreted as being “gay”, was that I was always trying to be neat and organized and dress well. I was punctual and conscientious. I like to watch cooking shows on TV and was always complaining that we didn’t live up to the style we saw on TV and in the movies. My TV idol was Dobie Gillis. I wanted to dress in the Ivy League style, just like him. My parents wanted all us boys to learn how to cook. As the oldest, I did a lot of the cooking. I used to make breakfast on Saturday mornings for my brothers and bake birthday cakes, etc. It was great training for outdoor camping, college, and cooking in the mission field. In the mission field, we had one elder who used to cook with wine and smell up the kitchen at the chapel. But, my specialty was good old home cooking using recipes my mom sent me. American pancakes were a huge hit in Sweden, the land of Swedish pancakes. I used to sell them at church bazaars to raise money.

Who Wrote the Book of Love? — Seeking Knowledge

I wanted to get some information about my feelings, so I went to the huge downtown Multnomah County Library in Portland, one of my favorite hangouts. I found, to my dismay, that all the books about homosexuality were locked behind the librarian’s desk, to protect their precious knowledge from inquiring minds like mine. How did I know to look up books on “homosexuality”, when I didn’t even think I was gay? I wanted information on sex of all kinds. I wanted information, and to be quite honest, some stimulation. But, at the same time the church talked about “virtue”, “purity”, and “chastity” in very vague terms. I had no idea what they were talking about, but the message I got was that if I ever lost my “virginity”, the world would end, and I would be cast off into outer darkness. From the books that I did find on the open shelves, I was able to glean that most boys do go through a stage of same-sex attraction and idol worship, or even masturbate together, but this was just a stage that boys went through. I thought that maybe if I was “righteous” enough, these feelings would go away.

I later learned two very important lessons:

(1) You cannot ask God to change you. You have to change yourself. God respects and even treasures your free agency. He will not interfere with your life choices. What God will do is put you in situations where you are forced to develop the necessary character attributes you pray for.

(2) It is futile to ask God to “fix” something in you that isn’t broken. God can’t even put you in situations that force you to fix something that isn’t a problem, or that other people consider a problem. However, God will put you in situations that force you to get to know yourself better, and to develop healthy attitudes about yourself, and develop traits you never even knew you had. For example, this “gay” thing eventually ceased to be a problem for me. I was no longer disturbed by it, neither was I obsessed with it. I came to accept it as but one of the many facets of my personality. And, speaking of personality, I had always considered myself a hateful, angry person, but I soon learned that I had a great deal of love to offer, and people responded to that love. This realization completely turned my life around.

I didn’t have any idea about sex, and never had any form or sex or masturbation. I was really a virgin. I didn’t know what I would do with a man if I were alone with one anyway. In fact, I had no idea what sex even was. The first time I ever heard about sex in any kind of detail was from a couple of straight boys, on a Boy Scout camping trip, no less! To me, it’s laughable that parents want to protect their sons from the gay “predators”. It was these straight guys who put the idea in my head, and the thought was utterly revolting, as it is to many, when they hear it for the first time at a very young age.

I overheard somebody at high school, (it could have been one of these same hot football guys in my Physics class), laughing about some magazines they found at Rich’s Cigar Stand in downtown Portland. They said they were like Playboy, only they had pictures of naked men. They called them “Playgirl”, even though there was no Playgirl magazine at the time. My German teacher also mentioned there were some German magazines down at Rich’s Cigar Stand, so I decided to go down and check them out for myself. I bought a German magazine called Stern. It was like Life magazine. Then I checked out the adult magazines. Back in those days, they didn’t hide the adult magazines in some smelly back room. They put them all together in a big rack, right by the entrance — gay magazines in one section, and straight magazines in another section. When I picked up a gay magazine, I started to tremble; my hands shook; and my mouth went dry. Yes, I was interested, but I never bought any of those magazines. But, I would drop by and look at the magazines again, whenever I was downtown.

I started getting “thoughts”, but I never acted on those thoughts. Still, I felt guilty for having them, and I tried all the “pray away the gay” stuff, like redoubling my efforts to be active in the church and fast and pray more, etc.

Leave it to Beaver(ton)

We were still living in a very small branch, but we were growing. Part of the Beaverton branch contained the West Hills of Portland, and some very wealthy and prominent people moved into what became the West Hills Ward. These people were prominent community leaders. One family had a number of boys my age. We studied in Sunday School together. They knew all the answers, but I didn’t. However, I wanted to be one who knew all the answers, so I studied with them, asked them questions. We used to go on seaside retreats together and discuss the deep things of the Spirit up through the night. These brothers were well-connected to some leading families of the church, and the brothers all grew up to be well-known church authors. I consider myself lucky to have known them.

As I approached the age of 12, they taught us in primary that we needed to prepare for the Aaronic Priesthood. I didn’t even know what it was, but my primary teacher gave me a list of interview questions I had to answer and a list of scriptures to study. I was used to the interview questions they ask you in the Boy Scouts for ranks and merit badges. You have to know your stuff backward and forward. I was ready to be grilled. I was very nervous going in to my interview, but I passed, and was ordained a Deacon. After that, something happened to me. It was from this point on that I became very interested in reading and learning the Gospel. Most of the Deacons were cutting up in Sacrament Meeting, but I sat bold upright and didn’t move a muscle. I was so taken by the Spirit, and more impressed than I’d never been in my life. The Priesthood was something very real, and holding it and fulfilling my calling became very important to me.

By this time, I was really starting to feel different. Before puberty, I was very interested in girls. I thought their pretend games of playing house or school, or putting on a backyard drama or circus, were far more interesting than the boys’ games of war and violence. I hung around the girls at school. I tried to dress nice for them and try to get their attention. Back then, it was a big deal for men to dress up, and we all tried to out-do each other. I went to school dances, but I was shy and didn’t drive a car, so that put me at some disadvantage. My parents sent me to dancing class, where you got to meet and dance with all kinds of young ladies and learned how to be polite, dress well, and treat the ladies like ladies. This was good, but I felt like I was going through the motions. My heart wasn’t in it, and I didn’t see the point of any of it. I figured that someday I would magically change and would be magically attracted to women, but my “girls are icky” phase that boys get in middle school began, but never went away.

I was active in the scouts from age 8 on up through boy scouts and explorers. Somewhere along that line, I developed an attraction for other boys. I wanted a deep physical, spiritual, and emotional connection, but I had no idea even what that specifically meant. I never did anything. I never said anything. I just remember day-dreaming over people I saw downtown or at school. I would fantasize about being with them doing what? I didn’t know what. There was no what. I didn’t know what to do, much less what “sex” was.

In scouting events, such as when we spent an event night at the YMCA, or spent the week as guides at the Seattle World’s fair, I remember fighting the urge to look at other guys in the shower. I didn’t do it, but it was a struggle. In the meantime, I never had sex of any kind. I checked the guys out in the shower at the high school gym class once. My interest was obvious, and I got teased about it a couple of times, but it was no big deal. I remember one really hot guy telling me and a friend from church that he was walking down the road and some guy wanted to pay him for letting him take pictures of him. He said he wouldn’t do it, and we both agreed that it was a bad idea. Another time, a couple of really hot football players in my Physics class started talking about going to the movies and some “queer” put his hand on one of their legs, and they beat the crap out of him.

I had seen pictures of gay men in magazines like Life and Look, but decided that couldn’t be me. I didn’t want to dress up like a women or act like a woman in any way. The media still persists in putting out these stereotypes, and the average person thinks that all gays are like this. These images only added to my confusion, frustration, and isolation. I literally thought I was going crazy. Some people have problems and externalize them, blaming society and the world at large. I was the type of person who internalized my problems. Everything that happened to me was my fault.

Vision, Cowboys, Space, and Christmas

As a young child, I had bad problems with vision. I remember falling down stairs all the time. I couldn’t see depths, so I assumed that when the rug ended and the floor began, there would be a drop off. So, I always tested with my foot. My little brother used to help me find my toys when I dropped them and couldn’t see to find them again.

Just before I started school, my mother wanted to have the elders over to administer to me so I could see better. She said later that while the blessing was taking place, she felt the whole house was crowded, like it was full of spirits or something. I remember getting the blessing, I did well in school. In fact, I did really well in school. I don’t know whether I was really smart or just tried harder, but I always got into the top reading groups, the advanced classes, and the honors classes. At home, I used to take my school readers and read to my brother. My mom thought I was a better reader than I really was. I just had the story memorized.

I sensed being different from an early age. I just wrote it off to having bad eyesight and everything that followed from that. I was no good at sports, so I didn’t like them. I enjoyed reading and playing music. I took piano, and after that several other instruments. My dad said that if I joined a band, it would take me a lot of places. He was right. I got to march in parades, get into games for free. Once, I even got to travel from Provo to El Paso, TX to play with the BYU band at a football game. We got to see Mexico, also.

My brothers liked to watch cowboy shows and cops and robbers on TV. I couldn’t stand them, but I loved science fiction. I watched Superman, Rocky Jones. Tom Corbett, Flash Gordon, and all the rest. I read every book I could find on astronomy and wanted to go on the first trip to the moon. My dad’s brother gave me a microscope for Christmas, and that opened a whole new world for me.

Speaking of Christmas, my parents gave my an LDS Missionary Bible for Christmas one year, and a Triple Combination the next Christmas. I read them both several times, took them on my mission, and have them in my nightstand, right to this day. I read and re-read them constantly and always get new meanings from them. One thing that struck me the first time I read them was that the scriptures taught many things they taught weren’t being taught in my local branch. I overlooked the differences for the first couple of readings, but after my mission and after listening to people, who really knew the scriptures and spoke from a deep knowledge and conviction, explain them, I realized that I needed to know that the book actually said, not just what people in my local branch taught about the book. The Book of Mormon is a marvelous book, but other than a few historical accounts about Nephi and Moroni, little if any of the doctrines taught in the book are actually taught in church. I saw this and wondered as I studied the Book of Mormon at BYU. In Gospel Doctrine class at BYU, I would call this to the attention of class members, who then laughed at me. I learned to keep studying, keep praying, and keep my mouth shut.

What Attracted Me to the Church — Making Sense through Music

I was attracted to the singing and the music of the church. People in our branch used to sing the hymns with enthusiasm. I learned most of the words by heart, and they took on a special meaning for me.

We thank thee O God for a prophet, to guide us in these latter-days

My grandparents sang this song on a record. They walked into a dime store, once, and wanted to record their voices. It was the only song they knew. This hymn always reminds me of them.

There is beauty all around, when there’s love at home.

Again, this reminds my of my grandparents. They were really in love.

Trials make our faith grow stronger. Truth is nobler than a crown.
We will brave the tempest longer, thought the world upon us frown.

We used to sing this song in Sunday School. I didn’t know why the world would frown upon us, but it made me proud and it made me think that we must be doing something right. The time to be worried is when you as a church try so hard to fit into the world, that you forget what you really stand for.

Today while the sun shines, live to be true
Constant and faithful all the way through.

I wanted more than anything to live the Gospel and to be constant and faithful to it. It wasn’t until I later attended religions classes at BYU that I learned that the Church and the Gospel were not one in the same. The Gospel is everlasting, but the Church is only temporary. It was about that time, at college, when I saw many Mormons (in name only) lying and cheating the students, that my loyalties became divided.

When I saw how the students were treated, I wrote a little song about it. The melody should be familiar:

We thank thee O God for the profit, we made off the students this year.
It’s keeping two cars in the driveway. It’s keeping the fridge full of beer.
No, things aren’t so good here in Utah. We’re poor with a capital “P”.
So, thanks, Lord, for sending the money, so bail out the economy.

I decided at that point to embrace and remain true to the Gospel, and tolerate the church merely as a social institution, and also as a gathering place for some of the most wonderful people I ever met. I was in love with the members. I revered some of the General Authorities, like LeGrand Richards and Harold B. Lee, but didn’t think much of the church as a whole.

Do what is right, let the consequence follow. Battle for freedom in spirit and might.
And with stout hearts, look ye forth to tomorrow. God will protect you, then do what is right.

In Aaronic priesthood, we used to have monthly lessons with a theme. One of the themes was “Be honest with yourself.” Another one was: “This above all, to thine own self be true. Thou canst not them be false to any man.” In Primary, in the Co-Pilots, Pilots, and the Guide Patrol, we learned the importance of following the compass. In Scouting, my dad taught me how to steer a boat in a straight course by fixing on the goal on the distant shore and constantly making the necessary adjustments. The D&C advises us to be wise and take the Holy Spirit for our guide. To be valiant is to follow your testimony of Christ, despite all indications to do otherwise.

Put your shoulder to the wheel, push along.

My aunt says this was my favorite song in church, growing up. She says I used to sit on the front row and sing it at the top of my lungs. I have always had a penchant for putting action into words. Talk is cheap.

Humbly kneeling, sweet appealing, ’twas the boy’s first uttered prayer.

Every young Mormon child is familiar with this story, and with the story of Joseph who was sold into Egypt. These were always great examples to me of being valiant, as I mentioned above, and sticking up for the truth. The lesson I took away from the life and story of Joseph Smith was not that he was some kind of special demi-god, evolved far beyond us ordinary humans, but that if it could happen to him, it could happen to us, provided we follow the same principles he followed. The D&C promises as much.

O that we in the day of his coming may say, I have fought my way through,
I have finished the work, thou hast sent me to do.

I have always felt that my life had a mission, much as I feel that everybody’s life has a mission. We all have work, and rather than wait for somebody to tell us what to do, let’s be about our father’s business.

Growing up, I had all kinds of relatives in all different kinds of churches. My dad’s stepmother was a Baptist. I attended Baptist, Nazarene, and Presbyterian Bible school. Our cub scout pack met in a Congregational church, and I attended some youth programs at the local Methodist church. So I wasn’t a stranger to Protestantism. Oh yes, our neighbors were Lutherans from Wisconsin and we went to church with them a couple of times. Their pastor had all gold teeth, and I wanted to have all gold teeth so I would be a good looking angel, once I got to heaven. My step-grandmother gave us a book of ABC Children’s Bible Stories. For every letter of the alphabet, there was a story about a Biblical character or event that began with that letter of the alphabet. I was particularly taken by the phrase used to describe Abraham. He was “a friend of God”. I was amazed that a man could not only be a servant of God, but a friend of God. I wanted to become of friend of God. I later discovered that God wants us all to become his friends.

As Branch President, my uncle always went to Salt Lake City to attend conference. Back in those days, there was room in the Tabernacle for all the ward and branch leadership. I knew a little about Salt Lake City because I had aunts and uncles and cousins there and because we listened to Richard L. Evans and the Tabernacle Choir. That was part of what got me first interested in music.

My dad’s grandmother was still alive and she was a Pentecostal. My Pentecostal great-grandmother married her second husband, a really funny Italian guy, early in life, but Grandpa Galanetti did not convert. He used to say the Mormons on Sunday morning made more sense talking for 1/2 hour than the Holy Rollers did talking for 2 hours.

One year, my uncle returned with a picture of the church’s General Authorities. I looked at the First Presidency, recognized David O. McKay, then down at the Presiding Patriarch, which the church no longer has, the Presiding Bishopric, the Assistants to the Twelve. But what really caught my eye were the Twelve Apostles, for some reason. I was very interested and very curious about them. I used to love reading about the Apostles in the New Testament, and about the apostles in the church today. I added a new line to my little set prayer that I said every night: “… please bless the Twelve Apostles …”.

My mother was a member of the church. My father had not joined at the time, but he did attend church from time to time, and even stood up and bore his testimony in our little branch in Beaverton, OR. After my dad came home from WW II and the Korean War, we moved to a little one bedroom house in Beaverton. We had a large service porch in the back, and my dad hung up three Navy cots on the wall for us three boys. We had our own bunk beds. When we moved in, the house was unfinished. There were only studs separating the bedroom, living room, and kitchen. When several family members got the measles, my parents hung up blankets to the walls to keep out the sunlight, and everybody who had the measles slept in the one and only bedroom. My parents were concerned about my eyes. They didn’t want me to get measles, because of my eyes, so I slept in the living room and was not allowed in the bedroom. I never got the measles.


Small Town Boy — White Salmon — Guaranteed not to Turn Pink in the Can

I spent my youngest years living in the very small towns of White Salmon and Klickitat, Washington. My mother’s side of the family was LDS, though somewhat inactive. My uncle was the branch president, and his father, my grandfather, who immigrated with his family from Sweden to Utah to join the church, sat up on the stand every week. We were only 20 or so members, meeting in a rented grange hall. I never went to a ward meeting in any kind of chapel until I was about fourteen.

My mom, and three of us boys who had been born at that time, lived in a small trailer behind my uncle’s house. He was single and took care of his two elderly parents. Later, when my grandmother died, he married. Our family moved to Beaverton, OR for their excellent schools. But I showed an early interest in school, and my parents wanted to enroll me in kindergarten, but Beaverton had none. So, I went back to White Salmon and stayed with my aunt and uncle and my grandfather while I attended kindergarten. My grandparents raised their 9 children in a small log cabin in Alberta. This little house in White Salmon was the first real home and the first indoor bathroom my grandmother ever experienced.

We lived right across the street from the school, on what in now Academy Street in White Salmon. Back then, the town was so small, none of the streets had names and nobody locked their doors. The school yard was a huge grove of pine trees. Some of the trees had bars between them. You would hang by your knees. You could also easily climb up on the trees and nobody could see you. The old school building had two huge slides used as fire escapes, from the second story down to the ground. It was a sure sign you were a big kid if you could climb all the way to the top of the slide by yourself, and slide down, sitting on a slick sheet of waxed paper. That was our playground. In the school complex stood an old wooden gymnasium. One night it burned down, and we could feel the heat of it, all across the street.

In our back yard was a cherry tree. We used to climb the tree in summer and eat cherries until we got sick. Behind the cherry tree was a field we played in, and behind the field, a forest. I used to walk up the road, past the forest to my friend’s house. We went to kindergarten together. Up behind his house was another field and another forest. Once, I went walking up there alone, and some big boy came rushing up, grabbed me, tied me to a tree and called me a “queer”. I didn’t know what the word meant, and I doubt if he did either. I think he just liked bullying smaller kids. I asked my parents what the word meant, and they wouldn’t tell me.

But, I’ve never liked that word, since. It is a pejorative to me, and will always be such. The so-called “gay community” revels in the word “queer”, however, and when I object to its use, these preachers of “tolerance”, somehow become most intolerant. I have little use for them. They never helped me, and do not speak for me. They are like yet another cult. They make pronouncements, which then people must agree with. But, if you don’t agree, you are ostracized. This is no different from the religions many of us left behind. Take the abbreviation LGBTQ. This stands for five different groups of people who have nothing in common except their victimhood. I don’t belong to this group because, when presented with an opportunity to become a victim, I refused to let myself be victimized. I chose, instead, the path of personal responsibility, and I consider myself, not a victim, but a victor.

I liked the small and friendly atmosphere in the White Salmon Branch. I liked knowing everybody. I liked knowing we were a minority in the community. People were serious about their church membership. With the whole town against you, there was no place for “sunshine Mormons”, or “latter day ain’t’s”. I liked the way nobody in the church teased me, bullied me, or made fun of my eyesight. My cousin, who lived in a nearby town, used to introduce me as her “little cross-eyed cousin”. That hurt. And when anybody commented on that, even later in life, I went back to being a helpless little 3-year old, alone in the world. I know what it’s like to be bullied. I learned it from an early age.

I was bullied and passed over by the kids at school, and in the neighborhood. I learned to get over it, and this is why I have no sympathy for people who start whining because people persecute them for being gay or transgendered, or whatever. I’ve lived with it for longer than they have, and was bullied for more reasons than they have. I got over it, and so can they.

If you are in any way different in society: handicapped, too smart, too dumb, too fat, too skinny, too good-looking, too ugly, breasts too large, breasts too small, endowment too large, endowment too small, wrong race, wrong religion, talk with an accent. You name it. People will look for a reason to bully you, and if you don’t find a way to stop it from being a game for them, they will continue. But, what I loved about the church was I never had to fight those battles — at least as a young child. As an adult, it was a different story, but I had the maturity to handle it then.

My earliest memories are of going to the children’s hospital in Portland and getting my eyes operated on. After the operation, I had to keep returning to see Dr. Hill for follow-up visits in the hospital. I remember asking my mother about the other children I saw at the hospital. She told me that they were “crippled” and couldn’t walk and needed crutches and wheel chairs to get around. She helped me say my prayers every night, and we added a new phrase to the set litany: ” … please bless all the poor little crippled boys and girls..” This is not politically correct today, so please don’t take it out of the context of the 40’s. But, these experiences at the hospital and the experiences of praying for the handicapped, plus the experience of being slightly handicapped, myself, had a profound and significant affect on my life, as we shall see later on.