Herriman » Forty-thousand Mormon missionaries phoned home for Mother's Day.
It's one of the few times during their two years that missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are allowed such personal contact with their families.
The annual Mother's Day call isn't for the missionaries' benefit. It's for their moms. It addresses one of the great ironies of raising an LDS boy: Just about the time you start to like him, he leaves town.
On Sunday, Sheldon and Lori Woods of Herriman telephoned their son Cameron, who is nearing the end of his two-year mission to Korea.
Based on weekly e-mails, Lori says her son has definitely changed during the two years.
But it's been the rare phone calls that have helped her realize he is still Cameron.
"Hearing his voice tells me more about how he's doing than just seeing words on a screen," she told me.
LDS church spokesman Scott Trotter said the annual Mother's Day phone call is not mandated by church headquarters. Rather it's left entirely up to the presidents of individual missions.
"But I'd be surprised if there was a mission president anywhere who didn't allow his missionaries to call home on Mother's Day," Trotter said.
Missionaries are allowed to call home on Mother's Day and Christmas. The rules for both calls are the same, though: an hour max, and only family. No girlfriends, unless, by some coincidence, she happens to be the one who answers the phone.
The church hasn't always been so tolerant of phoning home. Years ago, any form of contact with home was restricted entirely to the mail. If you wanted to whine about how tough mission life was, it took more than a week for someone to counter with, "There, there, dear."
When it was time Sunday, Lori Woods dialed Korea and got Cameron on the phone. As she started talking, she walked over to the microwave and set the timer for an hour. When I left, she was talking to Cameron about how his pants were fitting.
I called home once during my own mission to South America. I can't remember why. It wasn't Mother's Day, Christmas or even my mother's birthday. If I had to guess, it was because I needed money.
In the age before e-mail, instant messaging and satellite telecommunication, connecting to Salt Lake City from Nalgas de Vaca required an hour's wait in a telephone cabana.
Although it contained most of the pueblo's functioning phones, the cabana wasn't a busy place. In addition to my companion, the operator and a couple of soldiers, there was also dog.
While I waited, I thought about my family. I'd been gone 14 months by then and hadn't missed them much. I thought it was because I was too busy serving the Lord. Truthfully, it's because I was emotionally closed off.
When the operator said the call was going through, I handed her a huge wad of pesos, went into the booth and picked up the receiver.
Six thousand miles away, the family was just finishing Sunday dinner.
A series of clicks, a few rings and my father answered the phone.
Me: "Hey, it's Robert.
Him: "It hasn't been two years yet. What did you do?"
My mom grabbed the phone and started to cry. Only then did I realize how important the call was. I was talking to the one person who actually knew me as something more than "elder" or a white shirt and a tie.
I needed that.
Moms' favorite gift? Call from missionary