A couple of days ago, while checking out at a grocery store, I struck up a dangerous conversation with the clerk.
Note: Any conversation between another human being and me is perilous. It’s because I’m never sure what the topic will be, particularly when it’s my turn to speak.
Her • “How ya doing today, sir?”
Me • “Fat, mean and stupid.”
That earned a slight smile, so I decided to press my luck. I took a guess that the clerk was not from Utah. She was black, possibly from Africa. I could tell that she was proud of her heritage by the accessories she wore, many of them distinctively African in design.
Me • “You’re not from these parts.”
Her • [wry smile] “No, sir.”
She said she’d been in Utah for five months. From experience, I know the transition can be tough even for people like me — white and Mormon — so I inquired whether she was getting used to it yet. She said no, again with a small grin.
When I asked where she was from, she said Jacksonville, Fla. It was our first bit of common ground (other than being human). I told her that I had once spent a day in Jacksonville.
Her • “Did you like it?”
Me • “I dunno. I was locked up for most of it.”
While she checked my groceries, we talked about being stuck in places that weren’t all that appealing. It occurred to me that she was a Utah pioneer in her own right.
Just like my Mormon pioneer ancestors, she had traveled from the other side of the country and found herself in a new place that wasn’t all that inviting — and nothing at all like where she came from.
I explained that I, too, had been dragged here against my will nearly 50 years ago.
Her • “Are you used to it yet?”
Me • “Damn, I hope not.”
Ending up in Utah is something a lot of people never expected to happen to them. Some acclimate successfully; others don’t.
My ancestors — devout LDS pioneers — weren’t exactly happy about traveling all the way from England to live in a desert. If the promise of a celestial reward hadn’t been part of the deal, I doubt they would have bothered.
On his first night in “this is the place,” Great-Great-Grandpa Korihor wrote, “Somebody — I’m not saying who — is out of his #&@#! mind!”
Ever since then, people have been trekking to Zion for family, new jobs, the military or the skiing. Some eventually figured it out enough to live tolerably well. Others took their gripes with them when they left.
My own acceptance of the new reality was made easier by those who took time to give me pointers on how to cope in Zion. One of my earliest Utah friends was Bammer, who had moved here from somewhere else when he was in grade school.
“Pretend you’re a castaway on some whole other planet, inhabited by all sorts of strange but relatively harmless creatures. You’ll never entirely fit in. So you can either find a way to make it fun — or to make it funny.”
Best advice this Utah pioneer ever got.