I don't know how to even begin. I've started this post four separate times, but each time, the words fail because how can you describe such...unity? Purpose? Community? Love? Belonging?
When most people think about "Utah Mormons" and especially "Utah Valley Mormons", they think about the self-righteous, culture-saturated, ignorant Republican gun-totin'-bigots. And for the most part? They are dead wrong. Dead wrong. It's a reputation that I've tried many-a-time here in this ol' Blogger world to rectify, but people are set in their own prejudices (oh, how the kettle meets the pot!) and won't be "fooled." They lived in Utah once, or their sister's cousin's daughter's best friend told them all about it. I'm sure there are some good examples and some truth to the rumors (or how would the rumors have started?), but for the most part? It's fairly inconsistent. There are things about Utah that I don't particularly love, but let me be the first (or the twelfth) to tell you that the prejudices against Provo Mormons would not exist if their owners had lived in my neighborhood.
We have to set up chairs and tables and booths and signs and a stage and a sound system and a Clavinova (piano) and flags and decorations outside in the church parking lot, near the pavilion at 7AM on a Saturday morning for our Neighborhood Picnic. Brandon promised our committee that we would have at least 15 youth show up to help, but we didn't get 15 youth to climb out of their beds on their only day to sleep-in --we had almost 30. And not just the youth. Several adults, and many 11 year old kids showed up to help. Of course, there was the promise of breakfast, made especially by our Bishop's wife, and it was good! But that was to come when the job was done, and it was done within 2 hours. Two hours! One of those youth volunteered to watch my kids while we were setting up; another volunteered to watch them during the afternoon so I could finalize all the details while 80% of our ward/committee was at the BYUvUCLA game. One young man, after bringing me some needed items from his mother, stayed and helped us prep food.
When 5:30PM rolled around (the time the Picnic/Extravaganza started), everything was in place, everyone was at their stations, and the neighborhood began to arrive. From a distance, you could see dozens of families walking to the Church; many carrying musical instruments and pies. The kids immediately ran to the cotton candy and popcorn booths on their way to the fish pond, ring toss, face painting, and bouncy house/slide. Others chose to start at the pony and hay rides. After the opening prayer, lines formed to get hamburgers, hot dogs, corn on the cob, watermelon, pie/ice cream, and chips/salsa (which was provided by a fabulous Hispanic family in our neighborhood who own a couple of local restaurants). Many sat and listened to our local talent on the "free stage" while they ate, and later enjoyed a small and simple Patriotic program, reminding us about 9/11 (the whole reason this neighborhood gathering began in the first place).
Many generations of neighbors were in attendance. Children who had grown up in our neighborhood came back to attend the picnic and brought their own children. For some, it was a reunion! New friends and neighbors were introduced, old friends reunited, and neighbors of different faiths and paths ate, talked, and played together for many hours.
[I would be remiss, of course, if I didn't mention that many came exuberantly happy because of the BYU game (holy cow!). And knowing that the "chain gang" (the older guys who hold the "down" measuring-stick-thingy-ma-jingies on the sidelines), Max Hall, and Austin Collie are in our ward. Oh, yes. Yes, they are! Go Cougars!]
But the best part of the event? Besides people thanking us profusely for a fabulous event even though there weren't enough displays or antique cars and one of the bouncy houses nearly fell over because the teenagers got a little too slap-happy and should have been doing their Rip-stick course and playing water balloon volleyball instead of jumping around on the kids' bouncy slide?
At least a hundred people stayed to help clean up without being asked. Everyone was home by 9PM, and the event didn't end until almost 8PM. Oh! And a few YW took my kids and went to put them to bed (one was the same that had watched them that afternoon) and then refused payment. Refused payment for the entire day!
I live in a neighborhood with some of the most Christ-like people I have ever met. Their desire to serve each other in a myriad of ways never ceases to astound me, and this neighborhood event is just a small taste as to what life is like here. New people move in and within a few weeks they talk about how they never want to leave; many don't. Many stay, and so do their children. And their grandchildren.
[And to be clear, we're not just talking about Mormons, although it is true that 98% of our ward consists of LDS members. But our neighbors of other faiths also love our neighborhood and never leave, so, I think that says a lot of the people here, don't you?]
When we left back in March of 2007 to live in California, I was devastated to leave; but at the same time excited for a new adventure. I found myself landing in a ward that was not quite unlike the one I left here in Provo. The people I met and associated with in CA were the greatest, and I will never forget them (how could I ever forget people like Katie and Janelle?). I'm so grateful for the things they taught me. In fact, if you remember, dear reader, I was quite upset at having to come back to Provo. I wasn't ready, you know. But I have since made the adjustment back into our home, our neighborhood, the ward, the school, and Saturday night proved to me how much I love this place.
neighbor: Cheryl, we are so glad your family moved back!
me: Aw, thanks!
neighbor: Don't ever leave again, okay?
me: Ha! No promises; but I will tell you this, if we do, chances are we'd come back again, you know. How could we not? This is home.
Unless we move to Seattle, you know. That place is freakin' awesome!
What is your neighborhood like? Your ward? Have you ever lived in a place like this? Would you want to?