I was raised in a rigid religious home based on rules that I never questioned. It was unheard of in my family to question the rules in the Sunday School lesson manual that governed our lives. My parents were never candid, open, or forthright about personal issues. My stepfather was raised in a rigid religious environment and continued living with his parents in that environment until he married my mother when he was 41 years old. He quietly maintained a stern, but passive persona. Life was simple for me as long as I did not venture out of the religious bubble that confined me.
The problem was that the bubble would eventually burst and I would be left ill equipped to live in a world where there were options. I would be lost without rules and I would not know how to deal with people who lived differently outside the bubble.
When the bubble did eventually burst, the results were catastrophic.
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In September 1966, I was on a flight from London to Washington, D.C., reviewing in my mind the last two years as a missionary for the LDS Church in England. This was the first time in two years I had been alone without a companion since arriving at the mission home in Salt Lake City for one week of training before leaving for England. I had lived my life according to the plan my parents had laid out for me, but the future was a blur. The Church taught that young men should serve a mission, then marry and create a family. They taught nothing about life beyond that. Nothing about education or a profession was taught in Sunday School nor in my family. I completed my mission but I was not yet ready for marriage. Attending a University would give me a draft deferment, so my options now were either college or Vietnam.
For the last two years as a missionary, nothing was vague. There had been no options. I performed my missionary duties according to a daily schedule. My parents sent me a check for a set amount once a month, enough but not much more.
Ever since I can remember, I planned to serve a mission for the Church. It was expected of every Mormon boy. I opened my first bank account before I turned six, and my mother told me I was to use the account to save for my mission. I was taught that I should always be preparing for my mission by learning the gospel at home and in Sunday School.
I attended church, cut the lawn, took out the garbage, shoveled snow, and I never complained. As far as I knew, my friends lived the same kind of lives. The boys my own age in the neighborhood who did not live that way were labeled “bad boys,” and I was told not to associate with them. I liked some of those boys, and I wondered what was so bad about those “bad boys.”
I had worked and saved my money ever since junior high school when I got my first paper route. When I was old enough to drive, I wanted to buy a car. By age 18, I had saved enough money to buy a new car, but I did not want that car to sit and depreciate while I was gone, so I decided to put off buying a new car until I returned home from my mission. In the meantime, I continued to drive the old 1952 Plymouth that had been the family’s second car—the old clunker.
For the first few months of my mission, I received letters from several girls I had dated, but Nancy kept writing the longest. Before my mission we had dated off and on, but mostly we talked on the phone, sometimes for three to four hours at a time. Since she was from another part of town and three years younger, I could just be myself, and ignore the self-consciousness I felt around girls. She faithfully wrote long letters every week that must have taken her hours to write. She wrote the things a missionary wanted to hear, such as how much she liked her seminary teacher, how much he liked her, and how she prayed often and long. I enjoyed writing letters to her, too, as often as I could. We created fantasies about our future lives together. When I thought of her, I thought of an attractive, spiritual, active LDS girl, who could be my eternal companion and a supportive wife and mother. I had fallen in love with the fantasies described in those letters.
Eventually the letters arrived less frequently and were less lengthy—both hers and mine. I figured she was just busy and had less time to spend writing letters. I did not want to think she was no longer in love with me, and she never said she wasn’t. Even though I received just one or two letters during the last six months of my mission, I continued to tell my parents in my letters to them that I planned on marrying Nancy.
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The girl Nancy described in her letters existed only in those letters. Nancy visited my parents several times while I was on my mission, and my parents came to know the real Nancy, not the Nancy depicted in those letters. They desperately did not want me to marry Nancy. They even told my older sister to try to convince me not to marry Nancy. My older sister lived in Kentucky and I stayed with her for a couple of days on my way home from England. My parents could not tell me why they did not like Nancy. They were not comfortable expressing personal feelings. They never were able to give me personal advice, and I could never go to them for help with personal issues. They could only give me rules.
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The first few days after I arrived home were busy. I had to meet with Church leaders to obtain a formal release from my mission. I had to meet with a neighbor across the street who offered to recommend me for a job delivering flowers for a florist, and then I had to meet with the florist. I had to finalize my registration for school, which started the following Monday, and I had to register for the draft. In addition, Nancy wanted me to drive 16 miles round trip to Granger every evening to see her. I was not sure if she really wanted to see me or she just did not want me to have time to see any other women.
I arrived home on a Wednesday afternoon, and by Monday, I had a job, a full load of classes at the University of Utah, and I had to deal with the draft. I was hesitant to tell Nancy I would rather study than drive to her house every evening. I was a peacemaker and did not want to make waves, and I was hesitant to jeopardize my relationship with the woman represented in her letters. Nancy appeared to be compassionate and empathetic while she maintained the persona of the girl in the letters.
The first few weeks were insane. I wanted to study hard and do well in school, but with working, studying for my classes, dealing with the draft, and having to see Nancy each evening, I was overwhelmed. I just did not want any more hassle, and something had to give.
I am sure my parents recognized my frustration, but instead of talking about it, they just made demands such as requiring me to be home by 10:00 pm on weeknights and by midnight on weekends. I was 21 years old and had adjusted to living away from my parents, and I did not need that kind of hassle on top of everything else. I needed someone to talk to, not rules, and I had no one to talk to but Nancy.
I still needed a new car, so I went to the bank to check my account. The teller updated my passbook and handed it back to me. I had expected to see two years of interest added to the $2,600 shown in my passbook. I was shocked that my passbook now showed a balance of only $400. I could only assume that my parents moved my money to another account. I immediately went home and when I walked in the house and found them siting together, I said to them, “ I just came from the bank to update my passbook and I only have $400 dollars in my account. Do you know where my money is?” My parents looked at each other and my stepfather said, “Did you forget that you were saving your money for your mission?” “ Your money was used for your mission.”
I immediately remembered what my mother said when she opened that bank account for me when I was five, and at first I felt guilty for forgetting what she said, and then I realized I could not buy a new car, money was gone, and it was my parents who had the new Pontiac. A combination of guilt and disappointment must have shown on my face when I responded with, “Oh yeah, you’re right.” They offered no apology, no expression of sympathy for my obvious frustration; there was only the silent, rigid expression I had come to expect from my stepfather.
Later, I began to think that if I was to pay for my mission, shouldn’t it have been discussed when I was preparing for my mission? Why did they write me at the beginning of my mission that they were blessed for supporting a missionary if I was supporting myself?
If we had discussed it before my mission, my parents would have been faced with a risk that they were not willing to take. If I did not agree to use my money for my mission, they would have to commit to pay for my mission. By not discussing it, I believe they kept open the option to use my money. The $100/month they sent me each month could not have been much more than what it cost them for my support as a teenager. My stepfather worked for over 30 years as an accountant for the gas company and because my father’s mortgage insurance paid off his mortgage when he died, my stepfather had never had a house payment. I am sure they had the money.
As I thought more about it, my guilt turned to anger. I was 21 years old and was I expected to remember what I was told when I was five years old? Over the next several days, my anger became more intense. Was it my money they sent me each month? Had they spent my money on their new car? A few days before, they had threatened to take my money from me if I continued to speak of my plans to marry Nancy. So did they really take my money because I talked about marrying Nancy, and if that were the case, why would they not tell me and offer to return my money if I did not marry Nancy? My feelings towards Nancy were waning due to her unreasonable demands, and it would not have taken much in the way of trust and council for me to forget the idea of marrying Nancy.
I was back home. I was back in my childhood environment. I lived for the last two years with missionaries who communicated. Now I was back in the bubble where there was little communication, no sign of love or empathy, and no offer of counsel. I wanted out, and I began to think of ways I could get out from under my parents’ control.
During those first few weeks at the University of Utah after I returned home, Nancy occasionally came to sit with me in my afternoon mythology class. It was a large class that filled a general education requirement. One day she left me in the classroom to return home, but instead of going to my next class, I followed her to her car. She did not go to her car; she went to another car I did not recognize. She climbed in the passenger side, and some guy in the driver’s seat gave her a big hug and a kiss.
Nancy had another boyfriend. I was confused. Why was she coming to the University to sit through a class with me while some guy waited for her in his car? Why would she want me to come to her house in Granger every evening if she had another boyfriend, and why would the boyfriend wait for her while she sat through my class? If I had someone else other than Nancy to talk to, I may have figured it out, but with my school studies, my new job, and being deceived by my parents and now by my girlfriend, I had no one I could go to for advice. I knew I was being deceived, but living my life in the bubble had not prepared me for dealing with deception.
I had been home from my mission less than three weeks. I was doing poorly in school because of Nancy’s demands, and if I dropped out of school, I would end up in Vietnam. Without Nancy, I would be totally alone. I was afraid to let go. My money was gone and I was totally dependent on my parents. They offered to pay my tuition of about $125/quarter, and I was working part time at $1.50/hour for everything else. I still needed a better car, but what could I buy earning only $30/week?
With all the stress of starting school, a new job, my parents, and no money, I had to ignore what I did not understand. For two years I had assumed Nancy was in love with me, but the fact that it was all a lie was staring me in the face, and I did not want to believe it. How could I abandon the image I held in my mind for two years of the girl in those letters? Obviously, love was blind and I did not understand Nancy, her motives, her background, or why she wanted me to drive out to Granger every evening to see her when she had someone else. Her relationship with the other guy was strong enough that he waited for her in his car while she attended my mythology class with me. What did she tell him she was doing? Was there a plot concerning me that Nancy and the boyfriend were pursuing together? The betrayal by my parents and now Nancy, plus the guilt, put me in such a state of depression that I could not think clearly.
On the first Friday night in October, I went with Nancy to a concert by the group “Up With People” at Skyline High School. My parents were out of town for the weekend, and I could take Nancy to my house without having to deal with my parents. It felt good to have a place where I could be alone with a girl, and I thought more about getting a place of my own. Could I afford it? How could I confront my parents and tell them I did not want to live with them? That would certainly burst their bubble.
Nancy and I were together on my bed and we talked about my frustrations. We kissed and got into some heavy petting. Young Mormons say that on a date you can do A, B, C, D, and E, but not F. We did everything up to—but not F. However, Nancy said we had come close enough that what we did counted as F. This only added to my guilt and depression. I told Nancy about my parents, my money, and how I wanted to get out from under their control. Nancy suggested we run off to Elko, Nevada, and get married. Nevada did not have a waiting period for marriage. It was a way out. The anger I felt towards my parents overshadowed my confusion about Nancy. I could leave home without having to justify leaving home to my parents. I did not think about how I felt about Nancy. All the guilt I felt about the money and the petting led to a kind of emotional suicide. All I wanted to do was run away. We decided to go for it.
I began to grab whatever I thought I might need. I needed money so I grabbed my collection of solid silver half-dollar coins; I even took a roast from my mother’s freezer and put it and some clothes in my suitcase. We drove to the home of one of Nancy’s friends where she borrowed some money, a ring, and a wedding veil. We drove to Nancy’s house where she packed a bag and climbed out her window (a classic elopement scene), and we headed out to Elko, Nevada.
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Nancy and I eloped to Elko and, as it turned out, my parents were right about Nancy. The real Nancy was someone from whom I should have run. The moment we got married, it was like a switch was turned and the Nancy in the letters gave way to the real Nancy. She became controlling and focused only on her own ambitions. The compassion and empathy she had shown vanished. My marriage to Nancy turned out to be a disaster. It was not based on love. It was never a partnership. It was never a marriage. She married me to get out of Granger. I married her to get out of my parents’ house.
It was the loss of my money that led to marrying Nancy. I have always been plagued with the guilt I felt for not remembering what I was told when I was five years old, so I recently decided to check it out. When my mother died, my sister gave me the letters I wrote to my parents while I was on my mission, and I began to read them. I read each of the letters I wrote during the last seven months of my mission. That was when we were discussing buying cars. I wrote about how much money I had and what car I could buy with that amount of money. My parents were in the market for a new car as well, and they asked me for my advice on what to buy. I researched a General Motors discount program for American servicemen stationed overseas that missionaries could participate in. I offered to use the discount program for their car as well as mine.
I wrote about makes of cars and options such as air-conditioning and other accessories. I sent them price lists, including optional equipment and delivery fees. I gave them prices of various models and the prices of options. I asked would prefer to pick up the cars in Detroit, or have the cars shipped to Salt Lake City. These discussions occurred in letters written over several months. My stepfather used my discounted prices to negotiate a discount from a Salt Lake dealer, and he purchased a new Pontiac five months before I returned home.
A few months later, I told them the car I really wanted was a 1967 GTO, but it would cost a few hundred dollars more than the amount shown in my bank passbook. I asked my stepfather if he could loan me the additional money, and his only answer was that I should wait until I got home to discus money.
There could have been no question that I thought I still had my money. There was no Internet at that time, and no way I could know how much money was actually in my account. If they had been sending me my money each month, why did they not remind me I had always been saving my money for my mission when I wrote about how much money I needed for my new car?
My mother had gone on a mission, and in one of the letters, I recalled how my mother’s widowed mother supported my mother on her mission. If my mother’s widowed mother supported my mother on her mission, why would my parents think they were not expected to support me on my mission? Also, how many young men would go on missions for the church if they had to earn the money for their missions before they turned 19?
My parents’ threat to take my money if I continued to plan on marrying Nancy was only a cover-up because my money was already gone. Reading those letters relieved me of the guilt I had felt for 50 years about the money, and it has given me a new level of self-respect. I am not the bad guy. It was not my fault. The only possible explanation I can think of is that my parents took my money for their own purposes. They stole my money and tried to cover up what they had done by blaming it on my plans to marry Nancy.
The irony is that I most likely would not have married Nancy if they had not taken my money. I would not have wanted to leave home, and I would have had time to think things through—with or without their counsel. If I had read those letters and rid myself of the guilt earlier, I likely would not have spent the better part of my life in a loveless marriage.