Books for Book Clubs
History Made More Interesting?
By Darla Gaylor
A Good Place to Put a Disclaimer
Before I get too far I have got to throw something out that has been eating at me since my biographies column a few months back.
When I was first asked to do this column, I wanted to approach it as an alternative to a traditional LDS style book column. I typically go out of my way not to review LDS genre books. LDS people can and some will always only read LDS books, but I wanted to open up Meridian readers to other authors and great opportunities to grow and expand their world views through literature. No, not just “world” views, but views of people. I feel sometimes that maybe I am too tied to this old earth and the people here, but I am rather fascinated by us. We are all so unique, so many with wonderful stories given us by life, and talents given us by Father. I love to read these stories and share them with you. Sometimes, however, these stories aren’t pretty. They’re harsh and ugly, rough and difficult. Other times, they are beautiful and triumphant, completely inspirational. Sometimes, their lives are all of those adjectives and more.
The characters, like real people, make good and bad choices, lust after what they shouldn’t, aren’t honest with themselves or others and struggle to be what they know they could or should. Some keep trying, knowing they are meant to be and do more, others revel in their Natural Man, and on and on. I love these people; I detest these people, and some I’d probably hate if I got to know them better. I just have to be willing to look beyond a few difficult issues before I make that decision. Stay with me. I’m getting to my point…
I read quite a lot. Comparatively, I see very few movies. I used to see anything I wanted to, but that changed about a year before I got my endowment in 1997. It is sad, too, because I love movies. But as much as the graphic violence and sex gets to me, the language drives me nutty. Language is the stuff you just cannot shut your eyes to. That all being said, much of the time you cannot know what language lies await inside the pages of a book. You cannot know the context, the purpose, the extent, the characters using it, the author’s point in utilizing it, nor the pervasiveness of it. Is it G, PG, PG-13, R or Off-the-Charts? Unlike movies, I have found I can visually “skip” over words on a page, as no one is shouting them at me from a giant silver screen. But that may just be me. Everyone is different.
Unlike some, a dozen or two words (depending on what they are) will not turn me away from a book. I do have my limits, however, and they are moderately low. In the words of American Idol’s Randy Jackson, “For me, for you, dog,” language may or may not turn me away from recommending a book to you. Sometimes I will put a particular book in the “Honorable Mentions” section just because of language instead of doing a full review. However, not always.
There are several books I’m reviewing in this historical fiction genre that are going to have more language than I usually prefer to have in one of my recommends. Never fear, I will always give you a heads up on these things. The words on the page may take me aback, but if you choose to take my advice on a selection, I don’t want them to catch you off guard. I know some are just more sensitive than others. Do not send me nasty letters about what an awful Latter-day Saint I am. Thank you very much! Read at your own risk. Know your own limits. But also know there are some wonderful characters/ people out there with human flaws..
Revisiting the Civil War
I just can’t get away from the South. I garnered a few great letters from last month’s column on Southern literature, including one from a brother from Georgia who reminded me of one good reason I am excited to be going home to Texas: BEEF barbeque. No more of this pulled pork/ vinegar sauce nonsense. Thank goodness!
Anyway, one place I must visit before our Tennessee car tags go from green to red, white and lone starred again is the Carnton plantation in Franklin. About forty five minutes southwest of my house, it provides the setting for my most recent read this month, Robert Hicks’ Widow of the South. Sadly, it also provided the rear line for what is considered by many historians to be the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and the final resting ground for some fifteen hundred young Confederate soldiers.
I picked this book up months ago. I don’t even remember why I got it. I suppose the story sounded interesting enough. A woman’s plantation house near Nashvile is turned into a hospital for Confederate soldiers during a battle in November 1864, just months before the end of the Civil War. She buries fifteen hundred of them on her property. She fell in love with one of them at some point. Blah, blah, blah. Why not?
Well, when I settled on historical fiction as my theme for the month, the Widow of the South finally got her turn. I am so glad I read this book. In style and content, it is right up my alley: Southern writer, Southern genre, historical, weakened characters finding more inner strength than they knew existed. Unfortunately, we take the good with the bad, and thousands of dead young men, a few scurrilous characters, and yes, even a great deal of PG-13-esque language comes along with this rewarding war story.
The main character, Carrie Mc Gavock is a thirty year old widow. Though her husband is still living, she is in a permanent state of mourning for her three children who no longer are. Instead of living for the two that remain, Carrie has opted out of life. She wears black, holds up in the dark- away from the household, pondering her lost children’s lives; she misses them so. She loves her living ones, Hattie and Winder, but she just cannot bear to stop clinging to the dead. John, her husband, doesn’t know what to do for her but help preserve her solitude and hope she comes back to him some day.
When the General Nathan Bedford Forrest (LOTS of stuff down is here named after him) shows up at Carrie’s door step to “requisition” her plantation as a field hospital for what is sure to be a slaughter of his troops, her slave and friend since childhood, Mariah, tries to tell him the mistress of the house can’t be bothered. She insists they simply cannot use the house because of Carrie’s delicate mental condition, but General Forrest doesn’t listen. In specific terms, he tells the women the battle will be starting shortly and the injured will be arriving sometime thereafter. Be prepared.
Carrie is uncertain whether she and Mariah are up to being transformed into triage nurses, but she is roused to duty by her first charge: a child named Eli who had cracked his head on a rock. He is not a soldier, just a boy, merely an onlooker who had been brought to her house by his friend, but he needed her help. With the ghosts of her own children and her ineptitude at saving them hovering in her thoughts, it was dubious if she would even survive that moment, let alone the hours and days to come.
It was only a sudden realization, as she stood seeing yet another child facing death, that she no longer feared God, that she loved Him. She finally understood that God was not the “author of children’s deaths” as she had come to believe because “…He did not even save His own Son. He had not taken His Son, He had lost him because of the sin of this world.” 1 And because Carrie could feel solidarity with God in that second, she found the strength to live again by serving Him, by serving the injured and dying that were at her door and the thousands more who would come pouring through her door by day’s end.
What happened after Carrie’s epiphany was a gruesome, blur for the psyche, something most of us cannot even fathom, as Carrie and the household, including her young children tended to the soldiers that littered the plantation grounds. She laments having to expose Hattie and Winder to such travails, but acquiesces that it was an impossible task to keep them from it all. Such is war, I suppose.
During the time of Carnton being used as a hospital, Carrie meets and subsequently falls in love with a young sergeant from Arkansas. Chaste though it was, you could call it a love borne out of stressful times, but it was more appropriate to call it “kismet.” Where she and John, were intellectual equals, Zachariah Cashwell was more her spiritual equal, and despite time and distance between them, he always was. At a certain time she held his life in her hands and forced him to live, and by doing so I think it helped keep her living, too.
More central, however, to the story of The Widow of the South is the decision that Carrie made several years after the end of the Civil War to make sure that the young men that died in a field near her home would not have their graves desecrated by a hard-hearted local businessman (think: Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life). When it became clear that the calloused Mr. Baylor, who had lost his own son during the Battle of Franklin, intended to plow under the field that had been the main battle site and held the remains of roughly one thousand five hundred Southern soldiers, Carrie set forth to stop him. When she couldn’t stop him, she arranged to move them to her own property. Once she moved them, she recorded their names and burial places in her own Book of the Dead. Then, she commenced to mourn them, as was her way. But unlike with her children before the war arrived at her door step, it appears Carrie Mc Gavock still managed to live while holding vigil for those in the earth at Carnton.
For many families, she was the only contact they had with their lost sons. And for many sons, she was the final means of contact they had with their families. In essence, she was the go-between between the living and the dead, and she took that job very seriously. She understood loneliness; she had felt the loneliness many of these men felt before dying after losing her angels, and she was compelled to make sure they were never left alone with no one to mourn their passing. She promised to always be there to remember their sacrifice them, and until December 16, 1922, she was.
I know there are a good many in the world who do not appreciate war. I hear the songs on the radio, hear the commentary on the radio, and the rhetoric on the T.V. screen. As I look back over these past months since I started reading and writing, I realize I have recommended a fair number of war stories to you, or if not all out war, stories that deal with violent situations. Like my Disclaimer note above, I have to say, I do not revel in war, but realize that like the poor and needy, it will always be with us. I just don’t see it can or will ever be avoided until the Millennium, so I don’t waste a lot of time trying to get the world to sing Kumbaya. Ain’t gonna happen. Bummer, isn’t it? When people ask, as an appliance repair man recently did (yes, I can get into philosophical discussions with anyone, just give me an opening), why, if God is good, is there so much bad in the world? My pat no spin answer is “Because people suck!” We’re just stupid, isn’t that obvious? It’s not God’s fault; it’s ours.”
My purpose always for diving into war stories is not to revel in the muck and horror of life, but to find the gems, the pearls in the mud. I know without a doubt as much filth as there is in this world and as ignorant as we humans are, the reality is there are always good people working with the Gifts of Heaven to make themselves better and helping those around them, just like Carrie Mc Gavock. I hope you agree. If you don’t, there is always fluff out there you can read, too, you just won’t see much of it in my columns.
A Stolen Tongue
The Captain’s Wife
The Path to Mountain Meadows
1. Robert Hicks, The Widow of the South, (Warner Books: New York, 2005) 107.
I’d love to know what books you’re reading and whether or not you’ve enjoyed my recommendations. Please, add me to your friends’ list at GoodReads.com or contact me via email at email@example.com
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Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations
Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations
By Neylan McBaine
Neylan’s mother, whom she refers to in this article, is Ariel Bybee, noted mezzo-soprano who has sung in over 450 performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.
As a child, I accompanied my mother to work far more often than I accompanied my father. Mom’s work was way more fun than my dad’s legal practice: She was an opera singer, the embodiment of a glamorous and glorious diva. In the bowels of the Metropolitan Opera House, the make-up artist would dash a bit of blush on my cheeks, the dressers would knit outfits for my Cabbage Patch Dolls while the singers were on stage. I learned early on to stand motionless behind the stage manager’s desk while my mother took a calming breath before elegantly bearing an unfailingly elaborate costume into the magical world of the proscenium.
The fact that my mother worked while I was a child remains a defining element of my upbringing. I was so proud of her. I recognized early on the physical power required to sing unamplified to an auditorium of four thousand people and be heard perfectly over an orchestra. I loved the stories she acted in, the fairy tale doll coming to life in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman and the life and death passion of Bizet’s Carmen.
But another element of my upbringing balanced out the egocentric grandeur of the stage. My mother was a devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving as Primary President and Relief Society president in our Manhattan ward while portraying freewheeling Jenny in Mahagonny or the young boy Sesto in La Clemenza di Tito across the street from our chapel. Throughout my childhood, my mother successfully straddled both sides of Lincoln Center: on one side, she excelled on the Met stage, while on the other side, she faithfully attended and served in the Manhattan chapel.
The balance demonstrated so exceptionally by my mother allowed me to see that, despite the one-size-fits-all expectations that we sometimes embrace for women, there are many ways for a Mormon woman to choose the right. Constructing a life of faith and service was, for my mother, a grueling lifelong pursuit requiring an intense personal relationship with the Lord and an iron sense of self-worth. She appeared externally to have little in her life that mirrored the “ideal” Mormon woman template often preached from the pulpit: She did not have a Priesthood-bearing husband, she did not have a lovely suburban home, she did not have an abundance of children. She often felt judged for these perceived failures, but in her heart she understood the Lord’s purpose for her.
“[Mormon] culture is unused to sustaining two identities in any one woman,” wisely observes poet Emma Lou Thayne in the recently published book Mormon Women: Portraits and Conversations (Handcart Books, 2009). The co-existence of faith alongside a life in the world is the theme so movingly explored in the fourteen profiles of this book. Author James N. Kimball and photographer Kent Miles spent years traveling to Scotland, Japan, France, Brazil and throughout the United States interviewing and photographing Mormon women who are unlikely to fit the standard mold, but who live their religions with exceptional grace.
My mother’s own dual identity as a singer and a Mormon woman finds companionship in the lives of these remarkable women. Consistently, these women successfully balance their faith with involvement in professional, civic, or service pursuits in a way that makes meaningful and lasting changes not only in their families but in the world around them.
“My culture idolizes the simplified woman, ardent and singular, bent to the collective and determined to serve it,” Thayne continues in her profile. “The idea of the radiant mother, which I have been a part of for nearly forty years, is not something I would abandon. But a concomitant life beckoned, the life of those poets. It’s one of the great human dilemmas: How could I live both lives and be fulfilled without sometimes neglecting one or the other? Mostly by being tired in the morning.”
What mother hasn’t felt that pull at the end of the day when the little ones are tucked in bed to invest in something that confirms her own intelligence, her own spiritual longings, her own creative goals? And what mother hasn’t woken up the next morning, on far too little sleep, bemoaning but never regretting that sacred second life? The passions and skills of Mormon women vary in the time invested and the recognition received, but the constant back-and-forth tug between ourselves and those we serve is common to us all.
For my mother, this balance was defined in part by the fact that she had only one child. While she mostly gave up international performance to be home with me, she might have had to sacrifice more of her career — or the whole thing — if she had had more children. Similarly, many women profiled in Mormon Women: Portraits & Conversations have never married or have small nuclear families, giving them the time and impetus to invest in lives outside the traditional Mormon family structure. Cecile Pelous, a fashion designer from Paris, was not able to have children of her own, giving her the time and means to start an orphanage in Nepal. She is now the official, adoptive mother of seventy-nine Nepalese children. “They are now in my genealogy,” she explains in her profile. “I have learned that I am not important, but I am sure that the time and effort I have given has changed the lives of so many children. For me, it isn’t necessary that I personally give life to a baby. I am mother to a hundred and thirty-eight [the number served in her orphanage].”
Catherine M. Stokes, a public health administrator profiled in the book, identifies the inverse relationship between time required by a family and the time required to pursue an outside interest: “All women are single at some point in their lives. You’re single before you marry, and most women outlive their husbands, and they’re single again. You can have a wonderful life being single. You can serve. As a matter of fact, you may be in a situation of being freer to serve because you don’t have immediate responsibilities for someone else.”
It’s not surprising then that almost half of the women profiled were not married long-term or have only one child. So is the lesson of the book that we must give up abundant, life-long familial relationships in order to make a public impact on the world around us?
Absolutely not. While women with smaller families may have more time and energy to invest outside of their homes, the book also highlights women who fit the Mormon prototype: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Emma Lou Thayne, Christine Durham, Victoria Fong Kesler and Carol Gray all have followed the model that eluded my own mother. All around retirement age, each has been married to the same man and has born an abundance of children.
The life model celebrated by these women is that of “times and seasons.” Each spent years in the trenches of motherhood, fulfilling years of traditional service at home and at Church. But life is long, and these women found an evening here and a morning there to piece together advance degrees, publications, teaching jobs or small business ideas. Englishwoman Carol Gray enlisted her grown daughter to help her deliver 27 convoys of aid supplies to the Balkan War zone. Kiyo Tanaka serves as a news anchor for the deaf, using everyday the gift of sign language given to her by her deaf parents to serve the community around her. Each woman’s life remains entwined with Church and family, but the long reaches of time, age and experience have allowed her to extend her skills beyond her home.
While my mother pursued music professionally, I dedicated thousands of hours in my youth to studying solo piano. Aside from the hours spent at school, nothing else in my life required so much time and commitment as my piano studies. Once, as a teenager, I had the opportunity to visit with a revered older woman who had held positions of Church-wide leadership and who seemed to me to embody supreme womanly spiritual grandeur. She too had spent thousands of hours as a youth committed to piano studies, and had been accepted to The Juilliard School for college where I was currently attending a high-school program. A woman even attending college in her era was a major accomplishment, and to be accepted to the world’s greatest conservatory an even greater honor. She pulled me close as she continued her own story: “Neylan, I never went,” she told me as my mouth dropped in bewilderment. “I loved the piano too much. I felt that if I gave my all to the piano, as Juilliard would require, I wouldn’t have enough room in my life to love the Savior.”
My older friend’s story left me confused and somewhat discouraged. As a Mormon woman myself with a thousand joys and curiosities in my life, did I have enough time, enough emotional and physical energy, to serve the Lord sufficiently?
Mormon Women: Portraits & Conversations offers a hallowed relief to those women like me who have lived with a question mark over their multihued lives. Yes! if affirms. You may be tired in the morning, but over the course of a life, faith and family can walk hand in hand with a life of worldly work. The women’s stories are a spectacular and long-overdue testament to our historically underestimated capacity.
The aftertaste of that initial affirmation is, however, slightly bitter. Upon reflection, the stories might seem in fact too spectacular. While thrilled that our culture is represented in the broader world by such richly woven lives, I also found myself feeling a little overwhelmed by the greatness of it all. What does this greatness mean for me? Am I still justified in pursuing my “concomitant life,” as Emma Lou Thayne describes her non-motherly pursuits, even if I never win a Pulitzer Prize (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich), become governor of my province (Lea Rosser) or survive a Stalinist gulag in Siberia (Tsobinar Tadevosyan)?
The answer — as it is in all of these women’s lives — is in the balance. As personal examples to other Mormon women, they prove that one can live a gospel life without reproach and still carve out time and energy for non-stereotypical interests. As representatives of our culture, these women offer balance too: rather than setting a new, unreachable standard for what Mormon women are expected to do, they serve merely as a necessary and belated counter weight to the convention of the simple woman that has too long defined seven million diverse sisters.
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Nauvoo was Restored Because of “a Little Help from Our Friends”
When Dr. J. LeRoy Kimball purchased the Nauvoo home of his great-grandfather, Heber C. Kimball, in 1954, he spent several years restoring it as a family vacation home. Dr. Kimball was a heart surgeon in Salt Lake City, and he thought he would like to occasionally get away from his medical practice.
He was surprised when visitors stopped by, asking to see Heber C. Kimball’s home. During the dedication of the home in 1960, a thousand guests attended-and visitors kept coming. Dr. Kimball said he never spent one night in that home. The next year he invited a couple to live in the home who gave tours to 15,000 people.
Heber C. Kimball home
At that time, Old Nauvoo contained weeds, debris, and dilapidated buildings. Dr. Kimball hadn’t planned to reconstruct Old Nauvoo. When he learned that a motel might be built across the street from the Heber C. Kimball home, Dr. Kimball purchased the land to protect his property.
Soon he bought other lots, including the homes of Brigham Young and Wilford Woodruff. Dr. Kimball contacted Church leaders in Salt Lake City and experts from such places as Jamestown (VA), Williamsburg (VA), and the National Parks System for advice about Old Nauvoo. In 1962, Nauvoo Restoration Incorporated (NRI) was formed, with Dr. Kimball serving as its president from 1963 to 1987.
Dr. J. LeRoy Kimball
With the help of two Hancock County attorneys, NRI purchased land and began restoring homes and buildings. Preston Kimball, a Nauvoo attorney, represented NRI with legal matters until he died in 1976. Then LeRoy A. Ufkes from Carthage became NRI’s legal representative for over thirty years. Because of his relationship with NRI, Ufkes said, “People in Nauvoo called me ‘The Mormon.’ They did it to Preston Kimball, too.”
LeRoy Ufkes explained that “Preston Kimball was born and raised in Nauvoo, and he practiced law there. Dr. Kimball needed a lawyer. Both men had the last name of Kimball and were distantly related.” Preston Kimball’s family had settled in Nauvoo and acquired property before the Saints arrived in 1839. Dr. Kimball learned that Preston Kimball was an honest man who knew the city well.
Parley Holliday, NRI Project Manager from 1971 to 1983, said that NRI purchased most of its properties between 1964 and 1971 after consulting with Ed Kendrew of the Colonial Williamsburg restoration project. Kendrew recommended buying property quickly but taking time to restore the homes and buildings. Preston Kimball handled the legal work during these busy years. “He did all of his attorney work without a secretary,” said former banker Leonard Hogan. “Modern machinery was not his forte. If Preston needed copies, he used six or seven carbons instead of a photocopier.”
According to LeRoy Ufkes, “Preston was one of the Mormon’s best people. He did a lot for the Church. I wouldn’t have become acquainted with the Mormons without Preston Kimball. I began helping when they were cleaning up the flat. They bought the properties in the name of NRI and paid the going price. Most of the properties were vacated and run down.” Ufkes noted that “the Mormon Church was awfully nice to people who wanted to sell their properties on the flat.” When two sisters sold their homes to NRI, the Church granted them lifetime occupancy. “The Mormon Church has improved Nauvoo,” said Ufkes. “Building changes came from the Mormons. The non-Mormons haven’t changed them much.”
“Preston and I were good friends,” said Ufkes. “He was Catholic, and I’m Lutheran.” Preston never married. He lived on the flat with his mother, and he cared for her until she died.
Parley Holliday remembered that “Preston Kimball had no family, no one to hang onto” after his mother died. LeRoy Ufkes told Parley Holliday about helping terminally ill Preston Kimball buy a tombstone for his grave. That was a sad day for Ufkes. He understood then why a man needed a family, and he was grateful for his wife and daughter. Preston Kimball passed away at the age of 63. Ufkes settled his estate and became legal attorney for NRI. He kept his main office in Carthage, but added an office in Nauvoo, which belonged to Preston Kimball.
LeRoy Ufkes and Steven Baird, architect for Nauvoo’s Visitors Center and several homes
LeRoy Ufkes said, “If I did help the Mormons, I understood being the underdog.” Ufkes was born at Basco, Illinois-a little German farming community near Carthage. His parents were education-minded, and they decided to join a Carthage College church. “Some of the people looked down on us Germans,” said Ufkes. “Carthage was basically Methodist and Presbyterian. Being an underdog helped me rally for the Mormons.”
“I’ve never found a finer people than the Mormons,” said Ufkes. “Church leaders sort of took me under their wing.” Dr. LeRoy Kimball “tried to mix with the people, and he was a loyal man around town.” Ufkes “really knew President Hinckley. He and his wife were fine people. They liked Preston and they liked me. They must have had good taste.”
When Ufkes handled the transaction to purchase land around Carthage Jail, he was concerned about the Church paying too much for it. Dr. Kimball told him that the property was valuable. It needed to be cleaned off, fixed up, and landscaped properly-and an unsightly restaurant torn down. President Gordon B. Hinckley met with Ufkes in his Carthage office during the transaction process. “Hinckley was the power behind it,” said Ufkes. “Hinckley had a divine love for Nauvoo. He was a fine man. He was my kind of person.”
Carthage Jail rededication-Ufkes bottom left, Pres. Benson at podium, Pres. and Sis. Hinckley bottom right, Dr. Kimball and wife behind Sis. Hinckley
After the Carthage Jail renovation, a re-dedication ceremony took place on June 27, 1989. President Hinckley invited LeRoy Ufkes to sit on the stand with LDS Church President Ezra Taft Benson and other Church leaders and special guests. Ufkes had helped Church leaders select some of the special guests.
“Five thousand people attended the re-dedication,” said Ufkes. “Then they all went home. The stores were set to do business and sell hot dogs and other food. But the people just left.” Not supporting local businesses during this event disappointed the community. “Carthage Jail hasn’t really helped the economy in Carthage,” Ufkes observed.
President Hinckley at Carthage Jail rededication
LeRoy Ufkes remembered when President Hinckley announced the rebuilding of the Nauvoo Temple.
He returned home from a football game in Macomb, Illinois, and received a phone call from Salt Lake City. “They told me the temple was going to be built. I thought it couldn’t hurt the town. Church leaders were fair. They asked people what they thought about it. If it wasn’t for President Hinckley, the temple wouldn’t have been built.”
“When President Hinckley announced the temple, it was open season for real estate,” Ufkes said. “People thought it was time to get rich.
I cautioned President Hinckley about this. Finally, it cooled off.” According to Parley Holliday, “LeRoy tried to protect the Church and be fair. Even before taxes were paid, LeRoy looked them over and said they were too much or fair enough.”
Carol Hill, administrative assistant for NRI for over 20 years, added, “LeRoy was a friend of the Church. He went out of his way to keep NRI informed of Nauvoo, Carthage, and other areas. President Hinckley called LeRoy his friend. He gave LeRoy a set of signed scriptures, which he always kept on his desk in his office. LeRoy reminded me where his scriptures came from whenever I took him documents to sign. If there were General Authorities in town, LeRoy wanted to meet them. LeRoy came to almost all of the activities.”
LeRoy Ufkes and Angel Moroni Statue on the Nauvoo Temple grounds
President Hinckley invited LeRoy Ufkes to attend the temple ground breaking, cornerstone laying, and open house. President Hinckley always acknowledged his attorney’s presence. “I went through the temple open house with [Elder Donald] Staheli and lawyers from Macomb and other communities,” Ufkes remembered.
LeRoy Ufkes received his law degree from the University of Iowa. He was “a small-town lawyer who settled estates, made deeds, and tried some cases-mostly at the Hancock County Courthouse” in Carthage. Ufkes worked in politics, served as a state judge, and handled cases in the penitentiary. “Working with Mormons didn’t hurt my business at all. The Church called me lots for my opinions, and I feel part of them.”
In addition to his professional work, Ufkes and his wife Joan took part in civic affairs, such as serving on the hospital board in Carthage. LeRoy Ufkes concluded his thoughts by saying, “What do I want to be remembered by? I was a credit to my community. I’ve had associations with people in higher politics. Mormon Church leaders kept me informed. I’ve done all right.”
LeRoy Ufkes and Preston Kimball both did “all right” with their service to Nauvoo Restoration, Inc., for almost 50 years in Hancock County, Illinois.
Global Warming-A Clever Inoculation?
Global Warming-A Clever Inoculation?
By Gary C. Lawrence
Air France flight 447 from Rio to Paris had only been missing a few hours before someone declared that the doomed jet was a victim of global warming.
What won’t they blame on it next?
When global warming enters the scene stage left, fingers point in all directions:
- Hard science or theory?
- An urgent reason to rein in greenhouse gas emissions or the nothing-to-panic-about ups and downs of normal climate cycles?
- An opportunity to save the planet from disaster and win the Nobel prize or an opportunity to institute massive cap-and-trade taxes to fund new government programs?
Or . an opportunity to cleverly inoculate mankind against the messages God intends for us prior to the Second Coming of the Savior?
Christ has told us of many physical phenomena that will occur in the last days. No secrets here. The whole world could know them if they would but read the scriptures:
- Earthquakes in many places
- The earth will reel to and fro
- Seas will heave their bounds
- A great hailstorm will destroy the crops of the earth
- The sun will be darkened and the moon turned to blood
- Fires and drought
- A desolating sickness
- A plague of flies
- Marvelous signs in the heavens
Why the physical tweets? To warn God’s misbehaving children and to prepare a righteous people to meet Christ at the Second Coming.
So what would someone do if he wanted to thwart the impact of these warnings – to prevent someone from connecting the dots and getting God’s message?
There are three ways:
Deny the event
Deny the source
Deny the meaning
The first denial – “What earthquake?” – is obviously a non-starter. No one who suffers one is dumb enough to say it didn’t happen.
The second denial – “There was an earthquake, but it wasn’t caused by God” – provides a comfortable way to avoid thinking about messages.
The third denial has a yes-but twist: “Yes, it happened, and yes it came from God, but the message God is delivering is not what you think it is.”
How to get people to buy in to at least one of these denials? Patient inoculation over many years – the process of conditioning people to view anything and everything through a comfortable, politically correct set of glasses.
To a boy with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. To Americans in 2009, everything looks like global warming.
The strategy is simple. If people can be brought to believe that mankind is the cause of global warming, which has been drummed into us for two decades, then whatever disaster may be sent from God will be interpreted in global warming terms – it’s our own fault – and people will feel justified in ignoring the wake-up call, if they even pause to think in did-it-come-from-God terms.
So when these prophesied disasters happen, people will not see them as signs to turn their hearts to God:
- Earthquakes? “That’s what global warming can do.”
- Hailstorm? “Obviously the fault of global warming.”
- Seas heaving their bounds? “Our carbon emissions caused it.”
- Sun darkened? “There’s that global warming again.”
- Plague of flies? “It was our use of fossil fuels.”
- Fires and drought? “Ho-hum, just global warming.”
So intense has been this focus, that when the Savior returns to the earth, the Los Angeles Times headline will probably read, “Savior Ushers in Millennium; Impact on Global Warming Undetermined.”
In the smothering news coverage of global warming, many who deign to grant God a possible role in the prophesied physical phenomena are more likely to interpret His message as “don’t buy SUVs” than “don’t commit adultery.”
A monkey wrench in the inoculation plan is that the global warming theory is losing luster. As more experts acknowledge that global warming models cannot reverse-predict this year’s climate from yesteryear’s data, some scientists are even saying we should now be concerned about global cooling, a return to the fears of a new ice age so much in vogue in the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe they’ll soon claim that global warming causes global cooling.
Recent events illustrate the inconvenient data – the coldest June on record in Chicago, the first June snow in North Dakota in 60 years, frosts in Brazil, and even a snowstorm in Saudi Arabia.
So what’s it to be – global warming or global cooling?
What about both? Let’s be alarmed if the temperature rises and let’s be alarmed if it drops. Let’s fear . climate change.
Head for the hills. The climate is changing! The climate is changing!
How silly is this going to get? Since when has the climate not changed in this direction or that? Are we doomed to live in constant alarm?
The author of the inoculation against the signs of the last days would hope so.
Knowing not what they do, the inoculation folks dutifully bang the climate-change hammer against the bottom of society’s canary cage to keep us in a constant state of agitation. The result: a people dulled to perceive the true intent and message of the coming physical phenomena.
Perhaps not all climatic events will contain a specific message from God, but when He tells us that He will send certain signs to warn His children to shape up, we would be well advised to err on the side of careful thought rather than automatic denial.
Is it Boring to be Good? Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety
Is it Boring to be Good? Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety
By Marilyn Green Faulkner
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy wrote this famous first line and Anna Karenina’s miserable downward spiral exemplifies it, but is this oft-quoted statement really true? The underlying premise of the assertion – that happy, good people are somehow less “unique” than unhappy, sinful people – is troubling on several levels. The idea seems to be that unhappy people are somehow more interesting, and that evil and its consequences, with all the attendant drama, makes a better story than goodness.
Well, does it? Certainly sin, infidelity, murder and mayhem are at the heart of most narrative fiction. As Jane Smiley noted, “One of the particular vocations of the novel from the beginning has been the portrayal of brutes, criminals and psychopaths.” (13 Ways of Looking at a Novel, 115) And with the passage of time, it seems that the graphic depiction of evil has become the main focus of modern fiction. Sadly, this is usually coupled with a negative, cynical view of the nature of man that can leave a reader feeling hopeless. Novelist Saul Bellow spoke of how the bitterness inherent in the novels and poems of the last century has infected the tone of modern literature:
“There are modern novelists who take [this bitter life view] for granted as fully proven and implicit in the human condition and who complain as steadily as they write, viewing modern life with a bitterness to which they themselves have not established clear title.”
(Saul Bellow, “Some Notes on Recent American Fiction,” Encounter 21, (Nov 63) 26.)
Every Happy Family is Happy in Its Own Way
Can interesting fiction be created out of the stuff of normal, even happy lives? Wallace Stegner proved that it can. His lovely, lyrical Crossing to Safety succeeds in capturing the subtle evolution of a friendship between four good people – two married couples – as they interact over four decades. Though not without faults, all four characters are people of integrity and honor. They are true to their spouses, their commitments and their families. Stegner’s narrator describes them almost apologetically:
“All of us, I suppose, could be at least grateful that our lives have not turned out harmful or destructive. We might even look enviable to the less lucky…. We made plenty of mistakes, but we never tripped anybody to gain an advantage, or took illegal shortcuts when no judge was around. We have all jogged and panted it out the whole way.” (Crossing to Safety, 13.)
Later in the novel, the narrator confronts the issue of goodness as a fit subject for a novel:
“How do you make a book that anyone will read out of lives as quiet as these? Where are the things that novelists seize upon and readers expect? Where is the high life, the conspicuous waste, the violence, the kinky sex, the death wish? Where are the suburban infidelities, the promiscuities, the convulsive divorces, the alcohol, the drugs, the lost weekends? Where are the hatreds, the political ambitions, the lust for power? Where are speed, noise, ugliness, everything that makes us who we are and makes us recognize ourselves in fiction?” (241)
Stegner in fact worried that no one would read this novel, largely autobiographical and written late in a long, productive life. He said:
“There was nothing dramatic in those lives… so that I was taking risks, as I was quite aware. The contemporary novel deals commonly in sensation…. and I had the muleheaded notion that it ought to be possible to make books out of something less than loud sensation.” (Richard Etulain, Conversations with Wallace Stegner, quoted in Art and Spirituality, BYU Studies, 2008, p.18)
Stegner underestimated his audience, made up largely of people like himself, whose daily lives were filled with a different drama than one usually finds in novels. Readers responded to the honesty and goodness of the characters, and the book was a success. The narrator in the novel comments that “fiction requires drama, and drama demands the reversal of expectation.” Life provides such reversals on an ongoing basis, even when we make good choices instead of bad ones. Even without the “speed, noise, [and] ugliness,” there is enough drama in most lives to fill several novels.
Why Talk About Evil at All?
If goodness is what we are seeking, then why talk about evil at all? On the other end of the spectrum from those who equate intelligence with negativity, cynicism and a preoccupation with perversion, are those who feel that any discussion of the darker realities of life represents a sin in itself. Under this guise literature that deals in an honest way with sexuality, infidelity or any number of human failings is usually objectionable to someone. When I reviewed Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, I received a letter from a reader that thought it was wrong to write a book about a sinful, adulterous woman. This point of view has led to the banning of many of the world’s great books. Yet Jesus’s atoning sacrifice was centered in understanding and experiencing the pain and sorrow of others, and we need to understand the difference between good and bad not only to avoid the evil in our own lives, but to offer Christlike compassion to others.
Under what circumstances should we tolerate the treatment of evil in literature? This is an important question, not easily answered. We are commanded to seek after things that are “lovely, virtuous and of good report and praiseworthy.” Yet Jesus also warned that to successfully navigate the choppy waters of mortality we would need to be “wise as serpents yet harmless as doves.” Literature can offer us a way to develop a moral intelligence. The Bible sets the pattern, as life stories are presented and the results of choices can be observed from a safe distance, as it were. If we object to literature that depicts evil in any form, we would have to abandon most of the great classics, including the Bible! It is by experiencing evil and its consequences through fiction that we can gain wisdom without suffering pain ourselves. Philosopher Adam Morton explains:
“Evil acts arise from a specific failure of the way we choose our actions, in which the barriers against atrocity are overcome or eroded. Of course, there are many ways in which this can happen, and some of them are important enough to deserve being studied in their own right. In particular, understanding the various systematic forms of self-deception, by which we persuade ourselves that our harmful acts are really OK, would be of enormous value.” (On Evil, p. 946)
Brigham Young made a similar assertion as he encouraged the study of great literature:
“We are in a great school, and we should be diligent to learn, and continue to store up the knowledge of heaven and of earth, and read good books, although I cannot say that I would recommend the reading of all books, for it is not all books which are good. Read good books, and extract from them wisdom and understanding as much as you possibly can, aided by the Spirit of God. (Journal of Discourses 12:124)
What We Read Shapes Who We Are
We know that we are the sum and total of what we take into our bodies and minds through the years. Wide, careful reading expands our minds and spirits so that we begin to see the world through a clearer lens. The actions of others are more understandable, we grow more compassionate, and finally begin to “see ourselves as others see us.” It is harder to be narrow, cruel, prejudiced and hateful when we experience the truths of other lives through great literature. Adam Morton explains the difficulty of overcoming our narrow perspectives:
“We find it extremely hard to make two leaps of imagination: to see the motivation of someone who has done something appalling, and to see how someone could be appalled by something we have done with a clear conscience.” (On Evil, p. 196)
One reason that a study of the classics is worth pursuing is that these books have been proven over time to offer more than a gratuitous depiction of wickedness. These books offer a life view that will enrich our own. They offer understanding without condoning that which is wrong. They offer wisdom without cynicism, and increase our wonder in the face of goodness and beauty. They sometimes show us the worst in human nature, yet inspire us that the best is within us and can be obtained.
A Deeper Understanding of Our Daily Lives
Nothing is more common and every day than friendship. We turn to our friends for help, companionship, and fun. We turn to them in times of need. We neglect them, yet they remain. Friendship, what the Greeks called philia, is the one of the four loves least talked about, yet perhaps the most common, and a greater understanding of its role in our lives is the gift this novel offers us. Crossing to Safety will resonate with those who have been married a long time and have shared these growing years with lifelong friends. The book brings new perspectives into those relationships, so important yet so rarely dealt with in fiction. Friendship is built on shared interests, common bonds, and it is a less binding tie than marriage or parenthood. Yet friendship can only be maintained on the same principles that govern successful family life (to paraphrase the scripture), on “gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned.” Enjoy Crossing to Safety and celebrate the enduring friendships that give richness to your life.
Crossing to Safety is the summer selection for the Best Books Club. If you’d like to join our internet gathering and receive occasional emails with comments from other readers and additional book suggestions, email me at bestbooksclub@ meridianmagazine.com.
Best Books Club Readers Comment on Favorite Mysteries
In the spring article I offered a list of twenty great mysteries, and asked for additional suggestions. Our readers love mysteries and responded enthusiastically! I got a gentle reprimand for including The Maltese Falcon on my list of twenty great mysteries, from a reader who felt that the protagonist was too foul-mouthed for her taste. Two readers recommended the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. (I thought I put that on the list!) I love it too. I received two recommendations for a series by Judith Tey, who is not familiar to me, so I’m excited to take a look at her work. Finally, a recommendation for Laurie R. King’s series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes sent me to The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and I’m hooked. It has given me many delightful hours of reading. Here is a sampling of comments and suggestions:
On Ellis Peters’ Bro. Cadfael Mysteries: Derek Jacobi [in the PBS series] was the perfect Brother Cadfael. Suited the role to a “t”. I could not imagine anyone else doing so well.
As to the “reprimand” you received about the Maltese Falcon, it reminded me that I had paused to think before writing to you about the Br. Cadfael stories and asked myself “were they all clean?” There were instances where characters did not behave in an acceptable manner besides the murders, but always there was a ‘prevailing air’ of all knowing they had done wrong and the focus was on making things right. Edith Pargenter (Ellis Peters) was a wonderful writer in that aspect as she did not poke around in the bad stuff but acknowledged it’s presence only as information to be considered in sleuthing and making things right.
On Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone:
This is my favorite funny quote from Moonstone:
“It was downright frightful to hear him piling up proof after proof against Miss Rachel, and to know, while one was longing to defend her, that there was no disputing the truth of what he said. I am (thank God!) constitutionally superior to reason. This enabled me to hold firm to my lady’s view, which was my view also. This roused my spirit, and made me put a bold face on it before Sergeant Cuff. Profit, good friends, I beseech you, by my example. It will save you from many troubles of the vexing sort. Cultivate a superiority to reason, and see how you pare the claws of all the sensible people when they try to scratch you for your own good!” Mariam Kitchen
I enjoyed your column about mysteries. I, too, really enjoyed the Moonstone. Another classic mystery I recommend is Lady Audley’s Secret.
Loves Agatha Christie:
May I say how much I enjoyed your article on mystery books? I have always enjoyed a good mystery, and Wilkie Collins has been one of my favourite authors for many years. The Moonstone has to be one of my favourite books of all time, with Lady in White coming a very close second.
I have often thought that I would have liked of all things to be able accompany Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens on their Grand Tour of Europe. It must have been lots of fun, they both had the dry wit and subtle sense of humour that I share.
I hated the Sherlock Holmes tales, though…well, maybe ‘hated’ is too strong a word. But I found these novels to be profoundly boring, mainly because I usually worked out who the culprit was before I was very far in, which tended to destroy the ‘mystery’ element.
One novelist whose works I have read over and over since I was introduced to her as a twelve-year-old by a close family friend, is Agatha Christie. I have read all her books, so many times, and keep coming back for more – wonderful stuff!
Thank you once again for the article – a timely reminder of a life-long love. I would be very grateful if you could send me details of the Best Books Club, as I have often thought of starting a Book Club in my own Ward, and perhaps this would be a good place to begin.
Bolton Ward, Ashton Stake, UK
A New “Cozy” Series: I just saw your article (on Meridian) and am an avid reader; I read most of the Agatha Christie books in my late teens/early 20s and loved them. Lately, I have checked out some of the movies made for my daughter and myself to watch. She is a mystery fan (11 yrs. old) also. Anyway, just wanted to thank you for your list at the end and to tell you about a brand new mystery novel, the first of a “culinary mystery series” which contain not only recipes, but the foods have some small connection to the crime and the way it is solved. It’s called LEMON TART by Josi S. Kilpack and it was a featured book on the month with the Time Out For Women book clubs. We had been reading some wonderful doctrinal and self-help type books and so we were all feeling eager for an ‘easy read’ and something entertaining. This book is both; I also love baking, so this appealed to me. The book is written quite simply and I thought I could guess ‘whodunit’ pretty early on, but there was a few twists that I was happy to go down and be surprised in the end. Lemon Tart is not a ‘thriller’ type of mystery, but as you mentioned, more of a ‘cozy mystery’ which still kept me very involved in the reading once the climax was in view. Within the pages are recipes for about 5-6 delectable delights that we will make and serve when our book club next meets, which will be a unique and enjoyable addition to our monthly meeting.
Loves P.D. James: Thank you for your recent column about mystery stories.
I think I am drawn to mysteries because I have been a genealogist for 40+ years, beginning at the age of 16.
Genealogy is, in fact, a great human mystery and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to solve some of my family’s heritage problems on this side of the veil.
I particularly love British mysteries and especially P D James. I’ve only been to England once but I have a son who lives there and I would love to go again.
Mary Higgins Clark Fan: I have always enjoyed Mary Higgins Clark mysteries. They are short, grab you right away, and although I wouldn’t classify them as great literature, they are clean and satifying. Chapters are short, usually being about 3 to 4 pages, so it is easy to find a stopping point if you only have a few minutes. Please add me to your book list.
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Mormon Channel iPhone Application Now Available
I am pleased to report that the free Mormon Channel iPhone application is now available. This application allows iPhone users to tune into content being broadcast on the Mormon Channel, as well as listen to audio recordings of General Conference addresses, magazine articles, and the Church’s standard works. This application also works on the iPod Touch.
The Church is working on something similar for other mobile phones.