I'm on vacation. It's a decent little resort with a freaky beach – sand and shallow out as far as you can walk, until the clear water turns into a mass of seaweed and these frankenleeches the length of small snakes slither through the water looking for prey. We brought a canoe, some games, and enough food for an army. I've been sleeping in till near noon and then taking afternoon naps. The boys have been exploding firecrackers all day and the sheriff came out to investigate. When he came to talk to us, sitting around our picnic table I just looked at him confusedly, pointed and said, “I think they were down by the beach over there. You say firecrackers are illegal? It seems someone doesn't know.”
When I was a kid we never had vacations like this, no obligations and no pressure. When I was a kid vacations were a time of dread.
When I was fourteen we went to Island Park, Idaho with my father's all-Mormon family. It was a really big deal because it was the first family trip to Island Park since Grandfather died. He was the only voice of sanity in a family deserving a double segment on the Springer show. Grandpa drank Budweiser, smoked Marlboros, and thought the Mormon chapel was a great place for the women and children to go hang out while he worked in the garage. He was the chief of police of Blackfoot and I remember one trip in his Chevy pickup to Salt Lake City where he got turned around on the one-way streets around Temple Square and was pulled over by a squad car. He flashed a confident smile at the junior officer, showed his badge and said, “but officer, I was only going one way.” That bit of cheesy humor stuck with me to this day. Sadly, I'm the only one who's ever laughed at it.
My family is loud – Mormon loud. Everyone has something to say and everyone must be able to hear, so the entire clan is screaming at the top of their lungs in an effort to outdo the next loudest jerk. A mile down the road and me and my cousins can still hear Aunt Cheryl and Aunt Maureen discussing the proper time for lunch. Besides being loud, my father's family is obscenely large, both in numbers and weight. There isn't a family tug'o war challenge that my family isn't going to win. Just watching them is like observing a parking lot of heavy equipment made out of flesh and nerve – a lot of nerve. I don't have an uncle under six feet and none of the brothers tips the scale at less than two-eighty. Dozens of them, huge and loud gathered around a couple of R.V.'s and a score of tents, screaming through the woods that it's time for prayer and, “If someone doesn't git' over here right this second, there's gonna be some paddling.”
I'm a quiet man, seriously. Oh, I can get going on a story and when I'm mad at one of the boys I let it be known, but I'm not very loud and never have been. I don't really make friends easily, am embarrassed far too quickly, and prefer smaller, intimate gatherings of people who like each other for more reason than an accident of birth.
I wandered down to the lake and along the shore until I was far from that screeching mess that is my family. I took a sketchpad and a book, Macroscope by Piers Anthony. I'd had to hide the book in my sack because it wasn't approved reading and my father would have thrown it away had he known.
There I was lounging on a rock, reading when the prettiest girl I'd ever seen came strolling by. She smiled. “Hi,” she said. Her eyes were blue, her cheeks were flushed red from the sun and her long blond hair was tied back in two ponytail braids which dropped free from under a purple baseball cap.
“Hi,” I said back.
Then as if she were handing me a gift of an ice-breaker, she asked, “What are you reading?” I launched into an explanation of this amazing book that dealt with the idea of using space positions to look right back in time and through matter. She was interested and asked questions about whether such a thing was possible and since I didn't know I said so. She sat down on near me. “Most boys just make it up if they don't know or pretend to be experts. You're different. What's in the sketchbook?” she asked.
I showed her some of my sketches and she was interested in those as well. Her name was Janet and she was also at the lake with her family. They were from Boise, she was also fourteen and she had her own paper-route just like me. She had to leave then but her family was staying all week just like mine. We agreed to meet there the next afternoon at two o'clock. I was so excited. A girl, a pretty girl, wanted to see me again.
I went back to the family fray and the thrumming headache that came with it.
The next day we met back near the water and she brought a small sack with some of her books and stuff in it. She also had a sketchpad and we took turns drawing things we saw: trees, birds, our hands. For a couple hours we had a really good time and then she challenged me to a rock skipping contest. She could really throw and I found out we had something else in common. We were both pitchers on little league teams.
It was time to go back to the fray and she pulled me to her and gave me a kiss, right on the lips and with a little bit of tongue. Wow, I couldn't wait till the next day.
The third day we met and walked along the rocky shoreline, in a direction away from my family. I made sure of that. She held my hand and we helped each other climb over limbs and rocks. After some time we kissed again, this time much longer and many more kisses, probably twenty minutes or so. Then we parted.
Back at the family gathering the worst thing in the world happened. Aunt Cheryl asked, “Who was that girl you were walking with?” My face lit up red as a beet. It wouldn't have been so bad if she'd just asked me, but her squealing question had the force of concert amplifiers behind it. Everyone in the family heard. There was a small moment of family silence, maybe the first one in two years, and then they all started in. I just wanted to hide in a hole. They were unrelenting. “Ricky's got a girlfriend.” “Who is she?” and the inevitable, “Is she Mormon?”
The next day I tried to hide my trail, but there were dozens of family members alerted to the goings on and soon I had several cousins, an uncle, and my dad joining in the private time. Janet didn't seem to mind, because at first a Mormon family is so outgoing that you really think they mean well. We were forcibly invited to go back up to the family campsite, which we did. Then the testimonies started as soon as they found out that she wasn't a Mormon and therefore, the poor girl had no chance at eternal salvation.
One by one these people whom I wish I'd never known were holding up the Book of Mormon and telling this fourteen year old girl how true it was and what it meant to them in their lives. The story of Joseph Smith being visited by holy messengers and even the Lord himself was recounted and joy of joys, it'd happened when he was just our age – fourteen. He'd prayed for guidance and received it, proving that boys and girls in their early teens can be granted Holy gifts just like Joe Smith was.
I was mortified. I didn't know what to say and I had no idea how to extract her, or myself, from the situation. I thought it couldn't get any worse.
“Why don't you bear your own testimony, Rick?” My father demanded, so the assembly could hear. It's a Mormon's duty to bear their testimony for all to know, so that we can reach as many people as possible with our “light shining on a hill,” our beacon, the spirit of the Lord.
I stood and mumbled out a few words. “I know the church is true. I know Joseph Smith was a prophet. I know the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” and the assembly happily repeated, “Amen.”
Janet stood up and said she had to go. Her parents were expecting her. I asked if she wanted me to walk with her and she said, “No, it's okay. I'll get there on my own.”
I went to our spot the following day, and the day after, but Janet didn't show up. The day before we left Island Park, I went back to the spot and there was a piece of sketchbook paper under a rock. On it was the sketch she'd made of my hand and a note in purple ink.
“I like you. You're nice and smart.
My parents don't want me to see you anymore after I told them about all that church stuff.