My life among the Mormons

BY CLAYTON PATTERSON  |  In making decisions and choices regarding who I am and how I view the world, all I really have to reflect on are my own experiences.

As it turns out, I do have a connection to Mitt Romney. It starts with the fundraising speech he made that was caught on video: “There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you-name- it… . These are people who pay no income tax. … [M]y job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

I was shocked by this statement. After all, Romney is a proud Mormon.

I had left home between grades nine and grade 10. Between grades 10 and 11, to make money, I worked on a farm in southern Alberta. I was the only worker for this sickly farmer. I did a lot of work. Instead of getting paid weekly I decided to survive on little, hold off and get all my money at the summer’s end. But after two months and two weeks of labor, I was given only $90. I was taken aback. The farmer said he would buy me a bus ticket to Calgary and I could go live back home. I said, ‘Keep the bus ticket,’ and I hitchhiked back to Calgary, but then turned around and hitchhiked back.

The farmer’s wife was a teacher in a nearby town. The population of the town and surrounding area was made up of mostly Mormons, as well as Mennonites and Japanese Buddhists. Neither the sickly farmer nor his wife were Mormon, but through them I had met a Mormon farmer who I considered to be a friend. When I hitchhiked back, I went to visit him.

I wanted to be in the same school as the sickly farmer’s wife. I wanted her to know I was back.

I ended up getting a job working for room and board with one of the poorest Mormon farmers in the community. My bed — not the room — was divided off with a curtain from the rest of the small space they lived in. To make money, I worked on this large commercial farm run by a powerful Mormon family. I went to the local school and lived like a Mormon. After I got up at 5 a.m., I milked the cows and did the chores and, like the other kids, in the early morning before school, I attended the classes on Mormonism. I learned a little bit about Mormons.

At that time I thought if I was ever going to be religious I would be a Mormon. I liked the community values I witnessed: How they took care of each other — and yes not everyone was equal, but equal enough to be a part of the whole. The bishop was a bigger deal than the guy I worked for. And yes there were kids with limited abilities in school that sometimes were the butt of jokes, but everyone belonged and everyone was important to the whole group. The Mormon community was made of the whole cross-section of a normal population. Some were well-off and others poor; there were the hardworking as well as the lazy. I was deep in the culture. I lived in a Mormon household, went to the school, dated the girls, went to the community dances, played on the soccer team, had friends, went to the early-morning program before school, went to temple. I was inside the community. An outsider, but living as an insider.

The Mormons had a community farm that everyone shared the work on. I worked on the farm and in fact won the bale-throwing contest. All the profits from this farm were put into a reserve to deal with community problems. If a family with a limited income couldn’t afford a needed specialized medical treatment, the temple picked up the balance. There was shame — the support was expected.

In this life there is no utopia. One guy at the high school played the bully, except with me. I got into a fight with him. Got pulled into the principal’s office in the end. I quit eleventh grade and hitchhiked back to Calgary. I never became a Mormon, but without question, I appreciated many of their values, like how they treated and respected each other: No matter what the income or social status, everyone was equal enough. They were dedicated to their religious beliefs, honest, hardworking people who shared what they had. They had strong family values. They didn’t have any kind of stimulants or intoxicants in the community — no coffee, no Coca-Cola, no alcohol. They helped people in need outside of their community. They were in complete support of small, self-run, independent businesses. I never witnessed anything unsavory. I liked the people.

I could not imagine those people going in and bankrupting and selling off a business for profit, à la Romney and Bain Capital. Instead they would have supported and tried to save the business. I could not imagine them writing off almost half the American population because the people are struggling.

Romney has lost contact with the Mormon values, or at least all the goodness I witnessed within that Alberta farming community. He has no concept what the term “We The People” means.

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15 Responses to My life among the Mormons

  1. There was shame — the support was expected. There was no shame in being poor or needing money.

  2. Or, perhaps the media depiction of Romney is a false propaganda driven image.

  3. mormons i have known have also been very community oriented. I suspect that romney isn't as bad as he seems, underneath all the politics and such. it tends to bring out the worst in people. obama is a nice guy too, but his campaign is engaging in all sorts of rude and mostly untrue accusations and such. it just goes with the job.

    the people are used to it, they expect it, and someone seems soft if they dont do it. or they get crushed by the other side.americans are raised on narratives of conflict in just about every form of media they consume. mormons are the exception. but romney is more a politician than a mormon.

  4. Just a couple of notes–Mormons don't send preschoolers to early morning classes. I think the author means seminary–a before-school religion class for teenagers. Also, the author could not have gone to temple. He might have gone to church in a chapel, but regular worship services are not held in temples and only practicing Mormons can enter the temple.

  5. Mitt Romney admitted that he had made a mistake. Obama has made verbal mistakes. Good people forgive others when they apologize.

  6. Clayton Patterson

    G.R. – it is a matter of semantics and brevity – since I mentioned grade 11- preschool meant before school classes started for the day. Not pre-school as before entering the elementary school system. Hoping that the reader would catch the meaning.

    • I understood what you meant from the context, but others were confused. I would've gone with "preschool" meaning nursery school, and "pre-school" meaning before school hours. But this is kicking a dead horse now, so forget it. I know about brevity. For years my stock in trade was the 300- to 1,200-word magazine or encyclopedia article. Then my overhead went up (as did everyone's), so now I work in advertising as a proofreading manager. I think you are a great writer and am looking forward to reading your book on the Jewish history of the L.E.S. Keep up the great work.

      • Lincoln Anderson, you are no slouch either. Let me not overlook you. Relevant subject matter and unbiased honesty, who knew these would become such rare commodities in 21st-century journalism? Long live The Villager.

  7. lincolnanderson

    OK, I see what you mean. I think the original phrasing could have been better. But whatever — very good column, enjoyed it.

  8. lincolnanderson

    "Pre-school" just wasn't the best word choice — and it can give a connotation I don't think you were trying to give. I just now changed it up a bit in the online version to make it more clear. In general, the article is pretty well-edited, I think, and was improved by the editing. It's a good read, Clayton, thanks.

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