My feet smacked the asphalt on a day too hot to be barefoot. It was October and the Inland Empire sun scorched 103 degrees. 5pm my dad yelled for us to come home. A call never to be taken lightly, as the last one home might get a swat. ‘Cuz he "felt like it". I ran like my life depended on it, inhaling a fiery heat that burned my throat. Every breath felt like my last in a sauna, paralyzed by the sun.
My parents were unusually quiet.
In a rare moment, they were calm. Andrew, Brittany, and I took a seat on an 80s loveseat with little burnt orange and blue flowers.
Mom: “We’re moving to Utah.”
Brittany: “Where’s that?”
Dad: "Don't ask questions. We're gonna move. Get rid of all your shit."
Me: "He's not talking about my toys is he?"
I spent 80% of my childhood screaming on the inside. I hated being a kid. I wanted more say. I wanted more freedom. My life was like a lifeboat drifting among the debris of a crashing Titanic with an unconscious captain at the helm.
The more I learned about Utah, the less I wanted to go. It was 90% white and 99.9% Mormon.
I was shocked, scared, and a little excited. Everything I knew about the world was Southern California
Not even a week later… We had visitors.
Missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The neighborhood didn’t like ‘em. Youngins’. White shirt, black slacks, and a tie. “What are you selling?” My dad asked. To everyone but Mormons, the missionaries came across as naïve. Too young and too inexperienced to tell a hard baby boomer like my dad what religion to believe.
I didn’t know we were so religious until the missionaries asked. All of a sudden, we pledged loyalty to house Catholic, but the only time we went to church was Christmas and Easter. My parents went to Catholic school, but what did they teach us? To pray, be grateful, and yell if you want to be heard. They declined the missionaries, who ultimately left us with a VHS tape on “family”.
The timing of the missionaries was ironic. My mom’s company had been bought out and she was offered a job in the brand new Wells Fargo building in Salt Lake City. We were moving to Utah, a 90% Mormon state. The company my mom worked for got bought out, and she took the job offer in Salt Lake City.
Did they know we were moving to Utah? How did they find us? We knew one Mormon family in our neighborhood, and they had 6 kids. Yet, so did my mom's family, and they're Catholic, so why are Catholics doggin' on Mormons?
My family gathered in front of the TV with that Mormon VHS. The video showed a family having "Family Home Evening". A night where everyone in the family shares their spirit and belief in God. The dad said a prayer. The mom taught a spiritual lesson. The brother made up a game, and the little sister made popsicles out of ice cube trays. Her craftiness made a real impression on me. To be quite honest, I liked watching their interactions.
Every one cared.
The VHS ended.
No one said anything.
Of all families, mine needed this lesson on “the family”. I got siblings stealin’ pop-tarts, a mom throwin’ dishes across the room, and an angry black dad perpetuating slave punishment. There was never peace at home.
The families in our neighborhood, “Christian” they claimed, were plagued with divorce, drugs, and abuse. America in general is plagued. My parents’ weren’t as bad as the neighbor who killed his wife, or the neighbor who cheated on her husband, or the whacky mom who spun out. In my 7-year-old mind, I couldn’t help but think:
Things should be different.
We all had different opinions about the move. My dad was excited to be the only black man in Utah besides Karl Malone. My mom was relieved to shave 2 hrs off her drive time. My brother was fine, he'd adapt anywhere. My sister was emotional. I wanted to live with my Grandparents.
My Grandma Mimi said, "Those white folks will never accept you."
I said, "Mimi, it's the 90s and tan skin is all the rage."
I couldn't tell if she was going to laugh or hit me.
Grandma had to drink from the colored fountain half her life, and carried a tolerable amount of prejudice.
To ease the move, Mimi took my sister and I shopping at COSTCO. Mimi got so pissed when my sister said she didn't want Coscto clothes. That simple, thoughtless statement made Brittany Public Enemy #1 for years. I was the humble child.
I got 32 Pop Tarts, 72 bagel bites, and 90 airheads. Mimi even got me a cute outfit for the 1st day of school! A cream corduroy jumper with a maroon long sleeve, cable knit tights, and metallic boots. Mimi and Noonie dropped us off @ LAX.
I was scared.
My life and everything I knew was about to change.