“Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
In July 1967, three months after my/our husband, William Preston Tucker/AKA: Bill Tucker (I say “our” husband because I was one of Bill’s three wives), announced to the “church” he was leaving, he died from a burst appendix. Up until then, he had been one of the two top leading priesthood members of my Uncle Joel LeBaron’s Messianic Mormon fundamentalist cult.
My Uncle Ervil LeBaron, Joel’s eighteen-months-younger brother, was the other top-ranking priesthood member of Joel’s “church,” “The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times” — a Mormon Fundamentalist doomsday cult headquartered in Colonia LeBaron, Galeana, Chihuahua, Mexico.
When Bill died, most of the true-believing members of this apocalyptic extremist group believed God had taken him because he left “The Church.” In their minds, he had apostatized from the only true religion upon the face of the earth. Therefore, half the people who had followed my/our husband out of Joel’s cult of polygamists, just three months before, returned to his cult — now more fervent followers than ever!
Bill’s dying was all the sign they needed to convince them Joel’s “church” was true, after all. And Bill had simply been led astray by Satan and his minions. It didn’t carry much weight with them that Bill died because he was allergic to Penicillin — the wonder drug that cures peritonitis — the fatal infection that sets in when the appendix burst.
The following poem was written shortly after my husband’s death. I was barely twenty-one, had just escaped the LeBaron cult two months before, had a three-year-old daughter, no money, no home, no support system — “No nothing” but the legacy of having spent my past seven years held captive in a secluded, backwards, and abusive polygamist cult, where I was married at sixteen, in a prearranged marriage, to a man (William Preston Tucker) ten years my senior who already had two other wives — the oldest one, Marilyn Tucker, fifteen years my senior and immensely jealous of me — not to mention his other wife who was six years my senior.
During my seven years — from age fourteen to twenty-one — living in the LeBaron cult in Mexico, I was deprived of an education and every modern convenience — plus any type of contact with the outside world. That meant, among other things, no telephone, radio, television, newspapers, magazines, or books. And the motto was: “Keep them barefoot ‘n’ pregnant.”
Most of us were living a religiously-fanatic, backward, poverty-stricken lifestyle worse than many people lived in the feudal systems of the Middle Ages — the Medieval Period; i.e., the period from 500 AD to 1500 AD — or the 6th- 16th centuries.
I used a bucket tied to a rope to draw water from a well about half a block from my kitchen, scrubbed laundry on a washboard or my knuckles, bathed in a small galvanized metal tub, and had no indoor plumbing.
For most of us in LeBaron, “toilet” meant a rickety old unpainted wooden outhouse — and a “stink” pot or can kept under our bed … that needed frequent emptying and cleaning. It was like camping out, except I lived in a cinderblock or adobe abode instead of a tent — depending on which period of my seven years I spent in LeBaron.
We had no electricity, either. I lit a coal oil lamp for light when evening fell and didn’t have the luxury of a cook stove, let alone a fireplace. This is but a glimpse of the background I left behind upon entering “Babylon” — as the cult called it.
Yes, within a month or so after my husband’s death, I had left the LeBaron Colony behind, and moved to “the foreign country of California, USA.” Grief-stricken and shorn of my previous religious foundation and security system, needless to say, in every way, California was culture shock and post-traumatic-stress syndrome/PTSD in three-quarter time — except I was only waltzing to keep from crying.
To make matters worse, though I was twenty-one, I barely had six years of a mostly Utahan country-school education — which I was lucky to have gotten before my parents moved me and the rest of their family to Mexico in 1960 to “gather with the Saints” in the LeBaron Colony — a backward, secluded “get-away” in the Rocky Mountain Range that extended from Western Canada, the Southwestern United State, and on into Mexico. Once there, my education ended and dire deprivation began.
My teaching career also began: I hadn’t been there in that corner of The Rockies’ — that desolate little LeBaron Chihuahuan-desert dump more than three months but what my parents volunteered my 16-year-old sister and me, an extremely shy, fourteen-year-old, to teach the colony’s kids. I was suddenly, and with no preparation, handed the adult responsibility of a group of twelve kids, ranging from ten years to my own age! And I hadn’t the slightest understanding of pedagogy and its centuries-year-old precepts!!
I’d never had a reason to think about teaching theories before, let alone think about why and what youngsters should learn — other than when I played house and pretended I was a schoolteacher teaching my dolls – or my little siblings! And fantasized about growing up and being a teacher someday.
But now, I had to figure out everything on my own — and without the benefit of books or paper — and all within a day or two! Had to figure out such things as “Why Schools? And why teach, anyway? And if education is important, how, why, and what should I be teaching?” I had never had any reason to think about such lofty adult ideas and ideals. And why should I? Children simply take these things for granted, having grown up with education being “a given,” and going to schools given by grown-ups.
But now I was thrown this — another unbelievable whopper — while still suffering culture shock, due to the isolated, bleak little boring, backward, wind-swept desert colony — an utterly sweltering, desolate, dry, sandy oasis, as compared to what I had barely left behind in the small agrarian town Hurricane, Utah, USA!
Now, on top of this, suddenly I was deluged with the role of “responsible adult” to add to my PTSD and the other emotional distress and loneliness I was dealing with, but could hardly endure. The distress included my raging adolescent hormones, the loss of my home, bedroom, most of my toys, friends, teachers, lifestyle, and the school I so loved back in Utah. But there were also many other strange things and changes I found and had to adjust to in this Third-World, foreign country. The Mexican peoples, different customs, and Spanish, itself, were monsters for a shy, introverted teenager to adjust to. And to add to all of it, my siblings and I were crammed into a temporary one-room windowless adobe hut with a dirt floor, where we lived for a year or more while Daddy built our family a residence of our own.
But there were also many other strange things and changes I had to contend with and adjust to in this third-World, foreign country. The Mexican peoples, different customs, and Spanish, itself, were monsters for a shy, introverted teenager like me to adjust to. To add to it all, my siblings and I were crammed into a dark, cramped, one-room adobe hut with a dirt floor and the only one window that was covered by, not glass, but see-through plastic! There we lived for a year or more while Daddy built our family a residence of our own.
To add to it all, my siblings and I were crammed into a dark, stank, one-room adobe hut with a dirt floor. Its only window was covered by oiled butcher paper! There we lived for a year or more while Daddy built our family a residence of our own.
To put it succinctly, the LeBaron colony was utterly not what my mother had built it up to be –– Not at all what I was expecting or looking forward to! My parents got us kids all excited about leaving our home and many of our belongings, etc., in exchange for this rugged pioneer life — this primitive existence in Old Mexico — “to live with the Saints and help build up the kingdom of God”!
But we were fleeing there, also, to avoid the famine and destruction one of Ma’s dreams showed her was soon to rain down upon “the wicked and worldly United States” — the country that was going to finally be punished by God for having persecuted and killed the early Mormon Saints — especially Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum!
But be that what it may, to add to my disappointment, despair, and distress, I was now expected to carry an adult job … to be a teacher, no less! Well, I almost lost my mind trying to deal with this sudden responsibility thrust upon me. It was just one more security blanket pulled off me.
Trying to figure out the answers to all my queries about why and what to teach … and a lot more … was mind-boggling beyond words! What were my parents thinking?! They had to be dreaming … certainly, they weren’t rational!
Fortunately, before I went crazy with the stress of this stupendous responsibility I hadn’t been given even the least preparation for, Daddy caught me, the evening after my first strenuous day of teaching, lying face down on the couch in the living room, and thrashing around in a fetal position., trying to smother my sobs so nobody would hear.
I continued wreathing in agony, as Daddy, deeply concerned, tenderly inquired of me, “What’s wrong?” And I wailed, in response: “I don’t know how nor what to teach … And I’m too nervous to talk in front of those kids!”
I never before saw him so worried. He couldn’t locate Mumma quickly enough. Finding her in the kitchen, he had some anxious words with her; whereupon, she dropped what she was doing and came to my rescue. It’s amazing what a few words of consolation from your mumma can do:
For starters, she told me she’d had some teacher-training classes during her couple of years of college. Then quieted my worries by telling me she would take over my classroom the following morning, to demonstrate how to educate and to control the unruly kids.
Well, all I can say is it was about time! With her Teacher Training, she should’ve been teaching the class! But after her Teacher Demonstration, that following morning, she even gave me a book for beginning Educators that taught some teaching theory and explained how to prepare and organize lesson plans (Apparently, it was a book left over from her College days). Again, all I can say is, “It was about time!” But better late than never.
Need I say, my parents sure could put the cart before the horse! For I was somehow expected to already know how to teach, of course … in this little cult where everything was perfect and God would simply drop the knowledge you needed into your mind during one hour of sleep — “like Joseph sold into Egypt, where God gave him a dream filling him in on everything he needed to know.”
Mama actually and truly believed if God thought you needed the knowledge, he’d give it to you in a dream. So education and study weren’t even needed, really. I’m not kidding! That’s what Mother believed … and told me!
But it’s her double standards, and living in a fantasy world, once more — for here she also had thrown me, at age fourteen, into my own classroom of students I was expected to teach — without the least preparation — And certainly no dream came that night from God to fill me in on “Everything I needed to know to do this job!”
But, fortunately, after the one-time teaching Demo, and the other bit of help Ma provided me, a light bulb switched on in my beleaguered and overwhelmed brain. I was off and running from then on! This fourteen-year-old child-teacher/”idiot savant” was back to playing school with a bang and a bounce! But now it was the real deal — hardly make believe anymore.
And not only did my students love me, and I them — and teaching, too — but I got called “Miss Beulah” … or “Miss Booyah” … all over town, from then on, as I ran into my students after school or during the weekends. This show of affection and respect was an unexpected dividend — a wonderful bonus; an uplifting experience for me. It made the whole thing worth it. But “Beulah” is a very difficult name for tiny tots and even first and second graders to pronounce.
I recall secretly struggling to learn to pronounce “Beulah,” myself when I was three or four. I wanted to be able to correctly tell people what my name was when they asked. But no child should have to go through the embarrassment of not being able to say their own name correctly. So I recommend simple nicknames for “Simple Savants”… or “Simple Simons.” Save the difficult names for when small children are old enough to confidently pronounce each syllable of their “Handle/ Moniker/ John Henry.”
But names aside, I soon became pretty good at creating lesson plans in my mind, on the fly, or by the seat of my pants … creative that I am. I mean, “When there’s a will, there’s a way”!
But my lesson plans didn’t come close to what I was able to do after some maturity, a college education, and the numerous teachers’ training courses, and other studies I pursued, after escaping that backwards, bizarre, conceited cult — Escaped it at twenty-one to “get a life,” a college degree, and a teaching credential.
But getting back to “the little adobe schoolhouse,” in LeBaron: The following year, they had me teaching a group of twenty kids, ranging from ages five to fifteen, many of whom needed to learn how to read — or were there to simply learn English.
And I, fifteen years old by then, was expected to work miracles — though I didn’t even know Spanish, let alone the pedagogy behind Bilingual Ed. Furthermore, I was expected to do all this without even a decent chalkboard or chalk, let alone the benefit of other teaching supplies … not even books and paper, to speak of.
And, of course (other than Mother’s one-hour amateur teaching demonstration) there was not the least teacher preparation nor training. And if there had been such a highfalutin thing offered, you can be sure it would’ve been me, fresh off the streets, they’d have dragged or roped in to teach others how to teach what I had not been taught myself — and Mother and other adults were too busy to teach, LOL! Except it wasn’t a laughing matter:
They were very busy reinventing the wheel and “The Little Red Schoolhouse” … in “Zion, the gathering place of the Saints,” where people took themselves most seriously as they diligently strove to build up the kingdom of God and prepare a place of refuge “for when the calamities started in the US, and people had to flee over the border to Old Mexico — no less! – to save their lives.”
Crazy? Yes, and how! Because they could barely save their own lives, let alone help anyone else’s, once the sky started falling. About all they could do was continue to follow Chicken Little; i.e., “The Prophets Joel and Ervil.”
When I escaped that cult in 1967, I didn’t know how to drive, use a telephone, nor count change — let alone exchange American money. I could barely use Mexican money, having had so little script allowed me during my childhood or married life.
Our cult, like most Mormon fundamentalist cults, believed women shouldn’t be allowed to have or manage money. Therefore, you can be sure I didn’t know how to write a check, let alone open a bank account, get on a bus or train … or take a taxi.
So at my/our husband’s funeral, my oldest sister told me I could come stay with her in San Diego, California, and she’d help me get situated in my new life and find a job … given that I had no money, Basic Education, nor work experience, to speak of, and couldn’t drive — plus had a toddler to look after, besides.
And who should know, better than she, all the disadvantages and back sets I’d just left behind, such that I wasn’t prepared for this “foreign country” and frightening life of single motherhood.
On top of that, I had recently announced to the cult that I no longer believed in their religious dogma and had left their secluded colony for good. So my “big” sister (seventeen months older than I) knew she was all I had to turn to for help in getting started in my new world.
Looking back on it now, I guess it sounded pretty impressive and good to my “big” sister that she should invite me to come live with her and “she’d help me get set up.” After all, she’d heard and seen other people around her say and do such a benevolent thing.
So I guess it seemed to this twenty-three-year-old, average-minded ingénue like the thing any normal and sensitive sister in her right shoes would say to any normal and helpless sister in my wrong shoes, I being her younger and destitute widowed “apostate,” social-scientific-thinking sister.
But, much to my disappointment, let down, and dismay, in the two to three weeks my toddler and I were there, she never did one thing to help me find a job!
Even worse, food began to gradually dwindle then disappear from her abode, ultimately leaving the cupboard bare but for some canned orange juice. That’s all she left for my baby and me the last five days we lived with her and her husband Stephen Silver … who was usually away visiting his other wives.
I suppose she was trying to give me the “hint to git”? That she really hadn’t meant for me to take her up on it when she invited me to come live with her “till I got started on my own”?
Like, was her husband/ my brother-in-law Stephen Silver put out with her when I actually showed up on their doorstep … or what? Obviously, there wasn’t … and still isn’t … much communication going on between me and her. I’m supposed to pretend things didn’t happen the way they did, I guess.
But, for sure, she has apparently never taken a look at what she did. All I’m certain of is she sure didn’t/ doesn’t think she owed/owes me any apology. At least I’ve never gotten one — and fifty years have passed since then. That was just how people, at least in my family, did things.
They weren’t dependable. Didn’t keep their word — Didn’t follow through on what they promised. We simply took each other for granted, didn’t expect too much — and usually got less. People weren’t/aren’t valued so much when there are an awful lot of them — as in huge families. I was simply grateful for the few times, over the years, my older sister had come through for me!
But, though there has been no communication between me and her about that time, by now, I’ve figured out she and Stephen weren’t starving like my baby and me. And it was NOT a common thing for my sister to have no food in her house: The louse was eating out to avoid feeding me and my baby!
But she never told me what she was up to. I simply thought they were low on money. And was just as naïvely still trusting my sister would eventually help me find that all-important job!
But, to add insult to injury, Stephen learned from her I had $18.00 pocket change. Even in 1967 that didn’t go very far — especially when I had a child to support! So I was taken aback when he asked me to give him all the money I had — even asked me if I was sure I didn’t have any dimes or pennies left in my apron pocket!
Now, wouldn’t you think the right thing for such a “saint” (and future “profit”!) to do (since I couldn’t drive and and there was no transportation within walking distance of their apartment) would’ve been to take me shopping so I could use that money to buy some food for my malnourished baby and me! (Or maybe even get me set up with Welfare?)
But, apparently, he thought I owed him some money for having stayed at his wife’s place a bit. So he was simply exacting all he could get from me. And maybe he thought it was too dangerous to have me go to the Public Welfare Dept. to get assistance: They might find out about him, a Plyg, and he’d be thrown in jail.
But, fortunately for him, I didn’t know how to use a phone, let alone that a Department of Social Services existed; i.e., a Public Welfare System that offered aid to starving families with dependent children. I didn’t know anything because he and my sister never explained anything … nor did anyone else.
They apparently had too many of their own problems to worry about to consider me. Plygs are extremely busy people. Just trying to make ends meet and stay out of jail is more hell than most can handle.
So, instead of helping me in any way, get what followed next — a story so shocking and inhumane I can still barely relate it to this day: Without ANY warning, in the dead of night the two took off, abandoning me and my toddler.
Yes, unbelievably, and without any word to me that they were going to leave, these “Saints” fled, leaving my baby and me to further starve to death. We literally went five full days with only water, till we were rescued. But that’s another gory story for a later line.
Over time, I realized these Mormon fundamentalist Plyg “Saints” had fled their apartment, while I was sleeping, to not only dump me and my kid but to also avoid paying the many months’ back rent they owed! But what can I expect from my older sister? I had always been a thorn in her side.
She had never gotten over my being born! I guess my parents hadn’t properly prepared her, at the tender age of seventeen months, for my sudden arrival on the scene and “her” territory.
To make matters worse, I immediately began to take her place and nurse at my/HER mama’s breast! And, later on, to use HER potty … without anyone’s permission: I potty trained myself at age one. I saw how much attention my older sister got for using her potty and leaving a turd. So I copied her … And left my own turd. Then properly got Mother by the hand and took her to show her what I left in the pot, expecting she would really praise me, too.
But I will never forget how upset my twenty-nine-month-old Sis was. Oh, the dismay she showed when I’d usurped her very special potty chambers. I recall Mama tenderly trying to convince her of how important it was to share her special new potty chair with me. “Do-do,” as I called her at that age, never did agree. She simply put up with me, an intruder on her territory, because she had no alternative.
And when it comes to “interlopers,” she didn’t have much more use for the US government and the rule of law, either … Other than it afforded her and her husband and his other wives a living, a welfare check, and more. Thank God for the good ole Americans that do respect the rule of law so as to create wonderful things interlopers (such as bleed-the-beast “Saints”) can benefit from.
Ah yes, these self-proclaimed Mormon saints were simply bleeding the beast … including me and my baby. To add insult to injury, these same self-righteous “saintly beasts” actually proclaimed themselves to be better than my/ Bill’s “apostate” kid and me!
What’s more unbelievable, given their behavior, is Stephen had been my/ our husband’s “best boyfriend.” Of course, I didn’t know this at the time. Over many years, I pieced the puzzle together. It started back when they’d met in France’s mainstream-Mormon mission field where they spent about two years in close quarters as missionary companions — even sharing the same bunk the whole time!
So Bill was no doubt turning over in his grave as he saw how his secret lover Steve (i.e., wife?) had ultimately vented his uncontainable jealousy towards me — And also vented his feelings of betrayal and grief he’d long since harbored towards Bill because he could never marry Bill and have him all to himself.
So how did he get even with Bill and me? He simply abandoned us … me and the baby I’d had with Bill; i.e., He left us to expire once his lover Bill had expired.
But what a wickedly proverbial betrayal it was that Steve would actually leave me and my/ Bill’s baby unprotected and “without a pot to piss in,” given that Bill had helped Steve often — So many times he’d come to Steve and his family’s rescue, over the course of the twelve years he and Steve had remained “Best Buddies”!
What’s worse, as it stood for me, after Bill died, his first/ legal wife got all the monthly Social Security money the US government paid to Bill’s family upon his death. She even took all the money from our chicken business in Mexico — though she shared some with Bill’s second wife — her “best girlfriend” and sidekick.
But those two left me and my child to the wolves — because I wasn’t “really” part of “the family;” i.e.,”the love nest.” And they made that choice, not Bill. But Bill went along with whatever choices his two oldest wive’s made, more often than not. Life with a harem was more peaceful for him when those squeaky hinges/”hens” got the grease; i.e., He let these first two jealous wives wear the pants and have the power… usually.
Actually, they thought (as I had) that my sister was going to help me get a job and get situated in the United States after my/our husband’s demise! But that was still no excuse for them to take for themselves and their kids all the money and gifts that came into our family, after Bill’s death, leaving me and Bill’s baby he impregnated me with, helpless and hopeless once he died.
But what was new, when it came to me and them? This was how it had always been — my having to sink, think, then swim — or die trying. No help from them, to speak of. They did the bare minimum … to save face, and not a farthing’s fart more! Bill wasn’t much help either.
But, getting back to Stephen Silver: To top off ALL else he did and didn’t do, later on, that narcissistic nut case started a Mormon fundamentalist cult of his own — after he spent some years in the country of Israel, no less, trying to convert the Jews to the idea that he, Stephen (half Jewish), was the Messiah prophesied of old!!
When that didn’t work, that’s when Steve returned to the United States, got a perm, sported a redheaded Afro, and set himself up as a self-proclaimed prophet — “The one mighty ‘n’ strong,” if you will, as spoken of in Mormon Scriptures. And that’s only the half of it when it comes to Steve and his crazy, nitwit shit!
I got side-tracked with this backstory. Let’s continue with my story about why and when I wrote the following poem, “Bright Childhood a Blessing.” At the time my muse brought this poem to me, I was without even a religious base, having left my religion — The Church of the Firstborn of the Fullness of Times. I had left it, in my mind, a year before I knew my husband had left it.
He had secretly left it, in his mind, too, a year or so before he dared tell me he’d quit believing in my Uncles, Joel and Ervil LeBaron and their priesthood claims and doctrine! Anyway, needless to say, when he passed away, my baby and I were left without any support system whatsoever.
Add to this that, because I had left “The Church of the First Born,” I was being maligned and ostracized by many people in the cult … including my mother, older sister, and most of my other siblings.
My toddler and I were considered basically “bad” because I was no longer a “true believer.” So we were left to rot and be forgot … Conveniently abandoned by God’s self-proclaimed chosen handful … who always claimed to be so full of love, charity, and goodness!
But, wouldn’t you know, these self-righteous self-proclaimed Saints left me and Bill’s baby to die: They considered us “Daughters of Perdition” … simply because I had chosen to use the God-given brain I was endowed with to make my own choices in life. (God forbid I should do such a thing!) And it is with this backdrop the following poem came to me … came to be:
Bright Childhood a Gift
(By Stephany Spencer, age 21)
Bright childhood was a gift on loan.
Today I wander back, wondering
Why that gift has flown.
Now I’m abandoned, on my own.
Steeped in drudgery to the bone,
Helplessly, hopelessly I groan.
What am I now? Who took away
That life I once had known?
Who caused me to be so flung
When hope had almost grown?
Who finds it wise to lend me loss —
This misery once unknown?
Filled with heartaches made of stone –
Who took me here to moan?
Who left me here, greatly lost —
With people but alone?
Come end this anguish fierce!
Put justice in its place!
Don’t tarry long, I pray —
I cannot bear this pace.
You gave me once a mother dear,
A father who did care,
Plus friends and sisters near;
They helped to pave each stair.
But quick You took that life;
Left me dangling in the dearth
Of helpless stress and strife —
Still a mother, no longer wife.
Once I asked to be made strong
A soldier in Your crew.
I hadn’t dreamt this was what
My energies were due.
Now I pray to bring me up
From out a crushing pain;
Bring back hope, bring back joy,
Bring heaven once again.
(By Stephany Spencer, age 21)
In the following video, my cousin Donna LeBaron Goldberg is interviewed by her aunt (my aunt-in-law) Producer Rebecca Kunz Kimbel. Donna was born and raised in Colonia LeBaron and the LeBaron Mormon fundamentalist cult where I was raised and spent eight years of my childhood and young adulthood.