I left off in Part Two of “I Won and I Lost,” where my parents had moved us — my eight siblings and me (I was 10 years old then) — from the fundamentalist Mormon town of Short Creek to the nearby little mainstream Mormon town of Hurricane, Utah.
They planned to stay there only until Daddy earned enough money to move us to Colonia LeBaron, Chihuahua, Mexico where my maternal grandmother, uncle’s, and other relatives lived. (Mother, herself, was born in Mexico in 1921 in Colonia Pacheco, Chihuahua — a Mormon colony) It took Daddy four-and-a-half years to earn enough money to move us to Colonia LeBaron. But that’s another story for another time.
My story, for now, is about why our family wasn’t welcome in Hurricane. For one thing, Mormon Fundamentalist “Short Creeker’s” were close neighbors to the mainstream Mormon “Hurricanites.” so they often frequented Hurricane to shop, go to school, live, work, and so on.
And Mormon Fundamentalists almost always stuck out due to their “Plyg-do’s,”/hairdos and attire. Most of them made no effort to fit in. Rather, they took pride in standing out, for they felt they were superior to the mainstream Mormons who had given up “the fullness of the gospel.”
So Mormon Fundamentalists were an extra-unnerving and unwanted infestation for this small town of religious LDS Mormons whose own ancestors gave up polygamy long ago, under government duress and the fear of losing all their lands and homes again if they did not abide by US laws, and also become a state in “The Union.”
They followed the mandates of their church leaders to give up “plural marriage” despite their Prophet Joseph Smith’s commandment to live it. But now here were these perennial Fundamentalists, like my family, who thumbed their nose at them, and chose to follow the Prophet Joseph Smith’s revelation to live polygamy, despite what the laws of the land said, and despite persecution or prosecution.
In fact, my father would tell the mainstream Mormons they were going to go to hell because they gave up the law of plural marriage! My “true believing” but antagonistic parents further riled the LDS Mormon townspeople by telling me and my siblings to preach polygamy and the “fullness of the gospel,” to our classmates at school!
We were to inform them, our peers, that they and their parents and family were going to be condemned to hell for having given up the most important commandment and revelation the Prophet Joseph Smith ever gave! So you can imagine how unwelcome our family was among these mainstream Mormons.
With this history under your belt, let’s now get back to the little red necked, red brick schoolhouse in 1960 where Miss Nagley unfairly but conveniently let the little Rednecks send me from my seat at the top of the class right down to the bottom of the class — while at the same time allowing them to clap and cheer loudly at my misfortune. (I’ve referred to them as “Rednecks,” but honestly, my family and I were even more red-necked than they were!)
However, as God and luck often intervened on my behalf, homework was checked aloud in class each morning following roll call. Because I had no mistakes in my homework, that got me immediately back up into the B+ section! So my peers and teacher didn’t get very far by sending me to the bottom of the class. It lasted the sum of about fifteen minutes. But listen to what happened next:
Seeing I had so quickly gotten right back into almost the “A” section, suddenly and without warning, Miss Nagley snatched her big black Grade Book and told us it was time for her to give out our final grade for the semester. As I said before, she determined it arbitrarily and by wherever we were sitting right that minute in her class whenever she chose to give out the final grades for our Report Card.
In other words, my 8th Grade English teacher was going to make sure I did not again get straight “A’s” on my report card the way I had my first semester at Hurricane Jr. High School when the faculty did not yet know that I, the outstanding, talented new 7th Grader was a “Plyg” from Short Creek!
But every semester, after the first report card I got at Hurricane High School (where my Jr. High School classes were held), my teachers found ways to unfairly give me a lower grade to keep me from making front-page news again the way I had the year before, in 1959. (That year, my first semester in seventh grade, I had been headlined in the town’s newspaper as the only student from 7th to 11th grade to have made straight “A’s.”)
The LDS church and other Mormons refer to themselves as “The Saints,” or “Latter Day Saints” — or “LDS.” This “LDS” faculty who gave me my grades in 1959 had not yet learned by the end of my first semester in 7th Grade that my family was from Short Creek. (In other words, we were “FLDS/Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints,” not “LDS.”)
As soon as they and the town found out, though, the kids began calling my siblings and me names like “Licey,” “Stinky,” and “Short Cricker.” But their favorite slur was “Plyg.” How I chafed, hurt, and was humiliated when my fellow classmates pointed fingers at me, called me names, and made fun of me.
To further add to the humiliating persecution, if I should sit near one of them in class, they would quickly get up and shout, “Ooooo!! Licey! Beulah has lice!” Then they would move to a different seat and pretend they were blowing the lice off.
It was very painful going to school in that little Mormon town, even though I was Mormon, too — just not “LDS” Mormon. It would have been less painful had my family tried to fit in. And had they also accepted the community.
Instead, they acted as though they were better than the mainstream Mormons — to the point they condemned them to their faces, at times. My parents made it very hard on their little children who had to bear the brunt of such behavior and of being different. Our family’s not trying to fit in and not “doing as Rome did when in Rome” only added to our being ostracized and despised at school by our peers and teachers.
It would have been better for us Mormon Fundamentalist children participating in the LDS Mormon public schools if our parents had let us be a part of them. Instead, they made no effort to teach us how to get along with them — nor anyone else not of our faith. (How un-Christian, right?! But my fundamentalist parents believed it was their way or the highway. They thought it their responsibility to call to repentance mainline Mormons who didn’t believe like they did.)
Now, at the end of every school semester, the Hurricane newspaper printed the names of the straight “A” students from Hurricane High/Jr. High School. Their one embarrassing oversight on my behalf, when I was in 7th grade, was enough to put the whole Hurricane High School Mormon faculty on notice to not let that happen again! In other words, make sure “Plyg,” Beulah Spencer, did not end up in the newspapers again as the only student from 7th to 11th grade who got straight “A’s!”
Many parents and leaders in the town were furious that semester that a “Polygamist” got the top ranking in town for the best grades; ie, had out-ranked all the little “Saints.” So now you understand why Miss Nagley unfairly got out her grade book at the very moment I was able to again move up to almost the “A” section in her class.
*I will stop here and continue my monolog in the next blog, “I Won and I Lost ” Part 4. Thank you for checking in, and thank you, in advance, for any feedback.
Till then and next time, ciao and have a nice day! ~Steph