The Widows on Temple Square

My friend Rachel and I spent a very pleasant couple of hours on Temple Square yesterday afternoon.  I took my promised trip to the COB, and despite trying to convince my quite delicious elder guides to let me through the  unmarked closed doors,  I was unable to break in and thrust myself upon the unsuspecting COBBERS with a demand to know their deepest secrets.  This was in part because of the excessive security that exists at the COB,  but also because it simply doesn’t seem like the decent thing to do to knock over sweet retirees in a bid to get to the inner sanctum.  However the  disappointment at my failure to infiltrate was muted by the discovery of a  most extraordinary feminine sub-culture who daily escort COB guests up and down the elevators and out onto the balconies  in their sturdy pantyhose, shoes and conservative Sunday best.  These are the widows on Temple Square.

Many of the volunteer ‘guest services’ Temple Square jobs are filled by retired men and women living in the Valley.  In the COB, the volunteer jobs seem to be largely taken up by widows who happily take  tourists up  to the balconies of the COB to get a birds eye of Salt Lake City and beyond.  However, more than the wonderful 25th floor views,  I was simply struck by stories of these women.  To many it  might seem wholly mundane, but I for one was enthralled as they told me about the antics of ancestors long dead,  husbands since passed, children long gone, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren  who at last count total well into 10s.   I asked one woman – a widow of 13 years:

Did you ever doubt this Mormon life of yours?  Did you ever want to run away from it?

She smilingly and knowingly replied:

Yes of course, over the years I’ve had that thought once or twice, but not seriously.  I’ve had a good life with a wonderful husband and beautiful children, that’s what I’d be giving up.

When I suggested she might like a toy boy or another masculine diversion she laughed out loud:

One husband was enough for me!  I’ve never had a desire for someone else.  Although it can be very lonely.  But I have purpose and I have hope and that’s all one can ask for at this stage in life  I suppose.

It might seem like an innocuous and facile  conversation but it came on the heals of stories of polygamous wives, poverty, dances beside the lake to the swing and tap of big bands, weekly children of record baptisms in the tabernacle, angry great aunts who left the church and became staunch Catholics, the burning of effigies by be-robed KKK Mormons on the front lawn of a newly married ‘mixed race’ couple, and laughter over the small burial plot for Brigham Young that simply wouldn’t have been able to accommodate his numerous marriage partners.  Her pantyhose and Sunday best belied a rich and interesting life and heritage which seemed worth paying attention to. And with that,  like my many Mormon mothers and sisters back in New Zealand, there was no affront in my obvious lack of orthodoxy, there was no question I couldn’t ask, there was no story that wasn’t worth being told, and (I suspect) there is no pain that wouldn’t be  understood.

And so it is with these widows.   Mormon to the bone they spend their twilight days in the quiet pursuit of something meaningful and find it in their dignified service to the Church and in the quiet pleasure of their families.  I love that my church brings me into proximity with such  good, kind, humorous, loving and decent women.  And so I salute  you, my  brilliant, wonderful, gracious Mormon mothers.  Notwithstanding the searing interrogation of Mormonism I am inclined to, I want it publicly acknowledged that there is a gentle dignity in aspects of  the Mormon life that is captured most beautifully in the lives of our women who make me feel proud to be a Mormon girl.

  • Rolf Straubhaar

    Lovely. You realize every one of those stories needs to become its own post, right?

  • Crazygal

    What about the single sisters?

  • Crazygal

    What about the single sisters who are not mothers. Do they also get a salute?

    • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

      I think single sisters deserve their own post – don’t you?

  • lpf43

    Sweet post. Think anyone will be saying the same of us someday????

  • Jeff

    Awesome Gina – when people get older they become ‘more so’ – an enhanced version of what they gradually become over their life. These ladies got lovelier and wiser!

  • amberbird

    A beautiful counterpoint to your usual questioning. I enjoy both, mind you, but this had some timely words in it for me. May I make it through my own strange path with enough grace to become like one of those ladies.

  • Joan l. Steuer

    What is a “COB”?

    • Dina

      Church Office Building

      • http://kiwimormon.wordpress.com kiwimormon

        Cheers Dina!

  • http://shantalhiattblogspot Shantal

    There’s just so much more to Mormon women than the media, the nation, the world-at-large can even begin to comprehend. I hope to become one of them.

  • alasdair wright

    A long way the current Topic of conversation: I have a deep=seated question:

    WHY is the Church so hypocritical in its approach and attitude toward us Single Adults ?
    WHY are we so looked-down on, as though we don’t exist ?
    WHY are we so undervalued as though our contribution to the Church is considered as being of nil value, but considered of value when married?

    One instance (there are other instances I can name) springs to mind:
    FATHER’S DAY.
    There was a table decked-out for all the Fathers, and, after the Sacrament Meeting, as I filed out, the young man whom was in Charge of this, asked me if I was a Father. When I told him that I was not, he turned his back on me, and utterly refused to have anything to do with me. I confronted his Father – some time later on – and I was told that this would not happen again . But, lo and behold, this did. I went home in tears.
    By way of comparison, MOTHER’S DAY had the exact reverse. Seems that Single Women were being honoured too. As future Mothers.
    WHEN is this hateful and spiteful attitude- especially to single men – ever going to end ?

    How many of your readers have encountered this self-righteous attitude ?

    When Father’s Day next comes around, I don’t know as to HOW I will react.
    Probably go back home in tears.

    AGAIN.

    • Gina Colvin

      I think you are right Alasdair. It might have something to do with the fact that most leadership positions are occupied by married folk, who aren’t necessarily the most sympathetic voice for those who are unmarried. I think you will find that you aren’t alone when it comes to your concerns about the marginalisation of single adults, and single men in particular. I think you could blame Brigham Young for that one (said tongue in cheek). His famous statement suggesting that single men are a menace to the church has never really been extinguished. My advice is to give church a miss on Father’s Day eh?


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