A few nights before I left for Germany I played a game with a few friends called Hot Seat. The setup and gameplay are similar to Cards Against Humanity. The person who leads the round draws a card with a question on it, and every person in the circle writes an answer including the person who pulled the card. Everyone’s responses are tossed into a box and drawn anonymously. The group then guesses which answer the person leading the round wrote.
On one of my rounds, I drew a question that said something like, “What is something about yourself you tell everyone?” I wrote, “I’m a pioneer!” and found it hilarious that everyone in the group either mentioned pioneers or my hometown, Draper. My tendency to explain where I come from is something I talk about more frequently than I am aware.
In Utah, it is common for Mormons to tout their heritage. People lay claim to the ways their ancestors assisted one of the many church leaders across the plains; “my uncle was a bodyguard to Joseph Smith,” or “my grandpa led Brigham Young’s handcarts across the plains.” Their stories are staccatoed by their need to show that even though we’re in the middle of nowhere United States, we are important in our own personal “Zion.” It’s not often you hear people talk about how our ancestors also ran off and killed the native people of this land.
My pioneer story doesn’t come along with who my family knew, or why we are important in the Mormon community. Instead, it is a story about being raised in a small farming community on property initially settled by my ancestors five generations ago.
Around this time last year, I spent an hour meditating in a grove of trees, my open eyes watching their arms dance on the breeze, reaching for the sun. Staring at them, I couldn’t help but think of the tree my great grandpa planted in my backyard when my grandma was small, the one I refer to as “the tree that raised me.” That day, along with a conversation with athene about how most pioneers were searching for utopia, a new seed of understanding was planted inside of me.
Since then, instead of looking at my history through a Mormon lens, I have been thinking about the fortitude it takes to trek across the country in search of better opportunities and communities. I can only imagine the pure grit and tenacity it takes to work this arid land. For their strength, I am so thankful.
Not many of the original structures from the farm still stand on the family property (my parent’s house) today. The farming community that once was has been replaced by an abundance of huge homes, debt, and a prescription drug problem. It’s hard to imagine the Draper I know from 20 years ago, let alone what it was like 100 years ago.
It has felt so bizarre to realize that my grandma and I learned lessons from the same land as children. Lately, when I imagine my parent’s house, she and I are playing in their backyard as children, and shes’s teaching me her secrets. I love her so much.
For so long I have distanced myself from my ancestors, disappointed in their belief of the rhetoric and doctrine of the Mormon church, as I don’t believe it’s true. Now I am learning that it is only through their beliefs that I have the privilege of being who I am today, and that religion doesn’t matter. I love who I am, and I’m learning to take pride —without attachment— in where I come from.