By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
By New Times
Among the well-wishers was Laverne Reese, one of my mother's oldest friends. She was a second mother to me and the real mother of David, my comrade through summers of backyard adventures in childhood and, now that we were older, the object of some of my unspoken romantic fantasies. Had he not been the son of a permanent family friend, David would have seemed to me everything I'd ever wanted in a man, not just in terms of his religious history but because he was taller than I was. As things were, I'd never been able to admit my crush to him and risk a rejection I'd have to confront forever because of our families' intimacy. To the world, and to some degree to myself, I'd transformed my longing for David into friendship and had been hoping he would go through the temple with me that morning. I asked after him.
"He didn't think he could stand it," Laverne said a little grimly, and I stood looking down at her for a minute, suspended in time, stunned by the intimation that David might be jealous of my impending marriage to Monty. I found myself filling with longing for marriage to someone chosen not by God but because of my own feelings. I was still immobilized with yearning when Mother whisked me away, up the wide and elegant staircase.
Our first step in the temple journey took place in the bride's room. Mother had explained to me that it was the most luxurious dressing area in the temple and was reserved for women about to become wives. (After tomorrow, whenever I visited the temple, I would don my ceremonial clothing in a locker room.) The wide chamber was rose-colored and shadowed and very sweetly swank; its deep upholstered chairs and benches were pulled up to ornate mirrors where I could sit and examine my uncertain face. My mother, who was still lugging my voluminous gown around, hung it up with some relief, then came with me into a private cubicle where she helped my out of my clothes and into a "shield" the temple provided. This beautiless thing seemed to be a white cotton sheet with a hole cut in the middle for my head. It was open at the sides, and I was naked beneath it. As I exited my cubicle five other brides were exiting theirs in their shields. We looked like girls in headless ghost costumes.
I padded along to be "washed and anointed." My heart pounding, I climbed onto a stool in a small area made private with curtains. Around me, coming from within other booths, I heard the hypnotic murmurs from the voices of old women. I could picture the women exactly. Throughout my life, I'd watched the faces of Mormon women settle into untroubled, crumpling moons that began to look alike by the time the women were old enough, and idle enough, to be "called" by church leaders to positions as temple workers. (Older men were "called," too.) Temple "callings" were an honor: They were reserved for the most righteous of Mormons. My mental image of the temple had become one of hushed rooms and hallways peopled by a thousand perfect grandmothers. Their faces and figures were round from pastries; their eyes were bright but not deep; their frames of white hair were carefully crimped. The creases that had come into their cheeks appeared to be not only the slackness of age, but the deepening of their complacency.
In a moment, my temple worker glided in, and her face was the one I expected. It was also very kind. "This is your special day, dear," she said.
Her gentle hands darted beneath my sheet to bless the parts of my body. There must have been a basin in our cubicle, because when she touched me her fingers were wet. She intoned, "I wash you that you may be clean from the blood and sins of your generation." She touched my head (that your brain may work clearly), my ears (that they may hear the word of the Lord), my mouth and lips, my arms, my breasts and "vitals," my loins (that you may be fruitful in propagating of a goodly seed), my legs and feet. Her chanting and her cool fingers were both song and dance, and I was caught up, calmed. When she had finished the first round, she began again, replacing the water with oil from a dropper that anointed me head to toe. I was tingling with significance now, the magic of unknown things. Finally the temple worker leaned to my ear to whisper my "new name": Sarah.
With that, the trance of body worship was broken. I didn't know what this new name was for and the conditions attached to it disturbed me. I must reveal it to no one, not ever, except at the one proper moment during today's ceremony, the temple worker told me.
Her demands made my stomach a tight coil of nerves. I hadn't mentioned it to anyone, but my major misgiving about taking out my "endowments" was the secrecy. I'd been known to be careless with secrets, especially when they were a colorful variety. I admired Monty and all the others who had been quiet about the temple ceremony all these years, but I doubted whether I would carry on the tradition with exactness. What would they do to me?