The feel and smell of kangaroo fur is a central part of my understanding of Mormonism. My father is a long time curator of the Museum of Church History and Art in Salt Lake City. Indeed, he was a curator of the Museum of Church History and Art before there was a museum. In those days, much of the Church’s collection of historic artifacts was housed in a storage room off of one of the lower levels of the parking garage of the Church Office Building.
I have a very distinct memory — I can’t have been more than about eight years old at the time — of my father taking me deep into the bowels of the parking garage to see the “cool Church stuff.” Stuff like the pepper-box revolver that Joseph Smith had with him in Carthage jail, his sword and epaulettes, Orin Porter Rockwell’s revolver (a strange pre-Colt affair with a battered handled that he used to drive fence posts with), Brigham Young’s carriage, the Grandin Press on which the Book of Mormon was printed, and kangaroo furs given to David O. McKay on a visit to Australia. I got to look at, touch, and hold this stuff. As an eight-year-old boy I figured that anyone who had a pepper-box pistol as cool as Joseph Smith’s must have been a true Prophet. Such is the theological reasoning of little boys.
The feel and smell of the kangaroo furs — and the other objects — stayed with me. They became fixed in my mind at some primal level as things at the very core of Mormonism, strange wonderful things. My experience in the sub-basement of the Church Office Building was as one of the most Mormon moments of my life. And yet it was entirely unlike the Mormonism that I experienced in church each Sunday. It was not just that we had no kangaroo furs or 19th century presses in Sunday school. The entire nature of the experience was different. I felt, held, and smelled with an intensity that one never has in Sunday school.
I think that my experience with the kangaroo furs, more than anything else, has led me to expect Mormonism to always exceed what one gets in church. I expect many of my most Mormon experiences to have the familiar foreignness of looking at 19th century weapons in a windowless storage room. For example, many — quite naturally — find their first experience of the temple disorienting. It is so different from the ordinary life of Mormonism. Yet it had a familiarity for me the first time I went to the temple. It was the odd, strange, different core of Mormonism that I had come to expect, to see as just as Mormon, just as real as the more hum drum experience of church on Sunday.
I expect kangaroo fur. It is part of what makes Mormonism fun.