Expecting Kangaroo Fur

May 26, 2006 | 38 comments
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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.

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38 Responses to Expecting Kangaroo Fur

  1. Kimball L. Hunt on May 26, 2006 at 8:51 pm

    I viscerally understand the holy relics. I always loved Taylor’s watch, amazingly “struck by a bullet!” — that was in a case in the old Bureau of Information there on Temple Square. This was back in the Sixties. And I remember that, politically incorrectly (now!), they also had an Indian corpse /mummy in there.

    One year I, in my white shirt and super skinny dark tie, marched with my mom in an anti-war protest on a street adjacent to Temple Square.

    m&m: Ya think Mormonism’s Opus Dei -like “Strengthening” committee took photographs so as to list me ‘n’ my mom as politically questionables? (Or do you not have ready access to such information, operating within your assignments on a need-to-know basis? lol)

  2. chronicler on May 26, 2006 at 8:53 pm

    Heh. My brother went to Brisane on his mission in the early 70s. He brought back 2 “roo skins” signed by everyone in the mission. He died in 1985 and my sister took posession of the “roo skins”. We are very aware of the “feel and smell” too.

  3. Kimball L. Hunt on May 26, 2006 at 8:57 pm

    My neice is a true blue who was freaked out by the temple when she went through. And I’ve heard of so many others, too. But I just loved it, myself — as I’ve always loved the strange and the mysterious and the mystical and the tryin to figure out the deep and hidden meanings of things. (Disclaimer: Of course, I’d only gone through about three times there.)

  4. Ronan on May 26, 2006 at 9:28 pm

    There’s another post here, Nate — “the smell of Mormonism.” For me, the leather-smell from a new quad.

  5. manaen on May 26, 2006 at 9:33 pm

    My grandfather had several positions — he always was careful to say he was an employee, not an authority — in the Church. He was head of the organ department for a while. One General Conference when I was very young, he let me sit in the Tabernacle, behind the Choir. As we were in a passage way leading from the stand out the back, Pres. McKay walked by, slowed by his age. He stopped where I was and seemed about to shake my hand but I was frozen in the moment and didn’t move. After the briefest pause, Pres. McKay moved on. I still regret the lost opportunity to touch the prophet’s hand, but, like D&C 46:14, the feeling I had in his presence of the potential to have that experience stays with me. There was a spirit about that man that touched me. Some 40 years later, I still remember him, the kindly onlooks of the other authorities, and that passageway.

    (In a later Conference, while I was at the Y, my grandfather let me and a friend bring dates to sit behind the Choir. Things went well until the mid-session rest hymn, when I yawned open-mouthed. Too bad the TV camera had gone close-up on me at that moment. Heard about it from people on campus, friends in Cal, extended family.)

  6. Julie M. Smith on May 26, 2006 at 9:43 pm

    “There’s another post here, Nate — “the smell of Mormonism.â€? For me, the leather-smell from a new quad.”

    Nah. It’s the smell of the One True Cleaning Product, used in every church building I’ve ever been in.

  7. Eve on May 26, 2006 at 10:22 pm

    Anyone know what gives the temple its smell? I can’t tell if it’s the cleaning product or the clothes from the laundry or the shampoo in the carpet (or something they spray around after hours, maybe out of a white bottle that says “Celestial Aroma”), but there’s that particular temple smell. I’ve occasionally smelled it other places, but I’ve never been able to figure out what it is.

  8. Jeff Day on May 27, 2006 at 12:47 am

    I love your post. Great expression of your idea, and I totally agree. I once had the opportunity to feel an original Nauvoo Temple Moonstone. I just stumbled across it and the glass was opened so I reached in. The strange, the unique, the tangible history of Mormonism is amazing. The best parts of Joseph Smith’s life and teachings and that of other early leaders are not to be had in Church manuals, they must be saught after interpreted individually, and they are more powerful for testimony building, in my opinion, than anything in the Ensign or any talk given over the stand. I too “expect Kangaroo Fur” in my own way, and I know that it far surpasses the commonality of typical Sunday meetings.

  9. TMD on May 27, 2006 at 1:21 am

    If you’ve ever done a temple cleaning assignment (my ward has these every month), you know that there is not one true cleaning product, but that it is a house of many solvents.

  10. Mark IV on May 27, 2006 at 9:01 am

    Familiar foreigness. That is a great phrase, Nate, and I know exactly what you mean.

    A few years back, when the church dedicated the temples in Palmyra and Winter Quarters, we participated in the dedications in local chapels. I remember standing in the church gym where I had played church ball the day before, and performing the Hosanna Shout. Out of the ordinary, sure, but it didn’t feel odd at all.

    Julie,

    I know that smell! I’ve noticed in many of our buildings, too.

    Eve,

    Are you sure about the white spritz bottle labelled “Celestial Aroma”? All these years, I’ve thought that the highest degree of celestial aroma came from an oven that contained baking cinnamon rolls. Perhaps I am one of the very elect who has been decieved in the last days? I can turn a deaf ear to most temptations – worldly fame and lucre, alcohol, gambling, running off to Atlantic City with a cocktail waitress – but if two of Beelzebub’s assistants knocked on my door and asked me if I wanted to know more about cinnamon rolls and the plan of happiness, I would almost certainly listen to all the discussions.

  11. Eve on May 27, 2006 at 12:18 pm

    Mark IV, I’m with you about the cinnamon rolls. Unhealthy, delicious food certainly does seem to be my personal plan of happiness.

    I actually don’t particularly like–or dislike–what I think of as the “temple smell.” I think it must be whatever they use to clean the Provo temple, and once in a while I get a whiff of it somewhere else, and in the way smell transports, I’m right back there.

  12. Adam Greenwood on May 27, 2006 at 3:46 pm

    Post of the week.

  13. smb on May 27, 2006 at 6:23 pm

    you’re in good company, nate. there’s a literature on relics in early Mormonism. I think glossolalia had a similar capacity to draw saints out of their routines. such a physical act for them, I almost (but not quite) wish we had a bit of it.
    mormonism also smells to me. 3 smells:
    uintah lakes amid the quakies.
    olive oil mixed with unwashed hair (you don’t get done up to get healed)
    tears mixed with sweat on a hospital/death bed

  14. Rosalynde Welch on May 27, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    My mythic Mormon image is a hard-back Hugh Nibley book—don’t know which one—jacketed with an image of an Egyption sarcophagus, inscrutable and staring, golden-headed, almost-human. As a small child, I thought that *was* Hugh Nibley, a name, like “Eugene England,” that sat on my tongue with the weight of a precious metal, like “king.”

  15. jjohnsen on May 27, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Wait a minute, which temple smells like cinnamon rolls? My wife and I may have to take a trip next time we want to do a session.

  16. Jim F. on May 27, 2006 at 7:14 pm

    Rosalynde, part of the reading for Sunday School lesson # 21 is apropros: “But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the Lord. And the Lord said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8:6-7) Gene and Hugh Nibley were great men, but kings? I don’t think so.

    How does Mormonism smell to me? Like kimchi or anything else Korean, though especially kimchi. I smelled that over and over again when diving into the Gospel after baptism and then, again, on my mission. Every time I smell it now, my mouth waters–and I think of the Church.

  17. Eve on May 27, 2006 at 10:55 pm

    jjonhnsen, can you imagine what would happen if one temple in Utah smelled like cinnamon rolls and the others didn’t? The rest would go out of business!

  18. Nate Oman on May 28, 2006 at 8:36 am

    “Like kimchi or anything else Korean, though especially kimchi.”

    Yes!

  19. ronin on May 28, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Kimball – Opus Dei is nothing like the Strengthening Committee. Please dont buy into the misrepresentation of Opus Dei that is depicted in the Da Vinci Code.

  20. aletheia on May 28, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    The Da Vinci Code representation of Opus Dei as unremittingly conspiratorial and evil might be inaccurate. They are, in fact, only intermittently evil. The truth is you can hate Opus Dei because of its harsh Catholicism and association with the fascism of Franco (which its members still tend to wax nostalgic for). If you did hate them for those reasons, well, you’d join a whole generation of Spanish intellectuals and not the masses of Americans getting through the latest paperback on their lunch break.

  21. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 12:50 pm

    Opus Dei — founded by (now he’s “saint”) Josemari`a during the Spanish Civil War — gets grief for it’s being — Gasp! — a LAY organization!

    And technically you DON’T even NEED to be CATHOLIC to join! Just to support certain aims of the Church — and what are framed as being certain selfless principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — within society.

    We revolutionaries tend to go through an immature, anti-Church phase. Witness radicals in France turning cathedrals into Deist institutions & Mexican revolutionaries engaging in La Cristiada against the devout peasantry. Until said revolutionaries licked their wounds, realizing they’d have to reach some sort of accomodated co-existence. So, as a Lefty who’s also Deist, I guess kin relate to this historical thrust of (loudly & fully sonorously oratorical): R-RevoLUUtion! . . . (in a whisper): … -ARIES. Still — when I witness uncle Mao’s current cadre’s getting so freaked over the uber subversiveness in such revivalisms of traditional beliefs as Falun Gong — it makes me have ta laff.

  22. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    (Re 19) Ronin, could you clarify? (As whether you believe the Strengthening committe IS/ or is NOT like unto Brown’s pulpy depictions of The Prelature of the Holy Cross and the Work of God?)

  23. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 2:37 pm

    Given proposition A:
    “Opus Dei is nothing like the Strengthening Committee.”
    In mathematical language: Where characteristics of Opus Dei are /x’/ and those of the Strengthining Committee are /y/,
    /x’/ =/= /y/

    – and Proposition B:
    “Please don’t buy into the MISREPRESENTATION of Opus Dei . . .”.
    Where misrepresentations of Opus Dei (as depicted in the DaVinci Code) are /x”/,
    /x’/ =/= /x”/.

    Do you mean to impy C:
    Characteristics of the strengtheing Committe, then, ARE like misrepresenations of Opus Dei?
    /x”/ = /y/?

    Lol.

  24. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 2:46 pm

    (But, more succinctily): If characteristics of BOTH organizations are benign or simply innocuous, wouldn’t this then render your absolute, “Opus Dei is NOTHING like the Strengthening Committee,” false?

  25. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 3:17 pm

    . . . . . . . . . . x . . . . . . . . . y. . . . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . x . . . . . . . x . y . . . . . . . y. . . . . . .
    . . . . .x . . . . . . . . . y.x . . . . . . . . .y . . . . .
    . . . . .x . . . . . . . . . y x . . . . . . . . . y . . . . .
    . . . . . .x . . . . . . . . .xy . . . . . . . . y . . . . .. .
    . . . . . . . .x . . . . .x . . . . y. . . . .y . . . . . . . .
    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
    /x’/ ——> Characteristics ‘unique’ to the Prelature of the Holy Cross and the Work of God
    /y’/ ——> . . . . . ” . . . . . . . . ” . . . . the Strengthening Committee
    /x”y”/ –> . . . . .” . . . . . .shared by both

  26. APJ on May 28, 2006 at 3:21 pm

    what is the Strengthening Committee, actually?

  27. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    I’ve no idea.

    Other ‘an that Nibley’s daughter — a m/s Beck who works for Oprah magazine and is the writer of best-selling self-help tomes along with a couple of memoirs — in her second memoirs takes the well-worn tack to assure readership of, in this instance, gettin all sensationally paranoid bout “the Strengthening the Membership Committee’s” supposedly perhaps having bugged her phone! lol. I mean . . . Shakes head & with sarcastic tone: R-REALLY!

  28. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 4:08 pm

    Even more sensational:

    Apparently m/s Beck, through therapy, had recovered memories of a neighborhood boy having sex with her when she was a child. For awhile she wondered who else might have too — wondering to family members if even her FATHER had, although later expressing sorrow to her mother and siblings that she’d even have imagined such a thing to be possible. Anyway, in her second memoirs Beck goes ahead and paints in a recovered memory that she admits is partial fictionalization — Which part, one wonders? — of her father, who’s all dressed up in Egyptian regalia, regaling Martha with tidbits of information about ancient cultures in lieu of bedtime storiesroom and simultaneously fondling her.

    Oh, and before she finishes composing this book, Martha and her female friend (who, although she doesn’t mention this fact, is her lover?) kidnaps her father, and asks him such crazy things as, What were you doing all done up in that Egyptian regalia? et cetera.

    Meanwhile Martha’s brother has a website noting the unreliable nature of the dream-like memories quote recovered endquote through hypnosis and points out that although Martha claims in her book NOT to have been hypnotized, that in actual fact Martha had all along been telling her family that it WAS through hypnosis that these quote memories endquote had materialized.

  29. APJ on May 28, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    haha…so, Ms. Beck then, would be Dan Brown-likein her controversy-causing. anyways, i think ‘Mormon Opus Dei’ is a funny name for the Strengthening Committee, and will use it until the Committee comes ‘out of the shadows’ and explains why it is not like Opus Dei.

  30. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    Oh and whereas Martha, for whatever reason?, NEGLECTS to mention anything at all about the incident involving the neighborhood boy in her book, oddly enough –

  31. Rosalynde Welch on May 28, 2006 at 5:55 pm

    Jim (#16): “Gene and Hugh Nibley were great men, but kings? I don’t think so. ”

    No, Jim, you’re exactly right, and I didn’t mean to suggest that either so aspired or attained. Gene was noble but not regal; Hugh Nibley I never knew. (What I meant was that their names were familiar to my childish ears, but also Important and Remote and Elevated, in the same way that “king” sounded.)

  32. Mark Butler on May 28, 2006 at 6:49 pm

    So far as we know the “Strengthening the Members” Committee is little more than a clipping service that collects particularly eyebrow raising published articles and speeches and forwards them on to local leadership for further consideration, counselling, and possible church discipline.

    Mostly stuff like arguing the Book of Mormon is a fabrication, that the Priesthood is a conspiracy for hegemonic domination of the innocent, and so on. There is a broad range of perspectives on what should legitimately constitute apostasy, but when one actively portrays and promotes an attitude more hostile to the Church than the average view on the outside looking in, the line has probably been crossed.

  33. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    APJ: Lol.

    Mark: Hm: a sorta assigned /volunteer clipping service? (Your educated guess/ assumption, Mark, or you’ve you actually heard tell?)
    =====
    Oh, one more thing I remember from when sister Martha Beck’s book came out. She was on an NPR show that brought her brother Alex, too. Anyway, Martha was on first and she had it that her fam was completely ignoring her, wouldn’t talk to her, would have nothing to do with her.

    Then after Alex comes on, it turns out that the fam had been trying desperately to have contact with Martha since the time she was finishing up the book and it was coming out, without success.
    - – -
    All lightheartedness aside here, though, folks (and I seriously mean that . . . !) But, Martha sounded like somebody who’s deeply troubled. And this makes you wonder if maybe this being-so-troubled was DUE to some kind of nefarious abuse in her childhood?; sort of like: first they abuse ya so much that they make you crazy, then they say noone can believe ya about this abuse caus, well, you’re obviously so crazy? Or, alteranately, the sort of intensity obsessiveness that genetically predisposed Nibley to be such a prolific scholar/ apologetic advocate, in Martha’s particular hothouse-strain makes her prone to promoting whimsy upon whimsy upon whimsy?; e.(-xempli g.(-ratia): claims she wasn’t hypnotized, when she was; neglects to mention she suffered abuse by a neighbor boy; neglects to mention, within memoirs dealing with angst vis-a-vis the Church, she’s gay; claims her family won’t speak to her when the exact opposite was the case; imagines the Latter-day Saint’s Work-of-God volunteers might be manning some room, somewhere, 24/7 so they can monitor all her telephone conversations?

    OK: With that very last reference to a couple of “reasonably” paranoid (which is a contradiction in terms, but still — lol), passing references in sister Beck’s book to where she’s worrying about hearing clicks on her phone . . . maybe I’m startin to get lighthearted again. Sorry. But — still — the whole picture of Beck’s tales’ seeming modus operandi of being selected for emotional ‘n’ emotive effect over mere adherence to independently ‘n’ objectively verifiable truth does make me kinda wonder what way-out-there stuff her editor excised for being too whackily over the top to be believable?

  34. Kimball L. Hunt on May 28, 2006 at 11:59 pm

    And: one LAST point, I promise!

    Beck’s book was said by Alex to have been originally pitched by her to her publisher AS A WORK OF FICTION! And yet the publisher, Alex said, apparently insisted it be minorly reworked into a memoirs!!!!! How ironic!
    - – -
    Publisher: “You know, brother, this is based on your true life, is it not? Why don’t you let us call this a memoirs! And in the parts where it’s fictionalized, well, y’know, ya really can’t let your being over obsessed with the truth get in the way of an interesting story!” And you really shouldn’t let the truth get in the way of a good story!”

    Author: “Yeah, I guess you’re right: Chi-chinggg!!!”
    - – -
    Lol. So: Martha’s Oprah Mag -reviewed “LEAVING THE SAINTS was BEFORE her James Frey fiasco! . . . Yet, DESPITE the controversy LEAVING had caused, no one paid it any mind UNTIL mister Frey’s came on board. And then when internet sleuths quickly figured out that HIS publishers had forced his fiction to parade as memoirs it’s only THEN everybody finally stood up and took notice. Go figure.

  35. grego on May 29, 2006 at 10:29 pm

    The smell of an alcohol factory–from the first area in my mission.
    The smell of stale bread, coffee, and a few days without a shower–from most of my mission.
    The running of my finger in the bullet hole in the door, and over the blood on the floor, of Carthage jail.

  36. Wacky Hermit on May 30, 2006 at 10:40 am

    The smell of Mormonism: Funeral Potatoes! Potatoes so tasty you just can’t wait to die! ;)

  37. Nate Oman on May 30, 2006 at 11:34 am

    FWIW, I have talked to at least one person who has worked with the Strengthening the Members Committee. He described it as a glorified clipping service. His own involvement consisted of being asked to visit a man who had asked that his name be removed from the records of the Church in a last ditch effort to persaude the man to stay. My friend was told that the man was very antagonistic, and he should simply identify himself as being “sent by the Church.” My friend was unsuccessful in resolving any of the man’s concerns, but at the conclusion of the conversation, the man said, “This has been a good discussion. I am glad that you came. I am just glad you aren’t one of those bastards from the Strengthening the Members Committee.”

  38. Doug on May 30, 2006 at 7:06 pm

    By the way, there is something interesting I heard lately about the John Taylor watch that the church has. After an expert examined it, he concluded it was certainly not struck by a bullet or ball from a gun or musket but was damaged when John Taylor fell against the edge of a table. The watch struck by a bullet myth was started and it has nevered died. The information comes from Grant Palmer.

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