You thought you were going to get it right. Right. Instead, you’re morphing into that crazy guy who sits on the front row in Sunday School with two hands up and three incompatible opinions. Given your extremity, making you crazy may well be God’s worst best way of saving you. Plan A is out the window. Now, the only way to get there from here is through that.
More and more, you, like Joanna Brooks, remind me of Sister Simmons.
When Brooks was a girl, her father was a bishop. He organized a holiday bazaar to raise money for the ward building fund.
Sister Simmons was in her eighties, a widow, Utah-born, one of the numberless Mormons who moved down to California during the Depression, or the War, seeking work. She told my father she wanted to do her part for the building fund. (8/199)
The bishop was game. What could Sister Simmons do? Not much. She could crochet an afghan. Very. Very. Slowly. The kind bishop commissioned that afghan and – on the spot, sight unseen – promised to make it the centerpiece of the bazaar.
What materialized at the bazaar was the ugliest afghan my father had ever seen: alternating chevrons of burnt umber and brassy yellow, with a brassy yellow fringe. But who would dare say a word to Sister Simmons? So proud of her dedicated labors: her eighty-year-old hands curling around their crochet hooks as she sat in the soft chair in front of the television in her little house on the edge of a concrete river on the alluvial plains of Southern California, her devotion galvanizing into purpose, while her children are all grown, her husband is gone and waiting to call her name and bring her across the veil into heaven, while leggy blondes in short shorts and espadrilles bounce across the screen of the little television, and the laugh track issues forth in random little bursts, faceless and sort of menacing. (9/199)
Who would dare say a word to Sister Simmons?
The bishop swallowed hard, displayed the afghan as promised, and set out the bidding sheet.
But who would dare put in a bid? On that?
That afghan was patently ridiculous. Everyone knew it. The whole evening passed. No one bid a cent.
What does the bishop do? He commits a single, ridiculous, unjustifiable bid: $100!
He saves the afghan.
This is The Book of Mormon Girl. Brooks is Simmons – “Just as Sister Simmons once strung together burnt umber and brassy yellow acrylic yarn as an offering of herself to the community, I strung together words” (192/199) – and the book, like the afghan, is ridiculous. Self-consciously ridiculous. A beautiful mess. A hash of acrylic religion.
You can imagine Brooks, so proud of her dedicated labors, her fingers pecking cheerfully at a keyboard, re-runs of the Daily Show on in the background, Jon Stewart mildly mocking one blessed conservative principle after another, his audience cheering, while her devotion galvanized into purpose.
Still, can I get $100?
Going once . . . going twice . . .
How’s your afghan coming?
I’ve saved your seat on the front row.
Joanna Brooks, The Book of Mormon Girl: A Memoir of an American Faith (Free Press, 2012).