(Okay, so technically we’re in Arizona already, but…)
Thank you, Beehive State!
As our first long stop on our year-long adventure, you gave our family such a wealth of experiences.
The Great Outdoors: Andrew and Rob got to take a long hike on one of Rob’s childhood trails, the kids revisited their climbing up the fairly sheer rock face and their hiking in the Narrows at Zion National Park, we mucked around in Kanab Creek and learned about quicksand, we survived the Delicate Arch Death March and saw the Big Dipper reflected in the creek at Arches National Park, we touched dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Park, and we had a gorgeous rainbow right outside our window almost every single Sunday. (Nice work, God!)
#MainStreetUSA: I love love love all the bits of hometown America we got to see. Kids’ bucket list item to be in an eating contest? Check! (And pass the Tums, please.) Western Legends Roundup (for which Rob is the webmaster) with a huge dose of cowboys, cattle, and yee-haw? Check! Homecoming parade and football game, Peach Days and friendly neighbors inviting us over to make s’mores? Absolutely. I’m glad that we are getting the chance to live in these new places, and not just be tourists.
So Many Mormons!: That’s what Rachel said when we went to Salt Lake City for the semi-annual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. It was very novel for the kids to live where there are so many members of the Church. The first day that Rachel met the kids down the street (who would become her buddies for that month), she came home and said to me, eyebrow raised, “Are you sure they’re Mormons?” “Yes, very sure.” “Are you positive?” “Yes, Rachel, you’ll see them at church tomorrow.” She couldn’t believe that there were actually other Mormons right at the end of the street! Okay, and I have to say, WAY cool to be able to get LDS stuff (The Cokeville Miracle and other Mormon-y movies, modest shorts and skirts, etc.) at Costco and Savers! And, the seeing/meeting of “Mormon celebrities” like John Bytheway, Stacey from Studio C, Jenny Oaks Baker, and others…well, only in Utah. (Okay, and Arizona too – Marli got a hug from Al Fox Carraway after her fireside in Gilbert, AZ. 🙂 )
“I love to see the temple…”: We’ve always had fun “collecting” temples, but man, Utah, you killed it! From running into an old friend at the St. George Temple (we hadn’t seen each other in 16 years, back when we used to live in Cedar City, and she “just happened” to be at the same session as us. It felt like Heavenly Father was winking and saying, “Yeah, just thought you might like to see each other again.”), to attending a session at the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, snapping a picture (Salt Lake City, Vernal, Payson, Provo), or just playing Spot-the-Temple as we drove down I-15, it was awesome.
Families are Forever (and Good Friends Too): For Rob, being back in Utah meant reconnecting with friends and family. Just like it was new for the kids to be surrounded by so many Mormons, they also found it unusual to meet so many cousins (and we’re continuing that experience here in the Phoenix area). Because Rob and I are both only children, they don’t have any direct aunts, uncles, or cousins – only the ones they “borrow” from us. We were extremely blessed by the hospitality of those who let us couch-surf and who took us out for a meal (In N Out, om nom nom!). I also got to meet several people I’ve known online for years (talking about YOU, Shellie-Gala-Heather-Diana-Susan!) and give them a real hug and not just a *hug* for once. 🙂
Rob Chimes In
Hi! Rob here. I wanted to add a few thoughts, too. I hadn’t lived in my hometown of Kanab for about 20 years. It really was nice getting back to my roots, even if it was only for just one month. A lot of things came together at this particular time of year to make it extra awesome, so I thought I’d share some “Our Town”-style details just for nostalgia’s sake.
A sense of belonging: When I lived there as a kid, I’d felt like a “transplant”. That’s because we moved in rather than my having been born and raised there. Granted, I was all of about 2 years old when we arrived, but that still, in the eyes of some, made us “not native” in a small town where everyone knows everyone’s story all the way back to their pioneer forebears. There was a kind of mutual understanding that if one of your great (great) grandfathers didn’t dig the city ditch, then you weren’t “from” there. Not that you were a total outcast or anything, but it did make you feel like an outsider when everyday interactions were essentially a family reunion for many.
As it turned out, during my time away, I came to find through doing genealogy that my great, great grandfather, Orville S. Cox, actually DID help dig the city ditch. Several of them all over Utah, in fact, and including some of the first irrigation ditches as far southwest as Las Vegas. He was also a forebear whose family gave rise to some of the most common names in Kanab.
Through that connection, I found that I was related, directly or indirectly, to a lot of folks in town. My childhood barber, Fred Allen, is one of those. Fred is one of those people who makes you feel special. And his barbershop was a perfect stand-in for Floyd’s barbershop on the Andy Griffith Show, complete with old timers stopping in for a haircut and staying to chat for an hour. Once, when I was about 12 years old, I had a falling out with my parents and was sent to get a haircut. Fred listened to my sob-story as he cut my hair. He didn’t judge or scold. He just listened. I’ll always remember that about him. His son, Tim, whom I grew up with in school and at church, now runs the place and cut my hair twice while we were there. I gave my late mom’s immaculately-kept hearing aids to Fred so he could keep on listening. It was good to reconnect at a friendship and also at a cousin level with them both.
Visiting my school teachers: Several of my favorite school teachers are still in the area and still teaching. I got to visit with Karen Kelly (my favorite high school English teacher), Barbara Warner (science), Earlene Drake (typing), Rhonda Button (middle school librarian), Carolyn Hamblin (geometry), and Carol Sullivan (history). Earlene even let me teach one of her classes how to create websites and blogs and, after visiting Salt Lake City, on our way back through Kanab to Phoenix, we got to stay with Carolyn when we couldn’t find a hotel vacancy for that night.
My church family: I owe a lot of my upbringing to good church-going folks I associated with growing up. The LDS church had one building in town until I was about five years old. A new one was built closer to my home and nearly everyone that attended it lived right in my neighborhood. They looked out for me, were my Sunday School teachers and youth advisors and bishops. McKay Chamberlain, the man who had been my youth leader for a time, and who taught us integrity by making some of us walk “an extra mile” after we cheated during a 20 mile hike, is now the bishop of my ward (congregation). When we were there in September, he had just completed that same hike with the young men.
Celebrating my mom’s legacy: Another thing that made our stay special was the fact that 2015 was the centennial of the Kanab Public Library. From 1915 to 2015 there were exactly six librarians and my dear departed mother was one of them. In fact, she was the one who was the main driver behind Kanab keeping its library in the face of a damaged, uninsurable building as well as getting a new library on top of that. I had the privilege of speaking at the celebration party on her behalf along with descendants of other librarians.
Karen Alvey was a strong supporter of the library when it was in crisis. Having been a prior mayor of the town, she felt an obligation to ensure that the library didn’t close when the building it was in was damaged in an earthquake and was about to be condemned. She donated space in a building she owned to house it temporarily until the funds could be raised for a new one. She also was a friend of the family in that she and my grandmother had traveled the world extensively, collecting authentic art artifacts wherever they went. We got to reconnect with her and see all of those artifacts as part of our kids’ homeschool education. She’s like another grandmother to me. Her house is, hands-down, one of the best “museums” I’ve ever been to!