Luana and Kendall Payne.
I’m parked on Kendall’s land—miles of rolling green grasslands with grazing cattle in Mountain View, Alberta. “Come for dinner,” he invites me. “I’d love that, I say. “What can I bring? Beer? Wine?” “We are members of the Church of Latter-day Saints. We don’t drink, smoke or swear. Having said that, I think I left my pipe at the brewery,” he jokes, his eyes crinkling under bushy ginger eyebrows. I laugh. Politely.
I am on shaky ground, wary of fervently religious people and nervous about dinner, but we arrange a time for the following evening.
I read with fascination Daphne Bramham’s brilliant journalism in the local Vancouver Sun about controversial Mormon leader Winston Blackmore, the Bountiful, BC-based self-appointed prophet who has had more than 25 wives and sired more than 100 children. I have watched the Netflix documentary “Keep Sweet: Pray and Obey” about the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs, who accumulated more than 70 wives in Salt Lake City in the 1990s. I have prejudices about the Church of Latter-day Saints, and they are about to be tested.
My mother raised me never to go anywhere empty-handed, so I arrived with a box of freshly baked chocolate strudel from Waterton.
Kendall and Luana are the kindest people. Their farmhouse is topsy-turvy with cooking, books, cats, and quilting. Dinner is served promptly at 6:00 pm, with a clattering of pots. Spare ribs, baby marrow and boiled potatoes, followed by Saskatoon berry crumble, carrot cake, fresh cherries and ice cream, and a large jug of water, mid-table. The conversation is easy.
Kendall and Luana are in their 44th year of marriage and have ten children and 20 grandchildren. Kendall was born and raised on the farm. Ten years ago, weary of the labour, he sold his 600 head of cattle, is now focused on his carpentry business, and leases his land. Luana is a recently retired teacher’s assistant at the local school where she also taught sewing. I gently hold the intricate quilt she is sewing for her new granddaughter.
Farming is a tough job, and cash flow is imperative. Kendall worked for the oil fields while his children were growing up to keep the farm buoyant, leaving his teenage sons to tend to the ranch. “It was too hard on the family,” says Luana. After four years of not getting ahead financially, Kendall decided to focus on the ranch, his carpentry business and a furniture store. The Paynes are not a family afraid of hard work. Today, all ten of their children are successfully independent, and nine are married.
The secret of 44 years of marriage, I ask. “Move past the fights and stick it out together,” says Luana. “Our faith in God,” says Kendall, the only time religion comes into the conversation. “Never go to bed angry,” he adds.
Kendall, Luana and I come from different worlds and different backgrounds, and these are warm, good people. Luana and I discuss our love of reading and books. She is a trained librarian. Her dream is to visit Scotland, the land of her ancestry. Kendall wants to catch the Trans-Canada train from Vancouver to Halifax.
On leaving, Kendall gives me a gift, “To add to your book collection,” he says. It is ‘The Book of Mormon.” He has inscribed it: Dear Julie, Happy trails, all the best in your writing and other interests. I hope you enjoy reading this book. Kendall and Luana. I accept it graciously, knowing I will never read it, but somehow, the gift will always be special to me.
I walk back to my one-eyed camper van, which waits patiently for me in the field, where I camp courtesy of the kindness of strangers. I contemplate how religion is possibly all fiction—a fictional reality to make sense of life and death. Most especially, death, the great unknown, the great mystery. All of this, the striving, the search for meaning and purpose, becomes meaningless at death. Yet, it is the small kindnesses that give us momentary joy.
It's time for a glass of ice-cold wine. I watch the sunset from my camper. It was a good day.
A fundamental difference.
and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both still use the Book of Mormon; the FLDS church practices polygamy, while LDS church members say they obey state and federal laws by not practicing polygamy.
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